Bin Laden: Palestinian cause fuels holy war

Associated Press report 16th May 2008

Al-Qaida will continue its holy war against Israel and its allies until it liberates Palestine, Osama bin Laden said in a new audio statement Friday.

The message came as President Bush wrapped up his visit to Israel to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Jewish state.

Bin Laden says the fight for the Palestinian cause is the most important factor driving al-Qaida's war with the West and fueled the Sept. 11 attacks.

The authenticity of the close to 10 minute message could not be verified, but it was posted on a Web site commonly used by al-Qaida.


SEPTEMBER 22nd 2009
Today, the leaders of Israel and the Palestinians meet as guests of President Obama
As far as I know, Israel does not accept the sine-qua-non of the Road Map - a freeze on building in settlements in the disputed territories.
Since this refusal is based on a view of reality not shared outside Israel, and that view of reality cannot be changed
as it based on the belief that Israel's rights are both supernatural and supernational, there is no possible peaceful solution.
The news as reported faithfully on these links is therefore of no consequemce whatsoever. Oops -see below!

 MAY 2011 - Bin Laden is gone, and Barack Obama makes history 

SEPTEMBER 20th 2011
Abbas is set to launch astatehood bid at the UN
This in my view means a declaration that the 'Road Map' is now dead
as the Israelis have refused to comply with ant restraints.

The Palestinian Road Map

From April 2004 to May 19th 2011

Mar 6th 2006 - Road Map abandoned
May 25th - Road Map Revival attempt
MAY 31 - Economic Genocide
JUNE 28th 2006 - Stupidity beyond belief
July 15th 2006 - WAR        July 20th..... NO WAY BACK
August 4th.....  Is there a way forward?
August 16th  - The war pronounced a 'success' by both sides
September 11th 2006 - What to do next...
Sept 26th - THIS IS WHAT TO DO
Nov 8th - No sign of it
Nov 26th - Just Rocket Sense
Dec 15th The spectre of civil war
---------- 2007---------
January 10th - Israel exists according to Hamas. Does Palestine exist according to Israel?
January 18th - Rice hears Encouragement
Jan 26th - Civil War in Lebanon?
Jan 27 - Civil War in the Occupied Territories?
February 1st - Yes, it is civil war.
Feb 8th - Agreement reached between Palestinian factions
Feb 9th-19th - What should happen next
March 15th - But it is taking a long time
March 18th - A leading article with balls
March 27th - at last some sense
March 31st - Olmert suggests comprehensive peace wih Arab states, but on terms unlikely to be accepted.
April 1st - It seems after all Olmert is not so inflexible. Unfortunately his party probably is.
APRIL 13 - So the plan is to aim for progress later this year, but Arabs are sceptcal.
APRIL 30th - The Israeli report on the War in Lebanon
MAY - Fatah vs Hamas - Toubles in Lebanon - Between Israel and Hamas the madness continues.
JUNE - WAR BETWEEN HAMAS AND FATAH, then an offer of peace...
but unless the West takes action to restore Palestinian unity and the economy
progress is impossible.
JUNE 27 - Blair takes on role of Middle East Envoy for the Quartet (UN, EU, US, RUSSIA)
JULY 15 -  Fatah militanta renounce Israel violence in reciprocal deal
JULY 18 - The Quartet and Blair shape up - but will they talk to Hamas?
AUG 13 - Sense from Michael Ancram!
OCTOBER 15th - Either we get a Palestinian State or the UN should pull out of the 'Quartet'
NOVEMBER 4th 2007 - The Tony Blair economic plan for Palestine
NOVEMBER 25th - The Annapolis Conference. 40 States present. This had better be good.
Unfortunately Hamas are not hoping for success.
JANUARY 14th - Bush opens the play for his final push.
I see no way forward so this file will now close, to re-open only if something happens to change my mind.
Israeli politics is held hostage to Zionists who have no intention of withdrawing even from
settlements the Israeli government has classed as illegal. Innocent individuals on both sides will continue
 to die while these appalling people battle on claiming their Palestinian opponents are terrorists.
What other choice do they have? They claim Palestinians want to drive Israel into the sea,
but if Israel behaved differently, they would not and furthermore could not, nor wish to.

Meanwhile most ordinary Israeli's are wondering why they are living there in the first place:
See entry for Sept 9th 2008

I have reopened the file for entries from Jan 2009

APRIL 27th 2011
Fatah and Hamas to end their rift
see entry below for that date

Recommendend reading:
NOVEMBER 19th 2006
This transcript of BBC Radio 4's ANALYSIS Programme

APRIL 17 2004
Issues impinging on the 'Road Map' have been covered on this site up till now in the diaries on Iraq and Terrorism after the war. However, the time has now come to give them their own discreet diary.

Ariel Sharon's unilateral decision to withdraw from the Gaza strip is (fortunately) widely misunderstood. George W. Bush and Tony Blair's approval or acquiescence of it is even more widely misunderstood. If these moves were not misunderstood they would not achieve their ends. I will therefore refrain from explaining them here, apart from noting what the goal is.

The goal is the achievement of a Palestinian state, by agreement, as envisaged in the agreed 'Road Map'. One of the vital objectives is the withdrawal of Israel from the Gaza strip. At the moment this is not achievable by agreement. The terms that the Israeli government demands in return are not acceptable to the Palestinians or the International Community. That is why the action has to be unilateral. That is also why, although Sharon told Bush in advance what his actions would be, it had to be done without the approval and (most important) without consultation of the major powers involved in the Road Map process. Had there been consultation, the action would have been impossible. Sharon alone had to take the responsibility.

Of course the Palestinians do not accept the terms that Sharon has tied to the withdrawal. Those with an understanding of reality will also note that because of the way Sharon has done this, they have not been asked to accept them. A withdrawal of Israel from a solid block of occupied territory has thus been achieved at no cost whatsoever.

Jack Straw, Chris Patten, Michael Ancram, Geoff Hoon and Tony Blair have each, in their own words, explained why this is not a daft move.

JB 17 April 2004

The targetting of and assassination of Palestinian leaders by Israel is, on the other hand - crazy. It cannot possibly reduce the conflict or bring a resolution nearer.

UPDATE APRIL 27th 2004
52 former envoys, diplomats with experience of the middle east, have written to Downing St deploring the UK Government's acquiesence in (which they take as approval of) the withdrawal from Gaza. They assume that the UK has given its approval to the abandonment of the Road Map and acknowledged that Israel will not be withdrawing totally from the occupied West Bank territories. If they are right, then I am wrong. However I see not the slightest indication that the PM or his cabinet or the UK Government have changed their position. The only move possible at this stage is to get israel out of Gaza. The end game is to get them out of the West Bank as well, for their own good as much as anyone's. But that has to be achieved later.

The 52 diplomats have also opined that American policy and methods in Iraq are doomed to failure. Nothing new there then. Wasn't it Winston who said that America always does the righ thing, after trying all the alternatives first? (I paraphrase probably). Of course it's a bloody disaster. World War 2 was a bloody disaster. All wars are a disaster. How nice it would be to have a world police force staffed by geniuses, financed by nations and leaders who would understand everything and will the means and the lives to achieve the ends peacefully. But Nature has to work with the materials it has to hand. Saddam and his ilk, past and present, know only too well why they can get away with what they do. It is precisely because those who said what a mess it would all be are right, and therefore "good men will do nothing".

Of course the retired diplomats are right. Of course the terrorism will go on until the Palestinians have a state on acceptable terms.Of course they were never going to get that under the peace plan they rejected many moons back. Of course appalling misjudgements have also been made. The only thing the 52 are wrong about is in believing that things would have been better if, once Hans Blix had said he could not meet the timetable for checking out WMD to match with the miltary timetable, the coalition had packed up its tents and gone home or sat there till mid summer before moving in. But hold on - actually they don't actually say that. What they are saying is that the US approach to the post-Saddam settlement has gone wrong. That's true. But there again they are telling us nothing we don't know already.

UPDATE MAY 3rd 2004
Ariel Sharon has had his plan to evacuate Gaza rejected by his own party. This must be the ultimate irony. Sharon is himself responsible for the settlers being their illegally in the first place. Now the people he used as pawns in his power game have him by the proverbials He is stymied.

MAY 21
Sharon has the backing of a large majority of the Israeli public, so it is likely he will after all withdraw from Gaza. But his tactics over the past weeks of destroying Palestinian houses on the grounds that they are sheltering terrorists and the entrance to weapons-smuggling tunnels is disastrous.  Peace has never looked so far off. Reconciliation now looks impossible. Britain is suffering by association with America, seen as the ally of Israel no matter what the tactics.

JUNE 7th
After weeks of argument ad debate within the Israeli political parties there is now admission of a significant shift in the underlying forces. The 'right wing' of Likud now acceps for the first time that the idea of a Greater Israel is out, and a solution based on acceptance of a Palestinian state is the only way forward to peace. This is momentous, though the fewer people notice it the better, probably.

JULY 9th
The world court has decided that Israel's defensive wall is illegal because they have built it on Palestinian land. Israel says the court has no authority. In fact it lacks the means of enforcement; like other international bodies one could think of. So Israel can ignore it's decision, but the price will then be paid as those who do not have justice or even a state continue to resort to terrorism. Regardless of authority or the lack of it, the wall, built where it is, while stopping some bombers, will generate others who will attack elswhere.

Now it looks like the vote for the pull-out from Gaza has a chance of getting past the final hurdle. Sharon has won the crucial majority with the support of the Opposition. It will not come as a prize to the Palestinians as, even if in a year from now it takes place, the Gaza Strip is an enclosed area from which they cannot travel freely. They remain divided between there and the West Bank. This problem will need a solution. This can only come about when there ceases to be an immature approach to the basis for statehood, and to the entitlement to land, residency and domicile in the area. No land has been given to anyone by God. Land has been occupied, fought over, defended, settled, evacuated, improved, exploited, wrecked, poisoned, abandoned, recovered, bought, sold, farmed, built on, any number of things have been done to land. But one thing is certain: no land has ever been given to a particular individual, group, family, race or religion - by GOD. It has to be acquired through the prevailing valid means at the time, and kept according to these as they change. In the times when there were few people on this earth, being born there was likely to suffice until there was reason or need to move elsewhere.  If in the last few centuries it has to be by mutually agreed international law, then so be it. Such law has to be enforced to retain its validity. Any Social Contract is valid only when enforced by the Sovereign Power. To this dictum of Hobbes we can now add and affirm: A Sovereign Power remains sovereign only if it enforces its contracts. If it fails to do so, it cedes the right to enforce them to others. A viable state is what Palestinians require in order to have a raison d'ȇtre in a peaceful environment.

The death of Yasser Arafat during the night is a significant moment in this story. Arafat was a man who was capable of delivering an agreement, should one have been reached, between the Palestinians and Israel. He did not reach agreement, and therefore none was delivered. His detractors say he never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. He would have said that the opportunities offered, with the promise of peace from the Israelis, were not acceptable. Arafat was not a 'gradualist'. He did not believe that taking a step towards peace, however large, would make the next step easier. He thought it would make it harder, if not impossible, if that first step was into a bunker - however peaceful it was in there. Those who thought that the only way was step by step became exasperated with him when, on the brink of taking a step he hesitated and then declined. Whether he was right or wrong, the fact remains that he was the person with whom the Israelis had to negotiate, who they had to convince They failed to do that. Convincing a man who cannot deliver is not use at all, so now we shall discover how the situation is changed with his death. Will it be possible to find a collective Palestinian leadership who can deliver an agreement and keep to it over the years even if there are inevitable individual acts that contravene it? Once again it will be up to the Israelis to make their position credible. We should not forget that the last Isreali Prime Minister to make a serious step towards peace was assassinated by another Isreali who disagreed with him. As for the reasons for Arafat's death, the wonder is that he survived so long given the incredible mental and physical pressures inflicted on him. There is no reason to look for an identifyable cause of death other than that. He was a truly amazing survivor. Palestinians have lost a 'father figure' and must now try to put their faith in a collective, renewable leadership.

DECEMBER 18th 2004
The coalition now formed between Sharon's Likud and Perez' Labour Party, forced on Sharon for financial policy reasons, will make it possible for him to get a majority for the pull-out from Gaza. In the UK, we only form coalitions in time of war. Israel is in a war situation so perhaps it is quite understandable that these two parties can come together in the interests of pragmatic policies and to allow the two leaders of the majority of the public to legitimise these policies in the name of the electorate.

DEC 22 2004        A New Chance
There are two events which together open up the chance of progress for the Palestinian Road Map: the change of leadership in Palestine and the formation of a political coalition in Israel. In both cases there is now the possibility of forming policies which are backed by the majority of the domestic vote and have a realistic chance of resisting the extremists, fundamentalists and racialists on each side. The withdrawal from Gaza can, under those circumstances, be seen as part of an overall process. The conference in London in February to assist the Palestinians towards political integrity can then be more than a talking shop.

FEB 8th 2005
The forecast meeting of minds has taken place in Egypt, with President Mubarak as host. There is a chance now for at least a period of peace and a resumption of serious negotiations on the "Two State" solution. But to avoid a repetition of history the leaders of Israel and the Palestinians both have to deliver on a deal which will not be accepted by hard-liners on each side.

It will not, therefore, be the end of all violence. It could be the start of an international alliance/ To secure this, the Israelis have to come to terms with the modern world and its basis in current theories of property and rights of ownership, while Palestinians must come to terms with the idea that armed force and the management of justice (however imperfect) is the prerogative of states and their elected governments, not paramilitary organisations.

Both sides need, in addition, to recognise that while the words Peace and Security are habitually trotted out as the two fundamental rights of their societies, peace is dependent on an acceptance of vulnerability. Human beings are capable of inflicting fatal damage on each other, individually and collectively. Our freedom of action, on which all happiness depends, comes with the obligation to realise this and desist from it, voluntarily. No symbiosis can exist without this understanding. That was why the Berlin Wall had to come down, and why the only true security comes from mutual respect.

FEB 21 2005
The positive unilateral steps being taken by Ariel Sharon are what is required. The pullout from Gaza is, one can accept, the hardest decision he has had to take in his political life. But this does not bode well for the decisions he will have to take over the West Bank if the negotiations are to have any hope of success.

MARCH 1st 2005

The London conference is rightly timed. There can be no progress until such a preparation is completed, with international support. It is too early to judge how subsequent negotiations with Israel will go, but these preparations are vital. Without them, the Israelis cannot know what it is they are dealing with or what they would be accepting in any negotiations. Events in Lebanon, while not directly related, will not be without their influence. Syria's financial dependence on the Lebanon makes the politics of Syrian military withdrawal complicated, to say the least. It will become clear to the world in the coming months that the cohabiting tribes of the Middle East have lived in states of denial for years, and as the truth becomes revealed the solutions are not immediately pleasant. It is all very well for Condoleeza Rice to trumpet the birth or rebirth of democracy here ot there, but great care is needed to avoid chaos, violence and worse times for the innocent. The London conference represents the proper approach, with due care and attention, to establishing a democratic state with viable institutions.

JUNE 20th
Two things to note:
The above are each an indication that the failure of all efforts to date to enlist support for peaceful process has at last got through. The Israelis must withdraw from Gaza and the West Bank. The settlers who were encouraged to go there by their government on terms that amounted to bribery must take that up with those who misled them at the time.

AUGUST 7th 2005
Netanyahu resigns from the Israeli coalition government in protest at the evacuation of Gaza without it being part of a 'deal' with the Palestinians. I am not surprised. The language of 'deals' is all he would know. It is not for me to comment just now on the painful undoing by Arial Sharon of a policy of illegal occupation for which he was personally, amongst others, responsible. The Palestinians must also cease bomb attacks without a 'deal'. And the international community must remove the cause (lack of statehood and a land of their own) without talking of 'deals' to. See June 20th above.

AUGUST 22 2005
The withdrawal from Gaza has been completed. The Palestinian Authority will now have to take control, that mean be given by their own people unless they are to have civil war. If Israel does not now proceed with progressive removal of illegal settlements on the West Bank, they will find it difficult. There has also to be cooperation on borders and a steady move towards restoring employment and trade.

Missiles have been launched from Gaza into Israel. This is ridiculously stupid and will bring justifiable retaliation.

SEPT 25th       Hardly surprising and very depressing

Israeli air strike kills two Hamas militants

  Sunday September 25, 12:13 AM

GAZA (Reuters) - In response to Palestinian missile salvoes, Israel killed two Hamas militants and wounded more than 20 civilians on Saturday in its first air strikes on the Gaza Strip since pulling troops out this month.

The worst surge of violence since Israel's pullout after 38 years of occupation is a blow to hopes the withdrawal could spur peacemaking and may make it harder for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to beat back a rightist leadership challenge.

SEPT 26th
Hamas leaders have had the good sense to publicly announce that the rocket attacks on Israel will cease. I should damned well think so. If they do not, Israel will probably retaliate by re-entering Gaza, seeking out Hamas militants and killing them.

OCTOBER 17th 2005
Tonight was the second in the BBC documentary series Israel and the Arabs - Elusive Peace. This is a remarkable piece of work, very instructive and continues to reveal the sad truth that in the period before the invasion of Iraq, while there was a loss of control on the Palestinian side that contributed to violent Israeli actions and the total breakdown of cease-fires, the Israeli policy was in the hands of those who always ignored wiser councils (often offered by their defence minister). Ariel Sharon and his chief  of staff walked into every mistake possible, with terrible consequences for all. For a nation renowned for their intelligence, they were not in good shape. It remains to be seen if they are recovering.

There is now a significant.development. Ariel Sharon is quitting Likud to start a new party. Likud was weakened by internal dissent over the Gaza pullout and then by the breakup of the coalition with the Labour opposition. The future will now be in the hands of the Israeli electorate, and we can only hope that this will lead to a result that allows Israel's leaders to work for a legal solution to a the two-state plan without the hindrance of fundamentalists. A similar rational approach will need to be achieved by the Palestinians if a breakthrough is to be made.

Today Ariel Sharon explained his actions. One thing has to be said: this is a very courageous man, who has stepped up to the front line and been there for 60 years. It was he who forced through the settlements and it is he who is now for handing them back. The first choice was in the name of security, the in the same cause. I hope the Palestinians will give him a chance if his own countrymen do.

Just as I thought there was a chance to move forward it seems that, either with Sharon's approval or despite the lack of it, the Israeli settlements in the other territories and in East Jerusalem are being expanded and consolidated. Once again there looms a deal that will be offered to the Palestinians that many of them will reject.

JANUARY 02 2006
The news from Gaza is not good.  Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has not been able to unite his party or get sufficient control of the territory. The armed groups have ended a year-long truce with Israel. The rise of increasingly Islamic rule inder Hamas is not what many Palestinians want either. All in all the portents for the coming months are not good at all for those who want to live in peace.

Ariel Sharon is not loved by Palestinians. Many will rejoice at his exit from the scene. But Sharon's recent actions have been aimed at a genuine peace. In the past he fought ruthlessly for Israel's security. In recent years he has still acted for Israel's security but with greater wisdom. Without him, Israeli politics may separate into right and left. It is not sure the new party he has formed will survive without him as leader. We may face W.B.Yeats' vision: "Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold".  We must hope for level heads and thoughtful actions in both Israel, Gaza and the occupied territories. Any attempt at prediction would be foolish, but the future is in the hands of those on the spot. They can choose it.

Reflecting on the life and work of Ariel Sharon, I think I was far too kind in the above paragraph. He was certainly a very courageous man, but he was also an utterly ruthless bastard and a bully. He has personally caused most of the violence of the past decades by his boneheaded brutality and complete contempt for the Palestinians. He knew how to bring out the worst in them, and that is just what he always did. In conclusion I can say without doubt that the middle east is better off without this man, though he may well be replaced by some who are less courageous and even less intelligent.

JANUARY 24 2006
The rise in the prospects of Hamas in the coming election could be the paradoxical good news that leads the only way out of this mess. If Hamas go for the political route, and Israel responds, they could turn this from the darkest moment to the beginning of a return to the road map and beyond.

Hamas has won the election, 76 to 43 it seems with 12 other. This could be the best possible result, but it puts the ball squarely in Hamas's hands. Fatah cannot join in a coalition with any credibility so must form an opposition party. This will put responsibility onto Hamas shoulders. It is how they manage that which will determine how Israel will respond. At the moment, the conventional view is that Hamas, whatever excellent and peaceful supporters and members it may have, is controlled by unreformable terrorists who's aim is to destroy Israel. It is now up to Hamas to choose its role, its strategy and its objectives. If Israel and America choose to ignore the result of this election, they will be on very shaky ground. They must deal with Palestinians, and the Palestinians have voted for the party they want to represent them.

The most incredible reation so far has been that of Benjamin Netanyahu, who states that Hamas cannot form a legitimate government because of their policies. He then took as an example Adolph Hitler, who was elected. Let me deal with the last point first: Yes, Adolph Hitler did manage to get himself elected. At the time he did, in fact a little while later when he had got a grip on things, Winston Churchill said that he hoped that if England ever fell into the state that Germany had, we would be lucky to find someone to do what Hitler was doing for Germany [racked by corruption and poverty and social degradation]. That did not mean that he approved of Hitlers ethnic or foreign policies let alone of what happened later. Now to the first point. The policies of Hamas may be unacceptable to Israel, the the UK, the EU, the US and the International community. We would all make sure that the elimination of Israel is impossible, and Mr Netanyahu knows that perfectly well. But Hamas is legitimately elected and Israel must either make peace or make war with the Palestinians led by Hamas. The English were at war with the French for 100 years I seem to remember. When the US declared its independence we went to war with them. It is a tactic to avoid these days if at all possible for obvious reasons. But I repeat in case I have not myself clear. Israel must eother make peace or make war with a Hamas-led Palestinian government. Don't let us have any more supercilious nonsense like claiming a Palestinian government that decides that Israel's installation in its present land is not justified is illegitimate. It is in disagreement.

The greatest danger now is this: the US will cease to provide aid to the Palestinians unless their new government publicly announces a change in policy - namely the formal abandonment of their policy to be against the state of Israel. This will therefore need to be resolved quickly if there is not to be  trouble which destabilises the situation. In due course and as soon as possible the armed element of Hamas has to be integrated into the official armed defense force of the Palestinian Authority. Since this has been staffed by Fatah supporters, this presents a difficulty. My advice to the US and the International Community is to handle this extremely carefully. The appalling error that has been made over the past decades has been to deprive the Palestinians of hope and faith in the future. To make the same mistake now would be the worst of all errors. Of course it is wrong to fund terrorism, but that cannot be the excuse for blackmailing all Palestinians who have voted substantially for the party they trust. They must be given time to sort this out.

I am glad to say the International Community has handled this well so far. Hamas has been asked to recognise the existence of the state of Israel as legitimate. At the moment, Hamas does not recognise the occupation as legal, though it knows the existence of Israel is a fact. The only possible compromise is therefore a recognition of Israel's existence and then negotiations on the border. This means Hamas must decide if the Road Map is a basis to continue or if they wish to go back to pre-Road-Map status.  In the mean time every means of gaining stability must be used.

FEBRUARY 19th 2006

Surely there must be a better way to start of relations with the new Palestinian administration. It reminds me of how the Cold War in the 1980s went on and on and on and on until eventually we lost patience with the professionals on both sides and just by-passed them. These idiots are a danger to the whole world.

Israel halts funds for Palestinians, Abbas slams move

  Sunday February 19, 11:06 PM
GAZA (Reuters) - Israel halted its monthly transfer of millions of dollars to the Palestinian Authority ahead of the formation of a Hamas-led cabinet, a move President Mahmoud Abbas said had plunged the Palestinians into a "financial crisis".

In an apparent nod to international calls to avoid adding to Palestinian hardship, interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's cabinet decided against implementing tougher sanctions Israeli defence officials had proposed to try to weaken Hamas.

"Unfortunately, the pressures have begun and the support and the aid started to decrease ... therefore we are currently in a real financial crisis," Abbas told reporters in Gaza, ahead of a meeting this week with Hamas leaders to discuss a unity cabinet.

Israel and the United States have called on other nations to boycott Hamas, which crushed Abbas's long-dominant Fatah faction in a January 25 election, winning 74 parliamentary seats, until it disarms and recognises the Jewish state and interim peace deals.

The United States, the Jewish state's biggest ally, has asked the Palestinian Authority to return $50 million (29 million pounds) of its own aid to ensure it does not reach Hamas. The Islamic group is sworn to Israel's destruction.

Israeli Defence Ministry officials last week recommended stopping all tax revenue transfers and proposed barring all Palestinians from working in Israel and from travelling between Gaza and the West Bank across Israeli territory.

On Sunday, the cabinet announced a permanent halt to the monthly transfer of about $50 million in tax revenues Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority each month.

Olmert told his cabinet Israel "had no intention to harm the humanitarian interests of the Palestinian population," his office said in a statement.

The Jewish state says it will not negotiate with a Hamas-led government, but would not cut off ties with Abbas.

Opinion polls put Olmert's centrist Kadima party on course to win Israel's March 28 election on a platform of disengaging from the Palestinians.

In fresh violence, Israeli forces shot dead two Palestinians in Balata refugee camp in the West Bank during a stone-throwing confrontation while an air strike in Gaza killed two Palestinian militants who the army said had been planting a bomb.


