Gaza Updates – Suffering & Injustice Continues

Many thousands of people are still homeless after Israel’s attack on Gaza. Dwellings for rent are scarce as hen’s teeth, rents are soaring, as are prices for even rudimentary bedding.

Some 4,000 homes were destroyed and about 17,000 badly damaged, according to a recent UN Gaza flash appeal. Some 50,000 people took shelter in UNRWA (UN agency for Palestinian refugees) facilities during the height of the conflict and tens of thousands have been staying in very cramped conditions with family and friends.

No’oman (who declined to give his family name) told IRIN he, his two wives and 10 children were given five minutes to evacuate their home in Neusarat on 8 January. His 16-year-old cousin was killed in the attack which completely destroyed his home.

“Our family lost everything – furniture, two cars, more than $500,000,” said No’oman, who reckoned his home was targeted because his brother works with Islamic Jihad.

Hamas has given the family $2,000 as emergency relief compensation.

The family has taken shelter in a nearby unfinished building. The bare-bones structure lacks heating or a decent water supply.

Mattresses, blankets and plastic sheeting are hard to find in Gaza and have gone up in price. Thin mats can be found for 200 shekels (about $200); tents are not available, according to local residents.

“Hamas is providing quick relief for those whose homes were destroyed – between $500 and $2,000 per household,” Hamas political leader Ghazi Hamad, head of borders and crossings, told IRIN. “And food assistance, like sugar, oil and blankets.”

UN agencies like UNRWA and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), as well as international aid organisations like CARE, are looking to buy building materials and emergency relief items on the local market, but say they are unavailable.

“We have allowed humanitarian supplies to enter Gaza. The question is about goods that might have dual uses, like fertilizer which can be used to manufacture explosives,” deputy spokesperson of the Israeli Foreign Ministry Andy David told IRIN by telephone.

And cement is somehow linked with explosives?

“I found an apartment for the family for $180 per month, which is expensive,” said Ahmed, now sleeping in his car. “I can’t find a mattress – I am looking for blankets, but so far all I have is glass and a cooking gas cylinder.”

Chris Gunness, an UNRWA spokesperson, said there was no longer anyone living in UNRWA schools or facilities and that 8,000 people had been relocated to apartments with monthly rent assistance from UNRWA. He also confirmed that hundreds of tents had been distributed.

In the north of Gaza, farmers and activists are being shot at by the Israeli military. The mainstream media are remarkably blind to the many acts of attrition committed by Israel since its declaration of a ‘unilateral’ truce, yet when a puny militant rocket lands in Israel damaging a car, the story dominates the news, and Israel retaliates with devastating air strikes.

This report is from the brave volunteers of ISM.

Israeli soldiers again opened fire on Palestinian farmers and international Human Rights Workers (HRWs) on Thursday 5th February, as they attempted to harvest parsley in agricultural land near the Green Line.

Returning to farm-land of Al Faraheen village, in the Abassan Jedida area, east of Khan Younis, where soldiers had opened fire on Tuesday 3rd February, farmers and HRWs were able to harvest the parsley crop for only half an hour, before soldiers again began to shoot. A number of shots were fired into the air, before the soldiers started to aim in the direction of the farmers and international accompaniment. Bullets were heard to whiz past, close to people’s heads.

This behaviour on the part of the Israeli soldiers was an almost exact repeat of their response to the presence of the farmers and internationals, in the same area of farm-land, two days before. On the Tuesday, however, the group was able to harvest for two hours before soldiers began to shoot. Whilst farmers had hoped to be able to wait-out the shooting, in order to continue harvesting, it quickly
became clear that the situation was too dangerous for that to be possible.

The farmers of Al Faraheen are particularly aware of the level of danger they face when entering farm lands that are within 1 km of the Green Line – after watching their friend and colleague, 27 year old Anwar Il Ibrim, from neighbouring Benesela, killed by a bullet to the neck while he was picking parsely in the same area, just one week before.

