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Israel begins a short period of mourning for ex-PM Ariel Sharon who died at 85 of heart failure after 8 years in a coma.
The public will pay their respects when Ariel Sharon’s body lies in state on Sunday before a private burial on Monday.
Israeli and world figures have paid tribute to a man who fought in four major wars before taking to the political stage.
But there was little sorrow among Palestinians who saw him as an enemy.
The head of the Sheba Medical Centre near Tel Aviv confirmed Ariel Sharon’s death on Saturday afternoon, the Jewish Sabbath, more than a week after it emerged that his health was in decline.
Gilad Sharon, one of his two sons, said outside the hospital: “He has gone. He went when he decided to go.”
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama spoke of a leader “who dedicated his life to the state of Israel”.
The public will pay their respects when Ariel Sharon’s body lies in state on Sunday before a private burial on Monday
Israel’s President Shimon Peres, a long-time friend and political rival who joined a unity government with Ariel Sharon in 2001, said he was “an exceptional man and an exceptional commander who moved his people and loved them and the people loved him”.
Ariel Sharon, known as “The Bulldozer”, was a giant of Israel’s military and political scene whose term as prime minister ended abruptly when he had a major stroke that put him in a coma in January 2006.
Months before his stroke, he had guided Israelis through a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, with the declared aim of easing tensions with the Palestinians.
Ariel Sharon’s reputation among Palestinians was such that, in the Gaza Strip, sweets were handed out in celebration of his death. One senior official in the Fatah movement said he was a criminal whom Palestinians had wanted to see on trial.
Palestinian political figure Mustafa Barghouti said while no-one should gloat at his death, Ariel Sharon had taken “a path of war and aggression” and had left “no good memories with Palestinians”.
Ariel Sharon’s coffin will be placed at a plaza in front of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, in Jerusalem on Sunday to allow the public to pay their respects for six hours, from 12:00 to 18:00 local time.
A ceremony will be held there on Monday morning, which international figures are to attend. US Vice-President Joe Biden will lead a US delegation and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is also expected to go.
A few hours later Ariel Sharon will be buried in a private ceremony at his farm in the Negev desert where his late wife Lily was laid to rest in 2000.
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Head of Palestinian mission in Czech Republic, Jamal al-Jamal, has been killed by an explosion at his home in Prague.
Jamal al-Jamal had been taken to hospital after the explosion but died of his injuries some four hours later.
Palestinian officials said the blast happened when the Palestinian diplomat was moving a safe. Czech police say there is no evidence that it was a planned attack.
A 52-year-old woman was also taken to hospital suffering from shock.
The explosion happened at a two-storey property in the city’s Suchdol district.
Jamal al-Jamal had been taken to hospital after the explosion but died of his injuries some four hours later
Palestinian mission spokesman Nabil El-Fahel told Czech public radio Jamal al-Jamal had been in the flat with his family at the time of the explosion.
Jamal al-Jamal had only recently moved into the property.
Palestinian officials have been quoted as saying the blast took place when Jamal al-Jamal attempted to move a safe from an old embassy building to the new one.
“The device was in a safe and was triggered after the door of the safe was opened. The police are not ruling out that the device was a part of the safe,” Czech police spokeswoman Andrea Zoulova told Reuters.
There are no visible signs of damage to the house from the street, according to a Reuters reporter at the scene.
The Palestinian foreign ministry said it would send a delegation to Prague to assist with the investigation.
The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which is recognized by the UN and Israel as representing the Palestinian people, has diplomats based in European and other capitals, and has a mission in Prague.
Israel has freed a group of 26 Palestinian prisoners as part of a US-brokered agreement to resume direct peace talks.
The prisoners were greeted by cheering crowds on their return to the West Bank and Gaza.
Israel approved the releases on Saturday, but they were delayed to allow victims’ families to appeal.
The prisoners committed murder or attempted murder before the 1993 Oslo accords and have served 19 to 28 years.
They make up the third tranche of a total of 104 prisoners to be freed.
Eight of the men were driven late at night to checkpoints leading into Gaza and East Jerusalem.
The other 18 prisoners were heading to Ramallah in the West Bank.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas greeted the prisoners at his headquarters in Ramallah and pledged to continue pressing for the release of other long-serving and sick prisoners.
“We will not sign a final peace deal with Israel before all the prisoners are released,” he said.
President Mahmoud Abbas has previously hailed the prisoners as heroes of the Palestinian cause.
Israel has freed a group of 26 Palestinian prisoners as part of a US-brokered agreement to resume direct peace talks
Palestinians celebrate the releases as victories over Israel – something deeply resented by families of Israeli victims of political violence.
Relatives of the victims of the latest prisoners being freed – 18 from the West Bank, three from Gaza and five from East Jerusalem – have staged days of protests against the releases and appealed to the Supreme Court to block them.
In the past, the court has allowed such releases to take place.
