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Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel
www.vtjp.org/
For those interested in keeping up with events in Palestine/Israel, there is no better digest than VTJP.

VTJP Archives | VTJP 2009
17 February, 2009

The Israeli military kidnaps 26 Palestinian civilians from the West Bank
Ghassan Banoura, International Middle East Media Center News 2/17/2009
The Israeli military kidnapped 26 Palestinian civilians during pre dawn and morning invasions targeting several West Bank cities and towns on Tuesday, Palestinian sources reported. The sources said that the invasions took place in Tulkarem, Jenin, Qalqilia, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron cities. Witnesses said that Israeli troops invaded Tulkarem city and nearby a village, and kidnapped nine civilians after searching a number of homes. Also, in the northern part of the West Bank, Israeli troops invaded the city of Qalqilia, searched homes and kidnapped seven civilians. In the southern part of the West Bank, an Israeli force invaded the villages of Hussan and Beit Omer, near Bethlehem city and kidnapped seven civilians. Moreover, three civilians were kidnapped during home searches in Hebron city and nearby villages, local sources reported.

Is Israel assassinating Iran nuclear scientists?
Yossi Melman, Ha’aretz 2/17/2009
Israel is assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists as part of a covert war against the Islamic Republic’s illicit weapons program, the Daily Telegraph on Tuesday quoted Western intelligence analysts as saying. The British daily said Israel’s Mossad espionage agency was rumored to be behind the death of Ardeshire Hassanpour, a top nuclear scientist at Iran’s Isfahan uranium plant, who died in mysterious circumstances from reported "gas poisoning" in 2007. Other recent deaths of important figures in the procurement and enrichment process in Iran and Europe have been the result of Israeli "hits", intended to deprive Tehran of key technical skills at the head of the program, according to the analysts. The Telegraph also quoted United States intelligence sources as saying Israel is using sabotage, front companies and double agents to disrupt the regime’s illicit weapons project as an alternative to direct military strikes. -- See also: Iranian bioweapon researcher dies suspiciously and Israel launches covert war against Iran

Eastern Bethlehem village subjected to severe harassment
Najib Farrag, Palestine News Network 2/17/2009
PNN exclusive -- The village of Rashaida is under a tight military cordon that has the eastern Bethlehem community at its breaking point. President of the Local Council, Mayor Fawaz Rasheideh, says the harassment of citizens and restriction of movement is intensifying. "Military roadblocks are preventing access while armyincursions are taking place at least once daily," he told PNN. Raids are as frequent during daylight hours as at night, describes Rasheideh, with soldiers surrounding the village and isolating it from its environs. "Dozens of soldiers stormed the village from all sides and began breaking into the homes. They treated the citizens poorly and engaged in several tactics of intimidation, including against women and children, from both the mouths of the soldiers themselves and from their vehicles.

Mubarak: ’No way’ Shalit linked to Gaza truce
Middle East Online 2/17/2009
CAIRO - The fate of an Israeli soldier captured in 2006 should not be linked to Cairo-mediated talks on a long-term truce with Hamas in Gaza, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was quoted as saying on Tuesday. "Egypt will not change its position on the truce, the matter of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is a separate issue which can in no way be linked to the truce negotiations," the state-owned Al-Ahram daily quoted Mubarak as saying. Israel has linked a truce agreement to the release of Shalit, who has been held in Gaza since he was seized in a cross-border raid by Palestinian resistance fighters, including Hamas, in June 2006. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Sunday that Shalit’s release took priority over any other consideration in the negotiations for a lasting ceasefire. Olmert reiterated on Tuesday that the blockade of Gaza would only be lifted after captured soldier Gilad Shalit is released.

ISRAEL-OPT: Thousands of Gazans remain homeless
Erica Silverman/IRIN, IRIN - UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2/17/2009
GAZA CITY, 17 February 2009 (IRIN) - Thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip remain homeless after their houses were badly damaged or destroyed during Israel’s recent military offensive there. The Israeli army began with aerial bombardments of the enclave on 27 December and added a ground assault from 3 January. Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire on 18 January while Hamas, the de facto ruling authority in the Strip, declared its own ceasefire later that day. According to a 16 February report by Save the Children Alliance "at least 100,000 people, including 56,000 children, remain displaced with many continuing to take shelter in tents or crowding into remaining homes with other families, one month since the Gaza ceasefire was declared. " The NGO estimated that some 500,000 people, including 280,000 children, were forced from their homes at some point during the. . .

Student sit-ins in solidarity with Palestine spread from UK to US
Saed Bannoura, International Middle East Media Center News 2/17/2009
After a number of successful sit-ins at British universities calling for divestment from Israeli apartheid, students in the US have taken up the cause as well. The University of Rochester, in New York, is the first to declare success after a sit-in at the University Administration building. The University of Rochester sit-in consisted of a number of groups, including Students For a Democratic Society (SDS), the Campus Antiwar Network (CAN) and community members. They made a number of demands to the university administration: that university divest from corporations that manufacturer weapons and profit from the siege; commit to fundraising humanitarian aid for Gaza; donate extra computers and books to students and educational institutions in Gaza; and provide scholarships for Palestinian students. At first, the students were simply engaging in a teach-in on the issues, but when the. . .

MIDEAST: Israel Braces for Wave of Lawsuits
Mel Frykberg, Inter Press Service 2/17/2009
RAMALLAH, Feb 17(IPS) - Israel is bracing for a wave of lawsuits accusing the Jewish state of substantial human rights violations during its 22-day military assault on Gaza which left more than 1,300 Palestinians dead and nearly 5,000 wounded, more than half of them civilian. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have confirmed that phosphorous bombs were used over Gaza. It is against international law to use phosphorous in densely crowded civilian areas. According to Amnesty, Israel tanks also fired flechettes, 4cm long metal darts in civilian neighbourhoods. Shells containing 5,000 to 8,000 flechettes explode in the air and scatter in a conical pattern over an area about 300m wide and 100m long. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Euro- Mediterranean Human Rights Network. . .

Israel launches covert war against Iran
Philip Sherwell, Telegraph 2/16/2009
Israel has launched a covert war against Iran as an alternative to direct military strikes against Tehran’s nuclear programme, US intelligence sources have revealed. It is using hitmen, sabotage, front companies and double agents to disrupt the regime’s illicit weapons project, the experts say. The most dramatic element of the "decapitation" programme is the planned assassination of top figures involved in Iran’s atomic operations. Despite fears in Israel and the US that Iran is approaching the point of no return in its ability to build atom bomb, Israeli officials are aware of the change in mood in Washington since President Barack Obama took office. They privately acknowledge the new US administration is unlikely to sanction an air attack on Iran’s nuclear installations and Mr Obama’s offer to extend a hand of peace to Tehran puts any direct military action beyond reach for now.

Iranian bioweapon researcher dies suspiciously
PressTV 2/15/2009
A US-based Iranian doctor working to discover an antitoxin therapy for biological weapons has purportedly died a "suspicious death." One of the leading bioweapon researchers and a regular keynote speaker at international conferences, Dr. Nasser Talebzadeh Ordoubadi died on Saturday in what his doctors described as a "suspicious death". Media reports have linked Dr. Talebzadeh Ordoubadi’s mysterious death to his notable accomplishments in discovering an antitoxin treatment for bioweapons. The use of biological and chemical weapons -- which is considered illegal under The Hague convention on rules of warfare -- is feared by many experts more than the use of nuclear weapons. Biological weapons can kill, incapacitate, or seriously impede an individual as well as entire cities or places where they are used.

Ministry of prisoners holds IOA responsible for lives of Raymond detainees
Palestinian Information Center 2/17/2009
GAZA, (PIC)-- The ministry of prisoners’ affairs held the IOA fully responsible for the lives of Palestinian prisoners in the Raymond prison after a painful skin infection swept through the jail and infected dozens of Palestinian prisoners with this disease as a result of the unhealthy incarceration conditions in this jail and the policy of medical neglect practiced by Israel against all Palestinian prisoners. In a press statement received by the PIC, Riyadh Al-Ashqar, the director of the information office in the ministry, explained that an infectious skin disease has spread recently among the Raymond prisoners and infected about 60 of them with symptoms similar to those caused by eczema but they are more serious. According to Ashqar, the prison administration refused, despite the many appeals made to it, to bring a doctor specialized in skin diseases.

Conditions deteriorate in Eshel Prison without accountable administration
Ali Samoudi for PNN, Palestine News Network 2/17/2009
Jenin -- The Palestinian Prisoners Society said today that the conditions in the Eshel Prison are continuing to deteriorate since the recent transfer of the Department Director. Officers and guards are using arbitrary actions and new restrictions which have exacerbated the suffering of Palestinians. The list of banned goods has been expanded, says the PPS, obliging Palestinians to purchase necessities from the prison store at exorbitant prices and a random schedule. In a report issued after a visit by the PPS lawyer investigating transfers of detainees, several cases were taken into account. Safwat Jibril Jabour was sentenced on 8 October 2002 to two life times plus 22 years. The 34 year old explained to the PPS that the general situation in the prison is "poor and chaotic in the absence of a director.

Tadamun society: Israel demolished more than 20 buildings in W. Bank this year
Palestinian Information Center 2/17/2009
RAMALLAH, (PIC)-- The international Tadamun (solidarity) society for human rights reported Tuesday that the IOF troops demolished more than 20 homes and buildings from the beginning of this year until mid-February in the West Bank at the pretext that they were built either on confiscated lands or without license, while they razed dozens of homes to the ground in the Gaza Strip. The society said that these Israeli serious violations come in the context of the Israeli policy of displacing Palestinians from their cities in the West Bank especially occupied Jerusalem where most of the demolitions were concentrated. The society said that Israel also destroyed thousands of homes and structures during its war on Gaza and bombed entire neighborhoods to the ground in addition to destroying vital infrastructure. According to the society, Israeli destroyed 45 mosques completely, 34 medical facilities including eight hospitals.

Barghouhti: Israel should pay compensations for the huge damage in Gaza
Palestinian Information Center 2/16/2009
RAMALLAH, (PIC)-- MP Mustafa Al-Barghouthi, the secretary general of the national initiative, said that Israel should not be allowed to escape responsibility for the vast destruction it inflicted on Gaza Strip during its three-week blitzkrieg. Barghouthi in a statement on Sunday called on all concerned, official parties to immediately start filing lawsuits against the Israeli government to force to it pay compensation for the human casualties and material damage. He said that the investigations, including those of the Israeli army, proved that the huge devastation was not "legally or ethically justified". The MP expressed regret that the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon retreated over his previous stands on formation of a neutral international committee to probe Israel’s war crimes including the shelling of UN agencies in Gaza.

Targeting the leftists in western Bethlehem
Najib Farrag, Palestine News Network 2/17/2009
PNN exclusive - Israeli forces mounted a campaign of widespread raids and arrests in the southwestern Bethlehem town of Husan during the early morning hours of Tuesday. A massive military force pushed into the town ripping residents from sleep. Twelve vehicles closed the entrance to the village. Military roadblocks were imposed throughout the streets. Under curfew the town was held hostage as Israeli soldiers broke into several homes, forcing residents outside at gunpoint. Families were kept in the rain and bitter cold for more than three hours. Home owners described intensely provocative inspections. After four hours the soldiers arrested about a dozen young men who were rushed with eyes blindfolded and hands tied into the back of jeeps. Soldiers pushed the young men and beat several among them.

Israelis seize eight Islamic Jihad members in northern West Bank
Ma’an News Agency 2/17/2009
Tulkarem – Ma’an – Israeli forces stormed the northern West Bank city of Tulkarem on Tuesday morning, detaining eight Islamic Jihad members at dawn, among them a senior member. In addition to Tulkarem proper, soldiers also entered villages around the city and the main refugee camps in the area, where they searched for other members to arrest, according to Palestinian security sources. Soldiers stormed the Tulkarem-area villages of Anabta, Seida, Illar, Qaffin and Deir Al-Ghusun in the north, as well as Nur Shams Refugee Camp and Ramin in the east and Kafr Abbush in the south. Forty-five-year-old Sheikh Qassem Tawfiq Khader, a senior leader of Islamic Jihad, was seized in Deir Al-Ghusun. Ihab Damiri was taken from the city of Tulkarm, 25-year-old Mohammad Jeitawi from Nur Shams and 24-year-old Aziz Tu’mah from Qaffin.

IOF warplanes shell Rafah border strip
Palestinian Information Center 2/17/2009
RAFAH, (PIC)-- Israeli warplanes on Monday night renewed shelling of the Rafah border area to the southernmost tip of the Gaza Strip after shelling it in the morning, local sources reported. They said that Israeli F-16 warplanes launched two separate air raids on the border strip near the Rafah border gate firing two rockets. The shelling caused powerful blasts but no casualties were reported, the sources said, adding that the shelling apparently targeted tunnels used to channel goods to the Strip in light of the closure of all Gaza crossings. Meanwhile, the PA health ministry in Gaza said that it ran out of units of negative blood components, and appealed to citizens having negative blood components to donate to the nearest hospital to their homes. In the West Bank, Israeli occupation forces rounded up 60 Palestinians in various towns and villages over the past 24 hours.

Projectile fired from Gaza into Negev
Shmulik Hadad, YNetNews 2/17/2009
IDF identifies launch but sappers yet to determine whether it was mortar shell or Qassam rocket; local council head says Hamas will never permit calm -Palestinians fired a projectile towards the Karni crossing area on Tuesday evening. The IDF identified a launch from Gazan territory, but has yet to canvass the region due to the late hour and cannot yet say whether it was a Qassam rocket or mortar shell. Sappers are expected to head out in the morning to search. No injuries or damage have been reported. The Shaar HaNegev Regional Council, the target of the projectile in question, has been closely monitoring cabinet debates on a materializing ceasefire in Gaza. Council Chairman Alon Shuster said the government would have some tough decisions to make. " In recent years there have been periods of calm that have lasted for months on end, but our assumption. . .