Ma’an is reporting that moves to a truce are proceeding and are likely to be concluded with the existing Israeli government after the election. The new government won’t be installed till 6 weeks or so after the election

Israel is continuing its collective punishment of the Gazan people by disallowing the transportation of cement through the borders.

Meanwhile, an Egyptian source said that Hamas and other factions will most likely agree on a truce on Monday.

Raffi Eitan, Israeli Minister of Pensioner Affairs, stated Sunday that a prisoner-swap deal could be conducted within the coming weeks.

Eitan, who is currently in charge of evaluating the demands of Hamas regarding the release of 1400 detainees, said that a swap deal could be concluded before a new coalition government is formed in Israel.

In an interview with the Israeli Army Radio, Eitan said that there is a strong possibility that such a deal will be concluded with Hamas by the current Israeli government.

“By experience, we know that forming a new government could take up to six weeks”, Eitan added.

Furthermore, Israeli online daily, Haaretz, reported that according to Egyptian sources, Hamas agreed to the Israeli demand of linking the issue of fully opening border terminals with the issue of releasing Shalit.

Haaretz added that this issue allowed further progress towards declaring a ceasefire by connecting a full opening of the border terminals with the release of Shalit.

Yet, the Egyptian sources said that it remains unclear when a breakthrough would be achieved.

Haaretz reported that Egypt is promoting a plan which includes opening the crossing to function 80% of their capacity when a ceasefire deal is reached.

But Israel is still demanding to ban certain materials from entering the Gaza Strip; this includes cement and iron among other materials. Banning the entry of cement and Iron would prevent rebuilding thousands of homes and facilities destroyed during Israel’s “Cast Lead” offensive.

Israel said that an agreement on cement and other materials would only be allowed reached after the release of Shalit, thus linking the fate of thousands of homeless residents with this issue, and placing further pressure on Hamas to accept the Israeli stance.

Here’s another result of the inhumane border blockages – UNWRA may suspend aid delivery due to a lack of plastic bags.

The distribution by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency may end Monday because there are not enough plastic bags to hand out the food, a UNRWA spokesman told the Jerusalem Post.

The shortage is caused by a restriction on imports of raw materials into Gaza out of fear they will be stolen by Hamas. The pellets used to manufacture the bags are on the restricted list.

According to Press TV, republished in Palestinian Pundit, ICC lawyers intending to investigate Israeli war crimes, have been prevented by Egypt, for now at least, from entering Gaza.

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) set up the committee. Four French and Norwegian lawyers comprise the committee. The ICC had earlier started preliminary analysis into alleged Israeli war crimes in the Gaza war.

French and Norwegian lawyers from Amnesty International on Thursday had attempted to enter the impoverished Palestinian sliver through Egypt’s Rafah crossing with Gaza.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, as well as B’Tselem, and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, have filed a lawsuit with the International Criminal Court (ICC) against alleged Israeli war crimes in Gaza.

The criminal case is expected to focus on the Israeli atrocities, including charges of using disproportionate force, white phosphorous bombs and depleted uranium in the densely populated area.

The group intended to collect evidence and testimonials on “Operation Cast Lead” which killed over 1,300 Palestinian and wounded nearly 5,500 others, a large number of them women and children. The evidence was to be submitted to the International Court before Sunday, February 8th.

Egyptian authorities, however, prevented the four member group from crossing the border, arguing that for now only displaced Palestinians can enter the territory thought the crossing.

Free Gaza activist Theresa McDermott has turned up in an Israeli dungeon.

Scottish activist Theresa McDermott has been found in Ramleh prison four days after she was “disappeared” by the Israel government after being forcibly removed from a seaborne Lebanese aid mission to Gaza. In early February Theresa responded to a call for support from internationals from the organizers of a Lebanese humanitarian aid voyage to Gaza aboard the Togo flagged ship, Tali. Theresa was one of only 9 passengers aboard the cargo ship on February 4, 2009 when Israeli gunboats intercepted it, boarded and forced the ship to Ashdod port in Israel.

