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Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES

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Author Topic: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES  (Read 211 times)
Bianca
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« Reply #45 on: January 07, 2009, 08:29:46 pm »










                                       Gaza fighting rages despite cease-fire proposal
     







Jan. 7, 2009
GAZA CITY,
Gaza Strip

Israel resumed its Gaza offensive Wednesday, bombing heavily around suspected smuggling tunnels near the border with Egypt after a three-hour lull to allow in humanitarian aid. Hamas responded with a rocket barrage. Despite the heavy fighting, strides were made on the diplomatic front with the U.S. throwing its weight behind a deal being brokered by France and Egypt.

While the Security Council failed to reach agreement on a cease-fire resolution, Egypt's U.N. Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz said representatives of Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have agreed to meet separately with Egyptian officials in Cairo Thursday.

Israeli airstrikes killed 29 Palestinians on Wednesday after leaflets were dropped warning residents to leave the area "because Hamas uses your houses to hide and smuggle military weapons."

The casualties brought the total Palestinian death toll during Israel's 12-day assault to 688 and drove home the complexities of finding a diplomatic endgame for Israel's Gaza invasion. Ten Israelis have been killed, including three civilians, since the offensive began Dec. 27.

More than 5,000 people have fled the border area, seeking refuge at two U.N. schools turned into temporary shelters.

The fury of the renewed fighting made it appear each side was scrambling to get in as many hits as possible before a truce could materialize.

"I feel like the ground is shaking when we hear the shelling. People are terrified," said Fida Kishta, a resident of the Gaza-Egypt border area where Israeli planes destroyed 16 empty houses.

In Turkey, a Mideast diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly said that country would be asked to put together an international force that could help keep the peace. And diplomats in New York worked on a U.N. Security Council statement backing the cease-fire initiative but failed to reach agreement on action to end the violence.

"We are very much applauding the efforts of a number of states, particularly the effort that President (Hosni) Mubarak has undertaken on behalf of Egypt," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said. "We're supporting that initiative."

The army, which has refused to allow journalists into Gaza, permitted two TV teams to accompany soldiers on patrol for the first time. The footage showed soldiers walking through a deserted street in an unidentified location in Gaza.

The Israeli military correspondent who accompanied the soldiers said they were concerned about Hamas booby-traps. He said they were shooting through walls, throwing grenades around corners, going from house to house looking for Hamas gunmen and using bomb sniffer dogs. Buildings showed bullet and shrapnel marks. "We used a lot of fire," said an officer in the group, Lt. Col. Ofer.

Hamas, meanwhile, fired rockets, though at a slower pace than previous days, hitting the towns of Ashkelon and Beersheba with the sort of longer range missiles never seen before this war. Rockets were still hitting the cities after midnight, but there were no immediate reports of injury.

Despite the violence, a surprise announcement in Paris on Wednesday put a spotlight on diplomacy.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that both Israel and the Palestinian Authority had accepted the cease-fire deal, but he made no mention of Hamas, without whom no truce could work. The Palestinian Authority controls only the West Bank while Hamas rules Gaza two territories on opposite sides of Israel that are supposed to make up a future Palestinian state.

Later, Israeli officials made it clear Sarkozy's statement was not exactly accurate.

"Israel welcomes the initiative of the French president and the Egyptian president to bring about a sustainable quiet in the south," said Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev.

But for Israel to accept the proposal, he said, "there has to be a total and complete cessation of all hostile fire from Gaza into Israel, and ... we have to see an arms embargo on Hamas that will receive international support."

For its part, Hamas said it would not accept a truce deal unless it includes an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza something Israel says it is not willing to do.

"There must be guarantees to ensure Israel will not breach this package, including halting the aggression, lifting the blockade and opening the crossings," said Ghazi Hamad, a senior Hamas adviser.

Growing international outrage over the human toll of Israel's offensive, which includes 3,000 Palestinians wounded could work against continued fighting. So could President Bush's departure from office this month and a Feb. 10 election in Israel.

But Israel has a big interest in inflicting as much damage as possible on Hamas, both to stop militant rocket fire on southern Israeli towns and to diminish the group's ability to play a spoiler role in peace talks with Palestinian moderates.

The Israeli Cabinet formally decided on Wednesday to push ahead with the offensive while at the same time pursuing the cease-fire option. Israeli officials also rejected Hamas' call to open the border crossings, which Israel has largely kept closed since the group seized the territory by force in June 2007.

The military has called up thousands of reserve troops that it could use to expand the Gaza offensive. Defense officials said the troops could be ready for action by Friday.

Still, Israel briefly suspended its offensive Wednesday to allow humanitarian supplies to reach Gaza, and Israeli officials said such lulls would be declared on a regular basis.

The announcement came among growing warnings by the World Bank and aid groups of a humanitarian crisis. The Word Bank pointed to a severe shortage of drinking water and said the sewage system is under growing strain.

Solafa Odeh, a resident of the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahia, said around 100 people in her community were lining up for fresh water outside a local grocery store Wednesday. "We were only allowed half a gallon each, and I saw some people walk away with their jerry cans empty," Odeh said.

Of the 688 Palestinians killed since Dec. 27, some 350 were civilians, among them 130 children, according to Palestinian officials.

During Wednesday's lull, Israel allowed in 80 trucks of supplies as well as industrial fuel for Gaza's power plant. Medics tried to retrieve bodies in areas that had previously been too dangerous to approach.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said in a statement that one of its ambulance drivers was shot by Israeli soldiers during the lull. The Israeli military said it had no knowledge of the incident.

Medic Mohammed Azayzeh in central Gaza pulled out three people, killed by shrapnel fire Sunday, from the border town of Mughraqa, where Israeli tanks had settled nearby. The medic said he also found a dead family of three, including a father cradling a 1-year-old boy.

In the Jebaliya refugee camp, residents on Wednesday held a mass funeral for 40 people killed a day before by Israeli mortar fire toward a U.N. school. Israel says Hamas militants fired mortar shells from an area near the school, and that Israeli responded to this attack.

The bodies, wrapped in blankets, were laid out in a long row on the ground, with mourners kneeling in Muslim prayer before them. Among the mourners was Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas legislator.

Also Wednesday, Israel released footage of suspected Hamas militants captured by Israeli troops. Israel's chief army spokesman, Brig. Gen. Avi Benayahu, said 120 suspected militants have been captured. He also said soldiers conducting searches have uncovered many explosive devices and tunnels.

"We uncovered many tunnels for kidnapping soldiers, at least one car bomb, booby trapped dolls, tunnels an underground city," Benyahu said on Israel TV's Channel 10.

The CARE aid organization said one of its workers was killed Monday in an Israeli airstrike.

___

Steven Gutkin reported from Jerusalem
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« Reply #46 on: January 08, 2009, 07:00:54 am »









                                    Attack on Israel from Lebanon threatens 2nd front
     





Associated Press Writers
Ibrahim Barzak And
Steve Weizman,
Associated Press Writers
Jan. 8, 2009
JERUSALEM

Lebanese militants fired at least three rockets into Israel early Thursday, threatening to open a new front for the Jewish state as it pushed forward with a bloody offensive in the Gaza Strip that has killed nearly 700 people.

Two people were lightly injured, and the rockets that exploded in Israel's north raised the specter of renewed hostilities with Hezbollah, just 2 1/2 years after Israel battled the guerrilla group to a 34-day stalemate.

No group claimed responsibility and Lebanon's government, wary of conflict, quickly condemned the rocket fire. Israel fired mortar shells into southern Lebanon in response.

For a second straight day, Israel said it suspended is Gaza military operation for three hours to allow in humanitarian supplies.

Before the lull on Thursday, Israel killed at least 11 people in Gaza, including five militants, raising the death toll from its 13-day offensive to 699 people, according to Palestinian medical officials. The offensive is meant to halt years of Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel, but with roughly half the dead believed to be civilians, international efforts to broker a cease-fire have been gaining steam.

One of the Lebanese rockets went through the roof of a retirement home in Nahariya, about five miles from the border, and exploded in the kitchen as some 25 residents were eating breakfast in the adjacent dining hall. One resident suffered a broken leg, another bruises, apparently from slipping on the floor after emergency sprinklers came on.