Confiscations and settlement expansion in Bethlehem
Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign, Stop The Wall 2/17/2009
Land confiscations and settlement expansion are continuing in the Bethlehem district. In Nahalin, Occupation forces have confiscated another 20 dunums from the village. Also, it has been announced that 1,700 dunums have been declared state land to facilitate the expansion of the Efrat settlement. On 28 January 2009, around 20 dunums of land was confiscated from the village of Nahalin and classified as “state land. ” The targeted area is located in the north part of the village, to the east of the settler road that also cuts through the villages of Husan and al-Khader. The lost land is agricultural and used to grow olives, grapes and figs as well as grain and barely. It belongs to four residents of the village and their families, who use the crops to produce flour, oil, and food for livestock. Ali Taha, a member of the village council, stated that Occupation forces are continually grabbing more territory from the village and declaring it state land.

The closure of Al Ram
Maisa Abu Ghazaleh, Palestine News Network 2/17/2009
PNN exclusive -- The occupying Israeli administration closed the only remaining passage of Dahiyat Barid between the Jerusalem suburb of Al Ram and the city. The northern town was a part of the city until the Wall was imposed down the center of main street effectively prohibiting the movement of residents. There was one passage left and now that is closed. The remaining passage, which was the area of Dahiyat Barid, was closed on Monday after being declared a "closed military zone" at the beginning of the month. Now that the Wall surrounds Al Ram and that one gate is closed, any possible travel must be conducted through the Ramallah checkpoint of Qalandiya. The closure increased congestion in northern Jerusalem and Ramallah today after the Israelis declared passage between Al Ram and the rest of the city a"closed military zone" two weeks ago. -- See also: Israel seizes West Bank land

Urgent appeal to save Jerusalem and Aqsa Mosque from coming Israeli attacks
Palestinian Information Center 2/17/2009
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM, (PIC)-- The Aqsa foundation for endowment and heritage issued an urgent appeal to the Palestinian people and the Islamic Nation to save occupied Jerusalem before it is entirely judaized and the Aqsa Mosque before it is destroyed, warning that there will be more dangerous Zionist attacks on the holy city and Mosque during this year. In a new report, the foundation underlined that during 2008, Israel escalated its policy of fait accompli in Jerusalem and raced against time to carry out different judaization schemes against Islamic holy places, antiquities, history and civilization other than Palestinian inhabitants of the city. The report outlined that the Zionist break-ins at the Aqsa Mosque escalated significantly in the second half of 2008, where groups composed of hundreds of men, women and children in addition to Israeli politicians under heavy police guard desecrated the Mosque dozens of times.

Palestinian travelers face new restrictions at Arab borders
Ma’an News Agency 2/17/2009
Cairo – Ma’an – Palestinians traveling abroad have recently been subjected to alarming scrutiny by border officials in the Arab world. Several days ago, the Egyptian government began asking Palestinians interested in visiting Egypt through its Cairo airport to present evidence of a return flight home, despite that Egypt had usually permitted Palestinians to enter without attaining a visa. But since the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip, Egypt’s embassy has begun demanding more and more on the part of Palestinian travelers, who used to travel via Rafah with relative ease. New instructions for Palestinians arriving in Cairo indicate that travelers should show a copy of their itinerary, including a return flight, and regardless of age. Travelers have also been asked to prove their residency status from the country of origin, such as the United Arab Emirates or Kuwait.

Explosives go missing in Gaza
Ma’an News Agency 2/17/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an/Agencies – A large stockpile of unexploded Israeli ordinance has gone missing from a United Nations storage facility in Gaza, the BBC reported on Tuesday. The explosives, including aircraft bombs and white phosphorus shells, were collected by UN personnel and Palestinian police. Experts with UN Mines Action were awaiting Israeli approval to bring special equipment into the Gaza Strip to dispose of the weaponry safely. UN officials told the BBC said they were urgently trying to establish where the arms had gone and have called for their return. Richard Miron, the senior UN spokesman in Jerusalem, said: "We are anxious to get the return of this ordnance. It’s clearly extremely dangerous and needs to be disposed of in a safe manner. ”Approached by Ma’an News Agency, Miron said he had nothing to add to the BBC report other than that the story “didn’t originate from us".

Report: Hamas stole 7 tons of unexploded ordnance
Ali Waked, YNetNews 2/17/2009
UN confirms seven tons of IDF shells, explosives fired during Operation Cast Lead amassed by Hamas and waiting to be neutralized by UN sappers has vanished -Senior UN officials were outraged Tuesday evening as they confirmed Hamas has appropriated seven tons of weaponry and ammunition stored in UN warehouses in Gaza and intended to be destroyed by sappers. The officials demanded the ordnance stockpile be returned immediately. With the conclusion of Operation Cast Lead, Hamas and UN personnel amassed weapons and explosives - mainly unexploded tank shells - and moved them to a special warehouse guarded by Hamas security troops. UNRWA representatives examined the weaponry, and a delegation of UN-employed experts was due to arrive in Gaza in order to carry out a controlled detonation of the explosives.

IDF: Hamas seized unexploded ordnance fired during Gaza op
Haaretz Service, Ha’aretz 2/17/2009
The Israel Defense Forces said Tuesday that Hamas has commandeered a large cache of unexploded weapons fired by Israel into the Gaza Strip during its offensive last month. The cache had disappeared while under guard by Hamas officials. United Nations experts had planned to dispose safely of the stockpile, which includes aircraft bombs and white phosphorous shells. UN officials discovered earlier this week that most of the contents of a Gaza warehouse being guarded by Hamas were missing. Israel Defense Force spokesman Peter Lerner said the cache had been "commandeered by Hamas. " "We were told of the disappearance of the bombs, our understanding is that Hamas took them," he said. UN officials said that they were urgently seeking out the location of the weapons and calling for their return.

Teachers cancel strike as Palestinian Authority pays salaries
Ma’an News Agency 2/17/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an – The Union of Palestinian Teachers on Tuesday backtracked on a decision to go on strike Wednesday and Thursday after the Palestinian Authority finally paid civil servant salaries, an official said. According to Union Secretary-General Jamil Shahada, schools in the West Bank will operate as usual this week, but that the union will “continue to defend teachers’ rights as needed. ”Shahada said the Palestinian caretaker government paid salaries on Monday afternoon after a two-week delay. The government said it was forced to seek a bank loan to cover the cost of salaries due to increased budget expenditures for rebuilding the Gaza Strip following Israel’s massive onslaught there last month.

EU channels 25.5 million euros for PA salaries
Ma’an News Agency 2/17/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an – The European Union (EU) said it channeled 25. 5 million euros to the Palestinian Authority (PA) help to pay the salaries and pensions of 78,000 Palestinians. The PA, the largest employer in the West Bank and Gaza, began to disburse salaries on Monday night to its 170,000 employees after nearly three weeks of delay, averting a civil service strike. PA officials, including Caretaker Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has claimed that the delay in the salaries was due of the increased burden placed on the PA by the devastation resulting from three weeks of war in Gaza. Fayyad and other PA officials had suggested that they were waiting for funds from international donors to disburse the salaries. According to Jamal Zakout, an advisor to Fayyad, the PA was able to pay the salaries using loans from various banks.

Queen Rania cites UNRWA’s ’dire’ need for funds
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 2/18/2009
AMMAN: Jordan’s Queen Rania appealed on Monday for urgent aid for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), warning that lack of funds might stop its operations. "We are in very dire need of much more assistance and without which I think UNRWA won’t be able to operate," the queen, wife of King Abdullah II, told a meeting of UNRWA in Amman. "The international community owes greats debts to UNRWA. It was quite alarming to know that the financial situation was in jeopardy. "Rania, herself of Palestinian origin, called for urgent assistance to UNRWA, which cares for some 4. 3 million refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. According to UNRWA’s website, the agency has unveiled a $345 million "quick recovery plan" for the Gaza Strip, where Israel’s 22 days of attacks in December and January caused massive destruction and killed over 1,300 people.

EU to pay 41 million euros for UNRWA budget assistance
Ma’an News Agency 2/17/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an – The European Commission on Tuesday announced an additional contribution of 41 million euros to support the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Mr. Christian Berger, the European Commission Representative for the West Bank and Gaza Strip and UNRWA, made the announcement Tuesday at a meeting of the Advisory Commission in Amman, Jordan, which brings together UNRWA stakeholders several times a year to provide advice and guidance to the UNRWA Commissioner General. Most of the funds will come from a special 1 billion-euro Food Facility, which was created last year by the President of the European Commission, Mr. José Manuel Barroso, to help developing countries deal with crises in the face of rising worldwide food prices. "We have already mobilized 18 million euros in additional funds as a response to the dire humanitarian situation. . .

PA office in Gaza accuses UNRWA of selling goods to private sector 'behind our backs'
Ma’an News Agency 2/17/2009
Gaza – Ma’an – The Palestinian Authority Ministry of National Economy accused the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, on Tuesday of importing private-sector goods under its name behind the back of the ministry. The undersecretary of the ministry of the Ramallah-based government, speaking from Gaza, Nasser As-Sarraj made these accusations to Ma’an on Monday night. As-Sarraj, who is part of the Palestinian Authority (PA) Ministry in Gaza, not to be confused with the separate Ministry of National Economy of the de facto Hamas government in the same area, said UNRWA has been caught selling rice and sugar to local merchants without coordinating with the ministry first. When contacted, UNRWA spokespeople said they had not heard of any such accusations and were unaware of any investigations into the issue.

Jordan’s Queen Rania praises UN refugee agency
Ma’an News Agency 2/17/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Queen Rania of Jordan on Monday praised the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which she said had offered the people of Gaza a "glimmer of hope" during and after the war. Speaking at an emergency session of UNRWA’s Advisory Commission, the queen said she could not imagine how the people of Gaza would have survived without UNRWA. She described the agency as "teacher, doctor and food provider,” working with "incredible resourcefulness" to offer a "lifeline to the people of Gaza. ”She urged all donor delegations to honor their pledges of funding to UNRWA, following warnings from the agency that if the present 52 million-dollar shortfall in UNRWA’s General Fund continues, thousands of agency staff, such as teachers and doctors would not be paid. Queen Rania, herself of Palestinian origin, described such an eventuality as "unthinkable.

Report: Ahmed Qureia dismissed as PA negotiator in Israel talks
Jackie Khoury, Ha’aretz 2/17/2009
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has dismissed Ahmed Qureia from his position as the PA’s senior negotiator in talks with Israel, the pan-Arab paper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat reported Tuesday. Abbas has shifted responsibility for the peace negotiations from Qureia, a veteran PA official, to Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s representative for the negotiations, the London-based paper said. Erekat himself was said to have confirmed the report, stating that he was the chairman of the Palestinian negotiating team. But he reportedly refused to explain why Qureia was dismissed from the post. Qureia bureau denied the report, stating no decision had yet been reached on the matter. According to Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, while Abbas has not put the decision into writing, he has kept Qureia from. . .

Report: Abbas dismisses chief negotiator
Roee Nahmias, YNetNews 2/17/2009
Palestinian president reportedly replaces peace talks negotiations head Ahmad Qureia with chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat. Asharq al-Awsat newspaper quotes Erekat’s confirmation of report, saying ’Yes, I am head of the team’ -Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been on hold for some time now, due to the elections in Israel and Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. But within the Palestinian Authority, personal struggles between officials involved in the talks have been reported. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas dismissed the head of his negotiations team Ahmad Qureia, and appointed PLO chief negotiator Saeb Erekat in his place, London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq al-Awsat reported on Tuesday. The report was confirmed by Erekat himself, who told the paper, "Yes, I am the head of the Palestinian negotiations team.

Abbas dismisses Qorea’ as the Palestinian Chief Negotiator
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 2/17/2009
The Al Sharq Al Awasat (Middle East) Newspaper reported Tuesday that the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, has dismissed the Chief Palestinian negotiator, Ahmad Qorea’, from his post and replaced him with Dr. Saeb Erekat. Erekat is said to have already confirmed the report, but did not explain why Qorea was removed from his post. The office of Qorea’ denied the report and said that a final decision on the issue had not been made yet. But the office of Erekat confirmed the changes and Erekat himself said "Yes of course, I am the chief negotiator" but refused to give any further details, the Al Sharq Al Awasat said. The office added that Qorea’ is still in charge of the final status talks with Israel. It is worth mentioning that the office of the outgoing Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, accused Qorea’ of obstructing Palestinian-Israeli peace talks.

Erekat remains senior negotiator
PNN, Palestine News Network 2/17/2009
Ramallah -- Ahmed Qureia is out of the negotiating team to meet with Israeli and American delegations, report sources in the Muqata. President Abbas is including longtime official Dr. Sa’eb Erekat who holds the title head of negotiations in the Palestine Liberation Organization. He is the "senior negotiator" although Qureia held the reins during last year’s meetings with Livni. Qureia had taken over throughout early autumn negotiations with the Israelis, meeting on numerous occasions with then Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. It was at that time however that President Abbas said that negotiations would continue under the supervision of a senior negotiator which was known to be a reference to Erekat. Dr. Erekat assuredly told the press today that he was the head of the Palestinian negotiating delegation, but declined to give any reasons for the exclusion of Qureia.

’Palestinian Authority strongman once called Lieberman key to peace’
Lily Galili, Ha’aretz 2/17/2009
In July 2000, while he was justice minister in Ehud Barak’s cabinet, Yossi Beilin agreed to a request by Mohammed Dahlan and Mohammed Rashid, who were members of the Palestinian delegation at Camp David, that they meet urgently. Beilin didn’t know either of them at the time, but he assumed that the purpose of the meeting, slated to take place at a Jerusalem hotel, was to discuss Camp David. Barak had described the two as very moderate at the summit. Toward the end of their meeting, which was mostly devoted to what had taken place at Camp David, Dahlan asked to remain for a one-on-one with Beilin. Beilin’s surprise turned to amazement when the subject turned to Aryeh Deri. "I called for this meeting because you are the Israeli justice minister and the fate of Aryeh Deri (who withdrew from politics after being convicted of taking bribes in 2000) is in your hands," Dahlan said.

