Syrian government shelling kills 7 near Damascus
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Live updates (closed)Latest: UK voices ‘reservations’ about Paris peace conference

Paris conference ends with call for both sides to affirm commitment to two states

France warns of 'serious consequences' of US moving embassy to Jerusalem; Kerry tells Netanyahu he's working to limit damage of confab

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

French Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Marc Ayrault (L)  shakes hands with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir during the opening of the Mideast peace conference in Paris on January 15, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / THOMAS SAMSON)
French Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Marc Ayrault (L) shakes hands with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir during the opening of the Mideast peace conference in Paris on January 15, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / THOMAS SAMSON)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s events as they unfolded.

France: ‘Serious consequences’ if US moves embassy to Jerusalem

French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault says at the Paris peace conference that there would be “extremely serious consequences” if the US Embassy to Israel moves to Jerusalem.

French diplomats fear Trump will unleash new tensions in the region by condoning settlements on land claimed by the Palestinians and potentially moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to contested Jerusalem, AP reports.

— AFP contributed

German police arrest 2 in neo-Nazi bomb plot

Two alleged neo-Nazis were arrested in Germany after police found 155 kilograms (340 pounds) of explosives in a house in Luterecken, the Independent reports.

One of the suspects built a homemade bomb bearing a swastika and Nazi SS symbol.

Hundreds demonstrate against Paris peace conference

Around a thousand people are protesting against the peace conference in Paris in a demonstration organized by French Jewish groups.

Israeli Ambassador to France Aliza Ben Nun is reportedly among the crowd rallying in support of Israel, along with leaders of the Jewish community, Israel Radio reports. Jewish leaders Joël Mergui and Francis Kalifat emphasized the need for supporting Israel during the peace conference.

Protesters demonstrate during a rally in Paris against the Paris Middle East peace conference taking place in the French capital on January 15, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Pierre CONSTANT)

Protesters demonstrate during a rally in Paris against the Paris Middle East peace conference taking place in the French capital on January 15, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Pierre CONSTANT)

Syrian government shelling kills 7 near Damascus

Regime bombardment of a flashpoint region near Syria’s capital on Sunday killed seven civilians, a monitor said, in the deadliest attack there since a nationwide truce came into force.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government forces shelled Deir Qanun, a village in the Wadi Barada region, which is the main source of water for Damascus.

“This is the highest toll there since the beginning of the truce” on December 30, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

— AFP

Qatar agrees to buy $12m. in fuel for Gaza power plant

Qatar has agreed to pay $12 million for fuel for the Gaza Strip’s power plant, a move that seeks to end the power crisis gripping the Palestinian enclave, local media reports.

The deal was struck following a meeting between Hamas leader Ismail Haniyah and leaders in Doha.

Kerry arrives in Paris as Hollande set to speak

French President Francois Hollande is set to speak at the Paris peace conference. US Secretary of State John Kerry has arrived at the conference.

Settlements, terrorism threaten 2-state solution: Hollande

French President Francois Hollande, addressing the conference, and says that settlements and terrorism threaten the two-state solution, and asks how the international community can expect stability in the Middle East when one of its oldest conflicts remains unresolved.

Hollande responds to Netanyahu’s rejection of peace conference

In an apparent reference to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rejection of the Paris conference, Hollande says that the peace initiative “doesn’t want to impose any solutions on the parties, as some argued to dismiss our effort. That can only come after direct negotiations.”

“We want to give guarantees and assurances,” he says. “This initiative should help, not complicate; unite, not divide.”

Nisman memorial to be erected in Nahariya

A monument to assassinated Argentinian-Jewish prosecutor Alberto Nisman is set to be erected in the northern town of Nahariya on Wednesday, the second anniversary of his murder.

Damascus airstrike ‘targeted S-300 missiles’ — Kuwaiti newspaper

An Israeli airstrike on a Syrian military airport outside Damascus early Friday morning targeted Russian-made S-300 surface-to-air missiles, Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida cites unnamed sources saying.

