International Quartet fails to re-start Middle East peace process

No negotiations before settlements freeze, Palestinian President Abbas insists

Bahrain refers to link between Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and cell accused of plotting attacks

EU supports tougher sanctions against Iran

Iran rejects negotiations with IAEA, denies nuke cooperation with North Korea

A report by the Cairo bureau of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) for the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia said that the campaign of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia for the relief of Palestinian people in Gaza has signed an agreement to provide foodstuffs for about 5,600 impoverished families.

The report added that the foodstuffs were sent via Jordan over batches since July 2011, noting the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is providing 76% of the daily needs of basic energy for about 41,000 families living in Gaza with income of less than 1.6 dollars a day and also food rations meeting 40% of the daily needs for 81,000 families living on less than four dollars a day.

Meanwhile, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said attempts to convince Israel to stop building settlements as a prelude to reviving stalled peace talks have failed.

“Quartet attempts to create an atmosphere suitable to re-launch negotiations and convince Israel to stop building in settlements have failed,” Erekat told AFP after Israel said it was poised to announce tenders to build 800 new homes in annexed East Jerusalem.

Envoys from the international peacemaking Quartet held separate meetings with Israeli and Palestinians officials on Monday but made no visible headway.

After the talks, Israel said it was extending a freeze on the transfer of tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority (PA) while the Palestinians restated their demand for a halt to Jewish settlements before talks can resume.

Israel’s housing ministry said it was to invite tenders for the construction of 749 homes in Har Homa neighborhood and another 65 in Pisgat Zeev, both settlements in Arab East Jerusalem.

“Israel responded to Quartet attempts to re-launch the negotiations and meetings with a new settlement building declaration in East Jerusalem,” Erekat said.

“It also responded by continuing to withhold PA tax funds which is a robbery and an act of piracy and is a response to Quartet and international efforts,” he added.

“We hold the Israeli government solely responsibility for the failure of the peace process and the results that will come from it.”

Under the terms of an economic agreement between the sides signed in Paris in 1994, Israel transfers to the PA tens of millions of dollars each month in customs duties levied on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through Israeli ports.

The remittances constitute a large percentage of the Palestinian budget.

Israel often freezes the transfer of funds as a punitive measure in response to diplomatic or political developments viewed as harmful.

Israeli-Palestinian talks have been on hold for over a year, grinding to a halt shortly after they began in September 2010 over the issue of settlement construction.

Israel has so far refused to renew a partial 10-month settlement freeze, which expired last year and says it will only talk if there are no preconditions.

Repeated rocket fire from Gaza will push Israel into taking “aggressive” action in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli chief of staff warned MPs in remarks reported in the press. “The latest round of escalation, which includes physical injury and harm to the daily life of residents of the south, means the military will be required to take aggressive and meaningful action in the Gaza Strip,” Benny Gantz told MPs at the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs and defense.

Hours after he spoke, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired two rockets into southern Israel, damaging a farm outbuilding but causing no casualties, Israeli police said.

“Every few months, we have to go back for another round of fighting” to stamp out rocket fire, Gantz later told reporters at a briefing. “It would be in Israel’s best interest to shorten the duration of future rounds of fighting through intelligence, through force and through ongoing activity,” he said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told a top U.S. official on Sunday that the Palestinian Authority was willing to cooperate with the Quartet on the Middle East in order to restart peace talks with Israel, but added that Israel had to both freeze all settlement construction and recognize the 1967 borders as the basis for negotiations.

On Saturday, Abbas and other PA officials stressed that they will continue efforts to seek full United Nations membership in spite of the latest setbacks at the UN Security Council.

A Palestinian application for full UN membership Abbas submitted on September 23 hit a snag on Friday when a committee reviewing it was not able to agree on the application.

Israel and the United States both opposed the move at the UN, arguing that a unilateral move would not secure peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and that only direct talks would resolve the conflict.

Referring to the chances of resuming talks on Sunday, Abbas was quoted by the official Palestinian news agency WAFA as telling U.S. Mideast envoy David Hale that "resuming negotiations with Israel requires the Israeli government to uphold its responsibilities; to stop settlement activities in the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem, and accept the two-state solution based on 1967 borders."

The Palestinian president also urged the United States to change its position on the PA's statehood bid at the UN, reiterating that the gambit was not an attempt to de-legitimize or isolate Israel but to achieve "the two- state solution based on the 1967 borders."

Speaking to reporters in Tunisia, where he is on an official two-day visit, Abbas said late Friday that even if efforts at getting full membership fail at this time, the PA will continue in its efforts in the future. He ruled out the possibility of dissolving the Palestinian Authority if the UN efforts fail.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Malki also said Saturday that these efforts will continue, "even for the 1,000th time," until Palestine is granted full membership. "Our goal is to get full membership," he said, stressing that becoming a non-member state of the UN remains an option that the Palestinians can embark on at any time and most likely get, but it was not the primary goal.

"We always knew that one round to get full membership would not be enough," Malki told Voice of Palestine radio from New York, where he was following up on the Palestinian application.

In Manama, Bahrain says a terrorist cell plotting attacks against the Gulf kingdom has been uncovered by security officials in neighboring Qatar and that the four suspects have links to Iran.

The Interior Ministry says in a statement that the four detained Bahrainis had a laptop containing sensitive security information about sites like the Saudi Embassy and the Interior Ministry building in Bahrain's capital.

Bahrain's Sunni monarchy got help from Saudi Arabia in cracking down on a Shiite-led protest movement ignited by the uprisings sweeping the Arab world. Both nations fear that regional rival and Shiite power Iran is aiding the unrest.

