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

VTJP Archives | VTJP 2009
27 February, 2009

Israel planning mass expansion of West Bank settlement bloc
Akiva Eldar, Ha’aretz 2/27/2009
Despite the state’s formal commitment not to expand West Bank settlements, a government agency has been promoting plans over the past two years to construct thousands of housing units east of the Green Line, Haaretz has learned. The plans, which have not yet been approved by the government, were drawn up by the Civil Administration, the government agency responsible for nonmilitary matters in the West Bank. Details of the plans appear in the minutes of the agency’s environmental subcommittee, which were obtained by the B’Tselem organization under the Freedom of Information Act. The plans propose the initial construction of 550 apartments in Gva’ot, located near Alon Shvut in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, followed by construction of another 4,450 units at a later stage. At present, Gva’ot is inhabited by 12 families. The neighboring settlement of Bat Ayin, which has about 120 families, is slated to receive another 2,000 apartments, according to the plans.

Israeli border guards abuse a citizen from Nablus, break his arm in front of his child
Maram Isid & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 2/27/2009
A Palestinian man from the village Asreera Al Qibllya, south of the northern West Bank city of Nablus, was severly beaten by the members of Israeli border-guards at a checkpoint while he was taking his ill son to a local hospital. Khalid Abu Khalaf, 38, said after receiving treatment at the Rafidia Hospital, that his son Shadi, 3 years 6 months old, is suffering from a neurological disease, and was transferred by the Palestinian Ministry of Health to Al Maqased Hospital In Jerusalem for treatment. The father tried to obtain a permit from the Israeli side through the Palestinian District Coordination Office, but Israel rejected the application. "My son’s situation requires hospitalization; therefore I tried to take him with me to Al Maqased Hospital in East Jerusalem, I tried to avoid the military checkpoint but the soldiers spotted me, and stopped me," the father said.

Settler breaks Palestinian woman’s leg with a rock
ISM 2/25/2009
East Jerusalem - On Monday the 23rd of February, over forty settlers attempted to break into Palestinian property in Sheikh Jarrah. During the assault, they attacked and broke the leg of the home-owner, Wahiba Abu-Jibneha. At 6:30pm, a group of settlers, after prayer at the near-by Synagogue, attempted to trespass on Palestinian land in order to reach certain caves owned by the Abu-Jibneha family. This was the second incident of trespassing by the settlers of the day. When they reached the entrance to the caves, they began to tear down a fence erected by the Palestinian family to protect the property. Wahiba Abu-Jibneha left her house in order to photograph the incident for the police. She was subsequently attacked, and forced to the ground. One settler then proceeded to crush her left leg with a large rock, just below the knee. -- See also: Sheikh Jarrah protest camp demolished by Israeli police

VIDEO - Israeli forces open fire on Palestinian farmers and internationals in Khoza’a
ISM 2/27/2009
Khoza’a, Khan Younis, Gaza - 9am: Palestinian farmers, accompanied by international Human Rights Workers (HRWs), were fired upon by Israeli forces in the village of Khoza’a, near Khan Younis, this morning. The farmers and HRWs were attempting to work on land around 300m from the ‘Green Line’. We were accompanying farmers to gather peas from their lands. The farmers, for the most part, were elderly men and women with their sons. There were many farmers spread out over a large area. We were only in the fields for about five minutes before the Israeli forces began firing. I believe the firing was coming from four army jeeps and a hummer. The shots were coming very close, and were sniper-type of shots. One old woman was so paralyzed by fear that she couldn’t move off of the ground before we were finally able to accompany her out of the fields.

Rice Is Aid, Pasta Not
Mel Frykberg, Inter Press Service 2/27/2009
RAMALLAH, Feb 27(IPS) - Red-faced and unusually tongue-tied Israeli officials were forced to try and explain to U. S. Senator John Kerry during his visit to Israel last week why truckloads of pasta waiting to enter the besieged Gaza strip were not considered humanitarian aid while rice was. Kerry, chairman of the U. S. Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, visited the coastal territory on a fact-finding mission. The purpose of the visit was to assess the humanitarian situation on the ground and the level of destruction wrought by Israel’s three-week military assault on Gaza, codenamed Operation Cast Lead. During his visit to Gaza it came to the senator’s attention that Israel had prevented a number of trucks loaded with pasta from entering the territory. UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) officials explained to Kerry that Israel was only permitting limited amounts. . .

VIDEO - Erased: a film about Gaza by Alberto Arce
ISM 2/25/2009
Alberto Arce traveled from Cyprus to Gaza with the Free Gaza Movement on 18 December 2008 as a member of the International Solidarity Movement. Alberto worked in solidarity with the Gazan people, accompanied fishermen and farmers to deter violence from Israeli forces, and documented the daily impacts of the siege on Gazans. Arce was in Gaza during ‘Operation Cast Lead,’ where he volunteered with medical ambulances. He witnessed the devastating attacks on the Gazan people and recorded Israeli forces shooting a medic. Alberto Arce and Miguel Llorens have directed a movie about life in Gaza. Promotional trailer: Erased: wipe off the map [end] -- See also: VIDEO - Israeli forces shooting a medic and Promotional trailer: Erased: wipe off the map

Israeli forces shoot four demonstrators in Ni’lin
Ma’an News Agency 2/27/2009
Ramallah – Ma’an – Israeli soldiers shot four peaceful Palestinian protesters with rubber-coated metal bullets in the West Bank village of Ni’lin, near Ramallah on Frida. After the Friday Muslim prayer, the villagers staged their weekly demonstration against the Israeli separation wall, which is being built on the village’s land. This week’s demonstration was also called in solidarity with the 1,500 residents of the Silwan area of Jerusalem whose homes are slated for demolition by Israel. The demonstration was joined by International peace activists. The marchers chanted slogans calling for unity among Palestinians and resistance to the Israeli occupation. A’hed Al-Khawaja, the coordinator of anti-wall Popular Committee in Ni’lin said,“The Israeli forces attacked the peaceful protest in the village using rubber coated bullets, sound grenades, and tear gas bombs.

Israeli soldiers raid, loot Palestinian village cut off by barrier
The Daily Star and Inter Press Service, Daily Star 2/27/2009
RAMALLAH : "They started smashing down doors at 2 a. m. last Wednesday before moving through homes and destroying property," says Jayyus MayorMohammad Taher Shamasni. "Residents were assaulted, money was stolen, computers confiscated, over 60 young men arrested and the village placed under curfew. The Israeli soldiers came into my home and threw the contents of cupboards and closets onto the floor," Shamasni told IPS. Jayyus, an agricultural community of 3,500 inhabitants, located in the Qalqiliya district of the northern Occupied West Bank, was invaded by Israeli soldiers using police dogs and backed by military helicopters. The village has been the scene of frequent clashes between local youths, their Israeli supporters and international sympathizers on the one hand, and the Israeli military on the other. Dozens protesting Israel’s continued expropriation of village land were. . .

Spanish court green-lights Gaza probe
AFP, YNetNews 2/27/2009
Spanish judge approves probe on ’crimes against humanity’ allegedly committed by several Israeli officials during bombing of Gaza in 2002, after ascertaining Israel is not holding legal proceedings on matter -A Spanish judge has decided to go ahead with a probe into alleged crimes against humanity by top Israeli military figures after studying documents received from Israel, judicial sources said Friday. The documents, received by Judge Fernando Andreu after translation by the Israeli embassy, show that the State has not launched any legal procedure concerning a 2002 bombing of Gaza, the sources said. Andreu agreed last month to pursue a complaint of crimes against humanity against seven senior Israeli military figures over the bombing, sparking strong objections from Israel. He was acting in line with Spain’s assumption of the principle of universal. . .

Gaza goods crossings closed
Ma’an News Agency 2/27/2009
Gaza – Ma’an – Israel unexpectedly closed the Kerem Shalom terminal, the main crossing point for humanitarian aid and commercial goods in Gaza on Friday. Raed Fattouh, the director of the imports department in Gaza, told Ma’an, ”The Israeli side informed us that they closed the crossing without mentioning any reasons. ”An Israeli military spokesman, Major Peter Lerner, said that the crossing was closed at the request of the Palestinian side, who wanted to do maintainence work on the crossing. According to Fattouh, Kerem Shalom is the only crossing point that is usually open on Fridays. The closure means that no commercial goods, aid, or fuel will enter Gaza on Friday.

PA deputy chief of Gaza crossings holds Israel responsible for storehouse fire
Ma’an News Agency 2/27/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Israel is fully responsible for the fire that broke out in the Kerem Shalom crossing warehouses said Deputy to the Palestinian Minister of the Economy for the caretaker government Naser As-Saraj Friday. As-Saraj, who is the PA liaison for the opening of the Gaza crossings, demanded Israel “pay compensation for those harmed by the fire” immediately, since it was the Israeli government that prevented the goods from being shipped into commercial and aid warehouses in the first place. [end]

Fire damages goods bound for Gaza at border warehouse
Ma’an News Agency 2/27/2009
Gaza – Ma’an – A fire reportedly broke out in a warehouse at the Kerem Shalom crossing, just over the border from the Gaza Strip, containing some 150 truckloads of goods on Thursday night. According to Palestinian sources, the warehouse contained millions of dollars worth of clothes, oil, and other goods designated to be shipped into Gaza. The cause of the fire is still unknown. The director the Coordination Council in Gaza, Ali Al-Hayek, said that all the merchants whose goods were damaged by the fire should submit their names in order to qualify for compensation. He added that the warehouse is still burning and that Israeli firefighters are working to put out the blaze. The Secretary-general for the coordination council in the Gaza Strip Ali Al-Hayek called all traders who get harmed by the flames to sign their names at the council for compensations.

Dozens suffered teargas inhalation duringthe Bil’in Weekly Protest
Ghassan Bannoura, International Middle East Media Center News 2/27/2009
The residents of Bil’in, near the central west Bank city of Ramallah marched towards the wall today after the Friday prayer, the protest was joined by Israeli and international activists. Protesters carried a huge banner with the flags of all the Palestinian political factions as a symbol of the Palestinian unity. Banners condemning Israeli’s racist policies and violence against civilians, especially in Jerusalem where Palestinians are facing ethnic cleansing were also carried. Recently, the Israeli army issued demolition orders in the Bustan neighborhood of Silwan in Jerusalem. Some protesters wore masks of Mahmoud Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh and held hands while they marched towards the wall. This was a symbolic representation of the national unity among Palestinian political factions. The protest began in the center of the village, called for national unity and resistance to. . .

Army attacks the weekly Nil’in protest injuring four
Ghassan Bannoura, International Middle East Media Center News 2/27/2009
Scores of villagers from Nil’in, located near the central West Bank city of Ramallah, on Friday midday, held their weekly protest against the illegal Israeli wall being built on the village’s land. At noon, villagers along with international and Israeli demonstrators marched to the villagers land being confiscated by Israel to build the wall. Demonstrators carried banners calling for national unity support to the Palestinians in Jerusalem. As soon as locals and their international supporters arrived to the village where Israel is building the wall, soldiers showered them with tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets. Four were injured by rubber-coated steel bullets and dozens treated for gas inhalation.

Overnight: Israel bombs Rafah tunnels
Ma’an News Agency 2/27/2009
Gaza – Ma’an – Israeli warplanes bombed smuggling tunnels in the southern Gaza Strip on Thursday night, the second such strike in several hours. The strikes on the Brazil neighborhood of the city of Rafah caused no injuries, according to the director of Ambulance and Emergency Services in the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza, Muawiya Hassanein. The Israeli military confirmed this second airstrike. Earlier Israeli aircraft bombed the same area in response to Palestinian homemade projectiles fired across the border into Israel. [end]

URGENT: Contact Secratary Clinton Before Her Trip to the Mid East
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee 2/27/2009
Call for an End to the Siege of Gaza - As you know the Obama Administration has made a commitment to engage in peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Most recently, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Special Envoy George Mitchell have traveled to the region. The United States is scheduled to donate close to 1 billion dollars for reconstruction in Gaza and has pledged to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. This week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called upon the State of Israeli to allow humanitarian aid to enter into the Gaza Strip. The Gaza Strip has been blockaded by Israel and the civilians in the strip continue to face the hardships of daily life without sufficient food and water. Secretary Clinton’s statements address the problem at the very foundation of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Israel must permit the borders to be open for life in Gaza to improve.

EU’s Morgantini returns to Hebron; calls for Europe to act
Ma’an News Agency 2/27/2009
Hebron - Ma’an - Member of the EU parliament Luisa Morgantini and a delegation of 16 Parliamentarians and European civil society actors were welcomed in Hebron by Mayor Khalid Al-Useili. Morgantini, who is an outspoken politician in the fight for Palestinian rights and self-determination, brought a similar delegation to Hebron in December of 2008. In January during the Israeli war on Gaza Morgantini took a delegation to the Strip, and later urged international actors to pressure Israel into halting the war. Following a tour of the West Bank city, which is also home to nearly 700 Israeli settlers and 1,500 Israeli soldiers who guard them, Morgantini called on “all of the European politicians and decision makers … to change the reality imposed on the Palestinians. ” She said a free and just society would take “real and serious work,” and that actors should start in immediately.

