The UN has condemned Israeli plans to build more settlements in the occupied West Bank.
According to UN spokesman, “unilateral actions” were an obstacle to peace based on a two-state solution.
On January 24, PM Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would build 2,500 more homes in Jewish settlements “in response to housing needs”.
It is the second such announcement by the Israeli authorities since President Donald Trump took office on January 20.
Palestinian officials said the plans undermined peace hopes by building on land they want for a future state.
Stephane Dujarric, the spokesman for the UN secretary general Antonio Guterres, said: “For the secretary general there is no Plan B for the two-states solution.
“In this respect any unilateral decision that can be an obstacle to the two-state goal is of grave concern for the secretary general.
“There is a need for the two parties to engage in a bona fide negotiation to reach the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, two states for two people.”
Donald Trump has indicated that he will be more sympathetic to settlement construction than his predecessor, Barack Obama, and has appointed a staunch settlement supporter as his ambassador to Israel.
Image source Wikimedia
Last month, he criticized President Barack Obama for declining to veto a UN Security Council resolution which demanded Israel immediately cease all settlement activities and warned they were “dangerously imperiling the viability of a two-state solution”.
About 500,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.
Most of the new homes approved on January 24 will be built in existing West Bank settlement blocs, including 902 in Ariel and 652 in Givat Zeev.
One hundred will be constructed in Beit El, a settlement near Ramallah that reportedly has received funding from a foundation run by the family of Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.
Following the announcement, Benjamin Netanyahu declared on Twitter: “We are building – and continuing to build.”
Benjamin Netanyahu says he still supports a two-state solution, but on January 22 he reportedly told ministers that he was lifting restrictions on construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as the city’s municipality approved permits for 566 new homes in the settlements of Pisgat Zeev, Ramat Shlomo and Ramot.
He also discussed the peace process with the Palestinians with President Trump in a telephone conversation, during which he was invited to a meeting in Washington in early February.
“The president emphasized that peace between Israel and the Palestinians can only be negotiated directly between the two parties, and that the United States will work closely with Israel to make progress towards that goal,” the White House said.
Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi strongly denounced January 24 announcement.
She said in a statement: “Once again, the Israeli government has proved that it is more committed to land theft and colonialism than to the two-state solution and the requirements for peace and stability.
“Such a deliberate escalation of Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise constitutes a war crime and the flagrant violation of international law and conventions, in particular UN Security Council resolution 2334.”
Hanan Ashrawi called on the US and the rest of the international community to “undertake serious and concrete measures to bring about a full cessation of all settlement activities and to hold Israel to account for these disastrous plans with punitive measures and sanctions before it completes the destruction of the territorial and demographic contiguity of the West Bank”.
Israel has postponed a vote to authorize construction of almost 500 new homes in Jewish settlements in occupied East Jerusalem.
The Israeli committee’s decision apparently follows a request from PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.
The move also comes ahead of a speech on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by Secretary of State John Kerry.
On December 23, the US chose not to veto a UN Security Council resolution calling for an end to settlement construction.
The decision to abstain infuriated Benjamin Netanyahu, whose spokesman said on December 27 he had “ironclad information” from Arab sources that the White House had helped draft the language of the resolution and “pushed hard” for its passage.
Image source Wikimedia
However, a US state department spokesman said the accusation was “just not true”, but he hoped the resolution would “serve as a wake-up call” for Israel.
More than 500,000 Jews live in about 140 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.
The UN resolution passed on December 23 stated that the establishment of settlements “has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace”.
Benjamin Netanyahu responded over the weekend by summoning the ambassadors of the US and the 14 countries on the Security Council who voted in favor of the resolution, recalling Israel’s ambassadors to New Zealand and Senegal, cutting aid to Senegal, and canceling a visit by Ukraine’s prime minister.
The Jerusalem Planning and Housing Committee had indicated it would press ahead with a planned vote on authorizing 492 new homes in the settlements of Ramat Shlomo and Ramot.
However, on December 28, planning committee member Hanan Rubin said the vote had been postponed.
Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to lay out his vision for ending the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and address what a senior state department official described as “misleading critiques” of the Obama administration by the Israeli government.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said the resolution “paves the way” for the upcoming conference on Middle East peace in France on January 15.