PLO official urges leaders to cut ties with Israel over settlement expansion
Ma’an News Agency 2/17/2009
Nablus – Ma’an – Palestinian leadership should stop contact with Israel until it stops expansion of illegal settlements and the separation wall in the West Bank, a senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) said on Tuesday. A member of the PLO Executive Committee, Committee Tayseer Khalid, said that the planned expansion of the settlement of Eftat, near Bethlehem, shows that Israel is not a partner in the peace process, calling on Palestinian leaders to take a firm stand against Israeli expansionism. The Israeli Civil Administration approved the seizure of 1,700 additional dunams of land near the settlement, rejecting eight appeals filed by the lands Palestinian owners from the towns of Artas and Al-Khadr. Khalid condemned the Civil Administration for its rejection of the appeals. “This new decision to annex vast areas of lands belonging to Palestinian. . .

Palestinian President deplores new Israeli settlement expansion
Rami Almeghari&Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 2/17/2009
Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, criticized yesterday an Israeli decision to confiscate Palestinian-owned lands for settlements expansion in the occupied West Bank. "If settlement activities do not come to a halt, any peace talks with Israel become useless and meaningless", Abbas stressed. After the results of the latest Israeli elections, Abbas called on any new Israeli leadership to accept the two-state solution as a basis for peaceful settlement with the Palestinians. The Palestinian president, speaking at a conference in Ramallah with Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavarov, maintained that Palestinians and Israelis can not start from scratch. According to Israeli online Daily Haaretz, Israel plans to seize 1. 7 million square meters of Palestinian-owned lands in the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem, for the expansion of the nearby Israeli settlement of Efrat.

Israel FM: ’Give land for peace’
Al Jazeera 2/17/2009
Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister who is hoping to become the country’s next prime minister, has said that Israel must give up considerable territory to gain peace with the Palestinians. Livni made the comments at a convention of US Jewish leaders in Jerusalem on Monday. She said that Israel needed to "give up parts of the Land of Israel" - referring to biblical borders that today includes Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. "The majority of Israelis understand that if Israel wants to remain an independent Jewish state, in the end the territory will have to be divided," Livni, leader of the Kadima party, said. Livni has in the past said that Israel must withdraw from Palestinian areas to continue as a Jewish state. Her fresh comments are in contrast to the position of Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of the right-wing Likud party and Livni’s main rival to become next prime minister.

Hamas’ Nasif: We refuse to obstruct the release of political prisoners by linking Shalit to crossings
Ma’an News Agency 2/17/2009
Gaza – Ma’an – Israel’s request to link the truce and prisoner files shows it is not serious about an agreement, Hamas member Ra’fat Nasif said Tuesday. Israel is now insisting on the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit beforre the crossings are opened. Hamas has however rejected this. Nasif noted that Hamas will negotiate a prisoner release with Shalit as a separate issue, and one they hope will also open the door to internal Palestinian reconciliation and national dialogue, presumably since prisoners released would be high-ranking officials from several parties. “We want a truce that ends the blockade and opens the crossings for access to goods,” Nasif reiterated.

ANALYSIS / Why has Israel backtracked on Shalit deal?
Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, Ha’aretz 2/17/2009
Israel’s behavior in the past few days in the discussions for the Shalit deal and the cease-fire agreement has put the Egyptian mediators off balance. About 10 days ago, when senior defense official Amos Gilad traveled to Cairo, the Egyptians understood that the matter was nearly closed. The tahadiyeh [lull] is within reach, and in parallel, or approximately so, the abducted soldier would be exchanged for Palestinian prisoners. The Egyptians had hoped to issue an official statement on a deal close to Election Day in Israel, but when that was not possible they assumed it would take a day or two more. In the meantime, a week has gone by and Israel is reopening issues for discussion they in Cairo had thought were closed. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak put things bluntly.

Hamas leader Meshal: No Shalit deal before Gaza truce
Jack Khoury Barak Ravid Avi Issacharoff, Anshel Pfeffer and Yanir, Ha’aretz 2/17/2009
Exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshal on Tuesday accused Israel of thwarting Egyptian efforts to reach a truce in the Gaza Strip by adding conditions to the deal at the last minute. Meshal made his comments in reference to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s insistence that no truce could be reached with Hamas until an agreement has been set for the release of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit. The Hamas leader said his group would not reverse its stance that the Gaza truce remain separate from any deal to release Shalit, who has been in Palestinian captivity since he was captured by Hamas-allied in a 2006 cross-border raid. The pan-Arab daily Al Hayat on Tuesday, however, quoted a Hamas official as saying the group was not opposed to freeing abducted Shalit before a truce took effect.

Olmert asks for swap deal before calm
Palestinian Information Center 2/17/2009
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM, (PIC)-- Israeli premier Ehud Olmert is to ask the mini cabinet for security and political affairs to endorse his demand for concluding a prisoners’ swap deal before signing any calm agreement in Gaza Strip, a Hebrew daily reported on Tuesday. Ha’aretz said that Olmert’s demand had infuriated Egypt that was hoping to declare a calm agreement in Cairo within the few coming days. It said that Olmert had telephoned Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak over the issue, noting that Mubarak had refused to link between the swap deal and the calm agreement. Olmert is hoping that the mini cabinet’s session on Wednesday would endorse his demand that releasing Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held in Palestinian resistance’s hands in Gaza, should be a pre-condition for concluding any calm agreement, the paper said.

Mashal: Israel preventing Gaza truce deal with Shalit demands
Ma’an News Agency 2/17/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an/Agencies – Senior Hamas leader Khalid Mashal rejected an Israeli demand on Tuesday to release captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit as a part of a ceasefire agreement. "Israel is responsible for blocking Egypt’s efforts to broker a truce by adding a new condition at the last minute," Mashal said after Damascus talks with Arab League chief Amr Mussa, according to the news agency AFP. Earlier Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reiterated the demand that Shalit’s release be included in an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire. Until recently Israel had been conducting two separate tracks of negotiations with Hamas: one on Shalit, who has been held in Gaza since 2006, and one on a truce. Egypt is mediating on both issues. Since the end of the Israeli war on Gaza in January, Olmert has pressed for a link between the two issues.

Israel’s linkage of Gaza cease-fire, Shalit deal angers Egyptian mediators
Avi Issacharoff Barak Ravid Yanir Yagna and Anshel Pfeffer, Ha’aretz 2/17/2009
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert intends to bring before the cabinet for its approval tomorrow a demand that conditions a cease-fire deal on the release of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit. Olmert updated Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on his position and stressed that Israel would not agree to a different arrangement for a cease-fire deal. Israel’s demands regarding Shalit have angered the authorities in Cairo, who had hoped to finalize a deal in the next few days. Olmert stressed yesterday that he had informed Mubarak of his view after Defense Minister Ehud Barak assumed the opposite position with Egyptian mediators. Olmert believes that if the cabinet decides to accept his precondition that any cease-fire in the Gaza Strip be contingent upon Shalit’s release, then Barak will be unable to strike a different deal with the Egyptians.

Noam Shalit still not optimistic about deal for son’s release
Jack Khoury, Ha’aretz 2/17/2009
Noam Shalit is not optimistic about a pending deal for the release of his son, Gilad, in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. During the past two days, officials have updated Shalit on developments in the negotiations. Shalit told Haaretz yesterday that cabinet session on the cease-fire deal was important but did not point to anything beyond a general outline of an agreement for his son’s release. "There is still no deal, and it appears to only be a discussion on authorizing a general outline," he said. Shimshon Leibman, who heads the Shalit support group, said yesterday that the family and the organization were following the developments closely. He added that there was a sense for the first time that a good opportunity to gain Shalit’s release was at hand. "This time, there is strength to make concessions, both as a consequence of the war and. . .

Mashaal: Shalit won’t be part of deal
AFP, YNetNews 2/17/2009
Exiled Hamas politburo chief rejects Prime Minister Olmert’s demand Shalit’s release be tied to long-term ceasefire agreement after meeting with Arab League secretary-general, accuses Israel of impeding Egypt’s mediation efforts - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reiterated on Tuesday that the blockade of Gaza will be lifted only after captive soldier Gilad Shalit is released, a condition Hamas again rejected. "We want first to resolve the Shalit issue and then will look into the reopening of crossings and the rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip," Olmert said. His demand was swiftly rejected by Hamas’s exiled leader Khaled Mashaal, who again accused Israel of backtracking on the terms of a proposed long-term truce by linking the lifting of the blockade to the soldier’s release. "Israel is responsible for blocking Egypt’s efforts to broker a truce by adding a new condition at the last minute," Mashaal said after Damascus talks with Arab League chief Amr Mussa.

National Union: Prisoner release a ticking time bomb
Kobi Nahshoni, YNetNews 2/17/2009
Members of right-wing party meet with bereaved families, terror victims’ groups in Jerusalem, say setting Palestinian prisoners free to secure Gilad Shalit’s release may prove disastrous. Shas leader Yishai wants Jewish murderers freed as well -Israel’s intention to release Palestinian prisoners as part of the deal to secure the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit is "a ticking time bomb that may decimate Israeli society," the National Union said Tuesday. Members of the right-wing party met with bereaved families and terror victims’ groups in Jerusalem, and called on Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu to voice his objection to such a move aloud; especially if it included the release of prisoners "with blood on their hands. "National Union Chairman Yaakov Katz said that past experience has proven that Palestinian prisoners released by Israel resume their terror activities: "(Prime Minister) Ehud Olmert planted a bomb which may completely decimate Israeli society. We will form a committee bent on fighting this move. "

Olmert ’will look into’ Gaza siege when soldier is freed
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 2/18/2009
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reiterated on Tuesday that his country’s blockade of the Gaza Strip will be lifted only after captive soldier Gilad Shalit is released, a condition Hamas again rejected. "We want first to resolve the Shalit issue and then will look into the reopening of crossings and the rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip," Olmert said. His demand was swiftly rejected by Hamas’ exiled leader, Khaled Meshaal, who again accused Israel of backtracking on the terms of a proposed long-term truce by linking the lifting of the blockade to the matter of the soldier’s release. "Israel is responsible for blocking Egypt’s efforts to broker a truce by adding a new condition at the last minute," Meshaal said after Damascus talks with visiting Arab League chief Amr Mussa. "A truce can come about only in exchange for a lifting of the blockade and the reopening of the crossing points.

Fatah activist sentenced to seven years in Israeli prison
Ma’an News Agency 2/17/2009
Gaza – Ma’an – An Israeli military court in the city of Beersheba sentenced a 38-year-old Fatah activist to seven years in prison on Tuesday after postponing his trial for two and a half years. Ali Fuad Abu Al-Foul, who is from Gaza, faced charges related to activities with Fatah and its armed branch, the Al-Aqsa Brigades. He was seized by Israeli forces at the Erez crossing while returning to Gaza from the West Bank city of Jericho in October 2006. According to sources close to him, Abu Al-Foul suffers chronic back pain and impaired vision after he was tortured in prison. Abu Al-Foul is married and has two sons, Muhammad and Fuad. [end]

Israel installs surveillance equipment in Palestinian detention center
Ma’an News Agency 2/17/2009
Salfit – Ma’an – Israeli prison guards at the Huwwara detention center have installed surveillance equipment in cells and common areas and are using information obtained by the devices during interrogation, prisoners at the facility said this week. A report from the Prisoners’ Society released Tuesday said the prison was being used to gather information and inmates would be released or taken elsewhere for questioning shortly after arriving. Prisoners said they were very disturbed by the development, noting that it violated their rights to privacy. Several prisoners also reported poor health conditions in the prison, noting that there were no doctors on staff and only basic painkillers like acetaminophen were available for the treatment of all manner of illnesses. In protest of the conditions detainees organized a hunger strike and were brutally punished for their actions.

Dichter calls Jordanian lawsuit plans ’hypocrisy’
Roni Sofer, YNetNews 2/17/2009
Internal Security Minister Dichter comments on reports Jordanian Parliament plans to file criminal lawsuit against Israeli officials for alleged war crimes in Gaza: ’No greater hypocrisy than when country that murdered 10,000 Palestinians deals with international crimes’ -Under the threat of legal proceedings against Israel in the International scene following Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, a top minister made particularly harsh statements against the State’s neighbor to the east. Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter on Tuesday was furious with reports that Jordan planned to file a lawsuit against himself and other Israeli officials at the International Criminal Court in The Hague for alleged war crime carried out during the Gaza offensive. "There is no greater hypocrisy than a country that just 39 years ago, during Black September in 1970, murdered 10,000 of its Palestinian residents – dealing with international crimes today," Dichter told Ynet.

Palestinian Today 021709
Ghassan Bannoura - Audio Dept, International Middle East Media Center News 2/17/2009
Click on Link to download or play MP3 file|| 3 m 00s || 2. 75 MB || Welcome to Palestine Today, a service of the International Middle East Media Center, www. imemc. org, for Tuesday, February 17th, 2009. For the second day in a row the Israeli army kidnaps scores of Palestinian in the West Bank and doctors call for people to donate blood in Gaza, these stories and more coming up stay tuned. The News Cast The Israeli military kidnapped 26 Palestinian civilians during pre-dawn and morning invasions targeting several West Bank cities and towns on Tuesday, Palestinian sources reported. The sources said that the invasions took place in Tulkarem, Jenin, Qalqilia, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron cities. Witnesses said that Israeli troops invaded Tulkarem city and a nearby village, then kidnapped nine civilians after searching a number of homes there.