Solana: EU ready to resume Rafah border mission
Ma’an News Agency 2/27/2009
Gaza – Ma’an – The EU is ready to resume its monitoring mission at the Rafah boder between Gaza and Egypt, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said on Friday during a visit to the Strip. Solana said the EU will participate in the operation of the crossing when they receive approval from all the relevant parties. Speaking on arrival at the Erez border crossing in the north of the Strip, Solana also voiced EU support for the Palestinian reconciliation talks taking place in Egypt. “We came to Gaza to express our solidarity with Gazans and to see what the recent Israeli war has caused in the Gaza Strip," he said. Under a 2005 agreement with Egypt, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority, the EU sent observers to monitor the operation of the Rafah crossing under Egyptian-Palestinian control. The Border Assistance Mission has been suspended since Egypt and Israel decided to close the crossing in June 2007.

Ben-Ami: Israel, the USA must talk to Hamas if they want peace
Palestinian Information Center 2/27/2009
GAZA, (PIC)-- Former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami has urged both the Israeli occupation government and the USA to change their policy of isolating the Hamas Movement, adding that they should deal with Hamas if they want peace in the region to progress. In press statements he issued Thursday, Ben-Ami asserted, "I concluded hat dialogue with Hamas Movement is necessary since the Movement won a land-slide victory in the PA elections in 2006 and formed the "tenth" PA government". Ben-Ami’s remarks came in the aftermath of a letter sent by 14 political figures and former negotiators to the British Times newspaper urging the USA and Israel to include Hamas in the Middle East peace process. Ben-Ami, who served as foreign minister in the Israeli occupation government from (2000-2001), and Alvaro De Soto, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East, among other figures, have put their signatures to the letter.

German MP: No peace between Israel and the Palestinians without Hamas
IMEMC Staff, International Middle East Media Center News 2/27/2009
A German politician demanded an end to the boycot of the Islamic resistance movement (Hamas). Dr. Rolf Mützenich, of the Socialist Democratic Party (SPD) and expert on Middle East issues,said in an interview with the German Press Agency (DPA) that peace between Palestinians and the Israelis without Hams, who won an overwhelming support in the latest Palestinian parliamentary elections. " We, in the European Union, have to think of the feasibility of boycotting Hamas,"Mützenich added. The German politician also said that while most parties demand Hamas to recognize the previously signed agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, some Israeli leaders do not fully recognize those agreements. He added that his country should be cautious when talking about dialogue with Hamas saying that there are other European countries who can do a better job in this.

EU’s Solana on unprecedented Gaza visit
Middle East Online 2/27/2009
GAZA CITY - EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana toured the war-shattered Gaza Strip on Friday, his first such trip since democratically elected Hamas seized power in June 2007. "I came to Gaza to see by myself the situation and the destruction and to show the solidarity to the good people of Gaza who have suffered so much," he said at a news conference. "I wanted to see with my eyes the level of destruction," he said of the devastation wrought by Israel’s 22-day military offensive that killed more than 1,300 mainly civilian Palestinians. He viewed the ruins of the American International School and the wasteland of Ezbet Abed Rabbo, where scores of Palestinians huddle in shanties erected on mounds of rubble that used to be their homes. His visit came ahead of an international conference in Egypt on the rebuilding of Gaza.

EU to pledge 554 million USD to Gaza reconstruction
Ma’an News Agency 2/27/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an – The European Union (EU) will pledge 554 million US dollars at a conference next week to help rebuild the Gaza Strip from the destruction of the three-week Israeli offensive. Benita Ferrero-Waldner, European Commissioner for External Relations and Neighbourhood Policy, will make the pledge at a donor conference in the Egyptian Red Sea Resort town of Sharm Ash-Sheikh. The West Bank-based Palestinian Authority says it needs to raise 2. 8 billion international dollars at the conference, which will be chaired by Egypt and Norway. “In Gaza, we will dedicate part of our assistance to early recovery after the conflict at the beginning of the year, notably for urgently needed removal of rubble and unexploded ordinance and for providing assistance for traumatized children,” said Ferrero-Waldner in a statement.

Solana tours Gaza to see devastation for himself
AFP and The Daily Star, Daily Star 2/28/2009
GAZA CITY: EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana toured the war-shattered Gaza Strip on Friday, his first such trip since the Hamas Movement seized power in the Palestinian territory in June 2007. "I came to Gaza to see for myself the situation and the destruction and to show solidarity with the good people of Gaza who have suffered so much," he said at a news conference. "I wanted to see with my eyes the level of destruction," he said of the devastation wrought by Israel’s 22-day military offensive that killed more than 1,300 Palestinians, two-thirds of them civilians. He viewed the ruins of the American International School and the wasteland of Ezbet Abed Rabbo, where scores of Palestinians huddle in shanties erected on mounds of rubble that used to be their homes. His visit came ahead of an international conference in Egypt on the rebuilding of Gaza.

International legal experts tour Rafah in war crimes investigation
Ma’an News Agency 2/27/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an – A panel of international legal experts investigating alleged war crimes planned to tour bombed-out areas of the southern Gaza Strip on Friday on the last day of a mission sponsored by the Arab League. The mission has sought to gather evidence and eyewitness testimony, and to witness firsthand the destruction left behind by Israel’s three-week offensive in Gaza. The delegation plans to prepare a report to be submitted to the League. Among the experts on the five-day fact-finding mission are John Dugard, the former UN Special Rapporteur for the Palestinian Territories, Finn Lenghjem, a judge and legal expert; Paul De Waart, an international legal expert; Gonzalo Boye, a Spanish lawyer, Francisco Corte Real, an expert in forensic medicine. Other international lawyers and Arab League officials are also in the delegation, which has been hosted by the independent Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

Spanish war crimes probe against Israeli officials to go on
Ha’aretz 2/27/2009
A Spanish court announced a decision on Friday to go ahead with a much publicized investigation against senior Israeli officials over alleged war crimes. Last month, Spanish judge Fernando Andreu launched the investigation against seven current or former Israeli officials, over a 2002 bombing in Gaza that killed top Hamas militant Salah Shehadeh and 14 other people, including nine children. The investigation includes former defense minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, and former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Dan Halutz, who served as the commander of the Israel Air Force at the time of the targeted assassination of Shehadeh, along with five other Israeli officials. The judge initially launched the investigation under a doctrine that allows prosecution in Spain, and other European countries, to reach far beyond national borders in cases of torture or war crimes.

Spanish judge to probe Israel over Gaza
Middle East Online 2/27/2009
MADRID - A Spanish judge has decided to go ahead with a probe into alleged crimes against humanity by top Israeli military figures after studying documents received from Israel, judicial sources said Friday. The documents, received by Judge Fernando Abreu after translation by the Israeli embassy, show the Jewish state has not launched any legal procedure concerning a 2002 bombing of Gaza, the sources said. Andreu agreed last month to pursue a complaint of crimes against humanity against seven senior Israeli military figures over the bombing. He was acting in line with Spain’s assumption of the principle of universal jurisdiction in alleged cases of crimes against humanity, genocide, and terrorism. But he could only proceed if the alleged crimes are not subject to a legal procedure in the country involved.

Gaza blockade must be lifted for reconstruction
Middle East Online 2/27/2009
GENEVA - The International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday that it was "urgent" to lift the blockade of the Gaza Strip as a first political measure to resolve the crisis there. "What is needed is sustainable economic development. But that will only be possible if political steps are taken to prepare the ground," ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger said in a statement. "The first and most urgent measure should be to end the isolation of Gaza, particularly by lifting restrictions on the movement of people and goods," he added, highlighting the "drastic restrictions" imposed by Israeli authorities. Israel has sealed off Gaza from all but limited humanitarian aid since democratically elected Hamas movement seized power in the territory in June 2007. In the statement made ahead of the international conference on rebuilding Gaza next week in Egypt, the ICRC, one of the. . .

Twenty five trucks of aid per day
PNN, Palestine News Network 2/27/2009
Ramallah -- Twenty five trucks of aid are coming daily from Jordan to the Gaza Strip, Ambassador to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan Yahya Qaraleh said on Friday. "The trucks load up in Amman and travel directly. They try to fulfill the requests of the UN Relief and Works Agency to meet some of the needs of the Palestinian people in the Strip," the ambassador explained. The humanitarian convoys include basic food items, medicines and medical supplies. Today the equipment for four kidney dialysis machines is en route. This is in addition to the assistance sent via air which should be arriving at the Al Arish airport. Ambassador Qaraleh said in an interview that the field hospital in the Gaza Strip witnessed an unprecedented turnout of visitors. He estimated 200,000 patients with 20,000 operations done.

Qassam hits Gaza vicinity community
Shmulik Hadad, YNetNews 2/27/2009
Rocket fired by Palestinian gunmen lands in open area between Sdot Negev, Sha’ar Hanegev regional council; no injuries reported - A Qassam rocket fired from the northern Gaza Strip landed in an open area between the Sdot Negev and Sha’ar Hanegev regional councils. There were no reports of injuries or damage. On Thursday evening, a rocket hit an open area in the Eshkol Regional Council without causing injuries or damage. "The rocket landed outside the community’s limits," said Niki Levy, the council’s deputy security officer. "The Color Red alert system was not activated, and luckily there were no injuries. "On Thursday morning, two Qassam rockets exploded in the Sderot area. One landed inside a house’s backyard. A mother and her son were treated for shock, and two adjacent houses were damaged.

Report: Homemade projectiles land near Gaza
Ma’an News Agency 2/27/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an/Agencies – A homemade projectile reportedly landed in Israeli territory east of the Gaza Strip on Friday morning, causing neither injuries nor damage. On Thursday evening, another projectile hit an open area in the Eshkol area, East of Gaza, without causing injuries or damage. On Thursday morning, two such projectiles landed near the Israeli town of Sderot. Several hours later Israel’s air force responded by bombing smuggling tunnels in southern Gaza. Israel has vowed to retaliate for each projectile and mortar that is fired from Gaza. [end]

Israeli forces raid Beit Ummar, north of Hebron
Ma’an News Agency 2/27/2009
Hebron – Ma’an –Violent clashes took place in the village of Beit Ummar, north of the West Bank city of Hebron on Thursday night when Israeli soldiers raided the village. Witnesses in Beit Ummar said that young Palestinian threw stones at the soldiers, who fired stun grenades and bullets. Clashes were also reported at the entrance of nearby Al-Arroub Refugee Camp. No one was injured in either incident. [end]

Bil’in protesters support transitional government, condemn Israeli home demolitions
Ma’an News Agency 2/27/2009
Bethlehem - Ma’an - Israeli and international activists joined Bil’in residents Friday in the weekly after-prayer protest against the continuing aggression, humiliation and violence being perpetrated against Palestinians. This week protesters showed solidarity with all political factions and carried a huge banner with the flags of all the factions as a symbol of unity. Some protesters wore face masks of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and de facto government Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and joined hands as they marched towards the site of the separation wall. The group also decried the recent discovery of Israeli plans to force 1,500 Palestinians from their ancestral homes in order to build a park in East Jerusalem. An Israeli army unit was stationed behind the wall and prevented the crowd from going through the gate that separates the land from the villagers who farm it.

PLO declares strike in Gaza in protest of Jerusalem demolitions
Ma’an News Agency 2/27/2009
Gaza – Ma’an – Fatah leaders in the Gaza Strip urged Palestinians to participate in a PLO strike in protest of reported Israeli plans to demolish more than 90 Palestinian houses in the Bustan neighborhood of East Jerusalem. The protest actions were slated for Saturday following heavy rains Friday that put a damper on expected crowds. “We cooperated with 11 Arab and international organizations to launch a campaign to show solidarity with people in Jerusalem," Fatah leadership said Friday. The party will send a message to negotiators in Cairo and appeal for their help. “We are approaching a new period and we hope that all Palestinian factions will cooperate for the success of the national interest and reconciliation,” the statement added. Israel designated an area in the Bustan neighborhood a “green area” this week, clearing the way for the potential demolition of the houses and the expulsion of more than 1,500 residents.

Israel tightens Jerusalem security fearing protests
Ma’an News Agency 2/27/2009
Jerusalem – Ma’an – Israeli police imposed tight restrictions on entry to Jerusalem and on worship at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, fearing protests over the planned demolition of some 90 Palestinian houses in the city. Men under the age of 45, even those holding Israeli-issued IDs, are barred from prayer at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. No restrictions were imposed on women. Israeli police deployed heavily in the vicinity of the Old City and the Mosque. The Israeli Jerusalem Municipality continued forward this week with a plan to expel more than 1,500 Palestinians and potentially demolish their homes in the Bustan neighborhood of Jerusalem, just to the south of the Old City. Residents say they inherited the homes from their parents and grandparents. Most were built prior to 1967, when the West Bank and East Jerusalem came under Israeli occupation, and many were built during the British. . .

