Archive for August, 2009

Israel: “statements are not part of any diplomatic negotiations”

Posted in Israel on August 29, 2009 by The 800 Pound Gorilla

Al-Ahram Weekly
27 August 2009

The US is insisting on restarting talks between the Palestinians and Israel, but to what end, asks Khaled Amayreh in occupied Jerusalem

Having utterly failed to get Israel to freeze Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank, especially in East Jerusalem, the Obama administration is now asking Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) to resume peace talks as soon as possible.

The US State Department said this week it was getting closer to winning the agreements of both Israel and the PA to resume talks. Spokesperson Ian Kelly told reporters that the “process of laying the groundwork for Israeli Palestinian-peace talks is moving closer to fruition“.

However, Kelly failed to corroborate his optimism with tangible facts.

It is not clear why the US is insisting on jump- starting the stalled talks at this time. However, diplomats and observers opine that the Obama administration has effectively lost the showdown with the Netanyahu government over the settlement issue and is now hoping that the highly contentious issue can be “treated more satisfactorily” in bilateral talks between the two conflicting sides.

This assumption, however, is being viewed coolly by Palestinian leaders and the Arab world at large as a definitive retreat from the original US position that Israel must first freeze settlement construction as part of its obligations under the “roadmap” plan. PA official Saeb Erekat, while welcoming Washington’s strong involvement in the peace efforts, has advised the Obama administration to refrain from making the same mistakes as the Bush administration. He argued that the real problem facing the peace process was not the resumption of negotiations but rather getting Israel to recognise the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and end, once and for all, the decades-old Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

Netanyahu has been calling for an “unconditional” resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians. Netanyahu believes the appearance of Israel and the PA indulging in peace talks, irrespective of whether such talks would yield any substantive results, would shield Israel from mounting international criticisms over the settlement expansion issue and allow the Jewish state to pursue its colonialist interests, especially in East Jerusalem.

This week, Israeli authorities approved plans to build hundreds of settler units in the heart of Arab East Jerusalem. The planned new settlement in the densely populated Arab neighbourhood of Ras Al-Amud is meant to kill the possibility of East Jerusalem becoming the future capital of a prospective Palestinian state.

Earlier, Israel and the US had been working on a “package deal” whereby Israel would accept a moratorium on settlement building for a period ranging from six months to two years. Israel reportedly agreed on a certain moratorium but insisted on completing thousands of settler units currently being built all over the occupied Palestinian territories. Israel insisted that it wouldn’t agree to any settlement freeze in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu was scheduled to travel to London this week for talks with US Peace Envoy George Mitchell to reach agreement on the duration of the proposed moratorium. Netanyahu is also scheduled to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. Last week, the German Foreign Ministry called settlements “one of the biggest impediments to peace in the Middle East”. “We and our partners, the Americans, have made it very clear that we see the settlements issue as one of the biggest impediments to a two-state solution,” German Foreign Ministry spokesman Andreas Peschke was quoted as saying. “There must be urgent progress on settlements to make progress on Middle East [peace].”

Peschke acknowledged that while Israel was “thinking seriously about its policy, there is no definitive movement on the settlement question yet“. Israel, for its part, rejected the German criticisms as “irrelevant” to the resumption of the peace process. “These statements are not part of any diplomatic negotiations; they are unrelated to reality and distort it,” said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor.

Earlier, infamous Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has been keeping a low profile apparently for fear of damaging Israel’s image and diplomatic interests, was quoted as saying that he didn’t foresee peace at all. “It will be impossible in the next 16 years to bridge the gaps on Jerusalem, the refugees, or on Israel as a Jewish state.”

Lieberman also said that while he didn’t believe anything would come of current efforts to re- launch the peace process, he was giving Netanyahu room to manoeuvre in talks with the Americans.

Meanwhile, the Israeli group Peace Now underscored the mendacity of Israeli claims that settlement construction was being frozen. The group pointed out in a new report on settlement growth that in the first half of 2009, Israel was constructing 600 new buildings in West Bank settlements, with 96 new buildings constructed in the so-called “illegal outposts”. According to the report, 35 per cent of the buildings are constructed on the eastern — Palestinian — side of the apartheid wall. The construction of permanent homes has risen by eight per cent since last year, while the placement of trailer homes dropped by 43 per cent.

The same Israeli group said there were currently 40,000 new buildings authorised for construction, according to available plans, the vast majority in settlement blocs like Gush Etzion and Maale Adumim near Jerusalem.

