U.N. Security Council

In this Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2007 file photo, construction workers are seen at the E-1 construction site near the West bank settlement of Maaleh Adumim on the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Palestinians will ask the U.N. Security Council to call for an Israeli settlement freeze, President Mahmoud Abbas and his advisers decided Tuesday, as part of an escalating showdown over Israel’s new plans to build thousands more homes on war-won land in and around Jerusalem.

Such construction will destroy any lingering hopes of setting up a Palestinian state, Abbas aides warned.

The plans include 3,000 more homes for Jews in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, as well as preparations for construction of an especially sensitive project near Jerusalem, known as E-1.

Israeli settlement construction lies at the heart of a four-year breakdown in peace talks, and was a major factor behind the Palestinians’ U.N. statehood bid. Since 1967, half a million Israelis have settled in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

The Israeli plans for Jerusalem and nearby West Bank areas “are the most dangerous in the history of settlement expansion and apartheid,” Abbas and senior members of the PLO and his Fatah movement said in a statement after a meeting Tuesday evening.

Israel has rebuffed the international criticism, which put it at odds with some of its strongest foreign allies, including Australia.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Tuesday that construction plans would move forward, particularly in east Jerusalem and nearby West Bank settlements. “Israel makes decisions according to its national interests, and not in order to punish, fight or confront,” he said.

Printed on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012 as: Palestinians to ask for building freeze

North Korean guide Kim Won Ho, right, speaks to a foreign journalist near a photo depicting the 2009 satellite rocket launch at the Three Revolutions exhibition hall in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea accused the U.S. of hostility on Tuesday for suspending an agreement to provide food aid following Pyongyang’s widely criticized rocket launch, and warned of retaliatory measures in response.

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry also rejected the U.N. Security Council’s condemnation of Friday’s launch of a long-range rocket as “unreasonable,” and reasserted the nation’s right to develop a civilian space program.

North Korea fired a three-stage rocket Friday over the Yellow Sea in defiance of international warnings against what the U.S. and other nations said would be seen as a violation of bans against nuclear and missile activity.

North Korean officials called the launch a peaceful bid to send an observation satellite into space, timed to commemorate the 100th anniversary Sunday of the birth of late North Korea founder Kim Il Sung. The launch was a failure, with the rocket splintering into pieces less than two minutes after takeoff.

Condemnation was swift, with the U.S. and others calling it a covert test of rocket technology that could be used to fire a long-range missile fitted with a nuclear warhead.

Washington immediately halted a plan brokered in February to provide North Korea with much-needed food aid in exchange for a suspension of its nuclear and missile programs.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Tuesday it was difficult to say whether the North’s latest statement could indicate whether its “opaque regime” was readying a nuclear test.

“In the past there’s been a pattern of bad behavior,” he told a briefing in Washington. “We can’t preclude anything at this point.”

On Monday, the U.N. Security Council, including North Korea ally China, condemned the rocket launch as a violation of resolutions prohibiting North Korea from ballistic missile and nuclear activity, and directed its sanctions committee to strengthen penalties against the country.

Toner reminded North Korea of its obligations under the resolutions, and said the Security Council’s statement Monday made clear it was determined to take further action if North Korea conducts another rocket launch or nuclear test.

Responding to the Security Council’s condemnation, North Korea accused the U.S. on Tuesday of leading a campaign to deny its right to develop its defense and civilian space programs.

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry vowed to press ahead with its space ambitions, and warned it would no longer adhere to the February agreement with the U.S.

“We have thus become able to take necessary retaliatory measures, free from the agreement,” the ministry said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency. “The U.S. will be held wholly accountable for all the
ensuing consequences.”

“Peace is very dear for us but the dignity of the nation and the sovereignty of the country are dearer for us,” the statement said, without specifying what countermeasures North Korea might take.

North Korea also faced U.N. Security Council condemnation after launching a long-range rocket in 2009, and walked away from six-nation nuclear disarmament negotiations in protest.

Weeks later, North Korea conducted a nuclear test, its second, and revealed it had a uranium enrichment program that could give scientists a second source for building atomic weapons.

JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — South Sudan’s president said Thursday that the nation will not withdraw its troops that this week entered a disputed border region with Sudan.

South Sudan President Salva Kiir spoke to parliament in the midst of escalating clashes along the border with Sudan. He said the country’s military would also re-enter another disputed area, Abyei, currently occupied by Sudan if the United Nations does not urge Sudan to withdraw.

In New York, Sudan’s U.N. Ambassador Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman said if South Sudan did not withdraw, Sudan would “chase them out, and not only that, we would hit deep inside the South.”

“I assure you, this occupation will not last for long,” Ali Osman said.

The U.N. Security Council met in public Thursday to read out a statement demanding “a complete, immediate and unconditional end to all fighting” between Sudan and South Sudan.

The council statement, read out by presiding U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, insisted that both countries redeploy their forces 10 kilometers (16 miles) away from a border that they both recognized last year.

Troops from South Sudan on Wednesday captured the oil-rich border town of Heglig that is claimed by Sudan, whose troops withdrew under the onslaught. Kiir said that South Sudan’s military forces, the SPLA, had also advanced past Heglig after occupying it.

