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

VTJP Archives | VTJP 2009
13 March, 2009
US activist critically injured by Israeli troops during protest in Ni’lin village
Saed Bannoura, International Middle East Media Center News 3/13/2009
A US citizen has been critically injured in the village of Ni’lin, near the central West Bank city of Ramallah, after Israeli forces shot him in the head with a tear-gas canister. Tristan Anderson from California USA, 37 years old, has been taken to Israeli hospital Tel Hashomer, near Tel Aviv. Anderson is unconscious and has been bleeding heavily from the nose and mouth. He sustained a large hole in his forehead where he was struck by the canister. He is currently being operated on. According to witness Teah Lunqvist from Sweden, a fellow activist in the International Solidarity Movement, "Tristan was shot by the new tear-gas canisters that can be shot up to 500m. I ran over as I saw someone had been shot, while the Israeli forces continued to fire tear-gas at us. When an ambulance came, the Israeli soldiers refused to allow the ambulance through the checkpoint just outside the village. . . "

Israeli soldiers shoot five demonstrators in Bil’in
Ma’an News Agency 3/13/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Israeli forces shot five demonstrators with rubber-coated metal bullets in the West Bank village of Bil’in, which held its weekly protest against the illegal Israeli separation wall on Friday. The injured Palestinians were identified as Mohammed Al-Khatib, Eid Al-Khatib, Hamza Yassen, Abdul Basset Abu Rahma, and Mohammed Abu Rahma. After the Friday prayer, Bil’in residents were joined by international and Israeli supporters in marching towards the Israeli barrier, which cuts across the village’s land. The protesters carried Palestinain flags and banners calling on Israel to stop building illegal settlements in the West Bank and seizing land. Women activists from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) joined Friday’s demonstration in honor of International Women’s Day.

Israel’s toilet-paper rules for Gaza
Adam Entous - Jerusalem, Middle East Online 3/13/2009
The United States is protesting to Israel over seemingly random restrictions on deliveries to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip of harmless goods such as soap and toilet paper, diplomats said Wednesday. Diplomats fear day-to-day crisis management on Gaza was diverting the United States and other Western governments from bigger issues like the goal of restarting peace negotiations for a Palestinian state. In one case, Israel blocked for weeks a World Food Program (WFP) shipment of chickpeas, used to make the Palestinian food staple hummus, the UN food agency said. "We’re certainly asking the Israelis questions about this," a US official said of the restrictions on what is allowed into Gaza. A Western official said: "The Americans and international NGOs (non-governmental organizations) are raising their concerns. . . We’re protesting. "

Border Areas Bombed Again
Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa Al-Omrani, Inter Press Service 3/13/2009
CAIRO, Mar 12(IPS) - Almost two months after the war on the Gaza Strip, the border area between the battered coastal enclave and Egypt continues to come under frequent Israeli aerial bombardment. Israeli officials say the strikes target cross-border tunnels used to smuggle weapons to Palestinian resistance factions. "Israel is still regularly launching air strikes on the border area," Ibrahim Mansour, political analyst and executive editor-in-chief of independent daily Al-Dustour told IPS. "Such attacks represent a violation of all international rules and agreements, including the Egypt-Israel Camp David peace agreement. " Throughout the course of Israel’s recent assault on the Gaza Strip (Dec. 27 to Jan. 17), the border zone between Egypt and Gaza was pummelled by hundreds of Israeli air strikes. Sources in the area also say that Egyptian airspace was repeatedly violated by Israeli aircraft during the campaign.

’Israel lobby’ blamed as Obama’s choice for intelligence chief quits
Rupert Cornwell in Washington, The Independent 3/13/2009
Veteran diplomat attacks wilful distortions that ’plumb the depths of dishonour’ - Fears over the Jewish lobby’s excess influence on US foreign policy flared anew yesterday after a former diplomat and strong critic of Israel backed out of a key national intelligence post, saying his appointment by President Barack Obama had been torpedoed by a campaign of lies against him. Charles Freeman, a veteran diplomat hugely experienced in Middle Eastern affairs, had been chosen to head the National Intelligence Council, the body that delivers to the White House influential and highly sensitive reports synthesising the views of the country’s 16 intelligence agencies. But, on Wednesday, he withdrew his name from consideration, declaring he had fallen victim to what he called the "Israel lobby". Its campaign, he charged, had "plumbed the depths of dishonour and indecency," including "wilful distortion of the record, the fabrication of falsehoods, and an utter disregard for the truth. " -- See also: Freeman's post-withdrawal statement

Three injured in tunnel collapse; eight industry workers dead in last two weeks
Ma’an News Agency 3/13/2009
Gaza- Ma’an –Three Palestinians were injured after a tunnel collapsed in the Yebna area near Rafah Friday, and were brought to hospital with moderate injuries. Head of Emergency and ambulance department in the de facto Ministry of Health in Gaza Muawieyah Hasaneen confirmed the injuries, adding that the men were taken to Abu Yousef An-Najjar hospital. Eight Palestinians have died in the last two weeks after tunnels collapsed while they were importing goods and repairing the areas. Since Israel’s siege on Gaza continues, the tunnels remain a lifeline for the residents of the area. They provide goods as well as employment and are one of Gaza’s only functioning industries. Israeli airstrikes on the area during and after the end of the war on Gaza destroyed dozens of tunnels and partially damaged others.

Report: U.S. slams renewed ties between Britain and Hezbollah
Ha’aretz 3/13/2009
A senior official in the Obama administration said the United States disagrees with Britain’s decision to renew contact with the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah. The New York Times reported on Friday that the official, who spoke Thursday on condition of anonymity, said the British government had informed the "previous administration" of its decision. Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office last Thursday said it was re-establishing contact with the political wing of the Lebanese militant group,as part of an effort to press the militant organization to disarm. The official also said that the U. S. would like Britain to explain "the difference between the political, social and military wings of Hezbollah because we don’t see the difference between the integrated leadership that they see. "

Israeli soldiers kill Palestinian in West Bank
Middle East Online 3/13/2009
RAMALLAH, West Bank - 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 by Israeli army fire. Israeli sources claimed that its soldiers fired at the young men for throwing firebombs at Israeli vehicles near Halamish settlement north of Ramallah. Meanwhile, Israeli forces on Wednesday evening detained a Palestinian young woman in the Old City of occupied Jerusalem, saying she had a knife in her possession. A local Hebrew radio reported that the 20-year-old woman was held for interrogation. Israel detains around 100 Palestinian women on charges of resisting occupation. An Israeli soldier was reportedly injured also on Wednesday when a petrol bomb was tossed at an Israeli occupation army patrol near the Palestinian city of Nablus.

Four Israeli military checkpoints halt hundreds near Jenin; fire at residents
Ma’an News Agency 3/13/2009
Jenin – Ma’an – Transportation to the northern West Bank nearly halted Friday evening after Israeli military checkpoints were erected around the city of Jenin. Soldiers checked each car and the belongings of each individual passing in and out of the area, checking ID card numbers on all males. Residents said soldiers were using dogs to sniff through the cars at the checkpoints, and noted hours-long wait times to travel to the area. In addition to the four checkpoints residents reported seeing “a number of Israeli soldiers deployed at the entrance of Kherbat Marka southwest of Jenin hiding behind the olive trees. ” The streets were closed with branches torn off the olive trees, and shots were fired at anyone passing through the area who attempted to clear the obstruction from the road. Palestinian security sources confirmed that checkpoints the checkpoints were at towns. . .

Israeli settlers throw stones at young children and internationals in Hebron
ISM 3/13/2009
On Wednesday the 11th of March, a number of Hebron Israeli settlers pelted Palestinian children (aged 4 to 8 years) and two international activists with stones. The incident took place during a settler-organized dancing event close to Avraham Avinu Settlement, presumably as part of Purim festivities. The settlers became aware of the Palestinian children and internationals, who were watching from a near-by roof, and proceeded to hurl stones from the car-parking lot below, despite calls of "Stop". The Israeli soldiers on guard at a military post within 30 meters surveyed the disturbance but provided no assistance. [end]

Rafah: Israeli fire injures 13-year-old boy
Ma’an News Agency 3/13/2009
Gaza – Ma’an – A Gazan boy was shot and injured by Israeli soldiers stationed east of Rafah city Friday, said Head of Emergency and ambulance department in the de facto Ministry of Health, Muawieyah Hasaneen. Thirteen-year-old Salah Abu Sneina was brought to hospital with moderate injuries after being shot near the Ash-Shuka area, where Israeli forces are deployed near the southern border of the Gaza Strip. Abu Sneina is the eighth Gazan to be injured by Israeli fire in the past week. [end]

Umsalamounah demonstration results in hospital casualty
Mary Arthur, International Middle East Media Center News 3/13/2009
An elderly man collapsed and was rushed to hospital after being beaten to the ground by Israeli soldiers at the demonstration near Bethlehem following Friday prayers today, 13 March. Local Palestinians from the village of Umsalamounah, south of Bethlehem, protesting against the Annexation Wall, were joined by international and Israeli supporters as they marched towards the point where the wall is proposed to cross Route 60, barring them from access to any of their lands. The Israeli military prevented the protetors from reaching their destination by throwing razor wire across the road. As one elderly villager tried to present his case to the soldiers, a scuffle broke out and he was knocked to the ground. Visibly shaken, he was helped up by other demonstrators but then quickly collapsed from chest pains. After some time, an ambulance arrived and he was stretched across the razor wire as the stand-off continued.

American citizen critically injured after being shot in the head by Israeli forces in Ni’lin
ISM 3/13/2009
Ni’lin Village: An American citizen has been critically injured in the village of Ni’lin after Israeli forces shot him in the head with a tear-gas canister. Tristan Anderson from California USA, 37 years old, has been taken to Israeli hospital Tel Hashomer, near Tel Aviv. Anderson is unconscious and has been bleeding heavily from the nose and mouth. He sustained a large hole in his forehead where he was struck by the canister. He is currently being operated on. "Tristan was shot by the new tear-gas canisters that can be shot up to 500m. I ran over as I saw someone had been shot, while the Israeli forces continued to fire tear-gas at us. When an ambulance came, the Israeli soldiers refused to allow the ambulance through the checkpoint just outside the village. After 5 minutes of arguing with the soldiers, the ambulance passed. "The Israeli army began using to use a high velocity tear gas canister in December 2008.

U.S. citizen critically hurt at West Bank protest
Ha’aretz 3/13/2009
Palestinian sources said that an American citizen, in his thirties, had sustained critical wounds during an anti-separation fence protest in the West Bank on Friday, Army Radio reported. Peace activists with the International Solidarity Movement said Tristan Anderson, of the Oakland, Calif. area, was struck in the head with a tear gas canister fired by Israeli troops. The military and the Tel Aviv hospital where Anderson was taken had no details on how he was hurt. Protesters who were at the scene said that Anderson was standing by the side of the road when soldiers fired at him, and not near the hub of the clash. They added that there was no one in his vicinity that could have been perceived as a threat to the soldiers. "He’s in critical condition, anesthetized and on a ventilator and undergoing imaging tests," said Orly Levi, a spokeswoman at the Tel Hashomer hospital.