Hamas's new parliament speaker Aziz Dweik slammed the aid cuts, telling al-Arabiya television that "Unjust America wants our people to surrender their will to the aggressor, violating all international norms and pacts."

Abbas said he would discuss with Hamas officials on Monday the formation of a unity government and a parliamentary speech in which he called for the cabinet to recognise past peace deals with Israel and commit to pursuing statehood through talks.

Hamas says Israel must end attacks on Palestinians and withdraw from lands it occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.

Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas's choice for prime minister, told the Qatar-based al-Jazeera television that the group would "hold on to the rights and fixed principles and be firm on this side, and at the same time to be flexible and realistic".

Haniyeh, 43, is widely viewed by Palestinians as a pragmatist who has forged good relations with rival factions.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said leaders would also meet heads of other factions, including militant groups, on Monday in a bid to form "the largest national coalition possible".

Washington and the European Union, which says it might also cut aid, do not want to push the Palestinian Authority to collapse or seek funds from nations like Iran. Haniyeh said the cabinet would seek aid from Arab states to make up for the loss.

(Additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah, Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem and Inal Ersan in Dubai)

MARCH 6th 2006
So, the result of the election of Hamas, in free and fair elections, is that Israel and the Palestinians agree to abandon the Road Map plan. That probably makes sense. At least it was tried and failed.

MARCH 15th 2006
This file on the Palestinian Road Map will now close. The Road Map has been abandoned and, frankly, I no longer believe anyone can help the participants on either side. It is appalling for those caught in the middle, but I see no solution when some positions are based on irrational beliefs and there is no agreement on any framework of law and equity.

APRIL 08 2006
Even the EU is now twisting in the wind. Payment of funds to the Palestinian Government have been 'suspended' pending coming negotiations. I pass. We ask these people to have an election, they have one, completely free and fair. They elect their government. Hamas has always objected to the imposition of Israel on their territory so it is bound to be a delicate operation to getting them to recognise Israel BEFORE Israel is ready to ackowledge its borders are those allocated to it when the territory was designated by the International Community. Resolution 242 of the United Nations makes the border  clear. Israel does not acknowledge it. Smashing the Palestinians economically cannot be justified when the failure to recognise the facts is symmetrical. Both sides are at fault, though the Palestinians are the ones who are disposessed in the era in which we live and intenational law is established.

APRIL  19 - The following, paradoxically in my view, gives some cause for hope.
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - April 18th -Israel's interim government decided on Tuesday to hold the Palestinian Authority responsible for a Tel Aviv suicide bombing, but not to authorise military action against the Hamas government, a political source said.
GAZA CITY (AFP) - April 19th - Palestinian premier Ismail Haniya has insisted that his Hamas-led government would not renounce violence despite mounting Western pressure over its failure to condemn a Tel Aviv suicide bombing.
Why hope? Because it is inching closer to a realisation by both sides that MAD (mutual assured destruction) is not confined to nuclear war. Nuclear war is the only way it can be achieved at a stroke, but terrorism and a conventional military response to terrorism can achieve the same over a longer period. Civilisations take centuries to build, but their destruction can be fast or slow. Either way it may become clear, now that the Palestinians have elected their government by free and fair elections, that they will recognise Israel only within the borders that were agreed on its establishment. That that is the only way mutual destruction can be avoided.

MAY 9th 2006
The United States has backed the Israeli position and inevitably the Palestinian civil services has run out of funds. The result is now a collapse of civil society. I do not think this is the way forward. It is clear the US and Israel are not interested in resolution 242, nor are they concerned that what is happening now may be irreversible. One would like to think that there is some wider and deeper long term thinking behind US foreign policy but there is so little evidence of it.

11pm GMT  - The UN has just passed a temporarary instrument to get funding to the Palestinians. The EU is also taking emergency action. I should bloody well hope so. But unnecessary damage has already been done in a place where there is nothing but damage already. Why the Palestinians should renounce violence when their land is occupied as a consequence of invasion, resolution 242 ignored and the unilateral Israeli plans showing no sign of changing this is beyond any logic.

May 26th. This seems a good idea to me.

Abbas threatens referendum over two-state solution

By Donald Macintyre in Gaza City

Published: 26 May 2006 The Independent

The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, has issued a dramatic ultimatum to advance a peace process by warning Hamas that he would put proposals for a two-state solution to a Palestinian referendum unless the faction agreed to them within 10 days.

MAY 31 2006
It is now clear that the Israeli-American response to the election of Hamas is to destroy the Palestinian Authority by starving it of funds, and through it destroy the entire economy of Palestine, unless Hamas publicly renounces its rejection of Israel. This would be reasonable if acceptance of Israel did not mean acceptance of Israel's policy of occupying not just the land it was allocated under International Law but a good deal else besides. That is if you can call the destruction of a nation's economy, with all the attendant consequences, reasonable.

JUNE 13th
I am making no comment now on events in Israel and Palestine over the past 2 weeks. There is no end to this until the Israeli state withdraws to the frontiers it was assigned on its the last century. The majority of Palestinians would have accepted that long ago. Now, there is so much hatred and distrust that it is hard to imagine even a 2 state solution.

JUNE 29th 2006
Israeli actions in reaction to the kidnapping of a single soldier have been characterisically stupid. As we look back on the past half century it is more and more obvious that the rump of this nation that has ended up in Israel and the extra land they have pinched off the Palestinians are bunch of obstinate, self obsessed chumps. They are utterly clueless. Their destructive acts in Gaza are appalling and could not possibly, in any way at any time, render their kidnapped soldier safer or the likelyhood of Palestinian counteraction less likely. Since there is no rational excuse for it, it certainly does qualify as a war crime. Of that there is no possible doubt or need to waste time to consider it. It will take many months to repair the damage to vital services in Gaza. I think a plea of collective clinical insanity might, on the other hand, have a chance of succeeding as defence.

JULY 15th
The stance taken by Israel now condemns the Middle East effectively to war. The Hezbollah extremists and those amongst Hamas and other movements who have long given up on any diplomatic solution will be delighted that Israel has taken the bait. They believe in war. We do not have to take the reverse absolutist view that the saving of human life at all cost is the only proper course. That is just as hopeless. But Israel's stand is based on an untenable proposition which condemns their Palestinian neighbours to a status they all find unacceptable. The strikes on Hezbollah infrastructure will leave a situation that is if anything worse.

Every nation has the right to self defense. To avail of that right, a defensible position must be identfied. Of course their opponents are now lacking in all humanity and indulging in 'unacceptable' behaviour. But those Moslems and Christians and other who wish to live in peace will not be able to restrain them and many will join them. Is that surprising? No, it was inevitable. We can assume that intelligent Israelis knew it was inevitable. Therefore we must assume that what the region and the world is going through now is the road Israel chose, knowingly. OK, if that is their choice, in the full knowledge of all the obvious facts, then they are free to take it.  They have been initially wrong about just about everything over the recent decades so why break the habit now.

JULY 20th 2006
It fell to Benjamin Netanyahu to put the case for Israel this morning in an excellent interview on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. He made it clearly and coherently. He argued logically on the right of self defence and on the sad truth that if an enemy that launches an attack from a distance hides its launchers and its military command in highly populated civilian centres there will be civilian casualties if these are targetted. He made the case that a substantial arms build-up by Hezbollah in Lebanon could not pose less of a risk if allowed to grow further, and that if the tactical plan of Hezbollah is to attack Israel right now then the moment for Israel to take action is right now. This is the defence the former Israeli Prime Minister makes against the opinion voiced by the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal, Carla del Ponte, that Israel's response is disproportionate and that war crimes may have been committed by both sides.

Why, then do many people, the writer included, find what is happening unacceptable? It is because what has happened before, which has led to this state of affairs, has been based on untenable propositions and positions. The Israeli occupation of territory that belongs to others has been based here on the claim that it was needed as a buffer zone, there that it was their right to settle it based on ancient racial religion as opposed to contemporary international law, elswhere that it was the spoils of a defensive war and required for its strategic importance. The status and the logic surrounding these claims has been mixed and muddled in the public mind and no doubt in attempted negotiations. There have been many moments in the past decades when it would have been possible at the very least for Israel to have declared its intention to withdraw to its own territory under reasonable conditions. Instead, it defied all logic and expanded where it had no right, thereby extending its further demand for territory to protect its illegal settlements. The recent unilateral withdrawal from Gaza was necessary, no more and no less, but so much damage had been done that the immediate rise of a viable society was hardly to be expected.

It may well be that there is no way out for Israel now but to commit to permanent hostility with its neighbours, as to take the right approach now is no longer possible. They could have had the world on their side of they had looked to logic as their guide years ago. It is a bit late for Mr Netanyahu to start applying it now. His logic will lead to the logical consequences of the previous illogical actions. These consequences are unlikely to lead to an end that is better.

As for the declared aim of Israel's original attack, which then became the cause of the rain of missiles from Hezbollah, it is complete rubbish. Every day that passes it is increasingly obvious that this was going to make the return of their hostage soldier(s) ever less likely. Israel declares the contrary. Is it any wonder even the Palestinians who wish to live in peace with Israel cannot take their declarations or even their thinking seriously.

JULY 28th
There is no way Bush and Blair can call for a ceasefire, because the policy of Israel is war. Bush and Blair mistakenly accept the position of Israel as legal and Hezbollah and even Hamas as therefore illegal. This is not the case. The position of Israel is illegal. The military option is a failure, innocent people are being slaughtered and their homes and livelihood destroyed, and Bush and Blair are suggesting an 'international force' to be installed. They must be joking! No international force should go anywhere near a territory that Israel can and will shell and bomb if they so choose.

However, there is no way back now and that's that. If terms can be devised for a cease-fire, and forces found that will keep the peace, and a unifiied government of Lebanon with control of a single army brought about, that would be good. If that were the 'solution' to the region's problems, perhaps even the present disaster would be justified. But it is not the solution because that is not the fundamental problem.

JULY 30th
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon's Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said on Sunday he would not hold any talks on resolving the latest Middle East crisis before an immediate ceasefire after Israeli bombing killed at least 40 civilians in south Lebanon.

Minutes later Lebanese officials said Lebanon had told U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that it could not meet with her before a cease-fire ends the 19-day-old Israeli offensive.

"There is no place on this sad morning for any discussion other than an immediate and unconditional ceasefire as well as an international investigation into the Israeli massacres in Lebanon now," Siniora told a news conference in Beirut.

Siniora called for unity "in the face of the Israeli war criminals".

"The persistence of Israel in its heinous crimes against our civilians will not break the will of the Lebanese people," he said.
[end of Reuters report]

In these circumstances, what else could Mr Siniora possibly have said.

Israel will accept an international peacekeeping force to take over from their troops in the Lebanon. The French, who are the country most likely to lead such a force, will do so only after hostilities have definitely ceased. That would seem to render such a process impossible as things now stand.

AUGUST 2nd 2006
So Israel will now fight on until an international force comes to occupy Lebanon and protect Israel. This is the moment that was obviously coming, weeks ago, the moment they started this latest appalling saga in their history. Israel has held the international community in utter contempt and now asks for help?. By all means we should send a force to protect Israel. The only conditions: that Israel evacuate all their illegal settlements and retire from all territories apart from their own. If they signed up to that, with no quibbles, and started to evacuate all the West Bank settlements, without destroying them, then the EU should respond immediately. The UK's forces are unfortunately busy elsewhere, but all the others and some other countries should be ready to act on those conditions.

It has been pointed out that this war has as yet no name. That is because those who inititated it have lied continually about its purpose. Of course Hezbollah provoked it, but Israel launched it and has set the terms for its end. Israel only wants peace with its neighbours, and to occupy its neigbours territory until those neighbours can control their unruly fighters, without apparently understanding that its treatment of the neighbours has something to do with the problem. Of course there are islamic hardliners who preach the extermination of Jews, but their are fanatics of all sorts and aways have been. The defence of any nation in the modern world lies in alliance and international friendship. That is the only way. We have to understand who our neighbour is. To base this understanding on race or racial religion is a fatal mistake that was pointed out 2000 years ago...

Against the advice, against the facts

Oliver Miles

August 3, 2006 10:09 AM

What are we to make of Tony Blair's speech in Los Angeles on Tuesday about the struggles (or, as he would maintain struggle, in the singular) going on within the Muslim world as well as between it and the west? The most striking thing about it is what it leaves out.

One can hardly accept an analysis of Middle Eastern politics that does not mention nationalism. Nor is there any mention of occupation (except for an assertion that the resistance in Iraq and Afghanistan is not about occupation). In the important section on the Middle East peace process, there is no mention of Israeli settlement building, nor of the wall, which the international court of justice has found to be illegal. Nor is there any detail about the present crisis; any reference, for example, to any of the points Brian Whitaker lists in his 10-step programme for peace or any alternatives. He also fails to mention the resupply of bombs to Israel by the US via British air bases, contrary to declared British arms control policy.

The second point to make is that much of the speech shows a bias towards Israel. Having sat on the fence for so many years, I am something of an expert on this. Blair's unthinking adoption of the Israeli side of the story is visible in the account he gives of contentious areas such as what provoked the present crises in Gaza and Lebanon, and in his description of the removal of Israeli settlers from Gaza as "disengagement" (which it was not) and a "brave step" that should have been the opportunity to restart the peace process.

There is little indication that he has grasped the horror of what is happening in Gaza and Lebanon; still less that he is aware that Lebanon today is a repeat of what happened when Israel invaded last time. This is in strong contrast with the empathy he shows for Israelis who feel that their existence is under threat from their neighbours, a feeling that is real enough but which in terms of experience of suffering and death simply does not match the horrors that Palestinians and Lebanese have lived through in the last generation.

To lump together the Taliban, al-Qaida, Hizbullah and Hamas under the heading "reactionary Islam" is oversimplification to the point where it interferes with the facts. The description of what is happening in Iraq or Afghanistan as "battles between the majority of Muslims in either country who wanted democracy and the minority who realise that this rings the death knell of their ideology" might just pass in an army recruitment pamphlet, but not as serious conversation between consenting adults.

An obvious difficulty about the simplistic division of the Arab world into democrats and terrorists is that so many states, let alone individuals, defy definition as either. There is a feeble attempt to address Egypt, a friend but no democrat, but no mention at all of the richest and perhaps most influential state in the region, Saudi Arabia.

And it's irritating to be told again: "So many people told us that, 'You just don't understand it: people in Iraq aren't interested in democracy.'" Who were these people? My Iraqi friends are deeply interested in democracy, but they object to the idea of voting under foreign occupation and are horrified at the extent to which confessionalism, the division of Sunni from Shia, dominates the form of democracy they are now offered.

Tony Blair's disregard for the advice of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) emerges most clearly not from his pro-Israel positions, as against any pro-Arab advice he may be thought to have received from the camel corps, but from his insistence that the invasion of Iraq did not contribute to the proliferation of terrorist violence. An FCO memorandum leaked last year contained advice to the contrary. I doubt whether many people would side with Blair.

So is there nothing in the speech at all? Yes, there is the insistence that the Middle East peace process is central - though even this is preceded by a paragraph of apology to the effect that, "I know it can be very irritating for Israel to be told that this issue is of cardinal importance," etc, etc. Let us hope that this insistence leads to action: it is about time. But this is not the first time it has been said.

This speech will not be remembered as a policy milestone.

Now we have an absurd debate as to whether
Perhaps the most nauseating defence yet of Israeli action was made recently by a senior member of their government. Asked if the civilian death toll in the Lebanon was 'acceptable' as an unavoidable part of Isreal's 'defence', the spokesman said "The British bombed Dresden - was that acceptable?"
I should not need to say this but:
AUGUST 11th 2006.
I see that Douglas Hurd, writing in The Independent, agrees with me that the only way to solve the Middle East mess is to set out the final end game all together, with Israel back behind its borders, out of the Golan Heights too, with a guarantee of protection by the UN, backed by the commitment of the armed forces of the developed nations to enforce the UN guarantee, and the implementation at the same time of the two state solution for Palestine and Israel (implementation, not more discussion or 'road map'), and that will enable Hezbollah to disarm definitively. Any attempt to do less, or a piecemeal or gradual approach, will not succeed. So a ceasefire based on any UN resolution would be nice for starters, but then we have to go straight to the finish and have done with it. This should have been done as soon as Saddam was removed.

Now we have a cease-fire and both sides.claim victory. Yet it is quite obvious the war has been a serious defeat for both sides. Lebanon will take many years to repair, and relations between Lebanon and Israel, vital to any future state of security for both, have been soured for more generations. The only way to a defensible situation for Israel, settled within its legitimate borders, will now be if anything more difficult to achieve. All in all a tactical, strategic, military, political and social disaster for all concerned.  So both sides claim success.  Into this mad-house, European citizens are asked to send their sons and daughters to keep the peace. If they are hesitating, hoping for some clarification on the validity of any arrangements, is this surprising?. Well, always look on the bright side, perhaps exhaustion will provide a window of opportunity where intelligence is non-existent. But with Gaza deliberately wrecked by Israel and rendered unviable with all trade impossible, Lebanon set back decades, how do they fit this into a plan for future security?

John Prescott in a private meeting admits that Bush's Roadmap politics has been 'crap'. Yes, I think it did need saying. Sorting out a viable 2-States solution was part of the deal for the cost and risk of removing Saddam Hussein, and his removal could have made it possible. Prescott thinks Bush is a cowboy, but cowboys might object. . A spokesman defending him said he'd been called worse. An interesting defence. He said it was 'the price of leadership'. Leadership is of course the art of getting people to follow you, to have faith in your judgement. It is in this very art that George W Bush is the most catastrophic failure. Ignorance of the meaning of words seems to permeate his entire administration.

It looks like exhaustion on the ground has, as suggested above (Aug 16) has provided a window of opportunity and the French and Italians and others have risen to the occasion. I can't see how they can disarm Hezbollah unless they can identify Hezbollah. Hezbollah men live in southern Lebanon. They are part of the normal population and their arms can be concealed. A more sensible approach is to accept the fact that Hezbollah soldiers should join the official Lebanese army. Israel is not going to pull out, unfortunately, for a long time yet, so there is plenty of time for mistakes.

The leader of Hizbollah has admitted that had he known in advance the catastrophically damaging result for Lebanon of the abduction of two Israeli soldiers he would have cancelled the operation. That is a remarkably straightforward statement. I take it to mean exactly what the words mean in English. But now we have all sorts of convoluted interpretations by western and Israeli analysts of what they think it means. Is it an apology? Is it an admission of a tactical or strategic error? It is perfectly obvious what it means.

Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, is well aware that Lebanon and the Lebanese paid a heavy price for Hezbollah's actions. He expected some reaction no doubt, but not what happened. He also made a mistake in following up the kidnapping with the rocket attacks on Israel. If he had ceased all rocketing the Israelis could never have pursued their destruction. So by making a very truthful statement and admitting a mistake he has avoiding going deeper into further errors.

But the really monstrous error is that made by Israel in thinking that their handling of their right to nationhood and the occupation of the territories allocated to them in international law entitles them to occupy any surrounding territory they choose as a protective area, and any other are they believe they are entitled to because it was where their ancestors lived thousands of years ago. Their handling if this situation over the past decades has left them with Palestinian neighbours whose society has been destroyed. Whether they are largely to blame for this themselves is absolutely irrelevant. We are looking at total political mismanagement by Israel. The nation that made the finest advance in social and moral establishment, with 10 Commandments on which the best of global law is still based, have failed totally to grasp the evolution of human international relations and the utter folly of a religion which is based on racial discrimination and then made the basis of a political state. There is no way to security for any nation other than treating their neighbours with respect. Occupying their land and building settlements on it illegally is treating them with contempt.

What should be done now?
Whereas the proposition that Israel should be wiped of the map was not one espoused by any significant movements, let alone states, with political and financial backing, the total mismanagement of the political scene since George Bush came to power, even when aims were sometimes worthy, has brought about a situation where this longer true. The confusion is profound. There is talk of a rise in 'antisemitism', a meaningless word in this context as
the Semitic languages are:
Definitions above courtesy of Sam Hamod, Ph.D.

Now we have anti defamation laws based on a word that is misconstrued - this way madness lies. So I suggest the first step should be to publish and distribute, on paper to those who do not have email - why not the old fashioned medium of newspapers? -  a dictionary and encylopaedia containing the historical facts that are beyond dispute, however few these may be. It could indeed be possible for a lot of people (amongst the Iranians for example) to be 'antisemitic' by preference based on some unfortunate experiences. This would correspond to the feelings after WWII of some British citizens who were on the whole anti-nippon after their experiences as prisoners of war. There is nothing criminal about such feelings and with proper education and the fostering of better understanding, with the changing generations they can pass into history. But this has nothing to do with the problems between Israel and the Palestinians, and nothing to do with anti-zionism or a dislike for the policy of a given Israeli political party.

The next idea to be straightened out is the definition of democracy and free and fair elections. We are now subjected to commentators we are supposed to take seriously who claim that because Hitler came to power through elections that Hamas' election win in the occupied territories and Gaza is no guarantee of legitimacy. I find it absurd that this is presented either as logic or as analogy. I am astonished that broadcasting authorities let this garbage go unchallenged in the way I have seen it repeated recently. The way Hitler came to power and then consolidated his position is very well documented.

We then have to differentiate between the legitimate need to sort out the relations between Israel, the Palestinians and Lebanon and the need to counter what I will call the Al-qaida syndrome which has been caused by the appalling.mismanagement by the US of these to date. We now actually DO have a problem on our hands. It will be resolved. The only unknown is how long i will take much it is going to hurt the innocent. Amongst the innocent I include many Palestinians, many Israelis, and many members of the UN and the armed forces of Europe, as well as civilians.

26th SEPTEMBER 2006

This is indeed the priority. The thing to do next. The thing to do now. The PM should do exactly as he says, leave domestic policies to his cabinet colleagues to follow through - and get stuck in on this.

Focus promised on Middle East peace

The prime minister has pledged to use his remaining time in office to push forward the Middle East peace process.

Tony Blair suggested that arriving at a peaceful settlement between Israel and Palestine would be a major step in the global fight against terrorism.

Turning to foreign policy in his last conference speech as leader of the Labour Party, he said: "From now until I leave office I will dedicate myself, with the same commitment I have given to Northern Ireland, to advancing peace between Israel and Palestine.

"I may not succeed. But I will try because it is right in itself and because peace in the Middle East is a defeat for terrorism."

NOVEMBER 8th 2006
Unfortunately, since I wrote the above over a month ago, Israel has continued to ensure that its reaction to uncontrollable sporadic terrorist activity is such as to provoke more, rendering life ever more impossible in Gaza. There is little evidence that Blair has anyone to talk to who is listening.

NOVEMBER 13th 2006          More Bad News

Robert Fisk: Lebanon faces new crisis after walkout by Hizbollah

By Robert Fisk in Beirut

Published: 13 November 2006

The Shia, the largest community in Lebanon, are no longer represented in the Lebanese government. It could be just part of Lebanon's bloody-minded politics - or it could be a most dangerous moment in the history of this tragic country.

At the weekend, the Hizbollah and the Amal movement walked out of the Lebanese body politic, splitting apart the gentle, utterly false, brilliantly conceived (by the French, of course) confessional system that binds this tortured nation together. There will be demonstrations by Hizbollah to demand a government of "national unity", which means that Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, winner of the so-called "divine victory" against Israel this summer, insists on another pro-Syrian administration in Lebanon.

For a world which has decided to support Lebanon's "democracy", this is grave news. The resignation of five cabinet ministers, two from Hizbollah and three from Amal, cannot bring down the government (which needs eight ministers to resign in order to destroy it), but it means that the largest religious community is no longer officially represented in government decision-making. The Hizbollah are warning of demonstrations which could tear the country apart.

The stakes? The international tribunal which is supposed to try those responsible for the murder of the former prime minister Rafik Hariri last year, and the possibility that the national "unity" which Hizbollah demands would create a cabinet which could become, once more, Syria's creature in Lebanon.

It's not that simple, of course - nothing in Lebanon is - but it's enough to frighten the democratically elected cabinet of Fouad Siniora, Hariri's friend and confidant, and - even more - the Americans who supported "democracy" in Lebanon and then cared nothing for it during this summer's Israeli bombardment of the country.

What prompted this extraordinary crisis at a time when thousands of foreign troops are still pouring into Lebanon to secure a peace which looks ever more self-destructive by the day? Clearly, the tribunal is one element. On Friday, the UN presented Mr Siniora with the terms of the court which would try suspects in the Hariri murder, men who will probably turn out to be intelligence agents of President Bashar Assad's regime in Damascus. The Lebanese President, Emile Lahoud, the most faithful friend of Mr Assad, has already said he needs further time to study the UN recommendations - ho hum, his Lebanese opponents say - before he will sanction a cabinet meeting tomorrow to allow parliament to vote on the UN proposals.

A Major Assassination in Lebanon.
Prime Minister Tony Blair has condemned the killing of a leading Christian Lebanese minister, who has been shot to death in Beirut.
Pierre Gemayel's death comes amid a political crisis in Lebanon, after six pro-Syrian cabinet members resigned.