PA urges visiting US envoy to press Israel on Jerusalem demolitions
Ma’an News Agency 2/27/2009
Jericho – Ma’an – The Palestinian Authority (PA) urged the visiting United States envoy to halt an Israeli plan to demolish up to 90 Palestinian houses in Jerusalem and expel 1,500 residents on Thursday. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat raised this issue in a meeting with newly-appointed US Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell and the US Consul in Jerusalem, Jake Walles, in the West Bank city of Jericho. Israeli authorities issued eviction notices last week to the 1,500 Palestinians in the Bustan area of Jerusalem, near the Old City. The Israeli Municipality of Jerusalem has slated the area for a park. Erekat said he also raised the issues of settlement expansion, the construction of Israel’s separation wall. Specifically he addressed Israel’s plan for the E1 area, east of Jerusalem, which, if seized by Israel, will render the West Bank sliced into two.

Zero tolerance now
Lara Friedman and Hagit Ofran, Ha’aretz 2/27/2009
Media reports that Israel has approved the massive expansion of the West Bank settlement of Efrat represent the first lesson for the Obama administration as to why it must establish a policy of zero tolerance for settlement expansion before it is too late. The reports themselves are equal parts truth and hyperbole. So first, here are the facts: Earlier this month, a military appeals committee - the legal entity before which it is possible to appeal decisions made by the Custodian of State-Owned and Abandoned Property in Judea and Samaria - approved an August 2004 decision to declare a large tract of land (around 330 acres) previously considered part of Bethlehem and the village of Artas to be "state land," rejecting objections filed by Palestinian landowners against the confiscation. The land in question is on a hill the settlers call "Givat Eitam" (Eitam Hill), near the settlement of Efrat, located south of Bethlehem.

Israel planned expansion of West Bank settlements, documents show
Ma’an News Agency 2/27/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an – A key Israeli government agency has been promoting plans to build thousands of new houses in illegal West Bank settlements, government documents made public on Friday show. Documents from Israel’s Civil Administration, the government organ responsible for nonmilitary affairs in the occupied West Bank, were obtained by the organization B’Tselem through a Freedom of Information request. The plans, developed over the last two years, were approved by the Environment Subcommittee of the Civil Administration’s planning wing and plot out a major expansion of the Gush Eztion settlement bloc. If realized the plan will cut a swath of the West Bank adjacent to the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, and annex it to the new settlement areas. The initial construction would see 550 apartments constructed in an area beside the Allon Shevut settlement, followed by an additional 4,450.

Israel approved thousands of settler homes in the occupied West Bank
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 2/27/2009
Israeli online daily, Haaretz, reported on Friday morning that the so-called Civil Administration office had approved plans to construct thousands of homes for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank. The plans have not been officially approved by Israel, but are in the process. The "Civil Administration Office", under the control of the Israeli military in the West Bank, prepared plans for the construction of settler homes, and presented the plans to the environmental committee of the Civil Administration Office. The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories (B’Tselem) obtained these plans under the Freedom of Information Act, Haaretz said. The suggested plans propose constructing 550 homes in Gva’ot settlement outpost, in the Gush Etzion settlement Bloc, near Hebron. An additional 4450 homes will be constructed, according to the plan, at a later stage. -- See also: B'tselem: Settlement expansion plans

UN apologises for giving Kerry letter from Hamas
Donald Macintyre in Gaza City, The Independent 2/27/2009
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency apologised to the US government last night after it was criticised for passing to a US senator a letter from a Hamas representative intended for President Barack Obama. Karen Koning AbuZayd, the agency head, said she "deeply regrets any awkwardness" the transmission of the letter may have caused for the government, which has refused any direct contact with the Palestinian Islamist faction that rules Gaza. The agency denies claims by Israeli officials that it was embroiling itself in politics by passing the letter to John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, when he visited Gaza last week. Mr Kerry left the letter with the US consulate in Jerusalem. He said he had not read it because it was sandwiched among UN promotional papers he had received. Christopher Gunness, the agency’s chief spokesman, said guards at the agency’s front gates sometimes received envelopes addressed to people outside Gaza.

Netanyahu: 'Palestinian Unity Government must abide by the Quartet conditions'
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 2/27/2009
In his Saturday morning meeting with the special US envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, Likud party leader in Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, said that any upcoming Palestinian unity government must implement the conditions of the Quartet committee. Netanyahu and Mitchell held lengthy talks regarding the future of peace in the region. The Likud leader said that he would respect all signed deals and Israeli commitments to the international community. He added that his government will not carry any act that would conflict with the signed peace deals, but did not provide further details. Mitchell stated that any upcoming Palestinian government must "recognize Israel, be committed to the previously signed peace deal and renounce terror". He added that the United States is committed to the Quartet’s conditions; that the US stance has not changed and will remain the same after a unity government is formed in Palestine.

Obama’s envoy talks about peace with Netanyahu
The Daily Star and Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 2/27/2009
TEL AVIV: US President Barack Obama’s Middle East envoy George Mitchell discussed the situation in Gaza with senior Israeli officials on Thursday on his second regional trip to try to advance stalled peace talks. "We are going to discuss before the gathering of the donor states in Egypt the situation in Gaza," outgoing Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told reporters before the talks with Mitchell at a Tel Aviv hotel. "Israel believes that there is a need to help. . . humanitarian needs and to find a way to do so without strengthening Hamas, the terrorist organization that runs Gaza," she said. Mitchell said only that he was looking forward to the talks. He later met Benjamin Netanyahu, the hawk charged with forming Israel’s new government, but neither said anything at the start or end of the encounter. The former US senator’s visit comes ahead of an international conference on reconstruction. . .

Netanyahu vows to honor Israel’s ’international commitments’
Barak Ravid, Ha’aretz 2/27/2009
A Likud-led government will honor "all international commitments" made by Israel, Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu told the American special envoy to the Middle East yesterday. George Mitchell, the man tasked by U. S. President Barack Obama with jump-starting flagging peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, heard from Netanyahu - a vocal opponent of the negotiations - that Israel "would honor all its international commitments and would take no action to contradict them. " However, Netanyahu also told Mitchell that a Likud-led government would "reassess Israeli foreign policy and proceed with the peace process with the Palestinians in its own way. "The meeting in Tel Aviv’s Dan Hotel was the first between the two men since Netanyahu was tapped to lead Israel’s next government. Though Netanyahu did not specify which commitments he meant, the principal. . .

Olmert to U.S. Jewish leaders: No reason to fear Netanyahu
Ha’aretz 2/27/2009
Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert tried this week to allay the concerns of the American Jewish community regarding Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu. Whereas Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni explained her rejection of Netanyahu’s offers to join his cabinet by citing his alleged unwillingness to genuinely engage in peace talks, Olmert told Jewish leaders and Jewish Agency bosses that they and Washington had no reason to fear Netanyahu. In a meeting with prominent Jewish American leaders and the Jewish Agency Board of Governors, Olmert said: "Netanyahu is an Israeli patriot and not an extreme individual. He knows what it right, and I believe he will promote the peace process. " Olmert’s statements came after some guests said they feared Netanyahu’s rise to power would result in a deterioration in U.

Lieberman: I back creation of Palestinian state
Yitzhak Benhorin, YNetNews 2/26/2009
In a toned-down message directed mainly at US administration, Yisrael Beiteinu leader rejects labeling of his ideas as ’far-right’: ’I want the State of Israel to remain a Zionist, Jewish and democratic state’ he writes in article published on Jewish Week - WASHINGTON - Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman issued a calming message to the US administration this week, ahead of his potential appointment as Israel’s next foreign minister in a Likud-led government. In an article published on the US-based Jewish Weekly online newspaper Wednesday, Lieberman - who is perceived as a right-wing hardliner that could stifle negotiations with the Palestinians, stated that he advocates the creation of a viable Palestinian state. Lieberman also attempted to explain his party’s "no loyalty - no citizenship" campaign, which earned him the title of "racist" and "fascist" by his political opponents.

U.S. won’t attend Durban 2 summit on racism
Shlomo Shamir, Ha’aretz 2/27/2009
The United States will not attend a United Nations conference on racism that critics say will be a forum to criticize Israel, and will no longer participate in planning sessions for it, a senior UN source told Haaretz on Friday. The decision to drop U. S. involvement comes one day before U. S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leaves on her first trip to the Middle East in her new capacity, including stops in Israel. A U. S. delegation took part in negotiations this month on the World Conference Against Racism, scheduled for April in Geneva, Switzerland, although Israel has called for a boycott and Canada has said it will not attend. Referring to the content of the draft resolutions, the source said that during negotiations "a bad document became worse," prompting the U. S. to end its affiliation with the conference, dubbed Durban 2.

Top U.S. Army officer in Israel to discuss missile defense systems
Ha’aretz 2/27/2009
A senior U. S. Army officer discussed solutions for intercepting missiles from the Gaza Strip with Israeli officials during a visit here this week, sources in the defense establishment said. Gen. John Craddock, commander of U. S. European Command, also discussed means of intercepting longer-range missiles, especially from Iran. This is Craddock’s first visit to Israel since the deployment last year of an American long-range radar in the Negev to give early warning of an Iranian missile strike. The radar, known as X-Band or FBX-T radar, is operated by soldiers from EUCOM. The X-Band has doubled Israel’s detection range for incoming missiles or aircraft. It will work in conjunction with the Arrow anti-missile system, developed jointly by the U. S. and Israel, which is currently supported by a less advanced radar system.

Israeli air force announces the usage of new unmanned plane model in Gaza
Maram Isid & agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 2/27/2009
The Israeli air force has used a new type of unmanned airplanes during the last moth military offensive on Gaza, Israeli media sources reported on Friday. The aircraft called “Etan” was used in combat during the 22 days long Cast Lead operation on Gaza that ended in mid January. The Israeli daily newspaper Yedeoth Ahronot reported. The military says the air craft can perform tasks without orders or control from the ground, like taking off and landing, the army also told the news paper this new model can fly for 24 hours constantly , hit targets and carry up to one ton of weight. According to the army sources the aircraft was developed during the past five years, now its wing is 26 meters long and can score speed up to 234 KM pre hour. Several EU countries have shown interest in this new plane, the Israeli army added.

Report: Israeli forces faced challenge in Gaza tunnels
Ma’an News Agency 2/27/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Israeli forces struggled to deal with tunnels dug by Palestinian fighters during combat in the Gaza Strip, an Israeli newspaper reported on Friday. According to the newspaper Ma’riv, armed Palestinian fighters moved through tunnels and would surface unexpectedly in the street or inside Palestinian houses. The newspaper quotes an investigation carried out by the Israeli military in the wake of its three-week operation in Gaza in December and January. The investigation found that the fighter’s unpredictable movements forced Israel to rely on air power, bombing houses where they suspected tunnels to exist. Ma’riv however reports that the Israeli military has now learned from its experience in Gaza and in the 2006 Lebanon war, where Hizbullah is said to have dug a vast network of tunnels for use in combat.

Report: Money for PA salaries used to rebuild Gaza
Roni Sofer, YNetNews 2/27/2009
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad ordered NIS 90 million, out of NIS 175 million allotted by Israel for payment of government workers’ wages, to be transferred for reconstruction of houses damaged during Israeli offensive, Ynet learns - Israel recently approved the transfer of NIS 175 million ($41. 8 million) in order to pay the salaries of Fatah government workers in Gaza, but Ynet learned Thursday night that about half of the funds were used to compensate residents whose houses were damaged by Israel Defense Forces fire during Operation Cast Lead. Ten days after the money was transferred, not one penny has been deposited in the Palestinian Authority workers’ bank accounts in Gaza.

Yishai: Gov’t compensating Gazans before south’s residents
Roni Sofer, YNetNews 2/27/2009
Ministers respond angrily to Ynet report that money transferred by Israel to Palestinian Authority used for rebuilding Gaza. Avraham-Balila: Deduct every penny from future funds to PA. Shas leader: Document last nail in coffin of our desire to cooperate with Palestinians - Government ministers responded angrily Friday morning to a Ynet report that funds transferred by Israel for the payment of Palestinian government workers’ salaries were used by the Palestinian Authority to rebuild the Strip following the Israeli offensive in Gaza. "The pathetic desire to create a partner on the Palestinian side has led to an absurd and shocking situation, in which the State of Israel is compensating the Palestinians for Operation Cast Lead before transferring funds to compensate the residents of southern Israel," said Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai. [It’s not Israel’s money, but money from international sources that, according to Oslo accords, must be given to Israel, which is supposed to transfer it to the PA - Ed. ]

Galawi’s life line convoy reaches Tunisia, en route to Gaza Strip
Palestinian Information Center 2/27/2009
TUNIS, (PIC)--Tunisian officials have announced Thursday the arrival of convoy "life line" led by British lawmaker George Galawi to Tunisia en route to the besieged coastal Gaza Strip via Libya and Egypt. The humanitarian caravan, which is loaded with medicine and basic human needs to the besieged Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip, has crossed the Bou Shabka crossing point between Tunisia and Algeria amidst overwhelming popular reception as thousands of Tunisian citizens there stood along the two sides of the road to welcome the activists, local sources revealed. The convoy comprises around 300 activists from different countries led by Galawi, and 120 vehicles and trucks, and succeeded to open the sealed off Moroccan-Algerian borders for the first time in years. It started a couple of weeks ago from London, crossing Belgium, France, Spain, Morocco, Algeria, and now in Tunisia. . .