There was no confirmation that Israel was behind the alleged airstrike.

Kerry calls PM from Paris, says he’s working to soften statement

US Secretary of State John Kerry called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the Paris peace conference and promised him he’d work to soften the conference’s final text and to prevent further action against Israel at the UN. He promises to prevent any followup action, either at the confab itself or at the UN Security Council.

Kerry updated Netanyahu about the steps he was taking to “soften” the text of the final communique, which is expected to be issued by the conference participants later today.

The prime minister tells Kerry that the outgoing administration has already caused Israel damage by not vetoing UN Security Council Resolution 2334 last month, which criticized the settlements. No other resolution should be passed, Netanyahu says, neither in New York nor in Paris. Kerry promises Netanyahu that there will not be any followup action to the Paris conference and that Washington will oppose any further initiative at the Security Council.

— Raphael Ahren

UK snubs Paris peace confab

The British snubbed the French at the Paris peace conference by not sending any senior officials to the gathering, the Guardian reports.

The paper speculates that the UK is trying to keep on President-elect Donald Trump’s good side and not “alienate” him.

Danon: Paris conference ‘detached from reality’

Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon says the Paris peace conference “is so detached from reality that it has extended a hand toward Palestinian obstructionism instead of towards peace.”

“Rather than advancing a joint effort to battle global terrorism, the conference focused obsessively on Israel as part of an attempt to push forward a last minute initiative just days before the new US administration takes office,” Danon says.

Ex-IDF commanders: Annexing West Bank means end of Jewish state

A group of former high-ranking security officials says Israel is on course to lose its Jewish and democratic character if it goes through with Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s plan to annex portions of the West Bank.

“We shouldn’t annex the West Bank and its 2.5 million Palestinians. We must preserve Israel as a democracy and a state for the Jewish people,” the group’s chairman Maj. Gen. (res.) Amnon Reshef tells reporters at a press conference in Tel Aviv.

Reshef’s group, Commanders for the Security of Israel, is made up of hundreds of former high-ranking officers from Israel’s security services. It made waves on Sunday after it put up billboards across the country that warned of a Palestinian takeover of Israel.

The group is apolitical but committed to a two-state solution with the Palestinians, which it sees as the only way to protect the country and its citzens.

“I don’t want trucks to come from [the East Jerusalem neighborhood of ]Jabel Mukaber into Jerusalem and run over soldiers. I don’t want them,” former head of the IDF Central Command Maj. Gen. (res.) Gadi Shamni says.

Shamni was referring to a terror attack last week in which a truck driver from Jabel Mukaber rammed his vehicle into a group of IDF soldiers, killing four of them and injuring more than a dozen others.

According to Shabtai Shavit, a former director of the Mossad, the country’s leadership has no plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Does anyone know what Israel wants today? When I say Israel, I mean the government. Does anyone know where the hell we’re going? Or, more accurately, does anyone know where they’re taking us?” Shavit asks.

— Judah Ari Gross

French FM wraps up peace conference

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault wraps up the Paris peace conference, telling reporters that the purpose of the conference was to convey a sense of urgency about the threat to the two-state solution.

He urges all sides to refrain from unilateral actions that could inflame the situation: “Running the risk of making this conflict worse would be giving a gift to extremists.”

He adds that December’s UN Security Council Resolution 2334 was an expression of the world’s voice on the issue.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault talks to reporters on January 15, 2017 at the end of the Paris peace conference. (Suha Halifa/Times of Israel staff)

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault talks to reporters on January 15, 2017, at the end of the Paris peace conference. (Suha Halifa/Times of Israel staff)

Full text of Middle East Peace Conference Joint Declaration

I) Following the Ministerial meeting held in Paris on 3 June 2016, the Participants met in Paris on 15 January 2017 to reaffirm their support for a just, lasting and comprehensive resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They reaffirmed that a negotiated solution with two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, is the only way to achieve enduring peace.