Israel to open key Hebron road to Palestinian traffic
Ma’an News Agency 2/17/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an/Agencies – Israel’s army may open a main Palestinian road to Palestinian traffic in Hebron, according to Israeli news reports on Monday. The road, Zion Route, has been restricted to Jews only for the past ten years, Hebrew-language newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported. It leads to the illegal Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba toward the Ibrahimi Mosque, parallel to Shuhada Street, which is also closed to non-Jewish traffic. The road has long been nicknamed the “Apartheid Route” due to its racially and religiously segregated traffic. It was closed ten years earlier due to a number of Palestinian attacks on illegal settlers and settlements. A solidarity organization in Hebron applauded the move, saying the “apartheid policy in Hebron is beginning to crack,” after several years of “joint struggle between Israelis and Palestinians.

US professors warn against coalition with Lieberman
Orly Azulay, YNetNews 2/17/2009
Prominent Jewish academics launch petition urging Netanyahu, Livni not to form government with Yisrael Beiteinu leader. Such a move, they say, will delegitimize Israel in world and strain its relations with American Jewry - A petition initiated by Jewish university professors in the United States is calling on Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu and Kadima Chairman Tzipi Livni not to enter a government with Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman. "Through his platform and his rhetoric Mr. Lieberman threatens Israeli society with the darkness of race-baiting, demagoguery and ultra-nationalism. We respect the right of Israeli citizens to elect their own political leadership, yet as supporters of a democratic state we cannot remain silent at this crucial time. We remember too well how democracies in the 20th century were brought down by anti-democratic leaders who came to power through popular elections," the petition reads.

’Say ’nyet’ to Lieberman,’ leftist U.S. Jews urge Kadima, Likud
Natasha Mozgovaya, Ha’aretz 2/17/2009
Reflecting the official position of the new administration which is careful not to interfere with the delicate issues of the domestic policy in Israel, major Jewish organizations in the United States have chosen to keep silent amid the uncertainty of the recent Israeli elections. But a few left-wing Jewish activists have been busy, taking little time to rest in between demonstrations against Israel’s policy toward Gaza and the prospects of Avigdor Lieberman’s joining the ruling coalition. Two Massachusetts professors,Dennis Gaitsgory, a mathematician from Harvard University, and MIT Professor Josh Tenenbaum launched an online petition entitled "No government with Lieberman," calling on the next Israeli prime minister to cease courting the Yisrael Beiteinu leader. The petition is addressed to the leaders of Kadima. . .

Obama officials meet U.S. Jews to explain their Durban II policy
Shlomo Shamir and Raphael Ahren, Ha’aretz 2/17/2009
Officials from the Obama administration met with U. S. Jewish leaders on Monday to explain why the government has decided to participate in planning the controversial World Conference Against Racism, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported. Jerusalem fears that the "Durban II" summit, set to be held in Geneva this April, will be used by Arab nations and others as a forum to criticize Israel as was its predecessor in 2001. The closed-door talks were led by the White House and the State Department, according to the JTA, and the content of the meeting was off-the-record. The meeting was held after the State Department sent a high-level team to an informal preparatory session in Geneva this week, but declared that a "change in direction" was required before it could commit to full participation in the April meeting.

Egyptian army conducts series of war games on Sinai Peninsula
The Associated Press, Ha’aretz 2/17/2009
The Egyptian military has conducted a series of war games on the Sinai Peninsula designed to improve the army’s combat capability, Egypt’s state news agency reported on Tuesday. Large numbers of infantry, armored and artillery units as well as air force warplanes have taken part in the ten-day exercise, according to MENA. It was not clear whether the war games have been completed or are ongoing. Egypt has staged several war games on the Sinai Peninsula over the last few years. They are seen by many experts as indication that Egypt is boosting its combat capabilities out of concern for rising tensions in the Middle East. The 1979 Camp David peace agreement with Israel imposes limits on the number of troops Egypt can have in the desert peninsula and their movements.

PA calls on China to aid Gaza reconstruction
Ma’an News Agency 2/17/2009
Salfit – Ma’an – The Palestinian planning minister in the caretaker government in Ramallah called on China on Tuesday to join an effort to rebuild the Gaza Strip. Planning minister Samir Abdullah met with the Chinese representative to the Palestinian Authority, Yang Wei Gou. Abdullah stressed historic ties between the two counties, citing Chinese support for the Palestinian liberation movement. “We look at the Chinese experiment in addressing issues related to development, employment, unemployment, poverty and economic development,” Abdullah said. During the meeting Abdullah said that a Palestinian Authority plan to rebuild Gaza would be ready in a matter of days. Abdullah also invited China to attend a conference in Cairo on 2 March aimed at raising funds to rebuild the Strip. The minister also said that Gaza not only needs rebuilding houses and facilities,. . .

2 ex-Border Guard officers jailed for robbing Palestinians
Ilana Curiel, YNetNews 2/17/2009
Officers get prison sentence for demanding illegal Palestinian residents hand over NIS 4,000 in market -Two former Border Guard officers received prison sentences Monday after being convicted of robbing Palestinians at a Beersheba market. One of the officers received six months in jail and the other four - but the sentences can be converted to community service. The Beersheba District Court handed the tougher sentence to a 22-year old former officer who was convicted of abuse of power, assault, and demanding of property under threat. His accomplice, a 21-year old, was convicted of abuse of power and aiding the demanding of property under threat. According to the indictment, the two officers met three Palestinians at the city’s market three years ago and asked them for IDs. After ascertaining that the Palestinians were illegal residents, the officers ordered them to empty their pockets.

Israeli soldiers sentenced for extorting money from Palestinian workers
Ma’an News Agency 2/17/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an – An Israeli court in Beersheva sentenced two soldiers to four and six month prison terms after they were found guilty of stealing 4,000 shekels from four Palestinians. The money was taken in lieu of arrest as soldiers discovered the men were attempting to work in Israel without permits. The Palestinians were held at gunpoint until cash was produced. The incidents took place three years ago. The Israeli court ordered 1,700 shekels in compensation for each of the Palestinian men. [end]

Three Soldiers sentenced to 4-6 months for assaulting Palestinians
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 2/17/2009
The Be’er Shiva Israeli court sentenced on Tuesday three Israeli soldiers to 4-6 months imprisonment after convicting them of attacking Palestinians and stealing their money while they were at a Bus Stations in Israel three years ago. The Maan News Agency reported that the three soldiers stole 4000 NIS from the workers, violently attacked and struck them. The Israeli court convicted the three soldiers and decided to pay compensation to the Palestinian workers who were attacked by the three soldiers. [end]

Interior ministry denies imposing house arrest on Fatah leaders in Gaza
Palestinian Information Center 2/17/2009
GAZA, (PIC)-- The Palestinian interior ministry said the government in Gaza provided and still is providing the atmosphere appropriate for national dialog, categorically denying that there are Fatah-affiliated leaders under house arrest. Ihab Al-Ghussein told the Quds Press that all Fatah leaders in the Gaza Strip move freely and without restrictions, adding that Fatah leaders such as Zakarya Al-Agha, who moves between the West Bank and Gaza without any obstacle, and Ibrahim Abu Al-Naja, who speaks for satellite TV channels, are the best examples of  the absence of house arrests in the Strip. "We hear some voices in the West Bank argue that the Fatah delegation which met with Hamas leaders in Cairo does not represent the Fatah Movement, so we hope to have dialog with a unified Fatah and that Ramallah will be responsive to the calls for creating a climate for the success of forthcoming national dialog in Cairo," Ghussein underlined.

PLO’s Erekat says Mahmoud Abbas considers Gaza aid top priority
Ma’an News Agency 2/17/2009
Jericho – Ma’an – Palestine’s chief negotiator confirmed on Tuesday that President Mahmoud Abbas considers the reconstruction of Gaza as a major priority of his Fatah-led Palestinian Authority government. Sa’eb Erekat said aiding Gaza would be the president’s “maximum priority. ”The comments came at a meeting between Erekat and Spain’s Minister of Cooperation, Sobra Rozigeiz, and Spanish Consul General Ramon Enswin in Ramallah on Tuesday. Erekat added that the Palestine Liberation Organization “ceaselessly seeks accomplishing national reconciliation as a main basic point in order to enable Palestinians to face the challenges caused by the Israelis. ”He said that a national unity government should be formed in order to more forward reconstruction in Gaza, alleviating the Israeli blockade and improving issues related to crossings, as well as presidential and legislative elections.

Hamas doubts willingness of Fatah and PA for national reconciliation
Palestinian Information Center 2/17/2009
RAMALLAH, (PIC)-- The Hamas Movement voiced doubts about the willingness of Fatah faction and the PA to make the national reconciliation efforts succeed, saying that the PA security apparatuses are still persistent in the political arrest campaigns against Hamas cadres. In a statement received by the PIC, Hamas said that the confirmed reports about the torture and maltreatment practiced against Palestinian citizens affiliated with the Movement inside PA jails in addition to the escalating daily arrests carried out during raids on homes and workplaces or through summonses are a negative indicator and a major obstacle in the way of efforts made for the success of dialog. "It is unfortunate to say that most of the released cases these days are only confined to people who had been severely tortured and subsequently taken to hospitals for the seriousness of their conditions and then release. . .

PA’s waqf minister meets religious leaders; warns against misuse of mosques for political agendas
Ma’an News Agency 2/17/2009
Jerusalem - Ma’an - Palestinian Minister of Waqf Jamal Bawatna met with the Imams and Sheikhs of the West Bank on Tuesday in order to announce the impending changes in ministry policy over the roles of religious leaders in Palestine. Bawatna released a statement earlier this week condemning the use of religious institutions as platforms for political sentiments. The role of religious leaders, he said, is to teach the meaning of religious texts, teach the words of the prophet and act as centers for memorizing the holy Quran. “This meeting came after many Sheikhs and Imams misused their positions trying to achieve political interests rather than acting in their role as teachers of religious affairs and Islam,” said Bawatna. The meeting was essentially a warning to religious leaders in hopes that more direct and intrusive action will be unnecessary.

Abu Marzouk: Seven Arab countries to patronize Palestinian conciliation
Palestinian Information Center 2/17/2009
AMMAN, (PIC)-- Dr. Mousa Abu Marzouk, the deputy political bureau chairman of Hamas Movement, has revealed that seven Arab countries would patronize the inter-Palestinian national dialog. The Hamas leader told a seminar in the Jordanian capital on the Gaza battle on the phone that the meetings between Fatah and Hamas delegations in Cairo aimed at furnishing the atmosphere before the dialog, which is scheduled to open in Cairo by the end of February. He noted that the Hamas-Fatah talks focused on media campaigns, political detention and closure of Palestinian institutions. Abu Marzouk explained that the dialog would produce six committees to discuss all pending issues including restructuring the PLO, national unity government, security apparatuses, elections and means of dealing with results of the division in the Palestinian arena.

Fatah, Hamas officials meet in Ramallah before Cairo talks
Ma’an News Agency 2/17/2009
Ramallah – Ma’an – Lawmakers and ministers from Palestine’s leading political movements met Monday night in Ramallah to advance preparations for talks in Cairo scheduled for 22 February. Representatives from both Fatah and Hamas met for two hours on Monday night. Deputy Hamas Prime Minister Nasser Ash-Sha’er said the meeting was held “to push forward efforts toward reconciliation, and to overcome obstacles to ensure the success of the Cairo dialogue. ”According to Fatah Revolutionary Council Member Mahmoud Al-Aloul, the meeting came “in accordance with agreements in Cairo a few days ago regarding meetings between members of both movements. ”Other representatives from Fatah included the head of the movement’s parliamentary bloc, Azzam Al-Ahmad, and Ahmad Abd Ar-Rahman, a consultant for President Mahmoud Abbas.

Officials from the Rival factions Fatah and Hamas meet in Ramallah
Ghassan Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 2/17/2009
Leading politicians, lawmakers and ministers from the rival factions of Fatah and Hamas met Monday night in Ramallah to advance preparations for talks in Cairo scheduled for February 22nd, Palestinian sources reported. Nasser Al Sha’er, The Deputy deposed Prime Minister of Hamas, announced that the meeting was held "to push efforts toward reconciliation, and to overcome obstacles to ensure the success of the Cairo dialogue. " Meanwhile, Mahmoud Al-Aloul, of the Fatah movement’s Revolutionary Council, said that the meeting came "based on agreements in Cairo a few days ago regarding meetings between members of both movements. "The Palestinian Ma’an news agency reported that the officials discussed various issues, including political prisoners held by both factions, and the status of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Mishaal confers with Mousa on Palestinian developments
Palestinian Information Center 2/17/2009
DAMASCUS, (PIC)-- Khaled Mishaal, the political bureau chairman of Hamas, on Tuesday conferred with Amr Mousa, the Arab League secretary general, on latest Palestinian developments, a Hamas source said. He noted that the discussions tackled the situation in Gaza following the Israeli aggression along with a possible calm agreement that includes opening crossings and ending siege along with the prisoners’ swap deal. They also debated the Arab and Palestinian conciliation efforts, the source underlined. He said that Mousa, who arrived in Damascus on a visit to Syria, had asked for the meeting that was also attended by Mohammed Nazzal, Ezzet Al-Resheq and Sami Khater, political bureau members of the Hamas Movement.

Gaza census shows major shifts in Strip demographics
Ma’an News Agency 2/17/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an – According to a recent report by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), the Gaza Strip has undergone substantial changes in the size, structure, growth rate and types of housing over the past ten years. Dr. Luay Shabaneh, president of the PCBS and national director of census released on Sunday the final results of the ten-year Gaza Strip Census. The final results indicate that the total population of the Gaza Strip in the second census (2007) was 1,416,543, of whom 718,711 are males and 697,832 are females, compared with 1,022,207 individuals (518,813 males and 503,394 females) in the 1997 census final results. The annual growth rate between the two censuses totaled 3. 3 percent. Assuming a stable growth during the coming years, the Gaza Strip population will multiply in 21 years.