PCHR Weekly Report: Palestinian child killed; 19 people injured by Israeli forces
Saed Bannoura, International Middle East Media Center News 2/27/2009
According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, during the week of 19 - 26 Feb. 2009, a Palestinian child died of wounds sustained during the recent Israeli invasion of Gaza. In addition, Israeli troops injured 19 Palestinians, 17 of whom were unarmed civilians, of whom eight were children, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The injured include a radio reporter from the southern Gaza city of Rafah. Israeli forces carried out intensive air strikes along the border with Egypt, forcing residents from their homes. Two members of the Palestinian resistance were injured in an air strike. Israeli attacks in the West Bank: During the last week, Israeli forces carried out 35 incursions in the West Bank. Fifteen Palestinian civilians were injured by Israeli forces this week, including seven children, fourteen of whom were in the village of Naalin, west of Ramallah.

This Week in Palestine -Week 09 2009
Ghassan Bannoura - Audio Dept, International Middle East Media Center News 2/27/2009
Click on Link to download or play MP3 file|| 15 m 0s || 13. 7 MB || Welcome to This Week in Palestine, a service of the International Middle East Media Center, www. imemc. org, for February 21st through February 27th, 2009. As a dozen Palestinian factions meet this week to discuss reconciliation, Israeli troops continue to attack Gaza and the West Bank. 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 Smith: The residents of Bil’in, near the central West Bank city of Ramallah, marched towards the wall today following Friday prayers, in a protest joined by Israeli and international activists. Protesters called for national unity among Palestinians, resistance to the occupation and condemned Israel’s latest decision to demolish Palestinian homes in the Bustan neighborhood of Silwan in Jerusalem.

Israel’s lurch to the right deal blow to peace negotiations
Inter Press Service, Daily Star 2/28/2009
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: The continuing efforts by Israel’s presumptive next prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to assemble a rightwing-dominated government have sparked serious concern about the effects such a government might have on peace efforts with the Palestinians. In addition, the fact that Netanyahu has invited Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the openly anti-Arab Yisrael Beiteinu party, to join the government has sparked fears that this government might take harsh actions against the Palestinian Israelis, who form over 20 percent of the state’s citizenry. Netanyahu’s invitation to Lieberman has also raised the question of whether a government containing Lieberman should be treated any differently than governments elsewhere that might contain racists like the Austrian Joerg Haider or the French Jean-Marie Le Pen.

$9,000 buys black market mobile in Israeli prison; bankrupts families
Ma’an News Agency 2/27/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an report – A recently released Palestinian detainee reported rumors of exorbitant black market prices for items such as cell phones. The former prisoner, who preferred to remain anonymous, said families were bankrupting themselves to purchase the up to 25-30,000 shekel (6-7000 US dollar) phones, just so they could hear their sons’ voices. The source, who spent 10 years in Israeli prisons, said the black market smuggling and near extortion of prisoners families was allowed to continue because of a lack of Palestinian organization within the Ofer prison in particular. He said he felt badly for those conned into purchasing the smuggled items and hoped detainees would discourage the practice in the future. Head of the detainees’ society in Bethlehem Abdullah Az-Zaghari confirmed that he personally had heard of mobile phones being sold for as much as 40,000 shekels (9,500 US dollars).

Eviction in Haifa
Maisa Abu Ghazaleh, Palestine News Network 2/27/2009
PNN exclusive -- A large police unit forcibly evicted the Abu Shimla family from Haifa this week, a city with a large Palestinian population within the boundaries of the Israeli state. The three-story home was the scene of a physical assault on both the residents and the property alike. Windows were smashed and contents confiscated. MP in the Islamist movement on the United Arab List, Ghanayim, paid a solidarity visit to the family on Thursday knowing they were under threat. Residents of the house included 10 children. Mother Fatima described the arrival of police. "It was 8:30 in the morning on Tuesday when a major number of troops surrounded the house and told us to surrender to a judicial decision I knew nothing about. The police treated us brutally and barbarically. They hurled a barrage of insults and physical abuse, and broke walls, the bathroom, windows and doors. Nothing was spared. "

Tamir seeks okay for much-vaunted Arab college in Galilee
Ha’aretz 2/27/2009
A new college in the Galilee, sponsored by the Catholic Church and other Christian groups, is to come up for approval before the Council of Higher Education in two weeks. Education Minister Yuli Tamir is working to promote the establishment of the college, which will have Jewish, Christian and Muslim lecturers and students. In 2000, the cabinet decided to establish an Arab college in the Galilee. However, the plan was frozen two years ago by the Knesset Education Committee after MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima) said it would "become a nest for terrorists. "Several Arab institutions in the Galilee currently train teachers and engineers. According to the proposal presented to the council, Mar Elias College, a private institution that until recently was a branch of Indianapolis University, would serve as the basis for the new Galilee college.

Soldier detained for driving illegal residents
Eli Senyor, YNetNews 2/27/2009
IDF soldier found driving without a license with three illegal Palestinian residents in vehicle -An IDF soldier detained by police after he was found driving illegal Palestinian residents from Hebron was interrogated Friday and released pending further questioning. The soldier was detained by Border Guard officers near Gedera and brought in for questioning in Rehovot, where police discovered he had also been driving without a license. On Thursday police received a tip that illegal Palestinian workers were riding into Israel in a Mazda vehicle. Border Guard officers identified the vehicle near Gedera and detained it. They found the soldier and three Palestinians from Hebron inside. The Palestinians’ personal belongings and tools were found in the vehicle’s trunk. The driver was found to be an enlisted IDF soldier who was driving without a license.

Israeli children continue to be abused
Middle East Online 2/27/2009
TEL AVIV - Israel’s National Council for the Child (NCC) published a report on 8 February in which it said 309,141 children had been described by social services as being at risk of abuse. In most cases the main risk factors were to be found in the family environment. At-risk children faced threats, hunger, beatings, and lack of education and medical care. Some were taken out of their homes and placed in foster care or boarding schools but most were unable to get the help they needed and remained in abusive family settings, the report said. The families of at-risk children often have financial problems, dysfunctional parents, elderly parents or they are recent immigrants - some without a regularised status. The report said some 2,000 children were hospitalised in 2008 due to physical and/or sexual abuse in the family.

African refugees not welcome in Tel Aviv
Middle East Online 2/27/2009
TEL AVIV - Some 3,000 African asylum-seekers have to leave Tel Aviv because of an August 2008 ruling by the Israeli Ministry of the Interior. The ruling permits asylum-seekers to reside and work only in towns and cities north of Hadera and south of Gedera, about an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv, where they now live. The ruling was initially imposed only on newcomers but in recent months asylum-seekers living in Israel for longer periods have experienced the same constraints on their work permits, forcing them to leave their homes. Unemployment is rife in Israel’s south and north while in Tel Aviv asylum-seekers can find menial jobs as street-sweepers or restaurant workers and are able to support their families. Tel Aviv also has the one school in Israel that caters to the special needs of asylum-seekers’ children – the Bialik Elementary and High School in southern Tel Aviv.

Sales strategies
Gamal Essam El-Din, Al-Ahram Weekly 2/26/2009
Egypt’s government launched a spirited defence of its position over gas exports to Israel - The long-term controversy over sales of natural gas to Israel spilled over into a stormy parliamentary session on Monday as the government faced opposition accusations that it was selling gas to Israel without obtaining the prior approval of parliament, that it gave businessman Hussein Salem a monopoly over sales of Egyptian gas to Israel, that it allowed the gas to be sold at a discount and had kept supplies flowing during Israel’s attack against Gaza during December and January. Some opposition MPs also claimed that Israeli tanks were fuelled by Egyptian gas during the Gaza campaign. Minister of Petroleum Sameh Fahmi denied allegations that the government had been involved in selling any gas to Israel since 2005. "The fact is that a private joint-stock company was established under the investment

Dekel offers new proposal for Shalit exchange
Amos Harel, Ha’aretz 2/27/2009
Israel’s chief negotiator for Gilad Shalit’s release, Ofer Dekel, was in Cairo yesterday for talks with Egyptian intelligence regarding the deal with Hamas. For the first time, these talks were held while senior Hamas representatives, Mahmoud Al-Zahar and Imad Al-Alami, both involved in the Shalit issue, were also in Cairo. Dekel gave Egypt Israel’s new prisoner release proposal. Apparently it includes the agreement to release 220 "serious" prisoners on Hamas’ list of 450. In addition, Israel is offering Hamas a list of another 400 prisoners, from which the organization can choose half for release. Palestinian sources say the practical gaps between the sides are fairly small, and only a few dozen prisoners are actually in dispute. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert changed his public statements on the matter over the past few days, again saying he hoped to see Shalit released while he was still in office.

Israel asked Egypt to supervise marathon indirect prisoner-swap talk
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 2/27/2009
Israel suggested Thursday that Egypt should hold parallel marathon talks with Hamas and Israeli officials until achieving a prisoner-swap deal that would ensure the release of the captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, in exchange for releasing hundreds Palestinian detainees. The proposal came during Thursday talks between the Israeli envoy Ofer Dekel, in charge of the Shalit file, and the Egyptian Intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman. Israel suggested having Israeli and Hamas officials separately present in Egypt while Egyptian officials mediate between them until achieving a deal. Israeli newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, reported that Israel made similar proposals over the last two years but Hamas refused as the it did not want to be rushed into a decision while its representative are in Cairo. Meanwhile, Dekel handed Egypt the modified Israeli proposal regarding the list of detainee who would be freed in the framework or a prisoner-swap deal.

Palestinians agree to form unity government
Middle East Online 2/27/2009
CAIRO - Rival Palestinian groups Fatah and Hamas agreed on Thursday to work together to set up a unity government after Egyptian-sponsored reconciliation talks aimed at ending long-running factional feuding. "It is indeed a historic day," former Palestinian premier Ahmed Qorei said at a press conference announcing the creation of five joint committees, including one tasked with forming a national unity government. Qorei, a member of the Fatah faction of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, said the committees, which will also cover issues such as security, national reconciliation, elections and reform of the umbrella group the Palestine Liberation Organisation, would complete their work by the end of March. "We have started a new chapter of reconciliation and unity. " Earlier, officials from two smaller Palestinian factions said the groups involved in talks had agreed to. . .

Haniyeh asks media to help pave way for national unity; commends Gazan journalists for war coverage
Ma’an News Agency 2/27/2009
Gaza – Ma’an – Palestinian de facto Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh called for a halt to inflammatory media campaigns on the eve of the Cairo national reconciliation talks. Haniyeh’s request came as a statement read out at a celebration in Gaza City’s Rashad Ash-Shawwa Cultural Center, which was honoring those journalists and media personnel who excelled in their coverage of the Israeli war on Gaza. The statement demanded the immediate release of journalists detained by the Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces in the West Bank, and encouraged journalists to continue working in the issues of Jerusalem and the suffering of its residents, settlement and land confiscation, the right of return and freedom of thousands of Palestinian detainees in the Israeli jails. “[The Palestinian media must] help in restoring national conciliation,” Haniyeh’s letter read, “[it must help. . .

Senior Hamas official says party in strong position for upcoming unity talks
Ma’an News Agency 2/27/2009
Gaza – Ma’an – “The war on Gaza made the world respect Palestinians’ democratic choice and doubled the popularity of Hamas,” said member of Palestinian Legislative Council for the Hamas bloc Salah Al-Bardawil on Friday. Al-Bardawil spoke following a Hamas political symposium in the Gazan Al-Amal neighborhood west of Khan Younis Friday. Attendees spoke on “Gaza after the war” and generally agreed that Hamas is in a better strategic position after the war to negotiate with Fatah. Crediting the steadfastness of the Gaza factions and Hamas in particular, Al-Bardawil called the “political flirting” from the Arab world with Hamas was based on its actions during the war. The resilience of Gazans foiled what he described as an Israeli plan to “eliminate Hamas” that has been in the works for more than a year. On the current reconciliation track committees will begin work on smoothing. . .

Palestinian factions in Cairo agree to new PA unity government
Palestinian Information Center 2/27/2009
CAIRO, (PIC)-- Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Fatah, among other Palestinian factions meeting in Cairo have agreed Thursday to form an interim national unity government that would manage the Palestinian affairs till next PA election is held. Senior Hamas official and deputy-head of the Movement’s political bureau Dr. Mousa Abu Marzouk, who heads Hamas’s delegation to the inter-Palestinian dialogue in Cairo, confirmed in press conference that five preparatory committees that the factions approved would suggest and specify members of that interim government. He also disclosed that a "new and special" agreement on Rafah crossing point will be prepared, hailing the Egyptian efforts in reaching that agreement. As far as the reconstruction of Gaza Strip is concerned, Abu Marzouk explained, "mechanism of reconstruction [in the Gaza Strip] will be delineated by the proposed. . .