US national badly hurt in anti-fence protest
Ynet reporters, YNetNews 3/13/2009
International Solidarity Movement reports one of its members, Tristan Anderson, injured in his head by tear gas canister during left-wing activists’ rally at West Bank village of Naalin. IDF says incident being looked into - An American national was seriously injured Friday during a rally against the separation fence being built in the West Bank village of Naalin, apparently after being hit by a tear gas canister. The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) identified the man injured as Tristan Anderson, 37, of California. He was rushed to the Chaim Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer for medical treatment. The Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson’s Office confirmed the report, adding that the incident was being looked into. The army also said that some 400 left wing Israeli, Palestinian and foreign activists had arrived at the area while violating a closed military area order,

US citizen in critical condition; four others wounded by Israeli fire in Ni’lin
Ma’an News Agency 3/13/2009
Ramallah – Ma’an – Israeli soldiers critically wounded an American peace activist after launching a tear-gas canister at his head and shot four Palestinians with rubber-coated bullets in the West Bank village of Ni’lin, west of Ramallah, on Friday. “He had a large hole in the front of his head, and his brain was visible,” one protester said of the injuries to the American activist. Dozens of others choked on tear gas at an otherwise peaceful demonstration against the Israeli separation wall. The protest is a weekly event attended regularly by international peace activists, many affiliated with the International Solidarity Movement. Demonstrators marched through the streets of Ni’lin toward the Israeli separation wall chanting slogans calling for Palestinian national unity and for resistance to the occupation.

Four beaten with rifle butts as Israeli soldiers attack Al-Ma’sara protesters
Ma’an News Agency 3/13/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Four Palestinians were beaten by Israeli soldiers during an anti-wall rally in Al-Ma’sara, near Bethlehem on Friday. The beatings came during what is now a weekly protest in the village, condemning the building of the separation wall on village land. Hundreds participated in the rally, which ended in clashes. Several were beaten with rifle butts and four were taken to hospitalThose injured were identified as:A’zmi Ash-Shuyoukhi, 50, who sustained a head injury,Zeid Zawahrah, 12, who sustained a neck injury,Ya’qub Zawahra, 17, who sustained moderate bruising, andMahmoud Taqatqa,21, who also sustained bruises. All were taken to the Beit Jala hospital for treatment. The protesters carried banners condemning the building of the separation wall and Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.

Jerusalemites hold Friday prayers in protest camp under occupying reinforcements
Maram Isid & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 3/13/2009
Palestinians in the neighborhood of East Jerusalem, whose houses are being threatened with demolition, held Friday prayers today as an expression of solidarity with citizens and residents, and an absolute rejection of the policies and schemes of the Israeli occupation in the city. The organizers of the protest and solidarity event said that there was a massive deployment of border guards and police throughout the vicinity of the threatened neighborhoods, but this did not affect the flow of people from various areas to the protest camp. The organizers emphasized that they will continue these protest events by all available means, and are determined to defendtheir lands and homes, whatever sacrifices this entails. Israeli occupation authorities brought military and police reinforcements into Jerusalem and dispatched a large number of police, soldiers and special units in the streets. . .

IOA hands over more demolishing notices to Palestinian Jerusalemites
Palestinian Information Center 3/13/2009
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM, [PIC]-- Local sources in the occupied city of Jerusalem affirmed Friday that the Israeli occupation authorities have notified seven Palestinian Jerusalemite families that their homes will be demolished alleging they were built without permits. The sources also revealed that the Israeli occupation order was clear and aims at controlling the 16000 sq meter land near the wall of Jerusalem, adding that Israeli foundations were planning to establish tens of settlement units to absorb more Israeli settlers in the city. Since the eastern part of Jerusalem city came under the Israeli occupation in 1967, the successive Israeli occupation governments spared no time in judaizing the city and of attempting to introduce drastic demographic change in favor of the Jews in the city to preempt any future political settlement with the Palestinians regarding the city.

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]

Aid trickles into Gaza
Ma’an News Agency 3/13/2009
Gaza – Ma’an/Agencies – Israel will open the Kerem Shalom border crossing into the besieged Gaza Strip to allow passage of 79 truckloads of supplies while other crossing points will stay closed. Raed Fattouh, a Palestinian crossings official in Gaza, said that 19 of the trucks are designated for UNRWA, the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees and other international organizations. Another 52 trucks are carrying what, sugar, rice, pasta, oil, and diapers for the private sector. Another eight trucks are carrying produce. The Karni terminal, the main crossing point for grain and animal feed, will be closed. The opening of the crossing comes one day after new reports of Israel imposing “seemingly random restrictions” on harmless goods such as soap and toilet paper. Rueters reported one case in which Israel blocked for weeks a World Food Program (WFP) shipment of chickpeas, used to make the Palestinian food staple hummus.

PCHR: Two thirds of Gaza dead were civilians
Ma’an News Agency 3/13/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Two thirds of the 1,434 Palestinians killed in the recent Israeli war on the Gaza Strip were unarmed civilians, a leading human rights group confirmed Thursday. According to investigations carried out by the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) found that the dead included 960 civilians, 239 police officers, and 235 fighters. “The excessively disproportionate civilian death toll” is in itself evidence to warrant an investigation into whether Israel committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the offensive between 27 December and 18 January, PCHR said in a statement. The report found that 288 children and 121 women were killed. The majority of the 239 police officers were killed in air strikes carried out on the first day of the attacks at a graduation ceremony. -- See also: Confirmed figures reveal true extent of Gaza destruction; 1,434 dead, including 960 civilians, 239 police officers, and 235 fighters

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 forces seize two Palestinians overnight
Ma’an News Agency 3/13/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Israeli soldiers seized two Palestinians from their homes during raids in the West Bank early on Friday. The Israeli military said one person was arrested in Bethlehem and another in Jenin. Both were taken to detention centers. Israeli forces have seized dozens of Palestinians during raids across the West Bank this week. [end]

Qassam lands in Eshkol; none injured
Ilana Curiel, YNetNews 3/13/2009
Rocket fired from Gaza Strip falls in open area in Eshkol Regional Council in western Negev, causing no damage or injuries - While the Hamas-Israel prisoner exchange deal for captive soldier Gilad Shalit continues to take up most of the headlines, rockets launched from the Gaza Strip continue to fall on Israel. Friday morning Palestinian gunmen launched a Qassam rocket at the western Negev. The rocket landed in an open area in the Eshkol Regional Council. There were no reports of injury or damage in the incident. Thursday evening a rocket fell near a kibbutz in Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council, also causing no injuries or damage. Meanwhile, Israel has been responding to such attacks by isolated strikes on Hamas targets, and mainly arms smuggling tunnels. Wednesday night IAF aircraftstruck two smuggling tunnels in the southern Gaza Strip,. . .

Projectile from Gaza causes no damage
Ma’an News Agency 3/13/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an – A homemade projectile allegedly fired from Gaza landed in an open area east of the Gaza Strip on Friday morning. According to Israeli reports, the projectile caused no injuries or damage. No Palestinian group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack. On Thursday morning Israeli warplanes bombed the southern Gaza Strip in response to the reported launch of four homemade projectiles and one mortar shell from Gaza, all of which caused no damage. [end]

Anti-siege committee urges Arabs and Muslims to follow European brave steps
Palestinian Information Center 3/13/2009
GAZA, [PIC]-- The governmental anti-siege committee has called on the Arab and Muslim Ummah to follow the footstep of the European delegations that bravely challenged the embargo on Gaza Strip and worked hard to break the unjust siege on it. In a written press release, the committee’s spokesman Adel Zourob hailed the stand of the British "life line" convoy, the Libyan "Viva Palestina" convoy, ad the Scottish "Justice for Gaza" convoy, saying that the arrival of those convoys to Gaza was great victory for the Palestinian people’s will and determination. "As we warmly welcomed the foreign supports with flowers and hospitality, we now bid them a farewell in the same way for the great efforts and for the sacrifices they have made for the Palestinian people in Gaza", underlined Zourob. He said that the besieged Palestinian people in Gaza Strip were waiting fro similar brave steps as. . .

Ministry of Health: 27.5% Increase in diabetes in West Bank in 2008
Ma’an News Agency 3/13/2009
Ramallah – Ma’an – Diagnoses of diabetes among Palestinians in the West Bank increased by 27. 5% in 2008, the Palestinian Health Ministry in Ramallah reported on Thursday. The total number of people diagnosed with the disease rose to 3491 from 2220 in 2007. In a report the Health Ministry says that part of the increase may be attributed to a larger number of people being tested for the disease. Experts are linking this increase with the economic and political situation in the Palestinian territories. The report was released by the Chronic Disease Department, which was established recently by Health Minister Fathi Abu Moghli. The new department aims to provide medical assistance to those who suffer heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. The department also published two pamphlets in cooperation with the World Health Organization, on how to avoid diseases.

This Week in Palestine -Week 11 2009
Ghassan Bannoura - Audio Dept, International Middle East Media Center News 3/13/2009
Click on Link to download or play MP3 file || 12 m 0s || 10. 9 MB ||Welcome to This Week in Palestine, a service of the International Middle East Media Center, www. imemc. org, for March 7th through March 13th, 2009. Palestinian national unity talks began in Cairo this week amidst hopes of success while in Gaza patients are dying due to the continued siege. These stories and more, coming up. Stay tuned. Nonviolent Activities Let’s begin our weekly report with the nonviolent activities in the West Bank with IMEMC’s John Muller: Ramallah The residents of Bil’in near the West Bank city of Ramallah gathered again after the Friday prayer in a protest joined by international and Israeli activists and groups. The protest left from the center of the village, calling for national unity and supporting the reconciliation process in Cairo.

Bethlehem man denied life saving treatment in Israeli prison
Ma’an News Agency 3/13/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Israeli prison officials have refused to release a Bethlehem man suffering from kidney failure and severe kidney stones for treatment, the Palestinian Detainees Society said Friday. According to the society and the Red Crescent, Issam Ash-Sha’er has been denied permission for proper treatment and has been forced to take only basic medications to delay the inevitable surgery on the kidney. The pills, they added, are now beginning to cause permanent damage to the man’s stomach. The Red Crescent and the Detainees Society both urge for the man’s immediate release. [end]

Israel releases Gazan man after five years in prison
Ma’an News Agency 3/13/2009
Gaza – Ma’an – After spending five years in an Israeli detention center, Israeli authorities released 30- year-old Adham Salamah on Thursday, two weeks after his scheduled release date. Salamah, originally from Rafah, was detained on unclear charges in early 2003 after the Israeli army invaded the As-Sultan area of Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip. He was sentenced to five years in prison and was shuffled between the Ashkelon and Negev facilities. According to the Husam Prisoners’ Society, Israeli prison administration informed Salamah that he was being held as an “illegal combatant” and would remain in Israeli custody beyond the five-year term. Salamah was moved to a separate room in the Negev facility, and not informed how long he would be there. He was released Thursday and entered Gaza on the same day.

Israeli chief of staff travels to US
Middle East Online 3/13/2009
TEL AVIV - Israeli military chief of staff Lieutenant General Gaby Ashkenazi heads to the United States on Friday evening for a five-day working visit, the Israeli military said. Ashkenazi is accused of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, but no international warrant has been issued against him yet. He is scheduled to hold talks with National Security Advisor General James Jones and other officials, and will be the guest of honour at the annual "supporters of the IDF (Israeli army)" convention in New York City. Israeli media said his talks will focus on Iran’s nuclear programme. Israeli military intelligence chief Major General Amos Yadlin claimed last week that Iran was using trying to use talks with European powers on its nuclear ambitions to buy time to produce an atomic bomb. Iran insists it has the right to develop nuclear technology, which it says is aimed at generating energy for its growing population.

