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

VTJP Archives | VTJP 2009
19 February, 2009

Food insecurity increasing after war
IRIN - UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2/19/2009
GAZA CITY, 19 February 2009 (IRIN) - Thousands of food-insecure Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are facing an even worse situation after large numbers of livestock and agricultural land were badly damaged or destroyed during Israel’s military assault, which began on 27 December. The already fragile food situation in Gaza has been seriously aggravated by the conflict, according to a report by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). Chicken and meat are now very costly or unavailable, while fresh fruit and vegetables will be unavailable by May due to destroyed crops, according to the World Food Programme (WFP) in Gaza. An emergency operation was jointly approved by FAO and WFP in January to provide food to 365,000 worst-affected residents in Gaza, including social hardship cases, internally displaced people and farmers to 19 January 2010.

Israel demands release of captured soldier in return for Gaza deal
Rory McCarthy in Jerusalem, The Guardian 2/19/2009
Egyptian mediators taken aback by new demand - Israel toughened its conditions for a ceasefire with Hamas yesterday, saying no deal could be reached before the Palestinian Islamist group freed an Israeli soldier captured nearly three years ago. In an unanimous decision, Israel’s security cabinet agreed to maintain the tough economic blockade on Gaza and hold back from a truce agreement until the release of Gilad Shalit, the army sergeant who was captured in June 2006 close to the Gazan boundary fence. Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said at the cabinet meeting: "I don’t think we need to open the crossings until the issue of Gilad Shalit is resolved. " Hamas has demanded Israel release 1,400 Palestinian prisoners in return for handing over Shalit, who is thought to be still alive. Few believe a deal is likely in the short term, which means reconstruction materials, including concrete, metal and glass, are unlikely to enter Gaza to rebuild the damage after Israel’s devastating war in the territory last month.

Israel’s Lieberman backs Netanyahu
Al Jazeera 2/19/2009
Avigdor Lieberman, the head of Israel’s far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party, has decided to back Benyamin Netanyahu, the Likud leader, in his bid to become the country’s next prime minister. Lieberman said on Thursday he would support Netanyahu if the Likud leader strived to form a broad coalition. "We recommend Benyamin Netanyahu, only in the framework of a broad government," Lieberman said. "We want a government of the three biggest parties, Likud, Kadima and Yisrael Beiteinu. " Lieberman’s backing significantly improves Netanyahu’s chances of becoming prime minister. Lieberman pledged his support to Netanyahu ahead of his planned meeting with Shimon Peres, Israel’s president. Peres has been meeting leaders of various political parties before deciding who to invite to form Israel’s next government following last week’s parliamentary elections.

Resolution calls for Gaza rehabilitation
Toby Vogel, European Voice 2/19/2009
EU’s foreign-policy chief wants “more strategic and long-term” approach to Gaza. Hans-Gert Pöttering, the president of the European Parliament, will lead a delegation from the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly on a fact-finding trip to Gaza this weekend (22 February). MEPs will also visit Cairo, Ramallah, Jerusalem and Amman. The European Parliament adopted a resolution yesterday (18 February) calling for the “financial, economic and social rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip. The resolution – which was passed with 488 in favour, five against and 19 abstentions – aims to turn attention to the long-term needs of Gaza, which has been devastated by internal rifts between Palestinian factions, Israeli inc-ursions last month and Israel’s stranglehold on its borders.

Save the children: 100,000 people in Gaza are homeless
Palestinian Information Center 2/19/2009
GAZA, (PIC)-- The British organization "Save the Children" reported that there are still at least 100,000 homeless people including up to 56,000 children in the post war Gaza Strip and many of them live either in tents or are crowded into remaining homes with other families. Save the children estimated that around 500,000 people including 280,000 children had been forced to leave their homes in some stage of the Israeli war on Gaza. The organization added that tent cities sprung up in several bombed neighborhoods and the residents of these tents do not have access to clean drinking water or lavatories. Chief executive of save the children Jasmine Whitbread said from Gaza that the tents are small and offer no protection from the low temperatures at night that can reach less than 7-8 degrees Celsius, adding that up to 40 families in some camps have to share only one or two toilets between them which poses obvious health risks. -- See also: A month on from Gaza ceasefire up to 100,000 people remain homeless

Israel: Thursday’s airstrikes targeted smuggling tunnels
Ma’an News Agency 2/19/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Israel launched airstrikes on the Gaza Strip on Thursday “in response to the four rockets and mortar shells” fired at Israeli targets Wednesday night and Thursday morning, a spokesperson said. No one was injured in the strikes, which were first reported at 1pm. In a statement sent to Ma’an, an Israeli spokesperson said the “continuous firing of approximately 50 rockets and mortars” since 18 January precipitated the strikes, which reportedly struck six tunnels used for smuggling through the southern border with Egypt. Israel said large secondary explosions followed “some” of the strikes, “proving the presence of weapons or munitions” located in or near at least a few of the targets. Israel called on Hamas to stop homemade projectile fire from the Gaza Strip, but did not accuse the Islamic movement of having fired the recent rockets.

Resistance organizer to PNN: Israeli forces target Palestinian future
PNN, Palestine News Network 2/19/2009
Qalqilia - At sunset yesterday Israeli forces vacated the Jayyous school where they had interrogated youth from the Qalqilia Governorate town since the early morning. Youth Coordinator of the Stop the Wall Campaign Mohammad Othman told Thursday that 17 young people were still in Huwara military camp. Tens were rounded up for interrogation yesterday. "They are targeting the youth and the future leaders, the Palestinian future," Othman said this morning. "The occupation forces began increasing its actions against Jayyous in November when our actions increased against the Apartheid Wall. We hold peaceful demonstrations. We carry Palestinian flags and they fire bullets and gas. " Yesterday’s attack on the northwestern West Bank town began just after midnight as soldiers shouted curfew and broke into homes.

Ministry of religious affairs deplores Israeli bombing of mosque in Khan Younis
Palestinian Information Center 2/19/2009
GAZA, (PIC)-- The ministry of endowments and religious affairs strongly denounced the new Israeli military attack on the Abu Hamid Mosque in Khan Younis at dawn Wednesday, calling on the international community to curb the Israeli attacks on Islamic houses of worship. Dr. Abdullah Abu Jarbou’a, the assistant undersecretary of the ministry, said that it is not strange to see Israel, which commits daily war crimes against the Palestinian people and bomb mosques, recalling that Israel destroyed so far 46 mosques completely and 55 others partially. Dr. Jarbou’a called for forming an international committee to investigate Israeli assaults on houses of worship in Gaza and to prosecute the Israeli leaders responsible for these war crimes. In a new development, Al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, repelled Wednesday evening a special Israeli force that infiltrated into east of. . .

IDF: War crime charges over Gaza offensive are ’legal terror’
Tomer Zarchin, Ha’aretz 2/20/2009
War crimes charges brought abroad against Israeli soldiers and officers involved in Operation Cast Lead are nothing but "legal terrorism," Col. Liron Liebman, who heads the military prosecution’s international law department, said Wednesday. Liebman, who recently replaced Col. Pnina Sharvit-Baruch, was speaking at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem about the role of the law in fighting terror. There is little chance that war crimes charges abroad will end in conviction, or, for that matter, in acquittal, since procedural issues will end up derailing the allegations before they reach that stage, Liebman told Haaretz. But that doesn’t much matter to those bringing the charges, he said. " The goal is achieved when the charges are publicized," Liebman said.

Palestinian killed by Israeli car on Jerusalem-Jericho road
Ma’an News Agency 2/19/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an – An 18-year-old Palestinian died on Thursday after he was struck by an Israeli car on a Jerusalem-Jericho road, near the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. According to the Israeli police website, an Israeli ambulance was sent to rescue the Palestinian. Medics administered first aid but were unable to save the teenager. His body was handed over to the Palestinian side. Israeli police arrested the driver and took him for questioning. Israel maintains a network of roads across the West Bank leading to settlements, which are illegal under international law. [end]

Israeli settlers steal a Palestinian’s car and set it on fire near Jenin
Ali Al Samoudi - Palestine News Network - PNN, International Middle East Media Center News 2/19/2009
A group of armed Israeli settlers stole a car owned by a Palestinian man and set it on fire near the northern West Bank city of Jenin on Wednesday evening, Palestinian security sources reported. The armed settlers installed a road block just outside Jenin, stopping a Palestinian man driving his taxi at gunpoint, before taking over the car. The man told Palestinian security that settlers took his car to a nearby farm land and then set fire to it. [end]

State to toughen residency criteria for non-Jews
Shahar Ilan, Ha’aretz 2/19/2009
Thousands of non-Jewish common-law spouses of Israelis will have to live three years in Israel before being eligible for temporary residency and health and social insurance, according to tough new Interior Ministry regulations. The Association of Civil Rights in Israel estimates that thousands of people, most of them common-law spouses, are waiting to be naturalized. Non-Jewish people who marry Israelis receive temporary residency six months after their marriage and are naturalized four years later. Common-law spouses, however, including same-sex partners, have until now had to wait a year for temporary residency and six years for permanent residency. According to new regulations, however, they will have to wait three years before receiving temporary residency.

The Shabak obstructs a plan to construct a Palestinian-Israeli hospital
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 2/20/2009
The Israeli Security Agency, Shabak, rejected a plan proposing the construction of a Palestinian-Israeli Hospital in Ha-Galboa’ area, located between Affoula and the northern West Bank city of Jenin, although the plan was approved by the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, and his Defense Minister, Ehud Barak. Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, reported that the estimated cost of construction is 3. 5 Billion US Dollars, and that the project was supposed to be financed by Turkey. The initiative came when Olmert visited Turkey two years ago and met with Professor Ali Doghramitch, who was behind the initiative. Doghramitch received an approval from the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The planned project is a Medical compound with different specialties, including a specialized hospital for children. Israeli and Palestinian physicians along with physicians from different parts. . .

Weekly Report: On Israeli Human Rights Violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory 12 - 18 Feb. 2009
Palestinian Centre for Human Rights 2/19/2009
Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) Continue Systematic Attacks against Palestinian Civilians and Property in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and Continue to Impose a Total Siege on the Gaza Strip - *Three Palestinians, including two children, were killed by IOF in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. *Fifteen Palestinians, mostly civilians, including 6 children and one woman, were injured by IOF gunfire in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. *IOF warplanes bombarded targets in the Gaza Strip. *A workshop was destroyed in the northern Gaza Strip. *A police station in Khan Yunis was repeatedly bombarded. *Intensive air strikes continued on the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, resulting in local civilians being forced to evacuate the area. *IOF conducted 43 incursions into Palestinian communities in the West Bank.

Lawsuits against Israeli administration for human rights violations
Palestine News Network 2/19/2009
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 (EMHRN) and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) also hit out at Israel.

Tadamun: IPA bars transplant for detainee
Palestinian Information Center 2/18/2009
NABLUS, (PIC)-- The international Tadamun society has charged the Israeli prisons authority with barring a Palestinian detainee from undergoing a kidney transplant operation. The society in a press release on Wednesday quoted its lawyer as saying that the detainee, Zuhair Lubada, is forced to have dialysis three times weekly and each session takes four hours accompanied by severe pains. It said that the detainee also suffers from liver problems and teeth ache but no treatment is provided for him. Lubada, 47, is held under administrative custody, without charge or trial, since 19/6/2008. Lubada, a father of four children, is held in the Ramle prison hospital. Tadamun held the IPA fully responsible for the lives of dozens of detainees and prisoners who suffer serious diseases and are held in the Ramle prison, demanding their immediate release to enable them receive proper medical treatment.

European parliament on Israeli siege of Gaza: enough is enough
Mohammad Arab for PNN, Palestine News Network 2/19/2009
Brussels - European parliamentarians today voted on a resolution calling for a thorough survey of the extent of the damage caused by the recent Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip. Reconstruction, humanitarian aid and lifting the blockade topped the agenda that garnered 488 votes. Five rejections were added with 19 abstentions during Thursday’s session. The opening of the crossings is in accordance with the Convention signed in November 2005 that included European monitors overseeing the Rafah crossing. European parliament included a provision to "prevent the smuggling of weapons," but the focus is to conduct a thorough survey to assess the extent of the damage and losses. They are trying to determine the requirements for reconstruction and rehabilitation of infrastructure in the Gaza Strip over the medium term and long term, including funding mechanisms to provide assistance.

EU urges Israel to ’end Gaza blockade’ as aid allowed in
Ma’an News Agency 2/19/2009
Gaza – Ma’an – The European Union’s Parliament voted by an overwhelming majority on Wednesday to urge Israel to end its blockade of the Gaza Strip. "Gaza must become economically and politically viable," said the EU’s high representative on foreign affairs, Javier Solana, speaking to the Parliament. In a joint resolution adopted by 488 votes in favor, 5 against, and 19 abstentions, MPs also call for a damage assessment in Gaza and an in-depth evaluation of the needs of the Gaza population. The resolution “calls once again for an end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip, in compliance with the Agreement on Movement and Access of 15 November 2005,” according to the text circulated by the EU. Israel has sealed Gaza’s borders since June 2007, trapping 1. 5 million Palestinians inside and severely curtailing import of vital goods.

British lawmakers call for holding Israel accountable for its crimes in Gaza
Palestinian Information Center 2/18/2009
GAZA, (PIC)-- A visiting British parliamentary delegation on Tuesday expressed shock at seeing the enormity of destruction in the Gaza Strip and called for lifting the unjust siege and holding Israel’s leaders accountable for what they did against the Gaza people. Head of the British delegation Richard Borden told a news conference held at the Ramattan press center in Gaza city that they came to Gaza to witness the impact of Israel’s aggression and to figure out what happened on the ground in order to know the best means to help the Palestinians in the Strip. Borden underlined that the delegation would report about its visit to the British house of commons, and would demand the opening of crossings and an increase in aid. The British lawmaker added that the visiting MPs would stress before the British parliament the need for holding Israel accountable for what it did in Gaza and. . .

At event, controversial professor shifts focus, discusses Gaza
Benjamin S. Chase, The Michigan Daily 2/17/2009
Referring to the most recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the “Gaza massacre,” Professor Norman Finkelstein delivered a lecture on Palestinian-Israeli relations to a standing room-only crowd in the Rackham Amphitheatre last night. At the event, which was sponsored by the pro-Palestinian campus group, Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, Finkelstein strayed from his planned lecture, “The Israel-Palestine Conflict: What We Can Learn From Gandhi,” opting instead to deliver a talk he titled “What happened in Gaza? ”Finkelstein justified his departure from the planned lecture by saying that the Gaza conflict is more relevant.... The mood in the lecture hall grew increasingly tense during the question-and-answer session following Finkelstein’s lecture. The debate grew heated, with audience members arguing with one another and Finkelstein.

Farra: Israel destroyed 3,000 residential units in Khan Younis
Palestinian Information Center 2/18/2009
KHAN YOUNIS, (PIC)-- Mohamed Al-Farra, the mayor of Khan Younis city, said Tuesday that Israel destroyed about 3,000 residential units and other buildings in the city during its wanton aggression on the Gaza Strip. In a statement received by the PIC, Farra explained that Israel destroyed completely 450 housing units and over 2,500 other units partially as well as it caused serious damage to about 25 educational institutions, schools, mosques and emergency centers. The mayor affirmed that Israel bulldozed about 2,000 dunums of agricultural lands and destroyed completely four concrete production plants in addition to three clinics and a number of poultry and livestock farms. He underlined that Israel deliberately destroyed civilian homes, bulldozed agricultural lands and killed innocent civilians not to mention the targeting of civil defense and medical crews.

Israeli forces shoot Palestinian fighter on Gaza border - Fighting reported east of Gaza City
Ma’an News Agency 2/19/2009
Gaza – Ma’an – Israeli forces shot a Palestinian fighter who was reportedly planting an explosive device on the Israel-Gaza border on Thursday morning. The Palestinian, who was hurt near the Keren Shalom border crossing, was later taken to a hospital in Israel for treatment, according to the newspaper Haaretz. Meanwhile, witnesses reported that Israeli tanks near Kerem Shalom opened fire on houses in the area, however, no injuries were reported. The incident occurred shortly after Palestinians fired two homemade projectiles into the Eshkol region east of the Gaza Strip. The rockets caused neither casualties nor damage. Separately, Hamas’ armed wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, reported that they responded to an Israeli incursion in the east of the Az-Zaitoun neighborhood of Gaza City. Al-Qassam Brigades said in a press release that Israeli special forces entered Az-Zaitoun, clashing with Palestinian fighters for half an hour.