Palestinian factions agree to work toward forming unity government
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 2/27/2009
CAIRO: Rival Palestinian groups agreed on Thursday to work toward setting up a unity government after reconciliation talks aimed at ending long-running factional feuding. "It is indeed a historic day," former Palestinian Premier Ahmed Qorei said at a news conference announcing the creation of five main joint committees, including one tasked with forming a national unity government. Qorei, a member of the Fatah faction of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said the committees, which will also cover issues such as security, national reconciliation, elections and reform of the umbrella group the Palestine Liberation Organization, would complete their work by the end of March. "We have started a new chapter of reconciliation and unity. "Earlier, officials from two smaller Palestinian factions said the groups involved in the Cairo-sponsored talks had agreed to form a unity government by the end of March but Qorei did not confirm this deadline.

Fatah, Hamas on uphill road to reconciliation
Inter Press Service, Daily Star 2/28/2009
CAIRO: Representatives of rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas met in Cairo this week for talks aimed at national reconciliation and the formation of a unity government. "Egypt hopes this meeting is the real start of a new period ending the state of division which has gone on too long," Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s point-man on Palestinian affairs, was quoted as saying. On Wednesday, delegations from both Fatah and Hamas held preliminary meetings in Cairo aimed at removing obstacles to rapprochement. Delegation members later described the meetings as "positive. "According to the state press, the two groups agreed to release each other’s detained members, currently being held in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip and the Fatah-controlled West Bank respectively. As a gesture of goodwill, Fatah reportedly released 42 Hamas members from West Bank prisons, with promises of additional releases soon.

Palestinian factions meet to discuss unity gov’t
Ha’aretz 2/27/2009
Representatives of 13 Palestinian factions including Hamas and Fatah met in Cairo yesterday to discuss a potential national unity government. According to the heads of the Hamas and Fatah delegations, Ahmed Qureia and Mussa Abu Marzuk, the parties agreed in principle that a Palestinian unity government would serve until December and deal with presidential and parliamentary elections. It was also agreed that five joint committees would meet starting March 10 for a 10-day intensive negotiation of the issues still in dispute between Hamas and Fatah. Qureia said at a press conference that there would be further discussions on the actual composition of the national unity government. According to Abu Marzuk, Egypt continues to work to resolve the issue of Gaza border crossings into Israel and the Rafah crossing.

40 days after war, Hamas rule of Gaza gaining legitimacy
Aluf Benn Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, Ha’aretz 2/27/2009
Three rockets fell Thursday in the area around the Gaza Strip, one in the yard of a Sderot home - just a few reminders that Israel is still far from its declared goal in Operation Cast Lead. Discussion about the military operation’s outcome revolves around the term "deterrence. " If Israel can enshrine Cast Lead in a long-term agreement, the war will be remembered as a success. But fears are mounting that the operation’s military achievements are dissipating. If so, the operation will go down in history as a less-than-successful round in a long war in the Gaza Strip. The Israel Defense Forces left Gaza with the feeling that it had proven itself, after its debacle in Lebanon in 2006. But it seems that the bottom line will have to wait. In Lebanon, too, it took several months before it could be concluded that although the IDF made mistakes,. . .

Netanyahu’s advances rejected by Livni, hopes for broad-based coalition fade
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 2/28/2009
TEL AVIV: Last-ditch efforts to form a broad-based Israeli coalition failed Friday, paving the way for a rightist government and fueling concerns about prospects for peace with the Palestinians. Hawkish Premier-designate Benjamin Netanyahu said he had failed to persuade Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to bring her centrist Kadima party into the coalition he is forging. "I have done everything possible to achieve unity. . . but to my great regret, I faced categorical rejection from Ms. Livni," the leader of the right-wing Likud party said. Livni said the talks "concluded without agreement on key issues, and we cannot be part of Netanyahu’s government. " "We will be a responsible opposition," she said after the meeting in Tel Aviv, the second such talks since the February 10 polls. Livni has argued that Netanyahu, a former premier, would block any chance of a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Livni says won’t join Netanyahu-led government
Attila Somfalvi, YNetNews 2/27/2009
Kadima chairwoman ends meeting with prime minister-designate after Likud leader refuses to commit to two-state solution. ’This is a matter of principle,’ Livni says, vowing to act as ’a responsible opposition’. Likud MK Sa’ar: Livni torpedoing unity out of personal motives - "Two states (one for the Israelis and one of the Palestinians) is not an empty slogan," Livni said as she left the meeting. "Unity is not just sitting in a government together. It also means sharing a way. "The two officials met at a Tel Aviv hotel for about two hours. "I came to meet with the Likud chairman for a second time in order to hear about his vision and the way he wishes to implement. Israel is facing challenges. I told him Kadima would support any right moves by the government. "In order to deal with the challenges I wanted three fundamental things which you are aware of," she said.

Early Jitters for Netanyahu
Analysis by Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler, Inter Press Service 2/27/2009
JERUSALEM, Feb 27(IPS) - He’s yet to be installed as Israel’s prime minister, let alone starting to govern through the customary 100 days of grace, and already Benjamin Netanyahu is being allowed no respite: neither by those whom he envisages as his potential coalition partners nor by the international community, most pertinently the administration of U. S. President Barack Obama. All the more so, when the number one potential coalition partner is proving to be his number one diplomatic headache. Foreign minister Tzipi Livni says adamantly she would not join a Netanyahu-led government unless "he commits to the two-state solution" as the basis for negotiations with the Palestinians. Livni reportedly went on to tell her Kadima party that, were Israel under Netanyahu to turn its back on this principle, it "could set us on collision course with the new US administration.

Israel’s Livni rejects unity offer, forcing right-wing coalition
Ma’an News Agency 2/27/2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an/Agencies – Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu failed to persuade his more moderate rival, Tzipi Livni to join his government on Friday, paving the way for a right wing coalition. After meeting with Netanyahu, Livni said that she refused to join Netanyahu’s government over his refusal to include the two-state solution in his platform. "Two states is not an empty slogan," Livni said as she left the meeting. "Unity is not just sitting in a government together. It also means sharing a way. " Netanyahu said he offered Livni full partnership in formulating the guidelines and direction of the new government, full equality in the distribution of ministerial portfolios between Likud and Kadima and two of the three top cabinet positions. Netanyahu also said he told Livni he plans to advance the peace process with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu-Livni meeting unfruitful Staff And Gil Hoffman, Jerusalem Post 2/27/2009
Friday’s meeting between Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu and Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, billed as a last-ditch attempt to form a national unity government, ended without a breakthrough, with Livni insisting that she was heading for the opposition. Netanyahu-Livni meeting is unfruitful Livni said Netanyahu failed to make a commitment that the government’s platform would include pursuing an Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution. "I came for a second meeting with the Likud leader to hear his vision and the way he believes is correct," Livni said after the meeting in Tel Aviv. "Israel is facing challenges and I told him that Kadima would support the correct moves made by the government. " "But to deal with the challenges, I wanted three basic principles that you know of," she told reporters. "Two states for two peoples is not an empty slogan.

Netanyahu: Livni refused my offer for unity
Mazal Mualem Yair Ettinger and Nadav Shragai, Ha’aretz 2/27/2009
Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu failed to persuade his centrist rival, Kadima party leader Tzipi Livni, to join him in a broad coalition Friday, increasing the likelihood that the next government will be a narrow alliance of right-wing and hard-line religious parties opposed to substantial concessions for peace. Netanyahu on Friday said that he offered Livni full partnership in the government and two of three top ministerial posts, but that Livni had refused his offer for unity. "It is clear that unity requires compromise," said Netanyahu after his coalition talks with Livni ended without agreement on Friday. "I was prepared to go a very long way toward achieving unity. " Netanyahu said he offered Livni full partnership in formulating the fundamental guidelines and direction of the new government, full equality. . .

Top Likud members: Netanyahu can’t let Lieberman run Israel
Mazal Mualem, Ha’aretz 2/27/2009
Benjamin Netanyahu will not meet all of Avigdor Lieberman’s conditions for bringing Yisrael Beiteinu into a Likud-led government, associates of the Likud chairman said Thursday. "Netanyahu cannot let Lieberman run the country," explained one. "There’s a limit. He can’t have the Justice Ministry, the Public Security Ministry and on top of that the Foreign Ministry or the Finance Ministry. "Lieberman has demanded that Knesset members from his rightist party be given either the foreign affairs or the finance portfolio in addition to the Public Security Ministry, which oversees the police. He has also demanded that the incumbent justice minister, Kadima appointee Daniel Friedmann, remain under Netanyahu. Friedmann’s term, during which he tried but largely failed to promote far-reaching reforms of the justice system, was marked by. . .

Netanyahu to offer Livni full partnership in advancing peace process
Mazal Mualem Yair Ettinger and Nadav Shragai, Ha’aretz 2/27/2009
In a last ditch-effort to convince Tzipi Livni to enter coalition talks with Likud, Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu will offer the Kadima chief a complete and equal partnership in advancing the peace process. But neither side believes a unity government of Likud and Kadima is likely, sources in the parties say. Nonetheless, Netanyahu wants to show that he tried every option to compromise with Livni with generous, unprecedented offers, so that Livni appears at fault for any failure to create a unity government. Likud negotiators, meanwhile, continue to meet with potential ultra-Orthodox and right-wing coalition partners and have received lists of demands from several parties. "Today we will find out if Livni is a unity refusenik," a Likud source said ahead of Friday’s meeting between the two party leaders.

Israel’s Lurch to the Right Could Be Far Indeed
Analysis by Helena Cobban, Inter Press Service 2/27/2009
EAST JERUSALEM, Feb 27(IPS) - The continuing efforts by Israel’s presumptive next prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to assemble a rightwing-dominated government have sparked serious concern about the effects such a government might have on peace efforts with the Palestinians. In addition, the fact that Netanyahu has invited Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the openly anti-Arab Yisrael Beiteinu party, to join the government has sparked fears that this government might take harsh actions against the Palestinian Arabs who form over 20 percent of Israel’s citizenry. Netanyahu’s invitation to Lieberman has also raised the question of whether a government containing Lieberman should be treated any differently than governments elsewhere that might contain racists like the Austrian Joerg Haider or the French Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Netanyahu fails in bid for broad coalition
Middle East Online 2/27/2009
TEL AVIV - Last-ditch efforts to form a broad-based Israeli coalition failed on Friday, paving the way for a rightist government and fuelling concerns about prospects for peace with the Palestinians. Hardline premier-designate Benjamin Netanyahu said he had failed to persuade Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to bring her centrist Kadima party into the coalition he is forging. "I have done everything possible to achieve unity. . . but to my great regret, I faced categorical rejection from Mrs Livni," the leader of the right-wing Likud party said. For her part, Livni said the talks "concluded without agreement on key issues, and we cannot be part of Netanyahu’s government. " "We will be a responsible opposition," she told media after the meeting in Tel Aviv, the second such talks since the February 10 elections.

Politics: Bibi’s boys
Gil Hoffman, Jerusalem Post 2/26/2009
Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu sat in the Knesset seat reserved for the opposition leader at Tuesday’s swearing-in ceremony for MKs, knowing that he would soon move to the chair at the head of the government table that was still occupied by Ehud Olmert. He looked around the plenum, as the MKs were sworn in by alphabetical order. The 26 Likud MKs in back of him were fewer than he had hoped to bring. But they were not the only ones who owed their Knesset seats to him. No fewer than four former Netanyahu aides took the oath, representing three different parties. There was his former director-general at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, who was there with a dowry of 14 MKs that will make him the leader of the Likud’s largest coalition partner. At the government table sat Tourism Minister Ruhama Avraham of Kadima, Netanyahu’s former secretary.

Police slam Lieberman’s ’unrestrained tongue-lashing’
Efrat Weiss, YNetNews 2/27/2009
Commissioner Dudi Cohen angered by designated minister’s Yedioth Ahronoth interview, in which he said investigations against him reminiscent of days of Stalin -Police Commissioner Dudi Cohen on Friday slammed remarks made by Yisrael Beiteinu Chairma Avigdor Lieberman in an interview to the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, in which the designated minister spoke of the investigation being held against him. "Knesset Member Lieberman’s unrestrained tongue-lashing against the detectives of the unit investigating him is a serious and unreasonable matter," the police’s national headquarters said in a statement. In the interview, Lieberman said that "people keep telling me everything is coincidental. And of course the decision to summon the head of my election campaign, and my daughter, two weeks before the elections, was also coincidental. And the leaks were also coincidental. As my daughter was making her way to the police, this was already reported on all websites. "

Olmert probe ’probably’ over
Efrat Weiss, YNetNews 2/27/2009
After 16 visits to the Prime Minister’s Residence for investigations on political appointment, Cremieux Street apartment affairs, National Fraud Investigation Unit detectives brief attorney general, Investigations and Intelligence Unit head on findings. Law enforcement official tells Ynet no more inquiries scheduled as of yet -Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s 16th, and probably last investigation ended Friday afternoon, after three-and-a-half hours of questioning. The National Fraud Investigation Unit detectives left the Prime Minister’s Residence, to brief Investigations and Intelligence Unit head Major-General Yoav Segalovich and Attorney General Menachem Mazuz on their findings. Friday morning, as in previous weeks, the detectives arrived at Olmert’s Residence for questioning, and this time focused on theCremieux Street apartment affair, in which the PM is accused of receiving an illicit discount on the Jerusalem real estate.