"The rocket entered through the roof, hurling the water heaters into the air. It went through bedrooms upstairs and then into the kitchen. There was a serious blast," said Henry Carmelli, the home's manager.

About three hours later, air-raid sirens went off again. But authorities said it was a false alarm.

Israel has repeatedly said it was prepared for a possible attack on the north since it launched its bruising campaign against Hamas militants in Gaza on Dec. 27. Israel has mobilized thousands of reserve troops for such a scenario, and leaders have warned Hezbollah of dire consequences if it enters the fighting.

"We are following what is happening in the north. We are prepared and will respond as necessary," Defense Minister Ehud Barak told reporters.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora condemned both the attacks and Israel's retaliatory fire. The attacks are "the work of parties who stand to lose from the continued stability in Lebanon," Saniora said.

Hezbollah, which did not comment, has said it does not want to draw Lebanon into a new war. Small Palestinian groups, who have rocketed Israel twice since the end of the 2006 war, have recently threatened to open a new front against Israel if the fighting in Gaza continued.

An Israeli Cabinet minister, Meir Sheetrit, suggested that Lebanese splinter groups, not Hezbollah, were responsible. He said the government had no interest in renewing hostilities.

"Even though we have the ability to respond with great force, the response needs to be carefully considered and responsible," Sheetrit told Army Radio. "We don't need to play into their hands."

Shortly after the first rockets fell around the town of Nahariya, five miles south of the Lebanese border, Lebanese TV stations reported Israeli mortar fire on open areas in southern Lebanon. The Israeli military confirmed it carried out "pinpoint fire" in response without elaborating.

Israeli defense commentators said they expected the rocket fire to be a one-time show of solidarity with the Palestinians, not a declaration of war. Still, police said public bomb shelters throughout the north were opened.

Palestinians reported some two dozen airstrikes in Gaza on Thursday. One militant was killed and 10 wounded in Gaza City, while an airstrike in northern Gaza killed three members of a rocket-launching cell, Palestinian medical officials said. The attack took place about 150 yards from a hospital and wounded 12 bystanders. The Israeli army has repeatedly said militants use civilian areas for cover.

Nine other Palestinians were killed in separate incidents, including three civilians en elderly man and two women who were fleeing their homes in northern Gaza, officials said.

In Geneva, the international Red Cross said it found four small children alive next to their mothers' bodies in the rubble of a Gaza home hit by Israeli shelling. The neutral aid group says a total of 15 dead were recovered from two houses in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City on Wednesday.

A Red Cross spokesman says rescuers had been refused permission by Israeli forces to reach the site for four days. It said the delay in allowing rescue services access was"unacceptable."

The Israeli offensive has reduced Palestinian rocket fire, but not stopped it altogether. Several barrages were reported Thursday, including one strike that damaged a school and sports center in the southern city of Ashkelon, police said. Both buildings were empty.

For a second day, Israel's Defense Ministry said the offensive was halted for three hours to allow Gaza residents to stock up on supplies and to allow aid shipments into the besieged area. Ministry spokesman Peter Lerner also said some 300 Palestinian holders of foreign passports would be allowed to leave.

The lull appears to be in response to international pressure on Israel to try relieve civilian suffering in Gaza. U.N. spokesman Chris Gunness said three hours was "wholly inadequate" and would not be enough to relieve widespread food and water shortages.

After Wednesday's lull, Israel quickly resumed its offensive, bombing suspected smuggling tunnels near the border with Egypt after Hamas responded with a rocket barrage. Israeli planes destroyed at least 16 empty houses.

The tunnels are Hamas' lifeline, used to bring in arms, money and basic goods. Israel says local homes are used to conceal the tunnels.

Of the Palestinians killed since Dec. 27, some 350 were civilians, among them 130 children, according to Palestinian medical officials. Eleven Israelis have been killed, including three civilians, since the offensive began. The army said Thursday that an infantry officer was killed by an anti-tank missile.

Growing international outrage over the human toll of Israel's offensive, which includes 3,000 Palestinians wounded could work against continued fighting. So could President Bush's departure from office this month and a Feb. 10 election in Israel.

But Israel has a big interest in inflicting as much damage as possible on Hamas, both to stop militant rocket fire on southern Israeli towns and to diminish the group's ability to play a spoiler role in peace talks with Palestinian moderates.

Despite the heavy fighting, strides appeared to be made on the diplomatic front with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice saying the U.S. supported a deal being brokered by France and Egypt.

While the U.N. Security Council failed to reach agreement on a cease-fire resolution, Egypt's U.N. Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz said representatives of Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority agreed to meet separately with Egyptian officials in Cairo.

Israeli envoys arrived in Egypt on Thursday to discuss the proposal.

For Israel to accept a proposed cease-fire deal, "there has to be a total and complete cessation of all hostile fire from Gaza into Israel, and ... we have to see an arms embargo on Hamas that will receive international support," said government spokesman Mark Regev.

For its part, Hamas said it would not accept a truce deal unless it includes an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza something Israel says it is not willing to do. Israel and Egypt have maintained a stiff economic embargo on Gaza since the Hamas takeover.

The Palestinian Authority controls the West Bank while Hamas rules Gaza two territories on opposite sides of Israel that are supposed to make up a future Palestinian state. Hamas took control of Gaza from forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in June 2007.

The Israeli Cabinet formally decided on Wednesday to push ahead with the offensive while at the same time pursuing the cease-fire.

The military has called up thousands of reserve troops that it could use to expand the Gaza offensive. Defense officials said the troops could be ready for action by Friday.

In Geneva, the international Red Cross said it found four small children alive next to their mothers' bodies in the rubble of a Gaza home hit by Israeli shelling. The neutral aid group says a total of 15 dead were recovered from two houses in the Zaytun neighborhood of Gaza City on Wednesday.

A Red Cross spokesman said rescuers had been refused permission by Israeli forces to reach the site for four days. It said the delay in allowing rescue services access was "unacceptable."

___

Weizman reported from Jerusalem and Barzak from Gaza City. Associated Press writer Sam F. Ghattas contributed to this report from Beirut, Lebanon.
« Last Edit: January 08, 2009, 07:02:07 am by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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Bianca
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« Reply #47 on: January 08, 2009, 07:08:12 am »








                                       UN: Israel kills driver on aid mission to Gaza






Jan. 8, 2009
AP
GAZA CITY,
Gaza Strip

A U.N. official in the Gaza Strip says Israeli forces have fired on a truck on a U.N. aid mission and killed the driver.

U.N. spokesman Adnan Abu Hasna says the incident took place during a lull declared by Israel to allow humanitarian aid to enter the territory.

He says the U.N. coordinated the delivery with Israel, and the vehicle and was marked with a U.N. flag and insignia when it was shot in northern Gaza.

The Israeli army said it was investigating.

Earlier this week, an Israeli attack near a U.N. school killed more than 30 people. At the time, Israel said it opened fire after militants hiding in the crowd shot mortar shells at Israeli troops.



THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.



JERUSALEM (AP)

Lebanese militants fired at least three rockets into Israel early Thursday, threatening to open a new front for the Jewish state as it pushed forward with a bloody offensive in the Gaza Strip that has killed nearly 700 people.

Two people were lightly injured, and the rockets that exploded in Israel's north raised the specter of renewed hostilities with Hezbollah, just 2 1/2 years after Israel battled the guerrilla group to a 34-day stalemate. Hezbollah started the 2006 war as Israel was battling Palestinian militants in Gaza.

No group claimed responsibility and Lebanon's government, wary of conflict, quickly condemned the rocket fire. Israel fired mortar shells into southern Lebanon in response.

For a second straight day, Israel said it suspended is Gaza military operation for three hours to allow in humanitarian supplies.

Before the lull on Thursday, Israel killed at least 11 people in Gaza, including five militants, raising the death toll from its 13-day offensive to 699 people, according to Palestinian medical officials. The offensive is meant to halt years of Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel, but with roughly half the dead believed to be civilians, international efforts to broker a cease-fire have been gaining steam.

One of the Lebanese rockets went through the roof of a retirement home in Nahariya, about five miles from the border, and exploded in the kitchen as some 25 residents were eating breakfast in the adjacent dining hall. One resident suffered a broken leg, another bruises, apparently from slipping on the floor after emergency sprinklers came on.

