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
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
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,
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
international resolve has begun to crack. Norway announced on Saturday
it would now recognise the Fatah-Hamas government.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
said on Tuesday.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told European
had agreed "to conduct a dialogue on the
conditions for establishing a Palestinian state," a ministry
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
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
"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
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
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
"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)
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
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
"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
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
Publication of the interviews followed a welcome on Thursday by the
US State Department of the Riyadh conclusions as a "positive
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
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
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
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
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
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
Saudi Arabia has yet to respond but the BBC's Alim Maqbool in
says Mr Olmert's call for a regional summit suggests the plan could at
least form a basis for fresh negotiations.
SAUDI MIDDLE EAST PLAN
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
Calls for a "just solution to the Palestinian
The Saudi plan offers Israel normalisation of ties with Arab states
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.
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.
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
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.
SKEPTICISM ABOUT U.S. COMMITMENT
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.
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
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."
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
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
operations against Hezbollah militants who had captured two Israeli
Mr Olmert is already suffering unprecedented unpopularity levels.
But he got support from the White House, whose spokesman said
Bush viewed the Israeli leader as essential to Middle East peace
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.
Retired judge Eliahu Winograd presented the findings of the
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
| 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
The aims of the war - to crush Hezbollah and force it to hand back
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
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.
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
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.
Palestinians renew deal to end violence after deaths
By Nidal al-Mughrabi Reuters -
(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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
Shops were shuttered and taxi drivers took detours to bypass
checkpoints set up by rival armed groups.
(Additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah)
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
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
By most accounts, Hamas' performance in the latest round of internal
fighting has been superior to Fatah's, with greater discipline and more
Although Israel said it was not taking sides, the airstrikes did
make it harder for Hamas gunmen to move around and that could help
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
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
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was under intense public
pressure to respond to the Hamas barrage, and he visited Sderot late
"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.
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
Saturday July 29, 2006
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The king of fairyland will never grasp the realities of the Middle
A US leader in his
second term should have the power to rein in Israel. But George Bush is
no ordinary president
Tuesday August 1, 2006
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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.
THE MADNESS CONTINUES. IT WILL UNTIL ILLEGAL OCCUPATION CEASES
vows more Gaza action
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says a crackdown against Hamas
continue, after an Israeli man was killed by a rocket fired from Gaza.
"No-one involved in terror has immunity," Mr Olmert told his
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
surrender, we will not raise the white flag," said spokesman Ayman
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."
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
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
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.
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
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
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
power in Gaza.
Fatah's vaunted Preventive Security Force has been defeated, and
its headquarters seized.
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
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
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
He was absent, having medical treatment in Egypt, when a Hamas
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
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
the collapse of the Palestinian Authority and the other institutions
they had hoped would become part of the apparatus of an independent
| 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
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".
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
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
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
The Hamas Prime Minister, Ismail Haniya, will want to maintain a
working relationship with Mr Abbas. Without it, Hamas will be even more
So Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, will try to force Hamas and Fatah to
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
IT IS CLEAR THAT THE WESTERN POLICIES IN THE MIDDLE EAST HAVE BEEN AN
UTTER DISASTER, AND THE ISRAELI BEHAVIOUR OVER THE PAST DECADES HAS
BEEN UNACCEPTABLE, STUPID AND BROUGHT DISASTER TO EVERYONE. THE
ORIGINAL SIX-DAY WAR AGAINST EGYPT WAS COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY, THE
RESULT OF PARANOID BEHAVOUR ON THE ISRAELI SIDE AND A DESPERATE NEED ON
THE EGYPTIAN SIDE TO PUT ON A SHOW OF STRENGTH TO MATCH THE
TECHNOLOGICAL MILITARY PROWESS OF THE COMBINED ISRAELI-AMERICAN
ECONOMIC MACHINE. THE OCCUPATIONS ARE COMPLETELY ILLEGAL AND
UNJUSTIFIED. IF WE ACCEPT THE THEORY OF DEMOCRACY AS THE JUSTIFICATION
FOR THE SUPPORT FOR ISRAEL, IT IS STILL NO JUSTIFICATION FOR OUR RECENT
POLICY TOWARDS THE PALESTINIANS. IT IS CLAIMED THAT AID TO THE
PALESTINIANS WAS NEVER CUT OFF, BUT THEIR ATTEMPT AT SELF GOVERNMENT
WAS MOST CERTAINLY ECONOMICALLY, DELIBERATELY DESTROYED.
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 -
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.
WEST BANK TROUBLE
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
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
Ismail Haniyeh, who became prime minister after Hamas won
the 2006 parliamentary election, refuses to accept his
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
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
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
Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, ending a 38-year-old military
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.
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
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
It is unclear whether the EU will go along with U.S. and
Israeli efforts to isolate Gaza, whose 1.5 million residents
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."
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
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
Associated Press writers Anne Gearan and Matthew Lee in Washington
contributed to this report.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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.
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
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)
Words of wisdom from Michael Ancram: DO NOT SET UNDELIVERABLE POLICIES
AS PRECONDITIONS TO NEGOTIATIONS.
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
"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
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
"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
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."
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.
Palestinian state now'
The US secretary of state has said it is time for a Palestinian
to be founded, and that the US will put its full weight behind such
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
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,"
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
UN special rapporteur
She said the US regarded a two-state solution "as absolutely
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
"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
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.