It is clear that this action was designed to start a civil war. Indeed it is so obvious that with luck it might not succeed. It is certainly not in the interest of the majority of people in Lebanon, or in Syria or of the Syrian government. It is certainly the work of those who will do anything to stop progress in any process that they think may lead to a stability that does not bring with it the abandonment by Israel of all the occupied territories and the institution of a Palestinian state. If there was some hope of reaching that goal by other means they have unfortunately been abandoned long ago.

The rise of Hizbollah in Lebanon is the result of Israel's incredibly stupid reaction to the incredibly stupid kidnapping of two of their soldiers. Indeed the entire Israeli/Palestiinian problem is based on the problems on the minds of incredibly stupid people who every so often manage to achieve power and never cease from doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons, based on false premises.

NOVEMBER 26th 2006
The Palestinian authority has come to a cease fire agreement with Israel in Gaza, They will stop firing rockets at Israel if Israel will withdraw again from from Gaza and stop military operations. Not rocket science, just rocket sense. However there will be some on the Palestinian side it may take time to get the news through to (location- and head-wise) as they are fixated on the West Bank as well. If it can hold it will reduce suffering, so they should be persuaded. The only hope now is to take one step at a time and make suire they are in the right direction instead of alternately wrong.

Well, that's pretty quick footwork from Israel's Olmert. He is moving foward with offers to trade prisoners and get back on track to work for a Palestinian State with secure borders. Of course the latter was on offer before, but the former was not. He hopes for a return of the soldiers whose capture sparked the latest conflict with Lebanon but that is not part of the conditions for progress. No doubt hard-liners in both Israel and the occupied territories will try to wreck progress..

DECEMBER 15th 2006                     THE SPECTRE OF CIVIL WAR

The aim of Israel is apprently to get the Palestinian proto-state to destroy itself through frustration and a lack of commerce and the means to support itself. The US and the EU justify their support of this policy on the grounds that Hamas will no recognise Israel - but Hamas has support in the occupied territories only because Israel's policies and tactics are unsupportable. Mahmoud Abbas has gone the last mile for peace, but ends up firing on his won countrymen in an attempt to appease Israel. Within Hamas, hotheads and extremists take the lead.

Hamas says Abbas seeks war

Reuters Friday December 15, 03:52 PM
GAZA (Reuters) - President Mahmoud Abbas's security forces fired on a Hamas rally in the West Bank and gunbattles between the two Palestinian factions erupted in Gaza on Friday, prompting a top Hamas leader to accuse Abbas of starting a war.

Tensions reached their highest in a decade, fuelling fears the Palestinians were on the verge of civil war after months of failed talks to form a unity government between the ruling Hamas Islamist faction and Abbas's once-dominant Fatah.

"What a war, Mahmoud Abbas, you are launching, first against God, and then against Hamas," Khalil al-Hayya, head of the Hamas faction in parliament, told 100,000 supporters at a rally in Gaza City.

Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas urged "national unity" in a speech to the crowd, but stopped short of explicitly calling for calm as he has during previous surges in internal fighting.

At least 32 Hamas supporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah were wounded by gunfire from Abbas's forces, hospital officials said. Several were in critical condition after the fiercest fighting in the occupied West Bank since Hamas came to power in March after trouncing Fatah in elections.

The violence broke out after Hamas, which controls the Palestinian Authority, accused a Fatah strongman and Abbas's presidential guard of trying to kill Haniyeh outside the Rafah border crossing with Egypt late on Thursday.

Although Israel was not involved in the latest fighting, its decision, with U.S. backing, to prevent Haniyeh entering Gaza with $35 million in cash intensified the standoff in which Haniyeh's convoy came under fire.

Israel, the United States and the European Union regard Hamas as a terrorist organisation and cut off direct aid to the Palestinian government after the group rejected demands to recognise the Jewish state and renounce violence.

"We know who opened fire (on Haniyeh's convoy) and they will be punished hard. From now on they will never relax and they will never sleep tight in their homes," said Foreign Minister Mahmoud al-Zahar of Hamas.

Fatah accused Hamas of ramping up tension. "It is pouring oil on the fire," said Abdel-Hakim Awad, a spokesman for Fatah in Gaza.

One of Haniyeh's bodyguards was killed in the incident at Rafah. Another bodyguard, the prime minister's son and a political adviser were wounded.


Speaking at Gaza's packed sports stadium, Hayya said Hamas would not agree to holding an early election or a referendum on the issue, a move Abbas could announce in a speech planned for Saturday in an attempt to break the political deadlock.

To cheers from the crowd, which fired automatic weapons in the air, Hayya delivered Hamas's harshest personal attack yet on Abbas. He did not say what steps Hamas would take if Abbas sought to call new elections.

Outside Ramallah's main mosque, Hamas supporters taunted Abbas's security forces. "You look like Israeli soldiers. You are spies," they shouted.

Dressed in riot gear, the Fatah-dominated forces used clubs and rifle-butts to beat back the Hamas demonstrators before shooting broke out. The mosque was damaged.

As the fighting broke out in the West Bank, Hamas and Fatah forces in Gaza started exchanging fire on the streets.

Hamas spokesman Ismail Rudwan accused Fatah strongman and lawmaker Mohammed Dahlan of being behind the attack on Haniyeh's convoy.

Dahlan rejected the allegation, telling Reuters it was part of a Hamas "cover up" after unidentified militants earlier this week shot dead three young sons of an intelligence official loyal to Abbas outside their school.

"Hamas has failed to demonstrate it has a plan to build but has clearly demonstrated it has a plan to destroy," Dahlan said.

Haniyeh has condemned the killing of the young boys.

(Additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi and Wafa Amr in Ramallah)

Abbas firm on Palestinian polls
The leader of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has told Tony Blair he is going to press ahead with early elections.

Mr Blair, who is in the West Bank, praised the decision, which has provoked clashes between Mr Abbas' Fatah group and its rival, Hamas.

Fighting between the two has paralysed the administration.

Mr Blair also told the Palestinian leader he backed his efforts to revive the peace process.

"Nobody should have a veto on progress," Mr Blair said.

Talks offer

Mr Abbas' call for early elections to resolve tensions between the rival factions has been labelled a "coup" by Hamas, which won a sweeping victory in parliamentary elections in January and controls the government.

But the Palestinians have faced an international aid boycott since because of the group's refusal to renounce violence or recognise Israel.

Mr Abbas said he had called for early presidential and legislative elections to relieve "the current impasse".

There have also been a series of clashes between the two groups in recent days. On Sunday, a ceasefire was reported, but outbreaks of violence continued through the night and into Monday.

"I felt it was essential to allow the people to have their say on a platform that achieves Palestinian national interests," Mr Abbas said.

Like it or not Hamas were democratically elected. Blair's encouragement of what is effectively a coup is disturbing
Ali, Birmingham, UK
He urged Mr Blair to lift an aid freeze on the Palestinians and said he was ready to hold "serious" talks with Israeli PM Ehud Olmert.

Mr Blair praised Mr Abbas and urged the international community to back a new push towards peace in the region.

"Your people are suffering," Mr Blair told Abbas. "We don't want anything to stand in the way of helping the Palestinian people."

Mr Blair is due to meet Mr Olmert later on Monday.

Lord Levy, Mr Blair's special envoy to the Middle East, has joined the prime minister on this latest leg of the tour and is thought to have held preparatory talks with Israeli officials.

Hamas leader Meshaal acknowledges Israel exists

By Sean Maguire and Khaled Oweis 28 minutes ago

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Hamas acknowledges the existence of Israel but formal recognition by the group will only be considered when a Palestinian state has been created, the movement's leader Khaled Meshaal said on Wednesday.

Softening a previous refusal to accept the Jewish state's existence, Meshaal said Israel was a "reality."

"There will remain a state called Israel, this is a matter of fact," Meshaal said in an interview in the Syrian capital, where he lives in exile.

"The problem is not that there is an entity called Israel," said Meshaal. "The problem is that the Palestinian state is non-existent."

Israel and Western governments have put financial sanctions on the Hamas-led Palestinian government for refusing to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept past peace accords. The embargo has hit the Palestinian economy hard.

Meshaal said Hamas would defy the Western conditions and refuse to consider formal recognition of the Jewish state until a Palestinian state was established.

Changing the Hamas charter, which calls for the destruction of Israel, was also a matter for the future, he said.

"The distant future will have its own circumstances and positions could be determined then," he said in a wide-ranging interview.

Meshaal said Hamas backed Arab demands that a Palestinian state should include Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem and that Israel should accept the right of Palestinian refugees to return to homes lost in a 1967 war and before.

"As a Palestinian today I speak of a Palestinian and Arab demand for a state on 1967 borders. It is true that in reality there will be an entity or state called Israel on the rest of Palestinian land," said Meshaal.

"This is a reality but I won't deal with it in terms of recognizing or admitting it," he added.

(Writing by Sean Maguire, Damascus newsroom)

JANUARY 18th 2007 

Rice hears encouragement from Mideast

By ANNE GEARAN, AP Diplomatic Writer 

BERLIN - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday she heard strong encouragement from Israeli and Palestinian leaders and their neighbors for quick progress toward a Middle East peace agreement.

Before a session in which Rice was to update German leaders on her recent trip to the Middle East, Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Europe and others are eager to help.

"There is no doubt there could be a very important effect on the entire region if we are able to make progress on Middle East peace," Rice said.

"I did find the parties very desirous of making progress," she added. "I believe the whole region is looking for ways to make progress and drive toward the establishment of a Palestinian state."

At the start of her Berlin visit Wednesday, Rice said now is not the time for the United States to talk to adversary Iran and that the Bush administration is not trying to escalate a confrontation over Iraq.
The top U.S. diplomat is in Europe to bring German and British leaders up to date on Mideast peacemaking efforts. She was seeing British Prime MinisterTony Blair and Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett later Thursday.

Germany holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, making it a party to an international group dedicated to guiding Israel and the Palestinians through a three-year program to set up an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

"The impression we have gained of late is that indeed movement is noticeable," Merkel said. "We are ready to make a political contribution and we are very interested in seeing the conflict settled," she said.

On Thursday, Rice said that Iran is apparently not ready to accept a conditional U.S. offer to join European talks over its nuclear program.

"For reasons that perhaps the Iranians understand, they've been unable to take up that offer because they refuse to do what the international community insists that they do," Rice said Wednesday, a reference to a United Nations demand that Iran roll back nuclear activities.

Until the Iranians comply, "this is not the time to break a long-standing American policy of not engaging with the Iranians bilaterally," Rice said during a press conference with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Allies in Europe and elsewhere, numerous lawmakers and the bipartisan Iraq Study Group have all urged President Bush to engage Iran and Syria in hopes those nations could help curb violence in neighboring Iraq. The administration refuses, saying both nations would demand too high a price.

The United States is building up its troops in the region in what appears to be a message to Iran. Last week, U.S. troops captured six Iranians working at a liaison office in the northern city of Irbil. One of the six was released; the rest were said to be connected to an Iranian Revolutionary Guard faction that funds and arms insurgents in Iraq.

"The United States is not escalating this in Iraq," Rice said. "We are simply responding to the fact that there are Iranian efforts to assist those who are building explosive devices that are dangerous to our forces."

Continuing an intensified push to bring Israelis and Palestinians closer to peace, Rice said both sides will need international help to bridge "difficult moments."

"Undoubtedly they will reach difficult moments, they will reach times when things are not moving forward," Rice said in announcing that U.S., German and other diplomats will convene a Mideast strategy session early next month in Washington.

The meeting of the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations will come before a U.S.-backed summit in the Mideast among Rice, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Leader Mahmoud Abbas.

Rice came to the German capital after five days in the Mideast spent pushing a renewed Mideast peace process and seeking support for Bush's new Iraq plan.

In Jerusalem and the West Bank, Rice won agreement for a three-way meeting she said would help build confidence after years of fighting. Rice was careful to repeat that that session does not supplant a dormant 2003 peace plan, although it skips past difficult requirements the plan makes of each side.

The group gathering in Washington represents would-be administrators of the plan, which Israelis and Palestinians have endorsed but never put in force. The group has become something of a Greek chorus as the mood between Israel and the Palestinians generally soured over the past three years and as Abbas struggles for internal control against Palestinian Hamas radicals.

JANUARY 26th 2007

Lebanon takes stock after deadly clashes

by Nayla Razzouk Fri Jan 26, 

BEIRUT (AFP) - Lebanon is taking stock after a day of deadly street battles in the capital between government and opposition supporters which killed four people and sparked fears of a plunge back into civil strife.

An uneasy calm prevailed in Beirut at the lifting of an overnight curfew imposed to end the intense fighting between rival Sunni and Shiite Muslims in which around 151 people were also wounded.

The riots, at a level not seen since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war, overshadowed a Paris donors' conference which drew pledges of 7.6 billion dollars in aid for Prime Minister Fuad Siniora's beleaguered government.

A few shops and businesses opened when the overnight curfew ended at 6.00am (0400 GMT), but schools and universities remained shut across the nation in line with government orders, AFP correspondents reported.

The roads where the clashes erupted were covered with litter and rubble, while burnt-out cars, buses and large garbage containers lined streets close to Beirut international airport.

During the night, the Lebanese army deployed heavily across the deserted capital, staging patrols and erecting checkpoints on main crossings.

The rioting came two days after the Syrian-backed opposition, led by the Shiite fundamentalist party Hezbollah, brought the country to a near-halt through a general strike which was also marred by widespread deadly clashes.

"Rehearsal for civil war in the streets of Beirut," warned the headline of the al-Balad newspaper.

"Damn the one who awakened it," cried the bold headline of the leftist As Safir newspaper in reference to confessional dissension.

Thursday's clashes first broke out on the main campus of Beirut Arab University but fighting soon penetrated mainly Muslim districts of the capital, both Sunni and Shiite.

Youths threw rocks, set fire to tyres to block traffic, torched cars and smashed windshields amid the rattle of gunshots as troops fired into the air to try to disperse the crowds. There were reports of gunfire and pictures showed masked men holding guns and assault-rifles.

"Confessional riots start street battles in Beirut, and the specter of discord required a curfew and prompted political action," said the headline of the leading An Nahar newspaper.

It however wondered whether the "discord that took place yesterday, and which threatened to become a scary reality in Beirut, would help ease political deadlocks and defuse the crisis because various Lebanese forces feared to have lost complete control over the explosive events."

The riots only ended with calls for calm from leaders of both sides and an army-imposed curfew -- the first such action in the country since violent labour demonstrations in 1996.

The danger of further violence erupting prompted Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah to promptly respond with a call for army orders to be obeyed.

As the Damascus-backed opposition accused the government camp of starting the riots, MP Walid Jumblatt of the parliamentary majority said the fighting was triggered by Syrian President "Bashar al-Assad who is trying to burn Beirut."

"Curfew in Beirut after it was violated by militias attempting a coup," read the headline of the al-Mustaqbal newspaper, owned by the family of MP Saad Hariri, head of the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority.

It accused "Hezbollah and its affiliates of seeking to waste the chance of taking advantage of the international and Arab backing witnessed at the Paris donors' conference."

The opposition is demanding a new national unity government in which it has a veto.

JANUARY 27th 2007

22 killed as Gaza clashes rage

by Sakher Abu El Oun Sat Jan 27, 6:36 PM ET
GAZA CITY (AFP) - Another seven Palestinians died in clashes between rival factions in Gaza, bringing to 22 the death toll in three days of bitter fighting that has torpedoed talks on forming a unity government.
Four were killed in early morning firefights in central Gaza City, medical sources said, while a fifth died of wounds suffered Thursday.

Late on Saturday an 11-year-old youth and a member of the ruling Hamas Islamist movement were killed.

Rival supporters of Hamas and the Fatah faction loyal to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas have fought running gun battles and fired off volleys of mortars and grenades in the densely populated streets of Gaza City since Thursday night, medics and witnesses said.
In addition, tit-for-tat kidnappings continued with 19 members of both Fatah and Hamas nabbed in three different abductions in the Gaza Strip, according to security forces.

The fighting, the fiercest since Hamas won parliamentary elections one year ago, has also left around 50 people injured, medical officials said.

Amid the mounting casualties, the ruling Islamists suspended long-running talks with Fatah Friday night on forming a national unity government, and on Sunday Hamas boycotted a national dialogue meeting grouping the various factions.

Hamas accused the president's party of provoking the latest fighting.

"The unity government talks were on the verge of full agreement and the announcement of a unity government when putschists inside Fatah ... rushed to blow up the situation to serve their own interests and a foreign agenda," it said.

The accusations flew both ways.

"It's clear that Hamas doesn't want the dialogue to succeed. The escalation began with Hamas," said Fatah spokesman Tawfiq Abu Khussa.

The Arab League condemned the latest fighting as "irrational and unacceptable," while Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood lashed out at both parties to the conflict.

"They speak responsible words and yet the fighting continues," said Muslim Brotherhood supreme guide Mohammed Mehdi Akef.

UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Alvaro de Soto, called on all parties "to cease clashes and comply with international humanitarian law by refraining from acts which endanger civilians."

The Organisation of the Islamic Conference also expressed "deep regrets" over the clashes and urged "the Palestinian leadership to return to the national dialogue table."

Hamas early Saturday launched rocket-propelled grenades at the headquarters of the Fatah-dominated Preventive Security force and lobbed mortars at the home of Rashid Abu Shabak, the Gaza security chief loyal to Abbas.

Grenades late Friday hit the home of Palestinian foreign minister Mahmud al-Zahar, a Hamas leader.

The streets of Gaza City were deserted Saturday as storekeepers shuttered up their shops and residents stayed put in the relative safety of their homes.

But the fighting resumed Saturday evening as Hamas gunmen perched on the roof of a Gaza City mosque traded fire with Palestinian security officers in the neighbouring headquarters of the preventative security force.

Among the victims of the two-day surge in violence were a two-year-old child who was caught in the crossfire of a firefight in the south Gaza town of Khan Yunis and a 16-year-old boy killed in Jabaliya, according to medics.

In the West Bank, Palestinian police swinging batons and firing into the air, clashed with about 200 Hamas supporters who rallied to denounce Friday's shooting of a Hamas member in Tulkarem.
Hamas has called for Abbas, who is in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum, to return immediately to the Palestinian territories to help put an end to the mounting bloodshed.

Clashes broke out when Abbas called last month for early elections, a move Hamas dubbed an attempted coup d'etat.

Subsequent clashes between Fatah and Hamas supporters killed more than 30 people between mid-December and early January.

The two-week lull that followed revived hopes of a deal on a unity government that would satisfy the demands of the European Union and the United States for a resumption of direct aid.

Fatah and Hamas had on Tuesday begun a new round of unity talks, two days after a meeting between Abbas and exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Syria in which they said "considerable progress" had been made.

Fatah storms Gaza 'Hamas campus'
Forces close to the Fatah party of the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, have stormed a university campus seen as a bastion of the rival Hamas movement.

A BBC correspondent in Gaza says the large-scale operation shows how the fighting in Gaza has escalated.

Earlier on Thursday, six people died when Hamas militants hijacked a convoy delivering supplies to the Fatah-allied security forces.

Three days ago the two factions agreed a ceasefire after 30 deaths this year.

There were reports throughout the day of skirmishes in various parts of the Gaza Strip and gunmen returning to the streets.

Highly sensitive issue

Gun battles erupted in the centre of the Gaza Strip after Hamas attacked and captured a lorry it said was carrying weapons to the presidential guard, brought in from Israel.

Fatah denied there were any weapons on board the vehicle, adding that the small convoy of lorries was carrying generators and mechanical spare parts.

The BBC's Alan Johnston in Gaza says the reinforcement of the troops around Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is a highly sensitive issue.

Mr Abbas favours adopting a softer Palestinian line than Hamas in regard to the confrontation with Israel, and the Israelis and the US are keen to bolster Mr Abbas's forces, our correspondent says.

Washington recently agreed to supply the presidential guard with what it said would be non-lethal equipment.

Hamas has denounced the American involvement as blatant meddling designed to provoke conflict in the Palestinian territories.

FEBRUARY 8th 2007

Palestinians reach deal on unity government

By Mohammed Assadi 

MECCA, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - Rival Palestinian factions agreed on the formation of a unity government at crisis talks in Saudi Arabia on Thursday, an official said.

"We have agreed to form a national unity government. The agreement will be signed very soon," Palestinian ambassador to Saudi Arabia Jamal al-Shobaki told Reuters.

The Islamist group Hamas, which won the last Palestinian elections, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction earlier agreed on the distribution of key cabinet posts.

Abbas, Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal and Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh met for the crisis talks after internecine fighting that has killed more than 90 Palestinians since December.

The leaders also want to end an international blockade of the government led by Hamas. Fatah has steered peace talks with Israel since 1993 with U.S. approval.
Israel and the United States say Hamas must renounce violence, recognize Israel and commit itself to existing peace accords signed by the Palestinian Authority before sanctions can be lifted on any government including the Islamist movement.

A large part of the Mecca talks has thus focused on agreeing a formula for the unity government's platform that would satisfy these demands.

Palestinian sources close to the talks said before the announcement of an agreement that Hamas was ready to "respect" the accords with Israel if they "did not contradict Palestinian interests."

But Abbas was seeking a clear statement that it would be "committed" to them, to ensure the sanctions end.

Mediators from Saudi Arabia -- a U.S. ally which is hosting the talks -- have pressed Hamas to agree to the word "committed" to avoid U.S. rejection of a deal, Palestinian sources said.

An explicit recognition of Israel was off the cards, Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad told Reuters.


Fatah wanted Hamas to agree to a Fatah deputy prime minister to complement Haniyeh if he retains the premier's post.

The deal on cabinet portfolios envisages former culture minister Ziad Abu Amr being nominated as foreign minister and Salam Fayyad as finance minister, a post he has held before, according to Hamas and Fatah sources.

Hamas is expected to suggest a neutral figure for the interior post.

Fatah would take five minor cabinet portfolios and Hamas would take eight including economy, labor and justice.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Tuesday he would meet Abbas and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on February 19, in a bid to restart long-stalled peace talks.

That meeting could be in jeopardy if Hamas does not bend on recognizing Israel and past agreements.

Previous efforts to stem the bloodshed between Palestinian factions and find common political ground have resulted in short-lived ceasefires and a threat by Abbas to call a new parliamentary election, a move Hamas has said would be tantamount to a coup.

Abbas and Meshaal vowed on Wednesday at the opening of the Saudi-mediated talks not to leave Mecca without agreement.

(Additional reporting by Wafa Amr in Ramallah, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Dominic Evans in Jerusalem)

FEBRUARY 9th 2007
The hope is that following this agreement, restrictions and sanctions on the Palestinians will be lifted. The Israelis have said this must be conditional on Palestinian recognition ov Israel and renunciation of violence and terrorist attacks.

What should happen now is that the united Palestinian government should agree to this on the following conditions:
1. Israel withdraws from all the occupied territories and leaves all the settlements in these, without destroying them.
2. Israel demolishes the security wall in those areas where it has deviated from the legitimate boundary, replacing it with a controllable boundary on the correct line.

Israel should accept the above conditions and the International Community should guarantee the defence of Israel, which should come formally under the nuclear umbrella of the acknowledged nuclear powers, not that nuclear weapons would be needed in these circumstances to defend Israel other than their established role as deterrent against a nuclear first strike against Israel. Such a deterrent remains perfectly valid, against Iran just as effectively as it does against any state controlled military nuclear force/

Unfortunately the odds of Israel accepting these conditions are slim, therefore the chance of progress is similarly slim. That is why we have had bloodshed in the Middle East for many decades and and a growing cause for endless world wide terror.

FEBRUARY 10th 2007
The new Palestinian government is being asked to recognise Israel unconditionally. Why should they? To recognise Israel is to recognise it as it is now, where it is now. Recognition should be conditional.

FEBRUARY 19th 2007. I am not surprised there is no progress. The reason is as I stated clearly on Feb 9-10th above and in the Olmert-Bush position I have emphasised in red below.

Rice summit ends with little sign of progress

By Sue Pleming Feb 19th 2007

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli-Palestinian talks hosted by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ended on Monday with a vague promise to meet again and little sign of progress on reviving peace moves.

The talks, attended by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, were overshadowed by a Palestinian unity deal that calmed factional fighting but cast a new cloud over prospects for peace with Israel.

"All three of us affirmed our commitment to a two-state solution, agreed that a Palestinian state cannot be born of violence and terror," Rice said after the meeting in a Jerusalem hotel, which lasted more than two hours.

She stood alone to deliver the brief statement in a hotel ballroom, and took no questions from reporters. Her two partners in the talks were not present.

Rice said Olmert and Abbas "reiterated their acceptance of previous agreements and obligations," including a U.S.-backed road map for peace charting reciprocal steps toward a Palestinian state, and the two leaders would meet again soon.

Rice gave no date, but said she expected to return to the region shortly.

Olmert and Abbas, she said, discussed the deal the Palestinian president signed with the Islamist movement Hamas to establish a unity government, an accord that fell short of international demands on policy toward Israel.


"The president and the prime minister discussed their views of the diplomatic and political horizon and how it might unfold toward the two-state vision of President Bush," Rice said.

Olmert said on Sunday that he and President Bush agreed to boycott the unity government, which has yet to be formed, unless it renounced violence, recognized Israel and accepted existing interim peace accords.

Rice did not mention the issue in her brief remarks after the meeting, but noted it was the position of Middle East mediators known as the "Quartet" that the terms must be met.