Anti-apartheid activists in Los Angeles set up mock checkpoint
Saed Bannoura, International Middle East Media Center News 3/13/2009
Dozens of Los Angeles-area Jews, Palestinians and other activists erected a mock checkpoint at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annual Valley Fundraiser. They said the checkpoint was meant to protest AIPAC’s attempt to steer US policy makers to ignore recent Israeli war crimes in Gaza and the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. Cars were confronted by people dressed as Israeli soldiers and those attending the event were "allowed to pass through" after receiving a new program for the event that activists say exposes AIPAC support for Israeli policies which contravene international law. A boisterous crowd also chanted "Angelenos choose a side, human rights or Apartheid!" at AIPAC donors as they approached the hotel entrance. "At a time when President Obama’s administration seeks to restart peace talks with Palestinians and Israelis, AIPAC advocates. . .

Activists set up checkpoint at AIPAC fundraiser
Stop The Wall 3/13/2009
Dozens of Los Angeles-area Jews, Palestinians and other allies erected a mock checkpoint at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annual Valley Fundraiser in protest of AIPAC’s attempt to steer US policy makers to ignore recent war crimes in Gaza and the occupation of Palestinian land. Cars were confronted by people dressed as Occupation soldiers and those attending the event were "allowed to pass through" after receiving a new program for the event that exposes AIPAC support for the Occupation. A boisterous crowd also chanted "Angelenos choose a side, human rights or Apartheid!" at AIPAC donors as they approached the hotel entrance. AIPAC is self-described as "America’s leading pro-Israel lobby," and as such has supported the land theft and settlement expansion while whitewashing the apartheid system that exists across historic Palestine.

Blog against apartheid
ISM 3/13/2009
It Is Apartheid - The first week in March is International Apartheid Awareness Week. There are now activities in 40 cities around the world. In solidarity, itisapartheid. org is making March Blog Against Apartheid Month. The main stream media does not print what is going on in Israel and Palestine. Blogging can be a very effective way to get around this blockade of the truth. If many people are blogging on many different sites on a similar subject and point of view, it can have a ripple effect. That is our intention: to get the word out that there is apartheid in Israel/Palestine. We are asking each supporter of itisapartheid. org to make two blog entries about apartheid in Israel/Palestine in the month of March. Look for a blog with recent posts on I/P and post your opinion that Israel is an apartheid state. Google blog and the word "Israel" or "Pro Israel" or "Palestine" or. . . -- See also: http://www.itisapartheid.org/

Australian activists launch campaign to derail Veolia/Connex
Stop The Wall 3/13/2009
When the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) launched its campaign against the Veolia and Connex companies, all of Melbourne took notice. Australian visual artist (and PSC member) Van Thanh Rudd contributed a simple yet powerful work to the Melbourne exhibition, “Resisting Subversion of Subversion Resistance: Propositions towards urban (r)evolution exhibition. ” Titled “Economy of Movement (a Piece of Palestine),” the work consists of a rock on a stand flanked by two information signs. One sign identifies the rock as coming from East Jerusalem and says that it was thrown at an Occupation tank by Palestinian youth. The other sign states: “IDF tanks are protecting French companies Veolia (Connex) and Alstom as they are conducting illegal* operations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory*under international law” Veolia is the French parent company of Australian Connex; Alstom is a French company that specializes in rail infrastructure.

BDS Newsletter #12 - March 2009
Stop The Wall 3/8/2009
Edition: 12 - March 8, 2009 - Endorse the international day of action on March 30! During the month of March, 2009, the Palestine National BDS Committee has launched a major endorsement gathering drive. This leads up to the Global Day of BDS actions on March 30 that was announced at the World Social Forum held last month in Brazil. We are calling upon all social movements, organizations, networks and parties around the globe to join us by endorsing the Palestinian civil society Call for BDS. If you can sign on by March 28, your name will be included in the endorsement declaration for March 30. Sign on here. Corporate News - Consumer boycott of Israeli produce across Europe: This month, there was widespread action across Europe supporting the BDS effort against Israeli produce. In the UK, a demonstration was held outside the main Carmel – Agrexco warehouse in Middlesex on the 2 February.

Europeans are getting involved in Israeli-Palestinian peace process
Maram Isid & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 3/13/2009
Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, said that the European Union is working on a political plan for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which determines its position on the resumption of bilateral negotiations between the two sides, especially after the formation of the Israeli government. Fayyad stated that the plan is now in the final stage formulation, having completed about 50 to 65 percent of the process. Fayyad said during his meeting with Palestinian journalists that the plan was prepared by the Federation, in consultation with the Palestinian Authority, describing it as "a political dynamic that could affect the U. S. administration. "The plan includes the position of the European Union in regards to Israel’s settlement activities, the continuous Israeli invasions of Palestinian cities in the West Bank, and the issue of transportation and movement of Palestinians between cities.

Europe moves towards talking with Hamas
Palestinian Information Center 3/13/2009
LONDON, [PIC]-- Two high-profile European parliamentary delegations were set to bound for Syria to meet with Hamas’s political leadership there as part of a European moves aims at ending isolating the Movement. The Quds Press quoted those sources as affirming that the two delegations would land in Syria within few days, and would comprise 15 lawmakers from Britain, Scotland, Ireland, Greece, and Italy, adding that they would hold talks with the Movement leadership in Damascus. According to the sources, the discussion would focus on recognizing Hamas as legitimate Movement duly and democratically elected by the Palestinian people in 2006 to rule them, and thus international isolation of the Movement must end, and Europe should reformulate its relationship with the Movement. The sources, furthermore, added that three years of international isolation of Hamas proved that the Movement. . .

Declaration by the Presidency on behalf of the EU on possible house demolitions in East Jerusalem
Alix de Mauny, Palestine News Network 3/13/2009
Jerusalem - The European Union is deeply concerned about the threat of demolition to approximately 90 houses in the Al-Bustan Silwan area adjacent to the Old City in East Jerusalem. If implemented, the demolition would deprive more than 1,000 Palestinians of their homes and would be the largest destruction of Palestinian houses in East Jerusalem since 1967. The EU reminds Israel of its obligations under the Roadmap and international law. Demolition of houses in this sensitive area threatens the viability of a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement, in conformity with international law. The EU urges the Israeli authorities to prevent the demolition of Palestinian houses in East Jerusalem. -- See also: EU Presidency Declaration on possible house demolitions in East Jerusalem

Family demands independent probe into botched rescue
Sharon Roffe-Ofir, YNetNews 3/13/2009
Family of Alaa Agbariya, who fell to his death from army medevac after stepping on landmine, says no IDF representative has been to see them; seeks external investigation of accident to prevent cover-up - The family of Alaa Agbariya, who fell to his death from a chopper attempting to evacuate him from a mine field on Wednesday, demanded Friday that an independent inquiry committee headed by a judge will be appointed to investigate the case. Shortly following the accident the Air Force commander set up an internal committee to probe the incident, but no conclusions have been submitted so far. "I want an external committee to provide me with answers and shed light on what happened to my son," said Muhammad Agbariya, Alaa’s father. "The army knows they failed. No one has called us; no representative of the army has come here to make us feel like we’re together, that they are pained by this as we are. . . "

Police ’lose’ evidence in ’racist’ professor probe
Jack Khoury, Ha’aretz 3/13/2009
The State Prosecutor’s Office occasionally has to close investigative cases due to lack of evidence, lack of public interest or other legal reasons. But in the case of a University of Haifa lecturer who was suspected of racism, the case was closed because the police lost the investigative material. In January 2005, attorney Ala Khaider submitted a complaint to the attorney general against Dr. David Bukay, a lecturer in political science at the University of Haifa, on behalf of the Center Against Racism and Defamation. The complaint quoted Dr. Bukay as telling his students, "The Arabs are after money, sex and alcohol. They cannot be trusted, they are stupid and they have contributed nothing to humanity. "And also, "All the Arabs have to be rounded up, a pistol held to their head and then shot. A building in which Arabs and Palestinians live must be destroyed. "

Jewish man who confessed to killing Arab driver ’unfit for trial’
Ha’aretz 3/13/2009
The alleged killer of an Arab taxi driver who was stabbed to death in Tel Aviv in 2007 is unfit to stand trial, the Tel Aviv District Court ruled after reviewing the results of the suspect’s psychiatric evaluation Thursday. Julian Soufir, a 26-year-old Jewish immigrant from France, confessed to killing Taysir Karaki, 35, from Beit Hanina, north of the capital. Police said their investigation revealed that Soufir, whose family lives in Netanya, went to Jerusalem in May 2007 to find an Arab taxi driver to murder. Several months ago the court rejected the state’s request that Soufir’s mental health be evaluated by a special panel of experts. "We’ll read the decision and study it," said prosecution attorney Anat Ben-Ze’ev. "At the end of the day this means that he will be hospitalized and locked away in a psychiatric institution.

Killer of Arab Taxi Driver does not suffer mental illness
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 3/13/2009
After the Israeli Magistrates Court decided on Thursday that the Jewish man who killed an Arab taxi driver in 2007 is unfit to stand trial, a psychiatric specialist said that the killer does not suffer any mental illness. The victim was identified as Taiseer Karaki, 24. Israeli newspaper, Maariv, reported a psychiatrist evaluated Julien Soufir 45 days before he committed his crime, and determined that there was no proof or indication that the man is suffering from a mental illness. One of the documents presented to the court proved that Soufir’s wife filed a complaint against him in March of 2007, claiming that he had threatened to killer her. After the incident, Soufir was examined by a psychiatrist who determined that there was no indication that the man is suffering from any mental illness or any symptoms that required treatment.

Magistrates Court decides Israeli man who killed Arab cab driver 'unfit to stand trial'
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 3/13/2009
The Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court ruled on Thursday that the Jewish man who killed an Arab Taxi driver in May of 2007 is unfit to stand trial, and ordered him to be committed to a mental hospital. The Arab man, Taiseer Karaki, was stabbed 24 times in the neck by Julien Soufir. The assailant was enlisted in the Israeli military but was later discharged after a physical-psychological examination concluded that he is unfit for military service. After the judged made his ruling, the lawyer of Julien Soufir stated that the court decided that the murder was not carried out due to racism, but due to the psychological illness of his client. Israeli Ynet News reported that the psychiatric evaluation of Soufir was submitted to the court, and that the evaluation stated that he is not fit to stand trial for mental health reasons.

