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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
12 March, 2009
Confirmed figures reveal true extent of Gaza destruction; 1,434 dead, including 960 civilians, 239 police officers, and 235 fighters
Palestinian Centre for Human Rights 3/12/2009
Confirmed figures reveal the true extent of the destruction inflicted upon the Gaza Strip; Israel’s offensive resulted in 1,434 dead, including 960 civilians, 239 police officers, and 235 fighters. - The Israeli offensive launched on the Gaza Strip between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009 resulted in extensive death, injury and destruction throughout the Gaza Strip. Only now is the true extent of the devastation becoming apparent. The offensive took place in the context of an ongoing international armed conflict and belligerent occupation. International humanitarian law (IHL) lays down stringent, legally-binding, obligations regulating the conduct of hostilities. Of primary relevance is the principle of distinction, which obliges all Parties to the conflict to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants (including civilians).

Clinton: U.S. Gaza aid tied to recognition of Israel
Barak Ravid, Ha’aretz 3/12/2009
Some $900 million pledged by the United States to the Palestinians will be withdrawn if the expected Palestinian Authority coalition government between Fatah and Hamas does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, Western and Israeli diplomats said Wednesday. During her visit to the region last week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas against forming a coalition with Hamas that will not meet the expectations of the Quartet. Clinton told Abbas that Congress will not approve funding of a Palestinian government that does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and renounce violence. She added that if those requirements are not met the U. S. -funded program under the supervision of General Keith Dayton training PA security forces would be the first to be axed. Fatah and Hamas are currently engaged in talks intended to reestablish. . .

Israeli settlers attack homes and stores in East Jerusalem
IMEMC News, International Middle East Media Center News 3/12/2009
Palestinian sources reported on Wednesday that a group of extremist Jewish settlers attacked dozens of Palestinian homes and stores in East Jerusalem. The settlers were marching in the city and chanting slogans against Arabs and Palestinians, calling for their expulsion from the Holy City. The Israeli police did not attempt to intervene, and allowed the settlers to continue their march, which encouraged them to attack Palestinian property, local sources reported. The settlers chanted "death to Arabs" and other racists slogans while marching in Arab markets and the alleys of the Old City. The Palestinian News Agency, WAFA, reported that different settler groups marched in different parts of the Old City under heavy protection and presence of the Israeli military and police. The police closed main roads in the Old City barring Palestinians from using them in order to allow the settlers to march.

Withdrawal of Obama’s top intel pick marks victory for pro-Israel lobby
Daniel Luban and Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service, Daily Star 3/12/2009
WASHINGTON: Ambassador Chas Freeman withdrew from consideration for a top intelligence post in the Obama administration on Tuesday, following a vitriolic battle that pitted Republican lawmakers and pro-Israel hardliners opposed to his appointment against liberals and members of the intelligence and diplomatic communities who had come to his defense. Freeman’s withdrawal came as a surprise to many in Washington, particularly since it came only hours after Adm. Dennis Blair, the administration’s director of national intelligence (DNI) who made the appointment, issued a strong defense of Freeman during his testimony before the US Senate. His withdrawal is likely to be viewed as a significant victory for hardliners within the so-called ’Israel lobby,’ who led the movement to scuttle his appointment, and a blow to hopes for a new approach to Israel-Palestine issues under the Obama administration. -- See also: Freeman's post-withdrawal statement

EU Slams Israeli House Demolitions in E. Jerusalem
Palestine Media Center 3/12/2009
The European Union (EU) is “deeply concerned” about the threat of demolition to approximately 90 houses in the Al-Bustan area adjacent to the Old City in East Jerusalem. The EU noted in a statement released on Wednesday that the demolitions would make more than 1,000 Palestinians homeless, “and would be the largest destruction of Palestinian houses in East Jerusalem since 1967. ” “Demolition of houses in this sensitive area threatens the viability of a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement, in conformity with international law,” The houses were built without construction permits which residents say are nearly impossible to obtain. Many of the houses were also built before Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967. The Israeli Jerusalem municipality has designated the area for a public park. A confidential EU report slammed Israeli policies in East Jerusalem stressing that it hinders Palestinian existence in the occupied city.

Israeli bulldozers demolish two houses in Negev
Ma’an News Agency 3/12/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Israeli bulldozers demolished two houses at dawn on Thursday and uprooted dozens of olive trees at a village inside Israel. Residents of Bir Al-Hamam, a village within Israel, told Ma’an that Israeli police overran the area, closing it down and preventing locals from going near the site where bulldozers demolished two houses. They were reportedly owned by the family of Hammad and Salameh Abu Assa. Police also oversaw the uprooting of around 100 olive trees planted on the family’s property. The demolition campaign came as local shepherds from nearby villages in Beersheva have been protesting ongoing practices against them by Israeli authorities on lands they use for grazing sheep. In late February, the Israeli government demolished four houses in a Bedouin community in the Negev desert.

Gaza sewage flood visible from outer space
Ma’an News Agency 3/12/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an – A massive sewage flood caused when an Israeli shell struck a treatment plant in Gaza is visible from outer space, according to satellite images released by the United Nations this week. The images, released on Tuesday by the UN’s Operational Satellite Applications Program (UNOSAT) shows an impact crater in a sewage reservoir in the Sheikh Ajleen area, southeast of Gaza City, from an Israeli shell that exploded in the second week of the Israeli offensive on Gaza in January. The shell “caused a massive outflow of sewage, moving an estimated total distance of 1. 2km,” UNOSAT said. UNOSAT used imagery with a special resolution of two meters. The sewage treatment plant in Sheikh Ajleen is Gaza’s largest, treating raw sewage from some 400,000 people. It has been out of operation since early January. In late March 2007 a massive wastewater reservoir burst its banks in the northern Gaza Strip, causing a deluge that killed six people. -- See also: UNOSAT: 13 Gaza Strip maps and Sewage Treatment Plant Damage & Outflow Detection, Sheikh Ejlin (HiRes PDF)

Gaza fishing industry reeling
IRIN - UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 3/12/2009
GAZA CITY, 12 March 2009 (IRIN) - A combination of damage to fishing resources caused by the Israeli offensive, and a restriction on the zone in which Gazans are allowed to fish is reducing catches and adversely affecting people’s diets in Gaza, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). In January 2009 the Israeli authorities reduced the area in which fishermen can fish from six to three nautical miles from Gaza’s coastline. In Rafah (southern Gaza) fishing has almost completely stopped due to the damage inflicted on fishing gear and boats during the 22-day war which ended on 18 January. Fishing nets, rope, twine and gas mantles are in short supply due to the Israeli blockade of Gaza since June 2007, according to OCHA, along with engines and spare parts. "During Operation Cast Lead a naval closure was imposed on the Gaza Strip. . . "

Three more patients die in Gaza as a result of the Israeli siege
Ghassan Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 3/12/2009
Two children and an elderly woman were pronounced dead on Thursday in Gaza after Israel barred them from leaving the Gaza Strip for medical care, Palestinian sources reported. Doctors said that Sujod Abu Bateen, age 7, from Khan Younis city and Suleiman Abu Rajilah, age 4, had heart conditions, while Bushra al-Fishawi, age 71, had cancer. Doctors added that all three had in their possession all the required documents to leave Gaza for treatment, but the Israeli Army delayed them, causing their deaths. The Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza said that the number of patients that have died due to the Israeli siege on Gaza, since June of 2007, has now reached 304. Of those 304, 12 of the patients have died in this month (March 2009) alone. Meanwhile, doctors state that they have many cases in Gaza that they can’t treat because of the continuing Israeli siege.

Galloway secretly meets with Haniyeh
Associated Press, Jerusalem Post 3/11/2009
British lawmaker George Galloway held a meeting with Gaza’s head at an undisclosed location. Ismail Haniyeh, right, hands British lawmaker George Galloway a symbolic VIP Palestinian passport during their meeting in Gaza City, Tuesday, March 10, 2009. Top Hamas leader in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh has kept out of sight since Israel launched a military offensive against Hamas last December. Haniyeh’s office said the meeting took place on Tuesday. It released a picture of the two men embracing and says Galloway was awarded an honorary Palestinian passport. Galloway left Gaza on Wednesday through the Egyptian border. Galloway led a delegation that he says delivered some $1. 1 million of humanitarian aid to Gaza. Among those traveling with Galloway was Lauren Booth, the sister-in-law of international Mideast envoy and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Haneyya confers with Galloway on latest Palestinian developments
Palestinian Information Center 3/11/2009
GAZA, (PIC)-- Ismail Haneyya, the PA premier in Gaza, on Tuesday night received British MP George Galloway for a discussion on latest Palestinian political developments. The discussion also tackled Palestinian internal conditions. Haneyya thanked Galloway for his visit and for heading the lifeline convoy that came from Britain to the Gaza Strip with tens of truckloads of medicine and relief material in addition to a number of ambulance vehicles. The premier handed Galloway and the accompanying delegates symbolic gifts. [end]

Israeli Soldiers Kill Palestinian Teen near Ramallah
Palestine Media Center 3/12/2009
Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian youth and wounded another on Wednesday after firebombs were thrown at their vehicle in the occupied West Bank, an Israeli military spokeswoman said. A Palestinian paramedic said Fayez Atta, 17, from a village near the West Bank town of Ramallah, had died of gunshot wounds and another youth had been taken to an Israeli hospital in a serious condition. The Israeli spokeswoman said troops opened fire when the Palestinians, whom they suspected had attacked their vehicle with firebombs, ignored their orders to surrender. Atta was the first Palestinian youth killed by Israel for about a month in the West Bank, territory captured by Israel in a 1967 war and now also controlled by Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Most of the recent Israeli-Palestinian violence has taken place along Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip, where more than 1,300 Palestinians and 14 Israelis died in a 22-day Israeli offensive launched in December against Islamist Hamas militants.

Clashes erupt as Israeli army surrounds home near Ramallah
Ma’an News Agency 3/12/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Dozens of Israeli soldiers invaded the West Bank town of Silwad, near Ramallah, late Thursday evening. Sodliers arrested Rushdi Mohamad Rushdi Hammad after surrounding his home. Palestinian security sources said the “Israeli army and undercover units have arrested Hammad and withdrawn from the town aftersurrounding the home for several hours. " The soldiers had surrounded the home in the area, under the pretext that the Palestinian affiliated with the Fatah-affiliated Al-Aqsa Brigades was hiding inside. Eyewitnesses told Ma’an that "more than 15 armored vehicles backed by a bulldozer surrounded Rushdi Hamad’s home, claiming that he is ’wanted. ’"Others added that the soldiers have begun to demolish a wall surrounding the house with a bulldozer, threatening to demolish the house itself in the event that the wanted man does not give himself up.

IOF soldiers gun down Palestinian youth
Palestinian Information Center 3/12/2009
RAMALLAH, (PIC)-- Israeli occupation forces shot and killed a Palestinian youth Wednesday night in Deir Abu Mishaal village northeast of Ramallah city, local sources reported. They said that Faris Atta was killed while two others were wounded in the IOF shooting. IOF sources claimed that reserve soldiers fired at the young men for throwing firebombs at Israeli vehicles near Halamish settlement north of Ramallah. Meanwhile, Israeli policemen on Wednesday evening detained a Palestinian young woman in the Old City of occupied Jerusalem at the pretext she had a knife in her possession and was going to use it to stab a policeman. The Hebrew radio reported that the 20-year-old woman was held for interrogation. The Israeli occupation authority is detaining around 100 Palestinian women on charges of resisting occupation.

Israeli forces seize Palestinian man at Nablus-area checkpoint
Ma’an News Agency 3/12/2009
Jenin – Ma’an – Israeli soldiers seized a Palestinian man at the Shave Shomeron military checkpoint north of the West Bank city of Nablus. Palestinian security sources told Ma’an that Israeli troops stationed at the checkpoint detained 25-year-old Talal Zeidan after checking his ID card. Zeidan is from the city of Jenin. Also according to Palestinian security, Israeli forces set up a military encampment on a hill in the village of Anin at 10pm on Wednesday, in the Jenin area, surveying the surrounding area until 6am. Israeli forces also invaded the villages of Yabud and Yamoun, patrolling the streets of both towns while firing into the air. No injuries or arrests were reported.

Hundreds attend funeral procession for slain Ramallah teen
Ma’an News Agency 3/12/2009
Ramallah – Ma’an – Hundreds of Palestinians on Thursday attended a funeral procession for slain 17-year-old Fayez Fars A’ta, who was shot to death by Israeli soldiers on Wednesday. One other Palestinian was injured after soldiers reportedly fired randomly on a group of youth in the village of Dir Abu Mesh’al, near the West Bank city of Ramallah on Wednesday. The procession walked from the governmental hospital in Ramallah before arriving at the village where A’ta was buried. The procession was attended by senior Palestinian leaders of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, in addition to national and Islamic factions, as well as many of A’ta’s fellow students.

