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Gaza: Breaking out
by Al-Ahram Weekly, Egypt (reposted)
Thursday Jan 24th, 2008 2:07 PM
As ordinary Palestinians force their way into Egypt from besieged Gaza, the Israeli-instigated humanitarian and political crisis is carried with them
Qualified as a "war crime" by Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa and illegal "collective punishment" by the European Union and international agencies, the humanitarian and political crisis created by Israel's five-day hermetic seal on Gaza is taking a toll not only on the 1.5 million inhabitants of the impoverished coastal strip. Damaged "beyond repair", according to several Palestinians speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly from Rafah, is the image of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is being widely blamed for "turning a blind eye to the misery of his own people in Gaza" while continuing to engage in talks with Israel on peace.

Speaking to the Weekly in Gaza earlier this week, Selim Hazzaa lashed out at Abbas for keeping channels of communication open with Israel while his nine-year-old daughter Yasmine cannot enter Egypt for cancer treatment because of the Israeli blockade. "What will Abbas tell me and my wife when Yasmine dies as he courts the embrace of [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert, the man who passed a death sentence on my daughter by denying her treatment?"

In Damascus Wednesday, a wide assembly of Palestinian political factions called on Abbas to end the "ridiculous" negotiations he has insisted must continue with the Israelis. The impressive gathering, including popular Palestinian resistance leaders Khaled Meshaal of Hamas and Ramadan Shallah of Islamic Jihad, sent a clear message of alarm to Abbas. "I want to ask our brothers in Ramallah [Abbas's headquarters], what exactly are you waiting for?" said Shallah. According to Meshaal, while the Palestinian Authority (PA) is talking to the Israelis, Palestinians in Gaza, which he qualified as "the biggest prison in history", are "being massacred".

Even supporters of Abbas say they are uncomfortable. Palestinian writer Hani Al-Masri says the president needs to halt negotiations immediately. "It doesn't make sense for negotiations to continue while Israel is changing facts on the ground and undermining the chances for a just and acceptable solution," he told the Weekly.

by Al-Ahram Weekly (reposted)
Thursday Jan 24th, 2008 2:08 PM
As Gaza is completely cut off, Israel escalates its air bombing campaign in densely populated neighbourhoods, writes Saleh Al-Naami

Maher Al-Nazil has asked everyone he knows help in finding an apartment to rent in the centre of Al-Maghazi Refugee Camp in Gaza. Maher lives with his wife and three daughters near a police station on the western border of the camp. He fears for his family should Israel bomb the neighbouring police station. "The image of the family whose joy over their son's wedding turned into horror and grief when the headquarters of the Ministry of Interior in Gaza was bombed last Friday remains with me, and I don't want that to happen to my wife and daughters," he told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Like Maher, most families who live near ministries, institutions and security establishments in Gaza have begun thinking about renting other homes for fear of Israeli bombs. The possibility of that for most, however, is next to zero due to impoverishment and a general shortage of apartments in the Strip. Rafiq Youssef, an officer in the Civil Defence agency, affirms that homes near targeted headquarters are in danger. "Israeli military jets, such as F- 16s, drop one-ton bombs, meaning that all the homes within 200 metres of the bombed site would be damaged," he told the Weekly.

The air targeting of ministries, institutions and security headquarters is -- so far -- the most extreme action Israel has taken with a view to forcing Hamas to halt the firing of rockets on Israeli settlements located near Gaza. Israeli Minister of Defence Ehud Barak said that Israel is escalating its military offensive in order to "heavily tax the Palestinians" and "convince them to stop firing missiles". He told Israeli army radio Friday, "We want to exhaust all the means available to us."

Israel previously destroyed numerous institutions of the Palestinian Authority a year and a half ago when the military wing of Hamas captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. The bombing campaign that followed did not cease until Israel realised its strategy would not force Hamas to hand over the soldier, or lower the conditions it placed on swapping him for Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons.