Israel minorities see IDF service as key to social mobility
Anshel Pfeffer, Ha’aretz 3/13/2009
You wouldn’t believe which unit in the IDF’s Southern Command routinely receives the highest points for Kashrut observance in its catering facilities. It’s the Bedouin desert patrol battalion. Not only does the crack unit, of which 99 percent of the soldiers are not Jewish, scrupulously uphold every prohibition on the separation of meat and dairy and only allow rabbinate-supervised products into its field kitchens, no food from outside is allowed during Pesach and Yom Kippur is a day of quiet and peace on base. "On Shabbat they all stand, their heads covered, for kiddush," says the battalion’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel Yariv Elbaz, one of only three Jewish officers in the unit, with a broad smile. No, they’re not converting to Judaism, the battalion’s soldiers are all proud of their Bedouin heritage. "This is just part of being a regular unit in the IDF," explains Elbaz, "and they don’t want to be different from any other soldiers. "

A coexistence-policy imperative
Amnon Be'eri-Sulitzeanu, Ha’aretz 3/13/2009
On the list of pressing issues crying out for the attention of the incoming Israeli government, the need for a planning policy in mixed cities and regions is among the most urgent. The traditional reality in which the Arab public - one-fifth of the population - lives within the narrow confines of the Arab villages in the Galilee, the Sharon Triangle region and the Negev, is rapidly disappearing and boundaries are fading. It would be difficult indeed to find a place in the country today that does not have some element of the Jewish-Arab amalgam, whether in terms of place of residence, employment or commerce. This process is not only evident in traditional "mixed cities," but throughout Israel. This new reality demands attention and public policy that is both focused and comprehensive. Officially, there are seven "mixed cities" in which at least 10 percent of the residents are Arab: Acre, Haifa, Ramle, Lod, Ma’alot-Tarshiha, Upper Nazareth and Jaffa.

Cop indicted for beating settler youths held during evacuation
Nadav Shragai, Ha’aretz 3/13/2009
A policeman was indicted this week for beating two youths who had been detained and bound during the evacuation of an illegal West Bank outpost a year and a half ago. Salman Abu Asla was charged in the Rishon Letzion Magistrate’s Court with slapping, punching and beating the handcuffed minors, aged 16 and 15, in the police car and in the Kadum police station compound after their evacuation from the Shvut Ami outpost near Kedumim. Attorney General Menachem Mazuz granted settlers and right wing activists who had witnessed the evacuation immunity to testify against the policeman’s violent behavior, following complaints filed by settlers’ human rights organizations. Abu Asla allegedly slapped the 16-year-old boy in the face and punched the 15-year-old in the stomach in the police van on the way to the police station, although they were handcuffed.

US discontent over British Hezbollah contact
Middle East Online 3/13/2009
WASHINGTON - A senior US official said Thursday he was unhappy with a British decision to open low-level contact with Hezbollah and suggested London only indirectly informed the new administration ahead of time. The remarks contrasted with those last week from the State Department which said US officials had been informed about the move in advance and gave no sign of displeasure -- even if Washington was not ready to follow London’s lead. The senior US government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to a group of journalists in Washington, clearly expressed discomfort with the British decision. He said he would like the British to explain to him "the difference between the political, military and social wings of Hezbollah because we don’t see a difference between the integrated leadership that they see.

US-MIDEAST: Even Mixed Signals Mark a Policy Shift
Analysis by Helena Cobban, Inter Press Service 3/13/2009
WASHINGTON, Mar 13(IPS) - The British government has announced it will hold talks with the political wing of Lebanon’s Hizbullah. The Barack Obama administration sent two envoys to Syria to discuss steps to improve relations. U. S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has invited Iran to take part in a conference on the future of Afghanistan. It looks as though the United States and Britain are trying to end the policy of exclusion and - where possible - regime change that the Bush administration and its allies once vigorously pursued against Iran and its regional allies. But how far-reaching have these changes actually been, and what do they mean for the Middle East in the months ahead? The picture is still mixed. There are many signs that the Obama administration has not yet taken any clear decisions on Middle Eastern issues other than the important decision, announced Feb.

Diplomats: U.S. will review its aid to Palestine if a united Palestinian government is formed
Maram Isid & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 3/13/2009
Diplomats said the United States will not devote hundreds of millions of dollars to the Palestinian Authority if the Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas forms with Hamas a unity government do not meet its conditions. A Western official, "we would not mind if Hamas reconciliation is ready to take specific steps," referring to the three Western demands of the Islamic resistance movement, to renounce violence and recognize Israel and abide by interim peace deals with the Jewish state. He added "But if Hamas joined (the government) we will have to reconider whether we can provide funds to the Palestinian Authority. . . . "And the talks between Palestinian fractions were resumed in Cairo this week. In contrast to the policy of the administration of President George W. Bush which sought to isolate Hamas and opposed the talks on forming a united government, the new administration of President. . .

Hamas: Fayyad not considered for prime minister
Ma’an News Agency 3/13/2009
Gaza – Ma’an – Outgoing caretaker Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has not been considered to lead a new transitional Palestinian government, a Hamas spokesperson said on Friday. Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum said Fayyad’s name has not come up in the Cairo negotiations on the formation of the next Palestinian government, but that Hamas would not necessarily oppose Fayyad headding the government. Barhoum suggested that there are “alternatives” to Fayyad, such as independent billionaire businessman Munib Al-Masri. In mentioning Al-Masri, Barhoum also implicitly admitted that Hamas has not ruled out that it will back down from its insistence that Ismail Haniyeh, the elected prime minister, should lead the government. Last Saturday Fayyad handed in his resignation and that of his entire cabinet in a move he said would help clear the way for a “government of national consensus” to take power.

Fayyad 'sticking' with decision to resign; promises no constitutional void
Ma’an News Agency 3/13/2009
Ramallah – Ma’an – Outgoing Palestinian caretaker Prime Minister Salam Fayyad “will not review his decision to resign by the end of March regardless of the outcomes of Cairo talks,” he said on Friday. Fayyad spoke at a Ramallah press conference Friday and answered questions over the possibility of a constitutional void following his departure at the end of the month. “There will be no constitutional void,” he assured, and explained that his full trust was in President Mahmoud Abbas, who he said would “take the right decision” and appoint an appropriate representative in his stead after 1 April. Fayyad submitted a letter of resignation for himself and his government on Saturday, with terms stating that he would step down from the post the minute a transitional government is appointed or at the end of the month regardless of the outcome of the Cairo talks.

DFLP: No progress at Cairo; Egypt: Talks have not failed
Ma’an News Agency 3/13/2009
Gaza – Ma’an – “Palestinian national dialogue in Cairo has not made any progress or any steps forward, “a statement Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) member said on Friday. Secretary General of the Palestinian National Initiative Mustafa Barghouthi disagreed, however, and said the dialogue did not fail. “Dialogue among the committee members is intensive and serious,” Barghuthi said. He reiterated comments made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas earlier in the day, saying dialogue is a difficult process and small details make a big difference. Egypt has set Saturday as the last day for the first round of talks, following which the five committees will return to Gaza, the West Bank and Damascus. The Secretary Generals who make up the Higher Committee will stay in Egypt and discuss the following steps.

Barhoum: Palestinian factions have historic chance to achieve reconciliation
Palestinian Information Center 3/13/2009
CAIRO, [PIC]-- Fawzi Barhoum, the spokesman of Hamas Movement in Gaza Strip, has stressed Thursday that the Palestinian factions meeting in Cairo were before historic chance to achieve national reconciliation and to restore national unity. But in press statement he issued in this regard, the spokesman stressed that Palestinian factions shouldn’t bow to American conditions or any conditions from any external party. He also downplayed talks blaming the factions for not reaching an agreement despite the lapse of three days for the meetings, saying, "We mustn’t bow to the pressure of time as we were discussing the solutions for problems of the past 40 years". Commenting on Fatah’s call on Hamas to recognize the PLO agreements with Israel and the international community, Barhoum stressed that Fatah leaders themselves have acknowledged that those accords had greatly destroyed the Palestinian. . .

Amira: 'National talks would continue for several more days'
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 3/13/2009
Hanna Amira, member of the Executive Committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), and the Political Bureau of the leftist Palestinian People’s Party (PPP), stated Friday that national unity talks held in Cairo would continue for several more days. Amira said that the talks are now focusing on details regarding the unity government, its political agenda and its formation, in addition to the issue of holding legislative and presidential elections. He stated that another important issue that needs to be resolved is reforming the Palestinian security devices on a professional basis. PPP delegates in Cairo said that the committee in charge of talks regarding the PLO and the national reconciliation committee managed to achieve positive results. Amira stated that when internal talks advance toward important details, they start to get more complicated and start to encounter obstacles.

Hamdan: Cairo dialogue moves towards declaring PA harmony government
Palestinian Information Center 3/13/2009
BEIRUT, [PIC]-- Osama Hamdan, the representative of Hamas Movement in Lebanon, has asserted Friday that the inter-palestinian dialogue in Cairo was moving in a positive way towards announcing a PA harmony government. He also revealed that the dialoguers want a PA government that reflects results of the PA legislative elections, and acceptable regionally and internationally. "It is not expectable that differences between the Palestinian factions could be solved promptly after this long time of Palestinian rift, thus, the dialogues and discussions should take their time in order to reach rooted and genuine solutions that could surprise many parties", said Hamdan in press release Friday. He noted that although Hamas doesn’t put conditions for the dialogue, yet, it won’t compromise its constants, and thus, he added, the Movement engages in a dialogue through which it clearly expresses. . .

Redwan: PA security forces in W. Bank say no orders to stop arrest
Palestinian Information Center 3/13/2009
CAIRO, [PIC]-- Hamas’s political leader Dr. Ismael Redwan has affirmed Thursday that Hamas and Fatah movements in Gaza Strip and West Bank formed a mini-committee to tackle the issue of the political prisoners in the West Bank in order to facilitate the ongoing national dialogue in Cairo. But he quoted Palestinian sources as asserting that the PA security forces in the West Bank allege that they have no orders to stop the political arrest campaigns although an order to form a committee to release political prisoners in the West Bank was on the table. "We must follow up the issue of the political detainees in the West Bank, and PA security forces in the West Bank must halt the daily arrest campaigns and not only release those they had arrested before", underlined Redwan in exclusive interview with the PIC. According to Redwan, who participate in the Cairo talks, "the persistence. . .

Radwan: 'Political arrests have not stopped in the West Bank'
IMEMC Staff, International Middle East Media Center News 3/13/2009
Dr. Ismael Radwan, a political leader of Hamas and member of its team in the Cairo talks, stated Thursday that the security forces of Fatah in the West bank have no orders to stop political arrests. He added that the arrests have negative impacts on the internal dialogue and efforts to achieve reconciliation. Radwan also stated that the political arrests should stop immediately, and all political prisoners should be released without any delays. "We must end this process, once and for all," Radwan said. " All prisoners should be released; we cannot progress in unity talks till this issue is resolved" He stated that the security apparatus in the West Bank claimed that a decision has been made to form a committee overseeing the release of prisoners, but the security apparatus also said that they have not received orders to stop political arrests.

Abbas: Cairo talks will be 'difficult,' not impossible
Ma’an News Agency 3/13/2009
Ramallah – Ma’an – The negotiations in Cairo will be “difficult” and need “effort and good will” in order to reach a resolution, said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday. Abbas was in Ramallah laying the cornerstone of the cultural center being constructed in honor of the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. After he gave a speech commemorating the literary, national and human achievements of the late poet, Abbas reiterated his sincere hope that the Cairo negotiations would be a success. “We do not want to say that there are gaps and obstacles” Abbas said standing next to the grave of Darwish, “the negotiations are difficult” but are not an impossible task he said. Abbas announced that the name of the cultural center for which he was laying the foundation, would be “Birwah” after the village where Darwish was born.