Qassams land near Sderot, Netivot
Shmulik Hadad, YNetNews 2/19/2009
Rockets hits open areas near southern Israeli towns, no injuries or damage reported. Earlier the IAF attacked targets in Rafah -A Qassam rocket landed in an open area in the Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Council shortly after 6:00 pm on Thursday evening, near the town of Sderot. No injuries were reported and no damage was caused. Some two hours later another rocket landed in an open area near Netivot. No injuries were reported. In recent days the IDF has been responding to the rocket and mortar fire emanating from Gaza by attacking smuggling tunnels in the southern part of the Strip. Earlier on Thursday the IAF struck targets near the city of Rafah. Palestinian sources reported that the attacks focused on the Philadelphi Route, bordering on Egypt. Earlier on Thursday the IAF struck targets near the city of Rafah. Palestinian sources reported that the attacks focused on the Philadelphi Route, bordering on Egypt.

Hours after rejecting a swap-based truce, Israeli tanks move into Gaza
Rami Almeghari, International Middle East Media Center News 2/19/2009
Hours after the Israeli cabinet decided not to enter a truce deal with Gaza-based resistance factions, Israeli tanks rolled into eastern Gaza city and opened heavy random fire on Palestinian residents in southern Rafah city. The Al Qassam brigades, armed wing of the ruling Hamas party in Gaza, said in a statement emailed to media outlets, that its fighters clashed with Israeli tanks advancing into the eastern parts of Gaza city, with no causalities reported. Also on Thursday morning, Israeli tanks opened heavy and random fire on Palestinian residential areas in Rafah city, in the southern part of the Gaza Strip. Witnesses said that Israeli tanks, stationed near the Kerem Shalom crossing, opened fire abruptly into the area; no injuries were reported. Israeli media sources reported earlier on Thursday that an Israeli army unit on the Gaza-Israel border line in southern Gaza,. . .

3 Qassam rockets strike western Negev; no one hurt
Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz Service and The Associated Press, Ha’aretz 2/19/2009
Three Qassam rockets fired from the Gaza Strip Thursday evening struck open areas in the western Negev, causing no damage or injuries. The first hit near Sderot and several hours later, two more rockets exploded near Netivot. Two Qassams were also fired into southern Israel Thursday morning. In response to the morning attack, Israel Air Force warplanes bombed six smuggling tunnels along the Gaza-Egypt border, the army said. There were no reports of casualties, but the attack did cause secondary blasts, according to the Israel Defense Forces, which indicated that explosives were hit in the airstrike. The strikes took place about 30 kilometers from where a group of U. S. lawmakers was visiting. Earlier Thursday, the IDF hit a Palestinian militant attempting to plant a bomb on the Israel-Gaza border, lightly wounding him.

IAF strikes targets near Rafah
Hanan Greenberg, YNetNews 2/19/2009
Palestinian sources in Gaza say Israeli aircraft struck targets along Philadelphi route; earlier soldiers open fire at Palestinian trying to plant bomb along border fence; man lightly hurt, evacuated to Beersheba hospital; sources in Gaza say IDF operated in northern Strip overnight; rockets launched toward Negev, no injuries -Israelis aircraft on Thursday struck targets near Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip. Palestinian sources said the attack focused on the Philadelphi route, where the Palestinians have resumed work on tunnels used to smuggle arms and goods from Egypt to Gaza. There were no immediate reports of casualties. During the early morning hours IDF soldiers operating near the Kerem Shalom crossing opened fire at a Palestinian terrorist trying to plant a bomb along the Gaza-Israel border fence.

Israeli jet fighters bomb areas near Gaza-Egypt border
Ghassan Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 2/19/2009
Israeli jet fighters bombarded on Thursday midday areas along the Gaza-Egypt border, Palestinians sources reported. The Israeli Army stated that the attacks targeted underground tunnels at the border line, Palestinian sources reported no injures. The Israeli Army added that the attack is in response to homemade shells that were fired from Gaza at nearby Israeli areas. [end]

Crossings official injured by Israeli strike on southern Gaza
Ma’an News Agency 2/19/2009
Gaza – Ma’an – A spokesperson for the Gaza-Israel Crossings Authority was injured when Israeli shelling targeted the border at Rafah on Thursday. The spokesperson, Adel Zu’rub, is also a reporter for the Hamas-affiliated Al-Aqsa Radio. Medical sources told Ma’an his wounds, caused by shrapnel to the foot, were moderate. [end]

Israel: Homemade projectile fired on Sha’r Hanegev
Ma’an News Agency 2/19/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Israeli sources said that a projectile fired from Gaza landed in an open area in Sha’ar Hanegev in the western Negev on Thursday. No injuries were reported, nor did any Palestinian faction immediately claim responsibility for the projectile. [end]

Israeli warplanes launch more raids on southern Gaza
Palestinian Information Center 2/18/2009
RAFAH, (PIC)-- Israeli warplanes launched a series of air raids on the Rafah border strip and Khan Younis city in southern Gaza Strip on Wednesday in what became a semi daily military escalation since Israel announced a unilateral ceasefire in its war on Gaza. Security sources told PIC correspondent that Israeli F-16s fired at least one missile at the main police headquarters in Khan Younis city starting fire in the premises and destroying a mosque inside the security complex. The sources recalled that the same site was repeatedly targeted by the Israeli warplanes. Adel Zu’rub, the spokesman for the Palestinian crossings and borders authority, told the PIC that the Israeli warplanes launched four air raids on the border strip in Rafah at 01. 00 am Wednesday. He said that no casualties were reported but material damage was inflicted on residential quarters.

Israeli troops seize seven Palestinians in Nablus
Ma’an News Agency 2/19/2009
Nablus – Ma’an – Israeli troops seized seven Palestinians from Nablus and the village of Asira Ash-Shamailya, north of the city, on Thursday. The Israeli military says that 10 Palestinians were detained in overnight raids across the West Bank. Palestinian security sources told Ma’an that Israeli troops raided several areas in Nablus, including the Old City, detaining Mahmoud Taher Samaro, Na’el Khamis Awad and Ashraf Al-Qurdy, 22. In Asira Ash-Shamailya, local sources said that Israeli troops seized three residents after raiding their houses: Ala Awwad Ash-Sholi, 31, Ammar Jarar’a, 25, and Ubay Hamadneh, age unknown. Marwan Mahmoud Hassan Hamdah, 25, was detained from Al-Ain refugee camp, in the west of Nablus. Witnesses told Ma’an that Israeli troops kept Walid Khader Salameh, 20, in their custody for more than six hours at the Huwwara checkpoint, south of Nablus, on Wednesday night.

Israeli forces raid houses, shops in village near Jenin
Ma’an News Agency 2/19/2009
Jenin – Ma’an – Israeli forces invaded the town of Yabud, near the West Bank city of Jenin overnight on Thursday, raiding houses and seizing agricultural materials. Witnesses told Ma’an that more than 30 Israeli military vehicles entered the town from the east at 1:30am. The soldiers raided the homes of three brothers, Atef, Adnan and Nafe’Zaid Al-Kilani. The brothers and their families were forced to evacuate their houses, but no one was arrested. The soldiers also raided a store belonging to Zein Abu Baker and an agricultural supply store owned by Mustafa Al-Khatib. Late on Wednesday night Israeli troops also deployed by helicopter near the Arab American University of Jenin.

IOF troops round up 100 Palestinians in 4 days
Palestinian Information Center 2/19/2009
NABLUS, (PIC)-- In an unprecedented spate of arrests, the Israeli occupation forces rounded up more than 100 Palestinians citizens in various West Bank areas over the past four days, local sources pointed out. They said that at dawn Thursday the IOF soldiers arrested seven citizens in Nablus district. The Hebrew media reported that the IOF soldiers detained 10 Palestinians in various areas in the West Bank over the past 24 hours for interrogation. The IOF troops on Wednesday night detained a 20-year-old Palestinian youth at the Hawara roadblock south of Nablus for six hours before letting him go. [end]

The Israeli military injures a civilian and kidnaps another in Hebron
Ghassan Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 2/19/2009
One Palestinian man was injured and another kidnapped during an Israeli military home search campaign in the southern West Bank city of Hebron on Thursday. Local sources said that Israeli troops searched and ransacked a number of homes in Hebron city, the nearby al-Arob refugee camp and a number of villages close by. Medcial sources stated that Jawad Khiran, age 37, sustained moderate wounds during the home searches the Israeli military carried out at al-Arob refugee camp. Meanwhile, one man from Hebron was kidnapped during the morning attack, sources in Hebron reported. [end]

Israeli military kidnaps seven civilians from Nablus and nearby village
Ghassan Bannoura, International Middle East Media Center News 2/19/2009
Seven Palestinian civilians have been kidnapped by the Israeli military during pre-dawn invasion on Thursday, targeting the northern West Bank city of Nablus, and nearby village of Assira al-Shamaliyia. Witnesses told Palestinian News Agency, WAFA, that Israeli troops invaded the old Nablus city and and nearby al-Ein refugee camp,and searched homes before kidnapping three men. Meanwhile, another Israeli force stormed Assira al-Shamaliyia village, searched a number of homes, kidnapped four civilians and took them to unknown locations, local sources reported. [end]

Israeli troops backed by helicopters raid Jenin
Ma’an News Agency 2/19/2009
Jenin – Ma’an – Israeli troops deployed by helicopter landed near the American Arab University near the West Bank city of Jenin on Wednesday night. Palestinian security forces reported that Israeli troops spread across the hills and other areas between the village of Zababida and the university as Israeli aircraft flew overhead. No arrests or injuries were reported. The Israeli military has increased its operations in the Jenin area in recent weeks, deploying in the villages of Qabatiya, Masliya, and elsewhere. [end]

Israeli forces seize two Palestinians from Jericho
Ma’an News Agency 2/19/2009
Jericho – Ma’an – Israeli soldiers seized two Palestinians from Aqbat Jaber Refugee Camp in the West Bank city of Jericho early on Thursday. Palestinian security sources told Ma’an that soldiers entered the camp before dawn, raiding two houses. Bassam Hassan Oweidat, 45, and Kayed Ali Al-Thalam, 27, were detained and taken to an unknown location. Ten military vehicles were observed entering the camp. The soldiers later withdrew without violent clashed. [end]

AUDIO - Interview with Mohammad Othman - youth organizer in Jayyous
Jenka Soderberg, International Middle East Media Center News 2/19/2009
A Palestinian village that is central to the non-violent movement in Palestine has come under attack by Israeli forces. [end] -- See also: Download audio recording of interview (12 min)

Arab parties warn of Aqsa diggings, ask leaders to reconsider relations with USA
Palestinian Information Center 2/19/2009
BEIRUT, (PIC)-- Pan-Arab and Islamic parties in the Arab world have issued a joint statement on Wednesday warning of the Israeli excavations under and in the vicinity of the holy Aqsa Mosque in occupied Jerusalem. The Pan-Arab conference, the general conference for Arab parties and the Arab-Islamic conference expressed disappointment at the absence of any tangible step to check the endless Israeli diggings. It also called for practical steps to restrain those diggings and to reconstruct what was damaged as a result of those excavations. It asked the Arab and Islamic leaders to reconsider relations with the USA for its unlimited support for Israel, adding, "It is not reasonable to continue maintaining excellent relations with those who extend unlimited support for the Zionist entity". The statement also called for the immediate and unconditional opening of all Gaza Strip crossings. . .

Hope in Sheikh Jarrah
Maisa Abu Ghazaleh, Palestine News Network 2/19/2009
PNN exclusive -- There was a glimmer of hope for four families in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah today as their eviction orders were put on hold awaiting Turkish legal papers. Thousands of Palestinians are being forced out of the city, including the Al Kurd family, well-known as a symbol of resistance with Um Kamal Al Kurd’s address currently a solidarity tent. The documents that were being used against the Al Kurd, Abdel-Fattah Gaoui, Maher Hahnoun and the Mohammad Abu Hussein families were proved false. Lawyer Hosni Abu Hussein said that real estate ownership is clear, emphasizing that Sheikh Jarrah is a Palestinian neighborhood. The Israeli Magistrate’s Court held a hearing Thursday morning to consider the objection submitted by the lawyer against the decision to evict the families based on claims that their lands belonged to Jewish settlers.

Construction ongoing at Jerusalem ’Museum of Tolerance’ built on Muslim cemetery
Ma’an News Agency 2/19/2009
Jerusalem – Ma’an – Israeli authorities have begun bulldozing portions of the Ma’aman Allah Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem, where the West Jerusalem municipality intends to build a museum. Fieldworkers form the Al-Aqsa Foundation for Islamic Waqf and Heritage visited the cemetery on Wednesday, reporting that construction workers are already laying crushed grass and wood on parts of the cemetery. The Municipality has also built a wall around the 30 dunam (30,000 square meter) cemetery and has installed surveillance cameras. A “Museum of Tolerance” is planned for the site. In October the Israeli High Court of Justice overturned objections from two Muslim groups to the construction of the 200 million-dollar project. The museum was designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry and isbacked by the backed by the Los Angeles–based Simon Wiesenthal Center.

PA official holds Jerusalem protest over evictions of 27 Palestinian families
Ma’an News Agency 2/19/2009
Jerusalem – Ma’an – A top Palestinian Authority official led a sit-in in front of the Israeli High Court in Jerusalem on Thursday in protest of an order forcing Palestinians to evacuate 27 homes in the Sheikh Jarah neighborhood in the heart of East Jerusalem. “The Israeli court had issued a decision of evacuating 27 homes in Sheikh Jarah, among them Al-Kurd home that was evacuated and another two of the families of Al-Ghawi and Hanun Families in the same area,” said Hatem Abdul Qadir, an advisor the Palestinian caretaker government on Jerusalem affairs. Abdul Qadir pointed to the fact that Ottoman-era documents proved the Al-Kurd family’s claim to their house, proving other documents presented by Israeli settlers false. "The Israeli high court had issued a decision of evacuating 27 homes in Sheikh Jarrah in 2007,” Abdul Qadir said.

Settlers run over Palestinian child, attack citizen and burn his car
Palestinian Information Center 2/19/2009
AL-KHALIL, (PIC)-- An Israeli settler on Wednesday ran over the 8-year-old Palestinian child Islam Al-Ja’bari in Al-Khalil city and sped away while settlers south of Jenin city attacked a Palestinian man in his fifties and burnt his car. Local sources in Al-Khalil said that an ambulance of the Palestinian Red Crescent carried the boy to Al-Khalil government hospital where his condition was described as "moderate". Many such hit-and-run incidents have been recorded by Israeli settlers without being held accountable by the Israeli occupation authority. Other settlers from the evacuated settlement of Homesh south of Jenin attacked 58-year-old Palestinian citizen Ibrahim Hamur and burnt his taxicab. Local sources and witnesses reported that Hamur had parked his car near the entrance to that settlement to pray when more than ten settlers assaulted him.

Palestinian, settlers squabble over Homesh incident
Ali Waked, YNetNews 2/19/2009
Palestinian cab driver complained settlers ’tried to pull me into my car to burn me in it,’ then said his car was torched while the soldiers he alerted did nothing. Settlers claim however that the man and an accomplice ’tried to run over three Jews’ - A Palestinian taxi driver filed a complaint with the police saying that settlers returning from the evacuated settlement of Homesh in the northern West Bank tried to burn him in his car. The "Homesh First" headquarters outright denied the claims, saying the driver had attempted to run over several Jewish men. Police confirmed they have opened an investigation into the claims. Ibrahim Hamamra, a 51-year-old resident of Ja’aba, a village near Jenin, told Ynet on Thursday that he was attacked after exiting his car. "A group of 12 or 15 settlers attacked me. . . "

Settlers burn car in Jenin
PNN, Palestine News Network 2/19/2009
Jenin - A group of settlers torched a vehicle in southern Jenin last night. The northern West Bank city is a target of settlers who are increasing in numbers. The Palestinian National Security Forces office in Jenin report that settlers erected a checkpoint in addition to the dozens in the area imposed by the Israeli army. The scene was set late Wednesday afternoon in the Jenin town of Silt Al Dahar. A group of armed Israelis held a driver from Jaba Village at gunpoint before stealing his vehicle. The National Security Forces said that the settlers set the car on fire before dumping it in a valley. The settlers were from the nearby settlement of Homesh built on confiscated West Bank land.

