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Israel-Palestine Live Blog (23 October): Gaza, Settlements, Iran, and Elections

Tzipi Livni and Ehud Olmert1830 GMT: In a ceremony attended by Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, the former laid the foundation stone for Hamad Medical City project in the Gaza Strip. 

1825 GMT: A rocket fired from Gaza hits Eshkol Regional Council. No injuries reported. 

1740 GMT: The IDF says the army is better than the intercepted Finnish-flagged Gaza-bound civilian vessel when it comes to efficiency. 

1615 GMT: Greek activists who were arrested aboard the Finnish-flagged Estelle by Israeli commandos on Saturday denounced the Israeli army's action.

Vaguelis Diamantopoulos, a Greek MP, said: "The balaclava-clad commandos from the Israeli marine carrying heavy weapons came aboard the boat and acted like a militia." 

The boat's captain Vangelis Pissias said: "They sent out the army for 30 activists."

Activists claimed that Israeli soldiers had used tasers on board. However, Israeli officials denied such accusations. 

1550 GMT: Qatari Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani cancels speech in Gaza stadium after Israel's criticism. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, Yigal Palmor, said:

It is quite strange that the emir of Qatar should take sides with Hamas, that he will favor Hamas over Fatah that he would even decide to take sides in the Palestinian internal conflict. This is more than strange, especially since Hamas is internationally recognized as a terror group ... by hugging Hamas publicly, the emir of Qatar has thrown peace under the bus.

1525 GMT: The Emir of Qatar, accepting an honorary degree at the Islamic University in Gaza, said that his presence would not have been possible were it not for the Egyptian Revolution:

1410 GMT: At the start of his meeting with Bulgarin Prime Minister Rosen Plevneliev, Prime Minister Netanyahu has declared his fight against "Iran-backed terrorism":

I have to tell you that these terror attacks, which threaten all of us, continue unabated.  Today we engaged in exchanges against terrorist aggression that comes from our southern border in Gaza, but it actually comes from Iran and a whole terror network that is supporting these attacks.  Iran supported Hezbollah's terror attacks in Bulgaria; Iran is supporting terror attacks now against us in Gaza.  We will fight and we will hit them very, very hard – very hard.  That's the only way to fight them.  The way to fight terror is to fight terror, and that we shall do with great force.

1345 GMT: Lawyers in Turkey have filed a complaint with the Istanbul Public Prosecutor against Israeli leaders --- President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Israeli army Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and head of the Navy Ram Rothenberg --- for seizing the Finnish-flagged ship Estelle

1320 GMT: At the Kalandia checkpoint on the northern edge of Jerusalem, the IDF captures a Palestinian reportedly with eight pipe bombs. 

1310 GMT: On Monday, during the third and final debate between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, Israel was mentioned no less than 34 times.

When asked whether they would stand by Israel if attacked by Iran, Obama said: "I will stand with Israel if they are attacked. And this is the reason why, working with Israel, we have created the strongest military and intelligence cooperation between our two countries in history."

Romney said: "When I'm President of the United States, we will stand with Israel. And if Israel is attacked, we have their back, not just diplomatically, not just culturally, but militarily."

1300 GMT: Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine fighters claimed responsibility for an attack that wounded an Israeli soldier on the Gaza border.

1245 GMT: It is reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat are visiting the Gilo neighbourhood of East Jerusalem. Netanyahu said that Israel would continue its settlement constructions in Gilo.

On Sunday, Netanyahu told his cabinet that Israel would not place any limitation on "construction in its capital" and continued:

In the same way, building goes on in London, Paris, Washington or Moscow. Israel is building in Jerusalem. We have a connection no less ancient and powerful to our capital.

1110 GMT: The Emir of Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, entered the Gaza Strip through Egypt’s Rafah crossing with a delegation on a humanitarian aid campaign of $250 million worth of reconstruction projects. 

Israel Foreign Ministry said it was"astounding" that Qatar was taking sides, noting that the emir "has never dignified the PA with a visit".  

Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas said it hoped the visit would not undermine efforts to rebuild Palestinian unity or signalapproval for a separate Palestinian territory. 

Hamas says the Emir's trip would mark the beginning of the end of Israel's blockade policy.

1000 GMT: In a survey of 503 interviewees, a majority favours official discrimination policy against Arabs in Israel and supports the establishment of an apartheid regime if West Jerusalem formally annexes the West Bank. 

Isolation over Settlements

On Saturday, following European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton’s condemnation of Israel’s recent decision to build 797 new housing units in East Jerusalem’s Gilo neighbourhood, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called Gilo an “inseparable part of Jerusalem” and said in a most undiplomatic way that Ashton should have minded her own business

Speaking in Jerusalem on Monday, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said that, because of the “growing isolation of east Jerusalem from the West Bank, a Palestinian state has become “unviable” and added: “"We've reached a crisis stage. The two-state solution is the only realistic path to peace and security for Israel and the Palestinians.”

Strikes on Gaza 

Israel Defense Forces hit northern Gaza on Monday, killing two Palestinians, after rockets exploded near the border fence between Gaza and the western Negev. Hamas called the act a "crime" and vowed to respond. 

During a meeting with Mideast Quartet envoy Tony Blair after the incident, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said:

We've got Hamas, supported by Iran, firing rockets at us. They’ve fired again. We're not going to let anyone arm themselves and fire rockets on us and think that they can do this with impunity. They’re not going to get away with it. We attacked them before, we attacked them after and we're going to prevent them from arming themselves. This is our policy.

US-Iranian Direct Talks?

The New York Times reported on Sunday that the Obama Administration was ready for direct talks with no preconditions. The Israeli daily Haaretz asked:

- What concessions Washington will offer or may have offered Iran to consent to a dialogue?

- Has the Obama Administration promised Tehran not to apply to military measures throughout the negotiations, unlike G. W. Bush?

- If Obama’s red line is the manufacture of nuclear weapons, not nuclear enrichment program itself; then what is the limit of acceptance and its control mechanisms?

- Did Iran's agreeing to talks contribute to the wording of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's UN speech, in which he "granted" the U.S. administration more time, until next spring or summer, for diplomatic efforts?

Livni’s Elections? 

With uncertainty over not clear whether former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will run an election campaign, the question is circulating if former Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni will compete in the upcoming Knesset elections, irrespective of Olmert's decison.

A source close to Livni said: “She has no problem running. As far as she's concerned, it is definitely a possible move, but the question is if this move can achieve significant goals: Can it increase the power of the non-Netanyahu bloc, and can Livni's success in the elections promote the peace process? Livni gave up on her dream to be prime minister. She certainly sees herself as the foreign minister in an alternative government."

Relations with Turkey 

Talking to Turkish journalists in Jerusalem, Israel’s Deputy Director General of the Foreign Ministry Pinhas Aviv stressed the “importance” of the two countries' cooperation, especially in the face of the escalating violence in Syria. He added:

We have both made some mistakes, but the escalated crisis between Israel and Turkey was artificial. We can sit around the table and solve our problems. 

Turkish foreign ministry spokesperson Selçuk Ünal dismissed the offer:

There is no change in Turkey's stance towards Israel. Israeli authorities have to take the expected steps to normalize relations instead of giving messages through the press.

Ankara is asking for an official apology and compensation for its nine citizens killed by Israelis on the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara flotilla in 2010 and for the lifting of the blockade of the Gaza Strip. 

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