Erekat urges Washington to stop treating Israel as a country above the law, accuses U.S., Israel of trying to circumvent Quartet statement

Israel plans construction Talmudic garden in Jerusalem

Yemen government forces, opposition troops withdraw from Taiz

Algeria hosts meeting on counterterrorism

Lebanon files complaint to UN Security Council against Israel

PLO Executive Committee member Saeb Erekat discussed with US Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman a number of issues, such as the peace process and efforts to resume negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.

Erekat said, during his meeting with Feltman, that resuming negotiations requires the Israeli government to freeze its settlement activities and accept the two-state solution within 1967 borders, noting that these are not Palestinian conditions but Israeli obligations since the first stage of the Road Map.

He called on the US administration to help release Palestinian prisoners who were arrested before signing the Oslo accords in September 1993.

Erekat said that Israel must be questioned for continuing its settlement activities and blockade on the Gaza Strip.

He said the PLO is determined to gain Palestine's membership of the United Nations as an independent state within 1967 borders, and with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Erekat said the Palestinian Authority will not accept Israel taking parts of the international Quartet’s statement and leaving other parts out.

He told Voice of Palestine, in response to US demands to resume negotiations that “the Quartet’s statement clearly states that both Palestinians and Israelis must present proposals concerning borders and security issues within 90 days.”

Erekat affirmed that the PA has submitted its proposal to the Quartet committee while Israel is still refusing to submit its proposal.

He added that the PA is ready to resume negotiations if the Israeli government stops settlement activities and accepts a two-state solution.

In reference to the meeting of the Quartet’s representatives on December 14, with the Palestinians and Israelis separately, Erekat said, “We will hear from the Quartet about the Israeli proposal on borders and security issues.”

Meanwhile, Palestinian news agency WAFA said the Israeli municipality of Jerusalem Thursday seized a piece of land belonging to a Palestinian Orthodox Monastery in the neighborhood of Al-Thawri, west of the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, according to a press release by the committee for the defense of Silwan.

The release said the Israeli municipality seized the 850 square meter piece of land in order to turn it into a Talmudic garden and a parking lot.

The committee expressed fear that the land would be turned into a Talmudic garden under the control of the Israeli nature and parks authority, surrounding the areas of Wadi Hilweh and Al-Bustan in Silwan.

Meanwhile, Yemeni forces loyal to outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh and opposition gunmen are withdrawing from the streets of Taiz city, an official said on Friday.

Dozens have been killed in Taiz, Yemen's commercial capital, since Saleh signed a deal last month to give up power. Months of anti-government protests have pushed the impoverished country to the brink of civil war.

The official said a committee set up to restore normality to Taiz was clearing away road blocks set up by Saleh opponents and loyalists during street battles, and overseeing their withdrawal from occupied buildings.

Protesters continue to take to the streets in anger at the opposition parties' endorsement of the power transfer deal, which grants immunity from prosecution to Saleh over the killing of demonstrators by security forces.

Saleh's General People's Congress (GPC) party said it would stop holding pro-government rallies after Friday prayers to show its commitment to a political solution.

"The decision by the party's leadership is a new sign of the GPC's eager desire to act in the higher interest of the nation and to begin ending the political crisis," said a statement from the party that urged opposition parties to do the same.

A member of the opposition Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) said it was not for them to call off street protests.

"We in the JMP do not have the authority to cancel protests and sit-ins. It's the youth movement that controls the protesters," the assistant secretary-general of the socialist party told Reuters.

Under the transfer plan negotiated by Yemen's wealthy Gulf neighbors, the GPC and opposition parties divide up cabinet posts between them and form a national unity government to steer the country ahead of a presidential election in February.

The cabinet, which is due to be sworn in on Saturday, faces a host of challenges including a southern separatist movement, a rebellion in the north and a regional wing of al-Qaeda that has exploited the upheaval to strengthen its foothold in Yemen.

Neighboring Saudi Arabia and the United States, both targets of foiled attacks by al-Qaeda's Yemen-based wing, fear the global militant network could use a security vacuum to plot and perhaps carry out attacks on the region and beyond.

The interior ministry said it was making arrangements for the United Nations envoy who helped broker the power transfer deal to visit the north and south of the country, where central government control has been severely weakened.

Opposition leader Mohammed Basindwa, who is now prime minister, said his first foreign visit would be to oil-rich Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to ask for urgent support for Yemen's fuel and electricity needs.

In Algeria anti-terrorism experts met Thursday to discuss ways of preventing the financing of armed militant groups, focusing on north Africa's Sahel desert region, officials said.

Experts from about 30 countries participated in the two-day forum, which was co-sponsored by Turkey and the United States. The closed meetings were chaired by Algeria and Canada.

Thursday's talks concentrated on the influence of Al-Qaeda's north African branch, known as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM,) one expert speaking on condition of anonymity told AFP.

AQIM, with an estimated 400 members, exploits the weakness of Sahel states such as Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger and operates freely on those countries' terrain, the expert said.

He called for a global strategy in tackling the problems that can foment extremism, such as poverty and lagging development.

The Sahel is an eight-million-square-kilometer (3.1-million-square-mile) area on the edge of the Sahara desert shared by several countries.

Delegates at the forum in the Algiers suburbs also spoke about the financing of terrorism, the expert said.

Algeria, like the United States and other countries, reiterated the danger of kidnapping for ransom. The issue resurfaced recently with the October 23 snatching of two Spaniards and an Italian in southwestern Algeria.

Much of the forum centered on Libya, whose new government sent a representative to the conference.

Experts were concerned about the fate of the nomadic Tuareg people, who supported Muammar Gaddafi's regime then returned to the Sahel after his overthrow in recent months.

And questions swirled about the fate of sophisticated Libyan weaponry that disappeared after Gaddafi was toppled.

But on Tuesday, Derrin Smith, an expert on surface-to-air missiles, said there was no proof the weapons had fallen into the hands of terrorist groups.

Experts also discussed the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram, which claimed responsibility for a recent series of bombings in Nigeria.

Manuel Lopez Blanco, coordinator for EU strategy on the Sahel, said AQIM and Boko Haram had a shared agenda and probably cooperated in training and operational tactics.

Delegates also spoke about concerns over controlling Sahel countries' long borders as they struggle against the influence of AQIM and the need for better information sharing between neighboring nations.

The Global Counterterrorism Forum is coordinated by Daniel Benjamin, an ambassador-at-large for the US State Department.

The forum held an initial meeting in Washington, where members of its justice group and special prosecutors convened two weeks ago.

In Beirut, Lebanon filed Monday a complaint against Israel at the United Nations for firing missiles into south Lebanon on Nov. 29.

The complaint by the Foreign Ministry, which was filed through Lebanon’s permanent delegation at the U.N. headed by Nawaf Salam, stated that the action by the Jewish state was a violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 as well as international laws and pacts.

It also said that the violation threatened international peace and security.

On Nov. 29, one rocket was fired from southern Lebanon into Israel overnight, prompting Israeli troops to retaliate by firing six artillery shells into the same remote area where the rockets were launched.

Israel ruled out that Hezbollah was responsible for the attack. Lebanese President Michel Sleiman described the attack as an individual incident, saying that it was a violation of UNSCR 1701.

“The firing of rockets, which was carried out individually, toward occupied Palestinian territory does not serve the interest of solidarity with the Palestinian people,” Sleiman said in a statement on the day of the attack.