Palestine Today 021909
Ghassan Bannoura - Audio Dept, International Middle East Media Center News 2/19/2009
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 Thursday, February 19th, 2009. Israeli jet fighters bombard Gaza, while troops injured a Palestinian man in the West Bank, these stories and more coming up stay tuned. The News Cast Hours after the Israeli cabinet declined to enter a truce with Gaza-based resistance factions; Israeli tanks rolled into eastern Gaza city and opened heavy random fire on Palestinian residents in southern Rafah city. The Al Qassam brigades, armed wings of the ruling Hamas party in Gaza, said in a statement emailed to media outlets, that the Al Qassam fighters defended against Israeli tank advancement into the eastern parts of Gaza city. No causalities were reported.

Report: 'Amy kidnapped 7,600 children since 2000, 246 remain behind bars'
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 2/19/2009
Palestinian researcher, specializing in detainees’ affairs, Awni Farawna, stated that the Israeli Army has kidnapped a total of 7,600 Palestinian children, males and females, since the year 2000; 246 children are still behind bars. At least 200 of the kidnapped children were detained under administrative detention, without charges or trial. Some of the children were as young as 12 years old. One detainee is now 13 months old as he was born behind bars. His mother, Fatima Al Zoq, was kidnapped while pregnant, and gave birth in prison while she was handcuffed and her legs were tied to the hospital bed. Farawna stated that Israel’s targeting of children is a policy that targets childhood and a healthy growth, and expressed concern over the fate of the detained children as they are subjected to different sorts of violations, including torture and isolation, which affects their growth,. . .

Irate Egypt recalls delegation
Roee Nahmias, YNetNews 2/19/2009
Cairo foreign ministry rejects Israeli demand to link Shalit’s release to negotiations for ceasefire with Hamas will hinder talks. Visiting delegation from Egyptian trade ministry ordered to leave Israel immediately - Egypt’s foreign ministry spokesman says Israel’s demand that captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit be released before a long-term Gaza truce deal with Hamas is struck is a blow to Egyptian mediation efforts between the two sides. Hossam Zaki says linking Shalit to the truce will "hinder any chances for a ceasefire. " Israel announced on Wednesday it would not open Gaza blockaded border crossings - a key Hamas demand - until Shalit is freed. The Islamist group, which controls Gaza, condemned the announcement. Cairo has so far refrained from commenting on the cabinet’s decision to set Shalit’s freedom as a condition that could not be compromised on in the framework of any agreement with Hamas.

Egypt recalls commerce delegation to Israel
Barak Ravid, Ha’aretz 2/20/2009
Egypt suspended commercial cooperation talks with Israel on Thursday in what was thought to be protest over Israel’s cabinet decision on Wednesday not to open its border crossings with the Gaza Strip until Hamas agrees to release abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit. Egypt has been mediating efforts to strike a cease fire agreement between Israel and Hamas since Israel’s three week military offensive in the Gaza Strip ended on January 18. Hamas, who have held Shalit since he was abducted by Gaza militants in 2006, said that by linking Shalit’s release to a Gaza cease-fire agreement, Israel essentially stabbed Egypt in the backThe Egyptian commerce delegation was called to return to Cairo urgently. Delegation members, Egyptian foreign ministry officials involved in cultivating commercial. . .

Olmert: New list of prisoners slated for release drafted
Roni Sofer, YNetNews 2/19/2009
PM confirms Israel relayed to Egypt names of hundreds of prisoners not on original list demanded by Hamas in exchange for captive soldier Shalit. ’Anyone who thinks we’ll reopen the crossings before issue of captive soldier resolved is mistaken,’ he says -Prime Minister Ehud Olmert confirmed on Thursday that Israel has relayed to Egypt the names of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners who were not on Hamas’ original list of prisoners it demands in exchange for captive soldier Gilad Shalit. The statement came a day after the cabinet approved the principle that a prisoner exchange deal withHamas would take place before another truce is declared and before the Gaza Strip crossings are reopened. The PM told Ynet that some headway has been made in the prisoner swap negotiations in light of the new list. Yedioth Ahronoth reported Thursday that the list includes hundreds of Palestinian prisoners "with blood on their hands" who are serving lengthy sentences for orchestrating and carrying out terror attacks.

Israel drafts new prisoner list for Shalit swap
Ma’an News Agency 2/19/2009
Bethlehem - Ma’an/Agencies - Israel has prepared a new list of Palestinian prisoners it is willing to release in exchange for Gilad Shalit and is ready to relay it to Hamas in order to arrange an exchange of prisoners. Israel has reportedly asked Egypt to mediate in an intensive new round of negotiations regarding a proposed prisoner swap. The Israeli security cabinet decided on Wednesday to make Shalit’s release a precondition to any new ceasefire agreement in the Gaza Strip. Shalit has been held in the Gaza Strip since 2006. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that the new list includes a number of long term prisoners, including those accused of violent attacks on Israelis. The list, which has already been presented to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, includes approximately 200 prisoners whom Hamas has requested and who were approved in the past by a committee headed by Minister Haim Ramon, according to Haaretz.

Hamas: Israel sabotaged Gaza truce talks; Shalit deal unrelated
and Agencies, By Avi Issacharoff, Ha’aretz 2/19/2009
Hamas yesterday accused Israel of sabotaging the Egyptian-mediated Gaza truce by making last-minute demands. Hamas rejected the cabinet decision not to open its border crossings with the Gaza Strip until Hamas agrees to release abducted soldier Gilad Shalit. Ismail Radwan, a Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip, said the cabinet decision was tantamount to "stabbing Egypt in the back. "Radwan said the border passes must be opened and the Shalit issue was a totally separate one. He added that Hamas expects an increase in Israeli aggression in Gaza in the coming days. "We won’t stand around doing nothing in the face Israeli aggression," Radwan declared. Addressing the cabinet decision linking the lifting of the blockade on Gaza to Shalit’s release, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said "Israel is mistaken if it thinks that by linking Shalit to opening the crossings it will squeeze concessions from Hamas.

Hamas Offered a Bullet to Bite
Analysis by Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler, Inter Press Service 2/19/2009
JERUSALEM, Feb 19(IPS) - Israel’s outgoing prime minister Ehud Olmert is risking a crisis of confidence with Egypt by insisting that a prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas precede any Egyptian-mediated ceasefire arrangement to end the Gaza war. Olmert overrode the objections of his outgoing defence minister Ehud Barak when his security cabinet declared emphatically on Wednesday that Israel would be willing to contemplate the re-opening of border crossings (from Egypt and from Israel) into Gaza - a key Hamas demand - "only when the abducted soldier Gilad Shalit is released. " Egypt had been on the verge of clinching an agreement for a truce acceptable to both Israel and Hamas. This abrupt Israeli change of priorities has put the Egyptians in an uncomfortable position, the leading Cairo daily Al-Ahram saying Thursday that the Israeli decision had put the ceasefire "into a dark tunnel".

Hamas says Israel sabotaged truce efforts
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 2/19/2009
Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, stated Wednesday that the decision of the Israeli cabinet to keep the border terminals in Gaza closed until Hamas releases the captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, is an act of stabbing Egypt, the mediator, in the back. Hamas stated that while Egypt is attempting to broker a ceasefire deal, the Israeli cabinet made its decision to foil all efforts to broker this deal, Israeli online daily, Haaretz, reported. Hamas spokesperson, Ismail Radwan, said that Hamas expects a significant increase in Israeli aggression against Gaza in the coming days, and added that the movement would fight back. Radwan added that prisoner swap talks that would see the release of Shalit in exchange for releasing Palestinian detainees imprisoned by Israel, and the truce, are two separate issues. Meanwhile, Palestinian observer at the United Nations, Riyadh Mansour,. . .

Palestinian lawmaker blames Israel for truce failure
Ma’an News Agency 2/19/2009
Ramallah – Ma’an – The secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative, Dr. Mustafa Al-Barghouthi, blamed Israel on Thursday for the failure of a planned Israel-Hamas ceasefire deal. Al-Barghouthi, who is also a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, condemned the Israeli government, calling it “responsible for the failure of the truce,” and stressing that Israel had “deceived” Egypt. In a statement sent to Ma’an, Al-Barghouthi said Israel’s decision to link the truce with the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit “reveals Israel’s rejection of the truce and its determination to keep up the siege on Gaza. ”Al-Barghouthi also insisted that the latest development, amid internal Israeli talks over who will be the next prime minister, “proves that peace is not within reach of the new-forming government. ”

Hamas lawmaker: Israel’s rejection of truce a strike against Egypt
Ma’an News Agency 2/19/2009
Gaza – Ma’an – A Hamas-affiliated member of the Palestinian Legislative Council on Thursday said that Israel’s rejection of a truce sponsored by Egypt is “revealing. ”“The occupation’s rejection of the truce sponsored by Egypt is a strike against the country and its efforts on the matter, and should be responded to,” PLC Member Ismail Al-Ashqar said in a statement. “The objective of the occupation by rejecting the truce is to impose its conditions on the Palestinian resistance in an attempt to blackmail them and the Palestinians,” he added, noting that “this rejection will reinvigorate the resistance, which is the only language in dealing with them [Israelis]. ”He noted that “the truce came within exceptional issues, through which the resistance discusses the interests of the Palestinians,” he added. “In the event that Palestinian interests are not found within the truce, the resistance will reject it, as done previously.

Gaza border crossings will not be opened without release of Israeli soldier
Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem, The Independent 2/19/2009
Israel’s security cabinet yesterday insisted that Gaza border crossings would not be opened without the release of the Israeli corporal Gilad Shalit-while approving in principle a prisoner exchange involving Hamas prisoners "with blood on their hands. "The ministers lined up behind outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who insisted at the weekend that any expansion of the crossings to allow the import of more than basic humanitarian supplies would have to await the possible release of Cpl Shalit, seized by Hamas and other militants in a cross border raid in June 2006. The move by Mr Olmert has imposed fresh strains on the delicately poised Egyptian-brokered talks about both the release of Cpl Shalit and a prospective long term ceasefire in the aftermath of Israel’s 22 day military offensive in the Strip. Amos Gilad, the most senior official in the Defence Ministry, had earlier reportedly been negotiating in Cairo for a ceasefire more or less parallel with the release of Cpl Shalit.

’Shalit first’ is just spin designed to dupe public
Israel Harel, Ha’aretz 2/20/2009
At the cabinet meeting Wednesday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel does not have to behave as if it has lost its last vestige of strength and dignity. But that is exactly how Israel has behaved. In spite of the tactical decision to open border crossings only after Gilad Shalit is returned, the significant part of the transaction - primarily the general agreement for a wholesale release of murdering terrorists - surrenders to Hamas’ dictate. "Shalit first" is therefore no more than spin designed to deceive the public. It provides a false halo of dignity to a disgraceful, dangerous capitulation to a murderous terror organization that has sworn not to lay down its arms until the Jewish state is destroyed. One reason for the establishment of the State of Israel was to restore the dignity of the Jewish. . .

Hamas: Egypt agrees with us, Israel impeding deal
Roee Nahmias, YNetNews 2/20/2009
Mahmoud al-Zahar says the Islamist group refuses to tie fate of Gilad Shalit to long-term ceasefire agreement to prevent ’a last minute con’ by Israel. ’They rejected the names we submitted. If they accept it, the deal will be completed,’ he adds - Senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar accused Israel once again on Thursday evening of bearing responsibility for hindering Egypt’s efforts in securing a ceasefire between the two parties because of Jerusalem’s insistence the release of captive soldier Gilad Shalit be linked to the deal - a condition Hamas outright rejects. "We agreed on a number of clauses with the Egyptians on the truce and the exchange of prisoners," al-Zahar said in an interview with the Islamist group’s website. "The Hamas movement agreed to this, the Zionist side is the one responsible for the incompletion of this process.

US Secretary of State will join Gaza donor conference in Egypt
Ma’an News Agency 2/19/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an – US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton confirmed on Thursday that she will take part in an international conference next month in Egypt to support efforts to rebuild the Gaza Strip after the destruction of the three-week Israeli offensive in December and January. Clinton confirmed her attendance during a visit to Indonesia. The conference begins on 2 March in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh. The Palestinian Authority is hoping to raise millions to rebuild infrastructure destroyed by Israeli strikes and artillery shelling. On Thursday the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said that major leaders including French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi andUN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon will also attend the conference.

US lawmakers refuse to meet de facto officials on rare Gaza visit
Ma’an News Agency 2/19/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Three US members of Congress made a rare visit to the Gaza Strip on Thursday, the first of its kind to Gaza in at least four years. Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry arrived in the coastal enclave shortly after members of Congress Brian Baird of Washington and Keith Ellison. Speaking at the rubble of the American International School in Gaza, which was leveled by and Israeli airstrike in January, Kerry said, “We have no meetings with anyone from Hamas and we will not change our political program. We are here to take the first hand the facts on the ground. ”The three visited the Izbet Abed Rabo area, which was devastated by shelling during Israel’s three-week offensive on the Gaza Strip in December and January. They also held a meeting with UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen Abu Zayed.

ANALYSIS / Israel’s strategic games may endanger Shalit deal
Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, Ha’aretz 2/19/2009
The political-security cabinet on Wednesday unanimously approved Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s proposal that Israel would be willing to discuss extensively broadening activity in the border crossings of the Gaza Strip, "when the abducted soldier Gilad Shalit is released. "In its statement, the cabinet stated that Israel has placed at the top of its list of priorities the release of Shalit and that the effort to reach agreement on a cease-fire and an exchange of prisoners through Egyptian mediation would continue. The statement essentially backs Olmert’s declared position during the past several days, which conditions the reopening of the crossings to the release of Shalit. Senior sources in the defense establishment expressed grave concerns last night that Olmert has backed off from his originally declared. . .

A still, small, hesitant voice
Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, Ha’aretz 2/19/2009
At noon on Wednesday, as the security cabinet in Jerusalem was discussing the negotiations on the cease-fire and the deal to secure the return of abducted soldier Gilad Shalit, an Israel Defense Forces major-general with some expertise in such contacts tried to analyze their prospects. Very few people in the country are fully aware of the unfolding events; key among them, of course, is Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. But it is not easy to discern his stance on this matter, not least because it has fluctuated significantly over the past few weeks, even if Olmert insists he has not budged at all during this time. "I simply cannot understand it," the army officer said. "How the hell does he manage to screw up this story every time? " The events of the past few weeks are reminiscent of the period preceding the deal with Hezbollah for abducted soldiers. . .

Olmert reprimands top defense official over critical quotes to Maariv
Barak Ravid, Ha’aretz 2/19/2009
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reprimanded Amos Gilad on Wednesday over comments he made to Maariv newspaper regarding the cease-fire deal in the works and kidnapped Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit. Gilad heads the political-security bureau at the Defense Ministry, and is the ministry’s mediator with the Egyptians. He was quoted in Wednesday’s paper as saying that Olmert’s behavior and decision to make Shalit’s release a precondition to a cease-fire is an insult to Egypt, and therefore undermines national security. "This is crazy. It’s just crazy," he was quoted as saying. "Do we really think that the Egyptians are our employees? "Olmert called the meeting with Gilad shortly before the meeting of the political-security cabinet on Wednesday.

Israel drafts new Hamas prisoner list for potential Shalit swap
Barak Ravid and Jack Khoury, Ha’aretz 2/19/2009
Israel has prepared a new list of Palestinian prisoners it is willing to release in exchange for Gilad Shalit and is ready to relay it to Hamas as quickly as possible in order to further a possible swap arrangement. The political-security cabinet decided Wednesday to make Shalit’s release a precondition to any new cease-fire agreement in the Gaza Strip. A source in the Prime Minister’s Bureau stressed Wednesday that Israel is willing to enter intensive talks with Hamas in Cairo, through Egyptian mediation, in order to resolve the matter. Defense establishment and Justice Ministry officials have prepared a new list of prisoners that Israel would be willing to release in exchange for Shalit if an agreement were reached with Hamas. Most of the prisoners on the list do not have "blood on their hands". . .