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has summoned American Ambassador Dan Shapiro amid a growing row after the US eased the passage of a UN resolution against Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also foreign minister, took the unusual step of calling the US ambassador to his office.
The move comes after Israel summoned ambassadors from countries which voted for the December 23 resolution.
The reprimands came after Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to take retaliatory steps for what he called a “shameful” act by the UN.
The resolution, which harshly criticized Israeli settlement activity in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, passed when the US abstained instead of using its veto.
Image source Wikimedia
Israel has accused the US, its closest ally but a frequent critic of settlements, of engineering the vote – a charge Washington has denied.
PM Benjamin Netanyahu said: “From the information that we have, we have no doubt that the Obama administration initiated it, stood behind it, co-ordinated on the wording and demanded that it be passed.
“Friends don’t take friends to the Security Council.”
The UN resolution – the first since 1979 to condemn Israel over its settlement policy – said the settlements had “no legal validity” and constituted “a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution”.
PM Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama have had a difficult relationship during President Obama’s two terms and Israel had feared that Washington would take such a measure in the final weeks of Obama’s presidency.
Donald Trump tweeted that the vote was a “big loss” for Israel which “will make it much harder to negotiate peace”, vowing “we will get it done anyway”.
The president-elect promised that “things will be different” at the UN after he takes office on January 20.
Benjamin Netanyahu ordered his foreign ministry to summon the ambassadors of 10 countries which voted in favor of the resolution and which have embassies in Israel.
The reprimand on Christmas Day, when most embassies are closed, is unusual and a sign of the seriousness with which Israel is taking the matter.
In remarks on December 24, Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would work to get the resolution rescinded, adding that allies in the US Congress and the incoming administration had promised to “fight an all-out war” against the measure.
The prime minister said he had already halted Israeli funding to five UN institutions “that are especially hostile to Israel”, and warned of further steps to come.
In the wake of the vote, Israel recalled its ambassadors from New Zealand and Senegal, which both put forward the resolution, and canceled planned visits to Israel by the foreign ministers of Senegal and Ukraine, which had voted for the text.
The issue of Jewish settlements is one of the most contentious between Israel and the Palestinians.
More than 500,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem – land the Palestinians want for a future state.
The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.
Two Israeli teenagers have been convicted of the murder of 16-year-old Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was abducted and burned to death in Jerusalem in 2014.
The verdict on a third suspect, a 31-year-old Israeli man, was postponed for a mental health review.
Mohammed Abu Khdeir was killed in apparent revenge for the murders of three Israeli teens in the West Bank.
The killings set off an escalating cycle of violence, leading to a war between Israel and militants in Gaza.
The teenager’s body was found in a forest in West Jerusalem on July 2, 2014, two days after the bodies of three Israeli teenagers abducted and murdered by Hamas militants that June were found in the West Bank.
Israeli prosecutors said the two unnamed 17-year-olds and 31-year-old Yosef Haim Ben David admitted during questioning to beating Mohammed Abu Khdeir unconscious and then burning him to death using petrol poured on the teenager while he was still alive.
On November 30, the panel of three judges at the Jerusalem District Court found the minors guilty of the murder.
They also said there was enough evidence to convict Yosef Haim Ben David, but that the verdict would be postponed until a psychiatric evaluation had been carried out.
On November 26, Yosef Haim Ben David’s lawyer submitted a psychiatric opinion which stated that he had not been responsible for his actions at the time of the murder.
Prosecutors had previously presented evidence they said showed Yosef Haim Ben David was responsible for his actions.
Mohammed Abu Khdeir’s father, Hussein, said Yosef Haim Ben David was trying to mislead the court.
“There is no justice,” Hussein Abu Khdeir was quoted as saying by Israel’s Haaretz newspaper.
Two Palestinians suspected of the murder of the three Israeli teenagers – Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Shaar, both aged 16, and 19-year-old Eyal Yifrach – were killed by Israeli forces in a gun-battle at their hideout in Hebron in September 2014.
A third man, Hussam Qawasmeh, was sentenced to three life terms in prison in January after being found guilty by an Israeli court of several charges including three counts of accessory to murder.