Boston Palestine Film Festival extends deadline for 2009 submissions
Announcement, Boston Palestine Film Festival, Electronic Intifada 2/17/2009
The Boston Palestine Film Festival (BPFF) is now accepting entries for its third annual festival to be held in October of 2009. BPFF seeks to present the extraordinary narrative of a dispossessed people living in exile, under military occupation and siege, and within Israel. Palestinian cinema represents a powerful means of interpreting the collective identity, historic struggle and surreal challenges that Palestinians face. Eligibility BPFF will showcase the diverse and creative work of all filmmakers (any nationality) exploring both historic and contemporary themes related to Palestinian culture, experience, and narrative. The BPFF Selection Committee accepts films, videos and digital media in the following categories: feature films, documentaries, shorts (including animated or experimental works), youth work (created by filmmakers under the age of 18).

Lavrov: Many western countries admitted that Hamas isolation was 'unfruitful'
Palestinian Information Center 2/17/2009
MOSCOW, (PIC)-- Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has asserted that his country did not halt contacts with the Hamas Movement, adding that time has proven the correctness of the Russian position in this regard. He told a press conference in Ramallah after talks with ex-PA chief Mahmoud Abbas that many western countries were now admitting that isolating Hamas was "not fruitful". The Russian chief diplomat said that Moscow was currently holding contacts with Hamas to ensure success of the conference for cementing Palestinian national unity slated for 22/2/2009 in Cairo. He explained that Russian contacts with Hamas aimed at urging the Movement to forge national unity on the basis of the PLO principles. Lavrov underlined that his country would participate in the international conference to reconstruct Gaza to be held in Cairo on 2/3/2009.

Glasgow university occupation
Stop The Wall 2/17/2009
On February 9, students occupied the university of Glasgow, joining the wave of university occupations that has been occurring in the UK. The occupation ended several days later, after the university administration agreed to several of the students’ demands. After several weeks of campaigning, students at Glasgow garnered more than one thousand signatures of staff and students for petitions in support of the people of Gaza. After an unsatisfactory response from the administration, some 50 students went on to occupy a university building. After a 55-hour occupation, the administration agreed to several of the students’ demands in regards to offering scholarships and supplies to Gazan students and universities. While not agreeing to divestment, the administration agreed to engage with students over the issue of Eden Springs supplying water to the campus and publish the details of university investments.

Queer activists call for boycott of Tel Aviv film festival
Appeal, QUIT, Electronic Intifada 2/17/2009
Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism (QUIT!), a San Francisco Bay Area solidarity group, is calling on international Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans and Queer filmmakers not to participate in the Tel Aviv International LGBT Film Festival this June. QUIT!’s call for filmmakers to respect the cultural boycott of Israel initiated by more than 100 organizations of Palestinian civil society. The call has been joined by members of South West Asian and North African Bay Area Queers (SWANABAQ) and a founder of Trikone, the largest South Asian LGBT organization in the world. One filmmaker has already notified festival organizers of his decision not to participate. Maher Sabry, director of the Egyptian film Toul Omry (All My Life), wrote: "It would be hypocrisy of me to call for boycotting the Egyptian government for mistreating gay men and not to call for boycotting Israel for the mass punishment of innocent Palestinian civilians for assault by few militants. "

Likud: Lieberman’s demands ’insolent’
Attila Somfalvi, YNetNews 2/17/2009
Official in Netanyahu’s party says ’it’s unclear why Yisrael Beiteinu chairman thinks he deserves to be appointed foreign or defense minister’ - Pressure mounted after Kadima and the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu parties agreed on a number of issues Monday during negotiations over the emerging coalition. In the Likud Party, criticism could be heard on Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu’s wooing of Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman. Likud officials called Lieberman’s demands for the position of foreign or defense minister "insolent", and one official said, "There is no obligation for a party with 15 mandates to earn one of the larger ministerial positions. There is no precedent for this and it’s unclear why Lieberman thinks he deserves this. "As President Shimon Peres prepares to assign the office of prime minister to either Livni or Netanyahu, the Likud has postulated that if Labor does not recommend Kadima Chairwoman Tzipi Livni to the president and Lieberman refrains from recommending Netanyahu, Yisrael Beiteinu’s power wou

Plenty of brakes but no engine
Amnon Rubinstein, Jerusalem Post 2/17/2009
As the coalition negotiations enter into their familiar despair stage, and as the public becomes more and more aware that no conceivable Israeli government will be effective or viable, it is time to dwell once more on our blighted electoral system. Election campaign billboard showing Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister and Kadima party leader Tzipi Livni in Tel Aviv. Photo: AP As a matter of fact, the election results confirmed preexisting fears. Israel has lost its capacity to produce durable parliaments and functioning governments. Some important points ought to be made: First, during the period when the prime minister was directly elected, that system was blamed for splintering the Knesset and for reducing the size of the two big parties. Now, after having returned fully to the old parliamentary system, we realize that the decline of both parties is an ongoing process with deep roots in Israeli society.

Shas chief Yishai: Israel must free Jews jailed for nationalistic crimes
Haaretz Service, Ha’aretz 2/17/2009
As Israel’s cabinet prepares to mull a prisoner swap with Hamas in exchange for captive soldier Gilad Shalit, Shas chairman Eli Yishai said on Tuesday that the government must release incarcerated Jewish criminals who were jailed for politically motivated crimes. "We must release Jewish prisoners who committed crimes that were motivated by nationalism and ideology," Yishai wrote in a letter addressed to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The Shas leader, who is also minister of industry and trade, said that Jewish prisoners have voiced contrition for their deeds, while Hamas operatives have not. "There is a need to get a sense that these gestures are made towards both sides (Jews and Arabs)," Yishai wrote. "The ministers of Shas, which I lead, are of the mind that the release of terrorists does not contribute to Israel’s security state and its political state," Yishai wrote.

Livni insists Kadima won, Likud mocks
Attila Somfalvi, YNetNews 2/17/2009
’No one can take this victory from us,’ Kadima chairwoman vows at thank-you party for supporters in Tel Aviv. Likud MK Gilad Erdan responds with mocking Livni as ’delusional’ -Kadima Chairwoman Tzipi Livni delivered an enthused speech at an event for her supporters on Tuesday evening at the Tel Aviv port, assuring them the party would not enter a "paralyzed government. " "No one can take this victory from us," Livni told the assembled crowd, "no one can take away the feeling that we can change the country from us or from everyone who held their breath with us on Tuesday night. No magician can make the tens of thousands of people who voted for us vanish. No one can take away the journey that will end when we form a government under my leadership. "No one can confine us to a paralyzed government.

Majadele: Arabs likely to quit Labor if Barak remains leader
Haaretz Service, Ha’aretz 2/17/2009
Science, Culture and Sport Minister Raleb Majadele warned on Tuesday that Israeli Arabs were likely to leave Labor if Ehud Barak stayed on as party chairman. Majadele, the country’s first Israeli Arab minister, said his own position and that of his community in Labor was clear. "First of all, Barak needs to announce in an unambiguous fashion that the Labor party will sit in the opposition in every situation, and secondly, that he will reach conclusions in the face of the harsh defeat in the elections and resign from his post as party chairman," Majadele told Arabic language Nazareth radio station A-Shams. The minister’s comments came after Barak was heavily criticized by Israeli Arabs for his role in Israel’s devastating offensive against Hamas in Gaza last month, which he commanded as defense minister.

Pensioners leader denies deal with Likud
Ofra Edelman, Ha’aretz 2/17/2009
Pensioners Party chairman Rafi Eitan denied yesterday that he had signed an agreement with Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu before the recent elections. He was responding to a report in Maariv which claimed that in exchange for the Pensioners foiling Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni’s bid to form a government four months ago, Eitan would be minister for pensioner affairs in a future Netanyahu-led government. This would happen regardless of whether the Pensioners made it into the Knesset in this month’s elections. " The one thing that was said in our conversations - and I received a negative reply to it - was that I wanted the Pensioner Affairs Ministry to be preserved," Eitan said in an interview with Army Radio. "With respect to me personally, nothing was said, and I am willing to go out into the wide world.

Leaving the parliamentary limelight
Ofra Edelman, Ha’aretz 2/17/2009
About three years after the Pensioners Party won seven seats in the Knesset, thanks to a mass-protest vote, its electorate decided to protest once again - and sent its members home. Now, at 82, the chairman of the party, Minister Rafi Eitan, has plenty of time to plan for the future. "I have a profession, I’m a sculptor," he says. "An amateur sculptor, it’s true. When I reached the age of 80, I decided to retire from business and concentrate on sculpture. " His iron and bronze sculptures are regularly on display in Moshav Beit Dagan. Eitan has difficulty remembering whether on Weizmann Street or Begin Street. "There were periods when I sculpted animals, there were periods when I sculpted faces, there were periods when I did everything in an abstract way. That’s how it happens, according to the junk I find. -- See also: More about Rafi Eitan: As Evidence Mounts, Toll of Israeli Prisoner of War Massacres Grows

Room- to-room combat in the Knesset
Shahar Ilan, Ha’aretz 2/17/2009
A fierce fight is raging in the Knesset over the question of whether Likud can hold its caucus meetings in Kadima’s conference room. Kadima’s room is the largest. Likud increased from 12 to 27 seats and its old room is too small to hold the hordes of new MKs. The first time, Likud asked for Kadima’s room, caucus head MK Yoel Hasson agreed, but yesterday he said no and Likud met in the cabinet’s conference room in the Knesset. "Kadima was always good at small, petty politics," a Likud official said yesterday. A Kadima official said the first Likud meeting occurred when the Knesset was filled with Central Elections Committee people, so Kadima was considerate. Now it is clear, however, that Likud wants the biggest caucus room even though Kadima has more MKs. "They’re disingenuous," he said.

Livni: Likud can’t buy Kadima with promises of ministerial jobs
Haaretz Service, Ha’aretz 2/17/2009
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Tuesday said that her Kadima party would join a government led by Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu for the sole purpose of securing high-ranking ministerial positions. "Nobody can take path away from us and lock us into a paralyzed government," Livni told a gathering of party activists in Tel viv. "Nobody can buy us with jobs and vague wording. "Livni vowed that Kadima would follow through with the confidence bestowed upon it by Israeli voters. " We will not embezzle this trust. Our test begins today. Everybody who put their confidence in us did so at a time when people are losing their faith in politics," she said. "Nobody can take this victory away from us. We trumped all other parties, including Likud, and we will assemble the next coalition under my leadership.

400 schools across Israel mark Gush Katif Day
Or Kashti, Ha’aretz 2/17/2009
Some 400 schools, mostly state-religious, on Monday marked Gush Katif Day. The event was organized at the initiative of the Gush Katif Committee and with the approval of the Education Ministry’s religious education administration. At some of the schools, the activities - which included meetings with former Gush Katif residents and other educational exercises - ran over several days. A principal of one of the schools that marked Gush Katif Day commented that, "It is important that we give our students the chance to learn first-hand about the history of Gush Katif and how settlement ceased there. In addition to lectures, we hung pictures and posters throughout the school and the social studies period was also devoted to the subject. The discussion in class wasn’t always easy, but it was important. . . "

Peres: Only once final results are in will I discuss who to ask to form next goverment
Yanir Yagna, Ha’aretz 2/17/2009
President Shimon Peres said that until he receives the official results of Tuesday’s election, he is "hesitant to even discuss with myself the subject" of assigning one of the political leaders the responsibility of forming a government. Speaking in Be’er Sheva yesterday, Peres said he intends to "heed the wishes of the people and the people have not said that something should be imposed. "The people have told me to consider the election results fairly and by law," he continued, "and I will be able to make a decision only after I hear the parties. On Wednesday at 6 P. M. I will receive the official [election] results. Until then I am hesitant to even talk with myself about the subject, because I fear the matter will be leaked to the press. "The president also said the existing method of elections needs to be changed.

Labor No. 2: Neither Netanyahu nor Livni could forge coalition
Haaretz Service, Ha’aretz 2/17/2009
Housing and Construction Minister Isaac Herzog said Tuesday that the Labor Party was considering not recommending anyone to form the next government coalition. According to Herzog, Labor originally intended to recommend to President Shimon Peres that Kadima Chairwoman Tzipi Livni be tapped to head the new government, but is reconsidering their recommendation following her increasing ties with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party. "In light of the passionate affair between Tzipi Livni and Lieberman that has flourished in the past few days, my colleagues and myself will seriously consider not recommending anyone to the president," Herzog, who is No. 2 on the Labor list, told Army Radio. Herzog also said that he has concluded, following talks with various senior political leaders around the world, including. . .

AG Mazuz won’t investigate Bar-On in double-vote case
Tomer Zarchin, Ha’aretz 2/17/2009
Attorney General Menachem Mazuz told Finance Minister Roni Bar-On yesterday that there was no basis for an investigation against him in the case of suspected double-voting in the Knesset. Nevertheless, the attorney general ordered the findings from the Israel Police’s preliminary inquiry to be handed over to the Knesset Ethics Committee. It is up to the committee to decide whether steps are to be taken against the minister based on ethical considerations. Mazuz made his decision after receiving the results of the police inquiry he ordered in December on suspicion that Bar-On, an ordinary member of Knesset at the time, had voted on behalf of former MK Inbal Gavrieli in May 2003, but not during her absence from the plenum. And that is exactly the point. Mazuz’s decision to shelve the investigation is based on the fact that on the tape of the vote, Gavrieli. . .

Haredim halt hospital fortification
Aviad Glickman, YNetNews 2/17/2009
Ashkelon residents petition court for renewal of construction of fortified emergency room at city hospital despite ancient graves located on site - Five Ashkelon residents petitioned the High Court of Justice on Tuesday, demanding that the construction of a fortified emergency room at Barzilai Hospital in the city be resumed. The construction was halted by the Prime Minister’s Office and Minister of Religious Affairs Yitzhak Cohen, who denied the hospital a construction permit because of an ancient cemetery located on the intended land. The government claims the graves cannot be moved despite the fact that the Chief Rabbinate permitted it. The petitioners claim the halt in construction places Ashkelon’s residents in grave danger due to the rocket threat in the area. " We cannot have a hospital that is under constant rocket threat aiming to paralyze. . .

