Abbas rejects Netanyahu’s options, renews resolve for Palestinian unity, achievement of peace

Arabs slam Goldstone for recanting Israel-condemning report

Israel enhances armor defenses near Gaza

The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) defended its leaders' plans to reconcile with the Islamic Hamas movement, rejecting threats by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

National reconciliation should be achieved quickly to end internal split and boost the Palestinian cause to end Israeli occupation and establish an independent Palestinian state, said Hanna Amira, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization's Executive Committee.

Netanyahu said that the Palestinian leadership must choose between peace with Israel and peace with the Hamas which has controlled Gaza since it routed pro-Abbas forces in 2007.

"How can you talk to us about peace when you're talking about peace with Hamas?" Netanyahu asked in a speech to the Israeli Knesset.

Nemer Hammad, an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, accused Netanyahu of "maneuvering." The Israeli premier "considers the agreement with Hamas as an obstacle to peace and, on the other hand, says he doesn't know who to negotiate with in the Palestinian side because it is divided," Hammad said.

Hammad said Israel's recent military escalation in the Gaza Strip aimed at thwarting Abbas' initiative to visit the territory for the first time since he lost it.

Last week, Abbas said he is ready to visit Gaza to form a unity government, ending the political split between the coastal enclave and the West Bank, where the PNA has been based since 2007. Abbas' declaration came as peace talks between Israel and the PNA has been stalled for months due to a dispute on the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Meanwhile, South African jurist Richard Goldstone has accepted an invitation to visit Israel and promised to work to nullify his U.N. report accusing Israel of deliberately targeted civilians during its offensive in the Gaza Strip two years ago, the interior minister said.

The Israeli invitation follows Goldstone's recent comments in a newspaper article that he no longer believes that Israel intentionally fired at civilians. Israel had shunned the internationally respected jurist, who is Jewish and has strong connections to the country, since his report was issued in 2009.

The report was commissioned by the U.N. Human Rights Commission, which ordered the investigation into the actions of both Israel and the Hamas militant group during their three-week war in 2008-2009. The commission has said it stands by the report, and Goldstone would need to submit a formal request to change it.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai told Israel's Army Radio station that he phoned Goldstone to express his appreciation for Goldstone's "courageous" reconsideration of his charges, and to invite him to tour Israel's southern communities that have sustained years of Palestinian rocket fire.

Yishai said Goldstone "as a Jew understands well the story of the Jewish people's suffering ... and it is very important for him to come and see this."

Goldstone turned down an interview request from The Associated Press.

The Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot said Goldstone told the paper he would visit Israel in early July as a guest of the interior minister.

The minister added that Goldstone promised him he would take additional steps to retract his U.N. report.

Also speaking on Army Radio, Danny Gillerman, a former Israeli ambassador to the U.N. who also participated in the phone call, quoted Goldstone as saying he was ready to take steps to change the status of the report, but first wanted to "wait for the dust to settle" following his op-ed article in The Washington Post.

The Goldstone report concluded that both Israel and Hamas committed potential war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during three weeks of fighting. The findings triggered outrage in Israel and a personal campaign against Goldstone.

In his article, Goldstone said new information had come to light that made him rethink his central conclusions.

He lauded Israel for conducting dozens of investigations into alleged wrongdoing. In particular, he cited evidence that a deadly strike that killed more than 20 members of a Palestinian family resulted from faulty intelligence and was not an intentional attack.

Israeli leaders have called for the report to be retracted.

The Geneva-based Human Rights Council has said it will continue to treat the report as a legitimate working document.

Spokesman Cedric Sapey told The Associated Press that Goldstone would have to submit a formal request for the report to be withdrawn.

Last month, a majority of the council's 47 members voted to pass the report up to the General Assembly, recommending the powerful U.N. Security Council be asked to submit it to prosecutors at the International Criminal Court.

Such a move is unlikely to pass the Security Council, where Israel's strongest ally, the United States, has veto power. But the mere suggestion of bringing war crimes charges has infuriated Israel.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner welcomed Goldstone's about-face.

"We've made clear from when the Goldstone Report was initially presented and maintained ever since that we didn't see any evidence that the Israeli government had intentionally targeted civilians or otherwise engaged in any war crimes; and now that we see that Justice Goldstone has reached the same conclusion," Toner said.

"I can say that we remain concerned and we'll continue working to an end to what we believe is an anti-Israel bias in the Human Rights Council," Toner said.

Israel attacked the Gaza Strip in December 2008 in response to years of persistent rocket fire from Gaza at southern Israel. Some 1,400 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, and 13 Israelis were killed during the campaign.

Israel has blamed Hamas for the heavy civilian toll, saying the militant group staged attacks from heavily populated residential areas, as well as mosques and schools.

Israel is planning to deploy four more batteries of its "Iron Dome" short-range missile defense system, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said.

Speaking on military radio, Barak said: "With the financial help of the Americans, we hope to equip ourselves with four new 'Iron Dome' batteries so we will have six in operation in the next two years."

He added that a second battery would soon be operational on the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip.

The first battery of the unique multi-million dollar system came into operation a week ago, stationed outside the southern city of Beersheba, in the Negev desert, just days after it was hit by several Grad rockets fired from the Gaza Strip amid a rise in tensions and tit-for-tat violence.

The system, the first of its kind in the world and still at the experimental stage, is not yet able to provide complete protection against the hundreds of rockets fired from Gaza into southern Israel, officials have said.

The system, developed by Israel's Rafael Advanced Defense Systems with the help of US funding, is designed to intercept rockets and artillery shells fired from a range of between four and 70 kilometers (three and 45 miles).

Each battery comprises detection and tracking radar, state-of-the-art fire control software and three launchers, each with 20 interceptor missiles, military sources said.

Militants in Gaza and Lebanon's Hezbollah militia have fired thousands of projectiles at Israel in the past.

According to plans, the system will first be deployed along the border of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, from where militants fired a daily barrage of improvised rockets prompting Israel to launch a devastating 22-day offensive in December 2008.

It will then be deployed along the Lebanese border, from where Hezbollah militants fired some 4,000 rockets into northern Israel during a 2006 war. It was that experience which prompted the development of Iron Dome.

Israel believes Hezbollah now has an arsenal of some 40,000 rockets.

But a complete deployment is expected to take several years. In May last year, US President Barack Obama asked Congress to give Israel 205 million dollars to develop the system, on top of the annual three billion dollars Israel receives from Washington.

Iron Dome will join the Arrow long-range ballistic missile defense system in an ambitious multi-layered program to protect Israeli cities from rockets and missiles fired from Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, Syria and Iran.

A third system, known as David's Sling, is currently being developed with the aim of countering medium-range missiles.