All the passengers and crew aboard were released on Thursday, February 5 except Theresa. Between Thursday evening and Sunday morning there was no word about Theresa’s whereabouts except several false stories saying that “Britons” had departed to London. Finally on Sunday, Theresa was able to call her brother John in Scotland to say she was in Ramleh prison in Israel.

According to Al Jazeera journalist Salam Khodr, when the ship was boarded, the passengers were beaten and kicked by Israeli soldiers before being removed from the ship.

No information has been provided by Israeli officials about why Theresa has been detained, what the charges are if any and why her detention was concealed. When the British Consulate in Israel was contacted for assistance in finding Theresa, staff refused to help locate Theresa saying they couldn’t provide assistance to a UK citizen unless she personally requested it. Members of the Scottish Parliament including Pauline McNeil and Hugh O’Donnell, who were part of a fall delegation to Gaza aboard the Free Gaza boat, Dignity, are working with the British government to ensure that Theresa receives the protection and assistance to which she is entitled.

Theresa went to Gaza with the first Free Gaza boats in August and returned with the ship Dignity for a second voyage. She is a respected, long time human rights activist who has worked with the International Solidarity Movement in Palestine as well as with Free Gaza. At home in Scotland she works for the Post Office. The Israelis found only medical and other humanitarian aid on the Tali but refused to return the ship. The status of its humanitarian cargo is unknown.

Other snippets:

Israel war leaves crude graffiti in Gazan homes

Hamas is going all out to secure international recognition of Palestine’s unique position as a nation of occupied, oppressed people yearning for a state.

Instead of offering a hudna with the Occupier, Marshouk wants only a tahdia – a period of calm.

Hamas regards its offer as a Tahdia, an Arabic word indicating non-aggression in a stand-off, usually described as a “calm”. A longer-term Hudna, or ceasefire, would be withheld until a peace agreement that would see Israel withdraw from Palestinian territory.

“Israel owns the West Bank and Gaza Strip right now but if it withdrew from these and let the Palestinians have access to Jerusalem, we would turn our face to rebuild our lives and live alongside as in other parts of the world,” said Mr Marzouk.

Two strands of indirect negotiations with Israel have converged. One arrangement would allow the rebuilding of shattered parts of the Gaza Strip in return for an end to rocket attacks. Another deal would see the release of a captured Israel soldier, Cpl Gilad Shalit, in return for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

Hamas are proving to be skilful negotiators – capitalising on Israel’s abysmal stature in the world, an increase in Hamas popularity throughout Palestine and the advent of George Mitchell, for whom it appears they have respect. Holding out for an end to the occupation is the just, appropriate tactic and hopefully timing is right to achieve it.

“History has shown that you have to take by force your rights from Israel,” said Mr Marzouk. “You can’t make peace unless you make Israel pay the price of occupation. It’s the only strategy.”

Ultimately Hamas is waiting for President Barack Obama and his regional envoy George Mitchell to abandon what it describes as George W Bush’s “with us or against us” approach, probably after the new Israeli government emerges after Tuesday’s election.

“George Mitchell is a unique American, the first official to make a report calling on Israel stop the settlements,” said Mr Marzouk. “He made peace in Ireland by allowing the Republicans to hold their dream while dealing with a different reality on the ground.”

Tony Blair, the Middle East peace envoy, recently declared that direct negotiations with Hamas are inevitable but Mr Mitchell has insisted the US boycott will continue.

But Hamas senses its moment has come and is emboldened enough to claim its covert discussions with the West occur more frequently than in most alliances. “We talk to many official and unofficial agencies, sometimes two or three daily,” he said. “They choose to keep the dialogue secret and we respect that, after all we can’t say we are a normal country or a normal state party.”

Secret communications with Hamas which should have averted a wasteful, criminal war against the Gazan people had not Israel’s insane warmongers already planned their massacre several months prior are revealed by Gershon Baskin.