The group comprises the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

The unity government deal, forged in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, earlier this month, helped curtail Palestinian factional warfare that caused 90 deaths in recent weeks.

A boycott by the United States could prevent a resumption of direct aid from Western donors to the Palestinian Authority, cut off after Hamas defeated Abbas'sFatah movement in an election a year ago.

Bogged down in Iraq, the United States has been seeking progress on stalled Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy.

It has said it would like both sides to start talking about the tough issues, such as the outlines of a new Palestinian state, refugees and the status of Jerusalem.

MARCH 15th 2007
For over a month there has been no progress and continual internal strife as Hamas and Fatah have been unable to agree on the key posts. At last there has been what looks like a possible solution

Palestinian PM unveils unity team
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya has unveiled a national unity cabinet after months of negotiations between his Hamas movement and Fatah.

The key posts of finance, interior and foreign ministers will go to men who are not members of Hamas or Fatah.

The list will be submitted to parliament on Saturday for approval.

Israeli officials have criticised the new government's platform which they say does not contradict Hamas's core principle of not recognising Israel.

US and European Union officials say they are waiting for the final outcome of the unity talks before deciding whether to lift economic sanctions imposed on the outgoing Hamas-led government.

Key tests

Israeli officials have made it clear they see the agreement as a step backwards, as it does not address their demands that the new government recognise Israel and sign up to past Israeli-Palestinian deals.

"It is difficult to see anything positive in this," an official told the BBC.

BBC Middle East analyst Roger Hardy says the unity deal has had a difficult birth and there is still deep mistrust between Hamas and Fatah, the two factions whose bitter rivalry brought the Palestinians to the brink of civil war.

"We hope that this government will mark the start of a new era and enable us to turn the page," Mr Haniya told journalists after handing the list to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, of the rival Fatah faction.

Mr Haniya said if the Palestinian parliament approved the cabinet list, as it is expected to do, the ministers could go straight to Mr Abbas to be sworn in so the government could start work.

The key position of interior minister is being given to an independent academic, Hani Kawasmi.

Analysts say the main test he faces will be over whether he can impose control over Hamas and Fatah military chiefs who currently exercise huge power and autonomy.

The test for the incoming finance minister, Salam Fayyad, will be to reverse a trend in which money has flowed to the Hamas-led government through unofficial channels, because of the international boycott.

MARCH 17 2007     Norway recognises the Fatah-Hamas Government.

Palestinian unity government takes office

by Adel Zaanoun Sat Mar 17, 4:32 PM ET

GAZA CITY (AFP) - A landmark coalition government uniting rival factions took power on Saturday, vowing to end a year-long international boycott that has crippled the economy of the Palestinian territories.

The new government that unites the secular Fatah party with the Islamist Hamas movement seemed unlikely to meet international demands, however, as prime minister Ismail Haniya defiantly proclaimed the Palestinians' right to resist against Israel.

The Jewish state immediately refused to have any contacts with the new government, which it said failed to meet any of the Quartet's three conditions for acceptance -- denounce violence, recognise Israel and honour past peace accords.

It called on the Quartet of Middle East mediators -- the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia -- to maintain a crippling aid freeze imposed on the Palestinian Authority one year ago after Hamas, responsible for scores of suicide bombings, took power after democratic elections.

But as the sanctions wreak havoc on the Palestinian economy, international resolve has begun to crack. Norway announced on Saturday it would now recognise the Fatah-Hamas government.

MARCH 18th 2007
A leading articles with balls...

Leading article: A chance to drop this self-defeating boycott

Published: 19 March 2007

The policy of refusing to deal with the Hamas-led government in the West Bank and Gaza and of denying it aid has been an unmitigated disaster and ought to be abandoned. The formation of a "unity" government at the weekend, including Hamas but under the moderate leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas, is a good opportunity for the Europeans, if not the US, to make a respectable exit from the diplomatic cul-de-sac in which they have placed themselves.

The boycott, adopted in January 2006, has failed wholly to discredit and delegitimise Hamas in the eyes of ordinary Palestinians, and has not restored the political fortunes of the more moderate and secular Fatah.

What it has done is push an already impoverished society towards the edge of mass malnutrition, at the same time as increasing the standing of the representatives of the most apocalyptic and extreme brand of religious fanaticism, whose message of permanent holy war with the West falls on ears made receptive by desperation.

When Washington and the European Union agreed their boycott, they wished to express revulsion at the election victory of a party that refused to distance itself from violence or recognise Israel's right to exist. Perhaps they had a point - then. But the succeeding months have shown that this respectable-sounding strategy has failed. If, on the other hand, the EU aid on which a great number of Palestinians depend flowed once more, there is at least a chance that the virtual civil war that has been raging in Gaza - and which in part is a vicious struggle over diminishing resources - might dampen down.

But it's not just a matter of silencing the guns. A recent UN report painted a horrifying picture of the ravaging effects on Palestinian society of slowly worsening food shortages. These have been only partly mitigated by increased donations from Arab states, and by the traditional solidarity of the extended family networks among Palestinians.

We should be under no illusion that a change of heart is in sight in Washington, in spite of yesterday's suggestions that US officials may now agree to meet selected non-Hamas ministers in the new government.

That may suggest a small divergence from the line of Ehud Olmert's government in Israel, which urges total non-co-operation with any government including Hamas, but Washington is not about to initiate a serious rupture with Israel over the question of aid to the Palestinian Authority.

European governments should have the courage to go it alone on this one. If that irritates the most ardently pro-Israel elements among US Republicans, so be it.

MARCH 27th 2007
At last some sense, and credit due to Condoleezza Rice. She could do with some, frankly, as over the past few years she has achieved nothing.

Israel, Palestinian leaders agree to regular talks

By Arshad Mohammed 

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli and Palestinian leaders have agreed to hold confidence-building talks every two weeks that could eventually lead to discussions on a Palestinian state, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Tuesday.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told European lawmakers Israel had agreed "to conduct a dialogue on the conditions for establishing a Palestinian state," a ministry statement said.

Israel, Livni said, would present its "security needs." She signaled there could be no shortcuts to statehood and called for the terms of a long-stalled U.S.-backed peace "road map" to be met.

These conditions include dismantling Palestinian militant groups and halting Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank.

Other Israeli officials cited disagreements between Olmert and Rice over the scope of the deliberations.

A senior Israeli official said substantive talks on statehood between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would not be on the agenda for now.

"The issues would be security, humanitarian and the political horizon," the official said in a loose reference to a U.S.-backed vision of a Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel.

"Political horizon is not about specifics," the official added, appearing to rule out discussion soon on core issues such as the future of Jerusalem, the borders of a Palestinian state and the fate of Palestinian refugees.

On her fourth visit in four months, Rice tried to revive peace hopes dimmed last year by the establishment of a Hamas-led government and further complicated by the creation this month of a unity administration with Abbas's Fatah faction.

The power-sharing partnership has not met demands by a Quartet of Middle East mediators to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept existing interim peace accords.

At a news conference postponed from Monday evening after discord with Olmert, Rice said the prime minister and Abbas "have agreed that they plan to meet together bi-weekly."

"We are not yet at final-status negotiations. These are initial discussions to build confidence," Rice said. Her visit ended a day before Arab states open a summit in Riyadh where they intend to relaunch a 2002 plan for peace with Israel.

Olmert told reporters on Monday he would maintain constant contacts with Abbas but did not say how frequently they would meet. The Israeli leader said after the unity government was inaugurated he would limit such talks to humanitarian issues.

His agreement to see Abbas regularly appeared to be a gesture to Washington, which is eager to show the Arab world and European allies it is trying to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


Saeb Erekat, a senior adviser to Abbas, said Rice "managed to keep the door open between us and the Israelis which was closing rapidly in the past few days."

A senior U.S. official, briefing reporters on Rice's plane after she left Israel, said he detected a new willingness on the part of Olmert's government to engage Abbas.

"There really was a different mood, a willingness to try and see what this track can produce," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing confidential diplomatic exchanges.

Rice said Abbas and Olmert would focus on security issues but also "begin to discuss the development of a political horizon consistent with the establishment of a Palestinian state in accordance with the 'road map."'

The broader Arab League proposal that will be a focus of the Riyadh summit offers Israel normal ties in return for a full withdrawal from land it captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

"Such bold outreach can turn the Arab League's words into the basis of active diplomacy and it can hasten the day when the state called Palestine will take its rightful place in the international community," Rice said.

(Additional reporting by Adam Entous)

MARCH 31 2007
This article from today's Independent newspaper reveals that unfortunately their is little chance of a comprehensive peace. Compromise is required on conditions Olmert refuses to bend on, and he is asking a compromise on borders which is hard to see being accepted. To get round these problems would require massive support in some other form for the Palestinians from the 'other Arab neighbours'. Perhaps this is what he has in mind.

Olmert talks of 'comprehensive peace' with Arabs

By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem

Published: 31 March 2007

Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, yesterday held out the prospect that Israel could make a "comprehensive peace" with its Arab neighbours - including the Palestinians - "within five years".

Mr Olmert, struggling to keep politically afloat after the Lebanon war, used a series of upbeat interviews ahead of the Passover holiday to extend a positive, if heavily qualified, welcome to this week's Arab League Summit in Riyadh.

The Riyadh summit sought to relaunch the five-year-old, Saudi-inspired Beirut initiative promising pan-Arab recognition of Israel in return for a two-state solution, based on a withdrawal to 1967 borders.

"A bloc of states is emerging that understands that they may have been wrong to think that Israel is the world's greatest problem," he claimed to the liberal daily Ha'aretz. "That is a revolutionary change in outlook."

The Prime Minister suggested he was ready to start "discussions" with Saudi Arabia and attend a regional conference designed to support Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. He told Yedhiot Ahronot: "I am convinced that there is a real chance that within five years, Israel will be able to reach a comprehensive peace arrangement with its enemies."

Publication of the interviews followed a welcome on Thursday by the US State Department of the Riyadh conclusions as a "positive development".

The State Department's spokesman, Sean McCormack, said that the US was encouraging the Arab League "to use this initiative and the re-launch of this initiative as a basis for active diplomacy".

But Mr Olmert also made it clear that Israel does not accept the idea of a full withdrawal to 1967 borders and that it will not compromise on the issue of four million Palestinians and their descendants who fled or were forced to leave their homes in 1948. In response to the summit's call for a "just solution", Mr Olmert told the right-of-centre Jerusalem Post: "I will not agree to accept any kind of Israeli responsibility for the refugees. Full stop ... Out of the question."

While Hamas leaders continued to insist in Riyadh last week on a "right of return" for refugees, Saudi leaders argue that the emphasis in the text, agreed in Beirut and confirmed in Riyadh, on an "agreed" solution allows room for compromise in any negotiations on a final peace deal.

Having resisted pressure from the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, earlier this week for talks on issues for such negotiations, also including borders and the status of Jerusalem, Mr Olmert implied that he wanted to use the twice-monthly talks with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, to "confront" him over what he said were the latter's failure to fulfil earlier promises.

These included the release of the Israeli corporal Gilad Shalit, abducted outside Gaza last June. He said of the Palestinians: "How can you believe them when they don't fulfil anything? If they don't transform themselves, don't fight terrorism and don't fulfil any of their other commitments, they will continue to live in never-ending chaos."

Some Palestinian negotiators, while welcoming the restatement of the Arab peace plan, expressed some disappointment at the Arab League's handling of its relaunch, whose impact they fear could be blunted by the heavy emphasis on some other issues, such as Iraq.

Mr Olmert's interviews came as he awaits the findings of the Winograd Commission inquiry into Israel's strategy in the Lebanon war last summer.

On Syria, with whom some sections of the foreign policy establishment in Israel have been urging him to negotiate, he insisted to Ha'aretz that he wanted "unequivocally" to make peace. But this would only be when - he said without elaborating - there were "conditions that make negotiations possible and everyone with any experience of negotiations with the Syrians knows about them".

Mr Olmert secured only a two per cent approval rating in a recent opinion poll.

APRIL 01 2007
Below you will see a different 'take' on Olmert's proposal, which gives slightly more hope for success
Israel offers Arabs peace talks
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has proposed holding a regional peace conference following the revival of an Arab peace initiative.

Mr Olmert said if Saudi Arabia arranged a conference of moderate Arab states and invited him and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, he would attend.

Earlier, Mr Abbas urged Israel to engage in direct serious negotiations as soon as possible.

Last week Arab leaders urged Israel to accept a peace plan proposed in 2002.

Saudi Arabia has yet to respond but the BBC's Alim Maqbool in Jerusalem says Mr Olmert's call for a regional summit suggests the plan could at least form a basis for fresh negotiations.

First adopted by Arab League in 2002
Calls for "full Israeli withdrawal from all the Arab territories occupied since June 1967"
Calls for Israel's "acceptance of an independent Palestinian State, with East Jerusalem as its capital"
All Arab states would establish "normal relations... with Israel" and "consider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended"
Calls for a "just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem"

The Saudi plan offers Israel normalisation of ties with Arab states if it pulls out of all Arab land it occupied in 1967 and a "just solution" for Palestinian refugees.

Israel rejected the plan outright when it was first proposed.

But Mr Olmert said on Thursday Israel was ready to make "big and painful" concessions to advance the peace process.

'Important leader'

Mr Olmert's call for a regional peace conference came during a news conference in Jerusalem with the visiting German leader, Angela Merkel.

"I am announcing to the heads of the Arab states on this occasion that if the Saudi king initiates a meeting of moderate Arab states and invites me and the head of the Palestinian Authority in order to present us the Saudi ideas, we will come to hear them and we will be glad to voice ours," Mr Olmert said.

"I think it is time to make a momentous effort in order to give a push to the diplomatic process... I am optimistic," he said.

"I invite all the heads of the Arab states, including of course the Saudi king whom I consider a very important leader, to hold talks with us," he said.

Earlier, speaking after his own talks with Mrs Merkel, the Palestinian leader had called on the Israeli government to respond constructively to the new Arab peace initiative.

APRIL 13 2007

U.S. hopes for deeper Mideast peace talks in summer

By Arshad Mohammed and Sue Pleming 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Israelis and Palestinians could start to explore fundamental peace issues this summer, U.S. officials said, in a sign they believe some progress is possible despite myriad obstacles.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice plans to visit the Middle East roughly once a month, a senior State Department official said, discussing the Bush administration's desire to promote peace in its final two years.

In interviews this week, senior U.S. officials acknowledged the challenge of getting two politically weak leaders -- Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas -- to engage seriously on peace.

They also stressed their desire to see Arab states like Saudi Arabia begin to engage with Israel, possibly providing political cover for Palestinians to make compromises should any genuine peace negotiation begin.

Olmert and Abbas plan to meet on Sunday in the first of a series of fortnightly talks that may build confidence and help the two sides, despite their domestic constraints, eventually start to deal with the most intractable issues of borders, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem.

Olmert's office on Friday said such "final status" issues would not be on the agenda on Sunday.

"We are not there yet. It could be possible to get to that point within the next few months, by summer," a senior State Department official told Reuters. "I think it has to be an effort by Israelis and Palestinians but also by Arabs too."

The Bush administration has been faulted by Arab diplomats and outside analysts for what critics regard as six years of relative neglect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


Egypt's ambassador to the United States Nabil Fahmy said progress was necessary soon if Rice wants to allay Arab skepticism about U.S. intentions and commitment.

"As she goes back again and again, there will have to be more meat on the table, not only by way of what the Israelis and the Palestinians do but in what she presents," he told reporters this month.

"It will not suffice to argue that process is an achievement in itself. By early summer, there will have to be ... a deep indication that there is a commitment to dealing with final status issues if not some progress and clarity on the Israeli and Palestinian position on (them)."

There is a widespread belief among foreign policy analysts that the U.S. effort comes at an inauspicious moment.

Olmert was politically weakened by Israel's 34-day war with Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas last summer. A government-appointed commission into his handling of the conflict is to release a report later this month.

Abbas's Fatah party lost parliamentary elections to Hamas last year and is now in a coalition government with the Islamist party, which the United States and Israel regard as a terrorist organization and refuse to deal with.

"Our main concern at the moment is supporting Abu Mazen (Abbas), making sure that Hamas is not in a position to take over -- militarily, economically, politically," said one official.

The official said Washington hopes the roughly $60 million it plans to spend to bolster Abbas' presidential guard and for other security expenses will be multiplied by Arab funds.

He said strengthening the security forces under Abbas and reviving the Palestinian economy "are things that ... lay the basis for a successful negotiation whenever it happens."

One senior official said the administration was realistic about the difficulty of creating a Palestinian state before Bush leaves office.

"We are going to be at this deliberately and methodically. We won't give it up," he said. "We expect to make a contribution in this area. Notice the word expect, not hope."

"It's getting harder and harder," said another official. "I mean, the clock is ticking."

APRIL 30th 2007
We now have the report of the Israeli inquiry into the July 2006 war in the Lebanon. Much the same as my report at the start of it.
Israeli leaders 'rushed to war'
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been criticised for taking Israel to war in Lebanon last year "hastily" and without a comprehensive plan.

A government inquiry panel found him and other leaders guilty of "very serious failings" in handling the war.

About 1,200 Lebanese and 160 Israelis were killed after Israel launched operations against Hezbollah militants who had captured two Israeli soldiers.

Mr Olmert is already suffering unprecedented unpopularity levels.

But he got support from the White House, whose spokesman said President Bush viewed the Israeli leader as essential to Middle East peace efforts.

He received the report on Monday morning, a few hours before its conclusions were read out on live TV.

"We will definitely study your material... and ensure that in any future threat scenario against Israel, the difficulties and faults you cited will be corrected," Mr Olmert said.

'Overly ambitious'

Retired judge Eliahu Winograd presented the findings of the six-month investigation into the lead-up to war at a news conference.

He said the decision to launch the war without a well thought-out plan showed "a severe failure in judgment, responsibility and caution".

The prime minister made up his mind hastily, despite the fact that no detailed military plan was submitted to him and without asking for one
Winograd report

The aims of the war - to crush Hezbollah and force it to hand back two Israeli troops captured in a deadly cross-border raid - were "overly ambitious and impossible to achieve", Mr Winograd said.

Some 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers, were killed in the 34-day conflict, while the two captured soldiers remain in captivity.

"The responsibility is on the prime minister, the defence minister and chief of staff," Mr Winograd said.

The former chief of staff, General Dan Halutz, has already resigned.

The report did not recommend any resignations, but it is expected to raise the pressure on Mr Olmert and Defence Minister Amir Peretz.

A rally is planned for Thursday in Tel Aviv, calling for Mr Olmert and his government to quit.

US support

The BBC's Tim Franks in Jerusalem says that the report was just as damning as expected, and that it will be very tough for Mr Olmert to survive politically in the long term.

However, the prime minister's aides have said he will not step down and intends to carry on.

The commission said its report was only its interim findings.

It was ordered to investigate the full conduct of the war, but said it decided to bring forward its findings on the preparation for war, so that lessons could be learned sooner.

Its full report will follow soon, it said.

MAY 14 2007

Palestinians renew deal to end violence after deaths

By Nidal al-Mughrabi Reuters - 

GAZA (Reuters) - Palestinian factions renewed on Monday a pledge to work to keep gunmen off Gaza streets, following the resignation of the interior minister and the biggest surge in factional fighting in months

Hours later, Palestinian witnesses reported unidentified gunmen had abducted a lecturer from the Islamic University, which is largely known to support the Islamic group Hamas. There was no immediate comment from the Palestinian factions.

Similar abductions and violence, namely between members of Hamas and rival Fatah, have raged in the Gaza Strip in recent days despite a truce declared months ago. Two Palestinian militants and two civilians were killed in clashes on Monday.

Nine people have been shot dead since a new round of violence erupted on Friday, which revived fears of civil war.

Palestinian Interior Minister Hani al-Qawasmi, who was to have overseen security services, resigned over frustration by competition from powerful Fatah rivals for control of the armed contingents, officials said.

Officials said following talks with Prime Minister and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, who has since taken over Qawasmi's duties, leaders from both sides agreed all gunmen aside from the Palestinian police would be removed from Gaza streets.

"Fatah and Hamas leaders have promised that both sides will end all forms of tensions, end armed displays, remove gunmen and checkpoints from the streets and swap hostages," Palestinian cabinet spokesman Ghazi Hamad said.

Violence has often marred past agreements aimed at ending lawlessness. Past police deployments have not fully secured the territory, which has sunk further into poverty and political disarray since Israel withdrew troops and settlers in 2005.


Qawasmi's resignation had cast new doubt on whether power-sharing between Islamist Hamas and secular Fatah could continue. Filling the interior ministry post had been one of the main obstacles to forming a unity government in February.

"We are afraid that some people want to shoot the bullet of mercy against the Mecca agreement," Fatah official Abdel-Hakim Awad said, referring to the Saudi-brokered unity coalition agreement, which also included pledges to end chaos.

"We will work to prevent that because if it happened, it would bring a catastrophe to the internal situation and the area will sink in a blood bath."

Earlier, sources in President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah said tensions stoked by the renewed violence with Hamas, after a new ceasefire was announced late on Sunday, could lead to the collapse of the unity government within days.

"Talk during the night is like butter -- it melts at sunrise," a man on a bicycle, referring to the truce negotiations, shouted as he passed near masked gunmen closing a main street in Gaza City.

Both sides had planned to pull gunmen off the streets a day before Palestinians mark the "Naqba", or what they describe as the tragedy that befell them when Israel was created in 1948.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, testifying to a parliamentary committee, reaffirmed Israel's position that with what she called a "terrorist group", Hamas, in power, the time was not ripe for full negotiations on Palestinian statehood.

In a scene reminiscent of fierce factional warfare before the Saudi-brokered unity government was formed, masked gunmen patrolled Gaza's streets as ordinary Palestinians opted to stay indoors and keep children home from school.

Shops were shuttered and taxi drivers took detours to bypass checkpoints set up by rival armed groups.

(Additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah)

MAY 18th 2007

Fighting plunges Gaza further into chaos

By IBRAHIM BARZAK, Associated Press Writer 

Israeli planes pounded Hamas targets and rival Palestinian factions exchanged bursts of automatic weapons fire outside Gaza City's Islamic University on Friday, as a volatile mix of Israeli strikes and Palestinian infighting plunged Gaza deeper into chaos.

Five Palestinians were killed in a single airstrike by Israel. Israel said the strike was in response to Hamas rocket attacks on southern Israel — a campaign that persisted on Friday with Hamas firing three rockets at the town of Sderot. Three people in the town were injured by shrapnel and several others were treated for shock.

The sound of gunfire and explosions from fighting between Hamas and Fatah rang out for the sixth straight day in Gaza. Outside the Islamic University — a Hamas stronghold — one person was wounded from the exchange of fire, but it was not immediately known from which side.

The fighting largely died down later in the day after Fatah and Hamas fighters took up positions around the university. Earlier, the office of the university's president, Kamelen Shaath, was attacked by rocket-propelled grenades, according to Hamas.

Shaath appealed for an immediate halt to the violence.

"Universities must be outside the circle of violence and I appeal to the president and all the wise people on both sides to try and spare the university the agony of this fight," he said.

In six days of mayhem, 47 Palestinians have died in infighting and another 17 were killed by Israeli strikes. The latest casualty was a 40-year-old Palestinian fisherman named Samir Amodi, who was shot in the head by a sniper in Gaza City's harbor.

Israeli aircraft fired missiles east of Gaza City on Friday, killing five Palestinians, at least three of them Hamas militants, Hamas and local doctors said. Six people were wounded.

The military said the target was a Hamas headquarters building. Three other strikes followed, including an afternoon hit on a Hamas military building near the central Gazan town of Deir al Balah. No casualties were reported, most likely because Hamas had ordered its people to evacuate installations considered targets. But the group's infrastructure suffered further damage.

The intensity of Palestinian street battles has waned since a peak two days ago. But the latest cease-fire was not holding. Shots rang out in many areas, and gunmen who had promised to withdraw from the streets were still manning roadblocks and positions on rooftops.

"Our retaliation for (Fatah's) crimes is going to be beyond their imagination," Abu Obeida, spokesman for Hamas's military wing, told The Associated Press.

Gen. Jamal Kayed, Fatah's security commander in Gaza, said his group had already begun implementing the cease-fire but claimed Hamas was not willing to follow suit.

Walid al-Awad, a member of a committee set up to implement the cease-fire, said his team worked late into the night to get the sides to withdraw, but to no avail.

"Nothing has been implemented, and I have warned both sides that this a time bomb that is sabotaging our efforts," al-Awad said.

The fighting between Hamas and Fatah has all but destroyed their two-month-old power-sharing deal and brought them close to all-out civil war.

By most accounts, Hamas' performance in the latest round of internal fighting has been superior to Fatah's, with greater discipline and more motivated fighters.

Although Israel said it was not taking sides, the airstrikes did make it harder for Hamas gunmen to move around and that could help Fatah's fighters.

Hamas commanders instructed their fighters on walkie-talkies to avoid riding in vehicles, talking on cell phones or gathering in large groups — and to evacuate buildings known by both Israel and Fatah as Hamas hangouts.

The Israeli strikes have introduced a new layer of violence and uncertainty. A senior army official, speaking on condition of anonymity because no official decision has been made, said Israel had no immediate plans for a major ground offensive to halt rocket fire.