Israeli military kidnaps seven Palestinians from northern West Bank village
Ghassan Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 3/12/2009
Seven Palestinian civilians were kidnapped by Israeli troops on Thursday during a military invasion targeting the village of Tall, located near the northern West Bank city of Nablus. Witnesses said that Israeli soldiers stormed the village in the morning and barred people from getting in or out of the village. For several hours, troops searched homes and took the seven men to an unknown detention camp, the witnesses added. In related news, Palestinian media sources reported that a number of invasions took place at villages near Bethlehem and Hebron in the southern part of the West Bank, no kidnappings were reported there. [end]

Israeli soldier wounded by Molotov cocktail in northern West Bank
Ma’an News Agency 3/12/2009
Jenin – Ma’an – An Israeli soldier was injured on Wednesday night when a Molotov cocktail was thrown at a military jeep near the West Bank city of Nablus. The military confirmed that the soldier was hospitalized. The apparent attack took place in the Al-Far’a area, southeast of the town of Tubas, in the northern West Bank. The jeep was reportedy set on fire. Palestinian security sources and witnesses also said that a Palestinian teenager threw a Molotov cocktail at a jeep in the Al-Far’a area. The Israeli soldiers immediately responded by opening fire on a group of young Palestinians. [end]

Israeli soldiers seize Bethlehem man from his home
Ma’an News Agency 3/12/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Israeli forces seized a Palestinian man during a raid on his house in the West Bank city of Bethlehem early on Thursday. Witnesses said that soldiers raided the Shoka family house in the Fawaghreh neighborhood of Bethlehem at 4:00am local time and detained Nasser Ahmad Yoused Shoka, 39. It is not known where Shoka is held. The Israeli army said that it detained 16 Palestinians during overnight raids throughout the West Bank. More than 40 have been arrested in the last two days alone, including dozens in the town of Beit Ummar, in the southern West Bank. [end]

Air Force strikes Gaza tunnels
Ynet, YNetNews 3/12/2009
In response to Qassam fire, Israeli aircraft targets tunnels used to smuggle weapons into Hamas-ruled territory; direct hits identified -The Israeli Air Force struck two weapons-smuggling tunnels in the southern Gaza Strip overnight Thursday in response to the incessant launching of rockets and mortar shells from the Hamas-ruled territory. The army said direct hits were identified, and there were no reports of casualties among the Palestinians. Wednesday night saw a Qassam that was fired from north Gaza explode in an open area within Eshkol Regional Council limits in the Negevregion, but no injuries or damage were reported. A short while later a mortar landed in close proximity to a factory in a the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council kibbutz. There were no injuries, but slight damage was caused. " The Color Red alert system, which is also supposed to warn of. . .

Israel carries out air raids near Egyptian-Palestinian borders in Rafah
Palestinian Information Center 3/12/2009
GAZA, (PIC)-- Two Israeli air raids were carried out at dawn Thursday on the Egyptian-Palestinian borders near the Yibna refugee camp, south of Rafah, without any reported casualties. Palestinian security sources told the PIC reporter that Israeli warplanes bombed the area of Al-Abd Jabr causing material damage to several Palestinian homes in the area. In the West Bank, the IOF troops at an early hour Thursday stormed different parts of Jenin city and patrolled the invaded areas. Several Israeli military vehicles invaded the Anin village adjacent to the apartheid wall, west of Jenin, and searched the area located along the wall using flash grenades.    In the Arraba town, south of Jenin, Palestinian eyewitnesses reported that dozens of IOF troops reinforced by Apache helicopters carried out all night military drills and airdrops in a deserted military camp called Mapou Dotan. . .

Israeli warplanes bomb tunnels in southern Gaza
Ma’an News Agency 3/12/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an – The Israeli military confirmed that it bombed smuggling tunnels in the southern Gaza Strip early on Thursday. Witnesses in Gaza said that the bombing took place in Rafah Refugee Camp, along the border with Egypt. The Israeli military said the strike was in response to four homemade projectiles and one mortar shell that landed in Israel. No damage or injuries resulted from those attacks. The tunnels in southern Gaza are used to import goods made scarce by an Israeli blockade that has been imposed on Gaza since 2007. [end]

2 Rockets Hit South Israel; No Injuries
Ilana Curiel, MIFTAH 3/12/2009
Two Qassam rockets fired from the northern Gaza Strip Wednesday morning landed in open areas within Eshkol Regional Council limits. There were no reports of injuries or damage. " We heard the Color Red siren (warning of incoming projectiles) and entered a secure room; then we heard two explosions," Negev resident Rivka said. Shlomi, another local, said "the anxiety level is beginning to rise again. " Dozens of rockets and mortar shells have been fired towards the South since Israel ended its military offensive in Gaza. "True, this is not the same amount that was fired before Operation Cast Lead, but that’s not the issue," Eshkol Regional Council head Haim Yalin told Ynet, "a sovereign country cannot allow rockets to be fired at its territory. " Meanwhile, we are continuing to lead normal lives under insane conditions, and the government continues to ignore the situation. I guess the Iranian centrifuges are more important than what has been going on here for the past eight years," he said.

Palestinian Youth stabbed to death in Abu Dis University
IMEMC Staff, International Middle East Media Center News 3/12/2009
Palestinian medical sources reported on Wednesday night that a student of Abu Dis University, east of Jerusalem, was stabbed to death after a scuffle with two other students. The student was identified as Mohammad Hussein Abdul-Qader, age 21, from al-Sawahra al-Sharqiyya town, in East Jerusalem. The Palestinian police initiated a probe into the incident, and said that the identity of the attackers is known, and that the police are pursuing the assailants in order to apprehend and prosecute them. The police said that Abu Dis University, is located in area "B" which is under Israeli security control, an issue which is making it difficult for the Palestinian police and security services to freely conduct the necessary investigations into the attack and arrest the assailants. Adnan al-Dameery, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Security Forces, said that "it is so unfortunate and. . . "

Police foil second Jerusalem stabbing attack in one week
Jonathan Lis, Ha’aretz 3/12/2009
For the second time in a week, the Israel Police foiled a stabbing attack in Jerusalem on Wednesday, arresting a young Palestinian woman, carrying a kitchen knife, in the Old City. During questioning, the young woman confessed that she had planned to stab a police officer. The would-be assailant arrived at the central entrance to the Old City in Jerusalem, leading to the Temple Mount, and caught the eye of two officers patrolling the area. The police officers searched her, recovered the knife, and took her into custody for questioning. On Monday, police arrested two Arab youths carrying a commando knife in the Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhood of Jerusalem, foiling a stabbing attack. During a preliminary investigation, the pair said they had planned on carrying out a terror attack.

Israeli army arrests family members of Jerusalem attacker
Ma’an News Agency 3/12/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an – The Israeli army arrested a number of Palestinians related to Mar’I Radayda, the man accused of last week’s tractor attack on police in Jerusalem. Israel’s military detained the man’s two brothers and uncle, according to other family members. Radayda, of Beit Hanina, was shot dead after rampaging through Jerusalem on a tractor. Two Israeli police officers were lightly injured in the apparently intentional attack. Israeli soldiers arrested brothers Younes Ahmad, 23, and Yousef Ahmad Radayda, 25, as well as his uncle, Younis Mahmoud Radayda, 25, all from Beit Hanina. [end]

Palestinian stabbed in East Jerusalem
Ma’an News Agency 3/12/2009
Jerusalem – Ma’an – A young Palestinian man was stabbed on Sultan Suleiman street in East Jerusalem, not far from Damascus Gate of the Old City. An Israeli ambulance transported the man to a hospital. The Magen David Adom ambulance service would not disclose the victim’s identity. Israeli police said that they opened an investigation into the incident. Israeli news reports have labeled the stabbing a “criminal incident,” without reporting details. [end]

Israeli settlers uproot olive trees near Qalqilia
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 3/12/2009
Palestinian sources reported on Wednesday that an extremist settler group uprooted nearly 70 Olive trees belonging to resident Khader Eed, from Jensafut village, near the northern West Bank city of Qalqilia. The sources added that nearly 20 Israeli settlers of the Moshi Zohar illegal outpost attacked the Palestinian orchards while the Israeli Army didn’t make any attempts to stop them. Also, the settlers carried out repeated attacks against orchards belonging to residents Mahmoud Abu Sa’ad and Mohammad Bashir, uprooting dozens of trees, in addition to bulldozing farmlands belonging to several other residents of the village. Saher Ayish, coordinator of the National Committee Against settlements, said that the settlers are contniuing their expansion plans under direct support of the Israeli government. Ayish added that the settlers recently targeted Palestinian orchards and lands in Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Nablus.

EU warns Israel over Jerusalem home demolitions
Ma’an News Agency 3/11/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an - The European Union (EU) is “deeply concerned” about the threat of demolition to approximately 90 houses in the Al-Bustan area adjacent to the Old City in East Jerusalem. The EU noted in a statement released on Wednesday that the demolitions would make more than 1,000 Palestinians homeless, “and would be the largest destruction of Palestinian houses in East Jerusalem since 1967. ”“Demolition of houses in this sensitive area threatens the viability of a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement, in conformity with international law,”The houses were built without construction permits which residents say are nearly impossible to obtain. Many of the houses were also built before Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967. The Israeli Jerusalem municipality has designated the area for a public park.

In Photos: Flooding in Qalqilya and Tulkarm near the Wall
Stop The Wall 3/12/2009
At the end of February through the beginning of March, heavy rains struck Palestine. This was a welcome change from the dry weather, particularly in Palestinian agricultural areas. However, communities in Qalqilya and Tulkarm located near the Wall witnessed the flooding of their fields and greenhouses and the destruction of crops and infrastructure. This is not the first time this has occurred. In 2005, water damned up by the Wall caused similar damages. This is because the entrance to the drainage system, which consists of an exposed tunnel built under the Wall, is fenced over. As such, waste, debris, and dirt build up at the entrances of these tunnels, resulting in flooding during heavy rains. In Qalqilya city, 150 dunums planted with vegetables were flooded, in addition to 15 dunums of citrus trees. In addition to the loss of the crop, 10 green houses and several chicken coops were wrecked.

Jerusalem demolitions may spark repeat of 1996 riots
By Akiva Eldar, Palestine Media Center 3/12/2009
Judging by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat’s moves and Prime Minister-designate Benjamin ("Rock of our existence") Netanyahu’s record during his previous stint at the Prime Minister’s Office, those who love Jerusalem will have to relinquish two right hands in order to protect the city’s wellbeing. During the September 1996 riots, in the wake of the opening of the Western Wall Tunnel, a similar kind of constellation exacted the lives of 17 Israeli soldiers and 70 Palestinians. Since then, Ehud Olmert, who was Jerusalem mayor at the time and still holds the post of prime minister, has crossed political lines and the city’s new mayor is vying with his predecessor over what red lines can be crossed. Since entering city hall, Barkat has behaved like a tot who was handed a valuable toy and insists on smashing it to smithereens.

Weekly Report: On Israeli Human Rights Violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory 05- 11 March 2009
Palestinian Centre for Human Rights 3/12/2009
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 -- *Five Palestinians, including a child, were killed by IOF in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. *One of the victims was extra-judicially executed by IOF. *Twenty six Palestinians, including six children and a woman, were injured by IOF gunfire in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. *IOF warplanes bombarded targets in the Gaza Strip. *Intensive air strikes on the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, forced civilians to evacuate their homes in the area. *IOF conducted 40 incursions into Palestinian communities in the West Bank. *IOF arrested 54 Palestinian civilians.

Stressed Gazans turn to meditation after war
Associated Press, YNetNews 3/12/2009
Women in head scarves, men in suits break cultural taboos by participating in mind-body medical program to relieve post-war stress. Social workers, experts find ways to connect between New Age techniques, conservative Muslim society by using passages from Quran - Deeply conservative Gaza isn’t exactly fertile ground for New Age practices. But women in head scarves and men in suits flapped their arms with gusto while breathing in rhythm in what looked like a yogic chicken dance. The recent scene in a hotel ballroom broke several cultural taboos, such as not letting loose in public, particularly in mixed company. But the dozens of counselors and social workers, stressed and overworked since the recent Gaza war, eagerly cast convention aside to learn about relaxation techniques. "We are teaching very simple tools of self-care," said Dr.

Gaza Family that Lost 29 Relatives Drops Lawsuit Against Israel
Amira Hass, MIFTAH 3/12/2009
A Gaza family that lost 29 relatives to Operation Cast Lead, which also left 45 family members injured and their home destroyed, on Tuesday asked that a lawsuit that had been filed in their name for NIS 851 million be withdrawn. The lawsuit names Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi as respondents. The suit was filed in the Nazareth District Court by attorney Mohammed Fukra on behalf of the Samouni family. However, family members told Haaretz on Tuesday that they had not signed power of attorney over to Fukra, and that they are being represented by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza. In response to a question from Haaretz, the human rights group said it had no connection with Fukra, and that at the family’s request it would on Wednesday be initiating action to stop the suit. -- See also: PCHR condemns legal exploitation of victims of Israel’s latest offensive: any attempts to mislead its clients will not be tolerated

PCHR condemns legal exploitation of victims of Israel’s latest offensive: any attempts to mislead its clients will not be tolerated
Palestinian Centre for Human Rights 3/12/2009
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) has discovered that Mohammed Fuqara, a Palestinian lawyer residing in Israel, has filed a case in Nazareth District Court on behalf of the al-Samouni family, that lost 27 of its members during the recent Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip. According to media reports, Fuqara is claiming to be the legal representative of members of the Samouni family and is currently pursuing legal proceedings to seek compensation on their behalf. PCHR reiterates it is the only legal representative of the al-Samouni family, as per the power of attorney that has been granted to PCHR by the family. PCHR acknowledges the value of attempts made by individuals or institutions to indemnify Palestinian civilians and seek compensation for material and human damages they have incurred. -- See also: Gaza Family that Lost 29 Relatives Drops Lawsuit Against Israel

Palestinians: Final Gaza toll shows 960 civilians killed
Reuters, YNetNews 3/12/2009
Palestinian Center for Human Rights says 1,434 people killed during Operation Cast Lead, including 239 police officers, 235 ’fighters,’ group accuses Israel of ignoring difference between combatants and civilians - Israel’s 22-day offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip killed 1,434 people, including 960 civilians, 239 police officers and 235 fighters, a Palestinian human rights group said on Thursday. " ’The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights’ investigations reveal that throughout the course of the assault, Israeli Occupation Forces used excessive, indiscriminate force, in violation of the principle of distinction," the group said in a report. The principle of distinction "obliges all parties to the conflict to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants. "The group said it would publish a list of the identities of those killed next week and would post them on its website in Arabic, with an English version to follow.

Palestinian Today 031209
Ghassan Bannoura - Audio Dept, International Middle East Media Center News 3/12/2009
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, March 12th, 2009. Three more patients die in Gaza due to the Israeli siege, and the Israeli military kidnaps seven Palestinians from the West Bank; these stories and more coming up - stay tuned. The News Cast Two children and an old woman were pronounced dead on Thursday in Gaza after Israeli authorities did not allow then to leave the coastal region for medical care, Palestinian sources reported. Doctors said that Sujod Abu Bateen, 7, from Khan Younis city and Suleiman Abu Rajilah, 4, had heart conditions, while Bushra Al Fishawi, 71, had cancer. The doctors added that the three patients had completed all the required documents to leave Gaza for treatment but the Israeli army delayed them.