Hamas: Israel aims to gain concessions and time by linking Shalit to the truce
Palestinian Information Center 2/18/2009
GAZA, (PIC)-- The Hamas Movement stated Tuesday that the Israeli goal of connecting between the truce and the release of its captive soldier Gilad Shalit is to pressure the Palestinian factions and the Palestinian people to make concessions and also to gain more time for the new changes to take place in its government. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in a press statement that his Movement had tabled everything it had to the Egyptian side and the ball is now in Israel’s court. Barhoum said that Hamas accepted the truce and responded with the Egyptian efforts for the interest of the Palestinian people, adding that Hamas and all resistance factions are still ready to defend their people whatever it costs.   The spokesman reiterated that there is no connection between the truce file and the release of Shalit because every file has its own requirements and there is not objection to the release of Shalit in exchange of Palestinian prisoners.

Mishaal: Occupation is responsible if Egypt’s efforts fail
Palestinian Information Center 2/18/2009
DAMASCUS, (PIC)-- Khaled Mishaal, the head of Hamas’s political bureau, has asserted Tuesday that the Israeli dodging in the negotiations won’t succeed, and that the truce is linked to lifting the siege and opening all crossing points of Gaza Strip, and not connected to Shalit’s file. He explained that the Israeli occupation knows very well Hamas’s position that the file of (captured Israeli soldier) Gilad Shalit should be part of the process of swapping prisoners. "No truce without lifting the siege and opening the crossing points, and the truce shouldn’t be mixed with the file of the captured Israeli soldier as he (Shalit) will be swapped with our male and female captives in Israeli jails, and that is the position of the resistance", affirmed Mishaal as he answered media questions while receiving Amr Mousa, the secretary-general of the Arab League, at his office in the Syrian capital Damascus.

Hamas: Without the conditions set by Hamas, there will be no calm
Palestinian Information Center 2/18/2009
RAMALLAH, (PIC)-- Rafat Nasif, a prominent Hamas leader, stated Wednesday that his Movement’s options are known and clear if Israel rejected the truce, highlighting that without the conditions set by the Movement, there would be no calm. In a televised statement to the Quds satellite channel, Nasif noted that Israel needs the calm more than before especially after its defeat in the Gaza war. The Hamas leader warned that the Palestinian resistance would never let its people starve in the Gaza Strip and they are ready along with the Gaza people to make more sacrifices until they receive their rights in full. In an exclusive statement to the PIC, the Hamas Movement flatly rejected Wednesday the Israeli decision to precondition any truce with the release of captive soldier Gilad Shalit. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told the PIC that Israel is fully responsible for the consequence. . .

Zahhar: Palestinian-Egyptian relations historical
Palestinian Information Center 2/18/2009
CAIRO, (PIC)-- Dr. Mahmoud Al-Zahhar, one of the prominent Hamas leaders in Gaza Strip, has asserted that the Palestinian people could never live without Egypt, describing it as the Palestinians’ "lifeline". Zahhar, in an interview with the Egyptian TV channel One, said that the Palestinians want more help from the Arab countries, especially Egypt, against the Israeli occupation. He said that under present circumstances the Palestinians will continue to need more aid, especially from Egypt not only because of the geographic position but also because of the historical relationship. He recalled that during the Egyptian administration of the Gaza Strip the Palestinians only needed half an hour to fill a paper then leave to Egypt for education and for assistance then return. Egypt was not a signatory to the crossings agreement between the former PA administration and the Israeli. . .

Israel demolishes four homes in Negev Bedouin community
Ma’an News Agency 2/19/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an - The Israeli government demolished four houses in a Bedouin community in the Negev desert on Thursday morning. The houses, in the town of Bir Hadaj (about 40 km south of the city of Beersheba), were bulldozed on account of a lack of construction permits. Like Palestinians, Bedouin in the Negev say it is almost impossible to obtain the permits. Salman Ibn Ihmeid, an official with the municipal council in Bir Hadaj, said the community is engaged in negotiations with the Israeli government demanding increased access to the largely empty land around the town, hoping to use the land for sheep herding. He accused the Israeli government of destroying the houses as a result of a breakdown in negotiations. Bir Hadaj is a recognized Bedouin community. Its status is different from that of 45 unrecognized villages which receive virtually no services from the government.

Mazuz considers putting Arab MK on trial
Aviad Glickman, YNetNews 2/19/2009
Indictment will be submitted after hearing on MK Mohammad Barakeh’s alleged disturbances during protests. During one protest, he allegedly slapped police officer, and in another, attacked passerby - Another politician is on the way to court. Attorney General Menachem Mazuz on Thursday notifiedHadash Chairman Knesset Member Mohammad Barakeh that he is considering issuing an indictment against him that will include three criminal charges for alleged disturbances during protest demonstrations in recent years. The decision was made after the attorney general held discussions with the State Prosecutor’s Office, the deputy state prosecutor, and the police, who were on the cases. The said cases only recently reached the attorney general’s office due to scheduling difficulties between Barakeh and the police. The first charge refers to a demonstration held in the village of. . .

Mazuz mulls indicting senior Arab MK for attacking cop during protest
Jack Khoury and Tomer Zarchin, Ha’aretz 2/19/2009
Attorney General Menachem Mazuz is considering indicting Hadash Chairman MK Mohammad Barakeh for attacking a policeman during a demonstration. Barakeh is suspected of having assaulted a member of the Israel Prison Service’s elite Masada unit at a protest in the West bank village of Bi’ilin in 2005. The policeman was taking a detainee to a police car at the time of Barakeh’s alleged assault. Mazuz is considering also including on the charge sheet the crimes of offending a public servant and issuing threats. Barakeh, a prominent Israeli Arab MK, is alleged to have committed these offenses at two other demonstrations in addition to the one at Bi’ilin. In one of the incidents, Barakeh allegedly attacked a police officer during a 2006 protest in Tel Aviv, while in another he is accused of assaulting a passerby during a demonstration in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square.

Doctor who lost daughters in Gaza war: We were created to live together
The Media Line, YNetNews 2/19/2009
In special interview with , Dr. Ezzeldeen Abu al-Aish says no armed people were in the area when IDF shelled his house; adds: All of Israeli and Palestinian suffering derives from the leaders, who are ’not serious about negotiations and changing words into actions’ - One of the most dramatic and tragic stories to emerge from the 22 days of fighting in January 2009 between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip occurred on January 16 when three daughters and a niece of Dr. Ezzeldeen Abu al-Aish died as a result of Israeli shelling. The tragedy resonated deeply in both the Israeli and Palestinian communities because Dr. Ezzeldeen, a gynaecologist who lives in Gaza and works in a hospital there, was previously at Beersheba’s Soroka University Medical Center where his specialty was in vitro fertilization.

Int’l securities regulators threatened to pull Israel conference
Hadas Magen, Globes Online 2/19/2009
Hosting the IOSCO conference is a major achievement for Israel. Sources inform ’’Globes’’ that the Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) threatened to cancel its 34th Annual Conference scheduled to take place in Tel Aviv in June, in protest against Operation Cast Lead. Following efforts by the Israel Securities Authority, the conference will take place. The Securities Authority is hosting the IOSCO, reflecting its respect among its international peers. At a previous IOSCO conference, former Securities Authority chairman Moshe Tery strove hard to persuade IOSCO officials to hold the conference in Israel. [end]

London museum to hold Israel science event despite promoters’ boycott
Cnaan Liphshiz, Ha’aretz 2/19/2009
Despite protests by promoters of a boycott against Israel, the Science Museum in London says it intends to go ahead with an event planned for next month which will showcase Israeli scientific achievements. On Monday the Guardian ran a letter cosigned by 368 people, including well-known academics and politicians, demanding the institution cancel the Israel Day of Science, promoted by Zionist Federation of Great Britain. "The event is going ahead as a normal commercial corporate-hire booking," the museum’s press officer, Laura Singleton, told Haaretz. She added the event was "scientific, non-political and aimed at the educational sector. " Calling Israel’s recent invasion into Gaza "an attempted annihilation of all the infrastructure of organized society," the authors of The Guardian letter wrote, "how can this. . .

Dershowitz Defends Investments in Israel
The Harvard Crimson 2/18/2009
Harvard Law School Professor Alan M. Dershowitz has called for a “counter-disinvestment campaign” against Hampshire College unless the school explicitly denies claims that their recent decision to withdraw from a mutual fund represents an act of divestment from Israel. Hampshire administrators decided earlier this month to withdraw investments from a State Street mutual fund with holdings in six companies contracting with the Israeli military, after a college student group, Students for Justice in Palestine, petitioned the school to divest because of the companies’ ties to what students called “Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine. ”Hampshire President Ralph M. Hexter ’74 said yesterday that... “Israel’s occupation played no role in this decision,” Hexter said. “I want to make it very clear that we have funds in other Israeli companies, and we’re continuing to hold onto those stocks. ”

Clergy demand Pope postpone Israel trip after ’Like a Virgin’ television spoof
Jack Khoury, Ha’aretz 2/19/2009
Leading Christian and Muslim clergymen are calling on Pope Benedict XVI to postpone his planned visit to Israel, which is scheduled for May, in protest of a comedy skit seen on the late-night variety television show hosted by comedian Lior Shlein. In a press conference held yesterday in Nazareth, religious leaders denounced Shlein for a spoof entitled "Like a Virgin," which depicts two characters who play Jesus and the Virgin Mary. In the skit, Mary is heard saying she had slept with many men and that she was not a virgin at all. The provocative segment prompted Christian lawyers to consider filing legal motions against Shlein and his television home, Channel 10. In response, Shlein sent a letter to one of the attorneys pledging to apologize on the air for the skit. Christian leaders said Shlein’s jokes are "hurtful and humiliating to Christianity. "

Turkish PM slams Olmert’s ’inconsistency’
Ynet, YNetNews 2/19/2009
Recep Erdogan chides Israeli PM for not informing him of impending Gaza offensive despite two’s meeting just days before. Olmert slights back, says he is under no obligation to inform foreign leaders of Israel’s military plans -Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly expressed his doubts regarding Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s credibility Wednesday, calling his statements "inconsistent. " Erdogan criticized Olmert’s decision not to brief him on the impending Israeli offensive in Gaza in late December, despite the fact that the two met just days before. "Which part of his remarks will you believe in? " he said at a joint press conference with his Croatian counterpart, Ivo Sanader, in Ankara. "All the facts are laid bare. First, you want a country (Turkey) to act as mediator and then you will visit this country and discuss the fifth round of (indirect talks between Syria and Israel).

Jews in Muslim lands anxious over Gaza war
Associated Press, YNetNews 2/19/2009
In wake of Operation Cast Lead, mostly tiny Jewish communities in Muslim world face violence, growing anti-Semitism the like they never experienced before - Outrage at the Israel war in the Gaza Strip has turned to intimidation and even violence against Jews living in some Muslim lands, raising questions about the stability of these often tiny communities. In Turkey, Yemen and Indonesia, Muslims have shut down a synagogue, stoned homes and used anti-Semitic slurs. Although the incidents have been isolated, the Jewish minorities in these lands are concerned. " Before the conflict broke out in Gaza, we were very involved in the community," said Yusron Samba, whose family for years had operated a synagogue in Indonesia that shut down in fear over the war. "Of course we’re afraid following strong reaction recently from some Islamic groups questioning our presence here. . . "

Israel’s Ram granted entry visa
Al Jazeera 2/19/2009
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) will allow Israel’s Andy Ram to play in the men’s Dubai Championships next week, the state news agency WAM said on Thursday. A UAE foreign ministry official was quoted as saying the doubles specialist would be given "special permission" to take part. "This. . . does not politically imply any form of normalisation with countries with which the UAE has no diplomatic relations," the official told WAM. Top Israeli player Shahar Peer had to forfeit her place in the women’s tournament in Dubai this week after the UAE blocked her visa application. Tournament officials defended the stance, saying local fans would have boycotted the event if an Israeli was allowed to compete and that Peer’s safety could also have been compromised.

US lawmakers hear ’heart wrenching’ tales during visit to Gaza
Daily Star 2/20/2009
GAZA CITY: US Democratic representatives Brian Baird and Keith Ellison expressed shock at the plight of the war-shattered Gaza Strip during a rare visit to the Palestinian enclave on Thursday. "The amount of physical destruction and the depth of human suffering here is staggering" Baird said in a statement issued jointly with Ellison during their visit which coincided with a similar trip by US Senator John Kerry. The visits were the first by US lawmakers since Hamas, an Islamist movement Washington labels a terrorist outfit, took power in Gaza by force after having won legislative elections in 2006. Ellison, a representative from Minnesota, harshly criticized restrictions on the delivery of desperately needed goods into the coastal strip that has been under a crippling Israeli blockade imposed after the Hamas electoral victory.

Kerry shuns Hamas during Gaza visit
Al Jazeera 2/19/2009
The US will not change its stance towards Hamas, John Kerry, the former democratic US presidential candidate, has said during a tour of Gaza. His comments came on Thursday during the highest-level visit by a US official to the territory since Hamas seized control two years ago. "I am here to listen with the UN personnel on the ground to hear. . . the things we need to do is to improve the situation in the region," he said. "[This visit] does not indicate any shift whatsoever with respect to Hamas. . . what it indicates is our effort to listen and to learn," Kerry said in the Israeli town of Sderot before entering Gaza. Accompanied by UN escorts, Kerry said he was in Gaza to view the aftermath of Israel’s military offensive, which killed more than 1,300 Palestinians, hundreds of them civilians, caused widespread destruction and left thousands of people homeless.

US Senator John Kerry visits Gaza
Middle East Online 2/19/2009
GAZA CITY - US Senator John Kerry on Thursday made a rare visit to the war-ravaged Gaza Strip, but stressed this did not reflect a change of policy towards the democratically elected Hamas. The visit "does not indicate any shift whatsoever with respect to Hamas," said Kerry, who heads the Senate’s powerful foreign relations committee. His first stop in the impoverished Palestinian enclave was the American school left in ruins by the deadly 22-day Israeli offensive that ended on January 18. Talking to a Palestinian lawyer amid the dust and rubble, Kerry defended Israel for responding to almost daily rocket attacks by Hamas and other Palestinian resistance groups, wishing to free their land from the long and brutal Israeli occupation. "Your political leadership needs to understand that any nation that has rockets coming into it over many years, threatening its citizens, is going to respond," Kerry told Shar Habeel al-Zaim.

Two US congressmen visiting Gaza
Middle East Online 2/19/2009
GAZA CITY - US congressmen Brian Baird and Keith Ellison, both Democrats, were in Gaza on Thursday, the first such visit since democratically elected Hamas seized power in the Palestinian territory in June 2007. The two visited Izzbet Abed Rabbo, a community in northern Gaza devastated during the deadly 22-day Israeli offensive that ended on January 18. They also planned to visit a factory and a hospital damaged during the war, Palestinian officials said. An estimated 14,000 to 20,000 homes and other buildings were damaged or destroyed during the military offensive in which more than 1,300 Palestinians (mainly civilians) were killed. Their trip coincided with a visit to Israel by US Senator John Kerry, chairman of the foreign relations committee, as part of a regional tour. Baird is a representative from Washington state and Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the US Congress, is from Minnesota.

Mitchell: Palestinians’ financial buildup cannot replace diplomatic route
Yitzhak Benhorin, YNetNews 2/19/2009
US special envoy to Mideast reiterates Obama administration’s commitment to Israel’s safety, two-state solution - WASHINGTON- George Mitchell, the US special envoy to Mideast said Thursday that while the development of the West Bank’s economy remains important, it cannot take precedent to the diplomatic route. Mitchell, who held a conference call with the heads of various Jewish groups in the United States, refrained from answering questions regarding the political situation in Israel, saying he would not address the subject before President Shimon Peres’ tasked one of the parties’ leaders with forming the government. Although leading candidate Benjamin Netanyahu was no mentioned by name, Mitchell’s response was interpreted by those in attendance as hinting towards previous statements made by Netanyahu regarding the crucial role economic development would play in Palestinian society.

US-ISRAEL: Storm Clouds Ahead?
Analysis by Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service 2/19/2009
WASHINGTON, Feb 19(IPS) - After eight years of the closest possible relations, the United States and Israel may be headed for a period of increasing strain, particularly given the likelihood that whatever Israeli government emerges from last week’s election will be more hawkish than its predecessor. While Iran, with which Barack Obama has pledged to engage in a "constructive dialogue", and the future of its nuclear programme will no doubt serve as the greatest source of tension between the two allies, the new president’s commitment to achieving real progress on a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict may also provoke serious friction, particularly if a re-unified Arab League launches a major new push for its 2002 peace plan. Last week’s election produced a clear majority for right-wing parties led by the Likud Party of former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who. . .