There was no sign of any Israeli military buildup that would indicate plans for a serious intervention, though a few tanks and soldiers moved just across the Gaza border on Thursday.

"Israel will take every defensive measure to stop these rocket attacks. We will defend our citizens against the rockets, against the weapons, against the Iranian-backed Hamas who are attacking Israel," government spokeswoman Miri Eisen said.

Analysts said Israeli policy makers were probably trying to walk a fine line to avoid uniting Palestinian factions into a common front against Israel. But Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a retired general, said Israel could not stand idly by while Palestinian rockets continued.

"We have to show them one thing, that the moment you fire, we shall return fire," he told Israel Radio.

Hamas Web sites, radio and TV carried accusations that forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas were working with Israel — a charge dismissed as "absurd" by a Fatah spokesman.

On Friday, Hamas TV named three Fatah security chiefs who it said were in secret contact with "foreign" security personnel to exchange information on Palestinian militant groups.

"They are deep into treason, and we will deal with them accordingly," the broadcast said. The TV did not specify which foreigners, but Fatah forces affiliated with Abbas have received advice and training from the U.S.

With his aides citing security concerns, Abbas canceled a Thursday trip to Gaza for talks with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was under intense public pressure to respond to the Hamas barrage, and he visited Sderot late Thursday.

"I am handling this crisis in order to remove this threat as much as possible," his office quoted him as saying.

Olmert is fighting for political survival in the face of plummeting popularity and harsh criticism of his handling of last summer's war in Lebanon. He probably would be wary of a major ground offensive in Gaza, fearful of another inconclusive effort.

On Friday, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni briefed members of the diplomatic corps in Israel on the latest developments and showed them video of a Sderot school damaged by rocket fire.

"For too long the international community took the situation in the south of Israel as acceptable, as part of life in Israel, and it's not," she told Tel-Aviv based envoys. On Thursday, she told German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeyer in a phone call that she expects the European Union to apply diplomatic pressure on Palestinians to halt the rocket fire.

MAY 20th 2007

Palestinian truce begins to take hold

By SARAH EL DEEB, Associated Press Writer 

Gunmen armed with rifles, grenades and explosives climbed down from rooftop positions Saturday and residents began venturing out of bullet-scarred homes after their leaders agreed to end a week of Palestinian factional bloodshed in Gaza.

The truce began to take hold as Israel launched a fifth day of airstrikes on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip in reprisal for the Islamic militant group's rocket attacks on Israeli border towns. Other recent cease-fires between the factions have been short-lived but Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said he expected this one to stick because of Israel's military action.

"No one would accept to fight one another while the Israelis are shelling Gaza," he said.

The clashes between Hamas and Fatah gunmen loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have brought the two groups that nominally share power to the brink of civil war. More than 50 Palestinians have been killed in a week of infighting.

The overlapping violence from Israel's attacks on Hamas rocket operations has killed 23 other Palestinians in the past week.

On Saturday, Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz vowed to keep going after Hamas militants who would fire rockets at Israel, warning them to be "very afraid."

Still, Peretz said time was not ripe for a major Israeli ground offensive in Gaza.

An Israeli airstrike killed three people in a car in Gaza early Sunday, Palestinian medics said. Israel said the car was carrying three Hamas radicals and a load of weapons. The Israeli army also said warplanes demolished arms factories belonging to Hamas and — for the first time since the airstrikes began on Tuesday — Islamic Jihad, a smaller militant group that has also been involved in rocket attacks on Israel.

On Saturday, four Palestinians were killed in air attacks on Hamas targets, while five rockets from Gaza hit the Israeli border area, causing damage, but no injury.

The Israeli air attacks, backed by tank fire, have driven Hamas fighters out of their bases, prompting the militant group to accuse Israel and Fatah of colluding against it.

The Palestinian infighting broke out Sunday after Abbas stationed thousands of security forces on the streets of lawless Gaza City — a move Hamas interpreted as a provocation because it wasn't consulted.

Saturday's truce committed the battling factions to pull their fighters off the streets and exchange an unknown number of hostages.

Four previous cease-fire agreements collapsed earlier in the week.

A gunbattle erupted outside the home of a senior Fatah official in Gaza City as the cease-fire was reached, and security officials said several people were wounded.

And in another sign of the shaky nature of the truce, several hostages from both factions were released before an official exchange ceremony — but only after their captors shot them in the legs, both sides said.

Still, as word of the cease-fire spread, and enforcement teams went out on the streets, fighters began to comply — something they had not done with the previous truces. They also began knocking down roadblocks they had set up to identify rival fighters.

Truce enforcers from various Palestinian factions went from rooftop to rooftop, urging gunmen to leave. At one Gaza City building that had been the site of fierce fighting, Hamas fighters climbed down carrying a cache of rocket-propelled grenades, bags of explosives and AK-47 rifles.

Mervat, a resident who would only give her first name for fear of reprisal, said the fighting terrorized her 5-year old daughter who thought the conflict was with Israelis. The two never left home throughout the fighting.

"Hopefully it will stick this time. We are the only losers if this continues," she said.

She and other residents who had remained holed up at home throughout the fighting stepped out hesitantly to shop for groceries and other supplies.

Ribhi Barghouti held up a fistful of burnt American dollars. He said mortars fell in his apartment, destroying his furniture and burning up his wife's passport and $13,000 the couple had stashed away.

"I lost everything. ... It is impossible to tell what will happen in this place anymore," he said. He said he plans to return to his native West Bank as soon as his wife replaces her ID.

Some Gazans returned to their apartments, passing evacuating fighters on the way, only to decide the damage was too great for them to stay. They stuffed a few belongings into suitcases and left again.

The hostage handover — a major element of the cease-fire deal — was delayed for hours while kidnapped men were located. Shortly after midnight Saturday, two buses carrying kidnapped men from both sides pulled up to the Egyptian representative office in Gaza City, where the cease-fire was negotiated.

Col. Burhan Hamad, head of an Egyptian security team that helped to mediate the cease-fire, said 30 hostages were to be released early Sunday, and the remaining 18 later in the day.

The truce accord was endorsed by Abbas and Hamas' exiled supreme leader, Khaled Mashaal, who conferred a rare three times by phone in the past few days. Mashaal lives in Syria.

"Both leaders ... made their calculations and realized that they can't gain this way," Palestinian Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti said.

Barghouti also said Saudi Arabia "made it clear they can't accept the failure" of the agreement Hamas and Fatah reached in Mecca in February to form a national unity government.

The bloodshed in Gaza threatens to deter Arab countries from giving badly needed economic aid to Palestinians, said Peter Ford, the top fundraiser for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency.

Ford, speaking to participants at the World Economic Forum meeting in Jordan, said he was most concerned that UNRWA had to cut its job creation program in the Palestinian territories.

"Gaza needs that like a hole in the head," Ford said. "This is a result of us not being given enough funds for our emergency program to create jobs."

The violence with Israel, meanwhile, has destroyed a cease-fire Gaza militants reached with Israel nearly six months ago.

Israel launched its latest round of airstrikes on Hamas targets on Tuesday. The militant group, which refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist, has fired nearly 120 rockets at southern Israel since Tuesday, the military said, including three that landed early Sunday, the army said. One of the three hit an empty home.

Rocket squads should be "very afraid," because "it is our intention to act against Hamas," Peretz vowed in an interview with Israel Radio.

Asked whether Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas and the head of Hamas' military wing, Ahmed Jaberi, could also be targets, Peretz said he would not rule out any action that "makes it clear to everyone that we don't intend to allow anyone to harm Israeli citizens."

At the same time, he said Israel would not embark on a major offensive in the Gaza Strip because it had other, unspecified tools in its arsenal to use against rocket-launchers, he said.

Peretz insisted Israel is not interfering in the internal Palestinian fighting. However, he said "we certainly would like the moderate forces to emerge with the upper hand," a reference to Fatah.


Associated Press Writer Dale Gavlak contributed to this story from Southern Shuneh, Jordan.


Europe must lead the search for peace in the Middle East

The world is right to get nervous when the US is frustrated and Israel faces defeat. The EU needs to go its own way

Paddy Ashdown
Saturday July 29, 2006
The Guardian

Sometimes events surpass hyperbole - and this, I fear, is one of them. It is impossible to overstate what is now at stake in the Middle East. As Tony Blair returns from Washington he must confront the fact that the shape of the region cannot be the same again. But with so much dry tinder about and so many firebrands, what we cannot know is whether this will affect us all on a much wider and more dangerous scale.

It is also difficult to comprehend the delicacy of the dilemma on whose horns we are impaled.

On the one hand we would all like to see a ceasefire as soon as possible, backed by a settlement and the quick interposition of a peacekeeping force on the ground in Lebanon and Gaza. But I remember the ceasefires in Bosnia. They came and went like sunny afternoons. And when they had gone they left the soldiers of the intervening force, Unprofor, once again as impotent observers to a conflict neither side wanted to end and no one in the international community was prepared to stop.

A ceasefire without the ingredients of a lasting peace and a willingness by both sides to observe it would place any intervening international force in an equally impossible position. If it were weak it would very quickly be turned into another Unprofor. If it were strong it would soon become an occupying force standing between the combatants and the war aims they had not yet forsaken.

On the other hand, the chances of this conflict widening grow every day. Shutting it down quickly must now be an imperative aim of western policy.

Hizbullah may have started this with an outrageous breach of international law and a sustained and flagrant contravention of a UN security council resolution. But it is not Hizbullah's position that is weakening now. It is Israel's. Its stated war aim was to destroy Hizbullah. It is not clear why, having failed to do this by occupying Lebanon, it thought it could achieve it by bombing. But whatever its thinking, it has been unable to deliver the knockout blow that was its primary military aim.

From now on, Hizbullah does not have to win. It merely has to survive as a potent force - and it appears to be doing just that. Meanwhile the political damage done to Israel through miscalculation, overreaction and targeting errors is incalculable. But there is no comfort to be taken in the thought that Israel may be reaping the whirlwind it has helped to sow. A defeat for Israel and a victory for Hizbullah would have terrifying consequences for the Middle East, which would probably begin with regime change on a wide scale (but not the kind Washington looks for) and could end with the very battle for survival that Israel has always claimed that its use of military force was designed to avoid.

Alongside Israel's failure sits the failure of what I suspect was the strategy of Blair and perhaps Bush. The most positive construction that can be put on this is that they hoped Israel would weaken first Hizbullah and then Iran and Syria, and thus create the context for a wider Middle Eastern settlement, incorporating Palestine and easing our problems in Iraq. Israel's failure so far to achieve its war aims means that this strategy too is in danger of being frustrated.

The world should get very nervous when the US feels frustrated and Israel faces defeat. This is when miscalculations of even greater magnitude become even more possible. There are powerful voices among the neocon Christian right - now very influential in Washington - that the US policy aim should be to use Israel's excesses to draw in Iran and Syria, so that the US could "take them down" as a prelude to reshaping the Middle East for democracy. This is the Clint Eastwood-style "C'mon punk, make my day" strategy. If it were adopted it would be bound to lead to a widening conflagration that would embrace the fragile tinderboxes of central Asia and goodness knows where beyond. I have to believe that no responsible government, in Washington or elsewhere, would follow such a path. But I wish I felt more sure in that belief.

There is only one solution to this crisis, and it is the same solution we have to find in Iraq: to go for a wider Middle East settlement and to do it urgently. The US cannot do this. But Europe can. Would this mean talking to Iran and Syria? Of course it would. You can make peace only by talking to the other side. Would this mean a solution to Palestine? Of course it must, for this is the burning coal that lies at the heart of the fire. Would this be unwelcome in Washington at the moment? Probably. But not if, in the end, it provides a way out of the impasse in which they find themselves. Would this mean Europe embarking on its own course? Yes - but this is the right time to do it.

I don't want to believe that America's strategy is to widen the war. But, just in case, Europe's strategy now should be to widen the peace.

· Paddy Ashdown was the high representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina from 2002 until January this year

...and also this

The king of fairyland will never grasp the realities of the Middle East

A US leader in his second term should have the power to rein in Israel. But George Bush is no ordinary president

George Monbiot
Tuesday August 1, 2006
The Guardian

Of all the curious things that have been written about Israel's assault on Lebanon, surely the oddest is contained in Paddy Ashdown's article on these pages last Saturday. "There is only one solution to this crisis, and it is the same solution we have to find in Iraq: to go for a wider Middle East settlement and to do it urgently. The US cannot do this. But Europe can."

The US cannot do this? What on earth does he mean? At first sight his contention seems plain wrong. While Israel intends to sustain its occupation of Palestinian territory, a wider settlement is impossible. It surely follows that the country that has the greatest potential leverage over Israel is the country with the greatest power to broker peace. Israel's foreign policy and military strategy is dependent on the approval of the United States.

Though Israel ranks 23rd on the global development index - above Greece, Singapore, Portugal and Brunei - it remains the world's largest recipient of US aid. The US government dispensed $11bn of civil foreign assistance in 2004. Of this, Israel received $555m; the three poorest nations on earth - Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone and Niger - were given a total of $69m. More importantly, last year Israel also received $2.2bn of military aid.

It does not depend economically on this assistance. Its gross domestic product amounts to $155bn, and its military budget to $9.5bn. It manufactures many of its own weapons and buys components from all over the world, including - as the Guardian revealed last week - the United Kingdom. Rather, it depends upon it diplomatically. Most of the money given by the US foreign military financing programme - in common with all US aid disbursements - is spent in the United States. Israel uses it to obtain F-15 and F-16 jets; Apache, Cobra and Blackhawk helicopters; AGM, AIM and Patriot missiles, M-16 rifles, M-204 grenade launchers and M-2 machine guns. As the Prestwick scandal revealed, laser-guided bombs, even now, are being sent to Israel from the United States.

Many of these weapons have been used to kill Palestinian civilians and are being used in Lebanon today. The US arms export control act states that "no defence article or defence service shall be sold or leased by the United States government" unless its provision "will strengthen the security of the United States and promote world peace". Weapons may be sold "to friendly countries solely for internal security, for legitimate self-defence [or for] maintaining or restoring international peace and security".

By giving these weapons to Israel, the US government is, in effect, stating that all its military actions are being pursued in the cause of legitimate self-defence, American interests and world peace. The US also becomes morally complicit in Israel's murder of civilians. The diplomatic cover this provides is indispensable.

Since 1972 the US has used its veto in the UN security council on 40 occasions to prevent the passage of resolutions that sought either to defend the rights of the Palestinians or to condemn the excesses of Israel's government. This is a greater number of vetoes than all the other permanent members have deployed in the same period. The most recent instance, on July 13, was the squashing of a motion condemning both the Israeli assault on Gaza and the firing of rockets and abduction of an Israeli soldier by Palestinian groups. Over the past few days, the United States, supported by Britain, has blocked all international attempts to introduce an immediate ceasefire, giving Israel the clear impression that it has a mandate to continue its assault on Lebanon.

It is plain to anyone - and this must include Paddy Ashdown - that Israel could not behave as it does without the diplomatic protection of the United States. If the US government announced that it would cease to offer military and diplomatic support if Israel refused to hand back the occupied territories, Israel would have to negotiate. The US government has power over that country. But can it be used?

A paper published in March by the US academics John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt documents the extraordinary influence the "Israel lobby" exercises in Washington. They argue that the combined forces of evangelical Christian groups and Jewish American organisations such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee ensure that "Israel is virtually immune from criticism" in Congress and "also has significant leverage over the executive branch". Politicians who support the Israeli government are showered with funds, the paper contends, while those who contest it are cowed by letter-writing campaigns and vilification in the media. If all else fails, the"great silencer" is deployed: the charge of anti-semitism. Those who oppose the policies of the Israeli government are accused of hating Jews.

All this makes an even-handed policy difficult, but not impossible. Standing up to bullies is surely the key test of leadership. A US president in his second term is in a powerful position to demand that Israel pulls back and negotiates.

But if Ashdown meant that it is impossible psychologically and intellectually for the US government to act, he might have a point. At his press conference with Tony Blair last Friday, George Bush laid out his usual fairy tale about the conflict in the Middle East. "There's a lot of suffering in Lebanon," he explained, "because Hizbullah attacked Israel. There's a lot of suffering in the Palestinian territory because militant Hamas is trying to stop the advance of democracy. There is suffering in Iraq because terrorists are trying to spread sectarian violence and stop the spread of democracy." The current conflict in Lebanon "started, out of the blue, with two Israeli soldiers kidnapped and rockets being fired across the border".

I agree that Hizbullah fired the first shots. But out of the blue? Israel's earlier occupation of southern Lebanon; its continued occupation of the Golan Heights; its occupation and partial settlement of the West Bank and gradual clearance of Jerusalem; its shelling of civilians, power plants, bridges and pipelines in Gaza; its beating and shooting of children; its imprisonment or assassination of Palestinian political leaders; its bulldozing of homes; its humiliating and often lethal checkpoints: all these are, in Bush's mind, either fictional or carry no political consequences. The same goes for the US invasion and occupation of Iraq and the constant threats Bush issues to Syria and Iran. There is only one set of agents at work - the terrorists - and their motivation arises autochthonously from the evil in their hearts.

Israel is not solely to blame for this crisis. The firing of rockets into its cities is an intolerable act of terrorism. But to understand why the people assaulting that country will not put down their arms, the king of fairyland would be forced to come to terms with the consequences of Israel's occupation of other people's lands and of its murder of civilians; of his own invasion of Iraq and of his failure, across the past six years, to treat the Palestinians fairly. And this he seems incapable of doing. Instead, his answers last Friday suggested, Bush is constructing a millenarian narrative of escalating conflict leading to the final triumph of freedom and democracy.

So I fear that Paddy Ashdown may be right. The United States cannot pursue a wider settlement in the Middle East, for it is led by a man who lives in a world of his own.

MAY 21st 2007

Lebanese army shells refugee camp

By BASSEM MROUE, Associated Press Writer

Lebanese troops pounded a Palestinian refugee camp with artillery and tank fire for a second day Monday, raising huge columns of smoke as they battled a militant group suspected of ties to al-Qaida in the worst violence since the end of the 1975-90 civil war.

Nearly 50 combatants were killed in the first day of fighting Sunday, but it was not known how many civilians have been killed inside the Nahr el-Bared camp on the outskirts of the northern port city of Tripoli.

Palestinian officials in the camp reported at least nine civilians were killed Monday, along with 40 wounded. The figures could not be confirmed because emergency workers or security officials have not been able to get in.

The White House said it supports Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's efforts to deal with fighting, and the State Department defended the Lebanese army, saying it was working in a "legitimate manner" against "provocations by violent extremists" operating in the camp.

Black smoke filled the sky over Nahr el-Bared as fires raged for hours and heavy gunfire and explosions rang out constantly. Shells could be seen thudding into buildings in the seaside camp.

Fighting paused briefly in the afternoon to allow the evacuation of 18 wounded civilians, according to Saleh Badran of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society. But the fighting quickly resumed. Ambulances raced through the streets of nearby Tripoli, where many shops were closed and many residents stayed inside.

"There are many wounded. We're under siege. There is a shortage of bread, medicine and electricity. There are children under the rubble," Sana Abu Faraj, a refugee, told Al-Jazeera television by cell phone from the camp.

Late Monday, residents reported an explosion in a Muslim neighborhood of Beirut, the capital. The Future TV station said the blast occurred in the Verdun shopping area, while Hezbollah's Al-Manar television said it took place in a parking lot in the posh district. Television footage showed a burning car and at least one injured man. On Sunday night, a bomb near a mall in the Christian sector of the capital killed a woman and wounded 12 other people.

Lebanon was already in the midst of its worst political crisis between the Western-backed government and Hezbollah-led opposition since the end of the civil war.

The battle was an unprecedented showdown between the Lebanese army and militant groups that have arisen in Lebanon's Palestinian refugee camps, which are home to tens of thousands of people living amid poverty and crime and which Lebanese troops are not allowed to enter.

The troops were fighting a group called Fatah Islam, whose leader has said he is inspired by al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and was training militants for attacks in other countries. Lebanese officials have also accused Syria of using Fatah Islam to stir up trouble in Lebanon, a charge Damascus has denied.

Lebanese officials said one of the men killed Sunday was a suspect in a failed German train bombing — another indication the camp had become a refuge for Fatah Islam militants planning attacks outside of Lebanon. In the past, others affiliated with the group in the camp have said they were aiming to send trained fighters into Iraq and the group's leader has been linked to al-Qaida in Iraq.

Hundreds of Lebanese troops, backed by tanks and armored carriers, surrounded the refugee camp Monday. M-48 battle tanks unleashed their cannon fire on the camp, home to 30,000 Palestinian refugees. The militants fired mortars toward the troops at daybreak.

An army officer at the front line said troops directed concentrated fire at buildings known to house militants. He said troops also had orders to strike hard at any target that returned fire.

"Everything we know that they were present in has been targeted," he told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

A spokesman for Fatah Islam, Abu Salim, warned that if the army bombardment did not stop, the militants would step up attacks by rockets and artillery "and would take the battle outside Tripoli."

He did not elaborate.

"It is a life-or-death battle. Their aim is to wipe out Fatah Islam. We will respond and we know how to respond," he told the AP.

Earlier in the day, another refugee camp, Ein el-Hilweh in southern Lebanon, was tense after Lebanese troops surrounded it and armed militants went on alert.

At least 27 soldiers and 20 militants were killed Sunday, Lebanese security officials said. But they did not know how many civilians had been killed in the camp because it is off-limits to their authority.

Lebanon says it has no authority to enter the camps under understandings with the Palestinians that give the PLO the authority in the camps. But Lebanon also is believed to be leery of entering for fear that any such actions would cause widespread unrest, be very costly and could spark pan-Arab sympathy for the Palestinian refugees that would trigger a backlash against the country.

The clashes were triggered Sunday when police raided suspected Fatah Islam hideouts in several buildings in Tripoli, searching for men wanted in a recent bank robbery. A gunbattle erupted at one of the buildings between the group's fighters, and troops were called in to help the police.

Militants then burst out of the nearby refugee camp, seizing Lebanese army positions, capturing two armored vehicles and ambushing troops. Lebanese troops later laid siege to the camp, where Fatah Islam militants were believed to be hiding.

Fatah Islam is led by a Palestinian named Shaker al-Absi, who is wanted in three countries. He is believed to have fought in Afghanistan and Iraq. He told The New York Times in March that he was trying to spread al-Qaida's ideology and was training fighters inside the camp for attacks on other countries.

He would not specify which countries but expressed anger toward the United States. And he was sentenced to death earlier in absentia along with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq killed last summer by U.S. forces in Iraq, for the 2002 assassination of an American diplomat in Jordan.

In a news conference in March, al-Absi denied he was sending fighters to Iraq.

"Fighting in our homeland (Palestine) is more important," he said then. "We have no connection with any regime or organization on this earth. Our connection is with 'There is no God but God' (the slogan of Islam). We have come to raise it over the skies of Jerusalem."

Al-Absi had been in custody in Syria until last fall but was released and set up his group in the camp, where he apparently found recruits, Lebanese officials said.

Lebanon's national police commander, Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, said Damascus was using Fatah Islam as a covert way to wreak havoc in the country. He denied Fatah Islam's al-Qaida links, saying it was a Syrian-bred group.

"Perhaps there are some deluded people among them but they are not al-Qaida. This is imitation al-Qaida, a 'Made in Syria' one," he told the AP.

Lebanese security officials said Fatah Islam has up to 100 members who come from Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia and Syria, as well as local sympathizers who belong to the conservative Salafi branch of Islam.

The Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. TV station reported the dead militants included men from Bangladesh, Yemen and other Arab countries. Some wore explosive belts, security officials said.

Officials identified the suspect in the failed German train bombing as Saddam El-Hajdib, the fourth-highest ranking official in the Fatah Islam group, an official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. El-Hajdib had been on trial in absentia in Lebanon in the failed German plot.

It was unclear whether Lebanese authorities had known the whereabouts of El-Hajdib or al-Absi before the gunbattle first broke Sunday out in Tripoli.

White House deputy press secretary Tony Fratto said the Bush administration is concerned about the fighting. "We believe the parties should take a step back from violence," he said.

The State Department gave its support to the Lebanese army's battle with Fatah Islam.

"This is a group that has been involved in violence to achieve whatever their stated objective may be," spokesman Sean McCormack said.

McCormack declined to discuss whether the group may be tied to al-Qaida or other groups outside Lebanon. Asked about a possible Syrian link, McCormack said, "At this point I wouldn't draw that connection."

In Monday's fighting, a driver for the AP, working with journalists at the scene, was injured when he was hit in the thigh by a bullet or shrapnel. He was being treated at a hospital and was expected to recover.

Ahmed Methqal, a Muslim cleric in the camp, told Al-Jazeera that five civilians had been killed.

"You can say there is a massacre going on in the camp of children and women who have nothing to do with Fatah Islam," he said. "They are targeting buildings, with people in them."

Lebanon has struggled to defeat armed groups that control pockets of the country — especially inside the 12 Palestinian refugee camps housing 350,000 people.

Some camps have become havens for Islamic militants accused of carrying out attacks in the country and of sending recruits to fight U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq.