"The rocket entered through the roof, hurling the water heaters into the air. It went through bedrooms upstairs and then into the kitchen. There was a serious blast," said Henry Carmelli, the home's manager.

About three hours later, air-raid sirens went off again. But authorities said it was a false alarm.

Israel has repeatedly said it was prepared for a possible attack on the north since it launched its bruising campaign against Hamas militants in Gaza on Dec. 27. Israel has mobilized thousands of reserve troops for such a scenario, and leaders have warned Hezbollah of dire consequences if it enters the fighting.

"We are following what is happening in the north. We are prepared and will respond as necessary," Defense Minister Ehud Barak told reporters.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora condemned both the attacks and Israel's retaliatory fire. The attacks are "the work of parties who stand to lose from the continued stability in Lebanon," Saniora said.

Hezbollah, which did not comment, has said it does not want to draw Lebanon into a new war. Small Palestinian groups, who have rocketed Israel twice since the end of the 2006 war, have recently threatened to open a new front against Israel if the fighting in Gaza continued.

An Israeli Cabinet minister, Meir Sheetrit, suggested that Lebanese splinter groups, not Hezbollah, were responsible. He said the government had no interest in renewing hostilities.

"Even though we have the ability to respond with great force, the response needs to be carefully considered and responsible," Sheetrit told Army Radio. "We don't need to play into their hands."

Shortly after the first rockets fell around the town of Nahariya, five miles south of the Lebanese border, Lebanese TV stations reported Israeli mortar fire on open areas in southern Lebanon. The Israeli military confirmed it carried out "pinpoint fire" in response without elaborating.

Israeli defense commentators said they expected the rocket fire to be a one-time show of solidarity with the Palestinians, not a declaration of war. Still, police said public bomb shelters throughout the north were opened.

Palestinians reported some two dozen airstrikes in Gaza on Thursday. One militant was killed and 10 wounded in Gaza City, while an airstrike in northern Gaza killed three members of a rocket-launching cell, Palestinian medical officials said. The attack took place about 150 yards from a hospital and wounded 12 bystanders. The Israeli army has repeatedly said militants use civilian areas for cover.

Nine other Palestinians were killed in separate incidents, including three civilians en elderly man and two women who were fleeing their homes in northern Gaza, officials said.

In Geneva, the international Red Cross said it found four small children alive next to their mothers' bodies in the rubble of a Gaza home hit by Israeli shelling. The neutral aid group says a total of 15 dead were recovered from two houses in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City on Wednesday.

A Red Cross spokesman says rescuers had been refused permission by Israeli forces to reach the site for four days. It said the delay in allowing rescue services access was"unacceptable."

The Israeli offensive has reduced Palestinian rocket fire, but not stopped it altogether. Several barrages were reported Thursday, including one strike that damaged a school and sports center in the southern city of Ashkelon, police said. Both buildings were empty.

For a second day, Israel's Defense Ministry said the offensive was halted for three hours to allow Gaza residents to stock up on supplies and to allow aid shipments into the besieged area. Ministry spokesman Peter Lerner also said some 300 Palestinian holders of foreign passports would be allowed to leave.

The lull appears to be in response to international pressure on Israel to try relieve civilian suffering in Gaza. U.N. spokesman Chris Gunness said three hours was "wholly inadequate" and would not be enough to relieve widespread food and water shortages.

After Wednesday's lull, Israel quickly resumed its offensive, bombing suspected smuggling tunnels near the border with Egypt after Hamas responded with a rocket barrage. Israeli planes destroyed at least 16 empty houses.

The tunnels are Hamas' lifeline, used to bring in arms, money and basic goods. Israel says local homes are used to conceal the tunnels.

Of the Palestinians killed since Dec. 27, some 350 were civilians, among them 130 children, according to Palestinian medical officials. Eleven Israelis have been killed, including three civilians, since the offensive began. The army said Thursday that an infantry officer was killed by an anti-tank missile.

Growing international outrage over the human toll of Israel's offensive, which includes 3,000 Palestinians wounded could work against continued fighting. So could President Bush's departure from office this month and a Feb. 10 election in Israel.

But Israel has a big interest in inflicting as much damage as possible on Hamas, both to stop militant rocket fire on southern Israeli towns and to diminish the group's ability to play a spoiler role in peace talks with Palestinian moderates.

Despite the heavy fighting, strides appeared to be made on the diplomatic front with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice saying the U.S. supported a deal being brokered by France and Egypt.

While the U.N. Security Council failed to reach agreement on a cease-fire resolution, Egypt's U.N. Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz said representatives of Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority agreed to meet separately with Egyptian officials in Cairo.

Israeli envoys arrived in Egypt on Thursday to discuss the proposal.

For Israel to accept a proposed cease-fire deal, "there has to be a total and complete cessation of all hostile fire from Gaza into Israel, and ... we have to see an arms embargo on Hamas that will receive international support," said government spokesman Mark Regev.

For its part, Hamas said it would not accept a truce deal unless it includes an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza something Israel says it is not willing to do. Israel and Egypt have maintained a stiff economic embargo on Gaza since the Hamas takeover.

The Palestinian Authority controls the West Bank while Hamas rules Gaza two territories on opposite sides of Israel that are supposed to make up a future Palestinian state. Hamas took control of Gaza from forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in June 2007.

The Israeli Cabinet formally decided on Wednesday to push ahead with the offensive while at the same time pursuing the cease-fire.

The military has called up thousands of reserve troops that it could use to expand the Gaza offensive. Defense officials said the troops could be ready for action by Friday.

In Geneva, the international Red Cross said it found four small children alive next to their mothers' bodies in the rubble of a Gaza home hit by Israeli shelling. The neutral aid group says a total of 15 dead were recovered from two houses in the Zaytun neighborhood of Gaza City on Wednesday.

A Red Cross spokesman said rescuers had been refused permission by Israeli forces to reach the site for four days. It said the delay in allowing rescue services access was "unacceptable."

___

Weizman reported from Jerusalem and Barzak from Gaza City. Associated Press writer Sam F. Ghattas contributed to this report from Beirut, Lebanon.
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« Reply #48 on: January 08, 2009, 07:44:37 am »










                         How Israel brought Gaza to the brink of humanitarian catastrophe






Oxford professor of international relations Avi Shlaim served in the Israeli army and has never questioned the state's legitimacy.

But its merciless assault on Gaza has led him to devastating conclusions



Avi Shlaim
The Guardian, UK
Wednesday 7 January 2009

The only way to make sense of Israel's senseless war in Gaza is through understanding the historical context. Establishing the state of Israel in May 1948 involved a monumental injustice to the Palestinians. British officials bitterly resented American partisanship on behalf of the infant state. On 2 June 1948, Sir John Troutbeck wrote to the foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, that the Americans were responsible for the creation of a gangster state headed by "an utterly unscrupulous set of leaders". I used to think that this judgment was too harsh but Israel's vicious assault on the people of Gaza, and the Bush administration's complicity in this assault, have reopened the question.

I write as someone who served loyally in the Israeli army in the mid-1960s and who has never questioned the legitimacy of the state of Israel within its pre-1967 borders. What I utterly reject is the Zionist colonial project beyond the Green Line. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the aftermath of the June 1967 war had very little to do with security and everything to do with territorial expansionism. The aim was to establish Greater Israel through permanent political, economic and military control over the Palestinian territories. And the result has been one of the most prolonged and brutal military occupations of modern times.

Four decades of Israeli control did incalculable damage to the economy of the Gaza Strip. With a large population of 1948 refugees crammed into a tiny strip of land, with no infrastructure or natural resources, Gaza's prospects were never bright. Gaza, however, is not simply a case of economic under-development but a uniquely cruel case of deliberate de-development. To use the Biblical phrase, Israel turned the people of Gaza into the hewers of wood and the drawers of water, into a source of cheap labour and a captive market for Israeli goods. The development of local industry was actively impeded so as to make it impossible for the Palestinians to end their subordination to Israel and to establish the economic underpinnings essential for real political independence.