“One of the things we knew when we captured these detainees is that they needed to stay in prison for the maximum period,” Meir Indor of Israeli victims’ association, Almagor, told the Jerusalem Post.
“These men are time-bombs. Wherever they go they kill, because that’s the purpose of their lives.”
The Israeli government has stressed that if any of the prisoners “resume hostile activity” they will have to serve the remainder of their sentences.
PM Benjamin Netanyahu also defended the decision to free those behind deadly attacks at a meeting of his Likud party on Monday.
“Leadership is judged by the ability to implement decisions, difficult as they may be,” he said.
“We were not elected to make easy decisions.”
The Palestinian minister for prisoner affairs, Issa Qaraqai, dismissed the Israeli complaints, saying: “Israel is a murderous state and these prisoners are freedom fighters.”
After the two previous releases, the Israeli government has sugared what the right-wing parties within its coalition regard as a bitter pill by making announcements about Jewish settlement plans in the occupied West Bank.
Israeli media reports suggest Benjamin Netanyahu is likely to unveil plans to build an additional 1,400 housing units, including 600 at Ramat Shlomo in East Jerusalem.
About 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.
Palestinians say continued settlement construction undermines the direct peace talks, which have shown little sign of progress since resuming in July after a three-year hiatus.
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UNESCO has suspended US voting rights after Washington skipped a deadline for paying its dues.
The US stopped its contributions – which made up about a fifth of the agency’s funding- when UNESCO gave the Palestinians membership in 2011.
Israel, which halted its dues at the same time, has also had its UNESCO voting rights suspended.
The US and Israel said admitting the Palestinians was a misguided attempt to bypass the Middle East peace process.
UNESCO’s loss of $80 million a year in US funding has forced it to pare back American-led initiatives, including Holocaust education and a project to restore water facilities in Iraq.
Paris-based UNESCO is charged with designating World Heritage sites, promoting education and supporting press freedom, as well as countering extremism.
UNESCO has suspended US voting rights after Washington skipped a deadline for paying its dues
The American ambassador to UNESCO, David Killion, told Reuters news agency: “We intend to continue our engagement with UNESCO in every possible way.”
The US, however, has said it cannot legally contribute to a UN agency that implies recognition of a Palestinian state.
Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO, Nimrod Barkan, told the Associated Press news agency that his country supported the US decision, “objecting to the politicization of UNESCO, or any international organization, with the accession of a non-existing country like Palestine”.
The Palestinian ambassador to UNESCO, Elias Sanbar, said other countries were beginning to make up for the funding vacuum left by the US.
But he added: “Is this in the interest of the US, to be replaced?”
The US suspension comes amid attempts by Washington to broker peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
The talks have hit a stumbling block in the last week over the continued Israeli expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
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The second of four batches of 26 Palestinian prisoners have been released in Israel as part of a deal for the resumption of peace talks.
Five prisoners were released in Gaza, while the other 21 were sent to the West Bank.
Those freed were all convicted of murders and had spent between 19 and 28 years in prison.
Israeli and Palestinian officials resumed direct talks in Jerusalem in August after a three-year hiatus.
Those who have been freed are seen there as political prisoners and heroes of the Palestinian cause – but that the decision has been hugely unpopular with the Israeli public.
The Palestinians released early on Wednesday were driven from Israel’s Ofer prison to the Erez crossing into Gaza and the Beituna crossing into the West Bank.
In Gaza, fireworks shot into the sky as the former inmates were driven away in a convoy. In the West Bank, the freed prisoners were taken to Ramallah, where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addressed a large crowd.
The second of four batches of 26 Palestinian prisoners have been released in Israel as part of a deal for the resumption of peace talks
Mahmoud Abbas said the next batch of prisoners would be released in two months, and called for all Palestinians to be freed.
“There will be no final agreement without the release of all the prisoners,” he said.
He also denied rumours that the deal for the prisoner release had been made on the understanding that Israel could continue building settlements.
The release has caused tensions within Israel’s governing coalition, with far-right parties trying and failing to stop it going ahead.
Shortly after the prisoners were freed, Israeli media reported that the government had announced that it would build 1,500 new homes in the east Jerusalem settlement of Ramat Shlomo.
The move was seen as an effort to mollify government hardliners. Talks between Israel and the Palestinians were suspended in 2010 after an Israeli freeze on settlement construction expired.
The longest serving prisoner, Isa Abed Rabbo, was convicted of murdering two students while they were hiking south of Jerusalem in October 1984.
A list of the prisoners was published 48 hours before the releases, to allow victims’ families to appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court against the freeing – but the Supreme Court rejected an appeal by an organisation for bereaved families.
There have been large protests in Israel in recent days. Demonstrators on Wednesday held signs that read “death to murderers”.
Conditions over freedom of movement are often attached to prisoner releases by Israel but these have sometimes been broken in the past, with freed Palestinians being rearrested, our correspondent says.
The first batch of Palestinian prisoners was freed in Gaza and the West Bank on August 14.
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