A London meeting discusses how to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza
Rami Almeghari & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 3/12/2009
According to French diplomats, an international meeting will be held in London on Friday to discuss how to prevent arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip, Maan News Agency reported. The sources, according to Maan, revealed that participants are facing legal difficulties as to how to monitor smuggling into the coastal territory. The only legal basis for such a meeting is an article of a recent UN Security Council resolution, resolution 1860, referring to the need to prevent arms smuggling. Sources stated that the said clause was not enough to work out legal means to prevent such smugglings, expecting merely a statement that calls for preventing arms smuggling, with no concrete actions taken. In the wake of the recent Israeli three-week attack on Gaza, France sent a military ship close to Gaza’s territorial waters, in a bid to help monitor the coast of the Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Israel on Trial
Eetta Prince-gibson, Jerusalem Post 3/12/2009
"I’m not a war criminal! I’m not a Nazi!" Seated in a Jerusalem café, Yotam’s tense voice and tight movements contrast sharply with the suave, cool surroundings. He looks around and over his shoulder frequently, admitting that he’s afraid that someone might overhear him or recognize him. Throughout the interview, he takes long sips of water from a tall, iced glass in an effort to maintain his composure. He insists that he not be identified in any way. Yotam is not his real name. During Operation Cast Lead, Yotam, served as a battalion commander of a combat unit. He had intended to leave for England in the late spring for post-doctoral studies at a well-regarded British university. But now he’s scared. During the war, his face was shown on European TV and he says that he has heard "from people I know on the far left in Israel who are cooperating with left-wing, anti-Zionist activists in

U.S. Official: Obama Won’t Cut Military Aid to Israel
Deutsche Presse Agentur, MIFTAH 3/12/2009
U. S. President Barack Obama will not cut the billions of dollars in military aid promised to Israel, a senior U. S. administration official said Wednesday. The $30 billion in aid promised to Israel over the next decade will not be harmed by the world financial crisis, the official told Israel Radio. He spoke on condition of anonymity. The Obama Administration however expects the next government of Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu to continue peace negotiations with the Palestinians, he said. The increased military aid was promised to outgoing prime minister Ehud Olmert by then-under secretary of state for political affairs Nicholas Burns in August 2007. Israel Radio also quoted the official as saying that if Hamas joins a Palestinian unity cabinet but does not accept the conditions of the Quartet of Middle East peace sponsors - the U. S. , European Union, United Nations and Russia - the Obama Administration would have no dealings with that government.

Senators Quash Bill Seen Against Palestinians
Barbara Ferguson, MIFTAH 3/12/2009
Anti-Palestinian amendments were quashed Monday in the Senate and, for now, have come to an end. The amendments that would have made it illegal for US budget funds to be used to resettle Gazans in the US was withdrawn before it could be brought to a vote. Republican Sen. Jon Kyl, who, as Senate minority whip, is the second-most important Republican in the Senate, put the bill forward. High-ranking Senate leaders spoke out in opposition to Sen. Kyl’s amendments, including the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sen. John Kerry and the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee Sen. Patrick Leahy. In a passionate speech on the floor of the Senate yesterday opposing the measure, which would have prevented Palestinians from Gaza from seeking refuge in the United States, Sen. Leahy said:“I have to think back — I read about my family 150 years (ago) or so when they came to Vermont, on my father’s side, the Irish.

U.S Secretary of State: A Palestinian government should recognize Israel
Rami Almeghari & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 3/12/2009
U. S Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, stated during a recent meeting in the region with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, that Washington would only fund a Palestinian government that recognizes Israel, Haaretz Israeli Daily newspaper reported. According to the paper, Clinton warned President Abbas that Washington would withdraw a financial pledge of $900 million USD if the Palestinians formed a coalition government that does not recognize ’Israel’s right to exist’. The paper added that President Abbas assured his guest that the new government will include independent politicians and representatives of other factions, and that such a government’s mission will be preparing for general elections in Palestine. According to the new American administration, led by President Barak Obama, the United States would continue boycotting the Islamist Hamas party.

Report: US will withhold aid from Hamas-Fatah unity government
Ma’an News Agency 3/12/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an – The United States will boycott a Hamas-Fatah coalition government, withdrawing 900 million US dollars pledged to help rebuild the Gaza Strip, an Israeli newspaper reported on Thursday. According to the report in Haaretz, the US will condition aid to the Palestinian Authority on whether it explicitly recognizes Israel’s ’right to exist. ’ The report quotes unnamed Western and Israeli diplomats saying that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of this during her visit to the region last week. Approached by Ma’an about the report, an American official said, “I don’t know where they got that from. The secretary has not made those statements. ”Haaretz also reported that in addition to aid for Gaza, a security assistance and training program for the PA would also be cut if the Palestinian government does not meet US and international conditions.

Erekat: Fatah will not object if Hamas forms new government
Ma’an News Agency 3/12/2009
Jericho – Ma’an – Fatah will not object if Hamas forms a new Palestinian government so long as there is cooperation between the rival parties and the government recognizes the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Wednesday evening. Erekat said that the two factions share a vision of liberating Palestine from occupation: “The Fatah movement was founded to liberate Palestinians, and Ahmad Yasin, who founded Hamas, had the same view to liberate Palestine. This is the major goal for all [Palestinian] factions. ”Erekat was speaking at a meeting in the West Bank city of Jericho with the governor of the Jericho district, members of the security forces and lawyers discussing the Palestinian political situation. Fatah is now negotiating the formation of a transitional Palestinian government with Hamas.

Israeli municipality demolishes two Palestinian houses, uproots 100 olive trees
Palestinian Information Center 3/12/2009
BEER SHEBA, (PIC)-- Bulldozers of the Israeli municipality of Beer Sheba in 1948 occupied Palestine on Thursday demolished two Palestinian houses at the pretext of lack of construction permit. Local sources in Beer Sheba said that hundreds of policemen escorted the bulldozers during the demolition process. They pointed out that the same force uprooted 100 olive trees. The step was taken on the same day that cattle owners plan a demonstration in the same city to protest additional taxes and unfair distribution of grazing lands, the locals underlined. [end]

Man plunges to his death in freak accident
Eli Ashkenazi, Ha’aretz 3/12/2009
A seriously injured man being evacuated to hospital in a helicopter plunged from a height of 70 meters yesterday, when he was accidently dropped by rescuers in an apparent safety blunder. Alaa Mohammed, who had been seriously injured in an explosion when he entered a minefield near the northern town of Beit She’an, survived the fall but later died from his injuries in hospital. The accident occurred as Mohammed was lifted by a cable from the minefield. He was about to be pulled into the aircraft when, for an undetermined reason, he was let loose and plunged to the ground below. "It looked like it was all over but then I saw something fall from the helicopter," a witness recounted. "I couldn’t believe my eyes. I didn’t even realize it was a person at first. It’s incomprehensible. I’m still in shock. "Mohammed was then lifted again to the helicopter still alive, and flown to the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, where he died of his injuries.

Arab youth injured in minefield dies after falling from Israeli Helicopter
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 3/12/2009
The Arabs48 news website reported on Wednesday night that a 24-year old Arab youth from the Galilee area died after falling from an Israeli Air Force helicopter. The youth was initially wounded by a land mine before he was airlifted. The website said that Ala’ Ighbariyya was walking with two of his friends in a valley in the north of the country. The three accidentally walked into a minefield and Ighbariyya stepped on a land mine that detonated under him. The incident took place in Beit Shan (Bissan). The youth is from Mushraife village in the Wadi Ara area. Ighbariyya was seriously wounded while his friends escaped the explosion unharmed. They immediately called for help and the police and medics arrived. The police then decided to dispatch a military helicopter due to fears that other landmine would explode. The chopper arrived nearly an hour later and soldiers placed him on a stretcher that was loaded on the Helicopter.

Victim’s cousin: Rescue forces screwed up
Sharon Roffe-Ofir, YNetNews 3/12/2009
Cousin of man killed in botched rescue mission slams army for ’sending trainees’ to minefield - The cousin of an Arab Israeli killed in a failed rescue mission at a minefield Wednesday slammed authorities for what he characterized as a "shameful screw-up. " "I’m shocked"¦it’s difficult for me to talk right now, but I’ll have plenty to say about how the State treated us," northern resident Hisham Agabriya told Ynet. His cousin, Alaa, was killed earlier after falling from a helicopter that airlifted him from a minefield. The 24-year-old Alaa Agabriya entered the minefield with his cousin and 16-year-old brother, who told police they arrived at the site to hunt for porcupines. The two were questioned on suspicion of deliberately entering a closed military zone. They told police they did not see any fences or warning signs around the minefield.

Jamil: The security committee reached a semi-agreement on security apparatuses
Palestinian Information Center 3/12/2009
GAZA, (PIC)-- Dr. Jamil Yousuf, an Islamic Jihad leader, said Thursday that the security committee in Cairo reached a semi-agreement on three Palestinian security apparatuses, namely the internal security, the external security and the national security. Dr. Yousuf stated, in a statement published in the Egyptian Ahram newspaper, that the members of the security committee did not disagree on the security apparatuses’ duties to fight corruption and protect the resistance weapon. He added that the members also agreed during the first session on the rejection of political arrests and the security coordination with the Israeli occupation. For his part, Dr. Mustafa Al-Barghouthi, the secretary-general of the Palestinian initiative, expressed his belief that an agreement between the Palestinian factions is due to be concluded by the end of March.

Palestinian meetings in Cairo indicate that without interntionally accepted government future bleak
PNN, Palestine News Network 3/12/2009
Cairo -- Notable Palestinian official Nabil Amr who is now the Palestinian ambassador to Egypt denied on Thursday that participants inside the current national dialogue are responsible for the distribution of ministerial posts. This is coming in some regard to the major upset that led to the semi-forced resignation of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad from taking the position of Palestinian President. There are few in the street and most of the parties, save for the Israelis and Americans, sorry to see Fayyad resign. Amr told the press today, "The distribution of ministries and names is a constitutional specialty of the President of the Palestinian Authority and not the specialty of the dialogue comities. "He was referring to the notion that only President Abbas could mandate ministerial posts within the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Hamas wants to choose premier, majority of seats in unity cabinet
Daily Star 3/12/2009
CAIRO: Hamas said Wednesday it would demand the right to choose the next Palestinian premier and a majority of cabinet seats in any unity government with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction. Hamas’ opening position in Egyptian-mediated reconciliation talks in Cairo appeared to dim chances of a deal on a unity government acceptable to the US and other Western powers, which shun the Islamist group. Hamas official Mushir al-Masri said any new government must be formed in light of the results of the 2006 parliamentary election, which gave Hamas the majority and which, he said, should allow the Islamist group to form the government and pick the prime minister. Abbas had called for forming a government of non-partisan technocrats who would oversee Gaza’s reconstruction from Israel’s 22-day offensive in December and January.

Palestinian Unity as Elusive as Deal With Israel
Analysis by Mel Frykberg, Inter Press Service 3/12/2009
RAMALLAH, Mar 11(IPS) - Intensive unity talks are under way in Cairo as five Palestinian committees, representing 13 factions and independents, face each other across a table in a bid to form a new Palestinian unity government. But significant obstacles, differences in ideology, internal power struggles and manipulative proxy sponsors with competing geopolitical interests threaten to derail any progress. This in turn could negatively impact on future peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis, which could have a domino effect on regional stability. Bloodshed and bitterness have dominated the relationship between the two main Palestinian political factions. The Islamist Hamas, funded and backed by Iran controls the Gaza Strip, while the secular and Western-supported Fatah movement controls the West Bank.

Al-Masry: 'Hamas has the right to name Prime Minister of Unity Government'
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 3/12/2009
Legislator Mosheer al-Masry of Hamas, member of the Change and Reform Parliamentarian Bloc, stated that any upcoming government should be based on the outcome of the Legislative Elections, which gives Hamas the legitimacy to name the Prime Minister. He stated that Hamas achieved an overwhelming victory in the legislative elections, and has the democratic and legitimate right to name its Prime Minister, as Hamas was elected by the people in a fair and democratic election. "If this is not the case, then what is the real value of elections," al-Masry stated, "[w]e must respect the choice of the people, and this should be the base of any upcoming government". Al-Masry added that the nature of the upcoming government and the formation of its ministers is part of the internal dialogue and is based on previous unity agreements.

Qassem: Financial disengagement from West facilitates conciliation
Palestinian Information Center 3/12/2009
NABLUS, (PIC)-- Dr. Abdul Sattar Qassem, professor of political science in Najah University and former PA presidential candidate, has opined that the Palestinians should find other sources of financial assistance if they really wanted a speedy success of national dialog. Qassem told the PIC in an exclusive interview on Thursday that as long as "we take our salaries from western countries then we will never agree, because those countries put the condition that Palestinian factions should not agree in order to continue channeling funds to the PA". Funds, he asserted, are the main obstacle before signing any Palestinian-Palestinian agreement. He said that the Palestinians should look for alternative financial resources to get rid of foreign pressures, which, he added, are rampant in the Palestinian political arena.

Jihad: PA security in WB rounds up 30 of our cadres
Palestinian Information Center 3/11/2009
JENIN, (PIC)-- The Islamic Jihad Movement on Wednesday said that the PA security apparatuses in the West Bank have launched a large-scale arrest campaign in lines of its activists in Jenin and Tulkarem over the past 48 hours. Abul Qassam, one of the Jihad leaders in Jenin, said that the PA intelligence and preventive security elements rounded up 30 Jihad cadres and supporters starting at dawn Monday till Tuesday night in the districts of Jenin and Tulkarem. He pointed out that some of the detainees were previously held by Israeli occupation, and were kidnapped from streets, near mosques and in front of their homes. The Jihad leader expressed disgust at the fact that the security apparatuses loyal to former PA chief Mahmoud Abbas were still launching such detention campaigns despite Abbas’s declared wish for success of the inter-Palestinian dialog in Cairo.