Palestinian officials from the moderate Fatah faction in the West Bank sought to distance themselves from Fatah Islam and urged Palestinian refugees in the camp to isolate the militant group.

Khaled Mashaal, exiled political leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, asked Saniora to take "necessary procedures" to ensure refugees in the camp are not harmed.


Associated Press Writer Hussein Dakroub in Beirut contributed.

MAY 27th 2007

Israel PM vows more Gaza action
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says a crackdown against Hamas will continue, after an Israeli man was killed by a rocket fired from Gaza.

"No-one involved in terror has immunity," Mr Olmert told his Cabinet.

About 40 people have been killed in Gaza in 12 days of Israeli air strikes designed to stop the rocketing.

But Hamas said late on Sunday its attacks would not stop. "We will not surrender, we will not raise the white flag," said spokesman Ayman Taha.

Attempts by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who belongs to the rival Fatah faction, to revive a ceasefire with Israel and halt Hamas attacks have come to nothing.

"The truce must be reciprocal and implemented simultaneously in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank," said Mr Taha, after a meeting between factions in Gaza City on Sunday evening.

"The Israelis are continuing their operations and Ehud Olmert is refusing any truce. It's not the resistance that is to blame, it's the occupation."

'Not safe'

Mr Olmert hinted that any Israeli action would be open-ended.

"We are not acting according to any timetable that is dictated externally. We will decide where, how and to what extent we act," he said.

The Israeli man died on Sunday morning after shrapnel hit him in the neck in the town of Sderot. Hamas militants said they had carried out the rocket attack.

One other Israeli civilian has been killed and 16 wounded by rockets fired on Israeli towns, particularly Sderot, in recent days.

According to the Israeli army, more than 230 rockets have been fired from Gaza since mid-May.

Mr Olmert's spokeswoman said that Israel would not only target those directly involved in the rocket attacks.

"If somebody in the hierarchy is involved in terrorism, they should not feel safe," said Miri Eisin.

On Saturday Israel arrested a Hamas member of the Palestinian cabinet, Wasfi Kabaha.

The arrest follows the detention on Thursday of Education Minister Nasser al-Shaer and about 30 other officials in the West Bank.

Hamas has warned that any Israeli attack against the group's military or political leaders would make the release of Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit more uncertain.

Cpl Shalit has not been heard from or seen since his capture in Gaza in June 2006.

JUNE 15th 2007

I have refrained from making any entries here for a bit. There are (or were) many moderate and peaceful members and supporters of Hamas, but the actions of those who considered Hamas a 'terrorist organisation' and refused to accept their election results has delivered Hamas into the hands of those who have always said that Israel believes only that might is right and the Old Testament is international law.

The Palestinians have been brought to their economic knees. Many have nothing more to lose and, as they see it, nothing they can gain. There is now open war between Hamas and Fatah supporters and Hamas has 'taken over' Gaza.

Breaking point in the Middle East?
By Jeremy Bowen
BBC Middle East Editor

It was a momentous day for Palestinians.

By the evening, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had taken the decision to dismiss the elected Hamas prime minister and to declare a state of emergency.

It was drastic action, but it cannot do much to touch the Hamas military wing in Gaza.

It is not clear how much influence even the elected Hamas politicians there have over events.

The fighting has left masked Hamas gunmen in control of most of the centres of power in Gaza.

Fatah's vaunted Preventive Security Force has been defeated, and its headquarters seized.

'Necessary man'

The Hamas fighters in Gaza won because they were better trained and better led than those of Fatah.

Many of the forces that Fatah might have expected to have on its side did not take part in the fight, some melted away.

Other local Fatah leaders worked out non-aggression pacts with Hamas.

The men who did fight were loyal, in the main, to Fatah's strongman in Gaza, Muhammad Dahlan - the man the US hoped would bring down Hamas.

But he was not there to lead them, and neither were other key Fatah figures.

Mr Dahlan is the prime enemy of Hamas. He is a key ally of the US, and also regarded by Israel as a necessary man.

The US has been working hard to help Mr Dahlan strengthen his forces.

He was absent, having medical treatment in Egypt, when a Hamas gunman kicked open the door of his office and put a bullet into his desk.

He has now returned to Ramallah, in the West Bank, where he is with Mr Abbas.

State of emergency

The man who shot up Mr Dahlan's office was filmed shouting: "This is the fate of traitors like the scumbag Muhammad Dahlan!"

A state of emergency is supposed to bring violence under control. The risk is that this one will make it worse.

Some Palestinians fear that the end of the unity government could cause the collapse of the Palestinian Authority and the other institutions they had hoped would become part of the apparatus of an independent state.

The dream so many Palestinians have of an independent state will die for another generation

The institutions, and the hopes behind them, have already taken a severe battering from Israel's military actions over the last seven years and, more recently, by the punishing financial sanctions imposed by Israel and other countries after Hamas won a free election at the beginning of last year.

The events of this week feel like a breaking point.

One Palestinian analyst contacted by the BBC said he feared the damage being done to Palestinian society by the current meltdown and the years of pressure that created it would be on a par with the destruction of Palestinian social structures in 1948, when Israel was created.

It is an event Arabs still refer to as "the catastrophe".

Policy failure

What has happened also shows the failure of the decision of the world's big powers to isolate Hamas.

The financial sanctions they imposed, which caused severe hardship and helped fuel the violence in Gaza by making people even more desperate, were designed to either force Hamas to recognise Israel or to push it out of power.

The policy has achieved neither objective.

The Saudis, who have given Mr Abbas vital backing, will not want to see the end of the unity government, since they worked hard to create it.

It was supposed to be the centrepiece of a new activist Saudi foreign policy.

The Hamas Prime Minister, Ismail Haniya, will want to maintain a working relationship with Mr Abbas. Without it, Hamas will be even more isolated.

So Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, will try to force Hamas and Fatah to negotiate.

If they cannot, and their future is to spill each other's blood over rival statelets - Gaza and the West Bank - under the eye of the occupying power, Israel, then they have no chance of a wider Middle East peace deal.

The military leaders of Hamas do not believe one is possible anyway.

And that would mean that the dream so many Palestinians have of an independent state will die for another generation.


Hamas offers amnesty to Fatah leaders

By DIAA HADID, Associated Press Writer

On its first day of full rule in Gaza, the Islamic militant Hamas on Friday granted amnesty to Fatah leaders, signaling that it seeks conciliation with the defeated forces of moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Many had feared more bloodshed, particularly after victorious Hamas gunmen executed several Fatah fighters in the streets gangland-style on Thursday, in the final phase of the decisive five-day battle over Gaza.

Gazans awoke to the new reality of Hamas control Friday, fraught with uncertainty and fear that they'll become even poorer and more isolated. Gaza's crossings with Egypt and Israel — lifelines for the fenced-in territory — have been closed this week, and it was not clear if they would reopen. Extended closure could quickly lead to a humanitarian crisis.

A Hamas spokesman said Palestinian police, now under Hamas command, would take up positions at the crossings, but it's unlikely Israel would acquiesce to such a deployment, after Hamas militants frequently attacked the passages in the past.

The Palestinian territories are in effect split in two. Gaza is now controlled by Hamas, which has close ties to Syria and Iran. The more populous West Bank, with about 2 million residents to Gaza's 1.4 million, is dominated by the more moderate Fatah, which has ties to Israel and the West.

Gaza's streets, deserted in the past week, were crowded with cars, pedestrians and triumphant Hamas fighters, some driving in jeeps and firing in the air. Crowds converged on former Fatah strongholds and looted them.

A resident of a Hamas-dominated neighborhood, identifying himself only as Yousef for fear of reprisal by his neighbors, said Gazans would always back the winner, regardless of ideology.

"Today everybody is with Hamas because Hamas won the battle. If Fatah had won the battle they'd be with Fatah. We are a hungry people, we are with whoever gives us a bag of flour and a food coupon," said Yousef, 30. "Me, I'm with God and a bag of flour."

The house of former Gaza strongman Mohammed Dahlan of Fatah was overrun, and looters stripped it of everything from windows and doors to flowerpots. "This was the house of the murderer Dahlan that was cleansed by the holy warriors," read graffiti sprayed on the wall. Donkey carts outside the house waited to take on more loot.

Because Fatah recognizes Israel and past peace agreements, a boycott of the Palestinian government imposed by Israel and the international community after Hamas' electoral successes may no longer apply to the West Bank — only Gaza.

Abbas named his own prime minister — Salam Fayyad, an independent who is well-respected by the international community.

Gaza City's main Shifa Hospital was still grappling with the aftermath of battle. More than 90 people were killed in five days of fighting, and dozens wounded. The morgue was overflowing, with four bodies lined up on the floor, and some of the wounded were sleeping on cardboard on the floor, instead of mattresses or beds.

The buildings that symbolized Fatah's power, the National Security headquarters, Abbas' residence, were guarded by Hamas men. Outside Abbas' residence, a boy draped a green Hamas flag over a low wall as a Hamas guard looked on smiling.

Earlier Friday, Hamas announced it had arrested 10 of the most senior Fatah leaders in the strip, including the commanders of Abbas' own elite guard unit and the chief of the National Security force. However, Hamas spokesman Abu Obeideh later declared an amnesty for all Fatah leaders, and several Fatah leaders, including spokesman Tawfiq Abu Khoussa, were released shortly afterwards.

Abu Obeideh said his group will "offer amnesty" to all those who are with different opinions. "Our battle is not with Fatah ... but with the group that tried to implement an external agenda," he said.

However, Hamas also said that a Fatah supporter was thrown to his death by the family of a man he was accused of having killed earlier. Elsewhere, a senior Fatah official committed suicide after learning he was on Hamas' wanted list, Fatah said.

Abu Obeideh also called for the immediate release of Alan Johnston, the BBC journalist who was kidnapped in March and is believed held by a powerful Gaza clan whose members had ties to both Hamas and Fatah. "We will not allow for his continued detention," Abu Obeideh said of Johnston.

The battle for Gaza ended Thursday night when Hamas forces took the last Fatah stronghold, the seaside office complex of Abbas. The Fatah forces had collapsed quickly under Hamas' systematic onslaught. One by one, Hamas seized Fatah's security installations and marched once-feared Fatah fighters down the street shirtless and with hands raised.

From his office in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Abbas declared a state of emergency Thursday, firing the Hamas-led government and its prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh.

Haniyeh brushed off Abbas' decision, calling it "hasty" and refusing to leave office. He said Friday the Islamic organization was still committed to unity agreements it signed with Fatah.

The European Union offered its support for Abbas, and EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner called him "the legitimate president of all Palestinians."

Fearful that Hamas' momentum could spread to the West Bank, Fatah-allied forces staged a show of force. Palestinian security forces, some wearing black ski masks, drove through Ramallah in pickup trucks, rifles raised.

In the city of Nablus, Fatah men shot dead a Hamas member early Friday, Hamas said, the first to be killed in the West Bank. The Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a violent Fatah offshoot, claimed responsibility. On Thursday, angry Fatah militants trashed an office of Hamas lawmakers in Nablus.

But in Gaza, Thursday was a day of triumph for Hamas and its backers in Iran and Syria — and of devastation for Fatah.

No battle was more indicative of Gaza's hatreds and passions than the one at Preventive Security headquarters, one of Fatah's four main security bases in the strip.

Preventive Security carried out a brutal crackdown on Hamas in 1996, and the militants never forgot it. Witnesses, Fatah officials and a doctor reported gangland-style killings of the defeated fighters Thursday.

Fatah officials, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said Hamas shot dead seven Fatah fighters after they had surrendered. A doctor at Shifa Hospital said he examined two bodies that had been shot in the head at close range. Hamas denied it carried out executions.

The stage for the struggle between Fatah and Hamas was set last year, when Hamas won parliamentary elections. Hamas reluctantly brought Fatah into a coalition government in March to quell an earlier round of violence, but the uneasy partnership began crumbling last month over control of security forces.


JUNE 16th 2007

It is Hamas who are working to find and release the BBC's reporter, and Hamas who are gradually restoring some form of law and order in parts of Gaza, yet the US is still backing only Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas. There is no doubt that hard line Hamas are calling the shots but that is because the moderates were let down by Israel and the West. It is claimed that if no weapons could enter Gaza over ther border with Egypt Hamas and violence could be defeated. I think that is a complete misunderstanding of the Palestinian problem.

Hundreds flee Hamas-run Gaza amid spillover fears

By Nidal al-Mughrabi - Reuters

Hundreds of Fatah supporters fled the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip by land and sea on Saturday and the Islamist group threatened to take its fight against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's forces to the West Bank.

Abbas, who leads the secular Fatah faction, is set to swear in an emergency government on Sunday at 1 p.m. (1000 GMT) that will bring an end to a U.S.-led aid embargo.

Prime Minister-designate Salam Fayyad has selected 14 ministers to serve in his cabinet, officials said. Hamas says the cabinet's appointment amounts to a coup.

Abbas sacked a Hamas-led unity government after Islamist forces routed Fatah in the Gaza Strip and began imposing a new order and making key security appointments.

Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said 150 Hamas supporters were "abducted" in the occupied West Bank in what he called acts of "real terrorism" by Fatah forces there. "We will not stand handcuffed against these crimes in the West Bank. We will take all steps to secure an end to these crimes," he said.

The U.S. consul-general who handles relations with the Palestinians said Washington would lift a ban on direct financial aid to the new emergency government, clearing the way for the European Union and Israel to follow suit.

"There won't be any obstacles economically and politically in terms of re-engaging with this government ... They will have full support," Jacob Walles told Reuters after meeting Abbas at his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah, near Jerusalem.

The Quartet of Middle East peace mediators -- the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations -- voiced support for Abbas and concern about humanitarian conditions in Gaza, but did not say whether it would ease its ban on direct aid to an Abbas-controlled Palestinian Authority.

Gaza and the much larger West Bank are only about 45 km (30 miles) apart, with Israel in between, but they now appear poised to function as two separate territories.

"Gaza, unfortunately at this stage, is out of the control of the Palestinian Authority," Abbas aide Saeb Erekat said.

Hamas said it did not seek its own state in Gaza, where 1.5 million people are crowded along 40 km (25 miles) of coast.

Western powers imposed an aid embargo after Hamas came to power in March 2006 because it failed to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept interim peace deals.

Hamas set up checkpoints in Gaza to prevent high-ranking Fatah officials from leaving the coastal enclave.

Palestinian officials said hundreds of Fatah supporters were allowed by Israel and Egypt to travel to the West Bank.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said Israel had allowed people to leave Gaza for the West Bank on a case-by-case basis but the border was later closed.

"I will not live in a Hamas-run state," said Shadi, a fighter from Abbas's Fatah faction, after escaping Gaza for the occupied West Bank through an Israeli crossing point.


About 50 Fatah gunmen and 200 other demonstrators stormed a Palestinian parliament building in Ramallah. The militants grabbed the deputy speaker, who is aligned with Hamas, and dragged him from the building, witnesses said. He was not hurt.

In Hebron, another West Bank city, militants of al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an offshoot of Fatah, stormed government offices and set up checkpoints to search for Hamas members.

Many Fatah supporters in Gaza fear reprisals from Hamas. "We were destroyed ... I feel lost," said Umm Rami, whose husband is a colonel in the Fatah-dominated National Security Forces.

Fayyad, a Western-backed technocrat and former finance minister, finalized the formation of the new government and will unveil the line-up on Sunday, Abbas aide Yasser Abed Rabbo said.

Ismail Haniyeh, who became prime minister after Hamas won the 2006 parliamentary election, refuses to accept his dismissal.

In an interview with a French newspaper, he ruled out setting up a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip. "Separation is not on the agenda and never will be," Haniyeh said.

Palestinian police chief Kamal el-Sheikh, who is based in the West Bank, ordered his men in Gaza not to work or obey Hamas orders. Haniyeh responded by appointing what he called a "higher police command" above el-Sheikh.

Under Palestinian law, Abbas can declare a state of emergency for up to 30 days. This could be extended for another 30 days, but only with the approval of two thirds of parliament.

Hamas has a majority in the parliament although Israel's arrests of nearly half of Hamas's deputies put that majority in doubt and also made it hard to achieve a quorum. That could enable Abbas to keep the state of emergency in place longer.

(Additional reporting by Wafa Amr in Ramallah and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem)

U.S. plans end to Palestinian embargo

By KARIN LAUB, Associated Press Writer 

Mahmoud Abbas got a major boost in his increasingly bellicose showdown with Hamas on Saturday, with a U.S. diplomat saying he expects a crippling embargo to be lifted once the Palestinian president appoints a government without the Islamic militants.

But the money is unlikely to reach Gaza, now controlled by Hamas and cut off from the world.

The new Cabinet is to be sworn in Sunday in the West Bank, where Fatah forces stormed government offices on Saturday, just three days after Hamas seized control of Gaza and Abbas dismantled the Hamas-Fatah coalition government in response.

In Gaza, panicked residents stocked up, fearing growing shortages of food, fuel and other staples as the crossings of the fenced-in strip with Israel and Egypt remained closed. Hundreds of other Gazans rushed to the border crossing with Israel to try to escape Hamas rule, but found gates locked. Israeli troops briefly fired warning shots.

Senior officials of Abbas' Fatah movement, who had fled Gaza, started reaching the West Bank. The head of Palestine TV said he had crawled for several hundred yards to evade gunfire at the Gaza-Israel crossing before making it to safety.

"Hamas has always targeted me. Once they fired shots are my car. And they wrote on their Web site that I am broadcasting sedition," said Abdel Salam Abu Nada. Recently, he received an ominous text message on his cellphone saying, "Your punishment is coming."

Across Gaza, Hamas cemented control. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who has ignored Abbas' order firing him, replaced Fatah security commanders with his own men, and Hamas gunmen rounded up their opponents' weapons. In the southern town of Khan Younis, members of the most powerful local clan refused to hand over their guns, and a firefight erupted. Hamas fighters stormed the homes of clan members, saying they confiscated drugs and a weapons cache.

Two Fatah loyalists were killed Saturday, in what Fatah alleged were revenge killings. Also, the bodies of seven Hamas members were found in the basement of the Preventive Security Service headquarters, a Fatah stronghold captured Thursday, and the bullet-riddled corpse of a Fatah field commander turned up in southern Gaza. More than 100 people were killed a week of clashes.

In the West Bank, gunmen from Abbas' Fatah movement attacked Hamas-run institutions, taking control of the parliament and several government ministries. Chanting "Hamas Out," they planted Fatah and Palestinian flags on rooftops. They attacked Deputy Parliament Speaker Hassan Kreisheh, an independent, and left only after warning that government workers with Hamas ties could not return.

In Gaza, Deputy Parliament Speaker Ahmed Bahar of Hamas called Abbas' attempt to form an emergency government illegal.

Abbas, meanwhile, angrily rejected attempts by Arab League chief Amr Moussa to mediate between him and Hamas' supreme leader, Khaled Mashaal. Abbas aide Yasser Abed Rabbo said the president would not engage in a dialogue with "killers."

In the showdown, much of the international community, including the U.S., the European Union and moderate Arab states, is backing Abbas. Declarations of support were likely to be followed soon by a resumption of foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority.

It is not clear yet whether the international funds would reach Gaza, since it was the Hamas victory in legislative elections that led to the embargo 15 months ago.

The U.S. consul general in Jerusalem, Jacob Walles, met with Abbas at his headquarters in Ramallah on Saturday, and said the embargo is expected to be lifted once the new government is sworn in.

"I expect that we are going to be engaged with this government," Walles said after the meeting. "I expect that early next week. There will be some announcements in Washington, specifically about our assistance and about the financial regulations."

The boycott, which has crippled the Palestinian economy, continued even after Fatah joined Hamas in a coalition in March.

Hamas has not explained how it would run Gaza without foreign support or contact with the outside world. Israel controls Gaza's borders, wielding tremendous influence over the movement of people and goods in and out of the area.

On Saturday, there were signs of panic. One Gaza City baker distributed tickets to those lined up for bread. Sarifa Hadad, a mother of seven, bought $40 worth of food, including tomato paste and shortening, and was going from store to store to buy more. "They say the borders are going to be closed, so we are searching for sugar and supplies," she said.

Israel will eventually allow basic supplies into Gaza to prevent a humanitarian disaster, said Public Security Minister Avi Dichter. However, he said Israel would consider Gaza a "terrorist entity" and try to cut off its weapons supply. He said this might require an Israeli deployment along Gaza's border with Egypt, to halt smuggling.

Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, ending a 38-year-old military occupation.

Dozens of Gazans, meanwhile, converged on Gaza's Erez crossing with Israel in hopes of fleeing. One man was carried on top of a luggage trolley with his leg bandaged. Hassan, 21, a presidential guard trainee, said he was shot in the fighting. He gave only his first name because he was afraid of retribution.

About 150 waited at the gate separating Gaza from Israel. Some carried large suitcases, others held tiny plastic bags. One young man shouted "bye, bye, Gaza," and waved as he walked through the covered walkway that leads to the Israeli side.

Symbols of Fatah control, including the Gaza City residence of the late Yasser Arafat were looted. Abbas' office said looters took furniture, including a bed, as well as presents the legendary leader had received in four decades at the helm of Palestinian politics. Hamas security forces later arrived and locked the house. Hamas denied anyone had broken into the building.

16th June 2007
The news could not be worse. Hamas have backed down from trying to find Johnstone, the split is solidifying, the masked men are calling the shots.

UPDATE 16:00 BST - Correction to the previous paragraph. Hamas spokeman has said efforts to release Johnstone are to be redoubled and he will be released by force if necessary. This proves impossible however.

JUNE 19th 2007
Reuters reports....

It is unclear whether the EU will go along with U.S. and Israeli efforts to isolate Gaza, whose 1.5 million residents are aid-dependent.

A European Union aid program known as the Temporary International Mechanism plans to continue paying monthly "allowances" -- approximately $360 each -- directly to the Palestinian Authority's non-security work force, including those in Hamas-controlled Gaza, EU officials said.

But an Israeli official said Israel wants to scale back the European program to only pay allowances to workers in Gaza's health sector to ensure hospitals keep functioning.

"I don't think that would work," said a European official. "We will continue as we are working now."

JUNE 27th 2007  00:10am
Israeli analyst Yossi Alpher said he expects little from the Blair appointment. "There is no peace process, and there isn't likely to be a peace process in the near future for Blair to work on," Alpher said. "I predict that he will quit in frustration in a year and a half."

Blair takes on hard job as Mideast envoy

By MARK LAVIE, Associated Press Writer 

In his new job as Mideast envoy, Tony Blair will take on a task that has bedeviled many before him — a role complicated by Hamas' takeover of Gaza, the weakness of Palestinian and Israeli leaders, and animosity deepened on both sides by six years of conflict.

Still, the outgoing British prime minister brings new credibility to international efforts to forge peace in the region, and Israeli and Palestinian officials welcomed reports Tuesday that he will represent the Quartet of Mideast mediators — the U.S., U.N., European Union and Russia.

The official announcement of the Quartet's decision was to be made Wednesday, a senior U.S. official said. The official, who insisted on anonymity because the statements were still being drafted, spoke after being briefed on a meeting of Quartet representatives in Jerusalem.

Blair's appointment is the latest step in a burst of diplomacy following the seizure of the Gaza Strip by the Islamic militants of Hamas, adding a high-profile world leader to efforts to bolster Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and restart Israel-Palestinian peace talks.

Brokering peace in Northern Ireland — ending decades of violence that claimed more than 3,500 lives_ is counted as one of Blair's most significant diplomatic achievements. He has also pressed for agreements on climate change and combating poverty in Africa.

The personable Blair is viewed as a masterful communicator, an attribute both praised and pilloried, with some critics suggesting he is style over substance. But he has the knack for knowing what to say: When Princess Diana died in a Paris car crash, he stepped before TV cameras and dubbed her the "People's Princess," capturing the mood of a mournful Britain.

Blair's new job will deal primarily with helping the Palestinian Authority build political institutions. It won't, at least at first, involve direct mediation or negotiation between Palestinians and Israelis, the senior U.S. official said.

But Blair is one of the rare world leaders who is considered a friend by both the Israeli and Palestinian governments.

Israelis see him as one of the most supportive leaders on the world stage, standing by the Jewish state through years of crises and spasms of violence as other leaders piled on criticism.

While noting that the appointment was not official, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Tuesday that "Tony Blair is a very well appreciated figure in Israel."

Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke with Blair on Tuesday evening, calling him "a true friend" of Israel and promising full cooperation if he accepted the job as Quartet envoy, the prime minister's office said in a statement.

Many Palestinians, too, consider Blair a friendly world figure despite his close ties to the U.S. and his role in the war in Iraq.

The British leader has a long history of support for the Palestinian cause, had good relations with the late Yasser Arafat and was one of the first Western leaders to endorse the "two-state solution," a Palestinian state living in peace next to Israel.

Fahmi al-Zaarer, a spokesman for Abbas' Fatah movement, said Palestinians would welcome Blair. "We believe that Mr. Blair's efforts would help ... revive the political process," he said.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said: "We hope this appointment will speed efforts to resume the political process to achieve the establishment of a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital."

The European Union's Mideast envoy, Marc Otte, told reporters Tuesday night in Jerusalem that Blair would bring "added value" to Mideast peacemaking. He cited Blair's "power to move people at high levels, the ability to talk to leaders in the region and outside of the region."