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
will set out the basis of the solutions to the final status issues:
Jerusalem, borders, settlements, refugees, security, water and
bilateral relations," he said.
HAVE YOUR SAY
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
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.
I assume that Tony Blair is working behind the scenes here. At least he
Rice sees 'moment of opportunity'
tackled immediately after the invasion of Iraq.
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
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
"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
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
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."
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
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
(the Palestinians) need change on the ground," he said, citing major
development projects, including some near the West Bank town of Jericho.
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.
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
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
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)
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.
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
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
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
"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
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
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)
Although this file is in theory closed the following happening today is
Tens of thousands cross downed Gaza wall
FURTHER COMMENTS HERE FOR THE MOMENT. THE SITUATION IS ABSURD.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
The negative responses mainly related to war, terrorism and Islam,
the centre's poll found.
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
Among the positive responses, an aspiration to peace was common.
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.
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.
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.
U.S. 'told Blair to sack Straw after Condi's Blackburn trip'
By SIMON WALTERS, Mail on Sunday
Last updated at 14:38 06 August 2006
Dramatic new evidence that Cabinet rebel Jack Straw was sacked
as Foreign Secretary as a result of pressure from George W. Bush
has been revealed.
Senior sources close to the US Government told The Mail on
Sunday that Mr Straw's outspoken opposition to America's
policies on the Middle East was discussed by White House aides
weeks before his shock dismissal by Tony Blair in May.
It follows the disclosure that the Bush Administration feared Mr
Straw was in the pocket of Muslims in his Blackburn
And it gives further credence to claims that he was fired
because of his refusal to back America's all-out support for
Mr Straw, now Leader of the Commons, was the first Cabinet
member to speak out in public against Israel's attacks on Lebanon,
describing them as 'disproportionate'.
And it is not the first time he has been at odds with US foreign
policy. He angered the White House by saying that threats to bomb
Iran to stop it acquiring nuclear weapons - a course of action
which Mr Bush and Mr Blair have refused to rule out - were
A US source told The Mail on Sunday: "Mr Straw's views
did not find favour in the White House and its concerns were passed
on to the British Government."
It was revealed last week by a senior aide to media mogul Rupert
Murdoch that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was shocked to
learn of the influence of Muslims in Mr Straw's constituency when
she visited Blackburn with him during a tour of Britain in
Four weeks after her visit, Mr Straw was mysteriously fired. His
lightweight successor Margaret Beckett was so stunned when the
Prime Minister offered her the job of Foreign Secretary, she
American economist Irwin Stelzer, who acts as a go-between for
Mr Murdoch and Mr Blair and has free access to the White House and
Downing Street, said the close links between the two leaders were
reflected in "more than crisis management".
The demotion of Mr Straw from Foreign Secretary to Commons
Leader was an example.
'It is ridiculous to say Jack is too influenced by
"The Bush team worried about the problems a British Foreign
Minister faced when he depended for office on an electorate with a
heavy Muslim component - something Rice noticed on her visit," said
Mr Stelzer, who added pointedly: "Straw is now custodian at the
House of Commons."
Mr Stelzer also revealed that Dr Rice's trip to Blackburn was
organised by the Prime Minister, not Mr Straw. Mr Blair had asked
Mr Bush to send her to "help in taming anti-Americans" in the
Explaining how Mr Bush and Mr Blair worked together, Mr Stelzer
said: "Each gave at least some weight to the needs of the other
when retooling his foreign policy apparatus."
Mr Straw's statement last week condemning Israel's actions as
'disproportionate' was issued after a meeting with Muslim leaders
in Blackburn, a fact which did not go unnoticed by US
About one in five voters in Mr Straw's constituency are
Mr Straw's close friend and political ally, Lord Patel of
Blackburn, said last night: "I was very surprised when Jack was
removed as Foreign Secretary and it is possible the Americans had
something to do with it because of his views on things like
"It is ridiculous to say Jack is too influenced by Muslims. He
is a man of honour and independence.
"Bush and Blair see nothing wrong in supplying Israel with
weapons to attack Lebanon and yet they call on Iran and Syria to
stop supplying weapons to Hezbollah. They are guilty of double
Diplomats say the claims about Mr Straw's removal from the
Foreign Office have further relevance in the light of reports that
the British and American governments knew in advance about Israel's
plan to attack Hezbollah.
Some Foreign Office insiders say it could be part of an American
plan to pave the way for an attack on Iran next year.
Although Mrs Beckett has privately criticised Israel, Mr Blair
would have faced a much bigger problem if the heavyweight Mr Straw
had remained Foreign Secretary. Friends say he could have resigned
over the issue.
Asked if the White House was involved in Mr Straw's dismissal, a
Downing Street spokesman said last night: "I do not recognise that
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.
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.
JANUARY 17th, 2009 MIDNIGHT GMT
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
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).
Internationally binding treaties to agree and guarantee that status
3. Recognition by Palestine of Israel's existence and right to its
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
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
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
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.
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.
the UN General Assembly the Palestinians deserve their
own state, but that this would only be achieved through talks with
came as diplomatic efforts for Palestinian UN
membership intensified, while thousands rallied in the West Bank.
through statements and resolutions at the UN," he said.
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
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.
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.