Kouchner: France ready to open talks with PA unity gov’t including Hamas
Palestinian Information Center 3/11/2009
PARIS, (PIC)-- French external affairs minister Bernard Kouchner has said that France was ready to open talks with a Palestinian national unity government including Hamas, describing the Movement as an important component of the Palestinian society. France will have no problem in having talks with such a government that would respect the peace process and accept the Arab peace plan, he elaborated. The minister, in an interview with French daily ’Le Figaro" published on Monday, said that peace is important in the Middle East and needs a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel. Kouchner said that France would always fight for the existence of an Israeli state and would also fight to the finish for the establishment of a Palestinian state. He said that his country was backing Egypt in its bid for inter-Palestinian reconciliation.

Cairo: No unity deal yet
Ma’an News Agency 3/12/2009
Cairo – Ma’an Exclusive – Discord over the makeup of a Palestinian transitional government and the timing and nature of elections mean that rival Palestinian factions will need more time to resolve their differences, participants in the Egyptian-brokered negotiations said on Thursday. Jamil Mizhir, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) Central Committee, said that Egypt has extended the dialogue until Saturday as a result of the disagreements. Specifically, Mizhir said, Hamas is conditioning its approval of a transitional government on an agreement on PLO reform. In the elections committee Mizhir also attributed the slowdown in the talks to Hamas, saying that the Islamic movement opposes applying proportional representation in elections, and disagrees with other factions about the date for the elections.

Street following national dialogue in Cairo: high hopes for reconciliation
Amin Abu Wardeh, Palestine News Network 3/12/2009
PNN exclusive - Many of the City Inn guests gathered in front of the TV that is hung on the courtyard of the Ramallah hotel to watch the preliminary results of the rounds of national dialogue. Currently being held in Cairo these talks are hoped to bring a much needed internal Palestinian reconciliation. Division and conflict have dominated the Palestinian scene since the Hamas party won the Palestinian Legislative elections in 2005, the "winners" being the occupying Israeli forces according to most of civil and political society that have used the time to step up arrests, attacks, home demolitions, settlement expansion, etc. Ahmad Khdeir, a participant of a media course that is being held at the hotel, told PNN SMS messages received on his mobile made him rush to the television after the course ended to know the details that are coming from Cairo.

Nassif: Political arrests in W. Bank threaten the fate of dialog
Palestinian Information Center 3/12/2009
WEST BANK, (PIC)-- Rafat Nassif, a prominent Hamas leader, warned Wednesday that the continued political arrests in the West Bank threaten the fate of all understandings and talks taking place between the Palestinian factions in Cairo. In an exclusive statement to the PIC, Nassif underlined that all the understandings that were agreed upon with Fatah confirmed the need to end the file of political arrest, noting that the Hamas Movement would be absolved from any agreement if the political arrests continued in the West Bank. The Hamas leader called on everyone keen on the success of the national dialog to necessarily put an end to the policy of political arrest in the West Bank which deliberately spoils the inter-Palestinian dialog atmosphere. For his part, Ali Baraka, the deputy representative of Hamas in Syria, expressed fears in a statement to the PIC that the ongoing political. . .

PA security forces release 45 West Bank Hamas affiliates
Ma’an News Agency 3/12/2009
Nablus – Ma’an – Palestinian sources close to Hamas told Ma’an that Palestinian Authority security forces released 45 Hamas affiliates from PA prisons in the West Bank. The move on Thursday apparently came under an agreement during Cairo talks between the Fatah and Hamas delegations. The sources added that 12 Hamas affiliates are from the West Bank city of Nablus, along with four others from Ramallah, all released upon a request by Omar Sulieman, chief of Egyptian intelligence. The sources listed the names of the released from Nablus as follows:1-BasemJud Allah2-Musa Tanbur3-Ihsan Al-Mathbuh4-Usama hafeth Shaheen5-Samer Al-Masri6-Kamel Jubran7-Fathi Qandeel8-Uthman Jabshe9-Mohammad Jamal Musa10-Mohammad ahmad Abdallah11-Amjad At-Tanbur12-Naseem AKharazThose from Ramallah were identified. . .

Baraka: Conciliation agreement should be a package deal
Palestinian Information Center 3/12/2009
DAMASCUS, (PIC)-- Any agreement reached by the Palestinian factions at the national dialog meetings in Cairo should be a package deal including all dialog issues, Ali Baraka, the deputy representative of Hamas in Syria, said. He added in an exclusive statement to the PIC on Thursday that Hamas refuses to sign a partial agreement that includes the government and reconciliation process leaving other issues unresolved. Baraka said that Hamas was ready for gradual implementation of any agreement but on condition that all issues would be implemented simultaneously. He noted that obstacles were facing a number of committees especially those dealing with elections, PLO and government. Dr. Salah Al-Bardawil, the spokesman of Hamas parliamentary bloc, voiced a similar opinion when commenting on media reports that a Palestinian agreement was about to be concluded on formation of a unity government as a first stage.

Keep in Mind the Consequences of Failure, Egyptians Tell Palestinians
The Associated Press, MIFTAH 3/12/2009
Rival Palestinian factions met here yesterday at the start of a marathon effort to forge a national unity government and resolve major disputes between Hamas and Fatah, the two largest groups. Senior delegations from Hamas and Fatah and smaller factions began work in five reconciliation committees which they agreed to form last month in the Egyptian capital. The talks are expected to last for 10 days. The meeting began with speeches by Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit and intelligence chief Omar Suleiman — who has brokered the talks — calling on the factions to work hard toward reconciliation. But lingering distrust between Hamas and Fatah threatens to complicate the talks. “I want to remind you of the consequences. . . if there were a failure to reach an agreement,” Suleiman warned the rival factions. “You all know the consequences.

Israeli firms seek role in Lockheed’s new fighter-jet project
Ora Coren, Ha’aretz 3/12/2009
The Defense Ministry is urging the American aircraft manufacturer Lockheed Martin to subcontract work on the future F-35 jet fighter to Israeli companies, including the Israel Aerospace Industries, the Israel Military Industries and Rafael. The Israeli companies could build parts for the plane, electronic systems and so forth. The Lockheed Martin F-35 is a future fifth-generation, single-pilot stealth fighter. Israel wants 75 of the beasts: The Air Force has ordered 25 and has an option to order 50 more. The cost of the 75 jets would come to about $10 billion. In parallel with trying to persuade Lockheed to work with the Israeli companies, Defense is trying to persuade it to lower the price. Lockheed has been working on the new-generation jets for the U. S. armed forces.

Israeli legal group offers pro bono assistance to Gaza detainees
Ma’an News Agency 3/12/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an – An Israeli legal organization announced on Thursday its willingness to review complaints from families of “illegal combatants” from Gaza held by Israel. The Center for the Defence of the Individual, Hamoked, is an Israeli human rights organization that that works on behalf of Palestinians living under military occupation. The group said in a statement that it is prepared to receive complaints from the families of Gaza’s detainees, Palestinians arrested by the Israeli army and declared as illegal combatants after they had finished their sentences. The organization said it will appoint attorneys to represent detainees appearing before Israeli judicial authorities, offering pro bono legal services. The center, which is based in Jerusalem, told Ma’an that Gaza’s residents can call 026264438 or 026283555 to file a complaint.

Report: Palestinian prisoners face numerous kinds of suffering in Israeli jails
Palestinian Information Center 3/11/2009
GAZA, (PIC)-- The Palestinian center for prisoners’ studies reported Wednesday that the Palestinian prisoners face numerous kinds of suffering and violations in Israeli jails, noting that many prisoners had not seen their families for about two years. A statement received by the PIC outlined some of the daily suffering experienced by the Palestinian prisoners inside Israeli jails such as the policy of medical neglect, arbitrary transfers, separating brothers in prison from each other and confiscating their personal belongings. Ra’fat Hamduna, the center’s director, called for organizing a wide and massive event involving all organizations and parties that are concerned with the issue of prisoners prior to the international day of Palestinian prisoners, which takes place next April, in order for the world to know the size of violations committed by Israel against thousands of Palestinian prisoners including children and women.

Home free?
Avi Issacharoff, Ha’aretz 3/12/2009
RAMALLAH - Marwan Barghouti, currently serving five consecutive life sentences in an Israeli prison, would roundly defeat Hamas’ Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in elections for the Palestinian presidency, according to a survey published this week by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research. Conducted by the center’s Khalil Shikaki, the poll said 61 percent of respondents preferred Barghouti for the post, whereas only 34 percent favored Haniyeh. If Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) were to run against Haniyeh, the latter would receive 47 percent support, compared to only 45 percent for Abu Mazen. All signs say that Barghouti will probably be freed under the terms of the Gilad Shalit prisoner swap. As a free man, he is likely to help Abu Mazen, but at the same time undermine him, too.

Progress reportedly made on Shalit deal
AFP, YNetNews 3/12/2009
Source close to talks says says Cairo preparing two-stage plan that will see 300 Palestinians freed in exchange for captive soldier; current Hamas list includes names unacceptable to Israel, he says -Egypt hosted closed-door talks on Wednesday on a prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel that would set free soldier Gilad Shalit along with hundreds of Palestinians. For a third time in two weeks, Israeli negotiator Ofer Dekel returned to Cairo on Tuesday night in an effort to nail down an elusive deal, that could pave the way for a long-term truce for the Gaza Strip. "Intensive and tough negotiations are underway on the names of the Hamas prisoners to be traded for Shalit," a source close to the talks told , asking not to be named. Dekel "is now expected to spend a second night in Egypt and will pursue talks, in an apparent sign that things are moving," the source said later on Wednesday.

Ben-Eliezer: 'Government majority approves a prisoner exchange deal'
IMEMC & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 3/12/2009
On the fourth day of protest in the camp which was installed in front of Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem, Israeli Infrastructure Minister, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, visited the protesters and said that there is a majority in the Israeli government that approves a prisoner exchange deal. Ben-Eliezer stated that the current government in Israel should not leave office before it secures the release of the captured soldier, Gilad Shalit. He added that he has no doubt that a majority in the government wants a prisoner-swap deal, but should act now to place this issue on its cabinet table and the ministerial council. Meanwhile, Noam Shalit, the father of Gilad, said that the government must conclude a deal, and added that the current time is the best time to advance this deal. Shalit stated that Hamas must realize that the "window of opportunity is about to close".

Schalit’s captors to Channel 2: ’We won’t hold him forever’ Staff, Jerusalem Post 3/12/2009
Several Gaza operatives who claimed they participated in Gilad Schalit’s capture stressed that they wanted to release the soldier and that they would not hold him forever. "We want to free Gilad Schalit," the masked gunmen told Channel 2 in an interview aired Thursday. "There is simply a document that [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert needs to sign to free him. " The purported captors insisted that "we won’t hold him forever," and that the whole issue could be resolved in "one swap deal. " They said they would only reveal details about Schalit’s condition "for a price" and emphasized that they were prepared to deal with the next Israeli government. "Yes, we want to finish this thing," they said. Nevertheless, a source close to the Schalit talks told the television channel that the negotiations were "difficult" and that "no end was in sight. "

Gilad’s father to Hamas: The best offer you’ll get
Barak Ravid and Nir Hasson, Ha’aretz 3/12/2009
Noam Shalit, the father of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, urged Hamas to reach an agreement with Israel over a prisoner swap that will include his son, saying the current offer was the best they will get. Speaking at the protest tent outside the house of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the soldier’s father received hundreds of visitors and supporters including many lawmakers. "I suggest Hamas reach a deal. These are the best terms it will get," Shalit said. The prominent guests who came to see Shalit at the tent yesterday included Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer of Labor. "This is the time for action," Ben-Eliezer said. "There’s no time for debate or arguments. I am aware that there’s a serious moral argument over the price but despite everything that the prime minister has done, it has not yet reached the cabinet table.

Hamas seeks to sustain Gaza truce
Middle East Online 3/12/2009
GAZA CITY – Palestinian democratically elected Hamas spoke out on Thursday against firing rockets from Gaza into arch-enemy Israel for now and vowed to pursue those who do. The statements come as Israel and Hamas conduct Egypt-brokered talks on a durable truce and on a prisoner exchange. "The resistance movements have nothing to do with the rockets fired from the Gaza Strip" in recent days, the Hamas interior ministry said. "These firings come at a bad time," a statement added, vowing to "act against those responsible. " On Sunday a leader of the Islamic Jihad group said that 10 members of the group had been detained by Hamas and made to sign an agreement not to fire on Israel. Egypt is brokering talks to turn into a durable truce the mutual ceasefires Hamas and Israel declared on January 18 to end a devastating 22-day war on Gaza.

Hamas condemns Gaza rocket strikes on Israel
Ha’aretz 3/12/2009
Gaza’s Hamas rulers issued rare criticism Thursday of Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel from the strip, saying now is the wrong time for such attacks. The Islamic militant group has fired thousands of rockets at southern Israel in recent years. But Hamas said Thursday that it was not behind recent attacks and that it was investigating who was responsible. It apparently fears that new rocket fire could disrupt the reconciliation talks currently underway in Cairo. A Hamas spokesman says Palestinian factions trying to hammer out a power-sharing agreement are struggling to reconcile their differences toward peace talks with Israel. Fawzi Barhoum says the disagreement is one of the key hurdles holding up the formation of a new unity government between the militant Hamas group and the more moderate Fatah faction.

Bereaved parents: Prisoner swap will bring wave of terror
Ahiya Raved, YNetNews 3/12/2009
Parents gathered near Shalit protest tent in Jerusalem blame media for ’unbalanced coverage,’ say ’everyone will lose’ if terrorists released -Over the past few days a group of bereaved parents has been gathering opposite the protest tent set up by Gilad Shalit’s family in Jerusalem. The group is voicing its objection to a possible exchange deal with Hamas that would see the captive IDF soldier returned to Israel in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners - some of them considered to be terrorists with ’blood on their hands. ’ "The Shalit family’s campaign is spread out over whole pages in the newspapers, while we get two lines on the side of the page," said Yossi Tzur, whose son Asaf was killed when a suicide bomber detonated himself aboard a bus in Haifa on March 5, 2003.