Gaza is a classic case of colonial exploitation in the post-colonial era. Jewish settlements in occupied territories are immoral, illegal and an insurmountable obstacle to peace. They are at once the instrument of exploitation and the symbol of the hated occupation. In Gaza, the Jewish settlers numbered only 8,000 in 2005 compared with 1.4 million local residents. Yet the settlers controlled 25% of the territory, 40% of the arable land and the lion's share of the scarce water resources. Cheek by jowl with these foreign intruders, the majority of the local population lived in abject poverty and unimaginable misery. Eighty per cent of them still subsist on less than $2 a day. The living conditions in the strip remain an affront to civilised values, a powerful precipitant to resistance and a fertile breeding ground for political extremism.

In August 2005 a Likud government headed by Ariel Sharon staged a unilateral Israeli pullout from Gaza, withdrawing all 8,000 settlers and destroying the houses and farms they had left behind. Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement, conducted an effective campaign to drive the Israelis out of Gaza. The withdrawal was a humiliation for the Israeli Defence Forces. To the world, Sharon presented the withdrawal from Gaza as a contribution to peace based on a two-state solution. But in the year after, another 12,000 Israelis settled on the West Bank, further reducing the scope for an independent Palestinian state. Land-grabbing and peace-making are simply incompatible. Israel had a choice and it chose land over peace.

The real purpose behind the move was to redraw unilaterally the borders of Greater Israel by incorporating the main settlement blocs on the West Bank to the state of Israel. Withdrawal from Gaza was thus not a prelude to a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority but a prelude to further Zionist expansion on the West Bank. It was a unilateral Israeli move undertaken in what was seen, mistakenly in my view, as an Israeli national interest. Anchored in a fundamental rejection of the Palestinian national identity, the withdrawal from Gaza was part of a long-term effort to deny the Palestinian people any independent political existence on their land.

Israel's settlers were withdrawn but Israeli soldiers continued to control all access to the Gaza Strip by land, sea and air. Gaza was converted overnight into an open-air prison. From this point on, the Israeli air force enjoyed unrestricted freedom to drop bombs, to make sonic booms by flying low and breaking the sound barrier, and to terrorise the hapless inhabitants of this prison.

Israel likes to portray itself as an island of democracy in a sea of authoritarianism. Yet Israel has never in its entire history done anything to promote democracy on the Arab side and has done a great deal to undermine it. Israel has a long history of secret collaboration with reactionary Arab regimes to suppress Palestinian nationalism. Despite all the handicaps, the Palestinian people succeeded in building the only genuine democracy in the Arab world with the possible exception of Lebanon. In January 2006, free and fair elections for the Legislative Council of the Palestinian Authority brought to power a Hamas-led government. Israel, however, refused to recognise the democratically elected government, claiming that Hamas is purely and simply a terrorist organisation.

America and the EU shamelessly joined Israel in ostracising and demonising the Hamas government and in trying to bring it down by withholding tax revenues and foreign aid. A surreal situation thus developed with a significant part of the international community imposing economic sanctions not against the occupier but against the occupied, not against the oppressor but against the oppressed.

As so often in the tragic history of Palestine, the victims were blamed for their own misfortunes. Israel's propaganda machine persistently purveyed the notion that the Palestinians are terrorists, that they reject coexistence with the Jewish state, that their nationalism is little more than antisemitism, that Hamas is just a bunch of religious fanatics and that Islam is incompatible with democracy. But the simple truth is that the Palestinian people are a normal people with normal aspirations. They are no better but they are no worse than any other national group. What they aspire to, above all, is a piece of land to call their own on which to live in freedom and dignity.

Like other radical movements, Hamas began to moderate its political programme following its rise to power. From the ideological rejectionism of its charter, it began to move towards pragmatic accommodation of a two-state solution. In March 2007, Hamas and Fatah formed a national unity government that was ready to negotiate a long-term ceasefire with Israel. Israel, however, refused to negotiate with a government that included Hamas.

It continued to play the old game of divide and rule between rival Palestinian factions. In the late 1980s, Israel had supported the nascent Hamas in order to weaken Fatah, the secular nationalist movement led by Yasser Arafat. Now Israel began to encourage the corrupt and pliant Fatah leaders to overthrow their religious political rivals and recapture power. Aggressive American neoconservatives participated in the sinister plot to instigate a Palestinian civil war. Their meddling was a major factor in the collapse of the national unity government and in driving Hamas to seize power in Gaza in June 2007 to pre-empt a Fatah coup.

The war unleashed by Israel on Gaza on 27 December was the culmination of a series of clashes and confrontations with the Hamas government. In a broader sense, however, it is a war between Israel and the Palestinian people, because the people had elected the party to power. The declared aim of the war is to weaken Hamas and to intensify the pressure until its leaders agree to a new ceasefire on Israel's terms. The undeclared aim is to ensure that the Palestinians in Gaza are seen by the world simply as a humanitarian problem and thus to derail their struggle for independence and statehood.

The timing of the war was determined by political expediency. A general election is scheduled for 10 February and, in the lead-up to the election, all the main contenders are looking for an opportunity to prove their toughness. The army top brass had been champing at the bit to deliver a crushing blow to Hamas in order to remove the stain left on their reputation by the failure of the war against Hezbollah in Lebanon in July 2006. Israel's cynical leaders could also count on apathy and impotence of the pro-western Arab regimes and on blind support from President Bush in the twilight of his term in the White House. Bush readily obliged by putting all the blame for the crisis on Hamas, vetoing proposals at the UN Security Council for an immediate ceasefire and issuing Israel with a free pass to mount a ground invasion of Gaza.

As always, mighty Israel claims to be the victim of Palestinian aggression but the sheer asymmetry of power between the two sides leaves little room for doubt as to who is the real victim. This is indeed a conflict between David and Goliath but the Biblical image has been inverted - a small and defenceless Palestinian David faces a heavily armed, merciless and overbearing Israeli Goliath. The resort to brute military force is accompanied, as always, by the shrill rhetoric of victimhood and a farrago of self-pity overlaid with self-righteousness. In Hebrew this is known as the syndrome of bokhim ve-yorim, "crying and shooting".

To be sure, Hamas is not an entirely innocent party in this conflict. Denied the fruit of its electoral victory and confronted with an unscrupulous adversary, it has resorted to the weapon of the weak - terror. Militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad kept launching Qassam rocket attacks against Israeli settlements near the border with Gaza until Egypt brokered a six-month ceasefire last June. The damage caused by these primitive rockets is minimal but the psychological impact is immense, prompting the public to demand protection from its government. Under the circumstances, Israel had the right to act in self-defence but its response to the pinpricks of rocket attacks was totally disproportionate. The figures speak for themselves. In the three years after the withdrawal from Gaza, 11 Israelis were killed by rocket fire. On the other hand, in 2005-7 alone, the IDF killed 1,290 Palestinians in Gaza, including 222 children.

Whatever the numbers, killing civilians is wrong. This rule applies to Israel as much as it does to Hamas, but Israel's entire record is one of unbridled and unremitting brutality towards the inhabitants of Gaza. Israel also maintained the blockade of Gaza after the ceasefire came into force which, in the view of the Hamas leaders, amounted to a violation of the agreement. During the ceasefire, Israel prevented any exports from leaving the strip in clear violation of a 2005 accord, leading to a sharp drop in employment opportunities. Officially, 49.1% of the population is unemployed. At the same time, Israel restricted drastically the number of trucks carrying food, fuel, cooking-gas canisters, spare parts for water and sanitation plants, and medical supplies to Gaza. It is difficult to see how starving and freezing the civilians of Gaza could protect the people on the Israeli side of the border. But even if it did, it would still be immoral, a form of collective punishment that is strictly forbidden by international humanitarian law.

The brutality of Israel's soldiers is fully matched by the mendacity of its spokesmen. Eight months before launching the current war on Gaza, Israel established a National Information Directorate. The core messages of this directorate to the media are that Hamas broke the ceasefire agreements; that Israel's objective is the defence of its population; and that Israel's forces are taking the utmost care not to hurt innocent civilians. Israel's spin doctors have been remarkably successful in getting this message across. But, in essence, their propaganda is a pack of lies.