Bardaweel: National dialogue achieves tangible progress in disputed issues
Palestinian Information Center 3/13/2009
CAIRO, [PIC]-- Hamas’s lawmaker and prominent political leader MP Dr. Salah Al-Bardaweel has pointed out Friday that it was still early to take about success or failure in the inter-Palestinian dialogue although the talks going well and achieved tangible progress in solving disputed issues. "Everything is going on positively so far, and we see no omens of failure", asserted Bardaweel, who participates in the dialogue, in an interview with the Quds Press. "We have agreed on certain priorities, and to postpone disputing and complicated issues to the final stages; however, we don’t feel disappointed despite the presence of big hindrance derailing harmony that is the continued political arrests in the West Bank", the Hamas’s legislator underlined. But he said that Fatah faction promised Hamas that the file will be closed soon.

Palestinian factions pledge to cease hostilities
Ma’an News Agency 3/13/2009
Cairo – Ma’an – Palestinian factions negotiating a return to unity in Cairo have pledged not to use violence against one another, a participant in the talks said on Friday. Yasser Al-Wadiyeh is on a committee tasked with negotiating overall issues in reconciliation, including the status of political prisoners. A businessman from Gaza and a political independent, Al-Wadiyeh discussed the pledge in a statement sent Friday. . According to the statement, the reconciliation committee will follow up on various issues, and plans to find a means of compensating those who were harmed by the infighting between Hamas and Fatah. The reconciliation committee is one of five groups made up of members of thirteen Palestinian factions and a delegation of independents charged with repairing almost two years of political division.

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.

Police claim major hashish seizure in Gaza
Ma’an News Agency 3/13/2009
Gaza – Ma’an – The Palestinian Drug Enforcement Administration in Gaza said it seized large quantities of hashish in Gaza City on Thursday night and arrested the alleged dealers. The police said they confiscated seven 15-centimiter square blocks of hashish. The suspects will be prosecuted by the Attorney General. The police released a statement saying that the arrests are proof of the efforts of the de facto government in Gaza to clear away “drugs and other poisons” from the region. [end]

Kadima, Labor don’t rule out unity gov’t
Attila Somfalvi, YNetNews 3/13/2009
Sources involved in political talks tell Ynet secret mediator examining possibility of forming coalition which would include Likud, Kadima and Labor. According to sources, President Peres aware of negotiations. On the agenda: Uneven rotation in role of PM between Netanyahu, Livni - Sources in the political arena estimated Friday evening a secret mediator has been passing messages in the past few days between leaders of the Likud, Kadima and Labor parties in a bid to examine the possibility of forming a national unity government. A senior Kadima official noted that "the talks are being held between politicians behind the scenes. "Ynet has also learned that President Shimon Peres is aware of the talks. The President’s Residence refused to comment on the report, as well as to confirm or deny that Peres had met in recent days with Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, Kadima Chairwoman Tzipi Livni or Labor Chairman Ehud Barak.

Likud-Kadima coalition talks resumed
Attila Somfalvi, YNetNews 3/13/2009
Senior officials in both parties hold secret negotiations in recent days. Netanyahu, Livni aware of talks, involved in some. National Union sources say prime minister-designate promised to secure yeshiva funding in State Budget - Netanyahu government continues to materialize: The secret talks between the Likud and Kadima parties have been resumed recently in a bid to form a joint coalition, sources in both parties confirmed Friday. Senior officials in both parties have been discussing this possibility in the past few days. According to the sources, Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu and Kadima Chairwoman Tzipi Livni and are aware of these talks and were even involved in some of them. Netanyahu himself has spoken to senior Kadima officials, but Likud sources clarified that these were not negotiations. Sources close to Livni said that "essentially, nothing has changed. "

Likud optimistic government formed by next week
Attila Somfalvi, YNetNews 3/13/2009
Netanyahu, Lieberman agree Yaakov Ne’eman will replace divisive Daniel Friedmann as justice minister. Although Yisrael Beitenu yet to sign coalition agreement, Likud officials estimate final details will be smoothed out over course of next week - After many long days of coalition negotiations, the Likud is optimistic that the talks will be concluded by next week and that Benjamin Netanyahu will be able to present his new government by Thursday, possibly Wednesday, as planned. Netanyahu and Yisrael Beitenu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman have resolved one of the key points of contention, with Lieberman agreeing to compromise on his demand that Professor Daniel Friedmann remain justice minister. The two agreed that Professor Yaakov Ne’eman, who previously served as justice minister under Netanyahu in the mid-90s, would be appointed to the post.

Prof. Neeman to take Justice Min. as Lieberman given absorption portfolio
Mazal Mualem, Ha’aretz 3/13/2009
Prof. Yaakov Neeman will be the next justice minister, but on behalf of Likud rather than Yisrael Beiteinu, Likud sources said Thursday. They said Neeman has agreed to accept the job. To compensate Yisrael Beiteinu for the loss of the Justice Ministry, one of the portfolios it had originally demanded, it will receive the Absorption Ministry, chairmanship of the Knesset Constitution Committee and the post of deputy foreign minister, which will go to MK Danny Ayalon. Since party chairman Avigdor Lieberman is expected to become foreign minister, that gives the party complete control over the ministry. Initially, Lieberman had wanted incumbent Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann to stay on the job as a Yisrael Beiteinu appointee. However, that proposal sparked fierce criticism, including from senior officials of prime minister-designate Benjamin. . .

Plan to introduce biometric IDs stirs privacy debate
Shahar Ilan, Ha’aretz 3/13/2009
No other democracy has yet introduced biometric identity cards, which Israel recently decided to do, and the only nondemocracy to have done so is Hong Kong, according to a study by the Knesset’s research center. One reason for this reluctance is that biometric identity cards require establishing a centralized database with biometric data on every citizen and legal resident of the country. Biometric passports, in contrast, are becoming more common in the West. However because people can choose whether or not to obtain a passport, which is not true of ID cards, this is considered less problematic from the perspective of privacy. The study was prepared in advance of last October’s Knesset debate on a bill to introduce biometric ID cards. The Knesset passed it into law a few days before dissolving for the elections.

National Union: Likud to incorporate yeshiva funding into state budget
Nadav Shragai and Haaretz Service, Ha’aretz 3/13/2009
National Union representatives on Friday said that a preliminary agreement has been reached in coalition talks between the ultra-Orthodox umbrella group and Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party. After the negotiations, National Union Chairman Ya’akov Katz said that Likud has agreed to turn funding for yeshivas into an integral part of the state budget. Katz called the move revolutionary, saying that it would prevent yeshiva heads from having to beg the government for additional aid. Yeshiva funding was cut dramatically during former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s tenure and increased again during Ehud Olmert’s term. According to reports, the budget for each married yeshiva student has reached an all-time high of NIS 1,080 per month, and NIS 600 for seminary students above age 18.

Turkey says willing to continue Syria mediation
Roni Sofer, YNetNews 3/12/2009
Turkish ambassador pledges Ankara’s friendship to Israel at Tel Aviv conference. Israeli defense official Amos Gilad: ’The Turks taught Syria how to speak Turkish. We should learn from them’ - "In the neighborhood we live in - Israel could not find a better friend than Turkey," Turkish Ambassador to Israel, Namik Tan, said on Thursday evening at a conference held at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. He added that Ankara is willing to resume its role of mediator in the indirect talks between Israel and Syria if both countries agree to return to the negotiations table. "The strategic relationship with Israel is of key importance to Turkey," said Tan. "These relations are not only important to Israel and Turkey. They are important on a regional and global scale, and their foundations are steadfast. . . "

Pre-summit diplomacy
Sherine Bahaa, Al-Ahram Weekly 3/12/2009
THE FOUR-WAY meeting bringing together President Hosni Mubarak, his Syrian counterpart Bashar Al-Assad, Saudi King Abdullah and Emir of Kuwait Ahmed Al-Gaber Al-Sabah in Riyadh is an attempt to move closer to reconciliation ahead of the Arab Summit scheduled to take place in Doha on 30 March. Sherine Bahaa Following the mini-summit, Egypt’s presidential spokesman Ambassador Suleiman Awwad said Mubarak came to Riyadh for genuine Arab reconciliation. Describing the talks as successful, Awwad stressed that current internal and international challenges require normalising Arab relations. "President Mubarak hopes that reconciliation will expand to include other Arab parties. " Earlier this week Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit, accompanied by the country’s General Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman, visited Riyadh and delivered a message to the king. Its contents are not known.

Report: Israel agrees to free all 450 prisoners on Hamas’ list for Shalit
Ma’an News Agency 3/13/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an/Agencies – Israel has agreed to release all 450 prisoners on a list submitted by Hamas in exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, a leading Israeli newspaper reported on Friday. The daily newspaper Haaretz quotes unnamed Palestinian sources in Cairo as saying that the dispute now revolves around Israel’s demand that some of the prisoners be deported rather than returned to their homes in the West Bank and Gaza. Hamas is requesting the release of 1,000 prisoners in exchange for Shalit, and has specified 450 prisoners for release including members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), leading Hamas members and long term prisoners. The names of the remaining 650 prisoners to be released will be identified by Israeli officials. Ofer Dekel, Israel’s top negotiator on the prisoner swap, was in Cairo on Thursday for another round of talks with Egyptian officials who are mediating between Israel and Hamas.

Conflicting reports on Israeli approval to release 450 detainees demanded by Hamas
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 3/13/2009
According to a report by Israeli online daily, Haaretz, Palestinian sources involved in the talks over the release of the captured Israeli soldier, Glad Shalit, said that Israel has agreed to release 450 detainees demanded by Hamas. The sources added that the current obstacle is that Israel is demanding that dozens of the 450 detainees be deported instead of being sent back home. Another Israeli demand is that the rest of the detainees should be released to the West Bank and not to the Gaza Strip. According to Haaretz, Hamas agreed to the deportation of some detainees if they give their consent to be deported. On Thursday, Mahmoud Zahhar of Hamas said that the Israeli reports are false. In a phone interview with Kul al-Arab newspaper, based in Nazareth, Zahhar said that Hamas is not holding any prisoner swap talks.

Report: Shalit deal hinges on prisoners’ consent to deportation
Roni Sofer, YNetNews 3/13/2009
Sources involved in Cairo talks on Shalit’s release say Hamas insists only small number of Palestinian prisoners will be deported to Gaza or abroad as part of deal, and only after agreeing to expulsion - Hamas has demanded that only a minimal number of the prisoners slated to be released in exchange for Israeli captive Gilad Shalit will be deported to the Gaza Strip or abroad, and insisted that the prisoners give their consent to the move before any deal is finalized, sources involved in the negotiations in Cairo told Ynet Friday. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s special envoy in the negotiations for Shalit’s release, Ofer Dekel returned from Egypt to Israel Thursday night for consultations. Dekel will brief the prime minister on progress in the talks and on the yet-to-be resolved issues vis-à-vis Hamas.