Al-Qassam: Any new aggression on Gaza will be strongly retaliated
Palestinian Information Center 3/11/2009
GAZA, (PIC)-- Abu Obeida, the spokesman for Al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, stated Wednesday that any new Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip would be the spark that ignites the whole region, warning that the Brigades would strongly retaliate if Israel waged another war on the Strip. In a statement received by the PIC, Abu Obeida noted that the Brigades had modest capabilities but could inflict painful strikes on the Israeli occupation. Commenting on Israeli allegations that the armed wing was building bases under hospitals, schools and mosques, the spokesman affirmed that these Israeli lies reflect the impotence suffered by Israel after its failure to eliminate the Palestinian resistance and stop its operations, saying that such fabrications were repeated by Israel on more than one occasion especially during its last war on Gaza.

Israel to return weapons it confiscated from the Palestinian Authority
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 3/12/2009
Israeli media sources reported on Thursday that Israel is planning to return to the Palestinian Authority light weapons and munition it confiscated during the so-called "Operation Defensive Shield" military assault Israel carried out in 2002. Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth quoted a political official in Israel that Israel previously agreed to transfer thousands of light weapons to Palestinian security personnel. The sources added that "it is not by accident that this decision was made after US secretary of state, Hilary Clinton, visited the region". Yet, the sources said that this is a symbolic move that should not be interpreted as a policy shift. The Israeli paper also reported that Israel is planning a series of measures to facilitate the work of the Palestinian Security forces in the West Bank. Israel previously said that it would allow the construction of seven. . .

Israeli FM: 'Israel launching multi-million dollar campaign to improve its image'
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 3/12/2009
Israeli Ynet News reported Wednesday that the Israeli Forging Minister, Tzipi Lvni, stated that Israel is investing in a multi-million dollar campaign to improve its image in the world after its latest war on Gaza. Livni stated that the Foreign Ministry is holding talks with the Ministry of Finance for a grant of additional funds for its campaign which will focus mainly on Europe and the United States. The Israeli Foreign Ministry recently received confidential letters from a number of its embassies informing the Israeli leaders that Israel is about to be considered by some European countries as a racist state, similar to the former South African apartheid regime. Different Israeli embassies warned its leaders that Operation "Cast Lead" against the Gaza Strip, along with international reports on ongoing settlement construction and expansion, is showing Israel as a state that is not seeking peace.

Israel launches yet another PR campaign to improve its image
PNN, Palestine News Network 3/12/2009
Tel Aviv -- The Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot announced on Wednesday that Israel is investing millions in a culture and media campaign, founded to repair its damaged image caused by the weeks of major bombings and attacks in Gaza. The campaign, initiated by Israeli Ministry of Foreign affairs and Ministry of Finance, will be focusing on improving the status of Israel in Europe and the United States. Reports from Israeli embassies abroad were recently handed over to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. According to the reports the "war on Gaza" led to a loss of legitimacy for the Hebrew state. "Israel is considered as a trigger-happy country that saves up money in order to build settlements and the fact that Israel is seeking peace [sic] has been forgotten," said a European-based diplomat. The campaign is estimated to cost eight million shekels and has two main focuses, media and culture.

Inside Intel / Camera shy
Yossi Melman, Ha’aretz 3/12/2009
Security relations between Israel and Russia are continuing to deteriorate. The first fracture in the relationship occurred after Israel provided weapons systems and military consulting to Georgia. In the years preceding the war between Russia and Georgia, which ignited in the summer of 2008, president Vladimir Putin’s administration expressed criticism of these sales on a number of occasions. For the most part the Ministry of Defense ignored the Russian requests. In response the Putin administration has scorned Israel’s requests to Russia that they refrain from selling weapons to Iran and Syria. Israel is particularly worried by Russia’s intention to sell Iran advanced air defense missile systems. This sale has not been removed from the Russian-Iranian agenda. It is not clear whether there is any connection, but a few months ago the Ministry of. . .

Rabbis meet with pope to smooth interfaith tensions
Kobi Nahshoni, YNetNews 3/12/2009
Delegation of prominent rabbis meets with Benedict XVI in Rome in hopes of healing ties following crisis sparked by pope’s decision to lift excommunication of Holocaust-denying bishop - Less than two months after the Vatican’s decision to lift the excommunication against Holocaust-denier Bishop Richard Williamson inflamed tensions between Jews and the Church, a group of prominent rabbis met on Thursday with Pope Benedict XVI to mend the fragile relationship between the two religions. The delegation of representatives sent on behalf of the Chief Rabbinate traveled to Rome after some in the Rabbinate had already threatened to sever ties with the Church following the incident. Ynet has learned that the pope was not originally scheduled to participate in the meeting, which had been set several months ago and intended to include other Vatican officials.

Singing Across the Divide
Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler, Inter Press Service 3/12/2009
JERUSALEM, Mar 12(IPS) - From the flattened buildings in Gaza, through angry demonstrations outside a Swedish tennis stadium, to the web pages of human rights reports, battles continue to rage over Israel’s policies and the legacy of its Gaza war. Alongside, another battle is unfolding - over Israel’s image. And, on an unexpected stage. Over 100 million TV viewers are expected to tune in to Moscow from May 12 to 16 for the 2009 Eurovision song contest. The annual competition between dozens of countries across Europe and the Mediterranean chooses by popular acclaim the continent’s most popular song. This year they’ll be assessing not only the merit of this or that pop ditty, the glitzy choreography and the flamboyant pyrotechnics; they’ll also be confronted by the question whether Israel had any justification for conducting the war the way it did.

Pope: Vatican erred over bishop who denied Holocaust
Ha’aretz 3/12/2009
Pope Benedict XVI has acknowledged Vatican mistakes over dealings with a bishop who denied the Holocaust, and his efforts to reach out to ultra-conservatives, saying in a highly unusual critical review that he was saddened that even Catholics attacked him with open hostility. The pope made a personal analysis of the case in a letter to the world’s Catholic bishops made public by the Vatican on Thursday, seeking to end one of the most serious crises of his nearly four-year papacy. (Click here to read the full text of the Pope’s statement)He said failure to detect the bishop’s background by simply consulting the Internet was an unforeseen mishap that caused tensions between Christians and Jews and raised questions about his own interest in friendship between the two religions.

Australia threatens to quit Durban 2 anti-racism meet
Ha’aretz 3/12/2009
Australia threatened on Thursday to withdraw from a UN conference on racism next month unless the wording of a document it considers anti-Semitic is dropped or substantially altered. Israel and Canada have already withdrawn from the April 20-24 World Conference Against Racism in Geneva amid fears Arab nations will use it to criticize Israel. The United States has also said it will not attend the conference unless the wording of the final declaration is altered radically. Israel is calling for a boycott of the event. "If we form the view that the text is going to lead to nothing more than an anti-Jewish, anti-Semitic harangue, an anti-Jewish propaganda exercise, Australia will not be in attendance," Foreign Minister Stephen Smith told parliament.

Swedish trade union delegation barred from Gaza
Ma’an News Agency 3/12/2009
Gaza – Ma’an – Israel prevented a Swedish trade union delegation from entering the Gaza Strip on Wednesday evening. Tareq Al-Hindi, the secretary of the General Federation of Palestinian Trade Unions, said that the delegation organized the visit in advance and received permits from Israel that would allow them to enter Gaza. When the delegation reached the Erez crossing, they were told that they would not be allowed into the Strip. Al-Hindi said they had planned to meet with the Swedish union activists to discuss cooperation between unions in Palestine and Sweden, labor law, safety, and women’s involvement in the union movement. [end]

Special Needs Law is one of the strongest in Arab countries, but far from execution
Hiba Lama, Palestine News Network 3/12/2009
PNN exclusive - In 1999 the Palestinian Special Needs Law was approved by the late president Yasser Arafat which covers 75 percent of the needs of the disabled. The coverage includes the right for education, health insurance, customs and issues that concern their daily life. This law is considered the strongest and most well-known of the Arabic laws which guarantee the rights of the disabled. It fulfils the diverse needs, but the question here is: Is the law being implemented or is it still ink inscribed on paper that we boast about among other countries and nothing more? 150,000 disabled PalestiniansIbrahim Abu Hasan, Secretary of the General Union of the Palestinian Disabled in the West Bank and Gaza Strip assured PNN today that the application of this law needs a very high budget. "The necessary funding exceeds 15 billion dollars because of the high number of people with special needs in Palestine. . . "

Israeli settler parties pressure Netanyahu to agree to demands
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 3/13/2009
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israeli settler parties told Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday they will not join his cabinet unless he bows to their demands on ministerial posts, piling on the pressure as he scrambles to form a government by the end of next week. The warning underlined the likely tenuous nature of the narrow right-wing cabinet being formed by Netanyahu, and how its policies are likely to put Israel at odds with its top ally Washington over the stalled peace process. The leaders of the far-right National Union and Jewish Home parties told public radio that they would join forces in their negotiations with Netanyahu to improve their chances of winning concessions and their desired ministries in a coalition government. The two parties together control just seven seats in the 120-member Parliament but without them Netanyahu and his Likud party will not have the 61 seats required for a majority.

Extremist Israeli parties pressure Netanyahu
Middle East Online 3/12/2009
TEL AVIV – Extremists Israeli settler parties on Thursday told prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu they will not join his cabinet unless he bows to their demands on ministerial posts, piling on the pressure as he scrambles to form a government by the end of next week. The warning underlined the likely tenuous nature of the narrow right-wing cabinet being formed by Netanyahu, and how its policies are likely to put Israel at odds with its top ally Washington over the stalled peace process. The leaders of the extremist far-right National Union and the Jewish Home parties told public radio they would join forces in their negotiations with Netanyahu to improve their chances of winning concessions and their desired ministries in a coalition government. The two parties together control just seven seats in the 120-member parliament but without them Netanyahu and his Likud party. . .

’West won’t boycott Lieberman as FM’
Daniel Edelson, YNetNews 3/12/2009
Former foreign ministers, ministry officials dismiss concerns over Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman’s probable upcoming appointment as Israel’s next foreign minister. Officials say Lieberman toning down image, cannot act on his own. Former FM Ben-Ami says, ’Anyone who hasn’t boycotted Hamas, Hizbullah, won’t boycott Lieberman’ -As the formation of a government approaches, and political figures express more and more concern over the Foreign Ministry portfolio being granted to Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman, who recently was quoted as telling the Egyptian president to "go to hell", former ministry officials say there is no reason to panic. "Nonsense", said former Foreign Minister Moshe Arens, dismissing fears that other countries would boycott Israel if Lieberman was appointed. "These are cries of people who don’t understand foreign relations or Israel-US ties.

Yisrael Beiteinu: Coalition deal won’t be signed Thursday
Mazal Mualem, Ha’aretz 3/12/2009
Yisrael Beiteinu’s chief negotiator announced on Thursday that the party would not sign a coalition agreement with Likud that day because there still remained unresolved issues in talks between the two parties. MK Stas Misezhnikov made the comments upon entry to a meeting with Likud officials in Ramat Gan. A Yisrael Beiteinu source said Wednesday that, "Some issues pertaining to state and religious affairs and changing the government system are still open. Signing the agreement depends on Likud’s answers. "According to the coalition agreement being drated, Yisrael Beiteinu will receive five portfolios: Foreign Affairs for its chairman Avigdor Lieberman, as well as Justice, Public Security, Infrastructures and Tourism. Despite this achievement, Yisrael Beiteinu has backed down from many of its demands on issues of state and religion.

Netanyahu staff to meet banking, industrial leaders
Lilach Weissman and Eran Peer, Globes Online 3/12/2009
Bankers will be asked how to help outlying areas. Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s 100-days team is due to meet banking and industrial leaders to hear their views before formulating a plan to help struggling businesses in outlying areas. They will also discuss debt recycling. The meeting is slated to last two hours. Participants will include Mizrahi Tefahot Bank president and CEO Eli Yones, Bank Leumi chairman Eitan Raff, Discount Bank chairman Shlomo Zohar, First International Bank president and CEO Smadar Barber-Zadok, Association of Banks in Israel executive director Moshe Perl, and former First International Bank chairman Joshua Rosenzweig. Strauss Group chairwoman Ofra Strauss and Tnuva chairwoman Zehavit Cohen may also attend. The 100-days team will later meet Manufacturers Association president Shraga Brosh.

Parties aiming to increase settlements fight over Housing portfolio
Mazal Mualem, Ha’aretz 3/12/2009
Three factions are fighting over the Housing portfolio, which prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu has promised the ultra-Orthodox Shas party. Shas is resolved to appoint the party’s MK Ariel Atias - today minister of communications - as housing minister, while United Torah Judaism, the other ultra-Orthodox party, wants the ministry mainly to be in control of the Israel Lands Administration. The leader of the far right National Union, MK Yaakov Katz, also insists on the Housing Ministry for his party "to make up by construction the crime of deporting [the settlers]" from the Gaza Strip. Katz, who says the only portfolio he wants is Housing, intends to use it to increase the construction in and of settlements, even if the government negotiates with the Palestinians.

No deal yet in Yisrael Beitenu-Likud talks
Attila Somfalvi, YNetNews 3/12/2009
Signing of coalition agreement postponed after long hours of negotiations yield no result on civil marriage issue. Lieberman leaning towards withdrawing demand to keep Friedmann on as justice minister -Yisrael Beitenu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman is leaning towards a compromise on his demand that Professor Daniel Friedmann stay on as justice minister in the future government, sources involved in the coalition negotiations said. However, the sources said, Lieberman intends to pose several demands in exchange for the Friedmann clause. Negotiators for the Likud and Yisrael Beitenu wrapped up another session on Thursday evening, parting yet again without a final agreement on the table. Lieberman joined the talks at the Kfar Hamaccabiah Hotel himself in the afternoon. Estimates are that the deal will continue to be held up over disagreements on issues pertaining to conversion regulations.

