- Israel says may hold Palestinian taxes on UN bid
- G8 wants quick Arab Spring transition, eyes reforms
- Syrian forces kill seven in raids, two police shot
Posted: 20 Sep 2011 07:47 PM PDT
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz on Tuesday threatened severe financial ramifications if Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas makes good on a plan to request U.N. membership for a Palestinian state this week.
Steinitz, a close ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said his government could stop collecting the 40 percent of the Palestinian Authority's budget through value added, excise and customs taxes.
"It is my view, there is no (Israeli) government decision, that if the Palestinians violated the very fundamentals of the peace agreement, we should reconsider delivering tax money to them," Steinitz said in an interview with Reuters.
Taxes that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority total about 500 million Israeli shekels ($135 million) a month, Steinitz said.
Steinitz temporarily stopped the transfer of the tax revenues last spring.
The United States and Israel say a Palestinian state should emerge from peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel, which would be impossible if the Palestinians declare a state on their own. Washington has pledged to veto such a Palestinian request at the U.N. Security Council.
If Abbas makes his unilateral declaration, Steinitz said he hoped the attempt would fail, and he questioned whether the PA could run a stable state in which donations and international aid make up 40 percent of the budget.
"We are worried because of what we saw in Gaza," he said, referring to the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the territory six years ago, after which the Islamist group Hamas took over within two years.
The United States contributes $500 million in financial support annually to the PA. Some U.S. politicians have said they will try to cut American aid to the Palestinians if they refuse to back down.
Palestinian Monetary Authority Governor Jihad al-Wazir told Reuters on Monday that if the United States were to withdraw its aid, it could destabilize the PA.
"Really, the risk of a PA collapse is very real under the financial strain, without U.S. assistance, without donor assistance in general," he said.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
Posted: 20 Sep 2011 06:46 PM PDT
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Group of Eight foreign ministers agreed on Tuesday to quickly supply economic and political aid to five Arab governments in return for commitments they would pursue democratic reforms.
The so-called Deauville partnership, which also includes Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey as well as international organizations such the International Monetary Fund, has so far pledged about $80 billion in financing to Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco and Jordan over the next two years.
Speaking after meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, said the partnership would need to be "genuine, comprehensive and immediately operational" for it to succeed.
"The transition and reforms must be carried out by the countries that are in the partnership," he said.
The Deauville initiative was set up under France's G8 presidency to help countries swept up in the "Arab Spring" foster democratic reforms by making aid and development credits conditional on political and economic reforms.
"It offers tremendous hope for democracy, rule of law, stability, peace and a better future, but it also harbors risks," Juppe said. "If reform is too long in coming then there is the threat of extremism."
Each of the countries submitted their plan of action, which will focus on strengthening the rule of law, supporting civil societies, developing education, speeding up economic development and enhancing the countries' regional and global integration.
Libya has now also been brought into the partnership, although it will not benefit from financial assistance for now after some of the country's frozen assets were unblocked.
International financial institutions have warned of the challenges faced by Arab Spring countries trying to tap external finance while faced with high-risk perceptions and social and financial strains at home.
Officials have called for enhanced access to developed country markets for North African and Middle Eastern products and labor to avoid aid dependency and help build up the private sector.
"Our people have high hopes and need to see results on the ground," said Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr.
Juppe said the Deauville program would be enduring and aim to include as much of the international community as possible. Progress would be monitored on a regular basis by G8 foreign and finance ministers.
"Each situation is a separate case and it's up to each of the countries to define their action plan," Juppe said. "We are not here to impose on them."
The ministers will next take stock of developments in the region at a summit in Kuwait in November followed by an official meeting of the Deauville partners when the United States becomes chair of the G8 next year.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
Posted: 20 Sep 2011 06:46 PM PDT
AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian forces killed seven civilians on Tuesday in raids near Damascus and in Homs province, activists said, both centres of an uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.
Armed groups also shot dead two members of the security forces, state media and an activists group reported.
In a separate incident, troops defused a bomb planted under a crude oil pipeline near the city of Homs, state news agency SANA said.
President Assad has responded to six months of unrest with a military crackdown in which the United Nations says 2,700 people have died, including 100 children.
Tens of thousands of people have also been arrested, activists say, and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Monday Syrian leaders would have to answer for crimes against humanity that he said were being committed in Syria.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan agreed on Tuesday on the need to increase pressure on Assad to stop the crackdown, the White House said.
Assad, who succeeded his father 11 years ago, has said he is resisting a foreign conspiracy to divide Syria and the use of force has been limited.
For graphic on violence click http://link.reuters.com/muw82s
Most of Monday's killings occurred in the city of Homs, 165 km north of Damascus, and in the surrounding countryside, residents and activists told Reuters.
Locals say the military has stepped up operations in the area in recent weeks after an increasing number of army defections.
"Defections have not reached a level that threatens Assad, but he cannot rely on most of the army. Otherwise he would not have had to use the same loyalist core troops again and again to crush protests and move them from one city to another," a European diplomat said.
"It is clear that the security solution he has chosen is losing him support by the day from the Sunni majority," the diplomat said.
Most of the army's rank and file soldiers are Sunni Muslims, but they are largely commanded by officers from Assad's minority Alawite sect.
Defecting soldiers in the town of Rastan, 20 km north of Homs, this month announced the formation of a battalion called "Khaled bin al-Walid", after an Arab Muslim commander who conquered Syria.
Troops killed a woman and a boy in Rastan on Tuesday and fired machineguns late into the night, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is based in Britain.
Police killed two people in Kiswa, a town just south of Damascus, said a posting on Facebook, purporting to come from town residents.
Officers fired rifles from rooftops and patrolled streets with pickup trucks armed with machineguns, firing randomly, while houses were raided, the posting said.
A resident of Homs, who gave his name as Fares, said more barricades and checkpoints manned by troops and gunmen loyal to Assad had been set up in densely populated central districts on the outskirts of the city in the last 24 hours.
That followed large demonstrations on Monday and fighting between army defectors and Assad loyalists in the countryside, during which two deserters were killed.
Other killings were reported in Homs and surrounding rural areas.
In the northwestern Jabal al-Zawiya, a region near Turkey where army defectors had also taken refuge, a policeman was shot dead by unidentified gunmen, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
State news agency SANA said a member of the security forces was shot dead by an "armed terrorist group" in Homs. It said three others were wounded.
Despite their resilience in the face of Assad's crackdown, Syria's opposition movement has struggled to close ranks and create a unified platform for protesters.
But last week opposition figures meeting in Istanbul took a major step towards bridging their differences when they announced the formation of a Syrian National Council.
That body won the important backing on Tuesday of the Local Coordination Committees, a grassroots activist group at the centre of the protest movement. "We support the SNC out of our commitment to unify the opposition and to eliminate the opposition's fragmentation," the LCC said.
Activists and diplomats say protests in Syria have been overwhelmingly peaceful, but there have been increasing reports of attacks on security forces by gunmen and clashes with army deserters.
Authorities say 700 soldiers and police have been killed, and the same number of "mutineers".
SANA said army engineering units dismantled a bomb containing 25 kg of explosive which had been placed under a pipeline delivering crude oil to Homs refinery.
In late July Syria said saboteurs blew up an oil export pipeline linking Syria's oil-fields to the Mediterranean.
(Additional reporting by Dominic Evans in Beirut; Editing by Louise Ireland and Andrew Heavens)
Copyright © 2008 Reuters
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