Signs of a system ’in chaos’
Cnaan Liphshiz, Ha’aretz 2/27/2009
The Yossi Fackenheim case is unique in two aspects, according to U. S. -born Rabbi Seth Farber, head of ITIM, a non-profit organization that helps Israelis navigate the Chief Rabbinate bureaucracy. "We often handle cases in which the Israeli Rabbinate’s conversions tribunal fails to recognize conversions performed abroad," he explained. "This case is different and unprecedented in that the rabbinic court nullified a conversion the court itself had already approved. "The second aspect, according to Farber, is the judge’s questioning Fackenheim’s Jewishness without being asked, contrary to past practice. "This case, which began as a simple divorce, highlights the current chaos within the rabbinic court system on the issue of conversions," he concluded. Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the leader of the U. S. Jewish Reform movement, said Fackenheim’s case "has sent shock waves in the Reform community. "

Rabbinic court slammed for nixing conversion of Emil Fackenheim’s son
Cnaan Liphshiz, Ha’aretz 2/27/2009
Jerusalem’s rabbinic court erred and overstepped its authority last year when it retroactively declared that the converted, Canadian-Israeli son of prominent Jewish philosopher Emil Fackenheim was in fact a non-Jew, the court’s ombudsman ruled earlier this month. Eliezer Goldberg, the former Supreme Court justice and State Comptroller who monitors rabbinic court activity, rejected the ruling made in August 2008 by Jerusalem rabbinic judge Yissachar Dov Hagar regarding Yossi Fackenheim, the 30-year-old son of the late Holocaust survivor, esteemed theologian and Reform rabbi. Hagar - who was reviewing Yossi Fackenheim’s divorce from his former wife Iris, unexpectedly declared that he "was not and had never been Jewish," despite the man’s ultra-Orthodox conversion in Canada at the age of two. Therefore, the judge concluded, there was no need for a formal get, or divorce document.

Politics rule race to replace JA chair
Raphael Ahren, Ha’aretz 2/27/2009
Uzi Dayan and Menachem Ben-Sasson are the leading candidates for the chairmanship of the Jewish Agency for Israel, insiders revealed this week. Even before outgoing chairman Zeev Bielski was sworn in as a member of Knesset this Tuesday, many possible successors were discussed, yet people familiar with the matter suggest that Dayan, who joined Likud last year, and Kadima politician Ben-Sasson are most likely to get the nod because both are backed by their respective parties but failed to be elected to the Knesset during the recent election. Maj. -Gen. (res. ) Dayan is a former IDF deputy chief of staff and founder of the Sderot Conference for Society. Outgoing MK Ben-Sasson is a history professor at Hebrew University, where he used to serve as rector and is currently running for president. Both told Haaretz that it is too early to talk about a possible candidacy for JAFI’s top job.

On kibbutzim, ’it’s more embarrassing to vote Meretz than Yvet’
Lily Galili, Ha’aretz 2/27/2009
Contrary to common wisdom, the left has not died, it has merely been transformed: According to the 2009 election results, Roni Bar-On and Tzachi Hanegbi of Kadima and Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman now speak for a growing number of kibbutzniks and moshavniks in communities near the Gaza Strip. There is not a kibbutz or moshav in Qassamland where Lieberman’s party is not represented. Take Kibbutz Kerem Shalom. Established in 1966 at the place where Israel, Gaza and Egypt meet, its very name, "vineyard of peace," embodied the hope that peace was on the way. Forty-three years later, Kerem Shalom gave Yisrael Beiteinu more than 21 percent of its votes - twice as many as it gave Labor and 1. 5 times as many as it gave Meretz. Of course, the absolute numbers are not as dramatic: Kerem Shalom has 29 voters.

Justice minister reportedly wouldn’t be averse to staying on
Shelly Paz, Jerusalem Post 2/26/2009
As the Likud and Israel Beiteinu negotiate over who will get the Justice portfolio in the next government, a source close to Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann said on Thursday he would not reject an offer to stay on in the position. While Israel Beiteinu is intent on keeping Friedmann at the Justice Ministry under the next government, Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich attacked the idea on Thursday, saying Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman might be facing criminal indictment. She also criticized Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu for considering letting Israel Beiteinu decide who runs the ministry. "A black flag flies over Netanyahu’s decision to hand the judicial system to Lieberman. Lieberman, who is suspected of criminal actions, is to be the one to decide who heads this office and is in charge of his political and criminal future. Bibi is returning to the dark days when he himself fought against the rule of law," Yacimovich said.

U.K. diplomat suspended for alleged anti-Semitic rant
Ha’aretz 2/27/2009
A British official says a U. K. diplomat has been suspended following his arrest for an alleged anti-Semitic rant in a London gym. Foreign Office Minister Gillian Merron told members of Parliament on Friday that Rowan Laxton, 47, had been suspended from his job at the Foreign Office and will face disciplinary proceedings. He was arrested last month on suspicion of threatening to stir up religious hatred, but has not been charged. He allegedly used foul language and criticized Israel’s conduct during the conflict in Gaza and allegedly made an offensive comment about Judaism. Merron says the police investigation continues. Witnesses had told the British newspaper The Daily Mail that they heard Laxton shouting "f**king Israelis, f**king Jews," while watching a TV report of Israel Defense Forces operations in Gaza from the seat of an exercise bike. -- See also: Report: UK diplomat cursed Israel, Jews

Norway’s foreign minister visits Gaza
Middle East Online 2/27/2009
OSLO - Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere travelled to Gaza on Friday to assess damage from Israel’s deadly offensive on the enclave ahead of a donor conference, his office said. Norway will co-chair with Egypt Monday’s international conference in Sharm El-Sheikh aimed at rebuilding the Gaza Strip. Stoere is also to travel to Israel to meet with government officials as well as to the West Bank ahead of the conference. A meeting with Israel’s presumptive prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu could also occur, said ministry spokesman Haakon Svane. While in Gaza, the minister was to visit a Palestinian neighbourhood bombed during the December and January offensive, a damaged industrial zone, a hospital and a local UN office, according to his office. "We have had no further meetings at the political level with Hamas since June 2007," he said.

Eurovision show of unity causes waves in Israel
Ben Lynfield in Jerusalem, The Independent 2/27/2009
She will be the first Arab to represent Israel in the Eurovision Song Contest when she performs a duet in Arabic, Hebrew and English with the Israeli Jewish singer Achinoam Nini in Moscow in May. But Mira Awad’s decision to go ahead with the performance after being selected by the Israel Broadcasting Authority at the height of the Gaza war last month has put her in the line of fire from her fellow Palestinian artists. She is accused of distorting the grim reality of the troubled relationship between Jews and Arabs by promoting a vision of co-existence at a time when relations have been soured by the war and the recent electoral success of the far-right anti-Arab politician Avigdor Lieberman. Those new tensions are layered on to discrimination and mistrust as old as the state as Israel itself. Ms Awad says she understands the strong feelings among fellow Arabs, who make up one fifth of Israel’s population.

Canadian university workers saluted for boycott support
Press release, PACBI, Electronic Intifada 2/26/2009
The following press release was issued on 25 February 2009: The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) applauds Canadian Union of Public Employees-Ontario’s University Workers Coordinating Committee (OUWCC) for its principled support for the cause of justice in Palestine by adopting, at its annual conference on 22 February 2009, significant steps in the direction of applying effective pressure on Israel and holding it accountable for its colonial and apartheid policies which violate international law and fundamental human rights. In particular, PACBI applauds the OUWCC for passing a number of resolutions aimed specifically at challenging and ending business-as-usual with the Israeli academy. The conference has decided to "[e]ncourage its member locals to hold public forums to discuss an academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions;" to "[a]sk

Catalonian singer urged to cancel Israel tour
Open letter, PACBI, Electronic Intifada 2/27/2009
The following is an open letter to Catalonian singer Joan Manuel Serrat sent on 26 February 2009 by the The Palestinian community of artists and intellectuals was shocked by the news of your plans to organize a musical tour of Israel in May, despite its continued grave oppression of the Palestinian people and only a few months after its heinous war crimes and crimes against humanity in Gaza. The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) is writing to urge you to cancel this tour. A brave defender of freedom throughout your life, you were exiled from your own country for courageously speaking out against the repression of Franco’s regime; but by touring Israel, a colonial and apartheid state, you will be participating in legitimating and supporting a system of colonial subjugation. Your invitation to Israel comes right after its bloody military assault

Ann Arbor Palestine Film Festival debuts early March
Announcement, Ann Arbor Palestine Film Festival, Electronic Intifada 2/26/2009
On 11 March 2009 at 8 pm, the Ann Arbor Palestine Film Festival will make its debut at the world-renowned Michigan Theatre in Ann Arbor, Michigan. As one of the few Palestine film festivals to take place in the Midwest of the United States, the Ann Arbor Palestine Film Festival will surely bring attention to the growing number of films made about and by Palestinians. The Ann Arbor Palestine Film Festival brings you an array of comedy, drama, fiction, non-fiction, features, shorts, and experimental films, which all showcase the diversity and strength of Palestinian cinema. These films represent the true nature of Palestinians and the Palestinian narrative, in stark contrast to the bias and stereotypes that mainstream news and media present. The breadth of the stories and the emotions expressed in these films know no bounds.

Syrian ambassador to Washington meets with Feltman in another sign of thaw in ties
Agence France Presse - AFP and The Daily Star, Daily Star 2/27/2009
WASHINGTON: Syria’s ambassador to the US met Thursday with a senior US diplomat in the highest level contact between the two states since President Barack Obama took office, the State Department said. Ambassador Imad Mustafa and Jeffrey Feltman, the acting assistant secretary of state for the Mideast, were to discuss US concerns over alleged Syrian links to terrorism and other issues, the department said in a statement. "There remain key differences between our two governments, including our concerns about Syria’s support to terrorist groups and networks, Syria’s acquisition of nuclear and non-conventional weaponry, interference in Lebanon and worsening human-rights situation," the statement added. "This meeting is an opportunity to use dialogue to discuss these concerns. "Earlier Wednesday, Mustafa told Syria’s official Ath-Thawra newspaper that he had been invited by the State Department to the talks with Feltman.

Syria upbeat after first senior US talks
Middle East Online 2/27/2009
WASHINGTON - Syria sounded upbeat Thursday after holding its first high-level talks with the United States since President Barack Obama took office, saying the "very constructive meeting" will pave the way for more. Ambassador Imad Mustafa told reporters that he discussed "the way forward" between the two countries at his meeting Thursday in Washington with Jeffrey Feltman, the acting assistant secretary of state for the Middle East. US-Syrian ties were especially tense during president George W. Bush’s administration. "I think that was a very constructive meeting based on the desire of the United States of America to engage with the rest of the world, based on what President Obama has coined as a ’dialog with respect’," Mustafa said. "We believe that this meeting has explored possibilities that we see with the US to engage seriously on a diplomatic and political level,. . .

US and Syrian envoys hold talks
Al Jazeera 2/27/2009
US and Syrian diplomats have held talks in Washington in a bid to improve the strained ties between the two nations. Imad Moustapha, Syria’s ambassador to the US, met Jeffrey Feltman, the US state department’s top diplomat for the Middle East, in the first high-level discussions between the two countries since Barack Obama became US president in January. Moustapha said the talks were "very constructive" and expected many more between US and Syrian officials. However, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said it was too early to say whether relations would improve. "It is too soon to say what the future holds," she said. Ahmed Salkini, a spokesman for the Syrian embassy in Washington, told Al Jazeera Syria had raised concerns over US support for Israel.

Hope springs eternal
Bassel Oudat, Al-Ahram Weekly 2/26/2009
Syrian officials were thrilled to hear that a US ambassador to Damascus will be coming. But Washington is not really rushing it, says Syrian officials believe that Obama’s administration will lift the sanctions on Syria soon, and may even rescind the Syria Accountability Act. The government-run media claims that Obama will name Frederic Hof from the Middle East Policy Council as his future ambassador to Damascus. But Hof says this was only a "rumour". Washington hasn’t had an ambassador in Damascus since 2005, when it recalled Ambassador Margaret Scobey to signal its suspicion that Syria had a hand in the assassination of Lebanese prime minister Rafik Al-Hariri. Since then, US officials promised to isolate Damascus unless the latter stops backing Hizbullah and hardline Palestinian factions, pulls out of Lebanon, and quits making things hard for the Americans in Iraq.

Riyadh wants ’healthy’ new ties with Syria
Middle East Online 2/27/2009
PARIS- Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal said Thursday in Paris he wanted to build "healthy" new ties with Syria, two days after his Damascus counterpart paid a landmark visit to Riyadh. "There will be other visits between Syria and Saudi Arabia," Prince Saud told reporters following talks with his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner. "We hope for a reconciliation between Syria and Saudi Arabia on healthy foundations," he said. "Divergences on Arab issues are behind us, buried," said the Saudi minister, who described Tuesday’s visit by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem "very positive. " The Syrian minister delivered a message from President Bashar al-Assad to Saudi King Abdullah, in what diplomats said was a response to a Saudi offer of improved relations. Ties between Damascus and Riyadh nosedived after the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese premier. . .