“They pursued them up to the so-called Heglig. But these forces did not stop in Heglig, there was not fighting in Heglig,” he said.

Heglig has been the focal point of more than two weeks of clashes between the two nations. Both sides claim the area, but Sudan operates Heglig’s oil facilities, which account for nearly half of the country’s daily production. The town is 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of the disputed region of Abyei, whose fate was left unresolved when South Sudan split last year from Sudan.

The U.N. Security Council demanded the withdrawal of South Sudan’s military forces from Heglig and an end to aerial bombing by Sudan of South Sudan. It also urged Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and Kiir to hold a summit to resolve their conflicts.

Fighting along the north-south border has been near constant over the past two weeks. On Thursday, South Sudan accused Sudan of bombing the capital of Unity State, Bentiu.

SPLA spokesman Col. Philip Aguer said that Antonov aircraft belonging to Sudan dropped five bombs on a bridge linking Bentiu to neighboring Rubkotna. The two towns comprise Unity State’s most populated area.

“This is an indiscriminate bombing,” and according to initial reports one civilian was killed and four were wounded in the attack, Aguer said.

Ali Osman, the Sudanese ambassador, said any report of Sudan bombing “is just fiction.”

President Kiir said he had received numerous appeals from the international community to withdraw SPLA troops from the disputed territory, including a call from United Nation’s Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon.

“Last night I never slept because of the telephone calls,” he said. “Those who have been calling me — starting with the U.N. secretary-general yesterday — he gave me an order that I’m ordering you to immediately withdraw from Heglig. I said I’m not under your command,” Kiir said.

The military advance by South Sudan into territory it claims but which is internationally recognized as Sudan’s brought swift condemnation from the United States and Britain. Both nations, along with the U.N. Security Council, urged South Sudan to withdraw from the town of Heglig and condemned the bombings of South Sudan territory by Sudan.

Kiir said he also urged the U.N. secretary-general to re-engage Sudan on the disputed territory of Abyei.

“We withdrew from Abyei. Bashir occupied Abyei and is still there up to today,” Kiir said. “I told the secretary-general that if you are not moving out with this force of Bashir, we are going to reconsider our position and we are going back to Abyei.”

Late Thursday, South Sudan’s U.N. ambassador, Agnes Oswaha, told reporters that there will be no withdrawal from Heglig unless and until some sort of mediation of the various disputes with Sudan is in place, and a neutral peacekeeping force is deployed in the area.

Fighting erupted in Abyei between Sudan and South Sudan May of last year, just months before South Sudan formally declared independence from Sudan.

The region was to hold a referendum in January to decide whether it stays with Sudan or joins a newly independent South. But the vote was postponed indefinitely amid disagreements over who would be eligible to vote.

The fighting has displaced more than 100,000 people, most of whom are still waiting to return.

The continued clashes have dimmed hopes for a resolution between the two countries on a host of issues left over from their July split, including oil-sharing, citizenship issues and the demarcation of the border.

Associated Press writer Peter James Spielmann contributed to this story from the United Nations.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, second right, meets with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, fourth from front on left side, during a bilateral meeting at a hotel Saturday, March 31, 2012 in Istanbul, Turkey. Clinton is in Turkey to attend the second meeting of the “Friends of the Syrian People.”

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

ISTANBUL — A coalition of more than 70 partners, including the United States, pledged Sunday to send millions of dollars and communications equipment to Syria’s opposition groups, signaling deeper involvement in the conflict amid a growing belief that diplomacy and sanctions alone cannot end the Damascus regime’s repression.

The shift by the U.S. and its Western and Arab allies toward seeking to sway the military balance in Syria carries regional risks because the crisis there increasingly resembles a proxy conflict that could exacerbate sectarian tensions. The Syrian rebels are overmatched by heavily armed regime forces.

The summit meeting of the “Friends of the Syrian People” follows a year of failed diplomacy that seems close to running its course with a troubled peace plan led by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.

Indeed, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other participants at the conference in Istanbul uniformly expressed concern that Annan’s plan might backfire, speculating that Syrian President Bashar Assad would try to manipulate it to prolong his hold on power.

Clinton said she was waiting for Annan’s report to the U.N. Security Council on Monday on the status of his peace plan.

“There cannot be process for the sake of process. There has to be a timeline. If Assad continues as he has, to fail to end the violence, to institute a cease-fire, to withdraw his troops from the areas he has been battering ... then it’s unlikely he is going to ever agree,” she said. “Because it is a clear signal that he wants to wait to see if he has totally suppressed the opposition. I think he would be mistaken to believe that. My reading is that the opposition is gaining in intensity, not losing.”

Clinton said the United States is providing communications equipment to help anti-government activists in Syria organize, remain in contact with the outside world and evade regime attacks.

The Syrian regime agreed last week to Annan’s plan, which calls for an immediate cease-fire, humanitarian access to besieged civilians and a political negotiation process led by Syrians. Since then, there have been daily reports of violence, including shelling Sunday in Homs that activists said killed more than two dozen people.