Israeli police have banned Palestinians from East Jerusalem from entering the Old City for two days after two Israeli men were killed and three injured in separate attacks in Jerusalem.
The Palestinian attackers were shot dead by police.
The latest violence comes two days after an Israeli couple was shot dead in the West Bank.
Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu is to hold emergency talks with security officials on October 4.
The restrictions will stop Palestinians from entering the Old City unless they live there. But Israelis, local business owners and schoolchildren will be allowed in.
The first stabbing incident took place on Saturday evening, just after the end of the Jewish Sabbath, close to Lion’s Gate in the Old City.
The two Israelis killed by Palestinians were Rabbi Nehemia Lavi, 41, a resident of the Old City, as well as 21-year-old Aharon Bennett who lives in a West Bank settlement.
The Palestinian man – named as Mohammad Halabi, a 19-year-old law student from a village near Ramallah in the West Bank – attacked Aharon Bennett, his wife, their two-year-old son and baby daughter who were on their way to pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, the Israeli foreign ministry said in a statement.
Rabbi Nehemia Lavi, a reserve officer in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), was killed as he tried to defend the family, the ministry said.
Aharon Bennett’s wife was seriously wounded, while their son suffered minor injuries and their baby was unharmed, it added.
Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said the Palestinian attacker had taken a gun from one of the wounded men and opened fire at police and tourists. He was then shot and killed by an Israeli police officer who had rushed to the scene.
Police later identified the attacker as a 19-year-old from al-Bireh, near Ramallah in the West Bank. The militant group Islamic Jihad issued a statement claiming him as one of its members.
In the second incident, a Palestinian teenager stabbed an Israeli teenager on a street in West Jerusalem in the early hours of Sunday, October 4. The attacker was also shot dead by police, similar to the earlier incident on Sunday.
There has been a recent flare-up in tensions between Israel and Palestinians, with violent confrontations between security forces and Palestinian youths in a compound holy to both Jews and Muslims in East Jerusalem.
Israel has decided to suspend a new segregated travel rule which separates Palestinian and Jewish passengers on buses travelling to the West Bank.
The defense ministry launched a three-month trial on May 20, but within hours PM Benjamin Netanyahu said it was “unacceptable”.
Groups representing Jewish settlers have been campaigning for segregated travel on security grounds.
Human rights groups described the measures as shameful and racist.
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.
The travel rules put in place by the Israeli defense ministry for a trial period would have applied to the tens of thousands of Palestinian workers who legally travel through checkpoints to work in Israel every day.
Instead of being free to travel home from Israel on any bus heading to the West Bank, the workers would have been required to return only on buses which went back to the checkpoint where they entered Israel – thus denying them access to shared buses which do not go to the checkpoints.
The effect would have been to segregate Jewish and Palestinian passengers onto different buses.
The leader of Israel’s opposition, Yitzhak Herzog of the Zionist Union, wrote on his Facebook page that the move was “a needless humiliation, a stain on the country’s face and citizens”, and had nothing to do with security.
Yariv Oppenheimer, from the campaign group Peace Now, said: “When something looks like apartheid and smells like apartheid, then it’s apartheid.”
Many Jewish settlers who use the same buses to travel back to their own communities argue that allowing Palestinian passengers onto the buses creates a security risk.
Palestinian minister Ziad Abu Ein has died after a confrontation with Israeli troops at a protest in the West Bank.
Ziad Abu Ein had died from complications related to tear gas exposure in the incident near the village of Turmusaya, doctors said.
Several witnesses said the minister had been hit and shoved by soldiers. One said he had been hit in the chest by a tear-gas canister fired by them.
The Israeli military (IDF) said it was looking into the reports.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini called for an “immediate and independent” investigation and said that reports of “excessive use of force” by Israel were “extremely worrying.”
A statement released by the IDF said its forces had “halted the progress of rioters into the civilian community of Adei-Ad using riot-dispersal means”.
“The IDF is reviewing the circumstances of the participation of Ziad Abu Ein, and his later death,” it added.
Following the incident dozens of Palestinians have gathered at the spot near Turmusaya setting fire to tires and throwing rocks at security forces, Voice of Israel radio station reported.
The radio also said that Israel has proposed to set up a joint team with the Palestinians to investigate the death with experts from Israel and Jordan to attend a post-mortem examination.