The destruction of official institutions was the climax of an Israeli ground invasion that led to an extensive loss of life. The height of the killing was witnessed when occupation forces invaded Zeitoun neighbourhood in southern Gaza City, in which 19 Palestinians were killed including 13 members of the Ezzeddin Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, one of whom was the son of Mahmoud Al-Zahhar, the prominent Hamas leader. Within five days, 38 people were killed, including 18 unarmed civilians. Occupation soldiers killed some as they attempted to help the injured, such as Mohamed Al-Issa, 70, who Israeli soldiers shot dead as he attempted to help a young neighbour wounded in the invasion of Zeitoun.

Israel is not finished with its present escalation. Indeed, it has threatened to assassinate Hamas's political leaders, including elected Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, Al-Zahhar, and former Minister of the Interior Said Siyam, should the firing of rockets not stop. Amnon Abramovich, the well- known Israeli commentator, says that the threat to assassinate Hamas leaders is worthless if genuine. "This kind of tactic has never worked with Hamas," he said on Friday Studio, broadcast last week by Israeli Channel Two. "We assassinated its founder and leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, and yet they did not stop striking at us," he continued.

Israel is not only demanding that Hamas stop firing rockets, but that it also force all other Palestinian factions to do the same, even while Israel refuses to recognise Hamas a controlling political force in the Gaza Strip.

As for economic pressures, contained in the Israeli- imposed siege of Gaza and embargo on fuel and electricity, they reached their climax in Barak's decision to completely close all border crossings leading to the Gaza Strip, meaning that basic foodstuffs and fuel will not enter the Strip. This is direct starvation -- with grave ramifications in humanitarian terms. Gaza is now effectively cut off from the world, plunged into darkness, and hostage to the whims of Israel's air commanders and their weapons.

Last Sunday, Maariv newspaper reported that a top officer in the Israeli army had said that the military and economic pressures placed by Israel on the Gaza Strip aimed to force the Palestinian public to revolt against Hamas's rule. This top officer's statement was in harmony with public statements made by several Israeli ministers. Yet it appears that Israel is betting the wrong way. According to an opinion poll conducted by Al-Mustaqbal Centre for Research, whose headquarters are in Gaza, Hamas has maintained its popularity while the popularity of Fatah -- the main alternative, in terms of organisation capacity -- has declined, particularly in the West Bank.

by Al-Ahram Weekly (reposted)
Thursday Jan 24th, 2008 2:09 PM
Tragic events are laying the groundwork for Palestinian national unity, but can it happen, asks Khaled Amayreh

The ongoing bloody nightmare in the Gaza Strip, including macabre darkness and the paralysis of life resulting from the embargo by Israel of vital fuel supplies to the already isolated coastal territory, is prodding Fatah and Hamas to recover Palestinian national unity. Deep-seated mistrust, however, as well as parochial political calculations pertaining to factional stature, is preventing a speedy rapprochement between the two sides.

The latest spate of killings by the Israeli occupation army last week, including the murder of Hossam Al-Zahar, son of Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Zahar, briefly brought Hamas and Fatah closer together. Palestinian Authority (PA) and Fatah leaders called Al-Zahar, expressing their condolences on the death of his son. The bereaved Islamist leader lost another son, Khaled, during an Israeli assassination attempt on his life a few years ago when an Israeli F-16 warplane bombed and destroyed his home in downtown Gaza.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas spoke with Al-Zahar for five minutes and the two reportedly exchanged views on national unity and the "urgent need" to put up a united Palestinian front in the face of renewed Israeli aggression. Similarly, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad also called Al-Zahar, voicing his sympathies.

It is widely believed that veteran Fatah leader Jebril Rajoub was behind the plethora of condolence calls by Fatah and PA leaders to Al-Zahar. Unlike most other Fatah leaders in the West Bank, Rajoub has been adopting a more lenient stance on Hamas. Rajoub, who castigated former Gaza strongman Mohamed Dahlan's alleged ties with America and Israel, advocated less stringent conditions on the resumption of dialogue with Hamas.

Nonetheless, the glimmer of hope created by the "condolence episode" soon faded when Said Siyam, former interior minister in Gaza, announced earlier this week the uncovering of a plot, masterminded by veteran Fatah leader Al-Tayeb Abdul-Rahim, to assassinate Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the Gaza- based government. Siyam disclosed the shocking details, including confessions by a would-be assassin who told interrogators that he had been instructed to blow himself up near Haniyeh during a Friday congregational prayer.