Indyk: Netanyahu may seek Syria deal to deflect U.S. pressure
Natasha Mozgovaya, Ha’aretz 2/20/2009
Former U. S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk said Thursday that he believes that should Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu become Israel’s next prime minister, he "will try to deflect American pressure by seeking a deal with Syrians" Indyk, who was born to a Jewish family in England but grew up primarily in Australia, has made a career of Middle East diplomacy and support for Israel. Among other entries on an impressive resume, he has worked at AIPAC, founded the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and served two stints as U. S. envoy to Israel. His terms as U. S. ambassador to Israel coincided with Netanyahu’s truncated term as prime minister between 1996 and 1999. According to Indyk, Netanyahu will not seek peace with Syria "because he wants to avoid the concessions in the West Bank, but because there is a strategic rationale in backing a deal with Syria.

Kurtzer: Netanyahu-Lieberman is ’bad combination’ for U.S.
Natasha Mozgovaya, Ha’aretz 2/19/2009
WASHINGTON - Daniel Kurtzer, the former U. S. ambassador to Israel, said Tuesday that a government led by Benjamin Netanyahu that also included Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman would be a "bad combination for American interests. " "It would be much more difficult for the right wing, even with determined American leadership, to advance the peace process," Kurtzer said. "Not impossible, but very difficult. "The official U. S. position is that it looks forward to "working with any government," but in back-channel messages the Obama administration has made it clear it would like to see a Likud-Kadima unity government in Jerusalem over a narrow right-wing government, which would in all likelihood result in a freeze in peace talks with the Palestinians. The former envoy added that the Obama administration would find it politically risky to embrace. . .

Little Hope From New US Mediation
Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa al-Omrani, Inter Press Service 2/19/2009
CAIRO, Feb 19(IPS) - Egyptians seem at best only cautiously optimistic over the appointment of Senator George Mitchell as U. S. envoy to the Middle East. Mitchell is mandated chiefly with settling the Arab-Israeli dispute. "Mitchell’s prospects for achieving an acceptable settlement are grim," Ahmed Thabet, political science professor at Cairo University told IPS. "The previous U. S. administration created several facts on the ground which will be very difficult to undo. " The new U. S. administration of President Barack Obama announced Mitchell’s appointment late January as Washington’s special envoy to the Middle East. A former senate majority leader, Mitchell replaces Dennis Ross. "What I told (Mitchell) is to start by listening," Obama said in an interview with Arabic language satellite news channel Al-Arabiya shortly after the appointment.

Terror victims sue U.S. oil companies for funding terror
Yossi Melman, Ha’aretz 2/19/2009
American and Israeli victims of terrorism have filed a precedent-setting suit against three U. S. oil companies and their directors, charging them that they indirectly assisted the funding of terrorist organizations. This is the first time that Israeli victims of terrorism have filed a suit of this kind against American firms. The suit was filed in January at the U. S. District Court in the capital, Washington D. C. , by attorneys Michael Miller and Gavriel Mairone against NuCoastal Corporation, El Paso Energy Corporation, Bayoil (USA) Inc. , and directors Oscar Wyatt Jr. and David B. Chalmers Jr. To date, most suits by terror victims were filed against Arab or Iranian individuals, terrorist groups, Iran and various Arab states. The suit argues that the companies and their directors traded with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. . .

Lieberman backs Netanyahu, says peace talks ’not a priority’
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 2/20/2009
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Hawkish Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday cleared a major hurdle in his bid to become Israel’s prime minister as ultra-nationalist Avigdor Lieberman backed his bid to form a government. But the former premier promptly hit a new snag as Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni made it clear her centrist Kadima party had no interest in joining a Likud-led coalition that includes Lieberman’s far-right Yisrael Beitenu. Netanyahu, popularly known as Bibi, can still count on the support of 65 of the 120 members of Parliament, but would have to rely on parties to the right of his own despite his stated preference for a broad coalition, pundits said. Lieberman said he favored a Likud-led alliance with Kadima and his Yisrael Beitenu party. "We recommend Bibi Netanyahu, but only as part of a wider government," Lieberman told President Shimon Peres who was meeting parliamentary. . .

Livni: Kadima will sit in the opposition
Attila Somfalvi, YNetNews 2/19/2009
Chairwoman sends text message to 80,000 party activists saying Kadima would not join Netanyahu’s ’extremist government’ - Despite garnering the support of 65 Knesset members, premiership candidate Benjamin Netanyahu may still find it difficult to form a stable coalition due to Kadima’s refusal to join a unity government with the Likud chairman at the helm. President Shimon Peres is expected to summon Netanyahu and Kadima Chairwoman Tzipi Livni for private meetings as early as Friday, according to a source from the President’s Residence. In the meetings, Peres is expected to stress to the two party leaders the need for the formation of a broad unity government. During her visit to the Qassam museum in Sderot with US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, Livni said ’I will continue not only to believe in our path, but also to lead it. I do not intend to be a cover for political paralysis. "

Netanyahu in pole position to become Israel PM
Middle East Online 2/19/2009
TEL AVIV - Hardline Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday gained pole position to become Israel’s next prime minister as ultra-nationalist Avigdor Lieberman backed his bid to form a government. The support from Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party means Netanyahu, a former premier popularly known as Bibi, can count on the support of 65 of the 120 members of parliament, army radio said. "We have two proposals. The first: we recommend Bibi Netanyahu, but (second) only as part of a wider government," Lieberman told President Shimon Peres who was meeting with parliamentary factions before deciding who will be tasked with forming a governing coalition. "We are not talking of a government with a restricted majority. To govern the country, we need a government with the three largest parties, Likud, Kadima and Yisrael Beitenu," said Lieberman, a Soviet immigrant whose party displaced. . .

Livni: Either I’m PM or opposition head
Mazal Mualem Yuval Azoulay and Yossi Verter, Ha’aretz 2/19/2009
Kadima’s representatives yesterday recommended party chairwoman Tzipi Livni to the president for the task of forming a government, saying that her moderate views could represent a unity government that would stretch from the center to the fringes, both to the right and the left. "If I’m not charged with forming the government I’ll go to the opposition," Livni said outside the cabinet meeting room yesterday, one of Kadima’s ministers said. This statement indicated that Livni objected to joining a Likud-led government. She reiterated that a national unity government should be set up under her leadership, but her colleagues did not rule out a rotation agreement between Livni and Netanyahu, or a unity government led by Netanyahu, with an equal number of Likud and Kadima ministers. It is still unclear who Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman will nominate. . .

Livni rules out joining right-wing coalition
Middle East Online 2/19/2009
JERUSALEM - Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Thursday ruled out joining a Likud-led right-wing coalition, saying her Kadima party would rather move into opposition ranks. Livni made the comments after ultra-nationalist Avigdor Lieberman threw his weight behind Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu while calling for a government that would include the centrist Kadima and his Yisrael Beitenu party. "Today, the bases of a far-right government led by Netanyahu have been set," Livni told members of her party. "We have not been elected to give legitimacy to this extreme right-wing government, and will head to the opposition. " Kadima won 28 of the parliament’s 120 seats, one more than Likud. But because Netanyahu has a stronger chance of garnering majority parliamentary support, President Shimon Peres is likely to ask him to form a government. Print

Police seek Mazuz approval to question Lieberman under caution
Tomer Zarchin Yuval Goren and Mazal Mualem, Ha’aretz 2/19/2009
Police asked Attorney General Menachem Mazuz Wednesday to approve the interrogation of Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman under caution. Lieberman is suspected of laundering millions of shekels through front companies set up for him by his lawyer, Yoav Many. He is also accused of fraud and breach of trust. The request was made during a meeting in which top police officials updated Mazuz, State Prosecutor Moshe Lador and the head of the state prosecution’s economic affairs division, Avia Alef, on the investigation. Yisrael Beiteinu officials said the timing of the police request appeared to indicate political motives. Lieberman is scheduled to meet with President Peres today to tell him whom he supports as prime minister. As the head of the third-largest party, Lieberman has been wooed by Benjamin Netanyahu as well as Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni.

Binyamin Netanyahu moves closer to becoming Israeli PM
Rory McCarthy Jerusalem, The Guardian 2/19/2009
The rightwing Israeli opposition leader, Binyamin Netanyahu, today appeared increasingly likely to become the country’s next prime minister after winning the key endorsement of a far-right politician. Avigdor Lieberman, whose party, Israel Our Home, came a strong third in last week’s general elections, met the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, and told him he would support Netanyahu to lead a new coalition government. He said he preferred to see Netanyahu lead a broad, national unity government but added that he would join even a narrow rightwing cabinet. Even though Netanyahu, leader of the Likud party, came a close second in the elections, he has been favoured to become prime minister because the success of other rightwing parties means he could put together a majority coalition government far more easily than his rival Tzipi Livni.

Barak: We won’t recommend anyone for PM
Attila Somfalvi, YNetNews 2/19/2009
Mere hours before his meeting with president, Labor chief announces party will not recommend Livni or Netanyahu for premiership and will sit in opposition: ’Picture is complicated and worrisome when Yisrael Beiteinu is the one to crown prime minister in Israel. ’ Meretz representatives also choose not to recommend anyone. HaBayit HaYehudi (Jewish Home) party recommends Netanyahu - Labor Chairman Ehud Barak said Thursday morning is party will not recommend any candidate for the premiership to President Shimon Peres. Similarly, Meretz representatives, led by Knesset Member Chaim Oron, arrived at the president’s residence with the announcement that they would also not recommend Kadima’s Tzipi Livni or Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu. The HaBayit HaYehudi (Jewish Home) party announced that they would tender their support for Netanyahu.

Peres plans to summon Livni, Netanyahu Friday
Ronen Medzini, YNetNews 2/19/2009
Sources from President’s Residence say Peres to call Kadima, Likud party heads for private meeting on Friday, to stress importance of broad unity government. Meanwhile, Shas wants in coalition, without Yisrael Beiteinu, says ’We must not stray from halacha’ -President Shimon Peres is expected to summon Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu and Kadima ChairwomanTzipi Livni for private meetings as early as Friday, a source from the President’s Residence told Ynet on Thursday. In the meetings, Peres is expected to stress to the two party leaders the need for the formation of a broad unity government. In recent days, sources from the President’s Residence said a final decision by the president on who to task with the formation of the government would take longer to reach, due to the complexity of the situation.

Likud in Final Bid for Israeli Coalition with Kadima
John Lyons, MIFTAH 2/19/2009
LIKUD leader Benjamin Netanyahu made a final attempt yesterday to build a stable coalition government in Israel, apealing to the leader of the Kadima party, Tzipi Livni, that she should join him in a government broader than just the "nationalist camp". He made the comments the day before President Shimon Peres was due to receive the official results from last week’s election. After receiving those results, Mr Peres is expected to announce this Friday to whom he will give the opportunity to form a government. That leader, expected to be Mr Netanyahu, will then have 42 days to return to him with a coalition government. Both major parties - Likud and Kadima - yesterday continued bargaining with smaller parties to see whether they could present to Mr Peres a coalition with more than 60 of the Knesset’s 120 seats. Kadima said yesterday it had accepted Yisrael Beiteinu’s major demands for any coalition support, although it appeared likely that Likud would be able to present a stronger case for a coalition.

Netanyahu wins backing in Israeli PM contest
Jeffrey Heller and Ori Lewis, Reuters, The Independent 2/19/2009
Benjamin Netanyahu’s chances of becoming Israel’s prime minister improved today after he won the conditional backing of a kingpin politician who heads a far-right party. Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, recommended to President Shimon Peres that he tap Netanyahu to form a government, on condition the right-wing Likud chief pursued a broad coalition. Netanyahu has said he would do so. Peres could announce as early as tomorrow, after wrapping up consultations with party leaders, whether he will ask Netanyahu or centrist Kadima chief Tzipi Livni to put together a governing coalition. Both laid claim to the premiership after Kadima won 28 seats in the 120-member parliament to Likud’s 27 in an inconclusive 10 February election that deepened uncertainty about future peace moves with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu, put your money where your mouth is
Gideon Levy, Ha’aretz 2/20/2009
Why isn’t Benjamin Netanyahu setting up a right-wing government? Why isn’t he carrying out the voters’ will to position the right wing in power? Why isn’t he taking the opportunity that fell into his hands to form a government in tune with his doctrine? Why is he talking about a broad coalition, knowing it would force him to compromise his principles? Because he is afraid. Now, at the moment of truth, when he has the ability to implement his ideology, he has gotten cold feet and wants to dilute his government with components that are alien to his doctrine. Together with Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas, United Torah Judaism, Habayit Hayehudi and National Union - a majority of 65 Knesset members who are all distinctly far right - Netanyahu could carry out his political ideas.

Lieberman recommends Netanyahu as prime minister
Lilach Weissman, Globes Online 2/19/2009
But he added that was only as part of a national unity government of Kadima, Likud, and Yisrael Beiteinu. Yisrael Beiteinu chairman MK Avigdor Lieberman recommends that Likud chairman MK Benjamin Netanyahu form the next government, but only as part of a national unity government comprising of Kadima, Likud, and Yisrael Beiteinu. Lieberman told President Shimon Peres, "The situation demands a national unity government in view of the challenges, the economic situation, and the threats from Iran and Gaza. Everything demands the establishment of a broad government. Each of us will have to rise above their petty considerations. " Lieberman added that he was not referring to a narrow government. "In terms of ability to lead measures, a government of the three large parties is needed.

Right unites to put Netanyahu on course to become Israeli PM
Rory McCarthy in Jerusalem, The Guardian 2/19/2009
Binyamin Netanyahu appeared set to become Israel’s next prime minister at the head of a rightwing coalition after he won the endorsement of a far-right politician. Avigdor Lieberman, whose party ­Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) came third in last week’s general elections, told Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, that he would support Netanyahu to lead a new coalition. He said he preferred to see Netanyahu lead a broad, national unity government but would join even a narrow, rightwing cabinet. Within hours, Netanyahu’s rival for the leadership, Tzipi Livni, the current foreign minister, said her Kadima party would go into opposition, even though it won the most seats in the election. It leaves an unprecedented situation: in effect she won the election but lost the government.

Peres won’t hesitate to push parties
Yuval Azoulay, Ha’aretz 2/19/2009
Supreme Court Justice Eliezer Rivlin, chairman of the Central Elections Committee, submitted the official election results for the 18th Knesset to President Shimon Peres last night. Peres must now decide whether to assign Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni or Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu the task of forming a government and becoming the next prime minister. If there is no overriding support among the parties in the Knesset for either Netanyahu or Livni, Peres may end up taking a more active role in the country’s politics than he has in his role as president so far, a source close to Peres said. "In the current political mess, we are liable to find a very active president, very determined and creative," a source close to Peres said yesterday. "If there is no other choice that would allow him to assign one of the candidates the task of forming the government,. . .

Livni: No Kadima fig-leaf for coalition that won’t advance peace
Haaretz Service, Ha’aretz 2/19/2009
Shortly after Avigdor Lieberman announced his endorsement of Likud Chair Benjamin Netanyahu for prime minister, Kadima Chair Tzipi Livni said Thursday she would not sit in a government that fails to advance the peace process. "Kadima represents a number of things Israel needs, from advancing the peace process and fighting terror to domestic issues that have to be addressed," Livni said during a visit to southern Israel. "Kadima won’t provide cover for a government of paralysis," she said, hinting that she would not join a rightist coalition headed by Netanyahu. Meanwhile, Kadima Party officials said the decisionby the Yisrael Beiteinu chair to back Netanyahu as Israel’s next prime minister, has effectively sent Kadima into the opposition.

Nurturing Instability: Lebanon’s Palestinian Refugee Camps
Daily Star 2/20/2009
The following is a report published Thursday by International Crisis Group on the conditions of Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. The vast Palestinian refugee population is routinely forgotten and ignored in much of the Middle East. Not so in Lebanon. Unlike in other host countries, the refugee question remains at the heart of politics, a recurrent source of passionate debate and occasional trigger of violence. The Palestinian presence was a catalyst of the 1975-1990 civil war, Israel’s 1982 invasion and Syrian efforts to bring the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) to heel. Virtually nothing has been done since to genuinely address the problem. Marginalised, deprived of basic political and economic rights, trapped in the camps, bereft of realistic prospects, heavily armed and standing atop multiple fault lines - inter-Lebanese, inter-Palestinian and inter-Arab - the refugee population constitutes a time bomb.