The uprising began in March 2011 as part of the Arab Spring with peaceful protests calling for political reforms. Assad’s regime sent tanks, snipers and thugs to try to quash the revolt, and many in the opposition have taken up arms to defend themselves and attack government troops. The United Nations says more than 9,000 have died.

Conference participants in Istanbul said Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries are creating a fund to pay members of the rebel Free Syrian Army and soldiers who defect from the regime and join opposition ranks. One delegate described the fund as a “pot of gold” to undermine Assad’s army.

Participants confirmed the Gulf plan on condition of anonymity because details were still being worked out. One said the fund would involve several million dollars a month. It is said to be earmarked for salaries, but it was not clear whether there would be any effort to prevent the diversion of money to weapons purchases, a sensitive issue that could prompt stronger accusations of military meddling by foreign powers.

The delivery of humanitarian aid to Syria’s beleaguered civilians is a key provision of Annan’s plan. Clinton announced $12 million in additional aid for Syria’s people — doubling total U.S. assistance so far.

The Saudis and other Arab Gulf states have proposed giving weapons to the rebels, while the U.S. and other allies have balked out of fear of fueling an all-out civil war. Washington hasn’t taken any public position on the fund, but it appears that it has given tacit support to its Arab allies.

Mohammed al-Said, a Syrian activist in the town of Duma, northwest of Damascus, said salaries might encourage further defections, but that only arms would turn the tide against Assad.

“What is clear to us is that only fighting can make this regime leave,” he said, adding the opposition wanted arms over intervention so they could topple Assad themselves.

Fayez Amru, a rebel who recently defected from the military and is now based in Turkey, welcomed the decision as a “humanitarian step in the right direction” but also said weapons were needed.

“We feel let down by the international community. I don’t know why there is hesitation by the West ... maybe this will help at least keep the rebels on their feet,” Amru said.

In Damascus, Syria blasted the conference, calling it part of an international conspiracy to kill Syrians and weaken the country. A front-page editorial in the official Al-Baath newspaper said the meeting was a “regional and international scramble to search for ways to kill more Syrians, sabotage their society and state, and move toward the broad objective of weakening Syria.”

Russia and China have twice protected the Assad regime from censure by the U.N. Security Council, fearing such a step could lead to foreign military intervention. Syria’s international opponents have no plans to launch a military operation similar to the Libya bombing campaign that ousted Moammar Gadhafi, especially without U.N. support, but they are slowly overcoming doubts about assisting scattered rebel forces.

The debate over arming or funding the rebels is being driven partly by the sectarian split in the region. The upheaval in Syria presents an opportunity for the Sunni Muslim states in the Gulf to bolster their influence, consolidate power and possibly leave regional rival Iran, led by a Shiite theocracy, without critical alliances that flow through Damascus.

Assad’s regime, which counts Iran among its few allies, is led by the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiism.

Last year, Saudi Arabia sent tanks to help fellow Sunni leaders in Bahrain crush a largely Shiite rebellion there, indicating that sectarian interests sometimes trump calls for democratic change in the Middle East.

Turkey hosts 20,000 Syrian refugees, including hundreds of army defectors, and has floated the idea of setting up a buffer zone inside Syria if the flow of displaced people across its border becomes overwhelming. Parts of the southern Turkish region near Syria are informal logistics bases for rebels, who collect food and other supplies in Turkey and deliver them to comrades on smuggling routes.

Delegates to the Istanbul meeting talked of tighter sanctions and increased diplomatic pressure on Assad, and Syrian opposition representatives promised to offer a democratic alternative to his regime. Yet the show of solidarity at the conference was marred by the absence of China, Russia and Iran.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said military options might have to be considered if Syria does not cooperate with Annan’s plan and the U.N. Security Council does not unite against Assad.

“If the U.N. Security Council fails once again to bring about its historic responsibility, there will be no other choice than to support the Syrian people’s right to self-defense,” Erdogan said.

Burhan Ghalioun, leader of the opposition Syrian National Council, called for the strengthening of Syrian rebel forces as well as “security corridors” in Syria, a reference to internationally protected zones on Syrian territory that would allow the delivery of aid to civilians. However, the nations meeting in Istanbul failed to agree on such an intervention, which could involve the deployment of foreign security forces.

“No one should allow this regime to feel at ease or to feel stronger by giving them a longer maneuvering area,” he said, reflecting fears that Assad would try to use the Annan plan to prolong his tenure. “It’s enough that the international community has flirted with the regime in Syria. Something has to change.”

The Syrian National Council said weapons supplies to the opposition were not “our preferred option” because of the risk they could escalate the killing of civilians, but it appealed for technical equipment to help rebels coordinate.

“For these supplies to be sent, neighboring countries need to allow for the transfer via their sea ports and across borders,” the council said.

The one-day meeting followed an inaugural forum in Tunisia in February. Since then, Syrian opposition figures have tried to convince international sponsors that they can overcome their differences and shape the future of a country whose autocratic regime has long denied the free exchange of ideas.

In Istanbul, police used tear gas and batons to disperse a group of about 40 Assad supporters who tried to approach the conference building. Many held portraits of the Syrian leader. One man waved Chinese and Russian flags.