Ram: ATP must take charge
Al Jazeera 2/17/2009
The governing bodies of tennis should cancel or impose fines on tournaments if players are barred from competing in them, Israeli doubles specialist Andy Ram said on Tuesday. Ram’s compatriot Shahar Peer was denied an entry visa into the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which has no diplomatic links with Israel, at the weekend and hence was unable to participate in this week’s women’s Dubai Championships. "Cancelling the tournament is the last thing Shahar, the WTA or the ATP or anybody else wants," Ram, who has applied for a visa to play in next week’s men’s tournament in Dubai, told the BBC. "On the other hand, it’s one of the biggest tournaments on the calendar, so obviously they have to find a way to let the Israelis play there. I don’t know what should be done. . . . maybe cancelling the tournament or sanction them with money or any other thing. "

Tennis Channel boycotts Dubai event after Israel’s Peer barred
Haaretz Service and The Associated Press, Ha’aretz 2/17/2009
The American Tennis Channel will not televise the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships this week to protest the United Arab Emirates’ refusal to grant an entry visa to Israeli player Shahar Peer, the New York Times reported Tuesday. Peer was scheduled to play Russia’s Anna Chakvetadze in the first round. The U. S. daily quoted Ken Solomon, the chairman and chief executive of the network, as saying on Monday from Utah that, "This is an easy decision to come by, based on what is right and wrong. ""Sports are about merit, absent of background, class, race, creed, color or religion," he added. "They are simply about talent. This is a classic case, not about what country did what to another country. If the state of Israel were barring a citizen of an Arab nation, we would have made the same decision. "

Report: Israel secretly sabotaging Iran’s nuclear program
Ynet, YNetNews 2/17/2009
British Daily Telegraph quotes US intelligence officials as saying Israel using assassins, sabotage, double agents and front companies to interrupt and delay Islamic Republic’s nuclear drive -Israel is using assassins, sabotage, front companies and double agents in an effort to interrupt the Iranian nuclear program, US intelligence experts told the British Daily Telegraph. According to the report, Israel has gone as far as orchestrating the assassination of high-profile figures in the Islamic Republic’s regim. A former CIA officer told the British newspaper: "Disruption is designed to slow progress on the program, done in such a way that they don’t realize what’s happening. The goal is delay, delay, delay until you can come up with some other solution or approach. " A senior analyst with a private American intelligence company said that Israel’s main strategy was to eliminate key Iranian figures.

Lieberman, Livni mull ’civil front’
Mazal Mualem, Ha’aretz 2/17/2009
Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman and Kadima chief Tzipi Livni are working to form a "civil front" to counter the right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties which Likud has been wooing in the coalition talks. Sources in Kadima and Likud say they don’t expect Lieberman to recommend any candidate to President Shimon Peres on Thursday as Yisrael Beiteinu’s choice to form a new government. Lieberman would instead try to force the formation of a national unity government consisting of Kadima, Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu, without ultra-Orthodox Sephardi party Shas. " Bibi doesn’t have Lieberman," Vice Premier Haim Ramon told Haaretz yesterday, using the nickname of Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu. "And the significance of this is that Netanyahu doesn’t have 61 Knesset members who will recommend that he be asked by the president to form the next government.

IAEA: Iran hasn’t added centrifuges
Reuters, YNetNews 2/17/2009
ElBaradei says he believes Iran has political motive for not adding uranium-enriching centrifuges -Iran "hasn’t really" added any further centrifuges to refine enriched uranium, which is required for use in nuclear reactors or weapons, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei said on Tuesday. ElBaradei said he thought the reason for this was political. The IAEA said in its latest report in November that Iran had not boosted the number of centrifuges regularly refining uranium since reaching a level of 3,800 in September. "They haven’t really been adding centrifuges, which is a good thing," ElBaradei told reporters. "Our assessment is that it’s a political decision. " However, he added, the Islamic Republic was still not cooperating with efforts to resolve outstanding questions regarding its nuclear program.

UN watchdog: Iran not cooperating fully with probe of its nukes
Reuters, Ha’aretz 2/17/2009
Iran is still not cooperating with efforts to resolve outstanding questions regarding its nuclear program, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei said on Tuesday. The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog repeated that Iran was meeting its obligations to allow inspectors into nuclear sites, but the lack of cooperation regarded questions on past activities. "Iran right now is not providing any access or any clarification with regard to those studies or the whole possible military dimension," ElBaradei said in Paris at a media event. "No, I’m not obviously happy with the degree of cooperation. They shut off any cooperation with the agency over the past few months," he said. Iran has been pressing ahead with expanding its ability to enrich uranium which can be used to fuel power plants, or potentially nuclear weapons.

Report: Iran seeking Russian missiles to repel Israeli assault
Reuters, Ha’aretz 2/17/2009
Iran’s defense minister will seek to convince Russia on Tuesday to deliver air defense systems which could help repel possible Israel and U. S. air strikes, Russian media reported. Iran has long been interested in buying medium range Russian S-300 air defence systems from Russia but Israel has sought to convince Moscow not to deliver the systems. Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar met Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov in Moscow on Tuesday. "I hope this visit will lead to the further development of relations between our two countries in all areas, including in the sphere of military cooperation," Najjar was quoted as saying by the Iranian embassy in Moscow. Russia’s Kommersant newspaper said Najjar will seek to get Russia to deliver the systems during his visit to Moscow, though the. . .

Iranian defense minister presumed to be shopping for Russian anti-aircraft missiles
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 2/18/2009
MOSCOW: Iran’s defence minister on Tuesday met his Russian counterpart with the reported aim of persuading Moscow to deliver sophisticated air-defense missiles at a time of persistent tension with Israel and some of the latter’s Western allies. Mostafa Mohammad Najjar met his Russian counterpart, Anatoly Serdyukov, in "constructive" talks which looked at present and future Russian-Iranian defense relations, the Russian Defense Ministry said. Najjar was expected to urge Moscow to fulfill a contract for the delivery of Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to Tehran, Russian news agencies and newspapers reported. "It is not ruled out that during the talks the Iranian side will raise the question about fulfilling the contract for the delivery of the S-300," the Interfax news agency quoted a military source as saying.

Cast Lead weighs on tourist entries
Yael Gruntman, Globes Online 2/17/2009
The number of Israelis traveling abroad also dropped sharply in January. The Central Bureau of Statistics reports that 130,000 tourists entered Israel in January 2009, 29% fewer than in January 2008. The Central Bureau of Statistics blames the fall on Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, which began in late December and ended on January 17. The Central Bureau of Statistics added that 180,000 Israelis traveled abroad in January 2009, 23% fewer than in January 2008 when there were 172,000 departures, including Israelis living overseas. The Central Bureau of Statistics also feels that this fall was influenced by the military operation in Gaza, with the mobilization of IDF reservists reducing the number of vacationers. The Central Bureau of Statistics stressed that there many flights to Turkey were cancelled.

Gaza operation boosts news websites
Noa Parag, Globes Online 2/17/2009
TIM survey: 50% of surfers said that they spent more time online than usual during Operation Cast Lead. The fighting in Gaza sent hits on news websites surging, according to the TIM survey of weekly exposure rates for January 2009. The biggest winners were Walla Communications Ltd. (TASE: WALANana10 , andMa’ariv-NRG. Channel 2’sMako and "Yediot Ahronot’s"ynet lost ground, as they failed to show an increase in traffic. 50% of surfers said that they spent more time online than usual during Operation Cast Lead, while 8% said that they spent less time than usual. A breakdown of surfers’ conduct by population segment found that impact of Operation Cast Lead was greatest on younger surfers: 55% of surfers aged 13-29 said that they spent more time online, compared with 40% of surfers aged over 50.

Well run dry at bottled water co Neviot
Michal Yoshai, Globes Online 2/17/2009
The company suspended production after excessive turbidity was found in is source of spring water. Bottled water companyNeviot - Nature of Galilee Ltd. (TASE:NVIO ) today published a profit warning. The notice to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange (TASE), which details the effect on business resulting from a halt in production, was in response to a request for clarification by theIsrael Securities Authority to yesterday’s notice about that halt in production due to excessive turbidity of the water in the spring that is the source of the company’s bottled water. Neviot stated, "The company’s sole business and only source of revenue is the production of mineral water and beverages based on mineral water, and the spring at Ein Zahav is the sole source of water used by the company for mineral water used to make its products.

Drought killing gardening business
Amiram Cohen, Ha’aretz 2/17/2009
The local gardening business, which employs thousands of workers, is in danger of collapse. An acute shortage of water, the global economic crisis and the decline of new construction projects have led to a 60% drop in orders for new plantings of lawns and gardens in the private and public sector in the first half of 2009 - according to data from the Israeli Gardening Association. Water consumption for public and private gardens in Israel totals some 150 million cubic meters annually, of which 90 million cubic meters are for public spaces. Barring any dramatic developments in rainfall levels this winter - an unlikely scenario - the Water Authority is expected to slash water allocations for public and private gardening by 100 million cubic meter. Gardening Association Director General Hezi Mula said yesterday that the most severe blow so far has been to the grass industry.

Demand for workers plunging
Ha’aretz 2/17/2009
As the job losses problem explodes world wide, Israel is experiencing a sharp drop in demand for workers. Demand for labor was down 12% in January 2009 compared to the same period last year, according to data from the state-run Employment Service. The situation compared with the previous month, December was even worse - a drop of 13. 5%. Southern Israel contributed disproportionately in the decline, the Service said. The figures are taken from raw data, and have not been adjusted for seasonal influences, holidays or number of work days in the month. About half of the 20,000 jobs offered through the Employment Service in January 2009 were for unskilled workers (11,276 workers, or 48. 5%). The largest number of jobs were offered through the service in Jerusalem - 2,288 jobs; Tel Aviv - 2,175 jobs; Haifa - 1,117 jobs; Netanya - 722 jobs; and Petah Tikva - 630 jobs.

Market report / Ashot soars 85% on jet engines deal
Tal Levy, Ha’aretz 2/17/2009
Locally, the story of the day was Ashot Ashkelon, shares of which skyrocketed by 85%. Inside a week, the armaments maker has gained 390% after nabbing a 10-year contract to supply shafts for jet engines to an American aviation engines manufacturer. The deal could be worth as much as $80 million to the company, which is a subsidiary of Israel Military Industries. -- Tel Aviv stocks reversed from retreat to end with a positive bias, overcoming the barrage of worrying news about global unemployment and escalating concerns about the efficacy of the U. S. stimulus package. The benchmark TA-25 index closed 0. 9% higher at 692 points and the broader TA-100 index added 0. 5%, closing at 629 points. Turnover remained slim at just a billion shekels, indicating that the general public is still shunning the market. No indicators were incoming from Wall Street yesterday, because of the President’s Day break.

Tony Blair receives Israeli prize worth $1 million
Ofri Ilani, Ha’aretz 2/17/2009
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair will be one of the three laureates of the Dan David Prize for 2009, awarded annually by Tel Aviv University. Each of the laureates will receive a $1 million prize, 10 percent of which is contributed to 20 doctoral and post-doctoral scholarships. Blair was selected to receive the prize in leadership for what the judges described as "his exceptional leadership and steadfast determination in helping to engineer agreements and forge lasting solutions to areas in conflict. " Also receiving the prize for 2009 are Paolo de Bernardis, Andre Lange and Paul Richards, in the field of "Astrophysics - History of the Universe," for "their discoveries concerning the geometry and composition of our universe. "In the field of "Global Public Health," the prize is awarded to Robert Gallo, "for his research of the HIV and T-cell leukemia viruses and especially for the development of a robust, simple blood test to detect the HIV virus. "

Israel resumes annual shipment of Golan apples to Syria
Haaretz Service and News Agencies, Ha’aretz 2/17/2009
Israel resumed its export of Golan Heights-grown apples to Syria on Tuesday, after it last year halted the annual project due to a shortage in produce. The decision to begin the export again was made following a request by the Red Cross and at the directive of the political echelon. This is a humanitarian action that helps Druze farmers economically," said Yael Segev-Eitan of the Red Cross. "This year, both sides were eager to get the project going. We hope that this will create an atmosphere that will facilitate the promotion of other humanitarian ventures. "The first shipment from Israel five years ago was worked out by the International Committee of the Red Cross. The idea is to allow Israeli Druze farmers in the Israeli-controlled to market their main crop to Syria.

Assad to US: Don’t bet on new Israeli gov’t
Ynet, YNetNews 2/17/2009
Syrian president calls on US President Obama to resurrect diplomatic relations frozen by Bush administration. Pessimistic about future peace talks, he rejects new Israeli government before it is formed -In an interview with the UK’s Guardian newspaper Tuesday Syrian President Bashar Assad called on his US counterpart Barack Obama to send an ambassador to Syria in a measure designed to kickstart diplomacy between the two countries. "We are a player in the region. If you want to talk about peace, you can’t advance without Syria," Assad said. He added that he expects Obama to honor his commitment to hold dialogue with states blacklisted by the Bush administration, and that he wanted the US to be the "main arbiter" in the Middle East peace process. "There is no substitute for the United States," Assad said.

US Congressional delegation holds talks with Assad
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 2/18/2009
DAMASCUS: A delegation of US senators led by Benjamin Cardin, a member of the foreign relations committee, arrived in Damascus Tuesday for talks with President Bashar Assad. Cardin’s talks with the president on Wednesday will focus on bilateral relations, the peace process and regional questions, the US Embassy said. It is the second US Congressional delegation to visit Syria in less than a month and John Kerry, foreign relations committee chairman, is expected to make the country one of his stops on a current Middle East tour. Cardin’s group plan to go to the office of the UN High Commission for Refugees to find out about the situation of the some 1. 5 million Iraqi refugees in Syria, the embassy said. US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi went to Damascus in April 2007 to meet President Assad, to the annoyance of President George W.