In recent weeks, 10 Israelis and an Ecuadorean have been killed by Palestinians in a series of attacks. Thirteen Palestinians have also been killed, among them several of the assailants.
Ziad Abu Ein, a minister without portfolio, was among dozens of foreign and Palestinian activists taking part in a protest against land confiscations.
They had planned to plant olive tree saplings on a patch of land near the Jewish settlement of Shiloh, which Palestinians believe has been earmarked for annexation by Israel.
In the course of the protest, they came into confrontation with a group of about 15 Israeli soldiers.
Leading Palestinian activist Mahmoud Aloul, who was also at the protest, told the Associated Press news agency that the soldiers had fired tear gas and had beaten some of the activists with rifle butts.
At one point, Ziad Abu Ein was hit by a tear gas canister, Mahmoud Aloul said.
The Reuters photographer said he had seen Ziad Abu Ein being struck by a hand on the neck during an altercation with two soldiers.
An AFP news agency photographer said the minister had been hit in the chest.
Photos of the incident showed Ziad Abu Ein lying unconscious before he was taken away in an ambulance. He died before reaching hospital in the nearby city of Ramallah.
There are reports that Ziad Abu Ein had a health condition that may have contributed to his death.
Condemning “the brutal assault” on Ziad Abu Ein as a “barbaric act”, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas promised to take unspecified measures and declared three days of mourning.
A senior Palestinian official said the Palestinian Authority would halt security co-ordination with Israel.
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), said that she was “outraged” by the minister’s death.
“It’s extremely sad that a colleague and an old friend has been killed in such a cruel way” she said.
“Ziad was guilty of nothing more than planting olive trees where Israel would uproot trees.”
Ziad Abu Ein once received the death sentence, commuted to life imprisonment, from a court in Israel for a 1979 bombing that killed two Israeli teenagers. He was released in 1985 as part of a prisoner exchange that saw the release of three Israeli soldiers captured in Lebanon.
Israeli forces say one of its soldiers is believed captured, as a 72-hour truce with Hamas in Gaza collapsed just hours after it had begun.
The soldier, named as Hadar Goldin, 23, disappeared when Israeli forces trying to destroy a suspected militant tunnel were attacked, Israel’s military said.
Two soldiers died in firefight in southern Gaza Strip at 9:30 local time.
The Gaza health ministry said dozens were killed by Israeli shelling in the area shortly after the incident.
In 2006 Palestinian militants captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and held him for five years.
Israeli forces say one of its soldiers is believed captured, as a 72-hour truce with Hamas in Gaza collapsed just hours after it had begun
Gilad Shalit was released in November 2011 in exchange for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.
Hamas has not confirmed or denied capturing a soldier.
Some 1,460 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have died in the latest conflict and 63 Israelis, mostly soldiers.
The ceasefire had been brokered by the US and UN to give civilians a reprieve from the violence, and had been seen as an unforeseen breakthrough after days of diplomatic deadlock.
Also on Friday, Palestinian and Israeli delegations arrived in Cairo, Egypt, with the hope of negotiating a longer-term cessation of hostilities, but Egyptian officials said the talks had now been postponed.
A senior Israeli official said Hamas had breached the ceasefire and Israel’s response would be “crushing”.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoun said: “The Israelis are the ones who breached the ceasefire, and the Palestinian resistance acted in a way that ensures its right of self-defense.”
Another Hamas official said the announcement of the soldier’s capture was “a justification for Israel retreating from the truth and a cover-up for massacres”.
Palestinian media reported that Hamas had called for a “day of anger” across the West Bank.
Calls for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas movement are intensifying as more than 800 people have been killed in Gaza in the 18-day conflict.
Secretary of State John Kerry has been in Cairo meeting Egypt’s foreign minister and the UN secretary general.
Five Palestinians were killed in the West Bank, while one Israeli soldier was killed in northern Gaza.
Activists called for a “day of rage” over the deaths of 800 Palestinians in Gaza. Israel has lost 36 people.
Calls for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas movement are intensifying as more than 800 people have been killed in Gaza
Most of the Palestinian deaths have been civilians, while 34 of Israel’s dead have been soldiers. One Thai worker was also killed by rocket fire in Israel.
