China backs independent Palestinian state


RIYADH/WASHINGTON/OCCUPIED-AL-QUDS: China on Wednesday endorsed efforts to create an independent Palestinian state as Saudi Arabia hardened its accusations that Israel is preventing a settlement of the Middle East conflict.

“China will continue its support for the Palestinian effort to establish an independent state,” Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said on a visit to Riyadh.

Yang said at a news conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal that China supports the principles of a two-state solution under the Saudi-driven Arab Peace Initiative, which calls for an independent Palestinian state based on 1967 borders and with al-Quds as its capital.

Saud, meanwhile, stepped up the rhetoric over Israel’s refusal to freeze the construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and begin talks with the Palestinians.

“This is the longest conflict in modern times,” Saud said. “The reason why this conflict is long is the refusal by Israel of all the attempts to end this conflict.

Arab countries have done their job with the Arab Peace Initiative, which gives Israel security, and gives the Arab countries the restoration of their lands.

“But peace should be established by two sides, not just one side. If one side does not want peace, peace will not be achieved,” he said.

The comments came as both the US and Saudis have increased efforts to push the Palestinians and Israelis into final-status peace talks that would result in an independent Palestinian state.

Amid a sharp increase in regional diplomacy, White House National Security Adviser James Jones met Saudi King Abdullah late on Tuesday on the first stop of a regional tour that will take him to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

US Middle East special envoy George Mitchell is also expected to visit soon.

The two sides remained at odds over the key issue of Israeli settlements.

The Palestinians and their Arab backers—with Saudi Arabia one of the most important—insist that peace talks cannot resume until Israel freezes the construction of Jewish settlements in the West bank and East al-Quds.

Israel and the United States say talks should proceed with no preconditions.

Earlier, the United States Tuesday voiced its support for a wall being built by Egypt to block a network of tunnels stretching out from the Gaza Strip, arguing it would stop arms smuggling.

“We believe that weapon-smuggling should stop and that measures taken to stop that weapon-smuggling should be, could be carried out, yes,” said State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid.

The vast network of tunnels from Gaza to Egypt, constructed in the sandy earth to bypass a crippling Israeli blockade, has become an economic lifeline for the Palestinians.

The network has weathered Israeli air strikes and Egyptian attempts to flood tunnels with water and gas, but there are accusations that they are used to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip run by the Islamic Hamas Movement.

Citing national security, Egypt is now building an underground iron wall in a new bid to tighten its porous Sinai border with the restive Palestinian territory.

Cairo—which states support for Palestinians and has long mediated between both Israel and Hamas and among Palestinian factions—has only implicitly admitted constructing the iron barrier and has provided no details on its size.

Media reports, however, said it would be 30 meters (100 feet) deep and 10 kilometres (six miles) long. But Duguid stressed Washington also supported “greater access for humanitarian supplies to get into Gaza.

As last reports came in, a court on Wednesday sentenced Israeli Islamist leader Raed Salah to nine months in prison for assaulting a police officer, a spokesman for his movement said.

“The court sentenced Sheikh Raed to nine months in prison and gave him a six-month suspended sentence for rioting and attacking a policeman,” Islamic Movement spokesman Zahi Njedat told AFP.

Salah has until February 28 to appeal the decision, his lawyer Khaled Zabarka said, adding that his client had not yet decided whether to do so.

The alleged assault took place during demonstrations that erupted in and around al-Quds’s Old City in February 2007 when Israel embarked on an illegal construction project near the flashpoint al-Aqsa mosque compound.

Muslim demonstrators said the repair work near the Dung Gate threatened the foundations of the nearby compound, which is the third holiest site for Muslims, who refer to it as Al-Haram Al-Sharif (The Noble Sanctuary).

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