A wide gap separates the reality of Israel's actions from the rhetoric of its spokesmen. It was not Hamas but the IDF that broke the ceasefire. It di d so by a raid into Gaza on 4 November that killed six Hamas men. Israel's objective is not just the defence of its population but the eventual overthrow of the Hamas government in Gaza by turning the people against their rulers. And far from taking care to spare civilians, Israel is guilty of indiscriminate bombing and of a three-year-old blockade that has brought the inhabitants of Gaza, now 1.5 million, to the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe.

The Biblical injunction of an eye for an eye is savage enough. But Israel's insane offensive against Gaza seems to follow the logic of an eye for an eyelash. After eight days of bombing, with a death toll of more than 400 Palestinians and four Israelis, the gung-ho cabinet ordered a land invasion of Gaza the consequences of which are incalculable.

No amount of military escalation can buy Israel immunity from rocket attacks from the military wing of Hamas. Despite all the death and destruction that Israel has inflicted on them, they kept up their resistance and they kept firing their rockets. This is a movement that glorifies victimhood and martyrdom. There is simply no military solution to the conflict between the two communities. The problem with Israel's concept of security is that it denies even the most elementary security to the other community. The only way for Israel to achieve security is not through shooting but through talks with Hamas, which has repeatedly declared its readiness to negotiate a long-term ceasefire with the Jewish state within its pre-1967 borders for 20, 30, or even 50 years. Israel has rejected this offer for the same reason it spurned the Arab League peace plan of 2002, which is still on the table: it involves concessions and compromises.

This brief review of Israel's record over the past four decades makes it difficult to resist the conclusion that it has become a rogue state with "an utterly unscrupulous set of leaders". A rogue state habitually violates international law, possesses weapons of mass destruction and practises terrorism - the use of violence against civilians for political purposes. Israel fulfils all of these three criteria; the cap fits and it must wear it. Israel's real aim is not peaceful coexistence with its Palestinian neighbours but military domination. It keeps compounding the mistakes of the past with new and more disastrous ones. Politicians, like everyone else, are of course free to repeat the lies and mistakes of the past. But it is not mandatory to do so.



Avi Shlaim is a professor of international relations at
the University of Oxford
and the author of
The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World and of
Lion of Jordan: King Hussein's Life in War and Peace.
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« Reply #49 on: January 08, 2009, 08:05:09 am »










                           Israel's Gaza invasion provokes protests throughout Latin America


   



Tyler Bridges,
Mcclatchy Newspapers
Wed Jan 7, 2009
CARACAS,
Venezuela

Opposition to Israel's invasion of the Gaza Strip is heating up throughout Latin America .

Venezuela has expelled Israel's ambassador. Guatemala and Colombia have called on Israel to stop fighting and begin immediate peace talks. Demonstrators in Argentina , El Salvador and Bolivia have condemned the invasion. Brazil is sending aid to victims.

"There is a tradition in Latin America of rejecting violence to solve any international conflict," said Adrian Bonilla , the director of the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences in Ecuador . "There is also a tradition of supporting the weakest country in a conflict since most Latin American countries have been part of the Third World network. Another factor is that Israel is a close ally of the United States ."

Not surprisingly, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez has taken the harshest stance. On Tuesday, he kicked out Israel's ambassador and diplomatic staff. The Palestinian militant Islamist group Hamas applauded the move on Wednesday as a "courageous step."

Chavez on Wednesday showed the photograph of a Palestinian child killed by Israeli bombs and said Israeli leaders should be tried for killing innocent men, women and children.

"Behind Israel is the American empire," Chavez said.

Chavez questioned why President-elect Barack Obama "until now hasn't said anything" about Israel's aggression.

Abraham Levy , the president of the Confederation of Israeli Associations in Venezuela , said Wednesday that he found Chavez's comments "worrisome." He noted that Israel and Venezuela had warm relations until Chavez began seeking close ties with Iran and denounced Israel's 2006 invasion of Lebanon .

Some 15,000 Jews live in Venezuela .

The biggest protest in Latin America has taken place in Argentina , where some 20,000 people marched Tuesday from the Obelisk in downtown Buenos Aires to the Israeli Embassy . Arab and student groups organized the march, along with the Argentine Communist Party and the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a human rights organization.

The protesters carried Palestinian, Iraqi and Lebanese flags and signs saying " Israel : Leave Gaza now" and "We are all Palestinians." The march was peaceful, but some of the protesters threw paint and shoes against the embassy.

"The fifth largest army of the world is fighting against a helpless society," Alejandro Salomon , the president of the Confederation of Argentina Arab Entities , said in an interview Wednesday. "We are protesting against the small effort made by the international community to stop this manslaughter."

Jews are planning a pro- Israel countermarch in Buenos Aires on Thursday, ending at a building destroyed by Arab terrorists in a 1994 car bombing that killed nearly 100 people. With an estimated 240,000 Jews, Buenos Aires is said to be the second biggest home of Jews in the Americas after New York City .

A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Argentina , Iftaf Curiel, told the Jewish News Agency that Argentinians should support the "moderate elements of the (Middle Eastern) region Israel , the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Jordan that are confronting the extreme elements of Iran , Hezbollah and Hamas ."

Israeli officials have said they launched the Gaza invasion on Dec. 27 as a defensive measure to halt rocket fire from Hamas militants.

Televised images of the carnage have been shown throughout Latin America , especially on Telesur, the region-wide television network financed by the Venezuelan government. The attacks have killed some 600 Palestinians, including children.

The invasion seems to be winning Israel few friends in Latin America .

Colombia's foreign minister, Jaime Bermudez , called on Israel to end "all types of military aggression" and to undertake dialogue with Palestinians.

Guatemala demanded an immediate end to the invasion in Gaza and said Israel needs to begin respecting international law and allowing greater humanitarian aid to victims.

Lawmakers in Ecuador condemned Israel's action and called for an international investigation of "crimes against humanity."

About 100 people in San Salvador , mostly dressed in white, held a peaceful protest in front of the Israeli Embassy on Wednesday. Dozens more protested in Sao Paulo, Brazil .

In Bolivia , which became a way station for Jews escaping the Nazis during World War II, about 100 Palestinians and Arabs marched on Tuesday to protest the violence.

Meanwhile, the Brazilian government announced on Wednesday that it would send 14 tons of food and medicine for victims in Gaza .

Despite the harsh verbal attacks by some governments and protesters, Jews say they face little anti-Semitism in Latin America on a daily basis.

"My experience has been generally very positive," said David Handel , an American Jew based in La Paz, Bolivia , who has conducted orchestras throughout Latin America .
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« Reply #50 on: January 08, 2009, 08:09:17 am »










                                             Can Israel Survive Its Assault on Gaza?
     





Tim Mcgirk
Time.com
Jerusalem
Thu Jan 8, 2009

As Israeli troops encircle Gaza City, their commanders are faced with a painful dilemma: How far must they advance into the deadly labyrinth of slums and refugee camps where Hamas militants await with booby-trapped houses and snipers? With each passing day, Israel's war against Hamas grows riskier and more punishing, with the gains appearing to diminish compared to the spiraling costs - to Israel's moral stature, to the lives of Palestinian civilians and to the world's hopes that an ancient conflict can ever be resolved. Ideally, in a war shaped by television images, Israelis would like a tableau of surrender: grimy Hamas commanders crawling from underground bunkers with their hands up. Instead, the deaths of at least 40 civilians taking shelter at a United Nations-run school north of Gaza City are more likely to become the dominant image of the war. Israeli politicians and generals know that the total elimination of Hamas' entrenched military command could take weeks; it might be altogether impossible. The more realistic outcome is an unsatisfactory, brokered truce that leaves Hamas wounded but alive and able to regenerate - and Israel only temporarily safe from attack.


Israel's Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, has promised a "war to the bitter end." But after 60 years of struggle to defend their existence against foreign threats and enemies within, many Israelis may be wondering, Where does that end lie? The threat posed by Hamas is only the most immediate of the many interlocking challenges facing Israel, some of which cast dark shadows over the long-term viability of a democratic Jewish state. The offensive in Gaza may degrade Hamas' ability to menace southern Israel with rocket fire, but, as with Israel's 2006 war against Hizballah, the application of force won't extinguish the militants' ideological fervor. The anti-Israeli anger swelling in the region has made it more difficult for Arab governments to join Israel in its efforts to deal with Iran, the patron of both Hamas and Hizballah and a state whose leaders have sworn to eliminate Israel and appear determined to acquire nuclear weapons. (See pictures of grief in the Middle East.)