My talks with the Hamas leader in Europe focused on two main issues: convening a secret direct back channel and linking the prisoner exchange for Schalit’s release to the renewal of the cease-fire and the ending of the economic siege on Gaza. For about two years Hamas has rejected the linking of the prisoner exchange with the cease-fire and the end of the siege. Since, however, this was the initial position of Hamas immediately following the abduction of Schalit, as was communicated to me some three weeks after the abduction – a call for a cease-fire, opening the borders and the prisoner exchange – I appealed to the Hamas leader to go back to the original demands, but to include an agreement to bypass the Egyptian mediators through a direct secret back channel.

I returned to Israel and 10 days before the war broke out I wrote to Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni that Hamas was willing to open a direct secret back channel for a package deal that would include the renewal of the cease-fire, the ending of the economic siege and the prisoner exchange for the release of Schalit. I further indicated that Hamas would be willing to implement the agreement on Rafah which included the stationing of Palestinian Authority personnel loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas in Rafah and a return of the European monitors. I communicated the same message to Noam Schalit and asked him to make sure that Ofer Dekel, who is charged with the Schalit file by the government, received the Hamas “offer.”

I waited for a response from one of the people who received my letter.

Nothing. No response. When the war broke out I understood that the decision to go to war had already been taken and that the government preferred to teach Hamas a lesson rather than negotiate a new cease-fire and the release of Schalit. I understood that the leaders believed that they could bring about a regime change in Gaza, even if this was not the stated goal of the war. Why would we negotiate with Hamas if we expected to bring about the fall of Hamas?

OVER THE PAST DAYS the media has been filled with reports that there is a new breakthrough in the talks for the release of Schalit: “Hamas is willing to link the end of the economic siege with the release of Schalit.” When I read this I said to myself – enough lies and spins.

What did this war achieve? What has changed? Has Israel gained its military deterrence? Has Israel changed the security reality in the South? Is Gilad Schalit at home? Has Hamas reduced its basic demands for the release of Schalit? No, no and no! Israel is negotiating now for exactly what could have been achieved without going to war. Israel spent $1 billion on the war, caused some $2 billion worth of damage in Gaza, more than 1000 people have been killed, thousands of lives have been destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis lived through weeks of terror; millions of Palestinians suffered the bombardment of their towns, cities and refugee camps – what is the result? More hatred, more extremism and more support for fanatics and their ideas – on both sides of the Gaza border.

If the transition government of Olmert does bring Schalit home before the new government is formed, it will pay the exact price that it could have paid nearly 950 days ago. The price then was as unreasonable as it is today; the problem is that there is simply no other way of bringing Gilad home. Hamas has not changed its price. The war in Gaza did not create any positive developments. It has not changed the price. It has not enabled a new breakthrough. It has weakened the moderate leadership of Abbas. It has weakened the moderates in Gaza. It did not achieve the goals that our leaders hoped it would.

The war was supported by 94 percent of Israelis because they really believed it was a “war of no choice.” Lies, lies and lies. There was a choice. That choice was made – our leaders preferred war regardless of the cost. We don’t negotiate with terrorists. We won’t talk with Hamas. They don’t recognize our right to exist, and we don’t recognize that they were elected in democratic elections. Instead we hit them first and then we talk. We planned the war rather than planning how to avoid the war. That is the doctrine of the government. Now we can talk with Hamas? Isn’t that what the government is doing today?

Perhaps the talks are not direct, but we are negotiating with Hamas.
The agreement that will be reached will be exactly what I proposed to Olmert, Barak and Livni 10 days before the war began.

More background information on the dispossession of the people of Palestine by the Zionist enterprise, by Stephen Lendman in his article, “A Short History of the Israeli – Palestinian Conflict: Past Is Prologue”.

Al Jazeera offers a stellar interview with senior Hamas political leader Mahmoud al-Zahar who favours truce with Israel.

My attendance, along with a delegation of senior [Hamas] figures, reflects the real desire of Hamas’s leadership inside and outside the Palestinian territories to end this crisis by upholding the truce in a way that guarantees the rights of the Palestinian people. To give them back their rights in rebuilding what the occupation has demolished via a ceasefire.

Al Jazeera: Is it believed such a truce would be for the benefit of the Palestinian people and Hamas and to lift the siege imposed on the Strip?