ICG: Lebanon’s Palestinian camps a ’time bomb’
Middle East Online 2/19/2009
BEIRUT - Lebanon’s 12 Palestinian refugee camps constitute a "time bomb" that needs urgent attention, the International Crisis Group think-tank said Thursday. Successive Lebanese governments were largely to blame for a "catastrophic" situation in the camps which were set up after the creation of Israel in 1948, the Brussels-based ICG said in a report. The refugees are mainly the descendants of Palestinians who underwent an Israeli campaign of ethnic cleansing as Israel was being created. The vast majority of these refuges still wish to return to their homes, a move blocked by Israel, despite the fact that under international law all refugees should be allowed to return to their homes. "Marginalised, deprived of basic political and economic rights, trapped in the camps, bereft of realistic prospects, heavily armed and standing amid multiple fault lines.

Spy for Israel sold bugged cars to Hizbullah members - report
Daily Star 2/20/2009
BEIRUT: To those who knew him, the Hizbullah-supporting car dealer from Nabatiyeh seemed an unlikely Israeli spy. But as Marwan Faqih adjusts to life in military custody, new details have emerged about his secret double life as an undercover agent for the Jewish state. Sources close to Hizbullah quoted by the Al-Balad daily on Thursday gave a fascinating glimpse into the secret world of international espionage inhabited by Faqih. The paper said that Faqih was accredited as a "safe" supplier of vehicles to Hizbullah after winning the trust of party officials in Nabatiyeh by making regular donations to the group. During the summer 2006 war with Israel, he even handed control of his petrol station over to Hizbullah fighters. No-one suspected that every car he sold them was fitted with a satellite monitoring device that allowed Israeli intelligence agents to track their every move.

Nunu: Linking the truce to Shalit a new step in the aggression on Gaza
Palestinian Information Center 2/19/2009
CAIRO, (PIC)-- Taher Al-Nunu, the spokesman for the Palestinian government, said that the Israeli decision to link the truce to the release of its soldier Gilad Shalit is a new step in the aggression on the Gaza Strip and an attempt to undermine the Egyptian ceasefire efforts. In an exclusive statement to the PIC, Nunu said that the Cairo talks did not address the issue of Shalit at all, but the Egyptian and Palestinian sides heard through some media outlets Israeli allegations saying the opposite, which bears out that Israel negotiates itself regarding its captive soldier because the Egyptian mediator did not raise this issue and put it off until the conclusion of a truce agreement. Regarding the national reconciliation, Nunu explained that the Hamas delegation held more than one meeting with Fatah leaders such as Ahmed Qurei, Nabil Shaath, Ahmed Abdelrahman and Azzam Al-Ahmed and. . .

BBC Trust backs Mark Thompson on Gaza aid appeal decision
Leigh Holmwood, The Guardian 2/19/2009
The BBC Trust has backed director general Mark Thompson’s controversial decision not to broadcast the Gaza humanitarian aid appeal, which led to 40,000 complaints to the corporation and nationwide protests outside its offices. However, the ruling may not be the end of the issue for the BBC – the firm of solicitors that originally appealed on behalf of two Gaza residents and one UK national about the corporation’s decision said it was likely to push on with a judicial review of the decision at the high court. Along with Sky News, the BBC chose not to air the Disasters Emergency Committee film because it said it risked compromising impartiality. ITV, Channel 4 and Channel Five all screened the appeal. The BBC Trust, the BBC’s governance and regulatory body, said today it had decided not to overrule last month’s decision by Thompson not to screen the three-minute appeal by the DEC.

British groups: BBC wrong not to listen to 40,000 viewers
Ma’an News Agency 2/19/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an – United Kingdom groups condemned the British Broadcasting Corporation on Thursday for failing to air a charity appeal ad for the Gaza Strip, according to a joint statement. “We wholly disagree with the BBC Trust’s decision to back Chief Executive Mark Thompson’s move,” said a spokesperson for the organizations, which included the British-Muslim Initiative. The groups’ remarks were in response to a Thursday ruling from the BBC’s governing body that Mark Thompson, the BBC’s director general, made “a reasonable decision” in choosing not to show the Disasters Emergency Committee’s appeal for humanitarian funds for Gaza. “It is truly astounding that the three criteria for airing such an appeal were all met, namely: scale of need, ability of DEC members to deliver aid, and evidence of public support, yet the BBC still found it correct not to,” the statement said.

UK aid convoy to Gaza reaches Morocco
Ma’an News Agency 2/19/2009
Gaza – Ma’an – A British aid convoy to the Gaza Strip reached the Moroccan city of Tangier on Thursday amid cheering crowds. The Lifeline to Gaza convoy of 130 trucks plans to pick up more donations along the way. Speaking from the UK, organizer Rami Abdo said the convoy will travel through Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt gathering supplies. The convoy is an attempt to support Palestinians living under siege in Gaza and draw attention to the Israeli-led blockade of the territory. Gaza’s 1. 5 million residents have been trapped inside the tiny enclave since June 2007. Israel severely limits shipments of food, fuel, medicine, and other vital goods to the territory.

Senior PLO leaders reject linking Palestinian dialogue with truce
Ma’an News Agency 2/19/2009
Ramallah – Ma’an – The secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization and deputy secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine called for reconciliation on Thursday. At a news conference following a meeting with US Senator Joseph Lieberman near Ramallah, PLO leader Yasser Abed Rabu told reporters that resuming the national dialogue between Hamas and Fatah would be a top priority. “If Israel wants to obstruct the truce, then we should speed up the national dialogue,” Abed Rabu said, affirming that the talks are not related to a truce with Israel. “[The Executive Committee of the PLO] urged all sides to go to the talks and not to connect it with Shalit’s issue, so that this will not control the dialogue,” Abed Rabu said after meeting with Lieberman. He went on to say that the Palestinian leadership had held “intensive contacts” with. . .

Prime Minister signs for reconstruction in Gaza
PNN, Palestine News Network 2/19/2009
Ramallah - Prime Minister Salam Fayyad formally agreed this morning to pay the owners of homes destroyed or damaged as a result of the recent major attacks on the Gaza Strip. It was just last month that approximately 100 people per day were being killed by Israeli forces in Gaza, with thousands rendered homeless due to massive destruction. The Israeli administration continues to hold the Gaza Strip under a two year siege that has a ban on most construction materials. Then-Israeli Prime Minister Tzipi Livni said that the Israelis expected to monitor and approve all reconstruction efforts conducted by the United Nations. The infrastructure of the Gaza Strip remains in shambles. At the headquarters of the Council of Ministers in Ramallah the agreement was signed between the Palestinian National Authority and the banks operating in the Gaza Strip for a "funding mechanism for. . . "

Fayyad announces plan for moving funds into Gaza Strip
Ma’an News Agency 2/19/2009
Ramallah – Ma’an – Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad signed a finance agreement for reconstruction in the Gaza Strip on Thursday. The deal would allow the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority to partner with banks operating in Gaza, according to statements made in Ramallah on Thursday. At a news conference, Prime Minister Fayyad said the PA seeks to “accomplish a comprehensive mechanism to present to international donors,” officials he hopes to meet at a summit on 2 March in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm Al-Sheikh. Fayyad said the agreement will allow hundreds of millions of dollars, needed for rebuilding and repairing homes damaged in Israel’s onslaught, to enter Gaza. Fayyad said the new agreement would solve outstanding issues and permit the necessary aid into the Strip, which is controlled by Fatah’s rival, Hamas.

Hamas Rival Says Gaza Aid Should Go Directly to the Needy, Not Militants
Karin Laub, MIFTAH 2/19/2009
International donors should send Gaza reconstruction money directly to property owners, the Palestinian prime minister said Wednesday, offering a plan that effectively bypasses the territory’s Hamas rulers — his political rivals. The Islamic militants want a say over how the money is given out. However, the international community is unlikely to hand hundreds of millions of dollars to the militants, still shunned by most of the world. The United States and the European Union consider Hamas to be a terrorist group. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s detailed proposal will be presented next month at a donor pledging conference for rebuilding Gaza after Israel’s devastating offensive against Hamas last month. About 80 countries and organizations will participate March 2 in Egypt. The offensive caused an estimated $2 billion in damage and killed nearly 1,300 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, Palestinian officials have said. The assault was launched to halt years of Hamas rocket fire on southern Israel.

Shake Up in the PLO
Kifah Zaboun, MIFTAH 2/19/2009
Ramallah, Asharq Al-Awsat- High-ranking Palestinian sources have revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas transferred the task of leading the Palestinian negotiating team from Ahmad Quray, alias Abu-Ala, to Saeb Erekat, head of the PLO’s negotiations department. When Asharq Al-Awsat directly asked Erekat about this move, he said: "Yes, Of course I am the head of the Palestinian negotiating delegation. "However, he refused to give any reason for the removal of Quray who, according to Palestinian sources, continues to present himself [as the head of the team] since September last year. But the office of Quray denied his removal from the team. An official in Quray’s office said no decision had been taken in that respect. He added that the decision on the appointment of Abu-Ala as head of the delegation can only be revoked by another decision.

Analysis: Amman Caught Between Hamas and Fatah
Brenda Gazzar, MIFTAH 2/19/2009
An expected move by Jordanian parliamentarians to file a petition with the International Criminal Court at The Hague accusing senior Israeli figures of war crimes during Operation Cast Lead does not reflect the kingdom’s official position, experts say. The petition is expected to be filed this week by the head of Jordan’s Parliamentary Legal Committee, Mubarak Abu Yamin, against several Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, Arab media reported this week. " Jordan is an absolute monarchy, not a constitutional monarchy, which means the king has the power of authority over the government and the parliament," said Samer Libdeh, an Amman-based senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for Liberty in the Middle East, a think tank that promotes democracy in the region.

Mousa: Abbas should declare presidential elections
Palestinian Information Center 2/19/2009
GAZA, (PIC)-- Palestinian lawmaker MP Yahya Mousa of the change and reform bloc in the PLC urged on Wednesday former PA chief and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas to immediately call for presidential elections if he couldn’t end the Palestinian political rift and release political prisoners from his jails in the West Bank. In a statement he issued Wednesday and a copy of which was obtained by the PIC, Mousa asserted, "All parties in the Palestinian arena unanimously agree on the necessity to end the file of political arrests.  We believe that if Abbas possesses the political will to do that he will carry it out; however, if he (Abbas) feels that he cannot carry out such a thing, then he should leave the position and call for fresh presidential elections to elect a new president capable of carrying out the national duties and lead the Palestinian people toward national liberation".

Student strikes cancelled as Education Ministry caves to demands
Ma’an News Agency 2/19/2009
Nablus – Ma’an – The head of An-Najah National University’s student council said Thursday that a strike slated to take place next week had been called off. The decision was made following an agreement with the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Education. The student council head, Eyad Duweikat, said Thursday the move came “after the ministry agreed to all of our demands,” including those of other Palestinian university student councils. Duweikat added that those demands included payments from the Palestinian government, including some four million dollars each semester in financial aid, particularly for those students unable to afford tuition. The student leader added that the other issue, cancelling bank loans, was somewhat agreed to, as well. Duweikat said the loans would be transferred to university administrations rather than individual students.

Hamas-Fatah meeting in West Bank to prepare for national dialog
Palestinian Information Center 2/19/2009
RAMALLAH, (PIC)-- Hamas political leader in the West Bank Ra’fat Nassif headed a delegation of his Movement in a meeting with a Fatah faction team led by Jibril Al-Rejoub, member of the Fatah revolutionary council. Well informed Palestinian sources told Al-Bayan website that the meeting aimed at preparing the atmosphere for the inter-Palestinian national dialog. They said that the discussions tackled means of overcoming obstacles impeding success of the expected dialog. Sources said that all issues were tabled for frank and transparent discussion, and added that the "positive" meeting ended with agreement on holding more such meetings to lay the groundwork before a constructive and effective conciliation.

Hamas in WB asks leadership not to go to dialog without the release of detainees
Palestinian Information Center 2/18/2009
RAMALLAH, (PIC)-- Hamas Movement in the West Bank issued a statement on Wednesday asking the Movement’s leadership not to go to national dialog before the release of all political detainees in the West Bank. It said that a positive atmosphere should precede any initiation of national dialog for the sake of reaching serious and fruitful results. The Movement stressed that it was keen on success of the dialog and that is why it was insisting on providing a suitable atmosphere before its start. Hamas, quoting special, reliable sources, said that the PA in the West Bank and commanders of its security apparatuses were trying to tamper with the issue of the political detainees through indicting them on fabricated criminal or other civil charges. Meanwhile, the prisoners’ affairs ministry in Gaza asked the Ramallah authority to release the correspondents of the Quds TV in the West. . .

IAEA finds graphite, uranium at suspect Syrian site
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 2/20/2009
VIENNA: Leaked reports from the UN atomic watchdog poured doubt Thursday on Syria’s claim that uranium found at the site of an alleged illicit nuclear facility could have come from the Israeli missiles that bombed it, as another assessment from the body chided Iran for not fully cooperating with its probe of Tehran’s nuclear drive. A senior official close to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also revealed that graphite particles have been found at the site but it was too early to say whether it was nuclear-grade. The IAEA’s "current assessment is that there is a low probability that the uranium was introduced by the use of missiles," the watchdog wrote in a restricted report, a copy of which was obtained by AFP. Syria has alleged that particles of uranium found at remote desert site that the US claims was a covert nuclear reactor came from the Israeli bombs that razed it in September 2007.

UN nuclear watchdog rejects Syrian excuses for uranium find
Julian Borger, diplomatic editor, The Guardian 2/19/2009
The UN’s nuclear watchdog has said traces of uranium taken from the site of an alleged nuclear reactor in Syria were manmade and rejected the Syrian government’s claim that it came from an Israeli air strike that destroyed the site in 2007. The report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on the Dair Alzour site puts strong pressure on Damascus as it rejects the Syrian explanation for the presence of uranium and denounces the government for its lack of cooperation with the agency’s inquiry. The IAEA says Israel also failed to cooperate, but its findings give weight to the Israeli and US allegation that Dair Alzour was a secret reactor intended for eventual production of weapons. The report explicitly questions Syria’s denials. " Syria has stated that the origin of the uranium particles was the missiles used to destroy the building," the IAEA report says.

IAEA casts doubt on Syrian site claims
Middle East Online 2/19/2009
VIENNA - Uranium found at the site of an alleged illicit nuclear facility in Syria last year is unlikely to have come from Israeli missiles that bombed it, the UN atomic watchdog said Thursday. The IAEA’s "current assessment is that there is a low probability that the uranium was introduced by the use of missiles," the International Atomic Energy Agency wrote in a restricted report. Syria has said that particles of uranium found at a remote desert site which the United States alleges was a covert nuclear reactor came from the Israeli bombs that razed the site in September 2007. IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei had recently suggested that nuclear weapons states bore some blame for other countries seeking such arms, because they are modernizing arsenals rather than scrapping them. The US, France and Britain are three nuclear weapons states that have ratified the Nonproliferation Treaty.

IAEA finds new uranium traces at Syria site
News agencies, YNetNews 2/19/2009
UN nuclear agency report says new traces of uranium, graphite found in samples from suspected reactor site bombed by Israel. Agency officials also negate Damascus claim any uranium came from Israeli missiles. Separate IAEA report says Iran has markedly slowed the expansion of it uranium enrichment program - The UN nuclear agency says it has found new traces of uranium in samples taken from a Syrian site being investigated for possible hidden nuclear activities. The finding is part of a restricted report on Syria being circulated among the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35 board member nations. The UN inspectors have found graphite as well as the uranium traces in test samples taken from a Syrian site Washington says was a secret graphite nuclear reactor. It was the first disclosure that graphite particles had turned up and a senior UN official. . .