Israel allows apples from Golan into rest of Syria
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 2/18/2009
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Truckloads of apples were sent from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to Syria on Tuesday after Israel authorized the export of 8,000 tons to its longtime foe. The first shipments went through the Kuneitra crossing on Tuesday morning, a military spokesman said. "An apple transfer through the demarcation line between the occupied Golan and Syria. . . is no everyday event," the International Committee of the Red Cross, which organized the operation, said in a statement. "The ICRC is acting in its capacity as a neutral intermediary at the request of the farmers of the occupied Golan and with the approval of the Syrian and Israeli authorities," the humanitarian organization said in a statement. "We hope this operation will help create an environment conducive to raising other humanitarian concerns, for example the fact that family members separated by the demarcation. . .

Much at stake for Lebanon in US opening to Syria
Ali Gharib, Inter Press Service, Daily Star 2/18/2009
WASHINGTON: This week, two high-level US Congressional delegations are setting out for Syria to meet with President Bashar Assad. The trips are seen as a precursor for engagement with Syria, but the extent of possible diplomatic deal-making is still in question. Foreign Relations Committee chairman Senator John Kerry is spending this week touring the Middle East and is scheduled to stop in Damascus for talks with Assad, his third such visit. House Foreign Relations chairman Representative Howard Berman is expected to travel there later this month. If, indeed, the congressional trips are a harbinger of President Barack Obama’s desire to restore diplomacy with Syria, that would represent a sharp break with former President George W. Bush’s policy of isolating Damascus. Obama campaigned on and has, since his inauguration, declared his intention to talk to US adversaries to try to resolve differences.

Lebanon arrests man suspected of spying on Hezbollah for Israel
Yossi Melman, Ha’aretz 2/17/2009
The Lebanon Army has arrested a resident of south Lebanon suspected of gathering information about the Islamist Hezbollah group on behalf of Israel, the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar reported yesterday. According to the report, the arrest was coordinated with Hezbollah’s security services. The article released only the man’s first name, Marwan, and said he was arrested about 10 days ago, following months of surveillance. Sources involved with the investigation said that Marwan, a resident of the southern Lebanese city of Nabatiyeh, confessed to having been approached in France by Israeli intelligence services in the early 1990s, with the aim of spying on Hezbollah. He was then asked to relay information about the group’s headquarters, guerrillas and military plans, according to the report.

Hezbollah chief defends arsenal
Al Jazeera 2/17/2009
Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, has defend his group’s right to possess and use anti-aircraft weapons in its struggle against Israel. He was speaking at a rally on Monday marking the first anniversary of the death of Imad Moghaniya, a senior Hezbollah commander, and two senior security officers. Moghaniya died in a car bombing last year in Damascus, the Syrian capital. Hezbollah has accused Israel of involvement in the killing, but officials in Tel Aviv deny the charges. "We have the right, the entire right to possess any weapon and among it the air defence weapon and we have also the right to use this weapon when we need it," Nasrallah told a crowd of supporters in the Lebanese capital Beirut. But he refused to confirm or deny Israeli reports that Hezbollah has acquired. . .

Hezbollah keen on unity government
Middle East Online 2/17/2009
BEIRUT - Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah called on Monday for a huge turnout in Lebanon’s upcoming legislative polls and insisted his party was keen on a unity government whatever the outcome of the vote. "We live in a country in which we are doomed to partnership and consensus, whether the majority or the minority wins the elections," said Nasrallah, speaking via video link at a rally. "Fighting it out in cabinet meetings is better than fighting it out on the streets," Nasrallah added. He said that if his camp wins the June 7 vote, he would call for a government of national unity in which the opposing alliance would have a blocking minority. "If the other side refuses to join such a government, we will live up to our responsibility and lead the country while offering a new way of governing," he said.

Hezbollah: 'We have the right to obtain aerial defense systems'
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 2/17/2009
Hasan Nasrallah, Secretary-General of the Lebanon-based Hezbollah party, stated Monday that the party has the right to obtain its own air defense system in order to use them in the defence of Lebanon and her citizens. The statements of Nasrallah came while the party was commemorating the first anniversary of the assassination of Imad Mughaniyya, the military leader of the Hezbollah party. Nasrallah did not deny or confirm that the party had already obtained these defense systems, and only said that "Israel is troubled by the notion that Hezbollah obtained aerial defense systems and advanced missiles". "We have the right to obtain weapons in order to defend our country and our people", Nasrallah stated, "Whether we have the defense systems or not, this is a different issue, our war with the enemy is a war of surprises".

Security officials confirm arrest of Lebanese spy for Israel in Nabatiyeh
Daily Star 2/18/2009
BEIRUT: Security officials have confirmed reports of the arrest of an Israeli spy who may have conducted espionage during the July war with Israel in 2006. A security official identified the man as Kamal Faqih, a petrol station owner from Nabatiyeh. "He is with Army Intelligence. The investigations are focusing on how much he was involved in spy work during the war with Israel in 2006," the official told The Daily Star. The source said Hizbullah had played a role in discovering Faqih’s secret double life after becoming suspicious of his behavior. "Hizbullah watched him for several months, and it became known he was a spy," the source said. The man is believed to have been working for the Israelis since the mid-1990s, when he was recruited by Mossad in France and asked to provide information about Hizbullah and the Lebanese Army.

Trial of 29 terror suspects kicks off in Beirut
Daily Star 2/18/2009
BEIRUT: The trial of 29 men accused of serious terrorist offenses began Monday, despite nine of the defendants, including Fatah al-Islam’s founder Shaker al- Abssi, still being on the run. The defendants, who are members of Al-Qaeda, Fatah al-Islam and Osbat al-Ansar, are accused of "forming armed gangs in order to stage terrorist attacks. "They are also being tried for "possession of explosives" and "training to use explosives and arms," according to court documents relating to the case. Other charges include "possession of false identification" and "inciting assassination. " The documents paint a disturbing picture of the international nature of the terror groups, with defendants from Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Jordan and Syria all on trial in the case. A judicial source said the Saudi defendants had arrived in Lebanon especially to train local Islamist militants in carrying out attacks.

Shekel-dollar rate surges
Sharon Baider, Globes Online 2/17/2009
A Bank of Israel plan to buy government debt securities pushed the exchange rate to a level last seen in August, 2007. The shekel-dollar exchange rate is jumping 1. 7% to NIS 4. 145/$, and the shekel-euro rate is up 0. 69% to NIS 5. 2335/€. TheBank of Israel’s announced yesterday that it will begin to intervene in the secondary market for government bonds by buying government bonds of various types and maturities. The Bank said that its goal for the program is to increase the liquidity provided to financial institutions, businesses and households and enhance the effectiveness of monetary policy. The Bank of Israel added that it expects that this step will extend the effectiveness of monetary policy onto longer interest rate maturities. The plan, combined with general strength in the dollar in global trading, is pushing the shekel-dollar rate to a level last seen in August, 2007.

Israeli interest rates could drop to zero, says Fischer
Moti Bassok and Tal Levy, Ha’aretz 2/17/2009
The Bank of Israel has unveiled its newest weapon in the war against the liquidity crunch: buying government bonds, starting today. Nor does the central bank quail at lowering interest rates further from their historic low of 1%, Governor Stanley Fischer spelled out yesterday. Not only will the Bank of Israel be buying government bonds, it may start picking up corporate debt too, Fischer said. "A central bank governor never says never," Fischer repeated yesterday, referring to the possibility of buying corporate bonds as an emergency measure or possibly other assets as well. Speaking about central bank policy before the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Fischer explicitly stated that there will be more interest-rate cuts. The Bank of Israel rate could even be lowered to zero, though it couldn’t be negative, he quipped.

Tainted water halts production at Neviot, Mei Eden
Ronny Linder-Ganz, Adi Dovrat and Rina Rozenberg, Ha’aretz 2/17/2009
The two largest mineral water companies in Israel have announced within the past two days that they have stopped pumping water from their springs and have stopped production as a result of contaminated water. Mei Eden announced on Saturday that they had stopped filling bottles because of a lack of consistency in tests run on their water from the Golan Heights. The other major mineral water supplier, Neviot, yesterday reported contaminants in the spring in Kiryat Shmona from which it bottles water. Both companies stressed that the mineral water available for sale is considered safe and fit for drinking. For the moment, there is no shortage of mineral water in stores or in the water cooler jugs the companies distribute, but the stock of both is expected to run out in the near future.

January layoffs were all-time high
Shay Niv, Globes Online 2/17/2009
The Employment Service predicts more than 260,000 jobseekers by the end of 2009. 19,719 people lost their jobs in January 2009, the highest ever number of layoffs in Israel in a single month, the Israel National Employment Service reported today. The previous record was the previous month, December 2008, when 17,499 people lost their jobs. Prior to the current economic crisis, layoffs averaged about 10,000 per month, and hiring more than balanced the layoffs. This is no longer the case. The Employment Service also reports that the number of jobseekers with at least one day’s unemployment rose by 3. 8% to 215,000 in January from 207,200 in December. The number of jobseekers with degrees rose by 9. 9%. However, it is possible that many jobseekers found new jobs fairly quickly.

Boys With Toys
Dahr Jamail, Middle East Online 2/17/2009
Mile after mile of concrete walls segregate erstwhile mixed neighborhoods in Baghdad. This prodigious Balkanization of the capital city has had the twin effect of attenuating violence and displacing every fourth resident from their homes. -- "Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind. ”- John F. Kennedy. It is not the threat of violence that weighs on the people of Iraq. It is the omnipresent occurrence of violence that has resulted in the desperate nation wide chant, “We are tired. All we want is for normal life to return. ” Recently, an eight-year-old Iraqi girl was shot by US soldiers when their convoy ran into a crowd of Shiite pilgrims traveling to the holy city of Karbala in southern Iraq. Sunday, a week ago, three explosions echoed across Baghdad, leaving one person dead and wounding another 20.

Pope to visit Palestinian territory in May
Ma’an News Agency 2/17/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Pope Benedict XVI will visit Jordan, the West Bank, and Israel in in May, a spokesperson for the Catholic church in Jordan confirmed on Tuesday. Rifat Bader, the church spokesman said that the Pope will be in the Jordan from 8 to 11 May before crossing into the Palestinian territories and Israel. “The Pope will spend four days in Jordan and then will head to Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem,” he said. The pope is also expected to meet the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, in the West Bank. “It is a good tradition that the Pope’s visit will start from Jordan,” Bader said, citing visits by Pope Paul VI in 1964 and Pope John Paul II in 200, both of which began in Jordan. The Pope plans to visit Mount Nebo, in Jordan, thought to be the burial site of Moses, and will lay the cornerstone of a church in the Jordan valley.

Pope to meet Muslim leaders in Jordan
Middle East Online 2/17/2009
AMMAN - Pope Benedict XVI will meet Muslim leaders on a trip to Jordan in May and call for improving interfaith dialogue, a church official said on Tuesday. "The pope will meet Islamic leaders and deliver a speech to affirm the importance of interfaith dialogue between Christians and Muslims," said Refaat Badr, the spokesman of the Roman Catholic Church in Jordan. The pontiff will travel to Jordan on May 8-11 at the beginning of a trip that is also expected to take him and Nazareth in Israel and to the Palestinian Bethlehem in the West Bank and occupied Jerusalem, Badr said. During his meeting with the Muslim notables at the capital’s King Hussein Mosque, the pope "will stress that religion is key to serving global peace and justice, particularly in the Middle East," Badr said. Benedict has made repeated gestures of good will towards Muslims.

POLITICS: Commanders in Iraq Challenge Petraeus on Pullout Risk
Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service 2/17/2009
WASHINGTON, Feb 17(IPS) - CENTCOM Commander General David Petraeus and Multinational Force Iraq (MNF-I) Commander General Ray Odierno have submitted assessments of Iraq combat troop withdrawal plans to President Barack Obama based on the premise that his 16-month withdrawal plan would pose significantly greater risk to "security gains" than the 23-month plan they favour. But a senior commander in Iraq appeared to contradict that premise last week by declaring that security gains in the Shi’a provinces of Iraq are "permanent", and a field commander in Iraq says there is no objective basis for any Petraeus-Odierno finding that Obama’s plan carries greater risk than their 23-month plan. Maj. Gen. Michael Oates, U. S. commander for the eight southern provinces of Iraq, denied in remarks to reporters Feb. 12 that the security gains in that region were fragile, contrary to the premise that Odierno has publicly asserted.

Iraq War: Not Just Unpopular
Middle East Online 2/17/2009
Here’s something President Barack Obama probably doesn’t want to be reminded of as he celebrates his first major legislative achievement: Bush’s Iraq war was not just unpopular. It was illegal. Today, six years after the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003, nearly 60% of Americans think the war was the wrong thing to do. But try and argue it was illegal, and you’ll often hear: "So what? " That’s what a UN civil servant -- an otherwise intelligent woman -- said when I recently worked on a report for her organization. I had quoted an impeccable source: then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. He told the BBC a year after the US invasion “from the [UN] charter point of view, it was illegal. ” What makes a war legal? Two things: self-defense or authorization by the UN Security Council. Iraq was never an imminent threat to the United States, nor did the Security Council authorize the war.

German FM on surprise visit to Iraq
Middle East Online 2/17/2009
BAGHDAD - German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier flew in on a surprise trip to Iraq on Tuesday, in the first such visit for more than 20 years ago, Iraqi officials said. Steinmeier is due to meet President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki during his trip, which comes exactly a week after a surprise mission by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Like France, Germany was an opponent of the US-led invasion of 2003. Steinmeier was chief of staff to then-chancellor Gerhard Schroeder when the war broke out. Steinmeier was also expected to open a German consulate in Arbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan in the north of the country, according to the Kurdish press. It was the first such visit by a German foreign minister since 1987, three years before UN sanctions were slapped on Saddam’s Iraq over its invasion of Kuwait.