Sources: Israel agrees to free all 450 Hamas prisoners for Shalit
Yoav Stern, Ha’aretz 3/13/2009
Israel has agreed to free all 450 of the prisoners demanded by Hamas in exchange for kidnapped Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, and the dispute now revolves around Israel’s demand that some of these prisoners be deported rather than returned home, Palestinian sources in Cairo said Thursday. Ofer Dekel, Israel’s lead negotiator on the issue, was in Cairo Thursday for further talks with Egyptian mediators. According to the sources, Israel is insisting that several dozen of the released prisoners be exiled abroad and that others be released to Gaza rather than the West Bank. However, Hamas has thus far agreed to the deportation of only a handful of prisoners, and has conditioned even this on the consent of the prisoners to be deported. It also opposes releasing prisoners to Gaza rather than the West Bank.

Hamas issues rare condemnation of homemade shelling
Saed Bannoura, International Middle East Media Center News 3/13/2009
According to the Reuters news service in Gaza, the Hamas-led government on Thursday issued a condemnation of the most recent spate of homemade shells fired from the Gaza Strip across the border into Israel. The shells were not fired by the armed wing of Hamas, according to the group’s statement, and the Hamas party condemned the shells as being "fired at the wrong time". Over the last eight years, the armed wing of Hamas has fired hundreds of shells across the border into Israel. These shells are crude, makeshift rockets fired blindly with no aiming capability. They rarely result in casualties or damage on the Israeli side. During the same time period, over 5,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces. Human rights groups estimate that 80% of those killed have been civilians. Israeli authorities hold Hamas responsible for all shells fired across the border into Israel, regardless of which resistance faction is responsible.

Report: Ofer Dekel leaving Cairo
Roni Sofer and AFP, YNetNews 3/13/2009
Prime minister’s special envoy returns to Israel after three days of Egyptian-mediated talks with Hamas. Meanwhile Gilad’s brother, Yoel, joins his parents at the protest tent in Jerusalem - Ofer Dekel, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s special envoy in the negotiations to free Gilad Shalit, left Cairo late Thursday night after taking part in a round of Egyptian-mediated talks with Hamas, sources involved in the talks told AFP. The sources were quoted as saying that perhaps "there is a glimmer of hope. " However, a spokesman for Hamas said the organization had not received any new proposals, and that there is no news on the Shalit front. The three involved in the talks, Israel, Egypt and Hamas, are determined to push forward with the negotiations. Dekel has been keeping Olmert abreast of any developments, and the envoy consults with the prime minister on Hamas’ demands.

Shalit family hold Shabbat dinner at protest tent
Jack Khoury, Ha’aretz 3/13/2009
The extended family of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit gathered at the protest tent pitched across from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s Jerusalem residence Friday evening, and held a Shabbat dinner, with Gilad’s photo displayed above an empty chair around the table. Shalit was kidnapped by Gaza militants in a cross-border raid in June 2006. Hamas, the rulers of the Gaza Strip, have demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit’s release. At the dinner, Gilad’s father Noam thanked all the people that had visited the protest tent over the past week to show their solidarity with the Shalit family, and voiced hope that the "message will reach the right places. " Earlier Friday, hundreds of people arrived at the tent to help the Shalit family exert pressure on Olmert to secure Gilad’s release.

Hundreds protest for Shalit outside PM’s home
Ronen Medzini, YNetNews 3/13/2009
Protest tent set up by captive soldier’s family in Jerusalem becomes scene of large protest when hundreds arrive in show of support. Demonstrators carry signs with soldier’s face, block road - Hundreds of supporters arrived at the Shalit family protest tent outside Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s residence in Jerusalem on Friday, carrying signs with captive soldier Gilad Shalit’s face on them, whistling loudly and shouting out slogans such as "Olmert, you made a promise, Olmert, keep it!"Several of the protesters even temporarily blocked the access road to the site. Speaking to Ynet, Noam Shalit, the captive soldier’s father, shared his feelings about the broad display of support, saying, "We only organized the place, not the people. They came from all over the country spontaneously, and this encourages us. . . "

Shalit family greets Shabbat at protest tent
Ronen Medzini, YNetNews 3/13/2009
Kidnapped soldier’s relatives hold sad Shabbat ceremony outside prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, keeping empty seat for Gilad - A sad Shabbat ceremony was held Friday evening at the Shalit family’s protest tent outside the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem. Some 40 close and distant relatives of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit sat around the table for the Shabbat meal. An empty seat carrying Gilad’s picture was placed between the captive’s father, Noam, and his brother, Yoel. "I would like to thank the masses of people who arrived to encourage, strengthen and support the family over the past week and convey the public’s unequivocal message to the prime minister that most of the people of Israel, if not all, want to see Gilad home," Noam Shalit said after making the Jewish blessing over wine.

ANALYSIS / Even God may find it hard to help Olmert close Shalit deal
Avi Issacharoff, Ha’aretz 3/13/2009
"I pray to the good Lord to help me be the one who will bring back Gilad Shalit in the next few days," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Thursday during a conference of municipal leaders in Tel Aviv. In addition to divine intervention, Olmert will also require a little more willingness on the part of Hamas. And besides that flexibility, whose advent is doubtful, he will also need the assistance of the heads of the Egyptian intelligence. Noam Shalit, the abducted soldier’s father, gave interviews to Al Jazeera and to the BBC in Arabic Thursday. His message in both interviews was the same. He said the people of Gaza are also interested in the soldier’s return to Israel because it will bring them relief. The step must be made now so the opportunity doesn’t pass us by, he stressed.

Egyptian-Saudi messages
Abdel-Moneim Said, Al-Ahram Weekly 3/12/2009
Wise and judicious leadership is the cornerstone of the Arab order led by Cairo and Riyadh, but it needs to be strengthened by an effective support network. As an Egyptian, I felt grateful for the letter from King Abdel-Aziz bin Saud to President Hosni Mubarak, praising the Egyptian role during the recent Gaza crisis and offering support for the steps Cairo has taken following the ceasefire. In one respect at least, the letter was opportune. At a time when an anti-Egyptian campaign was at its most vicious lengths, it conveyed an appreciation for the hard work and skill that Egyptian leadership and diplomacy brought to bear to save the Palestinian people and to prevent the collapse of inter-Arab relations. Quite simply, the letter puts things in perspective and gives a clear signal from Saudi Arabia that it is willing to put its weight and influence alongside Egypt in order to attain the same goals.

Cartoon of the day
Amgad Rasim in Asharq Al-Awsat, Palestine Think Tank 3/13/2009
[end]

Moody’s cuts banks’ ratings
Ha’aretz 3/13/2009
The big losses for Israeli banks on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange yesterday were only the beginning of their troubles, as after the markets closed for the day, ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service lowered its credit ratings for Bank Leumi, Israel Discount Bank and First International Bank (Beinleumi). It also lowered its outlook for Bank Hapoalim. Mizrahi Tefahot was the only large Israeli bank with its credit rating left untouched yesterday. Moody’s explained the downgrades are due to increasing fears for the banks’ stability and strength as a result of the deterioration of the Israeli economic situation, which could then require the banks to provide a much higher level of provisioning for doubtful debts. Another negative factor to consider, Moody’s said, is the banks’ broad exposure to a wide range of industries that will be under severe financial pressure as a result of the economic downturn, such as tourism and construction.

Gov’t looks to cut back on foreign workers to help unemployment
Ruth Eglash, Jerusalem Post 3/12/2009
Plans to cut back on the number of foreign workers in Israel and encourage Israelis to work in their place have been set in motion as a response to the country’s rising unemployment and growing economic recession, representatives of the government indicated Thursday. According to sources in the Finance Ministry and the Bank of Israel, the number of foreigners arriving here to work in construction or agriculture could be significantly reduced in the near future, with concrete programs already under way to retrain unemployed Israelis in these fields. "We are already making a concerted effort to reduce the number of foreign workers," Meir Shpigler, director of the Foreign Workers Department at the Immigration Authority, told The Jerusalem Post Thursday. He said that the newly formed government authority had started to initiate several deterrents in an attempt to reduce the influx of foreign workers, including increasing the costs for them to come here, and taking out newspaper ads to warn them of the risks.

Arms dealer promotional film dubbed ’most atrocious of all time’
Yossi Melman, Ha’aretz 3/13/2009
Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, Israel’s armament development authority, has launched a promotional film that was dubbed "the most atrocious defense video of all time" by Wired, the popular technology magazine. The Bollywood-esque video, aired last month for the Indian annual air show, features sari-clad women dancing between flower-draped missiles, as a man in a leather jacket promises them "security and protection" to the sound of a sitar-tinted version of the famous pop song Together Forever. The video cost $15,000 to produce, and was directed by the independent director Avishai Kfir in Israel. The actors are Israelis of Georgian and Indian origin. A Rafael spokesperson said that the video had been received with much acclaim in India. "Rafael is constantly trying to demonstrate innovation and creativity not only in the field of defense technology," he said.

Human trafficking rank ’very high’ in Israel
Middle East Online 3/13/2009
TEL AVIV - The largest ever people-trafficking ring in Israel has been uncovered: Twelve members of the gang (all women) were arrested by police in Tel Aviv on 8 March following a two-year undercover operation. The suspected traffickers are accused of smuggling hundreds of women from the former Soviet Union into Israel to work in the sex industry. The main suspect, who is closely related to one of Israel’s so-called Mafia families, ran the network using scouts in places like Moldova, Belarus and Ukraine. The young victims were taken in by promises that they could work in Israel as dancers or waitresses in night clubs. Several said they had endured extremely harsh and violent treatment. They had crossed into Israel from Egypt in treacherous circumstances. Testimonies collected by NGOs working with trafficked women speak of rape and abuse by Bedouin smugglers on the journey.

Jerusalem: Stinky solution for Purim riots
Kobi Nahshoni, YNetNews 3/13/2009
Haredi Community uses stench bombs made out of rotten fish to scare away unruly teens accused of ’causing provocations’ in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods on Purim eve - The leaders of the ultra-Orthodox Haredi Community in Jerusalem have come up with an original way for dealing with the nightly riots associated with Purim celebrations in the capital’s haredi neighborhoods. This year they used dead fish against the young rascals, and with the help of local police succeeded in keeping the area relatively quiet, after two tumultuous years. Each year on Purim eve large crowds gather in the haredi neighborhoods, including many shababnikim - young haredi men who dropped out of their yeshiva and spend most of their time on the street. Residents have complained that in the last two years things have been getting out of hand during the holiday, with shababnikim, usually accompanied. . .

Scholar: The Essenes, Dead Sea Scroll ’authors,’ never existed
Ha’aretz 3/13/2009
Scholarship suggesting the existence of the Essenes, a religious Jewish group that lived in the Judea before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, is wrong, according to Prof. Rachel Elior, whose study on the subject will be released soon. Elior blasts the predominant opinion of Dead Sea Scrolls scholars that the Essenes had written the scrolls in Qumran, claiming instead that they were written by ousted Temple priests in Jerusalem. "Sixty years of research have been wasted trying to find the Essenes in the scrolls. But they didn’t exist, they were invented by [Jewish-Roman historian] Josephus. It’s a history of errors which is simply nonsense," she said. In his book "The Jewish War," Flavius Josephus describes the Essenes as an ascetic, mystical religious sect that lived in abstinence from worldly pleasures, including sex.