Israel launched new air strikes on targets in Gaza on Friday, and said it had killed a senior member of militant group Islamic Jihad.
The Israeli military reported new rocket launches by militants inside the Gaza Strip, with several intercepted.
Israel launched its military offensive on 8 July with the declared objective of stopping Hamas firing rockets into Israel, extending its operation since then to destroy tunnels dug by militants to infiltrate its territory.
Hopes rose for at least a limited deal on Friday as it emerged that John Kerry, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and UN chief Ban Ki-moon were planning a news conference for later in the day.
John Kerry is expected to leave the region on Friday, whether or not a deal is agreed.
The plan is thought to include provision for a temporary pause in hostilities that could begin as soon as this weekend.
Israel wants to keep its military in Gaza and continue disabling Hamas tunnels.
Any plan must be approved both by Israel’s security cabinet and senior Hamas leaders, including Qatar-based Khaled Meshaal.
At least two Palestinians have been killed and 200 wounded in the West Bank during protests against Israel’s campaign in Gaza, officials say.
About 10,000 protesters marched from Ramallah towards East Jerusalem, where they were met by Israeli forces.
At least 15 people died and scores were injured when an UN-run shelter came under fire in Gaza on Thursday.
More than 800 Palestinians and 35 Israelis have died since the Israel-Hamas conflict began on July 8.
Palestinian leaders in the West Bank have called for a “day of anger” on Friday, one of the last days of Ramadan.
The protest at Qalandia, outside Ramallah, saw Israeli border police use “riot control measures” and live fire. Protesters also used live ammunition, Israel said.
At least two Palestinians have been killed and 200 wounded in the West Bank during protests against Israel’s campaign in Gaza
Large protests were also reported in Jerusalem on Thursday evening, after Israeli police prevented men under 50 from visiting the al-Aqsa mosque.
At least 20 protesters were arrested after they threw rocks at police, Israeli police said.
Israel launched its military offensive with the declared objective of stopping Hamas firing rockets into Israel.
It has since discovered a network of tunnels used by militants to infiltrate Israeli territory, and has vowed to destroy them to restore security.
Efforts to broker a ceasefire have been continuing despite the continued violence.
Reports suggest a deal under discussion could allow Israeli forces to remain in Gaza to destroy tunnels.
Palestinian leaders say this is the start of the “uprising of freedom and independence”. Thousands marched from the outskirts of Ramallah towards the Qalandia checkpoint calling for an end to the Israeli occupation.
Youths threw stones and petrol bombs towards the checkpoint and tried to destroy the barrier. Israeli police say they used percussion bombs and tear gas.
The demonstration was called for by a group of youths on Facebook, among them the son of the popular imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has urged Palestinians to expand the protests, and leaders in the West Bank have called for a “day of anger” on Friday.
Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu has accused the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas of kidnapping three Israeli teenagers.
The students went missing on Thursday near an Israeli settlement in the West Bank on their way back from lessons.
Hamas has denied it was involved in their disappearance.
The disappearance is being seen as the biggest strain on relations between the two sides since a Palestinian unity government was announced in April.
As tensions mounted, Israeli troops surrounded a house in the West Bank city of Hebron late on Sunday and gunfire was heard.
Unconfirmed reports said two men were arrested. It is not clear if the incident was connected to the search for the missing teenagers.
PM Benjamin Netanyahu has accused the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas of kidnapping three Israeli teenagers
“Those who carried out the kidnapping of our youngsters are Hamas people,” Benjamin Netanyahu said.
Benjamin Netanyahu pointed to the fact that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recently announced a unity government backed by Hamas.
Israel suspended crisis-hit peace talks with the Palestinians when the government was announced and insists it will not deal with a Palestinian government backed by Hamas.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri called Benjamin Netanyahu’s statements “silly” and said the arrests of Hamas figures were “aimed at breaking the will of the Hamas movement in the West Bank”.
The Israeli army says it has arrested about 80 Palestinians in the search for the teenagers.
Israel says an “intensive operation” is under way to find the two 16-year-olds – Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar – and 19-year-old Eyal Yifrach.
