Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas reached out for French help Friday to lobby Hamas's regional allies to influence it into accepting a truce with Israel, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said. Egypt-mediated talks to end the escalating Gaza Strip war have faltered, with Hamas insisting on a comprehensive ceasefire that would end the Israeli blockade of the coastal enclave, Palestinian officials said. Abbas asked France to lobby Hamas allies Qatar and Turkey to pressure the militants into accepting the truce, Fabius told reporters after meeting the Palestinian leader in Cairo. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood from power last year, has sought to isolate Hamas allies and initially demanded that the militants unconditionally accept a truce to end the 11-day war, as Israel already had.
The apparent downing of a Malaysian passenger jet and the loss of nearly 300 lives could be a game changer in the Ukraine crisis, piling pressure on key players, Russia foremost. The shock tragedy, which President Barack Obama described as a "wake-up call" for Europe on Russia, has brought painful proximity to a conflict which for many was until Thursday a faraway and localised standoff. "After the crash of the Amsterdam-Kuala Lumpur flight in the region of Donbass, the conflict will probably appear less distant to the people of Europe," said German analyst Holger Schmieding. The crash claimed the lives of 298 people, including nearly 100 Dutch nationals, renowned AIDS researchers en route to an international conference, and European and Asian holidaymakers and civilians with no relationship to Ukraine or Russia.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday he had ordered the military to prepare for a possible significant expansion of the ground operation against Gaza militants. In his first public remarks since the operation began late on Thursday, Netanyahu said air strikes alone could not deal a significant blow to the network of tunnels used by Hamas militants to stage cross-border attacks on southern Israel. "Last night our forces began a ground operation to hit the terror tunnels crossing from Gaza into Israel's territory," he said. "It is not possible to deal with the tunnels only from the air (so) our soldiers are doing that also on the ground."
IMF chief Christine Lagarde warned on Friday that low inflation could damage growth in Europe and urged the European Central Bank to maintain a flexible policy. The former French economy minister also urged caution over asset prices, which she said could be too high in relation to fundamentals. "Obstinately low inflation can seriously undermine growth," said Lagarde, who recently hinted that the 3.6 percent global growth forecast for 2014 may have to be trimmed. We are also seeing this in the very positive orientation of markets, perhaps a little too positive in respect to fundamentals," Lagarde said in a speech at the Robert Schuman Foundation in Paris.
Iran and world powers are "likely" to agree Friday on the terms of extending a Sunday deadline to reach a nuclear deal, China's chief negotiator in talks in Vienna said. "Yes, it is likely," Wang Qun told reporters, adding however that Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security plus Germany were still "discussing" how long the extension would be and other issues. Wang also said that generally speaking, he was "encouraged" by progress made in the talks in recent months, which are aimed at easing for good fears that Iran might develop nuclear weapons. Iran and the six powers have been negotiating almost constantly since February, trying to strike an accord by July 20 when an interim deal agreed in Geneva in November expires.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani was to return from months of treatment abroad, with his crisis-hit country on the brink of breakup but his native Kurdistan buoyant with statehood hopes. "President Talabani is coming home on Saturday July 19 after receiving successful health treatment in brotherly Germany," his Patriotic Union of Kurdistan said on Friday. The PUK said Talabani, due to fly into his Kurdish fiefdom of Sulaimaniyah, would resume his duties as head of state, in a statement also confirmed to AFP by his son Qubad. While most of Iraq's political power lies with the prime minister's office, the 80-year-old Talabani was long seen as a key mediator between Iraq's feuding factions.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday slammed Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as an illegitimate tyrant, saying that Cairo could not be relied upon to negotiate a ceasefire with Israel. "Is Sisi a party (to a ceasefire)? Sisi is a tyrant himself," Erdogan told reporters. "He is not different from the others," he said, adding that it was Egypt's current rulers who were blocking humanitarian aid channels to the Gaza Strip ruled by the Islamist Hamas movement.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Friday for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine to permit a probe into the apparent downing of a passenger plane in the rebel-held east of the country. Merkel said Russia in particular must do its part to bring about a "political solution" to the conflict, adding that Moscow bore responsibility "for what is happening in Ukraine right now". "For that, a ceasefire is needed, and then it is of course crucial for those responsible to be brought to justice." Merkel called for a meeting of the so-called contact group comprised of Ukraine, Russia, Russian-backed rebels and the European security body OSCE to find a solution for a "lasting, bilateral ceasefire".
Malawi's electoral commission has said arson cannot be ruled out in a warehouse fire that destroyed ballot boxes containing votes from a disputed election just days after a court ordered a recount. "Having analysed the preliminary reports, the commission is of the view that arson cannot be ruled out," Maxon Mbendera, the head of the Malawi Electoral Commission, said in a statement late Thursday. Mbendera said the government warehouse in the capital Lilongwe had been heavily guarded by armed police officers when the fire broke out on Tuesday night, destroying 1,500 ballot boxes, gas cylinders and gas lamps used during May 20 elections. Opposition parties claim that the fire was deliberately started to destroy evidence that could have overturned the parliamentary victory of a member of newly elected President Peter Mutharika's party.
Some Republican lawmakers on Thursday threatened to withhold support for a Pacific trade pact unless Congress first passes legislation to ensure any deal will go to Congress for an up or down vote, without amendments. In a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, the 23 Republican members of the House panel with jurisdiction over trade said Congress would not approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) the United States is negotiating with 11 other countries if it did not meet lawmakers' goals. So-called trade promotion authority (TPA) allows lawmakers to set priorities for trade deals and means Congress in return votes yes or no on agreements.
WASHINGTON (AP) — American intelligence authorities believe a surface-to-air missile took down a passenger jet in eastern Ukraine on Thursday, a U.S. official said, but the Obama administration was still scrambling to confirm who launched the strike and whether there were American citizens killed in the crash.