Despite such optimism, other notables, including President Bush and former President Clinton, have suffered frustrations in lending their reputations to peace efforts in the region. And a series of U.S. envoys has left in despair as Palestinian-Israeli violence escalated.

Peace negotiations broke down in the final days of Clinton's presidency despite his monumental effort to reach agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Bush invested his prestige in an internationally backed peace plan known as the "road map," but it failed to bear fruit after Palestinians and Israelis failed to implement its initial requirements.

Blair faces an even bleaker situation.

Hamas, which is sworn to seek Israel's destruction, controls Gaza. Abbas, never perceived as a strong leader, is in an increasingly weak position, his rule confined to the West Bank. Olmert is fighting for his political life after losing most popular support because of Israel's inconclusive war with Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon last summer.

Israeli analyst Yossi Alpher said he expects little from the Blair appointment. "There is no peace process, and there isn't likely to be a peace process in the near future for Blair to work on," Alpher said. "I predict that he will quit in frustration in a year and a half."

Blair's predecessor as Quartet envoy, former World Bank head James Wolfensohn, resigned in exasperation after less than a year in the post. Little came of his efforts to bring Israelis and Palestinians together after Israel's 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, which was followed by rising violence and a Hamas victory in parliamentary elections.

Talking to reporters after meetings in Paris, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice all but confirmed Blair's appointment Tuesday. Asked if he was getting the post, she responded with a smile and said: "Stay tuned."

She added that it was important to strengthen the Palestinian side so it can bargain with Israel in eventual peace talks.

"Working with Palestinian institutions to get them ready for statehood is just extremely important," she said. "You hear a lot of people say, 'Well, where's the Palestinian partner?' This is an effort to develop the Palestinian partner."

Olmert met with Abbas and the leaders of Egypt and Jordan on Monday in a gesture of support for the Palestinian president.

Trying to build on the momentum of those and other recent diplomatic efforts, representatives of the Quartet met for nearly three hours Tuesday at the U.S. Consulate in west Jerusalem. It was the group's first talks since Hamas took over Gaza.

Speaking to reporters later in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Assistant Secretary of State David Welch said only that the meeting "went well."


Associated Press writers Anne Gearan and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

JULY 3rd 2007
Alan Johnston was safely handed over to Hamas officials today (tomorrow already in Gaza). That must be good news for all.

JULY 15th 2007

Fatah militants renounce Israel violence

By MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH, Associated Press Writer 

Scores of Fatah militants in the West Bank have signed a pledge renouncing attacks against Israel in return for an Israeli promise to stop pursuing them, a Palestinian security official said Sunday.

The deal would grant amnesty to 178 Fatah gunmen who will join the official Palestinian security forces, and Israel will remove them from its lists of wanted militants, the official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to divulge details of the agreement.

An official in Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office confirmed the deal would extend to wanted militants who openly renounce terrorism, and was part of a series of measures to bolster Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The moderate president set up a Fatah-led government in the West Bank after his rivals from the Islamic group Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in mid-June. Israel and the international community back Abbas in his struggle against Hamas.

Olmert will meet Abbas on Monday, Olmert's office said, in the first meeting between the two leaders since a June 25 summit that followed the Hamas victory in Gaza. At the meeting, Olmert is expected to present a list of 250 Fatah prisoners Israel will release.

And in another gesture of support, Israel agreed to Abbas' request to allow Nayef Hawatmeh, an exiled Palestinian militant leader, to enter the West Bank this week for a meeting of a top Palestine Liberation Organization policy-making body, a step that Abbas hopes will provide him added legitimacy among Palestinians.

Hawatmeh heads the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a small and nearly forgotten PLO faction best known for commandeering a school in the northern Israeli town of Maalot in 1974. The attack left 24 Israelis dead, most of them children, and helped shaped the attitudes of a generation of Israelis about the Palestinian leadership.

The amnesty document began circulating Saturday among members of Fatah-allied militia groups dedicated to fighting Israel.

The Palestinian official said an "overwhelming majority" of the militants have already signed. The Palestinians asked that another 200 militants be included in the amnesty, he said.

An Arabic text of the document obtained by The Associated Press reads in part: "The Israeli security and judicial authorities will refrain from arresting or pursuing me after I sign this document. I must be committed to the decisions of the Palestinian Authority and its security apparatus ... and refrain from carrying out any military or security activities against the Israelis."

Abu Obeida, a Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip, slammed Fatah for the amnesty agreement, saying it was meant "to destroy the spirit of the resistance" and allow Israel to focus on Hamas militants.

Kamel Ghanam, a Fatah militia leader in Ramallah, said all 40 of the militia's men in the city have signed the pledge.

"We feel that we have a new political atmosphere. We are optimistic," Ghanam said.

In Bethlehem, Amjad Khalawi, a 35-year-old Fatah gunman, signed the document and came out of hiding after six years. Khalawi said he planned to get his hair cut for the first time since going underground to evade the Israelis, and would become a member of the Palestinian Preventive Security organization.

"I am happy for this end," he said.

In other moves aimed at helping Abbas, Israel has begun transferring Palestinian tax revenues that were frozen after Hamas won a Palestinian election in 2006, drawing an international boycott. The money has allowed Abbas' government to resume paying salaries to civil servants.

Denouncing Abbas' rule of the West Bank as unconstitutional, Hamas called a Sunday meeting of the Palestinian parliament. But with dozens of Hamas lawmakers in Israeli prisons, only 30 of the 132 members showed up, all from Hamas, and the meeting was postponed because of the low attendance.

JULY 16th 2007

Bush wants Mideast peace conference

By TOM RAUM, Associated Press Writer 

President Bush will call for an international conference this fall to include Israel, the Palestinian authority and some of their Arab neighbors to help restart Mideast peace talks and will pledge increased aid to the Palestinian government of President Mahmoud Abbas, The Associated Press has learned.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would lead the peace conference, which would include representatives of Israel and "neighbors in the region," said a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Bush planned to speak Monday afternoon at the White House about the peace conference and U.S. financial and diplomatic support for Abbas, who controls just the West Bank after the Islamic militant group Hamas gained authority over Gaza in June.

Bush will portray this as "a moment of choice" between two paths for the Palestinian people — one represented by the moderate government led by Abbas and his Fatah faction and that of Hamas.

The official spoke anonymously because the president had not yet given his speech.

The fall conference among Palestinian and Israeli officials and other countries in the region would be a way to prod the peace process. It would be one of the few times that Israelis and Arab leaders have met jointly to work out their differences.

Bush will also call for Israel to remove authorized outposts in Palestinian territory and end settlement expansion, the official said. And he will urge Israel to continue releasing tax revenues to the Palestinian authority.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said Bush would talk about "helping the forces of moderation" in the Middle East and attempt to get "people on both sides to step up and start working, to energize the peace process."

Bush will outline U.S financial support for the Abbas government, including $190 million in mostly already-approved direct aid to the Palestinians. He will await recommendations from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair before deciding whether asking Congress for more, the senior official said.

Blair was recently named as special envoy to the region by the "Quartet" of Mideast peace makers — the U.S., European Union, United Nations and Russia.

That group meets in Portugal on Thursday, at which time Rice and other international negotiators will meet with Blair as he begins his new assignment. Snow said that Bush had discussed his new proposals with Blair.

Bush will talk about Blair's role in his Mideast remarks, the senior administration official said.

The president will also call for an international meeting of "donor" nations to discuss financial ways of helping the Abbas government, the official said.

Bush will tell Abbas that with increased U.S. and international financial support comes an obligation to reach out more to Israel and end incitement, the official said.

A senior administration official earlier said the president would announce aid above the $86 million that the White House already has requested from Congress. That money was to help provide security for Abbas' Fatah faction. The administration also has pledged to contribute $40 million to the United Nations to help the Palestinians, particularly in the Gaza Strip now controlled by Hamas.

After a meeting Monday in Jerusalem between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat talked about Bush's upcoming announcement. "I think it's a clear-cut endgame here. We are talking about President Bush's vision of a two-state solution," said Erekat.

He added that Bush should address "how do you translate this from a vision to a realistic political track? How do you move from a policy of what's possible to a policy of what is needed?"

"In order to restore credibility and integrity to the peace process, the people of this region, Palestinians and Israelis, must start seeing deeds and not merely words," Erekat said.

National security adviser Stephen Hadley said there is now an opportunity "to show the Palestinian people a choice between the kind of violence and chaos under Hamas in Gaza and the prospect, under President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, for an effective, democratic Palestinian state that can be on the way toward what we all want, which is a two-state solution — a Palestinian homeland for the Palestinian people."

Five years ago, Bush called for a separate, independent Palestine alongside Israel. He was the first U.S. president to back that notion so fully and publicly. But his administration has taken heavy criticism for letting the peace process drift while conditions worsened for the impoverished Palestinians.

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said Sunday the administration has not done enough.

"They've had a hands-off attitude for many, many years now. And at a critical juncture, when Abbas was just taking over, when there was an opportunity to really support him, the administration was not doing that," Reed said on CNN's "Late Edition."


Associated Press Writer Deb Riechmann contributed to this story.

JULY 18th 2007       Will they talk to Hamas? Unless they do, they will help al-Qaida.

Mideast group seen backing U.S. plan

By Sue Pleming  Reuters - Wed Jul 18, 11:01 AM ET

The quartet of Middle East mediators is expected to back U.S. plans to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace moves and hear from new special envoy Tony Blair when it meets in Portugal on Thursday.

It will be the first session bringing together top diplomats from the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations since Islamist Hamas took over Gaza last month and U.S.-supported Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas formed a caretaker government in the West Bank.

"It's a good opportunity for them to get together, take stock of what has happened over the past couple weeks, as well as to look ahead and chart a course out for the next several months," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

The meeting will mark Blair's first appearance as quartet special envoy.

The former British prime minister's mandate is to help build up Palestinian institutions and encourage economic development but some diplomats want him involved in peacemaking, a role dominated by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and one that Washington wants her to keep.

"There are mixed feelings in the Bush administration about how much rope Tony Blair should get," said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst now at the Brookings Institution.

The quartet has thrown its weight behind Abbas, and is looking for more public expressions of support for the moderate Palestinian leader and greater isolation of Hamas.

The United States, the European Union and Israel consider Hamas a terrorist organization but Russia has been more open to dealing with the group.

"The issue of Hamas is front and center of all of this. I don't sense there is any unanimity on this issue," said Jon Alterman, a Middle East expert from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.

U.S. President George W. Bush this week announced plans for a Middle East peace conference in the autumn, probably in the United States, to bring together Israel, moderate Palestinian leaders and their Arab neighbors.


The quartet meeting in Lisbon is likely to endorse the conference, whose composition and goals are unclear.

"We want the international meeting to be an important step ... We said many times this has been a long overdue step," said the EU's foreign policy chief Javier Solana, speaking in Ramallah after meeting Abbas.

"I think the possibilities now of moving together (Israel and the Palestinians) are becoming better. I think a new momentum may be created," he said.

Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said he hoped the quartet would lend authority to Abbas.

"We are also hopeful that the meeting tomorrow will help the launching of negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians, that would aim at realizing a final settlement and discussions on the end game," Gheit told reporters in Portugal, which holds the rotating EU presidency.

The Palestinians and the Israelis have not tackled any of the so-called "final status" issues -- the return of refugees, the status of Jerusalem, and the future outlines of a Palestinian state for years.

EU diplomats said the quartet had dropped for the moment the idea of holding a joint meeting with the Arab League's quartet -- Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- and Israeli and Palestinian representatives, partly because Israel was not keen and preferred to pursue its bilateral track with Abbas.

(Additional reporting by Paul Taylor in Brussels, Wafa Amr in Ramallah and Henrique Almeida in Lisbon)

AUGUST 13th 2007

Yes indeed, but that is what Israel and the US Republican Party do all the time. It is so bloody obvious that their diplomacy is an utter disaster yet they plough on year after year.  Hamas represents an important part of Palestinian society. They recognise Israel's existence. What they do not accept is Israel's behaviour.

AUGUST 27th 2007

Hamas chief says Mideast conference doomed to fail


A U.S.-sponsored international conference on Israeli-Palestinian peace is doomed to fail because it will serve only Israel's interests, Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal said in a CNN interview broadcast on Monday.

Calling the gathering, expected in November, "a meeting controlled and directed by (U.S. Secretary of State) Condoleezza Rice," Meshaal, who lives in exile in Damascus, said neither Israel nor the United States was serious about achieving peace.

"There is no doubt that the outcome will be leaning towards Israel's best interest because (Israeli Prime Minister Ehud) Olmert is the stronger side in the negotiations," Meshaal said, according to CNN's translation of his comments in Arabic.

"All these reasons are going to lead to a failure," said Meshaal, who was injected with poison by Israeli agents in Jordan in 1997 but was saved by an antidote sent from Israel after his attackers were overpowered and arrested.

Hamas Islamists, who violently took control of the Gaza Strip in June, have rejected Western calls to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept existing interim Israeli-Palestinian peace accords.

Leaders of Hamas, whose 1988 founding charter calls for the Jewish state's destruction, have offered a long-term truce with Israel in return for a viable Palestinian state in the occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.

"The American administration is fighting Hamas and working on isolating it," Meshaal said in the interview, which CNN reported was held in a heavily guarded Hamas safe house in the Syrian capital.

But Meshaal said Washington, which supports Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, would eventually realize it would have to deal with Hamas for the sake of Israeli-Palestinian peace.

"I only want to tell them to take a short cut and not waste their efforts," he said, while acknowledging that a U.S. invitation to Hamas to attend the upcoming conference was unlikely.

Meshaal called on the international community to deal with "the reality of the Palestinian arena" -- an apparent reference to Hamas's strong influence -- and move the Middle East closer to "genuine peace" in which "the waterfall of blood will stop."

OCTOBER 15th 2007
It seems Condolezza Rice may finally have woken up to the fact that if Israel continues to treat Palestinian human rights with total contempt there is going to be a bigger explosion than we have yet witnessed. Every criticism of Israel is met with claims of anti-semitism. Every violent reaction to the appalling treatment of Palestinians is called terrorism. But the truth is that if the Palestinians had armed forces to match Israel they would be entitled by international law to advance on all the illegal settlements and throw the invaders out. The terrorism is caused by their military impotence and the failure of the international community to guarantee their rights.  Mr Olmerts remarks, which he seems to think are conciliatory, are the very least he could have said. He has to to take this much further, now.

US 'wants Palestinian state now'
The US secretary of state has said it is time for a Palestinian state to be founded, and that the US will put its full weight behind such efforts.

Condoleezza Rice said reaching a two-state solution was a priority for her and US President George Bush.

Ms Rice was speaking from the West Bank, where she has been trying to get agreement for a peace summit in the US.

Meanwhile the Israeli PM has hinted he may consider giving up Palestinian districts in Jerusalem in a peace deal.

Ehud Olmert told parliament "legitimate questions" could be asked about the Israeli annexing of outlying Palestinian neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem following the 1967 war.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state of Palestine, and the issue is one of the most sensitive and intractable of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

'It is time'

"Frankly it is time for the establishment of a Palestinian state," Ms Rice told reporters in a news conference which she held with the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

Every time I visit, the situation seems to have worsened
John Dugard,
UN special rapporteur

She said the US regarded a two-state solution "as absolutely essential for the future, not just of Palestinians and Israelis but also for the Middle East and indeed for American interests".

She said Mr Bush would make finding a resolution a top priority of his time in office, and that she would devote her "last ounce of energy" to the issue.

Ms Rice said she wanted agreement on the peace summit, set to be held in Annapolis, Maryland - but that it would have to be "a serious and substantive conference that will advance the cause of a Palestinian state.

"We frankly have better things to do than invite people to Annapolis for a photo op," said Ms Rice.

The Palestinians have warned that if no tightly-worded text is agreed on which to base talks, they will not attend. The Israelis say they do not believe an agreed text is necessary.

Despite Ms Rice's assertion that the current diplomacy represented "the most serious effort to end this conflict in many, many years", the BBC's Aleem Maqbool in Ramullah cautions that huge differences remain between the two sides.

Ms Rice will now meet other regional leaders. She will need to convince them, too, that a peace conference will be worth turning up for, says our correspondent.

Difficult negotiations

At the same news conference, Mr Abbas said Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were working together.

"We are working on a joint document with the Israeli side. The document will set out the basis of the solutions to the final status issues: Jerusalem, borders, settlements, refugees, security, water and bilateral relations," he said.

Is the Mid-East Quartet failing Palestinians? No, it has failed them -years ago
Peter Hindrup, Australia

The Palestinians want detailed agreement and a timetable for the implementation of solutions to some of the key disputes, while the Israelis want a broader, more general document with no timetable. The disagreement has threatened to derail the conference entirely.

But on Monday, Mr Olmert appeared to suggest he might be open to compromise on one of the thorniest issues - the status of Jerusalem.

He questioned the logic of a decision to include Palestinian areas within the city's expanded boundaries after Israel captured them in the 1967 Middle East war.

"Was it necessary to annex the Shufat refugee camp, al-Sawahra, Walajeh and other villages and state that this is also Jerusalem?" Mr Olmert asked in a speech to the Knesset.

"I must admit, one can ask some legitimate questions on the issue," he told parliament.

OCTOBER 17th 2007
I assume that Tony Blair is working behind the scenes here. At least he should be.

Rice sees 'moment of opportunity'

By MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press Writer 

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday that Israelis and Palestinians have a new "moment of opportunity" to forge peace despite the eruption of fresh tensions between the two sides over preparations for a U.S.-hosted Mideast conference.

Even as President Bush said he was optimistic about the conference and the creation of a Palestinian state, Rice faced growing difficulties in her efforts to organize the meeting set for November or December to launch formal Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Rice cautioned the going would be tough as she wrapped up four days of intense shuttle diplomacy during which she met twice with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to bridge wide gaps over a declaration the conference is to endorse.

"I do think it is moment of opportunity, but there is very hard work ahead," Rice told reporters at a news conference with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who's leading the Israeli negotiating team.

Underscoring the challenges, the Palestinians accused Israel of not being serious enough and Abbas said Israeli actions, including West Bank military raids, were damaging the pre-conference atmosphere.

Israel is "hindering the endeavor to reach a document with substance," Abbas said after seeing Rice at his office in Ramallah, stressing little time is left for the meeting. "We must not waste time."

The Israelis and Palestinians have vastly different expectations for the conference, where they are to present a document that would start negotiations to create a Palestinian state. The Palestinians want a detailed document. The Israelis favor a general agreement.

A senior Palestinian official said Abbas was disappointed by U.S. suggestions that he significantly scale back their demands for the joint statement to address Israeli concerns.

The Palestinians want the document to include at least a sentence or two on how to solve each of the issues of dispute, such as borders and Jerusalem, the Palestinians have maintained.

The Palestinians' core demand is that the future border between Israel and Palestine be based on the pre-1967 Mideast War lines, with modifications through land swaps. Israel captured the West Bank and other areas in the 1967 war.

Rice asked Abbas whether he could accept a more vaguely worded statement, which would not mention the 1967 lines, said the Palestinian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the meeting with reporters.

She also asked whether the Palestinians were willing to drop a mention of Palestinian refugees, another key issue for the Palestinians, from the document, the official said.

Rice did not address the Palestinian complaints, but Livni appeared annoyed when asked about them and said she would not stoop to "play the blame game" or divulge sensitive information about negotiations over the document.

Livni did not address the issue of the 1967 borders but warned that excessive expectations that Palestinians might have if the document is detailed could lead to "frustration and violence."

Livni also appeared to suggest that the matter of Palestinian refugees could be resolved by them returning to the future Palestine, a position that has infuriated the Palestinian side in the past.

But she also reiterated Israel's commitment to a two-state solution and said the Jewish state would make difficult compromises if the Palestinians would, too. She said her negotiating team would have a second meeting with their Palestinian counterparts this week.

While Rice was engaged in tough diplomacy on the ground, Bush told reporters in Washington that he was pleased with his top diplomat's progress and promised a staunch U.S. effort to make the conference a success.

"The reason why there needs to be a vision of what a state could look like is because the Palestinians that have been made promises all these years need to see there's a serious, focused effort to step up a state," Bush said.

He also said he is seeking an Arab "buy-in" for a peace deal, something Rice is also pressing for on her mission. She met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Tuesday in Cairo and will see Jordan's King Abdullah II in London on Thursday.

Arab countries, notably U.S. allies Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, have been reluctant to commit to attending the conference unless there are guarantees that it will yield firm results.

But Rice appeared to have won Egypt's backing. After her talks in Cairo, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit endorsed the conference publicly less than 24 hours after suggesting it be postponed.

On Wednesday, ahead of Rice's meeting with King Abdullah, a senior Jordanian official echoed the initial Egyptian sentiments, saying the conference should be delayed if more time is deemed necessary.

Rice started her day with an emotional visit to Jesus' traditional birthplace in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. The daughter and granddaughter of Presbyterian ministers, she lit a candle in the grotto and paused for prayer.

"Being here at the birthplace of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, has been a very special and moving experience," she said at the Church of the Nativity. "It is also, I think, a personal reminder that the Prince of Peace is still with us."

In Bethlehem, Rice saw Israel's contentious West Bank separation barrier, which lines the town on two sides.

Israel started building the West Bank barrier in 2002 as a defense against Palestinian attackers who have killed hundreds of Israelis in recent years. Palestinians say the barrier's meandering route cuts off large chunks of land they want for a future state.

Rice said she understood why Israel would need a barrier but that she hoped it would not be necessary in the future.

"Let's be real. There is a security problem," she said. "I look forward to a day when security is brought about in a different way, which is two states living side by side."

NOVEMBER 4th 2007     An plan has been needed for years. This should have been tackled immediately after the invasion of Iraq.

Blair submits plan to bolster Palestinian economy


JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Middle East envoy and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Sunday he hoped to announce a series of projects soon to help bolster the Palestinian economy

Blair told a conference in Jerusalem that formal negotiations over creating a Palestinian state should not be "impossibly difficult". But he acknowledged the path was "utterly fraught" and both sides had to take steps to build confidence.

Blair said he has presented Israeli and Palestinian leaders with set of proposals meant to improve economic conditions in the occupied West Bank.

"They (the Palestinians) need change on the ground," he said, citing major development projects, including some near the West Bank town of Jericho.

Blair said his goal was to announce the first set of economic projects and "a process for getting them actually done" before a U.S.-sponsored conference on Palestinian statehood.

Blair and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are trying to bridge gaps between the two sides before the conference, expected in the last week of November in Annapolis, Maryland, although no date has been announced.

Israel and the Palestinians are still at odds over a joint document for the conference, which would serve as a launching pad for negotiations on core issues such as borders and the fate of Jerusalem and millions of Palestinian refugees.

NOVEMBER 25th 2007
At least there is a chance, if most of the nations concerned in the region are invited and turn up, that some progress can be made. But there is a long way to go. 40 nations appear to be present.

Syria to join U.S.-led Middle East conference

By Jeffrey Heller and Mohammed Assadi - Reuters

Syria said on Sunday it will attend a U.S.-led conference aimed at launching talks to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, giving another boost to U.S. efforts to enlist wide Arab support for a new peace drive.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas arrived in Washington, where they will meet U.S. President George W. Bush on Monday and then attend Tuesday's conference in Annapolis, Maryland that is expected to launch formal negotiations to end the six-decade conflict.

The meeting represents Bush's most serious effort to solve the conflict seven years after his predecessor Bill Clinton failed to broker a settlement, but all sides have played down the chances of a breakthrough at the conference or soon after.

In a sign of the challenges, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice planned to hold a three-way meeting with Israeli and Palestinian officials on Sunday to try to win agreement on a joint document that is to be presented at Annapolis but is not yet agreed, a Palestinian official said.

Palestinian and Israeli officials played down the importance of reaching agreement on a joint document, saying the most important thing was that Annapolis should launch substantive peace talks.

Ending weeks of uncertainty, the official Syrian news agency said Syria "has accepted the American invitation and will send an official delegation headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad."

While the decision to send only a deputy foreign minister might seem a snub, it was a victory for the Bush administration that Syria, a long-time foe of Israel, chose to attend at all.

Olmert spokeswoman Miri Eisin called the Syrian decision a positive move, saying the Israeli-Palestinian track would stay the main focus of the meeting although Syria's participation "could open additional avenues to peace in the Middle East."

Syria, Israel's neighbor to the north, had insisted the meeting also deal with the future of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

Israel and Syria last held peace negotiations in 2000, in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, but could not reach a deal on the Golan, which overlooks the Sea of Galilee, the Jewish state's main reservoir.


Abbas aide Nabil Abu Rdainah told reporters that Rice called Abbas on Sunday to try to "bridge the gap between the two sides" and planned to hold a three-way meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Ahmed Qurei, the head of the Palestinian negotiating team, later in the day.

A senior Israeli official said Rice would host Livni at her residence at Washington's Watergate apartment complex but did not say whether the Palestinians would attend the meeting.

Any effort to bring about peace between Israel and the Palestinians faces myriad challenges.

Abbas in June lost control of the Gaza Strip to Hamas Islamists, who are not invited to Annapolis and have criticized it. Hamas's armed wing vowed to keep fighting Israel and said any concessions would be tantamount to "treason."

