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Saudis insist Palestinian independence price for normalisation; Gaza under renewed attack

Saudi Arabia’s price for normalising relations with Israel is the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, a senior member of the Saudi royal family reaffirmed on Friday.

Prince Turki al-Faisal was apparently responding to U.S. President Donald Trump who said on Wednesday he expected Saudi Arabia to join a deal announced last week by Israel and the United Arab Emirates to normalise diplomatic ties.

The UAE is only the third Arab state in more than 70 years to forge full relations with Israel. Under the U.S.-brokered deal, Israel shelved plans to annex settlements in the occupied West Bank, which Palestinians seek as part of a future state.

The UAE said Israel’s commitment had kept alive the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel hitherto had no formal ties with Gulf Arab states but shared concerns with the UAE about Iran’s regional influence and actions, along with the UAE’s role as a regional business hub, led to a limited thaw and discreet contacts in recent years.

The deal raised speculation that other U.S.-backed Gulf Arab countries might follow. But Prince Turki said Saudi Arabia, the biggest Gulf Arab power which has traditionally guided policy towards Israel, expected a higher return from Israel.

“Any Arab state that is considering following the UAE should demand in return a price, and it should be an expensive price,” he wrote in the Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat.

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has set a price for concluding peace between Israel and the Arabs – it is the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state with Jerusalem as capital, as provided for by the initiative of the late King Abdullah.”

That 2002 Arab League plan offered Israel normalised ties in return for Israeli withdrawal from all territories – the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem – captured in the 1967 Middle East war, and a Palestinian state there.

But Prince Turki also voiced understanding for the UAE’s decision, noting that Riyadh’s close ally had secured a key condition – a halt to Israeli annexation plans.

In the first Saudi reaction to the UAE-Israeli deal, Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan said on Wednesday Riyadh remained committed to the Arab peace initiative.

Prince Turki, a former ambassador to Washington and ex-intelligence chief, holds no government office now but remains influential as current chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies.

UPDATE

Gaza militants fired rockets towards Israel which responded with air strikes overnight, the Israeli military said, in the most serious escalation of cross-border violence in months, prompting mediators to step up de-escalation efforts.

There were no reports of injuries on either side. An Israeli military spokeswoman said its Iron Dome system intercepted nine of 12 rockets.

Anticipating Israeli retaliation, Hamas, Gaza’s Islamist rulers, routinely evacuates personnel from its sites.

Hamas has been trying to pressure Israel to ease its blockade of Gaza and allow more investment, in part by permitting Palestinians to launch helium balloons carrying incendiary material that have torched tracts of Israeli farmland in recent weeks.

“The Egyptians, the Qataris and (U.N. Middle East envoy) Nickolay Mladenov have stepped up their efforts in order to restore calm, but calm can only come if Israel agrees to demands presented by Hamas and other factions,” a Palestinian official familiar with the efforts told Reuters.

Mladenov’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

With tensions high, Israel has closed its lone commercial crossing with Gaza, banned sea access and halted fuel imports into the coastal strip, causing its only power plant to shut down earlier this week.

Egyptian mediators held talks in Gaza on Monday to restore calm but left without striking an agreement, Palestinian political sources said.

Gaza’s Joint Command of armed factions, of which Hamas is a part, claimed responsibility for the rocket fire overnight, saying it would “respond to every attack by the enemy against its positions and against our people”.

Buildings and vehicles in the southern Israeli city of Sderot were damaged, Israeli police said, and some Gaza commercial buildings and homes near the sites of Israeli air strikes on Hamas facilities were damaged.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday said the military had struck Hamas targets for ten days straight and was preparing for the possibility of an extended round of violence.

“We have adopted a policy that fires are like rockets … Hamas will be making a very great mistake if it continues like this,” Netanyahu said in a statement to mayors of Israeli towns near the Gaza border.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum accused Israel of tightening restrictions on movement and commerce in Gaza, which Israel has blockaded since 2007 citing security concerns from Hamas militants.

Israel “undermines the life of (Gaza’s) people and bombs resistance positions, and therefore they have to bear responsibility and pay the price”, Barhoum said.

Source: Reuters

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