Obama extends US sanctions against Iran
Middle East Online 3/13/2009
WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama Thursday extended one of the many levels of sanctions against Iran, imposed in 1995 over US claims Tehran dealt in terrorism and was seeking weapons of mass destruction. The sanctions, prohibiting US companies aiding the development of the Iranian oil industry and halting trade, export/import and investment ties with Iran, were imposed by the Clinton administration and have been extended on an annual basis by successive presidents. They would have expired without Obama’s formal action to extend them. "The actions and policies of the Government of Iran are contrary to the interests of the United States in the region and pose a continuing unusual and extraordinary threat" to US national security and the US economy, Obama said in a message to Congress. The sanctions are one portion of the large range of punitive US measures imposed against Iran.

Iran dismisses sanctions, launches gas project
Reuters, YNetNews 3/13/2009
Day after US President Barack Obama announces extending economic sanctions against Tehran, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calls such sanctions ’childish idea and a big mistake’ - President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed international sanctions against Iran as a "childish idea" on Friday as he officially launched a natural gas project in the Gulf, Iranian media reported. The comments came a day after US President Barack Obama said he was extending economic sanctions against Tehran as it continued to pose an "extraordinary threat" to the national security, foreign policy and economy of the United States. Obama announced the routine extension of punitive measures imposed by former US President Bill Clinton in 1995 in a public notice on Thursday. Ahmadinejad said the idea of creating obstacles for Iran’s development with sanctions was "a childish idea and a big mistake," the official IRNA news agency reported.

Ahmadinejad: Sanctions against Iran are ’childish’
Ha’aretz 3/13/2009
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed international sanctions against Iran as a "childish idea" on Friday as he officially launched a natural gas project in the Gulf, Iranian media reported. His comments came a day after U. S. President Barack Obama said he was extending economic sanctions against Tehran as it continued to pose an "extraordinary threat" to the national security, foreign policy and economy of the United States. Obama declared the routine extension of economic sanctions imposed by former President Bill Clinton in March 1995 in a public notice. "I am continuing for one year the national emergency with respect to Iran," he said. In a change of policy from the Bush administration, Obama has said he would be open to engaging with Iran on a range of issues, from its nuclear ambitions to how it could. . .

Iraqi clerics call for shoe thrower’s release
Hamid Ahmed - BAGHDAD, Middle East Online 3/13/2009
Shiite clerics on Friday called for the release of the Iraqi journalist sentenced to three years in prison for throwing his shoes at George W. Bush. Sheik Suhail al-Iqabi, a follower of anti-US cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, said the sentence against Muntazer al-Zaidi is "a verdict against the Iraqi people who refuse the American occupation" of Iraq. Efforts to release detained Sadrists and others who have opposed the American presence in the country also should be expedited, al-Iqabi said in his sermon in Baghdad’s Shiite stronghold of Sadr City. Al-Zaidi’s brazen act during a December news conference by then-President Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has turned the 30-year-old reporter into a folk hero across the Arab world, where the former US president is reviled for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. On Thursday, a court sentenced him to three years in prison on an assault conviction.

Obama Sets New Course at the U.N.
Haider Rizvi, Inter Press Service 3/13/2009
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 12(IPS) - After nearly a decade of an often tense and estranged relationship with the United Nations, Washington appears to be taking a much more conciliatory and multilateral approach to the world body. U. S. President Barack Obama formally restored funding for the U. N. Population Fund (UNFPA) Wednesday by signing a major spending bill, prompting U. N. officials to again welcome the policy shift on women’s health-related rights. In January, Obama issued an executive order lifting an eight-year ban on U. S. funding for overseas family-planning groups and clinics that perform or promote abortion or lobby for its legalisation. "We are delighted that the United States will, once again, take a leading role in championing women’s reproductive health, and rights," said UNFPA’s executive director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid.

ICC seeks to add genocide to Beshir warrant
Middle East Online 3/13/2009
THE HAGUE - The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court applied Friday to appeal the exclusion of genocide from an arrest warrant issued against Sudan’s President Omar al-Beshir. "Killings, as a matter of law and as a matter of fact, are not the only way to commit genocide," the prosecution argued in documents filed, referring to the judges’ rejection of his request for genocide charges against Beshir. Beshir is seeking the backing of Nigeria, one of his ministers said Friday. International Cooperation Minister Eltigani Fedail said he is in Nigeria for a five-day trip which will see him hold talks with President Umaru Yar’dua to "explain to him the repercussions of this (ICC) decision on the ground. " On March 4, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for the Sudanese president on five counts of crimes against humanity and two of war crimes committed in the western region of Darfur -- its first-ever warrant for a sitting head of state.


Articles

Israel’s war crimes
Richard Falk, Le Monde Diplomatique 3/1/2009
      Israel blamed its earlier wars on the threat to its security, even that against Lebanon in 1982. However, its assault on Gaza was not justified and there are international calls for an investigation. But is there the political will to make Israel account for its war crimes?
     For the first time since the establishment of Israel in 1948 the government is facing serious allegations of war crimes from respected public figures throughout the world. Even the secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, normally so cautious about offending sovereign states – especially those aligned with its most influential member, the United States – has joined the call for an investigation and potential accountability. To grasp the significance of these developments it is necessary to explain what made the 22 days of attacks in Gaza stand shockingly apart from the many prior recourses to force by Israel to uphold its security and strategic interests.
     In my view, what made the Gaza attacks launched on 27 December different from the main wars fought by Israel over the years was that the weapons and tactics used devastated an essentially defenceless civilian population. The one-sidedness of the encounter was so stark, as signalled by the relative casualties on both sides (more than 100 to 1; 1300-plus Palestinians killed compared with 13 Israelis, and several of these by friendly fire), that most commentators refrained from attaching the label “war”.

American citizen critically injured after being shot in the head by Israeli forces in Ni’lin

ISM 3/13/2009
      Ni’lin Village: An American citizen has been critically injured in the village of Ni’lin after Israeli forces shot him in the head with a tear-gas canister. Tristan Anderson from California USA, 37 years old, has been taken to Israeli hospital Tel Hashomer, near Tel Aviv. Anderson is unconscious and has been bleeding heavily from the nose and mouth. He sustained a large hole in his forehead where he was struck by the canister. He is currently being operated on.
     "Tristan was shot by the new tear-gas canisters that can be shot up to 500m. I ran over as I saw someone had been shot, while the Israeli forces continued to fire tear-gas at us. When an ambulance came, the Israeli soldiers refused to allow the ambulance through the checkpoint just outside the village. After 5 minutes of arguing with the soldiers, the ambulance passed." - Teah Lunqvist (Sweden) - International Solidarity Movement
     The Israeli army began using to use a high velocity tear gas canister in December 2008. The black canister, labeled in Hebrew as “40mm bullet special/long range,” can shoot over 400 meters. The gas canister does not make a noise when fired or emit a smoke tail. A combination of the canister’s high velocity and silence is extremely dangerous and has caused numerous injuries, including a Palestinian male whose leg was broken in January 2009.
     Tristan Anderson was shot as Israeli forces attacked a demonstration against the construction of the annexation wall through the village of Ni’lin’s land. Another resident from Ni’lin was shot in the leg with live ammunition.
     Four Ni’lin residents have been killed during demonstrations against the confiscation of their land.

Constraining Palestinian Resistance

Dina Jadallah-Taschler, Palestine Chronicle 3/13/2009
      ’Reconciliation talks have put a very low ceiling for the achievements.’
     There is much press over the most recent ’reconciliation’ and ’reconstruction’ ’talks’ that were launched in the wake of the Israeli assault on Gaza. The former has the avowed intention of putting the Palestinian’s internal house in order so that they would ostensibly present a united front to Israel when ’negotiating.’ Reconciliation talks have also put a very low ceiling for the achievements that they hope to accomplish. These are based on only partial and temporary band-aids related to internal governance and control problems, as opposed to fundamental issues of independence and the restoration of national rights.
     The reconstruction talks are focused on supposedly facilitating Palestinian rebuilding, development, and economic and political re-integration back into the fold of the "consensus"/"moderate" group of nations. Both are patent attempts by regional and international powers to channel Palestinian discontent and resistance into a route that is deemed acceptable. Both follow the same course that was prescribed and largely adhered to ever since the Oslo "peace process" created the Palestinian Authority (PA) and appointed the current crop of leaders to (ostensibly) speak and negotiate on behalf of Palestinians. Sadly, for the purposes of the "peace process" and the subsequent "roadmap to peace," the Palestinians as a national group were intentionally circumscribed and diminished by the non-inclusion of the refugees and diaspora, as well as by the marginalization and ossification of the PLO.

Honest Talk on Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

David H. Young, Middle East Online 3/13/2009
      The fundamentals of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that have existed since 1967 are somehow becoming more obvious and less accessible every day. As rhetoric bleeds into strategy, sobering arguments are polluted by perverse distortions and the only thing that makes sense is confusion.
     Virtually nothing about this conflict was changed with Israel’s military operation in Gaza. Nothing on the surface, nothing lurking in the shadows, nothing for the history books. Yet the fundamentals of this conflict that have existed since 1967 are somehow becoming more obvious and less accessible every day. As rhetoric bleeds into strategy, sobering arguments are polluted by perverse distortions and the only thing that makes sense is confusion. As a humble remedy, perhaps, the following conversation is a synthesis of hundreds of hours of candid discussions (and screaming matches) between Israeli and Palestinian colleagues and friends. It offers no solutions or common ground, but only pain. Until we get through the meat of this war, the bones will never heal. Here is how these enemies think and argue:
     Ahmed: Why do you humiliate us every day, with your checkpoints, your raids, and your occupation? Why won’t you leave us alone.
     Avi: Because we believe that you would continue terrorizing us even if we give up the West Bank. If you were eager to kill Israelis long before any of us ever lived in the West Bank or East Jerusalem, how could we possibly believe that you would be satisfied by anything short of our expulsion from the region?...

$30 Billion For Israel's Military

Haitham Sabbah, Palestine Think Tank 3/13/2009
      Same old story, new president:
     "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 U.S. military aid to Israel was increased in a decade-long deal agreed to by Bush in 2007. OTOH, U.S. will pay close to $1 billion for rebuilding the wreckage in Gaza mostly caused by armaments paid for by the U.S.! To add insult to injury, there is a condition on that money:
     "Clinton: 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."
     Key Facts:
     * Total direct aid to Israel, 1948-2003, $89.9 billion (uncorrected for inflation)
     * Since 1976 Israel has been the largest annual recipient of US aid. It is the largest cumulative recipient since World War II.
     * Direct U.S. aid for each Israeli citizen in 2001 (per capita annual income of Israel = $16,710) — over $500
     * Direct U.S. Aid for each Ethiopian citizen in 2001 (per capita annual income of Ethiopia = $100) — about $0.45...