They were last seen in the area of Gush Etzion, a bloc of Jewish settlements located between Jerusalem and the predominantly Palestinian city of Hebron.
Palestinian officials have said they are co-operating with the search.
Benjamin Netanyahu previously said he holds the Palestinian Authority responsible for the teenagers’ wellbeing but Palestinian officials have pointed out that the three went missing in an area under full Israeli control.
Israel has said it suspects militants may try to trade the teenagers for Palestinian prisoners, as happened after the 2006 kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
Sgt. Gilad Shalit was freed in 2011 after Israel and Hamas agreed a deal under which more than 1,000 Palestinians were released from Israeli detention.
Also on Sunday, the Israeli army said it had conducted aerial raids on the Gaza Strip overnight in retaliation for rockets fired from the Strip into Israel.
The three Israeli teenagers missing from the West Bank since Thursday have been abducted by a “terror group”, Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu says.
Benjamin Netanyahu said an “intensive operation” is under way to find the two 16-year-olds and one 19-year-old.
The three seminary students went missing near an Israeli settlement north of Hebron as they were returning from evening lessons.
Palestinian officials say they are co-operating with the search.
“Our children were kidnapped by a terror group,” Benjamin Netanyahu said.
An intensive operation is under way to find the three teenagers missing from the West Bank since Thursday
“There is no doubt about that.”
The teenagers have been identified as Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar – both 16 – and Eyal Yifrach, 19.
They were last seen in the area of Gush Etzion, a bloc of Jewish settlements located between Jerusalem and the predominantly Palestinian city of Hebron.
The Israeli army says it is conducting house-to-house searches in the West Bank.
The search is being seen as the biggest strain on relations between the two sides since a Palestinian unity government was announced in April.
Benjamin Netanyahu has already said he holds the Palestinian Authority responsible for the teenagers’ wellbeing.
In response, Palestinian officials have pointed out that the three went missing in an area under full Israeli control.
Israel has arrested at least 12 people in the Hebron area, they say.
In an earlier statement on the operation, the Israeli army pointed to the 2006 kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and said the three may have been taken to be traded for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
Sgt. Gilad Shalit was freed in 2011 after Israel and the Islamist movement Hamas agreed a deal under which more than 1,000 Palestinians were released.
In April, Israel suspended crisis-hit peace talks with the Palestinians when a Hamas-backed Palestinian unity government was announced.
Pope Francis has prayed at Bethlehem wall during his three-day tour of the Middle East.
The unscheduled stop came after he called for an end to the “increasingly unacceptable” Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Speaking in Bethlehem, Pope Francis invited the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to the Vatican to pray for peace.
The tour’s official purpose is to improve ties with the Orthodox Church.
Pope Francis has prayed at Bethlehem wall during his three-day tour of the Middle East
Pope Francis is to meet Bartholomew I, the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, in Jerusalem later – to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic meeting of Catholic and Orthodox leaders who moved to end 900 years of division between the two churches.
The Pope’s visit comes just weeks after peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down, and his invitation to Rome for Presidents Peres and Abbas – quickly welcomed by both – is an intriguing development.
Following the Mass in Bethlehem, Pope Francis flew by helicopter to Tel Aviv where he was formally welcomed to Israel by President Shimon Peres and PM Benjamin Netanyahu.
“The time has come to put an end to this situation which has become increasingly unacceptable,” the Pope said on Sunday as he met Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
Pope Francis talked of the “tragic consequences of the protracted conflict” and the need “to intensify efforts and initiatives” to create a stable peace – based on a two-state solution.
He later held an open-air Mass for 8,000 local Christians by Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, during which he said he wished to invite Mahmoud Abbas and Shimon Peres to join him at the Vatican “in heartfelt prayer to God for the gift of peace”.
According to Pope Francis’ spokesman, Federico Lombardi, the move was papal peace initiative and believed to be the first of its kind.
Pope Francis has insisted the purpose of his Middle East trip is purely religious, but his first speech on his arrival in Bethlehem showed he is also willing to address pressing political issues, correspondents say.
On his way to Bethlehem, Pope Francis stopped to pray at an 8 m concrete wall that is part of the barrier Israel is building in and around the West Bank.
