By Dan Williams, Reuters
Hamas, a Palestinian Islamist militia rules the Gaza Strip which is currently under a 12-year Israeli-Egyptian land, sea and air blockade that has reduced its economy to a state of collapse. The Gaza Strip was under direct Israeli military occupation from 1967 until 2005.
A senior White House adviser, who began efforts to rebuild Gaza’s economy five months ago, said that escalating conflict in the Palestinian enclave between Hamas militants and Israelis is driving foreign investors away.
“Israel has driven Gaza to a state of desperation. Hamas will be rewarded with aid,” President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner said, according to The New York Times. He said Hamas leaders have shown “a clear intent for a peaceful relationship with their neighbors” and they want foreign financial aid.
“You have to figure out which cards to play at which time,” Kushner said. “Getting a positive outcome there could set the momentum for the rest of the process.”
Kushner and Greenblatt have been tasked with reviving the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. They are expected to present a plan about what Trump has referred to as the “deal of the century”.
President Donald Trump accused Israel of starting the aggression and said the Palestinians were merely responding to attacks.
“The occupation must stop this aggression first to reach a truce with the Palestinian factions in Gaza,” he said.
Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said “one Israeli sortie killed two Palestinian teenagers. Our message to Hamas is that we can and will enhance the intensity of our effort.”
A 15-year-old Palestinian who tried to climb over a fence into Israel was shot dead. Over 130, mostly unarmed, Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since demonstrations began on March 30. Israel says it is defending its sovereign border.
Israel freed a Turkish woman accused of ties to Hamas following a request by U.S. President Donald Trump, an Israeli official said, after the Washington Post reported the deal as part of a failed White House bid to get Ankara to release an American detainee.
Israel arrested Ebru Ozkan while she was visiting as a tourist last month. On July 8, it indicted her in a security court for ties to the Palestinian Islamist group, charges her lawyer denied and which angered Turkey. She was deported a week later.
The Washington Post reported on Thursday that Trump had asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a July 14 phone call to let Ozkan go in a “trade” for Andrew Brunson, a U.S. pastor who has spent 21 months in Turkish detention.
“I can confirm that there was such a request by President Trump,” an Israeli official said on condition of anonymity, without elaborating.
The U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem had no immediate comment.
Brunson, who denies charges of links to a group Ankara says was behind a failed 2016 coup, was moved to house arrest on Wednesday – prompting the Trump administration to threaten sanctions against fellow NATO-power Turkey.
At the time of Ozkan’s release, another Israeli official told Reuters that among the reasons was that, upon review, prosecutors deemed her case too weak to warrant pursuing. But her Israeli lawyer, Omar Khamaisi, said that the indictment against his client had yet to be withdrawn.
Arriving in Istanbul on July 16, Ozkan said Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and been “kind enough to be very interested in my case”. Khamaisi said he was unaware of the reported diplomatic deal around her release.
Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, the president’s special representative for international negotiations, held a conference on rebuilding Gaza’s economy in the White House in March, but Palestinians began protesting days later, with more than 140 of them reportedly killed by Israeli snipers.
Trump entrusted Kushner, who had no prior diplomatic experience, with the hefty task of forging peace in the Middle East. Kushner has made more than a dozen trips to the region over the past 18 months but still has not introduced a peace plan.
“We have the plan ready—mostly ready—and when the time is right, we’ll bring it out,” Kushner said before the conflict in Gaza approached the brink of war.
Congress, meanwhile, is poised to approve $3.3 billion in new defense assistance to Israel, a new high.
Israel’s land, sea and air blockade of Gaza, along with mismanagement by Hamas, which has governed the 141-square mile territory since 2007, has led to a 46 percent rate of unemployment and widespread poverty.
Residents only have electricity for four hours a day and less than 10 percent have access to safe drinking water. The United Nations says the territory is basically uninhabitable.
Alarmed by the BDS movement’s progress, the Anti-Defamation League, AIPAC and other conservative pro-Israel groups support bills in each chamber that would impose criminal penalties, including hefty fines, on U.S. companies that participate in Israel boycotts promoted by the United Nations and other international organizations.
BDS — for boycott, divest and sanction — the economic pressure campaign has sizable public support in the European Union and in recent years has picked up steam across the United States.
Support for Israel has skyrocketed among Christian evangelicals, who overwhelmingly vote Republican.
According to the January Pew poll, nearly 8 in 10 Republicans sympathize with Israel over the Palestinians, which is equal to the number of evangelical Christians who feel the same way. No other religious denomination comes close in their support for Israel.
Netanyahu wants to see a single state over most or all of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank that does not grant Palestinians equal rights under the law.
“Greenblatt and Kushner are mere spokespersons for the Israeli occupation,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri wrote on Twitter, blasting the US officials for their support for Israel.
In an earlier post on Twitter, Abu Zuhri called Greenblatt a “liar” for previously blaming Hamas for destroying Gaza’s electrical grid, which he said was destroyed by the Israeli army.
Copyright 2018 Thomson Reuters.
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