Just as ominous for many Israelis is a ticking demographic time bomb: the likelihood that Arabs will vastly outnumber Jews in the land stretching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean is a catastrophic prospect for a nation that defines itself by its faith. At some point, Israelis will have to choose between living with an independent Palestinian state or watching Jews become a minority in their own land.


As much as any other nation on earth, Israel is based on a dream: the aspiration to establish a home for the Jews in the birthplace of their ancestors. To a remarkable extent, that dream has been fulfilled, as Israel has grown into the most modern and democratic country in the Middle East and a dependable American ally. A strong, confident Israel is in America's interest, but so is one that can find peace with its neighbors, cooperate with the Arabs to contain common threats and, most important, reach a just and lasting solution with the Palestinians. But accomplishing all that will require Israel and its defenders to confront excruciating dilemmas: How do you make peace with those who don't seem to want it? How do you win a war when the other side believes time is on its side? And what would true security, in a hostile neighborhood populated with enemies, actually look like? As is always true in the Middle East, there are no easy answers. But it's never been more vital that Israel start looking for them.
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« Reply #51 on: January 08, 2009, 08:11:06 am »









How to Deal with Hamas



The most immediate challenge facing Israel is that posed by Hamas. Gaza's tragedy has for days been playing out on the world's TV sets. By Jan. 7, more than 700 Palestinians, many of them noncombatants, had been killed. But there's something tragic, too, in Israel's predicament: in any confrontation with its enemies, it is damned if it does and doomed if it doesn't. Across Israel's political spectrum there seems to be a consensus that Hamas' provocative rocket barrages could not go unanswered - though whether Israel's response has been proportional to the threat is, at the least, questionable.

Perhaps more threatening than the rockets themselves was the doubt they cast over Israel's vaunted power of deterrence, which is key to keeping its hostile neighbors at bay. That power was badly eroded in 2006, when Hizballah was able to withstand the Israeli onslaught, force a cease-fire and claim victory in the process. That surely emboldened Hamas, which intermittently sent rockets into southern Israel and finally prompted Israel to respond in force. As respected Israeli columnist Nahum Barnea wrote in the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth, "A country that is afraid to deal with Hamas won't be able either to deter Iran or to safeguard its interests in dealing with Syria, Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority."


But the cold reality is that eventually Israel may need to look not to "deal" with Hamas so much as do a deal with it. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said he doesn't intend to topple Hamas; he knows Israel can't fill the vacuum of leadership that its elimination would produce in Gaza. Neither can Mahmoud Abbas, Israel's preferred Palestinian leader, who is fading into the background in the West Bank. So Israel has said it will be satisfied if Hamas stops shooting rockets and an international force polices the Egyptian border to keep the militants from re-arming themselves with weapons smuggled through tunnels.


Hamas says it will agree to a truce if Israel retreats from Gaza and loosens the economic choke hold that has strangled the 1.5 million Palestinians who live on the sliver of land along the Mediterranean. After weeks of global outrage over the unfolding humanitarian disaster in Gaza, any mediator - France, the European Union, Turkey and Egypt are all auditioning for the role - will insist that Israel end its 18-month blockade.


What then? Like Hizballah, Hamas will declare itself victorious: not only will it have survived a direct assault by a far superior military force, but it will also have freed Gazans from Israeli tyranny. As an added bonus, any economic revival of Gaza would put money into Hamas' coffers. But Israel would gain some breathing space and force Hamas to prove it can actually govern and maintain stability in Gaza rather than heap blame entirely on Israel.
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« Reply #52 on: January 08, 2009, 08:12:12 am »









The Specter of Iran



One indirect objective of the Gaza offensive might have been to warn off Israel's other nonstate militant foe: Hizballah. While the Lebanese group has been cheering on Hamas from the sidelines, it has refrained from entering the fray. Hizballah may have a stockpile of new rockets, but Israeli generals hope Gaza will serve as a cautionary example of what would happen if it used them. This is a reassuring thought, but it remains to be tested. After all, Hizballah's rockets have only one purpose, and that is to be used against Israel.


The broader aim of the Gaza war, Israeli security experts argue, was to send a message to Hamas' sponsor, Iran. It's certainly true that the assault has broken the Iranian pipeline that delivered weapons and funds to the militants. But by killing hundreds of Palestinians, Israel may have undermined its hopes of forming common cause with moderate Sunni Arab states against the nuclear ambitions of Shi'ite Iran.


The Gaza offensive has greatly weakened Israel's few Arab allies. Moderate Arab countries that were edging closer to recognition of the Jewish state are now recoiling from what they see as the slaughter of fellow Arabs in Gaza. In Egypt, pro-Gaza protests turned into thinly veiled attacks on President Hosni Mubarak's rule, which has helped maintain the blockade of Gaza. The pressure may force Mubarak to support a truce that entails opening the Egypt-Gaza border as Hamas demands, but he is unlikely to soften his position on the Palestinian group that maintains links with Egyptian Islamists as well as the Iranian regime.


But how far Arab states will be willing to go now to make peace with Israel is unclear. The Saudi-sponsored Arab Peace Plan, which offered Israel peace with 22 Arab countries if it withdrew to its 1967 borders, will remain on the table for Israel's new PM to consider. Even Syria, a prime supporter of Hamas, spent part of 2008 in indirect peace talks with Israel mediated by Turkey. But Syria has broken off its talks for now, destroying any chance that Damascus, on behalf of Israel, might put pressure on the exiled Hamas leaders residing there.
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« Reply #53 on: January 08, 2009, 08:13:17 am »









Confronting the Danger Within



Even in a dangerous neighborhood, it is possible to imagine that, secure in its military power, Israel could continue for years in a state of neither all-out war nor true peace, always willing to fight bitter but limited conflicts of the kind it did in Lebanon and Gaza. But military might would be useless against the threat that looms within its borders. Israel's population of 7.1 million is today divided into 5.4 million Jews and 1.6 million Arabs. But if you include Arabs in Gaza and the West Bank, they may already have a slender majority; and given their higher birthrate, the gap will widen quickly. This tectonic shift in demographics is what scared even hawkish Israelis like former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon into abandoning the biblical dreams of a Greater Israel stretching all the way from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean. As Olmert recently warned, "If we are determined to preserve the Jewish and democratic character of the state of Israel, we must inevitably relinquish, with great pain, parts of our homeland." In other words, if Israelis cling to the West Bank and Gaza, as many religious Zionists insist, Jews will find themselves a shrinking minority in their own state.

Not only would Israel cease to be a Jewish state, it would no longer be a democratic one either, unless Arabs are given a fair share of power. A few bold Arab intellectuals are saying Palestinians should abandon the idea of a two-state solution and just wait until they outnumber the Jews. That would take decades, and it may rest more on wishful thinking by Palestinians than a real calculation of political reality. But the population shift underscores a plain fact: for Israel, the status quo won't be good enough for much longer.
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« Reply #54 on: January 08, 2009, 08:14:52 am »









A Road Map for Survival
The path to a workable peace, one with a Palestinian state alongside Israel and both with internationally recognized borders, has long been well known. A succession of Israeli and Palestinian leaders have been reluctant to take it. Israelis have doubted that they had a partner who could deliver them peace; aside from being plagued by disunity, the Palestinians have been unwilling to modify their demands that Palestinian refugees be allowed to return to their ancient homes inside Israel, which Israel will never accept. With a general election looming in Israel - polls suggest that the hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu is likely to become the next Prime Minister - there is an opportunity to start talking again.

Israel's leaders need to recognize that if Hamas cannot be beaten militarily, then it must be engaged politically. That means accepting the idea of dealing with some kind of Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas. A coalition between Hamas and Abbas is essential for the future of a Palestinian state and for moderating Hamas' extremism. Hamas, which 18 months ago chased Abbas' men from Gaza, says it will pair up with Abbas if he, along with the international community, recognizes that the Islamic militants legitimately came to power in the January 2006 elections. Israelis rightly view such claims with skepticism, and yet all Palestinians and their Arab backers reject the current situation, where the meager land set aside for a future state is chopped into two, Gaza and the West Bank, ruled by rivals.