They emphasized the importance for the parties to restate their commitment to this solution, to take urgent steps in order to reverse the current negative trends on the ground, including continued acts of violence and ongoing settlement activity, and to start meaningful direct negotiations.

They reiterated that a negotiated two-state solution should meet the legitimate aspirations of both sides, including the Palestinians’ right to statehood and sovereignty, fully end the occupation that begin in 1967, satisfy Israel’s security needs and resolve all permanent status issues on the basis of United Nations Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), and also recalled relevant Security Council resolutions.

They underscored the importance of the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 as a comprehensive framework for the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, thus contributing to regional peace and security.

They welcomed international efforts to advance Middle East peace, including the adoption of United Nations Security Council resolution 2334 on 23 December 2016, which clearly condemned settlement activity, incitement and all acts of violence and terror, and called on both sides to take steps to advance the two-state solution on the ground; the recommendations of the Quartet on 1 July 2016; and the United States Secretary of State’s principle on the two-state solution on 28 December 2016.

They noted the importance of addressing the dire humanitarian and security situation in the Gaza Strip and called for swift steps to improve the situation.

They emphasized the importance for Israelis and Palestinians to comply with international law, including international humanitarian law and human rights law.

II) The Participants highlighted the potential for security, stability and prosperity for both parties that could result from a peace agreement. They expressed their readiness to exert necessary efforts toward the achievement of the two-state solution and to contribute substantially to arrangements for ensuring the sustainability of a negotiated peace agreement, in particular in the areas of political and economic incentives, the consolidation of Palestinian state capacities, and civil society dialogue. Those could include, inter alia:

– a European privileged partnership; other political and economic incentives and increased private sector involvement; support to further efforts by the parties to improve economic cooperation; continued financial support to the Palestinian Authority in building the infrastructure for a viable Palestinian economy;

– supporting and strengthening Palestinian steps to exercise their responsibilities of statehood through consolidating their institutions and institutional capacities, including for service delivery;

– convening Israeli and Palestinian civil society fora, in order to enhance dialogue between the parties, rekindle the public debate and strengthen the role of civil society on both sides.

III) Looking ahead, the Participants;

– call upon both sides to officially restate their commitment to the two-state solution, thus disassociating themselves from voices that reject this solution;

– call on each side to independently demonstrate, through policies and actions, a genuine commitment to the two-state solutions and refrain from unilateral steps that prejudge the outcome of negotiations on final status issues, including, inter alia, on Jerusalem, borders, security, refugees and which they will not recognize;

– welcome the prospect of closer cooperation between the Quartet and Arab League members and other relevant actors to further the objectives of this Declaration.

As follow-up to the Conference, interested Participants, expressing their readiness to review progress, resolved to meet again before the end of the year in order to support both sides in advancing the two-state solution through negotiations.

France will inform the parties about the international community’s collective support and concrete contribution to the two-state solution contained in this joint declaration.

Israel claims credit for ‘weakening’ Paris declaration

Israeli officials credit the efforts of the National Security Council, the Foreign Ministry, and the Prime Minster’s Office for a “significant weakening” of the text of the final joint declaration issued by the participants of the Paris peace conference.

The officials celebrate that the “problematic passages” in UN Security Council Resolution 2334 were not included in the Paris document. Resolution 2334, passed on December 23, harshly condemned the settlement enterprise, declaring that it “no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.”

Furthermore, the Israeli officials expressed satisfaction over the fact that no further action against Israeli settlements is planned at the Security Council. US Secretary of State John Kerry had promised this to Prime Minister Netanyahu during a phone call from Paris earlier Sunday

These ostensible successes, the officials conclude, are the “result of harsh reactions” voiced by Israel against Resolution 2334.