Israel steps up patrols as UNIFIL begins drills
Daily Star 3/13/2009
BEIRUT: The first day of military exercises by United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) regiments along the Blue Line were met with heightened Israeli patrols and several violations of Lebanon’s airspace on Thursday. The maneuvers, expected to last till March 16, were carried out by UNIFIL’s Nepalese, Indonesian, Malaysian and Indian contingents. Coinciding with the exercises, Israel deployed a number of armored tanks to patrol the environs of settlements adjacent to the Lebanese towns of Adaisseh, Kfar Kila and al-Wazzani. In addition to the tanks, armored Hummers were seen touring the Israeli side of the border along the settlements of Mtella and Margeliot. UNIFIL contingents staged mock terrorist and grenade attacks on automotive patrols in addition to setting up surveillance posts. Separately, at least four Israeli warplanes violated Lebanon’s airspace around 10 am. . . .

Saudi-Syrian thaw in ties ’benefits’ Lebanon
Daily Star 3/12/2009
BEIRUT: Lebanon should reap a measure of long-elusive stability from the past week’s diplomatic courting of Syria by the US and Saudi Arabia, a number of analysts told The Daily Star on Wednesday. Saudi King Abdullah welcomed Syrian President Bashar Assad to Riyadh on Wednesday for talks including Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, in the first meeting of Saudi and Syrian heads of state since relations soured after the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Many in Lebanon’s March 14 political camp have fingered Damascus in the killing of Hariri, who was also a Saudi citizen and royal favorite. Assad has denied any involvement in the assassination and said Syria will not allow its citizens to appear before the international tribunal investigating the killing. In another diplomatic breakthrough, US Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern. . .

Justice campaigners say US urged Lebanon not to join International Criminal Court
Daily Star 3/12/2009
BEIRUT: The US government has demonstrated "intense opposition" to Lebanon joining the International Criminal Court (ICC) because the move could leave Israel liable to face war crimes accusations dating from the summer 2006 war, justice campaigners said on Wednesday. A week after the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for his role in the Darfur conflict, a conference in Beirut heard that Washington was opposed to Lebanon signing an international treaty that would give the court powers to investigate war crimes committed in the country since 2002. Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar told The Daily Star on Wednesday that there were no plans to sign the treaty in the near future. "Lebanon has not decided to join the ICC now," he said. When asked whether this was a result of US pressure, he replied: "Not at all.

Hizbullah must ’recognize Israel, halt violence’ prior to US talks
Daily Star 3/12/2009
BEIRUT: Hizbullah has to renounce "terrorist activities" and recognize the state of Israel before the group could anticipate even the lowest level of dialogue with the United States, American officials said on Tuesday. According to White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, both Hizbullah and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas need to acknowledge their Jewish neighbor and renounce violence before the US could even begin to contemplate relations with the groups. President Barack Obama was committed to working toward a permanent peace deal in the Middle East but "has stated on a number of occasions that, in order for anything like that to happen, there are certain responsibilities that those individual organizations have," Gibbs said. Those responsibilities would have to be adopted "well before this administration can render a judgment," he added.

Cabinet approves plan to protect judges for Hariri tribunal
Daily Star correspondent, Daily Star 3/13/2009
BEIRUT: The Lebanese Cabinet approved on Thursday a plan to protect Lebanese judges who take part in the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Another top item on the agenda of the Cabinet meeting, which was held at the Grand Serail, was the national health insurance plan. Health Minister Mohammad Jawad Khalifeh submitted a proposal to reform the hospitalization sector by taking some new measures, including the issuance of two insurance cards, one for public hospitals and another for public and private hospitals. The measures also include agreeing on a list of standard costs for surgical intervention. The session was held in the absence of ministers Issam Abu Jamra, Talal Arslan, Mohammad Safadi and Ibrahim Najjar. In an indication of the urgency of the issue of health care, Lebanese teachers staged a strike Thursday over insufficient medical benefits.

Likud sources: Friedmann likely won’t be justice minister
Mazal Mualem and Haaretz Service, Ha’aretz 3/12/2009
Likud sources close to coalition negotiations between party leader and Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu and Yisrael Beiteinu said Wednesday that current Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann will likely not retain the post under the new coalition agreement. Friedmann has been a controversial figure ever since he was appointed justice minister a little over a year ago, but Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman has declared that he will seek the renewal of Friedmann’s appointment as part of a coalition deal with Likud. Friedmann has been characterized by his battle against the justice system, a battle which Lieberman supports. Senior officials believe that Yisrael Beiteinu will receive the justice portfolio in the coalition deal, but will appoint a minister from within the party.

Katsav’s son: Police terrorized our defense witnesses
Ynet, YNetNews 3/12/2009
In Yedioth Ahronoth article, Noam Katsav says investigators ’repeatedly put words in the mouth of complainant A so that her version would coincide with their rape theory’ -"The most important lesson that I’ve learned from this process is that one should never trust Israel’s law enforcement agencies - don’t believe the police or the State Prosecution, and above all, never hang your hopes on the attorney general (Menachem Mazuz)," said the son of former President Moshe Katsav. On Sunday Mazuz and State Prosecutor Moshe Lador announced that the State will be filingrape charges against Katsav in the case of complainant A, a former Tourism Ministry employee. Katsav’s son Noam told Yedioth Ahronoth "over the course of the past 32 months we’ve (Katsav family) learned so much about ourselves, our friends and the Israeli society, which considers itself enlightened, democratic and just.

Katsav: Police leaks ’humiliating’
Ha’aretz 3/12/2009
Former president Moshe Katsav claimed during police questioning in 2006 that he was the victim of "unprecedented cooperation" between the media and police, and that police leaks were designed to "humiliate" him in Israel and abroad, according to transcripts of the interrogation obtained by Haaretz. Katsav was questioned several times. Transcripts from November 15, 2006 record him saying, "I read the aforementioned material and reject the allegations with all my strength. Over a month ago there were media reports on some of the charges you’re attributing to me, as if you had drawn up an indictment, even though I hadn’t been asked about some of them. "I was amazed to hear [radio personality] Gabi Gazit a month ago, at ten in the morning, quoting the pathological liar A. [of the President’s Residence], as if here in my office I forcibly lifted up her pants and raped her, and she cried," the transcript continued.

Justice Ministry: Katsav trying to turn case into media circus
Ha’aretz 3/12/2009
The Justice Ministry on Thursday accused former president Moshe Katsav of attempting to turn an upcoming indictment of him for sex crimes into a "media circus" during a press conference earlier in the day. "The attempt by Katsav to turn his trial into a media circus is the expression of losing his senses, and constitutes a breaking of the basic norms of behavior for someone who until recently held senior state positions," relayed the Justice Ministry. Katsav, who faces rape charges, accused the legal establishment in the press conference of using the media to determine his case and said that Mazuz had leaked information to journalists. The Justice Ministry statement continued: "Katsav’s speech was riddled with false accusations and facts [which were] distorted and fundamentally lacking within an uncontrolled campaign of personal slander against the Attorney General and law enforcement heads.

Justice Ministry: Katsav’s speech pathetic
Aviad Glickman, YNetNews 3/12/2009
Ministry officials slam former president’s address as ’bold-faced lie’ say he’s turning case into media circus. ’We have grown tired of hearing about how wronged he feels,’ women’s groups say - Justice Ministry officials slammed former President Moshe Katsav speech against the State Prosecutor’s Office, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz and the complainants in his case, saying his statements were bold-faced lies. In a long-winded televised address made by Katsav following the State Prosecutor’s Office decision to file rape charges against him, the former president accused Mazuz, the prosecution, the complainants and the media of coming together and being in cahoots with the sole purpose of framing him. Justice Ministry Spokesman Moshe Cohen accused Katsav of turning the case into a "media circus," adding that it was an expression of Katsav having "taken a leave of his senses.

Livni: Israel still a long way from achieving gender equality
Shahar Ilan, Ha’aretz 3/12/2009
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Thursday that Israel is still a long way from achieving equality between men and women and that the low representation of females in the Knesset is a "cause for shame". Livni made the remarks at a special Knesset session Thursday to mark International Women’s Day, which took place on Sunday. A record 21 female MKs were elected from a total of 120 seats in the new Knesset. MK Dalia Itzik said the task of achieving greater female representation was not too great, reminding MKs that she had once been Knesset speaker and that Livni had been a candidate for prime minister. "My life is completely different from that of my mother," Itzik said. "I hope that my daughter’s life will be completely different from my own, and I hope that my granddaughter will say that International Women’s Day needs to be thrown in the dustbin of history," Itzik said.

State wants Talansky to testify prior to Olmert’s hearing
Aviad Glickman, YNetNews 3/12/2009
State Prosecutor’s Office rejects request made by key witness in ’cash envelops’ case against prime minister to delay testimony until final decision on indictment is made -The State Prosecutor’s Office denied Thursday a request made by Morris Talansky, the key witness against Prime MinisterEhud Olmert in the "cash envelops" affair, to resume his testimony only after Olmert’s judiciary hearing takes place. In early March, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz informed the prime minister that he is inclined to file criminal charges against him, including fraud, breach of trust and receiving illicit perquisites, in the case pertaining to his dealings with US businessman. The final decision on the indictment pends a judiciary hearing. IndictedMazuz considers indicting Olmert in Talansky affair / Attorney general informs Ehud Olmert he is considering. . .

Three women to take the stand against Katsav in sex crime trial
Ha’aretz 3/12/2009
While Attorney General Menachem Mazuz announced on Sunday he would indict former president Moshe Katsav for serious sex crimes, at the center of the story are anonymous women, notably A. from the Tourism Ministry, who worked there for Katsav from January 1998 to March 1999, when Katsav was tourism minister. Katsav will be charged with more than one count of rape, for allegedly raping her in his Tel Aviv office and also in a Jerusalem hotel. He will also be charged with committing forcible indecent assault by taking advantage of the employer-employee relationship. Two other women will take the stand against Katsav to tell their stories: H. worked in the President’s Residence. Katsav held work meetings with her and at the end of the meetings he would allegedly hug his staffer and press his body against her despite her objections.

Katsav accuser: ’He tried to take down my pants, there was a struggle’
Ha’aretz 3/12/2009
A. , who worked for former president Moshe Katsav at the Tourism Ministry while he was the minister, was questioned by the police on in September 2006. At that session she was asked if she had anything new to tell the police since her last testimony. A. pulled out a piece of paper:"I wrote [things down] so I would not forget," and told of the rape in Katsav’s Tourism Ministry office in Tel Aviv. Where did it happen? In the office in Tel Aviv? asked Superintendent Ronen Meir who conducted the questioning. "Usually they opened the office for him, but no one was in the office. It was evening. We returned from some event. . . It was, and then. . . Only the two of us were in the office. And then I told you, we were sitting on a chair, two chairs. . . Then he started to touch. . . "

Analysis: By going public, Katsav hopes to plant doubts in judges’ minds, experts say
Shelly Paz, Jerusalem Post 3/11/2009
At a press conference scheduled for Thursday, former president Moshe Katsav hopes to delegitimize the expected indictment against him and to present it as a product of misplaced considerations of ego and prestige, leading media consultant Eyal Arad told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. "The goal of this press conference is to prepare a legal strategy that will allow Katsav to call for a mistrial, meaning that they would claim that the media and the legal system’s conduct in this case have been unfair so far, and that the court cannot ignore these claims, and therefore he will demand to have the charges against him thrown out," said Arad, who served as Kadima leader Tzipi Livni’s strategist during the recent election campaign. "Clearly we don’t know what he plans to say at the press conference, but it is fair to assume that one of the main goals is to cast doubt on the reliability of the

Israeli wins French prize for book questioning origins of Jewish people
Ha’aretz 3/12/2009
Professor Shlomo Sand, the Tel Aviv University history professor and author of a controversial book on the genetic origins of the Jews, this week received a top critics prize from French journalists. Sand, whose book "When and How Was the Jewish People Invented? "ignited controversy in Israel and in Jewish circles, is the recipient of the Aujourd’hui Award, which is given to the best non-fiction political or historical work. The book, which was published by the Resling imprint, spent 19 weeks on the bestseller list in Israel. Though it has been in bookstores for just six months in France, it has thus far sold 25,000 copies, good enough to remain on the bestseller list. Sand’s book deals with questions that remain taboo in Israeli society, among them the ancestral origins of the Jewish people and the genetic lineage shared with modern-day Israelis.

JNF to invest $100m in water
Merav Ankori, Globes Online 3/12/2009
’The committee also noted that Israel provides the Palestinian Authority with more water than its commitments in agreements. ’ [i. e. Israel takes approx. 80 percent of the West Bank’s water - Ed. ] -- The goal is to produce 200 million cubic meters of drinking quality water a year. The Jewish National Fund (JNF), under president Ron Lauder, plans to invest $100 million in water projects in Israel over the coming years. The goal is to produce 200 million cubic meters of drinking quality water a year, enough for one million people, as well as irrigation for 250,000 acres and the development of open spaces. In the past decade, the JNF has spent $75 million on water projects. JNF officials made the announcement to the State Inquiry Committee into the Management of the Water Economy. Projects under consideration include importing water from Turkey, construction of environmentally friendly

Moody’s cuts Israeli bank ratings
Globes correspondent, Globes Online 3/12/2009
Among the factors the ratings agency cites are accelerated deteriorating economic conditions, expected to lead to higher default rates among borrowers. International ratings company Moody’s has cut its ratings for four Israeli banks:Bank Leumi (TASE:LUMI Bank Hapoalim(LSE: BKHD; TASE: POLIFirst International Bank of Israel (TASE:FTIN1 FTIN5), and Israel Discount Bank(TASE: DSCT Moody’s has downgraded the long-term local currency deposit rating of Bank Leumi to A1 from Aa3. The Baseline Credit Assessment (BCA) was lowered toBaa1 from A3 and the bank financial strength rating (BFSR) was downgraded to C- from C. The bank’s A1 long-term foreign currency deposit rating and Prime-1 short-term deposit ratings were affirmed. The outlook on both the long-term local and foreign currency deposit ratings and on the BCA is negative, while the outlook on BFSR is stable.