A new Administration in Washington has a chance to be both supportive of Israel and honest with it. Over the past three years, many Israelis have told me that President George W. Bush was too good a friend of theirs. He gave Israelis all they wanted but didn't rein them in when they needed it. Israel eventually will have to pull back to the 1967 borders and dismantle many of the settlements on the Palestinian side, no matter how loudly its ultra-religious parties protest. Only then will the Palestinians and the other Arab states agree to a durable peace. It's as simple as that. But for 60 years, in the Holy Land, there has been a yawning gap between what was simple and what could be achieved.




With reporting by

Jamil Hamad / Ramallah,
Aaron J. Klein / Gaza Border and
Scott Macleod / Cairo

Time.com
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« Reply #55 on: January 08, 2009, 09:31:48 am »









                                                Israel accused over Gaza wounded 





 
BBC News
Jan. 8, 2009

Thursday's Israeli bombardment was the heaviest so far.

The Red Cross has accused Israel of failing to fulfil its obligation to help wounded civilians in Gaza.

ICRC staff found four weak and scared children beside their mothers' bodies in houses hit by shelling in Zeitoun.

The Israeli military has not yet responded to the accusation, but said it worked closely with aid groups so that civilians could get assistance.

Meanwhile the UN said it was suspending aid operations in Gaza because of the danger to staff from Israeli attacks.

"We have suspended our operations in Gaza until the Israeli authorities can guarantee our safety and security," said Chris Gunness, spokesman for the United Nations relief agency Unwra.

"Our installations have been hit, our workers have been killed in spite of the fact that the Israeli authorities have the co-ordinates of our facilities and that all our movements are co-ordinated with the Israeli army.

"It is with great regret that Unwra has been forced to make this difficult decision."

Earlier, Unwra said one person had been killed and two injured when a fork-lift truck on a UN aid mission came under Israeli tank fire at Gaza's Erez crossing.

  The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded - neither did they make it possible for us or the Palestinian Red Crescent to assist the wounded


Unwra said the delivery had been co-ordinated with Israel, the Associated Press news agency reports.

The Israeli army has not commented on that claim but has said it was looking into it.

The aid agencies' concerns come amid fears the conflict with Gaza militants may spread, with rockets fired on Israel from Lebanon.

At least three rockets were fired into northern Israel, prompting Israel to reply with artillery.

The incident followed Israel's heaviest bombardment so far on Gaza in nearly two weeks of conflict, with 60 air strikes targeting Hamas facilities.

Israeli forces observed a three-hour pause in fighting to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza.

The first of what was promised to be a daily ceasefire - on Wednesday - allowed aid agencies into the territory for the first time in days.

Efforts have continued to broker a full ceasefire - a senior Israeli official is in Cairo to hear details of a plan put forward by Egypt and France.

A Hamas delegation is expected in the Egyptian capital at some stage for parallel "technical" talks, Egyptian diplomats said.
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« Reply #56 on: January 08, 2009, 09:33:56 am »









'Access denied'



The International Committee of the Red Cross accused Israel of failing in its international obligations after its staff were met with "shocking" scenes.

 
One medical team found 12 bodies in a shelled house, and alongside them four very young children, too weak to stand, waiting by their dead mothers, the ICRC said.


Aid workers had been denied access to the site for days, it added.

"This is a shocking incident," Pierre Wettach, ICRC head for Israel and the Palestinian territories said in a statement.

"The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded. Neither did they make it possible for us or the Palestinian Red Crescent to assist the wounded."

Correspondents say the criticism is unusually strong, coming from an agency considered to be neutral.

The Israeli army told Reuters news agency that any serious allegations would be properly investigated once a formal complaint was received.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International accused both sides of using civilians as human shields.

"Israeli soldiers have entered and taken up positions in a number of Palestinian homes, forcing families to stay in a ground floor room while they use the rest of their house as a military base and sniper position," it said in a statement.

While Palestinian families reported that in some cases Palestinian gunmen agreed to leave areas near civilian homes without firing at Israeli forces, the statement went on, "in other cases they have refused the residents' requests and only left after firing".






Nursing home



At least three Katyusha rockets were fired from southern Lebanon into the northern Israeli area of Nahariya early on Thursday.
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« Reply #57 on: January 08, 2009, 10:37:33 pm »



             









                                                      UN: 257 Palestinian children killed in Gaza






Associated Press
Writer Ibrahim Barzak And
Karin Laub,
Associated Press Writer
Thu Jan 8, 2009

Tiny bodies lying side by side wrapped in white burial shrouds. The cherubic face of a dead preschooler sticking up from the rubble of her home. A man cradling a wounded boy in a chaotic emergency room after Israel shelled a U.N. school.

Children, who make up more than half of crowded Gaza's 1.4 million people, are the most defenseless victims of the war between Israel and Hamas. The Israeli army has unleashed unprecedented force in its campaign against Hamas militants, who have been taking cover among civilians.

A photo of 4-year-old Kaukab Al Dayah, just her bloodied head sticking out from the rubble of her home, covered many front pages in the Arab world Wednesday. "This is Israel," read the headline in the Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm. The preschooler was killed early Tuesday when an F-16 attacked her family's four-story home in Gaza City. Four adults also died.

As many as 257 children have been killed and 1,080 wounded about a third of the total casualties since Dec. 27, according to U.N. figures released Thursday.

Hardest on the children is the sense that nowhere is safe and adults can't protect them, said Iyad Sarraj, a psychologist hunkering down in his Gaza City apartment with his four stepchildren, ages 3-17. His 10-year-old, Adam, is terrified during bombing raids and has developed asthma attacks, Sarraj said.

Israel says it is targeting Hamas in response to its repeated rocket attacks on southern Israel, and is doing its utmost to avoid civilian deaths. However, foreign aid officials note that civilians can't escape blockaded Gaza and that bombing crowded areas inevitably leads to civilian casualties. The Israeli military has used tank and artillery shells, as well as large aerial bombs.

In the Shati refugee camp on the Mediterranean, 10 boys were playing football in an alley Thursday when a shell from an Israeli gunboat hit a nearby Hamas prison.

At the sound of the explosion, one of the older boys whistled, a signal to interrupt the game. Several players took cover with their backs pressed against a wall. After a minute or two, the game resumed.

Samih Hilal, 14, said he sneaked out of his grandfather's house against the orders of his worried father. The house was crowded with relatives who fled more dangerous areas, he said, and he couldn't stand being cooped up for so many hours.

"Do you think we are not afraid? Yes, we are. But we have nothing to do but play," Samih said.

Another boy, 13-year-old Yasser, waved toward the unmanned Israeli drones in a defiant gesture, instead of seeking cover during the shelling. "There is nothing we can do. Even if we run away here or there, their shells are faster than us," he said.

Indeed, all of Gaza has become dangerous ground.

Children have been killed in strikes on their houses, while riding in cars with their parents, while playing in the streets, walking to a grocery and even at U.N. shelters.

Sayed, Mohammed and Raida Abu Aisheh ages 12, 8 and 7 were at home with their parents when they were all killed in an Israeli airstrike before dawn Monday. The family had remained in the ground floor apartment of their three-story building, while the rest of the extended clan sought refuge in the basement from heavy bombardment of nearby Hamas installations.

Those in the basement survived. The children's uncle, Saber Abu Aisheh, 49, searched Thursday through the rubble, a heap of cement blocks, mattresses, scorched furniture and smashed TVs.

He said Israel gave no warning, unlike two years earlier when he received repeated calls from the Israeli military, including on his cell phone, that a nearby house was going to get hit and that he should evacuate.

"What's going on is not a war, it's a mass killing," said Abu Aisheh, still wearing the blood-splattered olive-colored sweater he wore the night of the airstrike.
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« Reply #58 on: January 08, 2009, 10:43:21 pm »









The Israeli military did not comment when asked why the Abu Aisheh house was targeted.

In the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City, medics found four young children next to their dead mothers in a house, according to the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross. "They were too weak to stand up on their own," the statement said.