The Pope rested his head against the wall – which Israel says is needed for security, but the Palestinians see as a land grab – near graffiti reading: “Free Palestine.”
Palestinian officials have noted that Pope Francis is the first pontiff to travel directly to the West Bank rather than enter via Israel: Many Palestinians see that as a recognition of their push for full statehood.
The Pope’s tour began on Saturday with a visit to Jordan.
On Monday Pope Francis is due to visit the al-Aqsa mosque complex in Jerusalem’s Old City followed by the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall.
Scarlett Johansson has decided to quit as an ambassador for Oxfam amid a row over her support for SodaStream, an Israeli company that operates in the occupied West Bank.
A spokesman for Scarlett Johansson said she had a “fundamental difference of opinion” with the humanitarian group.
Scarlett Johansson will remain a brand ambassador for SodaStream, which has a factory in the Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim.
Oxfam opposes trade from settlements, which are illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.
About 500,000 Jews currently live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
A statement from Scarlett Johansson’s spokesman published on Wednesday announced that the Hollywood star had “respectfully decided to end her ambassador role with Oxfam after eight years”, according to the Associated Press.
Scarlett Johansson will remain a brand ambassador for SodaStream, which has a factory in the Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim
“She and Oxfam have a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. She is very proud of her accomplishments and fundraising efforts during her tenure with Oxfam,” it added.
On Thursday, Oxfam issued a statement saying it had accepted Scarlett Johansson’s decision to step down and was grateful for her many contributions.
“While Oxfam respects the independence of our ambassadors, Ms Johansson’s role promoting the company SodaStream is incompatible with her role as an Oxfam Global Ambassador,” it added.
“Oxfam believes that businesses, such as SodaStream, that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support.”
Scarlett Johansson signed up to be a global brand ambassador with SodaStream International Ltd earlier this month, and is due to appear in an advertisement for the firm during Sunday’s Super Bowl.
Her statement added: “SodaStream is a company that is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbors working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights.”
SodaStream, which makes products that allow people to produce carbonated soft drinks at home, operates one of the hundreds of factories constructed in some 20 Israeli-run industrial zones in the West Bank.
President Mahmoud Abbas has declared three days of mourning after at least eight Palestinian children have been killed in a collision between a school bus and an Israeli lorry on a road in the West Bank.
The school bus was carrying children as young as five or six on their way to Ramallah, just north of Jerusalem.
The vehicle overturned on impact and burst into flames. More than 30 children were injured, and there are fears the death toll may rise.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed his sorrow and offered assistance.
The bus is believed to have been carrying up to 50 children at the time of the crash, which happened on a busy road junction.
At least one report said a teacher had also been killed.
At least eight Palestinian children have been killed in a collision between a school bus and an Israeli lorry on a road in the West Bank
In a broadcast, President Mahmoud Abbas described the accident as a horrific national disaster and said all flags would fly at half-mast.
“The toll so far shows that more than 10 children have died and scores of injured are receiving treatment in various medical centres in the West Bank,” he said.
The higher figure of the number of dead has not been confirmed.
The children were apparently travelling from their school in the West Bank village of Anata when the two vehicles collided, head-on, according to reports.
The lorry driver, an Israeli-Arab, was injured.
Dr. Ahmad Bitawi, director of Ramallah Hospital, said five children and a teacher had been pronounced dead at the hospital, while a further 54 people injured in the crash were treated there, Reuters news agency reported.
Some of the survivors were also taken to Jerusalem’s Hadassah University Hospital.
“It is an ugly, unbelievable, terrible accident; it shakes the feelings of the whole world because it includes babies,” Adham Al-Hindin, uncle of two injured children, told Reuters.
The road conditions in the area were “pretty treacherous” following heavy rain overnight and the accident had happened during morning rush hour.
Shalom Galil – an Israeli paramedic at the scene – also said the adverse weather conditions appeared to have been a factor.
He said the steep road where the crash happened had been affected by oil. “We assume that either the bus or the truck slipped and crashed into each other.”
Shalom Galil said Israeli and Palestinian emergency services had worked closely together at the scene.
“Palestinian firefighters were involved. As far as I could see, there was full co-operation between the firefighters of Judea and Samaria [West Bank] and the Palestinian firefighters.”