'Israel is disproportionately important to Google'
Noa Parag, Globes Online 3/12/2009
Google vice president David Rosenblatt explains to "Globes" how the acquisition of DoubleClick positions his company to change the global online display advertising market. "We expressed opposition to a future deal between Microsoft and Yahoo! because we thought it simply wasn’t good not for Yahoo! and not for Google," says Google vice president of global display advertising David Rosenblatt in an exclusive interview with "Globes". "We didn’t manage to stop it, and now Yahoo! has to think by itself what’s good for it. " Rosenblatt came to Israel the other week, not for the first time. He took part in the Israel Internet Association’s annual conference, where he spoke on "The road ahead: charting a new course for online advertising". "From the research and development angle, Israel is disproportionately important to Google. "

Iran ’ready’ to aid Afghanistan’
Kaveh L Afrasiabi, Asia Times 3/13/2009
Strategically placed between the two energy hubs of the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea and enjoying relations with 15 nations in the Middle East, Caspian basin, the Caucasus, Central Asia and the larger Eurasian landmass, Iran is positioned to play a pivotal role in promoting regional cooperation. This week’s landmark summit of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) [1] again highlighted the increasingly important regional dimension of Tehran’s foreign policy. The ECO is an inter-governmental regional bloc initially set up by Iran, Turkey and Pakistan in 1964 as the Regional Cooperation For Development. The ECO was renamed in 1985, after a temporary hiatus following the 1979 Iranian revolution, and in 1992 inducted seven new members: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The ECO’s stated aim is to promote economic, technical, cultural and low-security cooperation among its member states.

Diplomats: Iran seeks to buy banned carbon fiber
Associated Press, YNetNews 3/12/2009
Two International Atomic Energy Agency member nations diplomats independently report intelligence of Iran automaker company planning orders for carbon fiber banned by UN embargo that can be used for uranium enrichment. Iran Khodro denies claims, says ’limited number of executives instructed to make procurement’ - Two diplomats say Iran’s national car company has made plans to purchase large quantities of carbon fiber, which is under UN embargo because it could be used in the country’s nuclear program. The automaker’s chief executive denied it. The two diplomats independently told Thethat their countries’ intelligence agencies had gathered information that Iran Khodro executives were planning international orders for carbon fiber. Some would be used for fuel tanks in a new car that runs partly on compressed natural gas, the diplomats said.

Iran tries to boost influence in South America by investing millions
Barak Ravid, Ha’aretz 3/12/2009
Iran is widening its influence in South America and will soon begin to channel hundreds of millions of dollars into developing Ecuador’s energy market. The Foreign Ministry is following Iran’s increasing involvement in the continent and hopes the administration of President Barak Obama will manage to reverse the trend that developed during the tenure of former president George W. Bush, in which Tehran made inroads into the Spanish-speaking world. Last week Iranian Deputy Energy Minister Hamid Chitchian met with President Rafael Correa in the Ecuadorian capital of Quito, where they signed a number of agreements, including a $120 million deal to build power stations in the cash-strapped country. In addition, Tehran pledged to invest $40 million in small businesses.

Palestinian refugees from Iraq seeking resettlement in Sudan
Ma’an News Agency 3/12/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an – A delegation of Palestinian refugees stranded on the Iraqi-Syrian border visited Sudan recently to discuss possible resettlement there. Thousands of Palestinian refugees (those expelled from Palestine in 1948 and their descendants) who had been living in Iraq were displaced by the 2003 American invasion and occupation of Iraq. As many as 2,500 have been living in tents in the desert border area between Iraq and Syria. The deputy head of the Refugees Affairs Department in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Muhammad Abu Baker, said that refugees from Al-Walid Refugee Camp went to Sudan in hopes of moving there. Abu Baker told Jordanian newspaper Al-Ghad that four representatives of the refugees met with a committee that is working on arranging the move to Sudan. The committee includes representatives of the PLO, the Sudanese government, and the UN High Commission for Refugees.

Arab mini-summit winds up with unity pledge
Middle East Online 3/12/2009
RIYADH - The leaders of Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt and Kuwait pledged to work together to advance the causes of their region, at a mini-Arab summit held in the Saudi capital on Wednesday. "The leaders consider that their meeting marks the start of a new period in their relations which will see their four countries act together in the service of Arab interests," they said in a statement at the end of their talks. It also signaled the launch of "serious and continuous action for the benefit of Arab countries and of their agreement to embark on a unified path regarding essential issues, topped by the Palestinian question. " The brief statement noted that the mini-summit followed a call from Saudi King Abdullah for inter-Arab reconciliation he made at an Arab economic summit held in Kuwait City in January. The meeting between Abdullah, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, his Egyptian. . .

Arab leaders hail ’new period’ after Riyadh summit
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 3/12/2009
RIYADH: The leaders of Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt and Kuwait pledged to work together to advance the causes of their region, at a mini-Arab summit held in the Saudi capital on Wednesday. "The leaders consider that their meeting marks the start of a new period in their relations which will see their four countries act together in the service of Arab interests," they said in a statement at the end of the talks. It also signaled the launch of "serious and continuous action for the benefit of Arab countries and of their agreement to embark on a unified path regarding essential issues, topped by the Palestinian question. "The brief statement noted that the mini-summit followed a call from Saudi King Abdullah for inter-Arab reconciliation he made at an Arab economic summit held in Kuwait City in January. The meeting between Abdullah, Syrian President Bashar Assad, his Egyptian counterpart. . .

Denmark’s forgotten asylum seekers
Awad Joumaa in Sandholm, Denmark, Al Jazeera 3/12/2009
Sandholm, a former army base, is now Denmark’s largest asylum detention centreEvery Sunday for over a year, a group of grandparents have gathered outside Denmark’s largest asylum detention centre to protest against the Danish government’s treatment of asylum seekers. A former army camp with a grey slate roof and yellow walls, the Sandholm detention centre, located north of the capital Copenhagen, is home to about 600 people who have sought refuge in this Scandinavian country. Most come from Afghanistan, Iraq, Sri Lanka or Algeria and many have been stranded there for years. Their claims for asylum have been rejected but they are also unable to return to their countries where they may face persecution. The protesters say they are ashamed of their government’s immigration policies, which many believe to be the strictest in Europe.

The Fourth Al Jazeera Forum
Al Jazeera 3/12/2009
As the political and social landscape of the Middle East continues to become more complex in the context of a changing multi-polar world there is a need for media to better understand the realities on the ground. - Al Jazeera’s Fourth Annual Forum will explore the dynamism behind these changes along with their impact on the region and beyond, and examine the ways in which the world of journalism can better reflect and report on these changes. The 2009 Forum will build on the success of past Al Jazeera Forums to debate, discuss, and extend the discourse on the critical dynamics of the Middle East in the context of the globalized world. We will host an international mix of journalists, analysts, academics, and intellectuals to help bring these issues into focus as well as leading thinkers and strategists to explore and understand the changing face of the region, its place in the global landscape, and how to report it in depth.

Bin-Kieran: Hamas is greatly admired by the Moroccans
Palestinian Information Center 3/12/2009
GAZA, (PIC)-- Dr. Abdel-Ilah Bin-Kieran, the secretary-general of Moroccan justice and development party stated that the Hamas Movement is greatly admired in Morocco and is considered the springboard of resistance and steadfastness. Dr. Bin-Kieran told the PIC after his arrival in the Gaza Strip in the British lifeline convoy that the Moroccan people look to the Palestinians as a strong and steadfast people freed from illusions of fear. He underlined that the Moroccans’ hearts ache for seeing the continued Israeli attacks on the Palestinian people, the Aqsa Mosque and occupied Jerusalem, noting that the borders are the only reason that block the Moroccan people from fighting alongside the Palestinians against the Israeli occupation and defending the holy land. A delegation from the British lifeline for Gaza convoy visited the Wa’ed society for detainees and ex-detainees to hear about the suffering of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

Iraq, China inaugurate major oil field
Middle East Online 3/12/2009
KUT - Chinese engineers have inaugurated an Iraqi oil field, the first major oil development deal secured by a foreign firm since the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein, officials said on Thursday. The project, which follows the signing of a three-billon-dollar contract late last year, revives a deal signed in 1997 that granted China exploration rights to Al-Ahdab oil field in central Iraq. "This project will provide a number of jobs and opportunities for investment," Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday, quoted in an official statement. "It will provide the province with electricity and power to operate the power station in Zurbadiyah and to help contribute to development and prosperity," he said. Al-Ahdab’s oil production is expected to reach 25,000 barrels per day in the first three years and expand to up to 115,000 barrels per day in six years, according to China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC).

Iraq ’shoe-thrower’ sentenced
Al Jazeera 3/12/2009
Al-Zaidi’s defence team said the charge did not apply as Bush was not on an official visitAn Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at George Bush, then US president, has been given a three-year jail sentence after pleading not guilty to assaulting a foreign head of state. The sentencing of Muntadher al-Zaidi, 30, by the Central Criminal Court in Baghdad on Thursday, was announced by Al-Baghdadiya television, his employer. The journalist, who became a hero to many Iraqis after the December 14 incident, arrived at the court under a heavy police escort. Judge Abdulamir Hassan al-Rubaie said he had taken into consideration that al-Zaidi is young and it was his first offence, the defence lawyers said. Packed courtroom There was standing room only at the courtroom on the edge of Baghdad’s Green Zone as some 200 family members, reporters and lawyers crowded in.

Iraq to control US-backed Sunni militias by April
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 3/13/2009
BAGHDAD: A key milestone in the US handover of security in Iraq will be reached on April 1 when the Shiite-led government assumes full control of 90,000 US-backed Sunni militiamen. A US military spokesman said on Thursday that 81,773 men have already transferred from American to Iraqi control in eight provinces across the country since the process began last October. The remaining 10,000 Sahwa militia fighters based in Salahadin Province, north of Baghdad, would come under the government by April 1, the spokesman said in a statement, adding that they had already begun registering. The transfer was a "key commitment," he said, as US forces prepare to pull out leaving the Iraqi military in charge of the restive country where deadly bombings are still a daily threat. Sahwa (Awakening) Councils, or Sons of Iraq, are a decentralized network of Sunni Arab militias recruited by the US military from insurgent groups and tribesmen.

Facebook launches Arabic version
Jemima Kiss, The Guardian 3/10/2009
Facebook, the world’s most successful social networking site, has officially launched in Arabic, tapping into a potentially huge market in the Middle East and beyond, the company has announced. Facebook, based in Palo Alto, California, already has large numbers of users in the Arab world: in Egypt, where the site has 900,000 users, it has become a highly effective tool for political mobilisation, with mass demonstrations against the goverment organised through forums. The ability to use it in Arabic is likely to make it even more popular. In Saudi Arabia the site has more than 250,000 users and in Lebanon more than 300,000. Arabic, spoken by 250 million people – and Hebrew, spoken by 7 million – will now be available from a drop-down menu at the bottom of the homepage. " It’s the first time Arabic speakers will be able to use Facebook in their own language," said Ghassan Haddad, the Facebook director of localisation. "It’s potentially huge. "


Freeman’s post-withdrawal statement
Daily Star 3/12/2009
      EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is the full text of a letter posted on the Internet by Charles (Chas) Freeman after withdrawing from his new post as chairman of the National Intelligence Council.
     "The tactics of the Israel Lobby plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency and include character assassination, selective misquotation, the willful distortion of the record, the fabrication of falsehoods, and an utter disregard for the truth."
     You will by now have seen the statement by Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair reporting that I have withdrawn my previous acceptance of his invitation to chair the National Intelligence Council. I have concluded that the barrage of libelous distortions of my record would not cease upon my entry into office. The effort to smear me and to destroy my credibility would instead continue. I do not believe the National Intelligence Council could function effectively while its chair was under constant attack by unscrupulous people with a passionate attachment to the views of a political faction in a foreign country. I agreed to chair the NIC to strengthen it and protect it against politicization, not to introduce it to efforts by a special interest group to assert control over it through a protracted political campaign. -- See also: Withdrawal of Obama's top intel pick marks victory for pro-Israel lobby

What Israeli Peace Process?

Franklin Spinney, Former military analyst for the Pentagon, Counterpunch, Palestine Monitor 3/12/2009
      On March 2, 2009, the Israeli advocacy group Peace Now issued a report saying that the Israeli housing ministry plans to build 73,ooo housing units in the West Bank. Peace Now said 15,ooo of these units had already been approved, with another 58,000 awaiting approval. On March 7, 2009, the Guardian reported that a confidential report issued by the EU said Israel continues to annex property in East Jerusalem. It said Israeli housing authorities had submitted plans for 5,500 new housing units (3,000 of which have already been approved) since the Annapolis "peace" conference in November 2007. Readers may recall that the Annapolis conference was supposed to resusitate George W. Bush’s moribund so-called Road Map to Peace. Assuming these housing plans are implemented, and only 2.5 Israelis on average inhabit each new unit, the entire program could add as many as 196,ooo Israelis to the 490,000 Israelis already living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Yet as recently as September 30, 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Omert said Israel should withdraw from almost all of the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem in order to achieve peace. Of course, Omert’s profession of normative behaviour would be deemed gatuitious nonsense in an international court of law, because all these settlements are clearly illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention. So what gives?

Why America’s Man in Ramallah Quit

Tim McGirk, MIFTAH 3/12/2009
      Memo to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: In the Middle East, a compliment can swiftly become a curse. Clinton may have thought she was boosting Salam Fayyad’s credentials by lavishly praising the Palestinian prime minister during her tour of the region last week. However, Fayyad’s resignation on Saturday suggests that Washington’s support may have sealed the fate of the ex-World Bank official and technocrat who brought a modicum of transparency to the rambunctious affairs of the Palestinian Authority.
     The public gloss on Fayyad’s departure, set for the end of this month, is that it would pave the way for a new Hamas-Fatah unity government. Talks between the rival Palestinian factions began in earnest on Tuesday in Cairo, and according to Palestinian officials involved in the talks, the Egyptians, at Washington’s behest, may be trying to reposition Fayyad for a comeback. It won’t be easy; Hamas had long made clear that it did not recognize Fayyad’s legitimacy as Prime Minister. Fayyad, a former Finance Minister, was appointed Prime Minister in 2007 of a West Bank-based emergency government by President Mahmoud Abbas, in a bid to outflank Hamas. The Islamists hold a majority in the Palestinian parliament, but many legislators were placed under Israeli arrest, preventing the legislature from sitting. But Hamas wasn’t Fayyad’s only problem.