Regional entente could impact Tribunal’s verdict
Daily Star 2/28/2009
Analysis - BEIRUT: Holland’s The Hague will witness the launch of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon on Sunday, but the ultimate impact of the tribunal depends mostly on the outcome of the growing entente between Syria and the US and US allies in the Middle East, a number of analysts told The Daily Star on Friday. Syria endured years of international isolation after many here and abroad blamed it for the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, but Damascus has since last summer been much in demand among its Arab brethren, France and the United States. Jeffrey Feltman, acting US assistant secretary of state for the Middle East, met with Syria’s Ambassador to the US Imad Mustafa on Thursday, while Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem visited Saudi Arabia on Tuesday. Rumors have long swirled that the tribunal would function as a bargaining chip in. . .

Hariri probe team ’committed’ to uncovering truth
Daily Star 2/28/2009
BEIRUT: As the United Nations Independent Investigation Commission (IIIC) probing the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri wrapped up Friday, chief investigator Daniel Bellemare said the body remained committed to uncovering the truth behind Hariri’s death. "I want to reassure everybody that my team and I will do everything that is humanly and legally possible to ensure that the truth emerges and that those responsible for the crimes that fall within our jurisdiction are eventually brought to justice," the Canadian jurist said in an open letter addressed to the Lebanese people. Bellemare left for The Hague Friday, where he will assume the role of Prosecutor for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), tasked with trying suspects of Hariri’s killing. The billionaire and five-time premier was killed with 22 others in a massive car bomb as his convoy passed through Beirut’s Ain al-Mreisseh seafront on February 14, 2005.

British author: Rabin asked Jordan to arrange secret visit with Saddam
Amir Oren, Ha’aretz 2/27/2009
In early summer 1995, a few months before his assassination, prime minister Yitzhak Rabin asked Jordan’s King Hussein to approach Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein on his behalf and arrange a joint visit by Rabin and Hussein to Baghdad, according to Nigel Ashton, author of "King Hussein: A political Life" (Yale University Press). Ashton, a senior lecturer at the London School of Economics who is close to the Hashemite royal family, was given rare access to Hussein’s private archives. In his Hussein biography, Ashton writes that when handed a secret letter by a Jordanian official, "Saddam did not rule out direct contacts with Rabin," but was reluctant "to work through lower-level intermediaries. "No further moves on the Israel-Iraq initiative were recorded before Rabin’s murder that November.

J’lem considering grand Libeskind-designed complex
Nir Hasson, Ha’aretz 2/27/2009
While the recently-completed Chords Bridge is continuing to divide public opinion in the capital, the Jerusalem municipality is considering yet another grand project - this time a tall complex designed by world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind. The project proposes to set up a 24-story building and another structure on what used to be the Eden Cinema complex, which closed down in the 1990s and has since become a parking lot. The taller building would house offices and a second structure would house commercial areas, hotels and residential apartments. According to architect Galia Galili, Libeskind and Zis Roni Architects - an Israeli firm - plan to incorporate into the complex a ground floor with plazas and a residential tower block. Libeskind, an American Jew of Polish descent, was selected by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to oversee the rebuilding of the World Trade Center, which was destroyed in the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Netanyahu promises Eini cooperation
Haim Bior, Ha’aretz 2/27/2009
Even before he has formed a government and taken power, Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu has started meeting with the major players in Israel’s economy. Yesterday he met with Histadrut labor federation chairman Ofer Eini, and on Monday or Tuesday he will meet with the president of the Manufacturers Association, Shraga Brosh. Through these meetings, Netanyahu is hoping to gain support from Eini and Brosh for his plans to rescue Israel’s economy from financial crisis and recession. He also wants to guarantee in advance that his plans will be implemented without strikes or sanctions. Eini and Netanyahu met privately at the Dan hotel in Tel Aviv, at Netanyahu’s request. At the meeting, Netanyahu did not comment on ideas coming out of the Finance Ministry regarding wage freezes in the public sector and reductions in the number of public-sector employees.

IATA issues ranking warning to Israel
Roi Mandel, YNetNews 2/26/2009
International Air Transport Association warns it may follow US Federal Aviation Administration, downgrade Israel’s aviation safety ranking. Should decision materialize, EU airport may refuse Israeli planes’ landing - The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has informed Israeli airlines that they must upgrade their safety and security measure, or risk being turned away from European Union airports. . The Transportation Ministry said that the announcement was not an official one, but rather a memorandum sent to El-Al, Arkia and Israir, as well as to the Israel Airport Authority. The IATA, added the ministry, did not threaten to barIsraeli airlines in any way, but rather simply asked them to put a new emphasis on safety, following Israel’s recent FAA aviation downgrade. The US Federal Aviation Administration downgraded Israel’s aviation safety. . .

A reality check on Iran and the ’bomb’
Richard M Bennett, Asia Times 2/28/2009
There now appears to be a growing consensus of expert opinion that Iran is but a few short months away from being capable of producing its first crude nuclear weapon. Some may choose to see this event as "crossing the red line" and even as a trigger for military action as the threat of a nuclear capable Iran may well simply not be tolerated in some quarters. However, before such an argument can be easily accepted, it would be wise to consider just what actually constitutes a threat. So is Iran now or likely to be anytime soon a genuine "clear and present danger" to either Israel or the West? To many within the Intelligence community, only a genuine capability and a clear intent equates to an actual threat Failing to learn the lesson of Iraq Failure to stick to this essential truth sadly provided the backdrop to the gross mistake made over Iraq and Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program.

Ahmadinejad: Iran looks to boost Iraq ties
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 2/28/2009
TEHRAN: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Friday that Iran is keen to bolster ties with its former foe Iraq in several sectors, including military and energy, the ILNA news agency reported. Ahmadinejad expressed Tehran’s desire during his meeting with visiting Iraqi counterpart Jalal Talabani, ILNA said. "Politics, military, security, energy and commerce are some of the areas in which the Islamic republic can expand its ties with Iraq," Ahmadinejad told Talabani who is on his second visit to Tehran since June 2007. Talabani, a Kurd, arrived in Iran on Thursday on his way home from a trip to South Korea. He is accompanied by a high-level delegation from the ministries of foreign affairs, trade and electricity. The visit is the latest in a series of diplomatic moves between the Shiite-majority countries who fought a war between 1980 and 1988 in which around one million people died.

The Coming United States- Iran Dialogue
Patrick Seale, Middle East Online 2/27/2009
A Washington consensus is emerging about the necessity of talking to Iran -- sooner rather than later. President Barack Obama has spoken of reaching out to the Islamic Republic, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has responded by expressing a readiness to talk. He has even written a letter to Obama congratulating him on his election. This must surely be taken as a signal of a coming thaw. Both sides recognise that, after 30 years of stubborn mutual hostility, the time for dialogue has arrived. It may still be premature to expect an early restoration of diplomatic relations, but the opening of a US-staffed interests section in Tehran seems a likely prospect. A relevant question is whether the United States should seek immediate talks or wait until after Iran’s 12 June elections. Some in America would prefer to wait until the outcome is known, perhaps in the hope that a more moderate. . .

U.S. says it seeks to end Iran’s nuclear ambitions
Ha’aretz 2/27/2009
The United States ambassador to the United Nations said Thursday that U. S. President Barack Obama’s administration will seek to end Iran’s nuclear ambition and its support for terrorism - comments that drew an immediate rebuke from Iran’s UN envoy. Ambassador Mohammad Khazee said Iran has never and will never try to acquire nuclear weapons and dismissed U. S. Ambassador Susan Rice’s allegation that Iran engages in terrorism as baseless and absurd. Rice brought up Iran at an open meeting of the UN Security Council on Iraq, saying the long-term U. S. commitment to Iraq and the reduction of the U. S. military presence in the country had to be understood in a larger, regional context that included Afghanistan, the Middle East and Iran. "The United States will seek an end to Iran’s ambition to acquire an illicit nuclear capacity and its support for terrorism," Rice said.

Poll: Muslims reject US military bases
Jim Lobe, Electronic Intifada 2/26/2009
WASHINGTON (IPS) - Strong majorities of people in predominantly Muslim countries reject terrorism but support key goals of al-Qaeda, notably expelling United States military forces from the Islamic world, according to a major new study of public opinion in seven nations and the Palestinian territories released here Wednesday. Nearly 90 percent of Egyptian respondents, 65 percent of Indonesians, 62 percent of Pakistanis, and 72 percent of Moroccans said they agreed with al-Qaeda’s goal of "push(ing) the US to remove its bases and its military forces from all Islamic countries," according to a detailed survey carried out late last summer by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA). Majorities or pluralities of respondents in five of the eight countries -- the Occupied Palestinian Territories (90 percent), Egypt (83 percent), Jordan (72 percent) and


Soldiers kneecap 17 year old Khoza’a girl
Sharon Lock, Tales to Tell, ISM 2/27/2009
      We went to see 17 year old Wafa Al Najar, who was shot yesterday, in Naser Hospital today in Khan Younis. In Palestinian tradition, both her family and neighbours were keeping her company. But they were able to do little for her, and while they all at once told us the story of her shooting and of Khoza’a, their village (where Israel has been accused of war crimes in the recent attacks) Wafa sobbed intermittently in pain.
     During the recent Israeli attacks on Gaza, somewhere between Dec 27-30, Wafa’s 20 year old brother, Jihad Ahmad Al Najar, died in a Cairo hospital, evacuated there after he was shot in the head. Then, like thousands near the border, her family’s Khuza’a home was one of 163 local homes destroyed by the Israeli army. (The army also bulldozed 1500 denems of farmland there.) Yesterday at about 4pm, for the first time, Wafa (already with her arm bandaged after a fall on the school stairs) her mother Amal (Hope), and her brother Shahdi, ventured out to see their home’s remains.
     Wafa was 70 metres from her home, and and 800 metres from the border fence. Her mother and brother were 300 metres away from her. There were 3 shots, a neighbour who was 900 metres away says they were fired from two army jeeps and he saw a soldier shooting from the top of one. The first two bullets hit the ground beside Wafa. The third destroyed her kneecap, and she collapsed to the ground. Amal immediately thought she was dead. Shahdi tore off his white shirt to wave at the soldiers and began to move towards his sister. -- See also: Tales to Tell - From Gaza 2009

Sniping at the elderly in Khoza’a

Eva Bartlett In Gaza, ISM 2/27/2009
      For 2 months, Walid Abu Arjela and his family haven’t dared to return to their land in Am Almad of Khoza’a village, east of Khan Younis, in the lethal Israeli-imposed “buffer zone”. The land in question, 550 m from the Green Line border, used to be productive agricultural land, as with most of the land now confiscated by the Israeli military occupation of Gaza and the imposition of a “no-go zone” on the Palestinian side of the Green Line. And as with the fertile land of the “buffer zone” from south to north, the land was heavily worked and produced vegetables, grains and fruits for much of the Gaza Strip’s residents and even, before the siege, for export.
     On Tuesday, 24 February, Abu Arjela and family hoped to harvest peas and pick the scrubby weeds that donkeys can eat, regular animal feed being on the list of items no longer available in Gaza as a result of the comprehensive, debilitating Israeli, Egyptian and international siege on Gaza.
     In other areas of the region east of Khan Younis, farmers tend to employ local youths to work the land, but whereas the Am Almad farmers are a couple hundred metres closer to the border fence from which Israeli soldier shooting comes, they are no longer confident that they can safely practice daily productive farming. The farmers that do dare to return to their land tend to be elderly, small groups of family members.
     Such was the case with the Abu Arjelas. -- See also: VIDEO - Sniping at the elderly in Khoza’a

Jaffa: from eminence to ethnic cleansing

Sami Abu Shehadeh & Fadi Shbaytah, Electronic Intifada 2/27/2009
      Jaffa was the largest city in historic Palestine during the years of the British mandate, with a population of more than 80,000 Palestinians in addition to the 40,000 persons living in the towns and villages in its immediate vicinity. In the period between the UN Partition resolution (UNGA 181) of 29 November 1947, and the declaration of the establishment of the State of Israel, Zionist military forces displaced 95 percent of Jaffa’s indigenous Arab Palestinian population. Jaffa’s refugees accounted for 15 percent of Palestinian refugees in that fateful year, and today they are dispersed across the globe, still banned from returning by the state responsible for their displacement.
     Jaffa was the epicenter of the Palestinian economy before the 1948 Nakba. Beginning in the early 19th century, the people of Jaffa had cultivated citrus groves, particularly oranges, on their land. International demand for Jaffa oranges propelled the city onto the world stage, earning the city an important place in the global economy. By the 1930s, Jaffa was exporting tens of millions of citrus crates to the rest of the world, which provided thousands of jobs for the people of the city and its environs, and linking them to the major commercial centers of the Mediterranean coast and the European continent.