Construction was also underway in 10 out of 23 outposts that Defence Minister Ehud Barak committed to ending, with three new trailer homes added to the Avigail outpost, five new trailer homes added to Bnei Adam outpost, six to Havat Gilad, and two new buildings and two trailer homes in Mitzpeh Lachish, among others.

The Peace Now report underscored the worthlessness of promises and pledges made to the Americans by Israeli officials.

Barak has held several high-profile meetings with Mitchell and solemnly undertook to freeze settlement buildings east of the annexation wall, as well as to dismantle more than 20 illegal outposts created by settlers, mostly with the tacit agreement of the Israeli occupation army.

Israeli intransigence on the settlement issue as well as obvious reluctance on the part of the Obama administration to exert meaningful pressure on Israel is creating despair within the Palestinian leadership. Whereas the PA had made commitments not to re-engage in talks without a settlement freeze, there are signs it is retreating from this position — if only to demonstrate to the Americans, for the “umpteenth time”, as one Palestinian official put it, Palestinian willingness to engage in talks and total Israel intransigence.

At the same time, the PA is backed against a wall, as initiating a new round of open-ended talks with Israel would be deeply unpopular amongst Palestinians. Fatah, the backbone of the PA, risks losing its recently enhanced popularity if another exhausting round of peace talks with Israel proves fruitless, as most Palestinians and Arabs believe it will be, barring decisive US interference that would force Israel to take a strategic decision to give up the spoils of occupation.

With Fatah pressing to hold Palestinian general elections in January, and with no real progress in the peace process achieved, the movement will have a hard time convincing the Palestinian public to give it or its strategic outlook the benefit of the doubt.

The above article can be found at: “Reproducing failure”

Israel’s 2nd attack on Gaza kills 3

Posted in Israel on August 26, 2009 by The 800 Pound Gorilla

Palestinian men sit near the spot where three men were killed and seven were wounded following an Israeli air raid on smuggling tunnels in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2009. An Israeli air strike on a smuggling tunnel between the Gaza Strip and Egypt on Tuesday killed three Palestinians and wounded seven, a Palestinian Health Ministry official said. An Israeli military statement said the air force struck in retaliation for a cross-border mortar attack Monday into southern Israel, in which an Israeli soldier was lightly wounded. (AP Photo/Eyad Baba)Israeli airstrike on Gaza smuggling tunnel kills 3

The Associated Press

August 25, 2009

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — An Israeli airstrike on a smuggling tunnel between the Gaza Strip and Egypt killed three Palestinians inside and wounded seven on Tuesday in the deadliest Israeli attack on the volatile border area in months, a Palestinian Health Ministry official said.

The Israeli military said the air force struck in retaliation for a mortar attack from Gaza Monday into southern Israel that lightly wounded an Israeli soldier. The Israeli government has pledged a military response to every attack.

Fighting between Israel and Gaza militants has largely subsided since a fierce Israeli offensive in January, but Israel and Egypt have maintained a tight economic blockade of the coastal area to maintain pressure on the militant Hamas government.

In Gaza, the men killed and wounded were all smugglers caught in a tunnel during the pre-dawn Israeli strike, said Gaza Health Ministry official Dr. Moaiya Hassanain.

The prime minister of the Hamas government, Ismail Haniyeh, said such violence threatened to unravel an informal cease-fire that has largely held for seven months.

Hundreds of Gazans work in tunnels used to bring in goods not available in the seaside territory because of the blockade. Israel says Hamas uses the tunnels to smuggle in weapons and explosives.

Later Tuesday, the Israeli military said soldiers shot and lightly wounded a Palestinian who crossed into Israel from Gaza near the sensitive Nahal Oz fuel depot. He was taken to an Israeli hospital for treatment. The depot has been attacked by Gaza militants in the past.

As violence in Gaza was heating up, the leader of the Western-backed Palestinian government in the West Bank unveiled a development plan that calls for construction of an airport, international rail lines and an oil refinery over the next two years. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said the projects would help pave the way for independence.

The program reflected Palestinian frustration after years of on-again, off-again peace talks aimed at ending the decades-long conflict with Israel. With peacemaking efforts currently on hold, the Palestinians must move forward on their own, Fayyad said.

“We believe that full commitment to the state-building endeavor will advance our highest national priority of ending the (Israeli) occupation, thereby enabling us to live in freedom and dignity in a country of our own,” he said.