The Red Cross did not say what happened to the children, but noted that the Israeli army refused rescuers permission to reach the neighborhood for four days. Israel said the delay was caused by fighting.

Medic Mohammed Azayzeh said he retrieved the bodies of a man and his two young sons from central Gaza on Wednesday. One of the boys, a 1-year-old, was cradled in his father's arms.

In the Jebaliya refugee camp, five sisters from the Balousha family, ages 4, 8, 11, 14 and 17, were buried together in white shrouds on Dec. 29. An Israeli airstrike on a mosque, presumably a Hamas target, had destroyed their adjacent house. Only their parents and a baby girl survived.

Israel accuses Hamas of cynically exploiting Gaza's civilians and using them as human shields. The military has released video footage showing militants firing mortars from the rooftops of homes and mosques.

"Israel wants to see no harm to the children of Gaza," said Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev. "On the contrary, we would like to see their children and our children grow up without the fear of violence. Until now, Hamas has deliberately prevented that from becoming reality."

Rocket fire from Gaza has disrupted life in Israeli border communities, and with the latest intensified militant attacks, hundreds of thousands of Israelis are in rocket range. Schools are closed and fearful Israeli children rush into bomb shelters at the sound of air raid sirens.

In the ongoing chaos of Gaza, it's difficult to get exact casualty figures. Since Dec. 27, at least 750 Palestinians have been killed, according to Gaza Health Ministry official Dr. Moawiya Hassanain.

Of those, 257 were children, according to the U.N.'s top humanitarian official, John Holmes, citing Health Ministry figures that he called credible and deeply disturbing.

"We are talking about urban war," said Abdel-Rahman Ghandour, the Jordan-based spokesman for UNICEF in the Middle East and North Africa. "The density of the population is so high, it's bound to hurt children ... This is a unique conflict, where there is nowhere to go."

Successive generations of Gaza children have grown up with violence, part of the accelerating conflict with Israel. In the late 1980s, many threw stones at Israeli soldiers in a revolt against occupation. In the second uprising, starting in 2000, some were recruited by Hamas as suicide bombers.

Sarraj, the psychologist, said he fears for this generation: Having experienced trauma and their parents' helplessness, they may be more vulnerable to recruitment by militants.

In his Gaza City apartment, Sarraj tries to reassure his own children.

His 14-year-old stepdaughter lost her school, the American International School, to a recent airstrike, and a girlfriend was killed in another attack. The family lives in the middle-class Rimal neighborhood and still has enough fuel to run a generator in the evenings, enabling the children to read.

Yet when the bombings start, he can't distract them. "They are scared," he said. "They run to find the safest place, in the hallway, away from the window."
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                                   Israel to continue offensive despite UN resolution







MATTI FRIEDMAN and
IBRAHIM BARZAK,
Associated Press Writers
January 8, 2009.
JERUSALEM

Israeli jets and helicopters bombarded Gaza Friday and Hamas responded with a barrage of rockets,
as Israel's government said it will press forward with its offensive despite a U.N. resolution calling for
an immediate cease-fire.

One Israeli airstrike killed two Hamas militants and another unidentified man, while another flattened a five-story building in northern Gaza, killing at least seven people, including an infant, Hamas security officials said. By midday, 19 Palestinians had been killed.

In all, Israeli aircraft struck more than 30 targets before dawn, and constant explosions continued after first light. Friday's deaths in Gaza pushed the Palestinian death toll to more than 760 in the two-week-old conflict, with at least half of them civilians, according to Gaza health officials. Thirteen Israelis have died.

In Israel's first official response to the U.N. Security Council resolution, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said Israel "has never agreed to let an external body decide its right to protect the security of its citizens."

The military "will continue acting to protect Israeli citizens and will carry out the missions it was given," the statement read. The rockets fell in Israel on Friday "only prove that the U.N.'s decision is not practical and will not be kept in practice by the Palestinian murder organizations."

Israel launched its assault on Dec. 27 in an attempt to halt years of rocket fire from the Hamas-controlled territory.

Despite the devastating offensive, Hamas continued to bombard residents of southern Israel. Rockets hit Friday morning across southern Israel, including in and around Beersheba and Ashkelon, which like other cities within rocket range of Gaza have largely been paralyzed since the fighting began.

The U.N. Security Council resolution was approved Thursday night by a 14-0 vote, with the United States abstaining. The resolution "stresses the urgency of and calls for an immediate, durable and fully respected cease-fire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza."

Israel and Hamas were not parties to the council vote and it is now up to them to stop the fighting. But a Hamas spokesman said the Islamic militant group "is not interested" in the cease-fire because it was not consulted and the resolution did not meet its minimum demands.

Israel called up thousands of reserve troops earlier in the week, and they are now ready for action.

The Security Council action came hours after a U.N. agency suspended food deliveries to Gaza, and the Red Cross accused Israel of blocking medical assistance after forces fired on aid workers. It also followed concerns of a wider conflict after militants in Lebanon fired rockets into northern Israel early Thursday, though the border has been quiet since.

The United States abstained from the Security Council vote even though it helped hammer out the resolution's text along with Arab nations that have ties to Hamas and the Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the U.S. "fully supports" the resolution but abstained "to see the outcomes of the Egyptian mediation" with Israel and Hamas, also aimed at achieving a cease-fire.

The resolution expresses "grave concern" at the escalating violence and the deepening humanitarian crisis in Gaza and emphasizes the need to open all border crossings and achieve a lasting solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

It also calls on U.N. member states "to intensify efforts to provide arrangements and guarantees in Gaza in order to sustain a durable cease-fire and calm, including to prevent illicit trafficking in arms and ammunition and to ensure the sustained reopening" of border crossings.

In addition, the resolution "condemns all violence and hostilities directed against civilians" and calls for "unimpeded humanitarian access to Gaza."

Osama Hamdan, a Hamas envoy to Lebanon, told the al-Arabiya satellite channel that the group "is not interested in it because it does not meet the demands of the movement."

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the U.N. failed to consider the interests of the Palestinian people. "This resolution doesn't mean that the war is over," he told the al-Jazeera satellite television network. "We call on the Palestinian fighters to mobilize and be ready to face the offensive, and we urge the Arab masses to carry on with their angry protests."

Following the resolution, Egypt was expected to take the lead in persuading Israel and Hamas to accept it. Israeli representatives returned home from talks in Cairo Thursday, and Hamas was due to send political leaders to the Egyptian capital on Saturday.

Israel's government says any cease-fire must guarantee an end to rocket fire and arms smuggling into Gaza. During a six-month cease-fire that ended with the current operation, Hamas is thought to have used tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border to smuggle in the medium-range rockets it is now using to hit deeper than ever inside Israel.

Hamas has said it won't accept any agreement that does not include the full opening Gaza's blockaded border crossings. Israel is unlikely to agree to that demand, as it would allow Hamas to strengthen its hold on the territory which it violently seized in June 2007.

With Israeli troops now in control of many of the open areas used by militants to launch rockets, gunman have continued shooting from inside populated neighborhoods.

The conflict has left hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza increasingly desperate for food, water, fuel and medical assistance, and the situation was expected to worsen as humanitarian efforts fall victim to the fighting.

One of the dead Thursday was a Ukrainian woman, the first foreigner to die in the fighting, according to Gaza Health Ministry official Dr. Moaiya Hassanain. He said the woman was married to a Palestinian doctor who trained in Ukraine and returned with her to Gaza. Her 2-year-old son was also killed in the tank shelling east of Gaza City, he said.

Details are emerging of other incidents in which civilians were killed. A U.N. agency said Israeli troops evacuated Palestinian civilians to a house in Gaza City on Jan. 4, then shelled the building 24 hours later, killing 30 people.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs report was based on eyewitness testimony. It added details to an incident previously reported by The Associated Press and an Israeli human rights group.

The U.N. agency said 110 people were in the house. The 30 people reported killed is a far higher figure than in other accounts.

The Israeli military had no comment on the report Friday.

The West Bank saw its biggest protests so far Friday, as thousands took to the streets following prayers to express their anger at the Israeli offensive. In Ramallah, scuffles broke out between supporters of Hamas and the rival Fatah faction.

____

AP writers
Edith M. Lederer and
John Heilprin at
the United Nations contributed to this report.
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