Washington’s Middle East War

Nadia Hijab, Middle East Online 3/12/2009
      From euphoria to the depths of despair: that was how the progressive blogosphere greeted first the appointment of Chas Freeman as head of the National Intelligence Council and then his decision to withdraw his acceptance. It looked like the Israel lobby in the United States, which had mobilized its considerable forces against the former ambassador, had won not only a battle but the war.
     Yet the war to shape Washington’s Middle East policy is not over. The stakes are high: They extend beyond the Israel-Palestine conflict to world peace, with Iran’s nuclear weapons program as a key driver.
     ...Just this week US Director of Intelligence Dennis C. Blair told Congress that Iran has not produced highly enriched uranium, contradicting what the Israeli military intelligence chief told the Israeli cabinet a few days earlier.
     Freeman’s appointment tipped the balance further against Israel’s ambitions to take out Iran. Does his withdrawal mean Israel now has a bigger window of opportunity? Unlikely, since the US stance on Iran cuts across administrations and the intelligence community. But it could make life harder for the Obama Administration’s efforts to resolve US differences with Iran peacefully. And it has sent a signal that Obama is not willing to take the lobby head-on over the Middle East.

Letters of the law

Amira Hass, Ha’aretz 3/12/2009
      GAZA - During the past 10 days, the Defense Ministry’s claims and insurance division received a registered letter including an official document describing the damages suffered during Operation Cast Lead by Sabbah Abu Halima. Also in the envelope were 12 similar notices, detailing the damage sustained by members of her family (seven of whom were killed and six wounded). According to the short letter accompanying the forms, they were sent as per "the Civil Damages Regulations (State Responsibility) 2003." "Please fax us confirmation of receipt," added (in Hebrew) the signatory: Iyad al-Alami, attorney, Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) in Gaza. The center has to date sent about 500 such registered letters with forms enclosed to the claims and insurance unit in the last month, detailing the damage done during the Israel Defense Forces offensive from December 27, 2008 until January 10, 2009. Another 300 letters are expected to be sent in the coming weeks, referring to the period of January 11-18.
     The letters are just the first step in a process being undertaken by the PCHR and various Palestinian, Israeli and foreign organizations, lawyers and civil rights advocates. Their aim: to put an end to what they see as the impunity Israel enjoys after it attacks the Palestinians.

Everyone agrees: War in Gaza was a failure

Gideon Levy, Ha’aretz 3/12/2009
      Suddenly we’re all in consensus: The recent war in Gaza was a failure. The bon ton now is to list its flaws. Flip-floppers say its "achievements" were squandered; leftists say the war "should never have started" and rightists will say the war "should have lasted longer." But on this they all agree: It was a blunder.
     Because we consider the war to have been almost cost-free, with just 13 Israeli dead, it will be the first in 36 years without a Commission of Inquiry formed in its wake.
     Of course, the war’s blunder was just as serious as its predecessors, but because we did more killing than being killed, because we caused more damage than we sustained, there’s nothing deemed worthy of investigation.
     It was all in vain: no progress made, no goal achieved, nothing.
     ..... And what of the cheerleaders who sat on the sidelines of this hellish nightmare? Perhaps we should at least hold them accountable? They sat in their television studios and at their newspaper desks. Oh, how the commentators were excited and stirred excitement. They goaded and urged, pushed and applied pressure, begging for more and more war. For months they had been clamoring for their "wide-scale operation," their hearts’ desire. When their wish came true they cheered in support and whistled in excitement.

Installation criticizing occupation, Veolia causes stir

Adri Nieuwhof, Electronic Intifada 3/12/2009
      Visual artist Van Thanh Rudd recently created a stir in Melbourne, Australia with his installation "Economy of Movement - A Piece of Palestine." Rudd was invited to exhibit at an art space called the Platform in the group show Resisting Subversion of Subversive Resistance. The Platform is situated directly beneath Melbourne’s major Flinders Street train station. Rudd, 35 years old, has won several awards and his work has been shown in Australia since 1993. In 2004, he established an arts movement called The Carriers Project, which involves carrying artwork on foot through public and private spaces of major cities to expose challenging artwork to mass audiences. Although Rudd has declined to talk to the media about his latest artwork, he commented on his installation to The Electronic Intifada.
     When asked what inspired him to create "Economy of Movement - A Piece of Palestine," Rudd replied that "As Melbourne’s city rail network is operated by Connex [a subsidiary of the French company Veolia], I thought it would be a great opportunity to make artwork that would clearly outline Veolia’s illegal operations on occupied Palestinian territory."

Experts to Obama: Political Islam not the enemy

Ali Gharib, Electronic Intifada 3/12/2009
      WASHINGTON (IPS) - Scores of Middle East and democracy experts released an open letter to US President Barack Obama Tuesday asking him to focus more of his foreign policy efforts at making reforms in the region, including boosting human rights. Signed by more than 120 academics, scholars, experts and others, the letter said that previous US policy had been "misguided" and "produced a region increasingly tormented by rampant corruption, extremism, and instability."
     The signatories, ranging from liberal Democrats to neoconservatives, called for the Obama administration to "encourage political reform not through wars, threats, or imposition, but through peaceful policies that reward governments that take active and measurable steps towards genuine democratic reforms."
     In doing so, the letter said the US should end its "fear of Islamist parties coming to power" because most of them are "nonviolent and respect the democratic process."
     Citing Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, the group said "the US should not hesitate to speak out in condemnation when opposition activists are unjustly imprisoned."

Arming Terrorist Israel

Dr. Elias Akleh, Palestine Think Tank 3/11/2009
      Since their occupation of Palestine in 1948 to establish illegal Israel in the heart of the Arab World until the present, Zionist Israelis had initiated seven wars against their Arab neighbors. Six of those were waged after 1967 to maintain their occupation of the rest of Palestine, Lebanese Sheb'a Farms, and Syrian Golan Heights; formally recognized by the international community as an occupation.
     Israel had maintained its occupation of the land for the last sixty years. The question that poses itself, here, is how a small state like Israel, 7 million Zionist Jews in an area of 8 thousand square miles (excluding the 1967 occupied territories), could maintain such an occupation against hundreds of millions of Arabs and against the disapproval of the civic (not political) international community? Bullying with extreme brutal force is the answer. Israel is a military society with every Zionist Israeli citizen, from childhood to old age, being militaristic in one form or another. Israel possesses all kinds of weapons including weapons of mass destruction (WMD) such as nuclear and chemical weapons.

George Galloway, the noble man

Khalid Amayreh, Palestinian Information Center 3/10/2009
      Unlike many politicians who would rather stay on the safe side, even if that means betraying their conscience, George Galloway represents a rare breed of morally-guided  politicians who are willing to call the spade a spade even in the face of danger and brutality.
     The British lawmaker has displayed immense courage in speaking up against crimes and injustices  inflicted by Israel, the United States and their European allies in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Palestine.
     In 2003, Galloway was expelled from the Labor Party when a party body decided that the strong statements he had made in opposition to the invasion of Iraq by the US and its allies  had  brought the party into disrepute.
     Unshaken and defiant, Galloway then co-founded the Respect party, a new leftist-leaning coalition with a number of small groups.
     Galloway had castigated the horrible genocide of hundreds of thousands of  Iraqi civilians who died as a result of the draconian sanctions imposed on that Arab country and  enforced by the United States.

To preserve America’s security, Obama will need to break a taboo

Editorial, Daily Star 3/12/2009
      One of the biggest challenges that President Barack Obama will face in office will be to confront a problem that directly impacts US national security, but that is so taboo that few people in Washington are willing to talk about it openly. That problem is America’s blind support of Israeli terrorism.
     Now before anyone in the US sends this newspaper a letter accusing us of anti-Semitism, let us be clear: By Israeli terrorism, we do not mean the state of Israel; rather, we mean exactly what appears here in print. America’s friendship with Israel and its support for the Jewish state’s security are entirely defensible. But enabling the slaughter of hundreds of women and children, allowing scores of civilians to be held hostage in a besieged territory and facilitating the littering of fields and playgrounds with deadly US-made cluster bombs are not. These are war crimes that have served to stoke public anger and thereby undermine security in both Israel and the United States.
     Addressing this issue will require a degree of honesty and moral clarity that has hitherto rarely been seen inside the beltway. In fact, those who have tried to even raise the topic - including those who have done so because they believed it is in Israel’s best interest to behave responsibly and in accordance with international law - have almost always been smeared and tarred as anti-Israel or anti-Semitic....

Peace in the abstract

Noam Dvir, Ha’aretz 3/12/2009
      Pundak does not view the center as an accomplice to the property-takeover crime being perpetrated in Jaffa, and he has no regrets.
     At first glance, the building that houses the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa is a spectacular structure. The green-tinged concrete, the bands of glass, its modest height and the surrounding wooden deck, along with the view of the sea, render it an architectural gem with few rivals in Israel. However, a glance to either side reveals a rather more complex reality. The building is perched in the middle of the Ajami neighborhood, adjacent to a Muslim cemetery, amid crumbling dwellings and glittering for-Jews-only real estate. As always with Shimon Peres, it’s a building of "yes and no." Two years ago, in an effort to mitigate the opposition of its neighbors in Ajami, the center launched community activities. Twenty children benefit from an after-school program that includes help with homework, another 40 take part in various other activities; there is also a women’s empowerment program at the local community center.
     "It’s not from a desire to buy people," says Ron Pundak, the center’s director general and one of the key players in the peace talks with the Palestinians in the 1990s. "Like it or not, we are a bull in a china shop. And we want to show that we are a friendly bull." The center is not alone in Ajami. Jewish entrepreneurs long ago spotted the neighborhood’s huge potential, with its abundance of Ottoman architecture and streets going down to the sea. In an ongoing gentrification process, they bought properties, drove up the price of real estate and effectively forced out the indigenous Arab population....

In Ruins for 18 Months, a Palestinian Enclave Languishes in Disrepair

Nicholas Blanford, MIFTAH 3/12/2009
      Rebuilding Gaza isn’t the only effort under way to improve the Palestinians’ plight. Eighteen months after it was wrecked in fighting between the Lebanese Army and Islamist militants, this impoverished refugee camp is just beginning to be put back together again in a project hampered by a political crisis, slowed by donor apathy, and overshadowed by the war between Hamas and Israel.
     "We are telling donors if you really want the camps improved and to end the misery, which makes these places fertile grounds for extremism, then we need resources," says Khalil Makkawi, a former Lebanese ambassador and chairman of the Lebanon-Palestinian Dialogue Committee.
     Even though Lebanon has been trying to raise funds to improve conditions for Palestinians across the country, it may not even have enough money to rehouse some 30,000 refugees left homeless after the 2007 battle in Nahr al-Bared.
     The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which is responsible for the welfare of Palestinian refugees, only has sufficient funds to rebuild homes for a quarter of the camp’s population.
     "Are there concerns of the money running out in the long term? Yes. There is a danger that the rebuilding of Gaza will suck away resources for Nahr al-Bared," says Rex Brynen, a professor of politics at McGill University in Canada and an expert on Palestinian refugee issues, who is on a visit to Lebanon.

Twilight zone / Preferential treatment

Gideon Levy, Ha’aretz 3/12/2009
      Was it a coincidence? The day after Israel’s Davis Cup tennis match in Sweden, played in a practically empty arena this week, a brief item appeared on the Haaretz Web site: Historians have discovered that Sweden, former tennis superpower, aided the Nazi war machine by extending credit to German industrial plants.
     Coincidence or not, neutral in 1941 or not, 68 years later, public opinion in Sweden is definitely not neutral: Thousands demonstrated there against Israel, which was forced to wield its racket like a leper, with no audience in attendance. Did anyone in Israel even ask why it was considered a pariah in Sweden? No one dared question whether the war in the Gaza Strip was worth the price we’re paying now, from Ankara to Malmo. It’s enough to recall that the Swedes were always against us. The fact that there were times when they were awash in love for Israel was erased from our consciousness.
     The world is always against us, period. But the world is not against us - to the contrary: The truth is that there is no other nation toward which the world is so forgiving, even today....

The Makings of History / A tale of two cities

Tom Segev, Ha’aretz 3/12/2009
      Next Independence Day will also celebrate Tel Aviv’s centenary. Ahead of the Ministerial Committee for Symbols and Ceremonies’ decision to choose this theme, the deputy cabinet secretary, Lior Natan, tracked down a stormy argument over what the first Hebrew city should be named. Prime minister David Ben-Gurion demanded that it be called "Yafo," in Hebrew.
     Jaffa was conquered in the War of Independence, most of its Arab residents fled or were expelled, and an influx of new immigrants took their place. The city was not annexed to Tel Aviv in one go, but rather in three separate acts. At a cabinet meeting held on October 4, 1949, the interior and immigration minister, Haim Moshe Shapira, suggested conjoining Jaffa and Tel Aviv, and explained: "I am very concerned that a city of immigrants will arise next to Tel Aviv, with all that this implies, and it is not such a healthy thing, nor is it natural, that a narrow road separate two cities.
     Ben-Gurion concurred. He, too, was afraid of the gap between the cities: "As it is, it’s as if there are two peoples coming into being here, but that must not be exacerbated artificially," he explained, adding: "I hope that someday the name ’Tel Aviv’ will be abolished and that only ’Yafo’ will exist." The ministers passed the proposal to unite the two towns by a 7:2 majority. Ben-Gurion submitted the new city’s name to a vote.