Articles


Mine-clearing teams in Gaza waiting for Israeli OK
Amira Hass, Ha’aretz 2/17/2009
      GAZA CITY - A team trained to remove and destroy unexploded ordnance has been operating in the Gaza Strip for three weeks, but its work is being held up because Israel has not approved the entry of its equipment nor an area for storing and neutralizing ordnance. For now some of the latter, located by the Palestinian police, is being stored in locations that are dangerously close to population centers in Rafah, Khan Yunis and Gaza City.
     The team was sent by the British humanitarian organization Mines Advisory Group, whose purpose is to reduce the danger to the local population posed by unexploded mines and other weapons in conflict zones around the world. MAG is co-laureate of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize. In Gaza, the MAG team works in cooperation with the United Nations Mine Action Service.
     The head of the team in Gaza told Haaretz that the actual work of neutralizing and destroying the explosives is not complicated, and that it is the coordination that takes time. The transfer of the ordnance to a safe location for controlled explosion must be coordinated with the Israel Defense Forces as well as with the Palestinian authorities in the Gaza Strip. The neutralization methods chosen will depend on the equipment Israel will allow in.

Unmanned aerial vehicles and the warfare of inequality management

Jimmy Johnson, Electronic Intifada 2/17/2009
      Aeronautics Defense Systems, based in the Israeli city of Yavne, was recently awarded a contract by the Dutch Ministry of Defense "to supply unmanned air vehicle capacity to Dutch troops serving with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan." [1] The Netherlands is not the only nation to employ Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in foreign occupation. They are also utilized by Canadian, US, UK and Australian forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. Their foreign sale has developed largely because of significant use in the wars against and occupations of Lebanon and Palestine. A variety of Israeli firms are developing new unmanned aerial, terrestrial and nautical vehicles. As these are proven in combat, here it can be expected that they too will be exported to foreign forces.
     Israel was the first country to widely adopt and integrate UAVs into its armed forces beyond their use as gunnery targets for anti-aircraft training. The US made somewhat sporadic use of the machines for intelligence gathering in south China and Vietnam during the Vietnam war but it wasn’t until Israel led the way that Washington started to recognize and exploit their potential value. "The Israeli Air Force pioneered several UAVs in the late 1970s and 1980s that were eventually integrated into the United States’ UAV inventory. US observers noticed Israel’s successful use of UAVs during operations in Lebanon in 1982, encouraging then-Navy Secretary John Lehman to acquire a UAV capability for the Navy." Military esteem of Israeli UAVs further grew after the first Gulf War when Israel Aircraft Industries’ Pioneer "emerged as a useful source of intelligence at the tactical level during Desert Storm. Pioneer was used by Navy battleships to locate Iraqi targets for its 16-inch guns." [2] Earlier restrictions on UAV operational capacity have fallen away with the dramatic increases in computer processing power and sensor technologies that allow for higher resolution photo and video transmissions and improved communications. The speed of technological advance in the field has led to constant reassessment of unmanned vehicles’ battlefield potential and the dedication of increasing resources to development and procurement by armed forces worldwide. The US’s National Defense Authorization Fiscal Year 2001 legislation declared "It shall be a goal of the Armed Forces to achieve the fielding of unmanned, remotely controlled technology such that ... by 2010, one-third of the aircraft in the operational deep strike force aircraft fleet are unmanned." [3] Just five years later, the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review increased that to 45 percent.

In Morocco, anger at Arab collusion against Gaza

Anouar Boukhars, Daily Star 2/17/2009
      I have just returned from Morocco where I witnessed first-hand the massive emotional reaction to Israel’s brutal destruction of Gaza. Wherever I went, I could not help but notice the pervasive sense of popular anger and despair, powerlessness and humiliation, guilt and shamefulness. The country was a pot of boiling emotions and ardent indignation at both Israel’s indiscriminate killing of innocent children and women and the stunning collusion of a number of Arab regimes in Israel’s deadly assault on Gaza.
     With few exceptions, no Arab leader has ever dared to openly legitimize and endorse a devastating Israeli war on fellow Arabs. However, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other so-called moderate Arab states showed no qualms about going to this length to tilt the regional balance of power from their "radical" Arab rivals, rather than setting aside their personal feuds, tribal mentalities and mutual antagonism for the sake of the battered people of the Gaza Strip.
     The crippling divisions and political posturing of all Arab authoritarian regimes were painful to watch. In a typical authoritarian posture, the eccentric Libyan leader, Muammar Gadhafi, blasted the "cowardly and defeatist" reactions of Arab leaders, while his son and probable successor, Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, criticized Arabs for not holding their leaders accountable for their inaction during the Israeli offensive.

Challenging Zionist Indoctrination: Birthright Israel 'Unplugged'

Corey Balsam - AIC, International Middle East Media Center News 2/17/2009
      There are few international educational trips that can boast a higher participant rate. In just under 10 years, Birthright Israel has flown over 200, 000 young Jews to Israel for a 10 day adventure of touring, partying and a good dose of Zionist indoctrination.
     Despite a significant drop in funding this year, that number is sure to grow by the thousands again in 2009.
     How do they do it? For starters, it’s free. So long as you identify as Jewish, have never been on an organized tour of Israel, and are between the ages of 18-26, you qualify.
     What’s the catch? Well, there really isn’t one. Participants are not required to buy anything or move to Israel and join the army, nor are they force-fed with political lectures and religious tirades. All they need to do is accept an all-expenses-paid "gift" of a seemingly apolitical, non-religious tour. Who wouldn’t accept?
     I did.
     Beneath the surface, however, these "gifts" are indeed politically motivated. Funded by the Israeli government, the Jewish Agency for Israel and wealthy Zionist philanthropists like Charles Bronfman and Sheldon Adelman, the trips are intended in large part to foster support amongst Diaspora Jewish youth for the continued existence of Israel as a "Jewish state" and to ensure a new generation of Israel supporters who can take over the reins from their parents and grandparents.

Gaza’s forgotten elderly

Report, PCHR, Electronic Intifada 2/17/2009
      At the nursing home of al-Wafaa Hospital in the northeastern Gaza Strip, frail women lie curled in their beds, most of them bedridden. In Gaza’s close-knit society, nursing homes are not very common, as most people prefer to care for their elderly family members at home. However, the patients at al-Wafaa have nowhere else to go.
     While many reports have been released on the effect of the conflict on children, other vulnerable groups such as the elderly and disabled are often disregarded.
     Seventy-five-year-old Rahma Mourad is one of the hospital’s permanent residents. Her face lights up as she remembers her early years in Damascus, where she came from a privileged background and her first language was French. Now, with her children in Syria and no family nearby to visit her, all she has are her memories. "I used to be so beautiful," she says. "I came from a life of culture. Now look at me, I don’t even have teeth."
     Over 4,300 people were physically injured during Israel’s 22-day offensive on the Gaza Strip, many of whom sustained horrific injuries. But the wounds of psychological trauma, caused by shelling and bombardment, will also take time to heal.

’Salt of the Earth’ Send Aid Convoy to Gaza

Middle East Online 2/17/2009
      Every day since the cowardly blitzkrieg on Gaza ended Israel has carried out further death-dealing air strikes while its soldiers snipe at farmers and sea patrols continue to fire on Gazan fishing boats.
     Unable to attend the Viva Palestina convoy send-off in London, I watched video footage of the occasion with tears in my eyes.
     Here at last were people of courage and moral backbone - a dying breed in Britain, I had thought. How easily they put our leaders to shame.
     The political leadership in London still dances to Israel’s tune in spite of that regime’s never-ending crimes. It is no use looking to them for honest action. A humanitarian response to Gaza has never crossed their mind. They are, after all, the friends of land thieves and racist aggressors.
     Yes, our parliamentary poseurs know which side their bread is buttered on, and they lean over backwards to avoid displeasing the lawless plunderers of the Holy Land.
     The driving force behind the 120-vehicle relief convoy is MP George Galloway. “This is not the British élite," he said, referring to the men and women setting out on this 5000-mile mercy trip.

Four Solutions for Palestine, Israel

Robin Yassin-Kassab, Palestine Chronicle 2/16/2009
      ’I do not hate (Israelis) for being Jewish or Israeli but because of what they have done to us. Because of the acts of occupation. It is difficult to forget what was done to us. But if the reason for the hate will not exist, everything is possible. But if the reason remains, it is impossible to love. First we must convince in general and in principle that we have been wronged, then we can talk about 67 or 48. You still do not recognize that we have rights. The first condition for change is recognition of the injustice we suffered.’ -- Said Sayyam, martyred in Gaza January 2009, to Ha’aretz, November 1995.
     All Palestine is controlled by Zionism. The Palestinians (not counting the millions in exile) are half the population of Israel-Palestine, but they are victims of varying degrees of apartheid. The Jewish state has already lost its Jewish majority, and is more hated by the Arab peoples than at any time in its brief, violent history. Let’s take it as given that continuation of the present situation is untenable for everyone concerned. We need a solution.
     There are four solutions. The first is for the Arabs to push the Jews into the sea. On the surface this seems like a reasonably just solution. It is, after all, what the Algerians and Vietnamese did with the French, what the Kenyans and Indians did with the British, what the Chinese did with the Japanese: they expelled their oppressive colonist class in order to achieve national independence. In the Palestinian context, all Jews who arrived with the waves of Zionist invasion would be sent home. And this is what most Palestinians understood by the ‘democratic secular state’ which the PLO called for until the 1980s.

From the Ending We Shall Begin

Natalie Abu Shakra - Gaza, Palestine Chronicle 2/16/2009
      His green eyes divert in the opposite direction as I look into them. He smiles at me shyly, sadly, forlornly. I stand against the magnitude of a man, too great not to be noticed. His tall, dark figure directs me to the car, and his friend drives us to the sea. It is almost noon, and I peek towards his seat. The windows dark, the car white, the sun shining and we stop at the hotel. "We shall come in a minute," he tells me, "find us a seat."
     The darkness of his skin makes his emerald green eyes fire with brightness. His name is Adnan, and he is a father of six children. "The pressure was immense, and its magnitude pushed me forward. It was a magnanimous sound with extreme pressure," he spoke motioning his hands towards his face and his chest, his body leaning towards the table and his head rose forward not surrendering to the excruciating memory of the Israeli bombing of the Jawazat [passports] section of the Ministry of Interior. It was one of the first targets of the Israeli Apache planes at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday December 27, 2008 where around forty Palestinian citizens were slaughtered the day they were finishing their training course in being traffic officers.

Blogging in Egypt: Rizky Business

Rannie Amiri, Palestine Chronicle 2/16/2009
      "They are trying to silence the voices that criticize the [Egyptian] government’s performance and send a message by assaulting and kidnapping, to say that criticism will not be tolerated." -- Gamal Eid, executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information on the recent spate of blogger arrests in Egypt.
     Philip Rizk wasn’t "unlucky" or at "the wrong place at the wrong time." Instead, he found himself quite the deliberate target of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime.
     On Feb. 6, the 26-year-old German-Egyptian blogger and filmmaker took part in a march with fellow activists belonging to the group "To Gaza," an organization under the umbrella of the Gaza Popular Committee in Solidarity with the Palestinian People.
     Rizk and 14 others held the six-mile march in Qalyubiya governate, a rural area north of Cairo. Their purpose was to draw attention to, and raise awareness of, the terrible humanitarian situation in Gaza under the Israeli embargo and subsequent attack. They also protested Mubarak’s order to keep the vital Rafah border crossing with Gaza closed and demanded an immediate end to the blockade of the territory.

Nasrallah tells it like it is - but how does he think it should be?

Editorial, Daily Star 2/18/2009
      One of the reasons that Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has proven such a formidable foe for the Israelis is that the Hizbullah leader has long had a knack for sizing up his enemy. The analysis he provided during his speech on Monday night about the current Israeli situation ought to give pause to those who doubt that Israel poses a grave danger, not only to its neighbors, but also to itself. As Nasrallah pointed out, successive Israeli governments, whether headed by Labor, Kadima or Likud, have showed equal disdain for peacemaking and a similar thirst for conflict and settler-driven conquest. The current assortment of racist parties that now dominates the Israeli political spectrum after the elections has only given the Jewish state a more honest face - one which the international community will eventually recognize for what it is.
     Likewise, Nasrallah’s assessment of the regional situation was insightful and correct. The Hizbullah leader voiced strong support for reconciliation efforts, including a possible Saudi-Syrian rapprochement and an inter-Palestinian accord. Perhaps these stances stem from Nasrallah’s recognition that Israel’s current regional strategy relies heavily on inducing divisions within the ranks of the Arab and Islamic worlds.

The left’s role must be in the streets

Yitzhak Laor, Ha’aretz 2/17/2009
      It was only during Netanyahu’s term as prime minister that Israel did not embark on any operation of razing villages and towns, including killing civilians, like Operation Accountability (1993), Operation Grapes of Wrath (1996), the Second Lebanon War (2006) and Operation Cast Lead - all wars by center-left governments.
     Benjamin Netanyahu is always reminded of one sin: opening the Western Wall Tunnel in 1996. On the other hand, he is never reminded that the violent confrontation did not deteriorate into a bloodbath. The incident caused bereaved parents on both sides to suffer a price that does not leave them, and still, it did not become another operation that resulted in hundreds of deaths, thousands of people handicapped and a multitude of refugees.
     Four years after the Western Wall Tunnel incident in the fall of 2000, Ehud Barak, the angel of peace who rose to power with the left’s overwhelming support in order to get rid of the "warmongering Netanyahu," took advantage of Ariel Sharon’s provocation at the Temple Mount. Barak ordered the army to pull out one of its preprepared plans and suppress what turned into the second intifada.
     The half a million rounds during the first months of the intifada, even before the suicide bombings started, were fired on orders of a government of the left. And the leftists - in the street, in academia and in the literary world - continued to support Barak and his war. That is when the downfall of the Zionist left began. That is where the deep anxiety about the future stems from.
     The first Lebanon war bred a fear among Likud’s leaders of a leftist opposition. Ironically, the greatest achievement of the popular opposition to that war was the granting of monopolistic rights to the center-left to embark on "operations."