It remained unclear how Fayyad, an internationally respected economist, expects to carry out the projects. Israel occupies the West Bank and would need to grant approval for major development projects. It was also unclear how Fayyad’s cash-strapped government would finance construction.

Fayyad said further information would be given to the proper ministries as plans develop.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has grudgingly endorsed the concept a Palestinian state with limited powers, while supporting improving relations by strengthening the Palestinian economy.

Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, gave Fayyad’s plan a cool reception.

“Neither artificial dates nor arbitrary deadlines are going to work,” he said. “What is going to make a Palestinian state viable is the end of conflict, the end of all the Palestinian claims, meeting us halfway with political compromises, and, of course, sitting with us without preconditions.”

The Palestinians have said they will not open negotiations until Israel halts all construction in Jewish settlements built on land claimed by the Palestinians. President Barack Obama has also called for a settlement freeze. The subject was expected to be the main topic in talks in London Tuesday between Netanyahu and Obama’s Mideast envoy, George Mitchell.

The internal split between the rival Palestinian governments in Gaza and the West Bank has further complicated peace efforts, since the Palestinians hope to build their state in both territories.

The above article can be found at:

Hamas fights terror: Mossad/Al Qaeda-inspired militants subdued by Hamas forces

Posted in Israel on August 16, 2009 by The 800 Pound Gorilla

Gaza imam

Abdel-Latif Moussa, right, was killed in an explosion at one of his hide-outs. Hamas officials said one of Moussa’s aides had detonated a suicide explosives belt. (Associated Press / August 14, 2009)

Reporting from Gaza City and Jerusalem – Hamas government forces stormed a mosque in the Gaza Strip on Friday and apparently subdued a heavily armed group of Al Qaeda-inspired militants whose imam had vowed to impose theocratic rule in the Palestinian territory.

Sixteen people were reported killed in fighting that raged for much of the day in the city of Rafah.

Residents contacted by telephone said it took Hamas six hours to capture the two-story mosque from a group calling itself Jund Ansar Allah, or the Soldiers of the Companions of God. Fighting spread to the nearby home of the imam, who had fled the mosque, and ended early today after an explosion demolished part of the house, witnesses said.

Medical officials said combatants on both sides were killed, along with some civilians, including a child caught in the crossfire of machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. At least 120 people were reported wounded.

The whereabouts of the imam, Abdel-Latif Moussa, was unclear.

Gaza’s interior ministry announced at 2 a.m. that its forces had regained full control of Rafah from what a Hamas spokesman, Sami abu Zuhri, called outlaws led by a “mentally disturbed” cleric. The southern city remained under curfew.

Moussa, a 60-year-old Palestinian physician sporting a thick beard and red robe, triggered the confrontation with a defiant sermon and display of weapons at midday prayers. Surrounded by four black-clad men with assault rifles, he declared that his group would make Gaza an Islamic “emirate” by force of arms. [800 – looks like a staged photo op]

Witnesses said several hundred followers filled the mosque with shouts of approval. Al Qaeda uses the term “emirate” to mean a state of clerical rule across the Islamic world. Hamas forces later ringed the mosque and demanded the surrender of the imam and his gunmen.

Rafah, along the Gaza-Egypt border, is a stronghold of Salafist groups that claim inspiration from Al Qaeda and pose a growing challenge to Hamas, which they consider too liberal. Their numerical strength and links to Al Qaeda are unclear.

Hamas itself is an armed Islamic movement with ties to Iran and Syria. But it defines its cause as a nationalist struggle against Israel, not global jihad against the West.

Despite scattered efforts by members of Hamas to impose dress codes on Gaza’s Mediterranean beaches and in other public places, its leaders have resisted Salafist demands to put Gaza under rigid fundamentalist rule. Jund Ansar Allah has threatened to burn down Internet cafes, which are popular among the enclave’s 1.5 million people.

The imam’s uprising was the strongest internal challenge to Gaza’s rulers since 2007, when Hamas gunmen ousted security forces of the U.S.-backed secular Fatah movement that had long dominated Palestinian politics.

In the winter, Hamas survived a 22-day assault on Gaza by Israeli forces that in effect halted years of rocket attacks by the group against Israeli communities across the border. Hamas’ adherence to a cease-fire is under criticism from smaller militant groups.

The first challenge from Jund Ansar Allah came in June when the group claimed responsibility for an attack by militants on an Israeli military base on the Gaza border. Three of the attackers, who were on horseback, were killed.

The above article can be found at:,0,2289286.story

Abu Alouf is a special correspondent.