Zahar: Absolutely. Our project is not “armed action”. The “armed action” is a part of the resistance.

We have repeatedly explained the concept of resistance. The resistance is, first rejection of the occupation and the injustice, the resistance is rejection of abuse of rights. This idea led to [the emergence] of Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement, under this name, before it fired a single bullet at the Jews.

Therefore, we want to continue the comprehensive programme of the resistance. But we also want to give ourselves a chance to rebuild what the occupation has demolished – as long as the Israeli side will stop its aggression against the Palestinian people.

Those who view Hamas as an enemy to Egypt are wrong. Those who believe that Hamas may be dangerous to the national security of any Arab state are wrong.

Al Jazeera: Do you view your movement as a resistance group or as a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood group?

Zahar: This is not the issue. Syria has very good relations with Hamas, but terrible relations with the Muslim Brotherhood group. More than 24,000 people were killed in 1982 by the Syrian regime and the Muslim Brotherhood group.

It is wrong to be confined by a particular experience.

Saudi Eyes on Gaza – in the aftermath of Israel’s massacre

Despite Obama’s statement that Gaza borders should be opened for aid and commerce, Israel still refuses to open border crossings for goods other than aid, thus continuing its strangulation and collective punishment of the Gazan people and preventing reconstruction of the devastated strip.

While tens of thousands of Gazans remain homeless, destitute and ill from Israel’s sociopathic aggression, Prince Turki al Faisal writes an article in the Financial Times making it clear in no uncertain terms that the US must stop footsying with the murderous, land-thieving Zionist enterprise or risk its alliance with Saudia. There is no mention of the oil weapon, yet that is the last thing the US needs to be wielded while it is in the throes of recession.

In my decades as a public servant, I have strongly promoted the Arab-Israeli peace process. During recent months, I argued that the peace plan proposed by Saudi Arabia could be implemented under an Obama administration if the Israelis and Palestinians both accepted difficult compromises. I told my audiences this was worth the energies of the incoming administration for, as the late Indian diplomat Vijaya Lakshmi Nehru Pandit said: “The more we sweat in peace, the less we bleed in war.”

But after Israel launched its bloody attack on Gaza, these pleas for optimism and co-operation now seem a distant memory. In the past weeks, not only have the Israeli Defence Forces murdered more than 1,000 Palestinians, but they have come close to killing the prospect of peace itself. Unless the new US administration takes forceful steps to prevent any further suffering and slaughter of Palestinians, the peace process, the US-Saudi relationship and the stability of the region are at risk.

Prince Saud Al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, told the UN Security Council that if there was no just settlement, “we will turn our backs on you”. King Abdullah spoke for the entire Arab and Muslim world when he said at the Arab summit in Kuwait that although the Arab peace initiative was on the table, it would not remain there for long. Much of the world shares these sentiments and any Arab government that negotiated with the Israelis today would be rightly condemned by its citizens. Two of the four Arab countries that have formal ties to Israel – Qatar and Mauritania – have suspended all relations and Jordan has recalled its ambassador.

America is not innocent in this calamity. Not only has the Bush administration left a sickening legacy in the region – from the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to the humiliation and torture at Abu Ghraib – but it has also, through an arrogant attitude about the butchery in Gaza, contributed to the slaughter of innocents. If the US wants to continue playing a leadership role in the Middle East and keep its strategic alliances intact – especially its “special relationship” with Saudi Arabia – it will have to drastically revise its policies vis a vis Israel and Palestine.

The incoming US administration will be inheriting a “basket full of snakes” in the region, but there are things that can be done to help calm them down. First, President Barack Obama must address the disaster in Gaza and its causes. Inevitably, he will condemn Hamas’s firing of rockets at Israel.