Syria daily: US visitors should be impartial
Middle East Online 2/19/2009
DAMASCUS - A Syrian daily close to the government called on US delegations on Thursday to stay away if they are unable to adopt an impartial position towards the Damascus regime. The editorial in the Al-Watan newspaper came after US Senator Benjamin Cardin expressed criticism of Syria’s longstanding alliance with Iran and Arab resistance movements during a visit to Damascus on Wednesday. The paper said Cardin’s comments were "out of touch with the realities of the Arab world and very close to Israel’s agenda. " It would be better, it said, if US delegations planning to express similar views "did not come to Damascus, as they will find nobody here who is ready to listen to Israeli diktats delivered via the United States. " The paper complained that Cardin, who held talks with President Bashar al-Assad during his visit, had "failed to distinguish between resistance and terrorism.

US senator urges Syria to break with Iran
Middle East Online 2/19/2009
DAMASCUS - US Senator Benjamin Cardin called on Syria on Wednesday to end its three-decade alliance with Iran as Washington reviews its policies towards the Middle East. After talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Cardin urged the Damascus government to seize the opportunity of a new US administration to end the support for Lebanese and Palestinian resistance groups. "Syria has isolated itself by its. . . relations with Hamas and (Islamic) Jihad, and a troubled relationship with Iran," Cardin said. "The question we came try to answer here is about whether Syria is ready to make important and significant decisions that will bring us closer together and move forward. "It is an opportunity with the new president, Obama. . . Dialogue is important but actions speaks wider than words. We will be watching Syria’s actions very carefully over the next weeks and months.

Bar-Ilan to teach Eastern wisdom with a Jewish twist
Ofri Ilani, Ha’aretz 2/19/2009
There is rising interest at Israeli universities in the study of East Asian cultures and religions, and Bar-Ilan University, which has a Jewish religious orientation, has not escaped the trend. After East Asian departments were opened at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University and the University of Haifa, Bar-Ilan University will launch a B. A. course in East Asian studies next year, but unlike at other universities, Asian languages and cultures will be studies from a "Jewish perspective. "The new course of study is part of a program offering a multi-disciplinary B. A degree. Dr. Danielle Gurevitch, who directs the multidisciplinary B. A. program, notes that "as a religious university, our uniqueness is our emphasis on the religious perspective. We are trying to build a bridge between the two cultures. "

Remarkable opera makes it on stage after holdup at Bridge
Ramallah, Palestine News Network 2/19/2009
PNN exclusive - It was a diverse audience that gathered at the Friends School for Boys in to see the opera ’The Telephone’ last night. A 12 year old boy strolled around the chairs, dressed in his mother’s oversized coat. Two women moved their graying heads closer together to whisper something in a foreign tongue. "I don’t understand why there aren’t more people from Birzeit here tonight," said 21 year old Fairouz Shahrour a student at from the area university. "Opera is a European phenomenon, something that the young people here aren’t so familiar with, but the fact that Dima is Palestinian makes it really interesting. " Dima Bawab is a young, promising soprano singer, recently graduated from the Conservatoire National Superieure de Musique et Danse in Paris, with roots in Palestine.

Cartoon of the day
Carlos Latuff, Palestine Think Tank 2/19/2009

Is Caryl Churchill’s play Seven Jewish Children antisemitic?
Charlotte Higgins, The Guardian 2/18/2009
The fast-response, eight-minute play that Churchill has written for the Royal Court in London has provoked a furore - First of all – I should say that I heartily recommend that you go and see Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children yourself, if you can get to the Royal Court theatre in London. It’s free to get in, it’s only eight minutes long, and it’s on until 21 January. The play did not strike me as antisemitic and I do not now believe it to be antisemitic. The work contains seven short scenes marking seven moments in Israeli history from the Holocaust via the first intifada to the present day. In those scenes Israeli adults discuss how they will explain those moments to an absent child. Here’s an example of a few lines from the last section of the play. " Tell her she can’t watch the news / Tell her she can watch cartoons / Tell her she can stay up late and watch Friends. / Tell her they’re attacking with rockets / Don’t frighten her / Tell her only a few of us have been killed. . . [etc]". . .

IAEA: Iran slowing down enrichment
Al Jazeera 2/19/2009
Iran has considerably slowed down the expansion of its contested uranium enrichment programme, the International Atomic Energy Agency has said in a report obtained by the Reuters news agency. The UN watchdog said that Tehran had increased the number of centrifuges refining uranium by only 164 from 3,800 in November. The report said Iran had refused to let IAEA inspectors conduct a design check at its Arak heavy water reactor project in January and had built a dome over it, preventing satellites from taking images of the facility. Iran was also said to be continuing to boycott IAEA investigators looking into intelligence allegations of past covert atomic bomb work by Tehran, with the stalemate now more than six-months old. Western powers accuse Iran of attempting to create nuclear weapons, but Tehran says it is producing nuclear fuel only for civil nuclear energy.

Iran builds unmanned surveillance aircraft
Middle East Online 2/19/2009
TEHRAN - Iran has built an unmanned surveillance aircraft with a range of more than 600 miles, a top defense official said in remarks published Wednesday. Deputy Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said he could not provide more details, only saying the development of the unmanned aircraft, or drone, was an "important achievement. "His remarks were published Wednesday in the government-owned newspaper, Iran, and by the semiofficial Fars news agency. Vahidi’s comments were the first by a top official revealing its range. Wednesday’s reports follow this week’s announcement that Iran has restructured its military in an effort to improve its air defense capabilities. The move was widely seen as part of a broader military build up by Tehran, which is concerned about the US military’s presence in neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan and Israeli threats to target its nuclear facilities.

IAEA: Iran not cooperating
Middle East Online 2/19/2009
VIENNA - Iran is still defying UN demands to suspend uranium enrichment and not cooperating with investigations into claims that its nuclear programme has a military aspect, the UN atomic watchdog said Thursday. "Contrary to the decisions of the (UN) Security Council, Iran has not suspended its enrichment related activities," the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a restricted report. The report added that the IAEA had been unable to make any "substantive" progress during inquiries into whether the nuclear programme has a military aspect. "Regrettably, as a result of the continued lack of cooperation by Iran in connection with the remaining isuses which give rise to concerns about the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear programme, the agency has not been able to make substantive progress on these issues," the report said.

State of the Economy Index continues sharp slide
Yossi Nissan, Globes Online 2/19/2009
The fall, along with drops in previous months, illustrates the economy’s descent into a recession. The Bank of Israel said today that the composite State of the Economy Index fell 1. 2% in January. The sharp fall, and the drops in previous months as well, illustrates the economy’s descent into a recession. According to the Bank of Israel, the first signs of the recession were seen in the composite index in the fourth quarter of 2008. The worsening state of the economy was seen in the falls in most components of the index, and in an especially sharp fall in the trade and services revenue index. The index of manufacturing production, though, actually rose slightly. A privately calculated index that also tracks economic activity, the Melnick Index, developed by Prof. Rafi Melnick of the Arison School of Business at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, fell 0. 9% in January

Fischer: Weigh the future of dollar purchase plan
Adrian Filut, Globes Online 2/19/2009
"Our condition is still better than in the world’s other industrialized countries, and my colleagues overseas know that. " Referring to the target inflation rate, Governor of the Bank of Israel Prof. Stanley Fischer said, "We’ll definitely miss the inflation, but that’s not too terrible" at the first annual conference of the bank’s Information and Statistics Department. He added, "Our condition is still better than in the world’s other industrialized countries, and my colleagues overseas know that. " Fischer also implied that the Bank of Israel’s dollar purchase plan was drawing to a close. "We must weigh the future of the dollar purchase plan. " Fischer continued, "In January 2010, we’ll still be under the inflation target for the preceding 12 months. The 12-month inflation rate will plummet from 5% as of October 2008 to minus 0. 4% in October 2009. Inflation this year will again undershoot the target, that is too low. "

Four Argentinian retirees arrested for smuggling drugs for Israeli ring
Yuval Goren, Ha’aretz 2/19/2009
Four Argentine retirees who made their way to the Netherlands and India from South America allegedly served as couriers in an international drug-smuggling ring thought headed by five Israelis. Although the retirees initially failed to arouse the suspicion of border police at airports around the world, the Argentines and all five of the Israelis have been arrested in recent weeks. An undercover operation lasting more than a year conducted by the Israel police and police departments in other countries found the couriers to have been a lot more than innocents abroad. The four were reportedly caught with large quantities of cocaine and Indian hashish. The police named of the five alleged ringleaders as Avraham Malachi, 39, of Netanya, a real estate advisor and the ringleader; Samuel Samuel, 48, of Lod, who currently lives in the Netherlands, and allegedly. . .

Egged suspends service through Mea Shearim after buses damaged
Yair Ettinger, Ha’aretz 2/19/2009
Egged partially suspended several Jerusalem bus lines that pass through the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood Mea Shearim yesterday after residents threw stones at several buses and punctured their tires. Ultra-Orthodox youths demonstrated throughout the day to protest the bus company’s refusal to make a local bus a so-called mehadrin line, meaning men sit in the front and women sit in the back. The No. 2 bus route goes to the Western Wall via ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. Men and women generally sit separately on the No. 2 bus, but Egged and the Transportation Ministry have refused ultra-Orthodox demands that it be formally classified as a mehadrin line, and the bus company is not installing automatic payment machines at the back door to enable women to pay their bus fare from there, as it has on some of its mehadrin buses.

UBS warns Israeli banks under pressure
Globes' correspondent, Globes Online 2/19/2009
UBS analysts Darren Shaw and Rami Myerson call 2009 "really problematic" for banks. UBS finds that Israel’s banks are under increasing pressure as they will need to increase their Tier 1 capital and raise provisions for problem debts, even as a weakening global economy and capital markets lead to investment write-offs. UBS analysts Darren Shaw and Rami Myerson call 2009 "really problematic" for banks, and are not confident that 2010 will be better. The analysts point out that Israel’s banks have the lowest Tier 1 capital of any global emerging markets banks. UBS cuts its price target forecasts for Isael’s four largest banks, and lowered its recommendation onIsrael Discount Bank (TASE:DSCT ) to "Sell" from "Neutral". Discount Bank’s target price was lowered 25% to NIS 3, from NIS 4.

Iraqi shoe-thrower trial adjourned
Al Jazeera 2/19/2009
The trial of the Iraqi reporter who hurled his shoes at George Bush, the former US president, has been adjourned until March. Muntazer al-Zeidi, who faces up to 15 years in prison if found guilty of assaulting a foreign leader, appeared in court on Thursday. Al-Zeidi was handcuffed and surrounded by a pack of security guards as he was brought to Iraq’s Central Criminal Court in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone. Family members waiting for him inside the courthouse ululated wildly as he was brought in and draped an Iraqi flag across his shoulders. The chief judge threatened to order everybody out of the room if they did not quieten. He later adjourned the trial until March 12. Al-Zeidi’s legal team argues that the charges should be dropped and the 30-year-old TV journalist be freed. Dhiya al-Saadi, one of the lawyers acting for al-Zeidi, said on Wednesday: "He [al-Zeidi] was optimistic and ready to stand in front of the court, as he believes what he did was fair.

IRAQ: Still Homeless in Baghdad
Dahr Jamail, Inter Press Service 2/19/2009
BAGHDAD, Feb 19(IPS) - "We only want a normal life," says Um Qasim, sitting in a bombed out building in Baghdad. She and others around have been saying that for years. Um Qasim lives with 13 family members in a brick shanty on the edge of a former military intelligence building in the Mansoor district of Baghdad. Five of her children are girls. Homelessness is not easy for anyone, but it is particularly challenging for women and girls. "Me and my girls have to be extra careful living this way," Um Qasim told IPS. "We are tired of always being afraid, because any day, any time, strange men walk through our area, and there is no protection for us. Each day brings a new threat to us, and all the women here. " She rarely leaves her area, she says. Nor do her girls, for fear of being kidnapped or raped.

Maliki allies triumph in Iraq provincial polls
Middle East Online 2/19/2009
BAGHDAD - Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s allies triumphed in the January 31 provincial polls, final results showed on Thursday, boosting his position in war-battered Iraq after fiercely contested elections. Candidates backed by Maliki dominated in Baghdad and also won a majority in all nine of Iraq’s Shiite provinces, in a huge vote of confidence for the premier whose standing has grown steadily at home and abroad in the past year. Just over half of Iraqis voted in the largely trouble-free elections, which were seen as a vital test of the country’s progress since the US-led invasion ousted Saddam Hussein from power almost six years ago. Maliki, a Shiite, did not stand in the provincial council polls but threw his backing behind State of Law Coalition candidates. The polls held in 14 of Iraq’s 18 provinces were seen as a referendum on Maliki’s performance.


Europe opens covert talks with ’blacklisted’ Hamas
Anne Penketh, Diplomatic Editor, The Independent 2/19/2009
      European nations have opened a direct dialogue with Hamas as the US intensifies the search for Middle East peace under Barack Obama.
     In the first meeting of its kind, two French senators travelled to Damascus two weeks ago to meet the leader of the Palestinian Islamist faction, Khaled Meshal, The Independent has learned. Two British MPs met three weeks ago in Beirut with the Hamas representative in Lebanon, Usamah Hamdan. “Far more people are talking to Hamas than anyone might think,” said a senior European diplomat. “It is the beginning of something new – although we are not negotiating.”
     Mr Hamdan said yesterday that since the end of last year, MPs from Sweden, the Netherlands and three other western European nations, which he declined to identify, had consulted with Hamas representatives. “They believe they made a mistake by blacklisting Hamas,” he said, referring to the EU decision in 2003 to add the political wing of the movement to its list of terrorist organisations. “Now they know they have to talk to Hamas.”
     Political contacts with Hamas are banned under the rules of the international Quartet for Middle East peace – which groups the US, the EU, Russia and the UN – on the grounds that the Palestinian faction remains committed to the destruction of Israel. The international community insists that the ban will only be lifted once the Islamists agree to recognise Israel and renounce violence. But the policy, set out in 2006 following the Hamas victory in Palestinian elections, has been called into question since the three-week war in Gaza which is ruled by Hamas.

Escort service

Amira Hass, Ha’aretz 2/19/2009
      GAZA - The question "Who is it?" was answered with: "The Israel Defense Forces." Majdi Abed Rabbo, 39, who is a Palestinian Authority (Ramallah) employee and a member of its intelligence apparatus, went down to open the door. Standing there was the son of his neighbors, Mahmoud Daher, and behind him a soldier whose rifle was jammed into Daher’s back. The soldier pushed Daher aside and aimed the rifle at Abed Rabbo.
     "He ordered me to pull down my pants. I pulled them down. He demanded that I raise my shirt. I raised it. That I turn around. I turned around," Abed Rabbo related. And then the room filled up with soldiers. "Twelve, or something like that."
     This was in the morning of Monday, January 5, 2009, about 40 hours after the start of the Israeli ground offensive in Gaza.
     The soldiers had already taken over Daher’s house on Sunday evening, located in I’zbet Abed Rabbo, an eastern neighborhood of Jabaliya city. First they gathered the family on the ground floor. Gunfire rang out around the house. Then they moved the family up to the first floor. The family wondered why the soldiers had taken them upstairs, to the cold, uncomfortable room - parents, children, two infants and an elderly mother. But they could not refuse, and they did not yet know that the move upstairs brought them closer to the range of fire. Only later did they learn about the three fighters from Iz al-Din al-Qassam, Hamas’ military wing, positioned in the empty house to the northeast of them. The regular occupants of the house, owned by their neighbor Abu Hatem, had long since gone abroad. Abed Rabbo’s tall house stood next to Abu Hatem’s narrow, empty one.

New species

Sayed Kashua, Ha’aretz 2/19/2009
      Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to inform you that Israel’s Arab citizens’ 15 minutes of fame were officially inaugurated this week. I’m telling you, during the past few days, Arabs have been going like hotcakes. We’re talking the hottest merchandise in today’s international entertainment market. Last week, I was contacted by dozens of foreign reporters, all begging me to consent to an interview. Requests from radio stations, television, newspapers, Web sites - you name it. The Western world has discovered the natural phenomenon known as Israeli Arab citizens, and to the best of my knowledge, the patent is registered under the name of a Russian scientist called Lieberman. That slogan - "No Loyalty, No Citizenship" - really seems to have confused members of the foreign media. "Just a second," wondered editors in Europe and the United States, "what citizenship is he talking about? Since when do the Palestinians have any citizenship?" Anthropologists and zoologists were called upon to provide explanations and after long days of the most delicate laboratory experiments, they reached the conclusion that this was a familiar phenomenon, sometimes referred to among a small group of historians by the scientific term "Israeli Arabs." Other researchers who had documented the occurrence called them "Palestinian citizens of Israel" while still others preferred to catalog them by numbers, calling them the "Arabs of ’48." Some representatives of the foreign media who had amassed years of experience in Israel already knew about the country’s Arab citizens, but for internal reasons, chose, until recently, to conceal this phenomenon from their readers lest it sow confusion and cause the average foreign reader dismay. The whole Israeli-Palestinian story was already becoming thornier than ever, and the introduction of new elements such as Israeli Arabs would only complicate matters....

