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Israel, Palestine (and Beyond) Live Coverage: US Restarting Negotiations?

US Secretary of State John Kerry with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday (Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

See also Syria Live Coverage: Regime Rejects UN Human Rights Enquiry
Saturday's Lebanon (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Prime Minister Resigns --- What Next?

1731 GMT: Mali. Clashes between the army and Islamists killed seven people Sunday, including a soldier and two civilians, after the insurgents infiltrated northern Mali's largest city, Gao.

The army carried out what it called a "clean-up" operation after Islamists opened fire on an army camp overnight.

The city was now "calm" again, an "African military source" said, adding that the army, "backed by French and African troops, had the situation under control".

1725 GMT: Egypt. President Morsi has prompted speculaton and concern, following outside the Muslim Brotherhood's Cairo headquarters on Friday, with remarks on his Facebook page: "If I am forced to do what is required to protect this nation, then I will do it. And I fear that I might be on the verge of doing it."

1705 GMT: Sudan. Three Sudanese opposition members have been detained after police dispersed a rally demanding the release of other opponents of the regime.

Hundreds of people rallied on Saturday in support of six opposition figures detained for their connection with a conference in Kampala, Uganda, which led to a charter for toppling the 23-year regime of President Omar al-Bashir.

The crowd gathered in Omdurman at the family home of Sudan’s first Prime Minister, Sayyid Isma’il al-Azhari. Police used tear gas to break up the rally.

1355 GMT: Bahrain. Médecins Sans Frontières has cancelled an April conference on medical ethics "because of a lack of assurances from the authorities".

Doctors, hospital managers, and decision makers from across the Middle East were going to convene in the capital Manama on 10-11 April to discuss the challenges faced by medical staff in politically unstable contexts and to explore how hospitals can remain safe havens where health workers can safely perform duties and patients can receive medical assistance.

“After a year of discussions, we still do not have the support we need to go ahead with the conference,” said Dr Bart Janssens, MSF director of operations. “As a result, we are forced to conclude that today in Bahrain, it is not possible for medical professionals and international impartial participants to have a conversation about medical ethics.

1155 GMT: Israel and Palestine. Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, has rejected the idea of a partial Israeli settlement freeze to re-starting peace talks.

Erekat's statement came after US ­Secretary of State John Kerry met separately late Saturday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to talk about ending the deadlock over negotiations and settlements.

Abbas last held talks with Israeli representatives in late 2008.

Netanyahu has refused to halt construction, calling for an immediate return to negotiations. President Obama said during his visit to Israel and Palestine last week that the Palestinians should return to talks without a pre-conditions over the settlement issue.

Asked if Abbas would accept a partial freeze, east of Israel's "separation barrier" in the West Bank, Erekat told Voice of Palestine radio, "Absolutely not. It is rejected." He continued:

First of all, 90% of the building in settlements is going on in the blocs [west of the barrier]. If we accepted that, we would be committing two crimes. The first is legalizing what is illegal, which is settlement construction, and the second is accepting the Israeli policy [of] dictation.

Israel agreed to a 10-month settlement moratorium early in Obama's first term, allowing talks to resume briefly in 2010. The talks ended after Netanyahu refused to extend the freeze.

0945 GMT: Israel and Palestine. Israeli forces have dismantled a tent camp set up in the West Bank by Palestinians President Obama's visit.

Before dawn on Sunday, about 200 Israeli police officers removed about 40 demonstrators from the Bab al-Shams camp.

Activists set up the camp near the Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim, drawing attention to Israeli-backed plans to boost building in the disputed E1 area near Jerusalem.

The settlement of more than 3500 apartments would close in one of the last open spaces between East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Bab al-Shams was first set up in January but overrun by Israeli force on the grounds of "public disorder".

0915 GMT: Israel and Turkey. Iaraeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror, speaking about Friday's "reconciliation" with Turkey, has said that West Jerusalem did not commit to ending its Gaza blockade as part of the deal.

Amidror told Army Radio, "We did not agree to promise (Turkey) that under any condition we would continue to transfer all the things into Gaza and ease up on the residents of Gaza if there is shooting from there."

He added that Israel would respond to any perceived threats to its security, "We do not intend to give up on our right to respond to what happens in Gaza because of the agreement with the Turks."

On Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologised to Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the killing by Israeli commandos of nine Turkish citizens in May 2010. The Turks were aboard a Freedom Flotilla trying to break the Gaza blockade and deliver goods.

Amidror said the reconciliation was worthwhile because of benefits such as co-operation over the Syrian conflict and with NATO.

0645 GMT: Bahrain. Police block and film marchers trying to reach the home of Nabeel Rajab, the detained head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, on Saturday:

0545 GMT: Iraq. Ernesto Londoño of The Washington Post writes of the US as an "increasingly powerless stakeholder in the new Iraq":

The United States is dismantling the vestiges of a police training program once envisioned as its signature contribution to postwar Iraq, having come to terms with the fact that Iraqis had no interest in a multibillion-dollar investment designed to bolster the country’s troubled judicial system.

Plans to keep a robust diplomatic presence along a disputed frontier in northern Iraq that has kept Arabs and Kurds on a war footing were also abandoned, in large part because officials in Baghdad didn’t want the Americans there. Manpower at the fortresslike U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is dropping rapidly. The mission and its three consulates now have 10,500 people, most of them contractors, down from over 16,000 based in Iraq a year ago. By the end of the year, the number will fall to 5,500.

Londoño does not refer to counter-indications of American involvement, such as the leak earlier this month that the CIA is expanding co-operation with Iraqi counter-terrorism efforts, and American officials argue that Washington still has leverage because of arms supplies:

“The fact that they run to us indicates that they do see us as having some influence, some leverage,” said a senior U.S. official.

0525 GMT: Israel and Palestine. President Obama left the Middle East on Satuday a four-day trip --- three of them spent in Israel and Palestine --- but US officials are putting out the line that Washington is invested in re-starting negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Secretary of State John Kerry stayed in the area, meeting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman on Saturday and then seeing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

American officials have said that Kerry will follow up with visits in April and May, the start of a three- to six-month process to renew talks. They said the first topics to be considered are the borders of the Palestinian State and Israel’s security concerns.

“We believe that there does need to be a positive environment around those talks so that steps do need to build trust and confidence so that both parties feel invested in a process that can work. So that was the message that we conveyed,” a US official said.

The latest American messages did not refer to the key issue of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. However, during his visit, Obama urged the Palestinians not to set a settlement freeze as a pre-condition for negotiations, while pressing Israel not to announce plans for expansion.

US sources said the President told Netanyahu that he expects Netanyahu to take “quiet actions” to rein in construction, and that Washington had demanded a halt to plans to build in the controversial E1 area near Jerusalem.

Kerry also urged Netanyahu to address Palestinian demands that Israel free some 120 prisoners who have been detained since before the 1993 Oslo accords, to remove checkpoints in the West Bank, and to approve Palestinian Authority projects in West Bank areas under Israeli military and civilian control.

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