Upgrade Palestinian rights

Seth Freedman, The Guardian 2/27/2009
      As it freezes an upgrade of relations with Israel, the EU should now demand respect for human rights, especially for children.
     The disproportionate and indiscriminate actions by Israeli forces during Operation Cast Lead rightly earned Israel’s leaders international opprobrium, and in some cases the verbal outrage was backed by concrete sanctions. Having last year declared an upgrading of relations with Israel, the EU decided last month to put the process on hold in the wake of the carnage in Gaza.
     The freeze was cautiously welcomed by many NGOs working to promote human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, which applauded the EU’s decision but questioned the motivation. According to Gerard Horton, a lawyer for Defence for Children International (DCI), the worry is that the suspension is merely a political ploy, "and that once the dust settles [and Cast Lead is out of the headlines], the process of upgrading will restart once more".

Time for sanctions

Ezzedine Choukri Fishere, Al-Ahram Weekly 2/26/2009
      Effective, targeted sanctions against the symbols of Israeli occupation could break the deadlock of the stalled Arab-Israeli peace process.
     In July 2006, after a meeting of Arab foreign ministers, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa declared the Middle East peace process dead. Some found his statement premature and argued that the peace process was only "frozen". A few months later, in fact on Christmas Eve, the US administration intervened in order to resuscitate the ailing process, moving it to what would become the "Annapolis intensive care unit". The peace process was kept there on life support until the end of 2008, and then left to die quietly as the key actors exited the stage. Now that Israel has brought back the master of ceremonies, it is time to bury the dead.
     As we gather in front of the deceased and try to think of something serious to say (which is understandably difficult for many of us given that this is not the first funeral of that morbid process), it is important to come to grips with the basic facts about its ailing life and ultimate death. The diseases of the Middle East peace process were complex and many, but the virus at the core of it all is one: it is more profitable in Israeli politics to oppose withdrawal from the West Bank and the Golan Heights. Advocating such withdrawals, which is the condition sine qua non of peace, would erode any politician’s chances of getting elected. In extreme cases it could cost him his life. Rabin is testimony to that.

Roots of hatred in Zionist ideology

Salim Nazzal, Al-Ahram Weekly 2/26/2009
      The recent triumph of extreme right-wing elements in the Israeli elections is not an accident, but is the logical outcome of a century of hatred in Zionist ideology, argues Peres (right) and Netanyahu talk about the next Israeli governmentIn 1939 Europe turned a blind eye to the rise of Nazism. The British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, believed that a policy of appeasement would work with Hitler. It did not. Hitler attacked Poland, giving the world a costly lesson -- a policy of appeasement does not work with fascism. The outcome is well known: Europe was ruined, and around 50 million people lost their lives. Yet, thanks to the Norwegian "home front" resistance, Hitler was deprived of the material needed to manufacture the nuclear bomb. Had he acquired enough material to do so, the history of humanity might have been dramatically different to what we know today.
     The fact that Hitler was democratically elected by the German people did not legitimate his policy of mass murder; in the same way the Israeli election of fascists and war criminals should not legitimate the Zionists’ policy of mass murder. However, if Hitler is the starkest example of a fascist politician brought to power by a democratic electoral system, the recent Israeli election is another more recent example of an election that brought another known fascist, Avigdor Lieberman, widely viewed as the Israeli duplicate of contemporary European fascists like Jörg Haider or Jean Marie Le Pen, to power.

Mubarak, Obama and Bibi

Dina Ezzat, Al-Ahram Weekly 2/26/2009
      A Netanyahu-led government in Israel and Obama in Washington: what are the prospects for Cairo?
     It has been almost 30 years since late president Anwar El-Sadat, late Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin and former US president Jimmy Carter signed the first ever Arab-Israeli peace deal initiating what was supposed to be normal relations between Cairo and Tel Aviv. This month, however, there are very few signs that the agreement has fulfilled its promise. After "three decades of cold peace", Egypt and Israel are again having communication and cooperation problems.
     Indeed, tensions between Cairo and Tel Aviv, renewed in the last week, are mounting. Egypt’s frustration with Israel’s last minute demand to condition the conclusion of a truce with Hamas on the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is evident, compounded by statements attributed to Israeli envoy Amos Gilad whereby he suggested the Egypt was party to the harsh sanctions imposed on Gaza.
     Cairo’s anger only deepened when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided to suspend Gilad to pursue secret negotiations for the release of Shalit in Paris with Qatar. As a result, Egypt has pulled back a trade delegation that was attending periodical consultations in Tel Aviv. According to sources, Egypt also notified Israel that it would suspend for a while all mediation efforts regarding both the truce and the fate of Shalit.

Rights org: Palestinians in Israel suffer health rights discrimination

Report, Arab Association for Human Rights, Electronic Intifada 2/26/2009
      Since 2003, the Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA) has periodically published reports examining different aspects of the discrimination faced by Palestinian citizens of the State of Israel. In 2009, HRA has decided to focus on the right to health -- an important factor that influences other human rights and shapes human dignity.
     Economic and social rights form an important component of universal human rights. These rights, including the right to health, have not been well received by many governments with a capitalist orientation, which tend to see these issues as a manifestation of human needs rather than human rights. This reflects a tendency to avoid granting these rights an obligatory character and to free the state from the need to invest the resources required for their realization.
     The right to health is enshrined in numerous international conventions and declarations. The first reference comes in Article 25(1) of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control."

Reconciliation for lack of another option

Saleh Al-Naami, Al-Ahram Weekly 2/26/2009
      Israel’s right-wing government will accelerate the process of uniting Palestinian factions.
     A Palestinian girl waiting to cross into Egypt at the Rafah border which Egyptian authorities opened for three daysHamas leader Ghazi Al-Hamed and Fatah Central Committee member Ahmed Qurei were on the phone all through this week discussing how Hamas could accept the Egyptian invitation to dialogue. The major obstacle that was blocking Hamas’s acceptance of the invitation was the presence of Hamas political detainees in Palestinian Authority (PA) prisons in the West Bank. After each of them consulted with their faction’s leadership, an agreement was reached for the PA to release scores of Hamas detainees from prison before the dialogue resumes. Yet Hamas says that the PA is currently detaining 700 of its members in the West Bank, including leading figures.
     Despite the issue of Fatah holding Hamas activists as prisoners, high level representatives of both movements arrived in Cairo on Tuesday evening and started immediately preparing for a comprehensive inter-Palestinian diaolgue that started on Wednesday. The dialogue involves all the Palestinian factions, organisations and other powers, Egypt’s official MENA news agency reported. Preparatory meetings were presided over by Qurei and Hamas exiled politburo deputy chief Moussa Abou Marzouk.

The Battle of terms behind the conflict

R.L in Ramallah, Palestine Monitor 2/26/2009
      Many times, when people are discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they use terms such as "˜holocaust’, "˜genocide’, "˜apartheid’ and "˜ethnic cleansing’.Although these are descriptive in some ways of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they are "˜used’ terms"”they are connected to a different situation in a separate time and historical context in most people’s minds"”and their recycling ends up creating confusion and controversy more than anything else.
     Let’s start with why using the term Holocaust to describe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is problematic and ultimately inaccurate. In the Holocaust, 6 million European Jews were killed in a perverse effort to completely destroy a specific ethnic and religious group by a planned and deliberate program of extermination.
     Now, any rational person who support the Palestinian cause should agree that although Israel displays a distinct lack of respect for Palestinian lives—made all the more clear by their latest offensive on Gaza—they are still not actively trying to bring about the ‘ultimate destruction of Palestinians as an ethnic and religious group’. Israel may be trying to make life so horrible for Palestinians that they all leave Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, but Palestinians are not being shipped en masse to death camps.

The Return of Netanyahu and the Prospect for Lasting Peace

Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi MP, Palestine Monitor 2/26/2009
      The recent election of Former Prime Minister Benyamin "Bibi" Netanyahu of the extreme right wing Likud party does not bode well for the prospects for a comprehensive and lasting peace between Israel and Palestine. In fact, it is my belief that the Israeli leadership will be only too willing to continue consolidating the status quo occupation and repression of our people.
     Development versus Peace
     Throughout his campaign, the cornerstone of Netanyahu’s policy toward the "Palestinian Question" suggests that he is planning to continue deepening the conflict rather than solving it. He has stated repeatedly that he does not want to get tangled up in "final status issues" and instead, intensify the Apartheid regime under the name of "˜economic development’ of the Palestinian Territories.
     In other words, he wants to better accommodate life under occupation, not lift the occupation itself, in the hopes of pacifying Palestinian our desire for freedom and our demand for the recognition of our most basic Human Rights.
     This has been tried many times in the past, and was the case then, such a policy will result in failure. A process with no prospects for peace, as was Annapolis under Olmert, will not much different to Palestinians than no process and no prospects for peace under Netanyahu.

Commentary: Will history repeat?

Ramzy Baroud, Al-Ahram Weekly 2/26/2009
      When it comes to Israeli-US strategies of dealing with Palestinians and their resistance movements, carrots are also sticks.
     In the aftermath, Hamas can confidently claim that its once indisputably "radical" position is no longer viewed as "extreme". Indeed, "Hamas" is no longer a menacing word, even amongst the Western public, and tireless Israeli attempts to correlate Hamas and Islamic jihadist agendas no longer suffice.
     The Israeli war on Gaza has indeed proven that Hamas could not be obliterated by bombs or decimated by missiles. This is the same conclusion that the US and other countries reached with regards to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in the mid-1970s. Of course, that realisation didn’t prevent Israel from trying on many occasions to destroy the PLO, in Jordan (throughout the late 1960s), getting involved in the Lebanese civil war (1976), then occupying South Lebanon (1978), and then the entire country (1982). Even upon the departure of PLO factions from Lebanon, Israel followed its leadership to Tunisia and other countries, assassinating the least accommodating members, thus setting the stage for political "dialogue" with the more "acceptable peace partners".

Netanyahu’s dilemma

Khaled Amayreh, Al-Ahram Weekly 2/26/2009
      With Kadima refusing publicly to join Likud, time is running out for Netanyahu to form a government.
     Netanyahu and Barak after the former failed to persuade top rivals, including Livni, to join his cabinet Tasked with forming the next Israeli government, Likud leader Benyamin Netanyahu has been trying in vain to convince Kadima leader Tzipi Livni to join him in a coalition government that would be acceptable to the international community, particularly the new US administration.
     This week, Netanyahu met with both Livni and Labour Party leader Ehud Barak. However, the meetings ended fruitlessly as both refused to join a Likud-led government, citing "diametrically opposed agendas" and opposition to a partnership with the Likud by their respective constituencies.
     Prior to her meeting with Netanyahu on Sunday, 21 February, Livni told reporters that joining a Likud government would be a "breach of Kadima voters’ trust". "These days are a test for Kadima. People are looking at us. We presented our stance. We spoke during the campaign about content and ideology, about the differences between hope and despair and between ’two states for two peoples’ and no path at all."

Did Abraham Lincoln support the creation of a Jewish state?

Tom Segev, Ha’aretz 2/27/2009
      America has had 11 presidents in the period from the founding of the State of Israel up to Barack Obama’s election: Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr. Clinton and Bush Jr. But in his speech in honor of the swearing-in of the new Knesset, President Shimon Peres determined that Israel owes thanks to only seven. It is unlikely that he wanted to insult the other four. He probably just made a mistake. Perhaps he consulted with the historian Benjamin Netanyahu.
     In his speech, Peres also said that president Abraham Lincoln once promised his Jewish "doctor," Isachar Zacharie, to support the establishment of a Jewish state. Peres did not invent Zacharie, but - how shall we put this gently - there are several versions of this story. It seems that one of Lincoln’s acquaintances did indeed tell him about an idea to establish a state for the Jews in the Land of Israel, and Lincoln replied that the option was worthy of consideration. He added incidentally that he had respect for the Jews, since his podiatrist was Jewish. [Mr. Segev does not mention Linclon’s plan to ’transfer’ African-Americans to Central America - Ed.]

The eighth species

Dror Etkes and Alon Cohen-Lifshitz, Ha’aretz 2/27/2009
      A few weeks ago, Efrat settlers woke up to discover that their town was in the headlines. The process of declaring "state land" 1300 dunams (330 acres) on what is called "Givat Eitam" (Eitam Hill), northeast of Efrat, had been successfully concluded by the Civil Administration, Israel’s governing body in the West Bank. Efrat’s municipal engineer, Moshe Ben-Elisha, was quoted in Efrat’s local newspaper, the Efraton, as saying, "Now what’s important is to keep the area clean of intrusions and cultivation by Arabs for a while."
     The reclassification of the territory as state land means that the Civil Administration now possesses full authority to allocate it as it sees fit. Its intention is to add some 2,500 apartments and houses to Efrat’s real estate. It’s a worrisome development. Beyond our usual concern over settlement expansion, the Givat Eitam scheme incorporates two important truths: First, by allowing Efrat to build a new neighborhood some two kilometers away from the closest part of the existing town, Israel sheds some light on its cynical use of the state land imprimatur as a tool for supporting settlement expansion. Second, the fact that the planned neighborhood will in effect be an entirely new settlement is a development with serious consequences for the 140,000 Palestinian residents of the Bethlehem district.<