— Raphael Ahren

‘Netanyahu mediated between moguls, Yedioth publisher’

Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes was questioned for eight hours by police, but Channel 2 reports that police have information that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also mediated and introduced international businessmen to Mozes in an effort to get positive coverage in the paper. The individuals mentioned are Australian businessman James Packer, German media CEO Mathias Döpfner, and Oracle CEO Larry Ellison.

Abbas hails Paris declaration, says ready to resume talks

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas welcomes the Paris peace conference’s final declaration, saying it “affirms” December’s UN Security Council resolution against Israeli settlements, the PA’s official Wafa news agency reports.

“Palestine is ready to resume negotiations on all final status issues, to create a full and lasting peace through the framework of an international mechanism and a specific timeframe along international parameters, the Madrid principles, the Arab Peace Initiative, Security Council Resolution 2334 and the Paris declaration,” Abbas says in a statement.

Abbas states the “necessity of following up the implementation” of Resolution 2334 and the peace conference’s declaration and will travel to Paris in the coming weeks for that purpose, and welcomes French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault to Ramallah.

— Dov Lieber

COGAT, PA sign joint water deal

While diplomats talk in Paris without Israeli and Palestinian officials present, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories signs a deal with the Palestinian Authority to renew activity of a joint water committee for Israel and the Palestinians, Channel 10 reports.

Another investigation into Netanyahu?

A previously-thought-closed probe into claims Benjamin Netanyahu hid funds received from a US non-profit is still being looked into by police and may form the basis for a plea bargain by the prime minster’s former chief of staff, Channel 10 news reports.

Odelia Karmon, a former adviser to Netanyahu when he served as leader of the opposition, told police her former boss attempted to cover up payments she received from American Friends of Likud while under his employment, according to recordings obtained by the Haaretz daily in September.

The case involves US-born Ari Harow, who headed American Friends of Likud from 2003-2006 and served as Netanyahu’s bureau chief between 2008-2010, and chief of staff from 2014-15.

The suspicions are that American Friends of Likud financed overseas trips for Netanyahu’s wife Sara and underwrote the salary of Karmon at a cost of $10,000 per month. The period that had been under investigation was prior to 2009, when Harow was in charge. Netanyahu returned to the prime minister’s chair in 2009 and has remained in power since.

The probe, which was thought to have been closed by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, has not yet been turned into a full-blown criminal investigation, but may become one soon, according to Channel 10.

Police are reportedly looking into the possibility of signing a plea bargain with Harow in order to obtain his help in the two ongoing criminal investigations into the prime minster. Tapes of quid pro quo negotiations between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Noni Moses, which have become the basis for what is known as Case 2000, were reportedly recorded by Harow and uncovered by police during a separate corruption investigation.

Channel 10 also reported that Netanyahu’s former senior adviser Perach Lerner is close to signing a plea bargain in an investigation for another corruption case involving her allegedly using connections in the Prime Minister’s Office to obstain contracts for her husband’s PR firm. This case does not directly involve Netanyahu and would therefore not be connected to the other investigations.

— Raoul Wootliff

UK voices ‘reservations’ about Paris peace conference

Britain cited “reservations” over Sunday’s Middle East peace conference and refused to sign a joint statement that called for a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A Foreign Office spokesman said the British had “particular reservations” about the meeting in Paris taking place without Israeli or Palestinian representatives, “just days before the transition to a new American president”.

Britain had therefore attended the talks as an observer only, the spokesman said.

— AFP

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Live updates (closed) Latest: UK voices ‘reservations’ about Paris peace conference

Syrian government shelling kills 7 near Damascus

Regime bombardment of a flashpoint region near Syria’s capital on Sunday killed seven civilians, a monitor said, in the deadliest attack there since a nationwide truce came into force.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government forces shelled Deir Qanun, a village in the Wadi Barada region, which is the main source of water for Damascus.

“This is the highest toll there since the beginning of the truce” on December 30, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

— AFP