Olmert himself is unpopular with voters, not least due to corruption accusations, and faces opposition to concessions from right-wing members in his fragile governing coalition.

Bush has only 14 months left in power.

Faced with the legacy of an unpopular war in Iraq, the conference gives Bush a chance for diplomatic success in the Middle East -- an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal all sides say they hope to achieve before he leaves office in January 2009.

The mere attendance at talks with Israel of Arab states like Saudi Arabia and Syria, which have had cold-to-hostile relations with the Jewish state, appeared to improve chances for an eventual, wider peace.

Livni told reporters that that without support from other Arabs, there was not "a single Palestinian" who could reach a deal with Israel. The prospect of better ties with Arab neighbors could also help Olmert sell any deal.

At Annapolis, Israel and the Palestinians are expected to reaffirm commitments under the U.S.-backed "road map" to peace, agreed in 2003.

Israel has made any final deal conditional on Abbas carrying out a commitment to rein in militants. Palestinians demand Israel fulfill its promise under the plan to halt "settlement activity" in the occupied West Bank.

Olmert told reporters on his plane he hoped Annapolis would launch serious negotiations on "all the core issues that will result in a solution of two states for two peoples."

In Jerusalem, Israeli police set up roadblocks to try to avert violence after a security alert. Israeli troops killed three Palestinian gunmen in raids in Gaza and the West Bank.

(Additional reporting by Wafa Amr in Ramallah and Avida Landau in Jerusalem, writing by Jeffrey Heller, Rebecca Harrison and Arshad Mohammed, editing by David Storey)

NOVEMBER 27th 2007
Unfortunately not only terrorists and Islamists but Hamas and their followers have no faith in this conference and believe Abbas does not speak for their nation. Israel doubts that Abbas can deliver security. It is going to be tough going. But The US has at last realised they cannot move on anywhere in the Middle East unless they get this process moving toward a successful end.

JANUARY 14th 2008
Bush opens the play for his final push. I have always regarded a solution to the Palestinian's problems the world's political priority.
But I see no way forward so this file will now close, to re-open only if something happens to change my mind.

Israel-Palestinians open talks after push from Bush

By Adam Entous Reuters

Israel and the Palestinians opened on Monday their most serious peace talks in seven years despite differences over what each side aims to achieve.

It took nearly seven weeks to start so-called final-status talks, announced at a U.S.-sponsored conference in Annapolis, Maryland, underscoring the hurdles facing U.S. President George W. Bush in getting a statehood deal in his final year in office.

Monday's negotiations followed Bush's first presidential visit to Israel and the occupied West Bank last week, when he set the goal of signing a peace treaty in 2008.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and former Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, the chief negotiators, launched the talks in a Jerusalem hotel that will deal with issues such as borders and the fate of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.

But an Israeli official said it was unlikely Livni would be prepared to begin discussing those matters in detail at such an early stage.

"It's the first meeting and the first meeting by nature has to be preparatory," the official said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas authorized the start of final-status talks but the leaders remain at odds over the scope of a deal.

Israeli officials said Olmert was seeking a deal that would outline a "framework" for a future Palestinian state with implementation delayed until the Palestinians can ensure Israel's security.

Abbas wants a final peace treaty enabling him to declare a state by the end of the year.

"The difference between our position and the Israelis' is we hope to have a peace treaty concluded by the end of 2008. We should be done with the framework deal in one month or two months maximum," senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said.


But substantive talks on issues like Jerusalem could put Olmert's coalition government in jeopardy. The right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party has threatened to pull out, possibly as early as this week.

The first final-status talks since 2001 were supposed to get under way soon after the Annapolis conference in November. But the Palestinians demanded Israel first commit itself to ceasing all settlement activity, as called for under the long-stalled "road map" peace plan.

Under U.S. pressure, Olmert responded with a de-facto halt to new construction work in West Bank settlements. But he has not called off plans to build hundreds of homes in a settlement near Jerusalem known to Israelis as Har Homa and to Palestinians as Jabal Abu Ghneim.

Olmert said Bush had assured him during his visit that the Palestinians would need to meet their security obligations under the road map before any peace deal was implemented.

It is unclear how Olmert and Abbas can reach a deal. Abbas wields little power beyond the West Bank after Hamas Islamists seized control of the Gaza Strip in June.

Weakened by the 2006 Lebanon war, Olmert could face new calls to resign at the end of the month when a commission of inquiry issues its final report on the conflict.

(Additional reporting by Wafa Amr in Ramallah and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem; Editing by Dominic Evans)

JANUARY 23rd 2008
Although this file is in theory closed the following happening today is noteworthy:

Tens of thousands cross downed Gaza wall

By IBRAHIM BARZAK, Associated Press Writer 

Tens of thousands of Palestinians poured from the Gaza Strip into Egypt Wednesday after masked gunmen with explosives destroyed most of the seven-mile wall dividing the border town of Rafah.

The Gazans crossed on foot, in cars or riding donkey carts to buy supplies made scarce by an Israeli blockade of their impoverished territory. Police from the militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza, directed the traffic. Egyptian border guards took no action.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel said Israel has no forces on the Gaza-Egypt border and, "therefore it is the responsibility of Egypt to ensure that the border operates properly, according to the signed agreements."

"We expect the Egyptians to solve the problem," Mekel said. "Obviously we are worried about the situation. It could potentially allow anybody to enter."

Israeli defense officials said they were concerned Hamas could use the opening of the border to bring weapons and ammunition into Gaza. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the defense ministry had issued no official statement.

The gunmen began breaching the wall dividing Rafah before dawn, according to witnesses and Hamas officials. A total of 17 explosions destroyed the Rafah wall Wednesday, Hamas security officials said. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said they were allowing Palestinians to move freely through two gaps.

The identity of the gunmen who breached the border was not immediately clear. But Hamas expressed support for the move, saying that, "Blowing up the border wall with Egypt is a reflection of the ... catastrophic situation which the Palestinian people in Gaza are living through due to the blockade."

Thousands of Gazans began crossing into Egypt and returning with milk, cigarettes and plastic bottles of fuel.

Two-thirds of the Rafah wall had been demolished by 10 a.m. and the crowd of Palestinians crossing into Egypt swelled into the tens of thousands.

The destruction continued as Palestinians used a bulldozer to tear down a section of low concrete wall topped with barbed wire to allow easier access for cars.

By late morning, Palestinians across Gaza were trying to reach the border, pushing to board buses, piling into the backs of pickup trucks. However, shops on the Egyptian side had sold most of their wares.

Mohammed Abu Ghazel, 29, said he had crossed the border three times. He bought cigarettes worth $53 in Egypt and sold them for five times that in Gaza, he said.

"This can feed my family for a month," he said.

Guards directed the crowds over the fallen metal through two main crossing areas, inspecting some bags. One man returning to Gaza carried seven pistols that were confiscated by Hamas police. Others walked unhindered over the piles of scrap metal that once made up the border wall.

Gazan Ibrahim Abu Taha, 45, a father of seven, was in the Egyptian section of Rafah with his two brothers and $185 in his pocket. "We want to buy food, we want to buy rice and sugar, milk and wheat and some cheese," Abu Taha said in a telephone interview, adding that he would also buy cheap Egyptian cigarettes.

Abu Taha said he could get such basic foods in Gaza, but at three times the cost.

An off-duty Hamas security officer who identified himself as Abdel Rahman, 29, said this was his first time out of Gaza.

"I can smell the freedom," he said. "We need no border after today."

The territory had been cut off from the world since June, when Hamas seized power in Gaza by force, and Gazans are facing critical shortages of electricity, fuel and other supplies.

Palestinians used explosives to break through the border on several occasions after Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in September 2005, and Gaza militants used the breaches to smuggle weapons and people through.

In the past, Egyptian security forces restored order after hours or days.

The latest and largest breach came on the sixth day of a complete closure of Gaza, imposed by Israel and backed by Egypt, in response to a spike in Gaza rocket attacks on Israeli border towns.

Egypt has largely kept its border with Gaza closed since the Hamas takeover, amid concerns of a spillover of Hamas-style militancy into Egypt.

However, Hamas has orchestrated daily demonstrations on the Gaza-Egypt border in an apparent attempt to appeal to Arab public opinion and pressure Egypt to open the passage.

On Tuesday, Israel eased the closure slightly, transferring fuel to restart Gaza's only power plant, and also sent in some cooking gas, food and medicine. Israel has pledged to continue limited shipments because of concerns that a humanitarian crisis could develop in the already impoverished coastal territory.

Dozens of residents gathered at the border waiting to cross after the first explosions Wednesday, witnesses reported. Hamas forces gathered on the scene and prevented people from getting through. On the other side, Egyptian forces focused spotlights on breaks in the wall and deployed troops to block any infiltration attempts from Gaza, the witnesses said.

But by morning thousands of Gazans had massed at the border, and overwhelmed police began letting people cross. Most Egyptian security and police officers were later pulled out from the immediate vicinity of the border, Egyptian security officials said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. They did not explain why the officers had been withdrawn.

Governments, aid agencies and the U.N. have issued urgent appeals for an end to the Israeli closure of Gaza. Israel's Defense Ministry ruled late Tuesday that 60,000 gallons of diesel fuel will be transferred into Gaza daily, but the crossings will remain closed to other goods and people until further notice.

A Hamas militant was killed in a clash early Wednesday with Israeli forces near the closed Sufa crossing into Gaza, Palestinian officials said. The Israeli military said soldiers exchanged fire with Palestinian militants in the area.


Associated Press Writer Ashraf Sweilam contributed to this report from Rafah, Egypt.


JULY 25th 2008
Israel clearly has no intention of making peace, ever. Why did we ever for a moment believe they did

Israel relaunches plan for West Bank settlement in snub to US

By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem
Friday, 25 July 2008

Israel has has taken a decisive first step towards reviving a controversial plan for a Jewish settlement in the West Bank which it was forced to withdraw two years ago under pressure from the US.

The military's civil administration has announced plans to go ahead with the construction of at least 20 homes in the Jordan Valley for settlers evacuated from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

Peace Now, which campaigns against settlement, believes the move is part of a larger plan which could mean the establishment of about 100 homes in Maskiot, in the Jordan Valley.

The plan, initially approved by the then Defence Minister, Amir Peretz, in 2006, ended up being shelved after a vigorous protest by the US State Department. The US made no immediate comment on the revival of the plan as Palestinian and Israeli negotiators struggle to fulfil George Bush's aspiration of an outline agreement on a two-state solution by the end of the year.

Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian negotiator who was one of the group that met Barack Obama in Ramallah on Wednesday, said: "We condemn this Israeli decision in the strongest possible terms. This is undermining us and killing and destroying the peace process."

Government sources suggested the Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, had not yet given his final approval, and Mark Regev, spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said no plans had been submitted to his office. He said that Israel would honour its commitment "not to build new settlements, nor to outwardly expand existing ones".

Despite frequent protests by the international community, Israel continues to authorise the construction of hundreds of homes in settlements in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank close to the 1967 border, which Israel is determined to keep within its boundaries.

Whether Maskiot is a "new" settlement of the sort Mr Olmert has repeatedly ruled out is the subject of a legal dispute between the government and anti-settlement campaigners.

If the development goes ahead, the government is expected to argue that it is not "new" because a military outpost was established there in 1982. But Hagit Ofran, of Peace Now, said the designation of Maskiot as a settlement – where a small yeshiva, or religious college, was established in 2002 – did not conform with a 1992 cabinet decision requiring new formal authorisation of any civilian settlements.

The homes are being sought by former residents of the coastal Gaza settlement of Shirat Hayam. "They want to establish a new settlement and that's what it will be," said Ms Ofran.

In any case, in its statement of 24 June, the international "Quartet" of the US, the EU, the UN and Russia called on Israel to "freeze all settlement activity including natural growth, and to dismantle outposts erected since March 2001".

And the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, has said that such settlement activity has the potential to "harm the negotiations".

Israel Radio suggested yesterday that Mr Barak's potential endorsement of Maskiot was part of a negotiation with settlers' leaders aimed at reaching agreement on the voluntary evacuation of outposts which are illegal under Israeli as well as international law.

Palestinian security officials have reported that more than 20 Jewish settlers had run riot through the Palestinian village of Burin in the West Bank, as they protested at the dismantling by Israeli security forces of a bus being used illegally by them as a mobile home.

The closest Jewish settlement to the village is the notably hardline Yitzhar, where a settler was arrested this month for allegedly trying to launch a homemade rocket, also at Burin.

SEPTEMBER 9th 2008

JERUSALEM (AFP) - Most Israeli Jews have a negative perception of the Middle East with many asking themselves, "What the hell are we doing here?" according to a survey released on Tuesday.

Asked to give the first words that came to mind when thinking about the Middle East, 61 percent of respondents were negative, 20 percent neutral and 19 percent positive, Tel Aviv University's Centre for Peace Research said.

The negative responses mainly related to war, terrorism and Islam, the centre's poll found.

"These came along with expressions of a general, colourful nature such as: 'a nutcase region', 'a shitty place', 'a morass,' 'I can't take any more of it,' 'God help us,' and 'What the hell are we doing here?'" the centre said.

Among the positive responses, an aspiration to peace was common.

The survey also found that 71 percent of Jewish Israelis do not believe that Israel will succeed in the coming decades to integrate politically with the rest of the Middle East.

The centre's survey shows that 63 percent clearly prefer integration with the West.

Among Israeli Arabs on the other hand, 34 percent responded with positive words and images when questioned about the Middle East, 32 percent had negative responses and 34 percent were neutral.

In the telephone interview of 599 people, carried out at the start of September, a majority of Israeli Arabs also favoured integration with the West rather than the Middle East.

The sampling error for the poll is 4.5 percent, the university said.

NOVEMBER 11th 2008
At the time, back in 2006, I did not take this seriously enough. Now that Blair is out there trying to sort out the problm and getting nowhere, maybe he understands why. He has in any event sent a public cry for help to Barack Obama, but it remains to be seen if Obama is a free man or a free thinker.

JANUARY 4th 2009
The Israeli army has now invaded Gaza. This at least has a touch of reality. Israel must enforce its illegal occupation of settlements by war and hold the territory surrendered by a postwar treaty, like all other established states are legally held throughout the world. This course of affairs is most inadvisable but it is the only one open to them if they wish to pursue their deluded ambitions. The outcome will not be surrender, of course, because the Palestinians will never except the basis of the Israeli claim to the land in any modern legal context. There is no reason why they should. The tragic waste of lives and land will continue for the time being and until Israel removes its settlers.

If Rahm Emanuel understands the above there is hope for the region. If not, there isn't.

JANUARY 13th 2009
The last week has seen an appalling situation approach the surreal. While a variety of militants of sundry provenance and allegiance fire off rockets from Gaza and once even from Lebanon into Israel, with few casualties, Israel continues to slaughter innocent Palestinians in Gaza, destroy their houses and kill UN drivers and aid workers. Hamas has not disobeyed a single UN resolution. Israel has yet to comply with a single one over all the years of this occupation. To look further for the cause of these troubles is unncessary.

Alan Morton Dershowitz (born September 1, 1938) is an American lawyer, jurist, and political commentator. He is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. He says he has seen a video of a militant setting up a rocket launcher outside a school in Gaza, fire a rocket at Israel and run away, and that Israel is absolutely within its legal rights to then demolish that school in an air strike.

I am about the same age as Dershowitz and we speak the same language, English. But I don't come to the same conclusion. Any decent aerial or on-the-spot intelligence capable of recording the fact should also relate that the building is a school, that rockets are not launched from inside such a building, that inocent children are certain to be within it, certain to die, and that the Israeli air strike will not affect in any way the ability of militants to use Gazan territory to launch rockets on Israel. There is therefore not even the beginnings of a justification for targetting the school. It is a war crime.

The bombing of Dresden was considered to be essential to winning the war against Nazi Germany. It can be argued today that this was what it looked like then and with hindsight could well have been the case. The atom-bombing of Japan saved milions of Japanese and Allied lives. It was a brilliant decision, taken with courage and integrity. Yet Dershowitz would put these on a level with the disgusting Israeli actions of today. I have no doubt that Israel will never be brought to justice by the UN, but nature has a way of enforcing the truth in the long run.

There is no justification for the militant rocketeers either, but then Palestinians are unable to use miilitary means to enforce UN resolutions concerning the occupation so it is not surprising some individuals turn to violence and get support from outside.

Israel has pulled its usual trick. A unilateral ceasefire, while its troops femain in Gaza, whil its settlers remain breaking the law in the West Bank, and while making it clear that if Palestinians continue with any armed resistance Isreal will strike again. In other words a ceasefire based on a status quo which is unacceptable to Palestinians and the whole world. Criminals have a right of self defence, seems to be their argument. OK, but they are still criminals and what they have done has made them a tad unpopular.

They shelled a UN school on the grounds that armed Palestinians in or near it fired at them. What do they expect armed Palestionas to do when Israeli troops advance on a school? I think this cease-fire is rubbish. As I have written from time to time here we are dealing with  people who have an extraordinarily exaggerated opinion of their own intelligence and their relationship to the rest of humanity.

JANUARY 18th 2009
Hamas has responded in a very appropriate manner. They have ignored the Israeli cease-fire and declared a one-week cease-fire of their own, during which they expect Israel to withdraw and lift the blockade on goods and services. Meanwhile the Israeli Prime Minister pretends that he has achieved his objectives. He achieved nothing but destruction and death and ensured the lasting hatred of many more families. There is not one positive or lasting achievement that can be attributed to the latest Israeli pretence at self-defence.

JANUARY 23rd 2009
Israel is a democracy. That has not prevented its regime from acting criminally in ocupying the West Bank, increasing their occupation every year in defiance of international law, and then claiming the right of self-defence to destroy Gaza and murder its inhabitants when, finding no legal redress, militants and international supporters resort to attacking Israel using their meagre resources of rockets, and suicide bombers.  Yes, Israel is a democracy. They have elected and support their government. That now makes them a criminal nation, outside the law and it has made terrorists out of some Palestinians and their supporters as that is their only means of riposte. The Mitchell plan,drawn up at the request of President Clinton, was abandoned by President Bush who came to office at the time the plan was proposed. That plan stated that the only way to peace was for the Israelis to withdraw from their settlements. It remains the only sensible plan. Hamas has democratic legitimacy, and must be accepted as a party to negotiations.

JUNE 15th 2009
President Obama has committed himself at the start of his presidency (unlike his predecessor) to deal with the Palestinian's problems.

Netanyahu, now Israeli Premier, has changed tack and publicly agreed to the the concept of a Palestinian State on certain conditions:
1. Total disarmament (
no army, no control of its air space and no way of smuggling in weapons).
2. Internationally binding treaties to agree and guarantee that status
3. Recognition by Palestine of Israel's existence and right to its territory

The sting is in the tail because
he declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel, said refugees would not be negotiated and that settlements would remain. He will not even halt the building that is going on now in contravention of the law and against the advice and requests from the US. The settlers have his full support. That just about ensures the offer cannot be accepted, which is presumably Netanyahu's intention.
The US has officially called this progress, on the basis that Netanyahu has for the first time accepted the possibility of a Palestinian State. His demand for recognition of Israel as a state is entirely reasonable too, and the international guarantee of that has never been in doubt. The cause of the impasse is of Israel's own making.

FEBRUARY 18th 2010
Mossad have assassinated a notable Hamas leader they hold responsible for rocket attacks. To do this their agents stole the identities of some British, Irish, German and French citizens living in Israel and got passports for them with photos to match their agents (maybe in disguise). On an earlier occasion when Mossad got false foreign passports they made the mistake of applying personally in the country of the indentities they were stealing (New Zealand). Their agents were arrested and imprisoned, Israel had to apologise and pay damages. This time they got way with it, choosing names of Israeli resident foreign nationals, till the operation was completed and the agents had got away.

Israel has not admitted this, of course. But their refusal is rather undermined by having influential professorial apologists excuse the action on the grounds of "What else can we do? We are fighting a war. These people lunch rockets at us!"
In other words Israel is in extremis, the death of one man whose rockets kill many is justified, even though the killing of Palestinians by Israeli actions and deprivations exceeds anything Israel suffers.
That might make some sense if the answer to "What else can we do?" was not quite so obvious, namely stop building in Paletinian land, remove the illegal settlements and the illegal settlers.

MARCH 23 2010
After investigating the assassination recorded above, the UK has expelled an Israeli diplomat, presumably the one who was obviously obstructive in getting an admission of the now established fact that Israeli security services took British and other passports and altered their phot, photos and signatures while leaving the names, to carry out the operation. There is a pathetic pretence by the US and UK governments that they will take any significant action against Israel or that their anger will result in anything at all. After all, if you are dealing with seriously deluded people who think God has given them the land they are occupying, and they own it for ever by genetic right of inheritance, regardless of any intervening history, migrations or international treaties, no doubt in today's politically correct world it would be seen as religious descrimination to accuse them publicly of criminal lunacy. So they will continue with the type of policy that they have pursued throughout history, with the same results.

JUNE 01 2010
The argument about the legality or justification of the Israeli interception of ships bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza is ridiculous, as is the US defence of their ill-judged action. Terrorism is the only weapon of the dispossessed, and Israel has never had the slightest intention of removing illegal settlers or ceasing to build new illegal settlements. It is war, and that means law has broken down. The Israeli action has achieved nothing for them and nothing for the peace process, and nothing for the helpless civilians on either side. It may have helped some terrorists. Let's face it, we are dealing here with very obstinate, deluded people. It makes no difference how they or others interpret the legality, it was stupid behaviour based on mistaken idiosyncracy.

SEPTEMBER 2nd 2010
Probably against my better judgment I will pass a few comments on the current attempts to re-start the peace process.

Mr Netanyahu says that he is ready to make peace, but it will require 'painful concessions' on both sides. If Mr Netanyahu thinks that stopping the illegal building of official Israeli settletments on Palestinian land is a painful concession, meriting some equivalent pain for the Palestinians, I cannot see much hope. He will have to offer a good deal more than that.

FEBRUARY 19th 2011

Israeli settlements: US vetoes UNSC resolution

The US has vetoed an Arab resolution at the UN Security Council condemning Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories as an obstacle to peace.

The US was on its own here, alone in opposing the resolution. Its position is seen now as frankly absurd, though its veto does not reflect its position, the US spokesperson tells us, just it unwillingness to bring the issue to the boil in the UN forum. Heigh Ho.....

APRIL 27th 2011
Hamas and Fatah have decided to end the rift between them. This does  make it possible for Israel to make peace, but of clourse they will not, on the grounds that Hamas spokesmen have, and probably will again, make unacceptable remarks about the legitimacy of Israel. Until Israel learns that whatever any Hamas members think cannot be policed, and what they say should be seen as distinct from what they do, progress is unlikely. The opinions of Hamas supporters on the legitimacy of Israel is not unconnected with the acts of the Israeli government and settlers.

MAY 19th 2011
I DID NOT EXPECT THIS!! In spite of the cynical comments (see comments link below) Obama's insistance that negotiation should be based on the position before the
1967 Six-Day War - which includes the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem - is unambiguous.

Barack Obama presses for Middle East reform

Mr Obama said it would be the policy of the US to promote reform across the region and to democracy

US President Barack Obama says a "new chapter in American diplomacy" has been turned after the Arab Spring uprisings.

In a speech at the state department, Mr Obama said the future of the US was bound to the Middle East by forces of economics, security, history and fate.

SEPTEMBER 20th 2011
In a sign that they have given up on the 'process', Mr Abbas is taking a bid for statehood directly to the UN.
Obama disagrees.

Barack Obama has told the UN General Assembly the Palestinians deserve their own state, but that this would only be achieved through talks with Israel.

The US president's speech came as diplomatic efforts for Palestinian UN membership intensified, while thousands rallied in the West Bank.

"Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the UN," he said.

He added there could be no "short cut" to peace, and is expected to urge the Palestinians to give up the initiative.

The request for Palestinian statehood has been submitted. What should Britain do?
My view:
The way forward is to separate the concepts of recognition of statehood and the recognition of geographical borders.

The UN should recognise Palestine as a state, for the benefit of the people, providing they (in all their movements) recognise Israel.

Then they can negotiate about the geographical borders, settlements etc. They can even go to war over it! But the question of statehood will be resolved and Israel will be recognised by the neighbours - that would be a condition.

So long as the question of statehood and borders are conflated (is that the word?), resolution is impossible as the issues and blames are bounced around like ping-pong balls.

The man who said there was never a Palestinian state misses the point completely. There were and are a Palestinian people. Whether or not they have contributed to their own problems they need the right to an official nationality other than Israeli or Jordanian. They need IDs and passports associated with this as and when required, applied for and granted with the associated rights and obligations.

OCTOBER 17th 2011
A deal to release many Palesttinian prisoners in exchange for the one Israeli soldier held hostage is approved. It will no doubt be used by various parties to distract from pressure to achieve any real progress.

Israeli court backs Shalit swap deal

JANUARY 11th 2012
Israeli spokesmen now justify the assassination of Irania nuclear scientists on the grounds that Iran is not complying with UN resolutions or IAEA conditions. It is hard to know how they expect anyone to take this criticism from Israel which is far more guilty in both respects than Iran. In effect they are approving Iranian terrorism. Hilary Clinton has gone on TV today to vociferously disassociate the US with this Israeli position.