The suspects have been extradited to Bahrain.

Iran rejects Bahrain's allegations that a terror cell uncovered in the tiny island nation has links to the Shiite powerhouse's Revolutionary Guard, an Iranian deputy foreign minister said.

The cell purportedly had contact with Iran's Guard, according to a Bahrain News Agency report, which gave no further details to back up the allegations.

Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Amir Abdollahian said the claims were "baseless and fabricated" and urged the Bahraini government to focus instead on repairing the "deep schism" between its ruling Sunni monarchy and Shiite majority.

Abdollahian spoke to the Arabic Language al-Alam channel late on Sunday. "We reject such deceptive allegations," he said. "We believe it is necessity to deal peacefully and democratically with legitimate demands voiced over the past months by the Bahraini people."

Bahrain's Sunni leaders have repeatedly accused Iran of encouraging Shiite-led protests that erupted in February in the kingdom, a charge Iran denies.

European Union foreign ministers spoke out in favor of tougher sanctions against Iran Monday, but decided to wait until their next meeting on Dec 1. before taking further action.

The ministers, meeting in Brussels, also ruled out any military action for now, despite last week's conclusion by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Tehran had worked on designing a nuclear bomb.

"The Council will continue to examine possible new and reinforced measures and revert to this issue at its next meeting, taking into account Iran's action," the ministers said in a statement.

The United States and Israel have refused to rule out any way of stopping Iran from acquiring a nuclear arsenal. But the EU ministers limited themselves to condemning Iran's expanding uranium enrichment program and expressing concern over the IAEA findings that Iran was developing military nuclear technology.

Arriving for the meeting, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Britain was not yet considering military action. "We are not calling for, or advocating, military action," he said. "At the same time, we are saying that all options are on the table." He called for "peaceful, legitimate pressure" to be stepped up on Iran.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said: "Sanctions are unavoidable and harsh sanctions are unavoidable too if Iran continues refusing to work with the IAEA."

"Iran has the right to use civil nuclear power but also has the duty to refuse all means of nuclear weaponry and to make this clear before the international community," he said.

He said Germany would not consider military intervention. "We won't be part of a discussion about a military intervention ... such a discussion is counter-productive."

Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal, asked about possible military intervention, said: "I don't exclude anything, now is not the moment to say anything else."

Diplomats in Brussels say EU foreign ministers may be ready to formally approve new sanctions on December 1.

No specific measures have been discussed publicly so far, but one western diplomatic source said EU sanctions could focus on adding companies to a list of entities targeted by EU asset freezes in order to curb financial flows to Iran's elite military force.

"The goal is to try to deny funding to the Revolutionary Guard. We don't want to target the energy sector as a whole but only where there is evidence that the money is flowing to groups that are prohibited," the source said.

Sweeping sanctions against Iran's energy sector could backfire in Europe, where governments are wary of inflicting damage on their commercial interests at a time of deepening economic woes.

There are also divisions among EU governments on how to structure any new moves to minimize any pain on the Iranian population. Some capitals are also wary of shutting off lines of communication when Iranian officials are targeted.

Finally, a lack of international cooperation blunts the impact of Western moves, with experts saying Iranian firms often create front companies elsewhere to avoid sanctions.

"We are looking at an expanded list of companies to stop the financial flows but Indian entrepreneurs are particularly good at setting up banks and finding mechanisms to help finance deals. It's extremely difficult," the Western source said.

Iran already faces a wide range of U.N. sanctions, as well as some imposed unilaterally by the United States and the EU.

Western states would prefer further U.N. Security Council measures against Tehran. But Russia and China, both permanent Security Council members with veto power, are opposed.

Tehran, which says its nuclear program is for producing electricity and other peaceful purposes, said last week it remains ready for negotiations with world powers on the issue.

Meanwhile, the Iranian embassy in Seoul rejected nuclear cooperation with North Korea.

Iran’s embassy in Seoul sent a statement to Yonhap News Agency saying, "Iran is against producing nuclear weapons and that its nuclear technology is achieved indigenously. It seeks peaceful purposes and does not need any foreign expert."

The statement came after the news agency claimed hundreds of North Korean nuclear and missile experts have cooperated with their Iranian counterparts in more than 10 places inside Iran.

Iran’s embassy called the report "a sheer lie" and rejected it as allegation.

An Iranian lawmaker said the recent "baseless" International Atomic Energy Agency report on Tehran's nuclear program has prompted Majlis (parliament) to reconsider IAEA cooperation.

"Majlis will debate the various aspects of this move (reviewing cooperation with the IAEA) next week," Chairman of the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee Alaeddin Boroujerdi said on Monday.

In its latest report, published on November 8, the International Atomic Energy Agency accused Iran of conducting activities related to developing nuclear weapons before 2003, adding that these activities “may still be ongoing.”

This is while IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano's visit to Washington for talks with US officials before the publication of the report raised serious questions about its objectivity and sincerity.

Iran rejected the report as “unbalanced, unprofessional and prepared with political motivation and under political pressure mostly by the United States.”

Boroujerdi said that Amano had failed to act within the framework of his responsibilities and worked as a US agent which is unacceptable.

The United States, Israel, and some of their allies accuse Tehran of pursuing military objectives in its nuclear program and have used this pretext to push for the imposition of sanctions on Iran and to call for an attack on the country.

Iran argues that as a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and a member of the IAEA, it has the right to develop and acquire nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

The IAEA has conducted numerous inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities but has never found any evidence indicating that Iran's civilian nuclear program has been diverted to nuclear weapons production.