Border areas bombed again

Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa Al-Omrani, Electronic Intifada 3/13/2009
      CAIRO (IPS) - Almost two months after the attacks on the Gaza Strip, the border area between the battered coastal enclave and Egypt continues to come under frequent Israeli aerial bombardment. Israeli officials say the strikes target cross-border tunnels used to smuggle weapons to Palestinian resistance factions.
     "Israel is still regularly launching air strikes on the border area," Ibrahim Mansour, political analyst and executive editor-in-chief of independent daily Al-Dustour told IPS. "Such attacks represent a violation of all international rules and agreements, including the Egypt-Israel Camp David peace agreement."
     Throughout the course of Israel’s recent assault on the Gaza Strip (27 December to 17 January), the border zone between Egypt and Gaza was pummeled by hundreds of Israeli air strikes. Sources in the area also say that Egyptian airspace was repeatedly violated by Israeli aircraft during the campaign.
     The onslaught officially ended with a unilateral ceasefire announcement by Israel. Since then, however, Israel has continued to strike at targets both inside the Gaza Strip -- governed by Palestinian resistance faction Hamas -- and along the strip’s 14-kilometer border with Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

Gaza fishing industry reeling

IRIN, Electronic Intifada 3/13/2009
      GAZA CITY, occupied Gaza Strip (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-days of attacks that 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. Following the end of fighting the navy decided to allow fishing from up to three miles from the coast," said an Israeli military source who preferred anonymity. "The closure was imposed to prevent the smuggling of weapons and ammunition into the Gaza Strip by sea."

Israel Lobby Knocks Out Freeman

Melvin A. Goodman, Middle East Online 3/13/2009
      Israel is capable of debating sensitive national security issues dealing with a variety of Israeli-Arab issues, but this does not appear to be possible in the United States.
     During the presidential campaign last fall, Barack Obama told a Jewish gathering in Cleveland that he was "struck" while visiting Israel by "how much more open the debate was around these issues in Israel than they are sometimes here in the United States."
     And now that he is President, Obama has learned that the Israeli lobby in the United States can successfully block a distinguished appointee. Retired Ambassador Charles W. Freeman Jr., who had been selected to fill an important position in the intelligence community, was forced to withdraw from consideration after a storm of criticism organized by the Israel lobby.
     Freeman was a regular lecturer at the National War College between 1986 and 2004, when I served on the faculty there. He was asked to return time and time again because of his independent, somewhat contrarian, unbiased, and trenchant views on policy and intelligence issues.

Timidity Derails Obama Intel Choice

Ray McGovern, Middle East Online 3/13/2009
      On Tuesday morning, Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair, employed the indicative mood in describing the high value that Chas Freeman, his appointee to head the National Intelligence Council (NIC), will bring to the job — “his long experience and inventive mind,” for example.
     By five o’clock that afternoon, Freeman announced that he had asked that his selection “not proceed.”
     Not one to mince words, Freeman, spelled out the strange set of affairs surrounding the flip-flop and the implications of what had just happened.
     Borrowing from George Washington’s Farewell Address the pointed warning against developing a “passionate attachment” to the strategic goals of another nation, Freeman made it clear that he was withdrawing his “previous acceptance” of Blair’s invitation to chair the NIC because of the character assassination of him orchestrated by the Israel Lobby. -- See also: Freeman's post-withdrawal statement

Freeman Affair Puts Israel Lobby in Spotlight

Daniel Luban and Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service 3/13/2009
      WASHINGTON, Mar 13(IPS) - Although the successful campaign to keep Amb. Charles "Chas" Freeman out of a top intelligence post marked a surface victory for the pro-Israel hardliners who opposed him, the long-term political implications of the Freeman affair appear far more ambiguous.
     Freeman’s withdrawal has provoked growing - if belated - media scrutiny of the operations of the so-called "Israel Lobby", and aroused protests from a number of prominent mainstream political commentators who allege that he was the target of a dishonest and underhanded smear campaign that, among other things, accused him of shilling for the governments of Saudi Arabia and China.
     For the neo-conservatives who led the charge against Freeman’s appointment, his withdrawal may therefore prove to be both a tactical victory and a strategic defeat.
     At the same time, the Freeman affair has highlighted the yawning disconnect between the career professionals in the intelligence and diplomatic communities, from whom Freeman enjoyed strong support, and political leaders in Congress and the White House, none of whom came to his defence publicly. -- See also: Freeman's post-withdrawal statement and 'Israel lobby' blamed as Obama's choice for intelligence chief quits

Charles Freeman’s Victory

Justin Raimondo, Antiwar.com 3/13/2009
      Forced to withdraw, he took the Israel lobby down with him.
     The nixing of Charles "Chas" Freeman from a post as head of the National Intelligence Council is not, as is commonly averred, a victory for the Israel lobby. It is, instead, a Pyrrhic victory – that is, a victory so costly that it really amounts to a defeat for them. Sure, they managed to keep out a trenchant critic of their Israel-centric and grossly distorted view of a proper American foreign policy, and, yes, they managed to smear him and put others on notice that someone with his views is radioactive, as far as a high-level job in the foreign policy establishment is concerned. And yet – and yet ….
     They – the Lobby – have now been forced out in the open. "A lobby," says Steve Rosen, the ringleader of the "get Freeman" lynch mob, "is like a night flower: it thrives in the dark and dies in the sun." If so, then the Israel lobby is slated for oblivion, because as frenetically – and pathetically – as they tried to mask the centrality of their involvement, and as much as they tried to make this about other issues (his alleged ties to Saudi Arabia, his supposed views on China), everybody knows it was really all about Israel and Freeman’s contemptuous view of the "special relationship" which requires us giving Tel Aviv a blank check, moral as well as monetary. As a foreign policy realist, he thinks we ought to put our own interests first, in the Middle East and elsewhere, not those of a foreign country, no matter how much political clout – and campaign cash – its American fifth column can muster.

Charles Freeman, Roger Cohen and the changing Israel debate

Glenn Greenwald, Salon.com 3/9/2009
      Updated
     Anyone who doubts that there has been a substantial -- and very positive -- change in the rules for discussing American policy towards Israel should consider two recent episodes: (1) the last three New York Times columns by Roger Cohen; and (2) the very strong pushback from a diverse range of sources against the neoconservative lynch mob trying, in typical fashion, to smear and destroy Charles Freeman due to his critical (in all senses of the word) views of American policy towards Israel. One positive aspect of the wreckage left by the Bush presidency is that many of the most sacred Beltway pieties stand exposed as intolerable failures, prominently including our self-destructively blind enabling of virtually all Israeli actions.
     First, the Cohen columns: Two weeks ago, Cohen -- writing from Iran -- mocked the war-seeking cartoon caricature of that nation as The New Nazi Germany craving a Second Holocaust. To do so, Cohen reported on the relatively free and content Iranian Jewish community (25,000 strong). When that column prompted all sorts of predictable attacks on Cohen from the standard cast of Israel-centric thought enforcers (Jeffrey Goldberg, National Review, right-wing blogs, etc. etc.), Cohen wrote a second column breezily dismissing those smears and then bolstering his arguments further by pointing out that "significant margins of liberty, even democracy, exist" in Iran; that "Iran has not waged an expansionary war in more than two centuries"; and that "hateful, ultranationalist rhetoric is no Iranian preserve" given the ascension of Avigdor Lieberman in Benjamin Netanyahu’s new Israeli government.

What policy?

Salama A Salama, Al-Ahram Weekly 3/12/2009
      Apart from Shimon Peres giving Hillary Clinton a kiss on the cheek, nothing much emerged from the first visit to the Middle East of the new US secretary of state. We have no indication of where the policies of the Obama administration are heading. Actually, it seems so far that there is no tangible change from the policies of the former administration. During her visit to Israel, Clinton spoke in favour of the two-state solution but said she has no intention of talking to Hamas.
     Clinton had nothing to say about the need for Israel to stop building settlements all over Palestinian land. Nor did she have anything to say about the Gaza tragedy. She didn’t mention the need to open the crossings and follow up on the efforts Egypt is making to bring about a calming down period. And yet Clinton made a point of empathising with Israel with regards to Palestinian rockets. And she fully understood Israel’s concern over the prospects of Iran developing nuclear weapons.
     Clinton kept her options open concerning future talks with Syria and Iran. Washington seems prepared to engage the Syrians in dialogue if this helps Damascus distance itself from Tehran. And the Syrians seem willing to go to any lengths to stay on Washington’s good side. It seems that the US wants to see moderate Arabs and Palestinians negotiating with Israel, although actually the Palestinians have been doing just that for quite some time now to no avail.

Is a right-wing government the answer?

Henry Siegman, Ha’aretz 3/13/2009
      A right-wing Israeli government led by Benjamin Netanyahu is widely seen as spelling the end of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Given the ongoing expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which Netanyahu has promised to accelerate, no other outcome seems conceivable.
     While this view is undoubtedly correct, the belief that a center or center-left government would conclude a two-state agreement is a delusion Western leaders seem unable to discard, no matter how egregiously the current Kadima/Labor government continues to undermine a two-state solution - with continued seizures of Palestinian territory, expansion of existing settlements, and closing off Jerusalem to West Bank Palestinians.
     And yet, a good case can be made for the counter-intuitive notion that only a right-wing government of the kind now being formed by Netanyahu holds the remaining hope for viable Palestinian statehood. Such an argument has nothing to do with the popular Israeli belief that, like Nixon’s 1972 visit to China, "only Likud can make peace, and only Labor [or Kadima] can make war," for it ignores the fact that Nixon wanted to go to China, whereas no member of a right-wing Israeli government wants a Palestinian state. What Netanyahu and his prospective radical-right coalition parties want is more Palestinian territory and a Palestinian entity emptied of every vestige of sovereignty.

Durban II: Politicizing Racism

Ramzy Baroud, Palestine Chronicle 3/13/2009
      Many countries are set to participate in the Conference against Racism, scheduled to be held in Geneva, April 20-25. But the highly touted international meet is already marred with disagreement after Israel, the United States and other countries decided not to participate. Although the abstention of four or more countries is immaterial to the proceedings, the US decision in particular was meant to render the conference ’controversial’, at best.
     The US government’s provoking stance is not new, but a repetition of another fiasco which took place in Durban, South Africa in 2001.
     Israeli and US representatives stormed out in protest of the "anti-Israeli" and the "anti-Semitic" sentiments that supposedly pervaded the World Conference against Racism (WCAR), held in Durban in 2001. The decision was an ominous sign, for the Bush Administration was yet to be tested on foreign policy in any definite terms, as the conference concluded on September 8, three days before the 911 terrorist attacks.
     The US justified its denunciation of the international forum, then on the very same, unsubstantiated grounds cited by Israel, that the forum was transformed to a stage for anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Kafka’s Metamorphosis hits hard in Palestine

Kristen Ess, Lovisa Farrow, Palestine News Network 3/13/2009
      The feeling of uncomfortable self-recognition was delivered by Al Harah Theater to a small but enchanted audience at Dar Annadwa in Bethlehem last night.
     When Franz Kafka’s 1915 novella "The Metamorphosis" was produced as a play in a Palestinian context, performed with deep empathy, it introduced a familiar nightmare.
     The main character, Gregor Samsa, wakes up one morning from uneasy dreams and finds himself transformed into a gigantic insect, growing overnight. He is a travelling salesman by trade and asks, "How am I going to get to work?" This is the first Palestinian question of any day stuck behind checkpoints that divide one town from another. Gregor lamented the miserable weather outside; he is the sole financial provider for his family. But as a travelling salesman, he is accustomed to waking up in unfamiliar surroundings and varying circumstances. He resists any conscious recognition regarding his change or the fact that a change had indeed happened. This man was still the same man, the change came from the reactions from those around him who no longer recognized his humanity.
     In a dim light the audience followed Gregor, played brilliantly by Bethlehem’s own Nicola Zrieneh, in his struggle to maintain his humanity, despite the radical changes to his body.