Film review: 'Waltz with Bashir'

Naira Antoun, Electronic Intifada 2/19/2009
      Waltz with Bashir, an animated documentary film charting the director’s quest to recover his lost memories of the 1982 massacres at the Palestinian refugee camps Sabra and Shatila in Beirut, Lebanon, has been released to international acclaim. The film presents itself, and has largely been received, as a soul-searching and honest account of a journey to face up to guilt and responsibility. More than a quarter of a century after the atrocities in Sabra and Shatila, during which approximately 2,000 civilians were brutally murdered, we are witnessing a perverse moment: an apparently "anti-war" Israeli film wins several Israeli and international film awards in a context not only of Israel’s ongoing brutal occupation, violations of international law, racism and denial of refugee rights, but also while fresh atrocities are committed by Israeli forces in Gaza.
     One night in a bar, a friend tells director, Ari Folman, about a recurring dream connected to his time in Lebanon in 1982, and Folman is alarmed to discover he has no memory of his own army service in Lebanon when he was 19. This serves as the point of departure for Folman’s cinematic journey. In an attempt to piece together what happened, he talks to several old friends who also fought in Lebanon. They are a motley assortment of middle-aged men, self-deprecating, liberal, essentially likeable characters. One of Folman’s first stops is with an old friend he served alongside and who now lives in Holland, having made a living selling falafel. "Healthy and Middle Eastern food is popular" he remarks wryly, unperturbed by the wholesale appropriation of Palestinian and Arab culture. But Waltz with Bashir has bigger fish to fry than falafel; it is a film charting an Israeli quest to remember -- or to unforget -- the Israeli role in the brutal massacre of Palestinians in Sabra and Shatila. Or at least, this is the film’s ostensible purpose.

Twilight Zone / Medal of dishonor

Gideon Levy, Ha’aretz 2/19/2009
      Everyone now has his fingers crossed for Ari Folman and all the creative artists behind "Waltz with Bashir" to win the Oscar on Sunday. A first Israeli Oscar? Why not? However, it must also be noted that the film is infuriating, disturbing, outrageous and deceptive. It deserves an Oscar for the illustrations and animation - but a badge of shame for its message. It was not by accident that when he won the Golden Globe, Folman didn’t even mention the war in Gaza, which was raging as he accepted the prestigious award. The images coming out of Gaza that day looked remarkably like those in Folman’s film. But he was silent. So before we sing Folman’s praises, which will of course be praise for us all, we would do well to remember that this is not an antiwar film, nor even a critical work about Israel as militarist and occupier. It is an act of fraud and deceit, intended to allow us to pat ourselves on the back, to tell us and the world how lovely we are. Hollywood will be enraptured, Europe will cheer and the Israeli Foreign Ministry will send the movie and its makers around the world to show off the country’s good side. But the truth is that it is propaganda. Stylish, sophisticated, gifted and tasteful - but propaganda. A new ambassador of culture will now join Amos Oz and A.B. Yehoshua, and he too will be considered fabulously enlightened - so different from the bloodthirsty soldiers at the checkpoints, the pilots who bomb residential neighborhoods, the artillerymen who shell women and children, and the combat engineers who rip up streets. Here, instead, is the opposite picture. Animated, too. Of enlightened, beautiful Israel, anguished and self-righteous, dancing a waltz, with and without Bashir. Why do we need propagandists, officers, commentators and spokespersons who will convey "information"? We have this waltz. The waltz rests on two ideological foundations. One is the "we shot and we cried" syndrome: Oh, how we wept, yet our hands did not spill this blood. Add to this a pinch of Holocaust memories, without which there is no proper Israeli self-preoccupation. And a dash of victimization - another absolutely essential ingredient in public discourse here - and voila! You have the deceptive portrait of Israel 2008, in words and pictures...

How is Erdogan’s sharing of his people’s views considered undemocratic?

Editorial, Daily Star 2/19/2009
      Ever since Recep Tayyip Erdogan lectured Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Davos World Economic Forum about the Jewish state’s indiscriminate slaughter of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, a number of scholars and writers in the West have been accusing the Turkish premier of having revealed his true anti-democratic colors. For instance, a recent op-ed published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), entitled"The Islamists Show Their Hand," basically claims that Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) was abandoning its "pro-Western" "reformist" guise and returning to its "anti-Western, anti-Semitic and antisecular" roots. But these empty labels,many of which were also widely used against the Turkish republic when it declined to take part in the US-led invasion of Iraq, are very misleading.
     For one thing, dismissing criticism of Israel as "anti-Western, anti-Semitic and antisecular" ignores the legitimate concerns that many Turks have about Israeli policies in the region where they live. The same WINEP article acknowledges that Erdogan’s Davos remarks would likely boost the popularity of his AKP ahead of the upcoming March 29 local elections, suggesting that a majority of Turks share the views that the premier articulated in Switzerland. Is the author then saying that in order to be pro-Western, a leader must be anti-democratic enough to disregard the foreign policy views of the majority of the people that he governs.

Singing Martyrdom

Natalie Abu Shakra - Gaza, Palestine Chronicle 2/19/2009
      ’Raise your voice, raise your voice, raise it in your song! Songs are still possible, they are still possible!’
     "Please tell me how he was! How did you find him? Was his body still put together? Was it in pieces?! You have to tell me!" demanded the mother of the martyr Yousef Abu ’Oda.
     On Wednesday February 10, 2009, we were requested to join a team of Beit Hanoun locals in the Bura area in search of the body of Abu ’Oda who has not been found despite two days of searching. We were around twenty individuals and we set search in areas around fifty metres close to the Apartheid wall on the northern borders. For around thirty minutes, as we coupled in pairs, we found the body of 21 year old Abu ’Oda in the close proximity of a hill where the Israeli Occupation Forces were present. It was raining heavily, and small chips of ice were falling from the sky. It was cloudy and grey, and some soldiers were in a jeep that had its headlights on, looking like a spooky object amidst the darkness of the surrounding. Another soldier was in a square like cemented block, hiding, grabbing onto a sniper, with a helmet atop his head. As the soldiers threatened via their megaphone to begin shooting at us, someone behind me screamed "Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!" The corpse had been found. Against the intensity of rain, it was carried in carpets back to an ambulance that could not make it where we were due to fear of the IOF targeting it.

The Roots of Hatred in the Zionist Ideology

Salim Nazzal, Palestine Chronicle 2/19/2009
      In 1939 Europe turned a blind eye to the rise of Nazism. The British foreign minister Neville Chamberlain believed that a policy of appeasement would work with Hitler; it did not. Hitler attacked Poland, giving the world a costly lesson - a policy of appeasement does not work with fascism. The outcome is well known: Europe was ruined and around 50 million lost their lives. Yet thanks to the Norwegian "home front" resistance, Hitler was deprived of the heavy water needed for manufacturing the nuclear bomb; had he acquired enough material to do so, the history of humanity might have been dramatically different to that which we know.
     The fact that Hitler was democratically elected by the German people did not legitimize his policy of mass murder; in the same way the Israeli election of fascists and war criminals should not legitimate the Zionists’ policy of mass murder. However, if Hitler is the starkest model of the democratic electoral system that brought Nazism to power in Germany, the recent Israeli election is a more recent example of an election that brought another known fascist, Avigdor Lieberman, widely viewed as the Israeli duplicate of contemporary European fascists like Jorg Haider or Jean Marie Le Pen, to power.

Aftermath (3) 'Is this not forbidden?'

Palestinian Centre for Human Rights 2/19/2009
      In this new series of personal testimonies, PCHR looks at the aftermath of Israel’s 22 day offensive on the Gaza Strip, and the ongoing impact it is having on the civilian population.
     Three weeks after the Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip, 16 year old Maysa al-Louh sits stoically on the pile of sand that consumes half her home in Beit Lahiya. Under the sand, churned up by Israeli bulldozers during incursions into this area on 4 January 2009 lie all her report cards and school awards that were testament to her excellent academic record.
     Nearby her grandmother tries to heat water on a pile of ash. The smell of decomposing chicken carcasses is overwhelming: the family’s chicken coop that provided them with eggs, as well as their vegetable garden, were all destroyed by the bulldozers and tanks.
     Thirty five people lived in the three storey al-Louh house. The contents of home life – a refrigerator, notebooks, framed pictures, and plastic flowers, lie scattered over the area. The adjacent Sakhnin Elementary School was also damaged by artillery shells and some of its classrooms are now a masse of mangled chairs, steel rods, shattered concrete and broken glass. Israel says militants were firing rockets from the school grounds.

Fearing One State Solution, Peres Serves Pabulum to Washington

Franklin Lamb - Ain el Helwe Palestinian Refugee Camp, Lebanon, Palestine Chronicle 2/19/2009
      "Whatever will happen in the future, we shall not repeat the mistakes we made in leaving Gaza." - Shimon Peres to members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, 2/18/09.
     "You take my water. Burn my Olive Trees. Destroy my house. Take my job. Steal my Land. Imprison my Mother. Bomb my country. Starve us all. Humiliate us all. But I am to blame:I shot a rocket back". - Sign carried near Hyde Park Corner during a demonstration in London on 2/15/09 by a Member of the British Parliament.
     Israeli President Shimon Peres has participated in shaping the policies of Israel for most of its existence. His Washington Post Op-Ed last week billed as ’a peacepartners prod’ to the Obama administration, evidences a major disconnect within the government of Israel concerning what is urgently required for that country’s increasingly unlikely long-term survival.
     According to a CIA study currently being shown to selected staff members on the US Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Israel’s survival in its present form beyond the next 20 years is doubtful.

Justifying Israeli War Crimes

Reem Salahi, Palestine Think Tank 2/19/2009
      Having left Gaza now, I am trying to come to terms with what I saw, what I heard and honestly, what I don’t think I will ever understand is the justification. While Israel’s recent offensive has been the most egregious of any historical attack upon the Palestinians in Gaza, it is just that, one of many. Gaza has been under Israeli bombardment and sanctions for many years. Prior to the Israeli pullout in 2005, Gaza was under the complete control and occupation of Israel. Nearly 8000 Israeli settlers occupied 40% of Gaza while the 1.5 million Palestinians occupied the remaining 60%. Settlements were located on the most fertile lands and along Gaza’s beautiful coastal regions and checkpoints prevented Palestinian mobility. Despite being one-fifth the size of Rhode Island, 25 miles long by 4-7.5 miles wide, Gaza was divided into three sections and Palestinians had to pass through multiple checkpoints to get from one section to the next. Often Israeli forces would close these checkpoints and not allow the Palestinians access to the other regions in Gaza as a form of collective punishment. Yet with Israel’s pullout in 2005, the Palestinian experience has not improved. Rather, it has become even more unpredictable and isolated. Palestinians who celebrated the exodus of the Israeli settlers and the return of their land could not have imagined what would follow and how Israel would subsequently unleash its brutal force against them. As the saying goes, nothing in life is free and the Palestinians have paid, and continue to pay, a dear and unforgivable price for Israel’s withdrawal from their legally rightful land.

’I Will Never Vote for Corruption’

Mats Svensson, Palestine Chronicle 2/19/2009
      He himself intended to vote for Hamas. "I am not religious," he said. "I don’t pray, I don’t fast. But I will vote for Hamas because we are sick of all the thieves, we are sick of seeing them steal our money. We have received billions of dollars from around the world, but where are they?" - Excerpt from an article by Amira Hass in Haaretz, 27 Jan. 2006.
     In meetings with Palestinians in Bethlehem, in Nablus, in Hebron, in Jerusalem and in Gaza have those willing, been able to hear. The message has been clear.
     "I will never vote for corruption."
     "What does that mean?" I asked a Christian man living in Bethlehem.
     "It simply means that I will never vote for corruption."
     And there I stood, 2004. In my hand, I held the World Bank proposition to save the Palestinian Authority, to save Fatah. Save them from what?
     We were afraid of something unclear, something inconstant or maybe too constant. Was it the men dressed in green with the long beards? Men, men, only men. We all saw something scary ahead of us. And the big budget supports were paid out. Not from Sweden but from many other countries. Trust funds, budget support. Paid out to create security, keep something alive. Artificially, it would survive. But what was it that was meant to survive?
     ....At the ballot boxes, the women said that a party with social pathos but without corruption was better than what they had endured. They did not want the whole package, but the majority said no to corruption. They said that the economic abuse of power had to be stopped, that the wall had to be torn down. Every day since the wall’s construction began, the women lost.

Organize for boycott Israel day of action

Appeal, Secretariat of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National, Electronic Intifada 2/19/2009
      In December 2008, Israel decided to mark the 60th anniversary of its existence the same way it had established itself -- perpetrating massacres against the Palestinian people. In 23 days, Israel killed more than 1,300 and injured at least 5,000 Palestinians in Gaza. The irony of history is that Israel targeted those Palestinians -- and their descendants -- whom it had expelled from their homes and pushed into refugeehood in Gaza in 1948, whose land it has stolen, whom it has oppressed since 1967 by means of a brutal military occupation, and whom it had tried to starve into submission by means of a criminal blockade of food, fuel and electricity in the 18 months preceding the military assault. We cannot wait for Israel to zero in on its next objective. Palestine has today become the test of our indispensable morality and our common humanity.
     We therefore call on all to unite our different capacities and struggles in a Global Day of Action in Solidarity with the Palestinian people and for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel on 30 March 2009.
     The mobilization coincides with the Palestinian Land Day, the annual commemoration of the 1976 Israeli massacre of Palestinians in the Galilee in struggle against massive land expropriation, and forms part of the Global Week of Action against the Crises and War from 28 March 28 to 4 April.

Obama’s Caterpillar Visit a Thumb in the Eye for Human Rights Activists

Stephen Zunes, ZNet 2/16/2009
      Over the objections of church groups, peace organizations and human rights activists, President Barack Obama decided to return to Illinois to visit the headquarters of the Caterpillar company, which for years has violated international law, U.S. law and its own code of conduct by selling its D9 and D10 bulldozers to Israel.
     In his speech on Thursday, Obama praised Caterpillar, saying, "Your machines plow the farms that feed our families; build the towers that shape our skylines; lay the roads that connect our communities; power the trucks that deliver our goods." He failed to mention that Caterpillar machines have been used to level Palestinian homes, uproot olive orchards, build the illegal separation wall and, in some cases, kill innocent civilians, including a 23-year old American peace activist.
     Given the slump in sales that forced Caterpillar to lay off thousands of workers, the company is emblematic of the problems facing industrial towns of the Midwest in the face of the worse recession in decades and was therefore seen as an appropriate place for Obama to make an appearance. Yet surely there were other heavy equipment manufacturers, or other industries, he could have chosen to visit -- one which doesn’t provide its wares for what have been widely recognized as crimes against humanity and is not the subject of an international boycott by the human rights community.

Letter on Academic Freedom in Palestine

Undersigned Faculty, Academic Freedom and Columbia University 2/16/2009
      Dear President Bollinger,
     On a number of occasions since becoming president of Columbia University you have expressed your views in public on questions of academic freedom in the Middle East. Yet you have remained silent on the actions by Israel that deny that freedom to Palestinians.
     These actions include Israel’s continuing blockade of Gaza, the imposing of barriers, checkpoints, and closures around and within the West Bank that make academic life unworkable, the denial of exit visas to Palestinian scholars offered fellowships abroad or invited to international conferences, including scholars invited to Columbia, and the recent three-week war against Gaza that included not only the bombing of Palestinian schools and colleges, with great loss of life, but the widespread destruction of the material and social fabric on which academic life depends.
     We, as Columbia and Barnard faculty, ask you now to make public your opposition to these actions and your support for the academic freedom of Palestinians.