When he does that, he should also condemn Israel’s atrocities against the Palestinians and support a UN resolution to that effect; forcefully condemn the Israeli actions that led to this conflict, from settlement building in the West Bank to the blockade of Gaza and the targeted killings and arbitrary arrests of Palestinians; declare America’s intention to work for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, with a security umbrella for countries that sign up and sanctions for those that do not; call for an immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from Shab’ah Farms in Lebanon; encourage Israeli-Syrian negotiations for peace; and support a UN resolution guaranteeing Iraq’s territorial integrity.

Mr Obama should strongly promote the Abdullah peace initiative, which calls on Israel to pursue the course laid out in various international resolutions and laws: to withdraw completely from the lands occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem, returning to the lines of June 4 1967; to accept a mutually agreed just solution to the refugee problem according to the General Assembly resolution 194; and to recognise the independent state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital. In return, there would be an end to hostilities between Israel and all the Arab countries, and Israel would get full diplomatic and normal relations.

Last week, President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad of Iran wrote a letter to King Abdullah, explicitly recognising Saudi Arabia as the leader of the Arab and Muslim worlds and calling on him to take a more confrontational role over “this obvious atrocity and killing of your own children” in Gaza. The communiqué is significant because the de facto recognition of the kingdom’s primacy from one of its most ardent foes reveals the extent that the war has united an entire region, both Shia and Sunni. Further, Mr Ahmadi-Nejad’s call for Saudi Arabia to lead a jihad against Israel would, if pursued, create unprecedented chaos and bloodshed in the region.

So far, the kingdom has resisted these calls, but every day this restraint becomes more difficult to maintain. When Israel deliberately kills Palestinians, appropriates their lands, destroys their homes, uproots their farms and imposes an inhuman blockade on them; and as the world laments once again the suffering of the Palestinians, people of conscience from every corner of the world are clamouring for action. Eventually, the kingdom will not be able to prevent its citizens from joining the worldwide revolt against Israel. Today, every Saudi is a Gazan, and we remember well the words of our late King Faisal: “I hope you will forgive my outpouring of emotions, but when I think that our Holy Mosque in Jerusalem is being invaded and desecrated, I ask God that if I am unable to undertake Holy Jihad, then I should not live a moment more.”

Let us all pray that Mr Obama possesses the foresight, fairness, and resolve to rein in the murderous Israeli regime and open a new chapter in this most intractable of conflicts.

This brings to mind an ironic mirroring of the neocon mantra “Iraq is the tactical pivot, Saudi Arabia the strategic pivot, Egypt the prize” where Israel becomes the tactical pivot and Palestine the prize.

Enduring America muses on Obama’s phone calls with the Saudi regime:

So the first message in Obama’s call was not to get active Saudi participation in the naval blockade of Gaza but assurances that Riyadh would not try to undermine it by moving cash and material to Palestinian groups in the area. The second message, however, is more important and hard to decipher:

Do those US-Saudi ties mean that Obama will accept Saudi ideas for Israel-Palestinian negotiations, for example, a revival of the 2002 Mecca proposals that the Bush Administration flagrantly rebuffed? Or is Washington expecting the Saudis to follow the lead of a yet-seen approach that will be unveiled in the visit of George Mitchell to the region?

Turki’s appeal is incongruous with Saudia’s blaming of Hamas for the Israeli pogrom in Gaza – on January 1, 09

Saudi Arabia yesterday blamed Hamas for Israel’s continuing offensive in the Gaza Strip and urged it to resolve bitter differences with the western-backed Palestinian Authority – even as divisions deepened with a new charge of treachery.

Arab League foreign ministers meeting in emergency session in Cairo warned it was not possible to help until the Islamist movement in control of Gaza returned to national unity talks with its rival Fatah.

and even more disjunctive with Saudia’s original support of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in February 2006

Saudi Arabia will continue supporting the Palestinian Authority despite the election of a government led by the Islamic militant group Hamas — because it does not want to punish ordinary Palestinians, the kingdom’s foreign minister said Wednesday.

Turki’s missive recounts the approaches by Ahmadinejad to King Abdul for a unification of Sunni and Shia in combined defence of the Palestinian people may supercede the analysis made by Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, general manager of the satellite television station Al-Arabiya, who on January 20 saw Hamas as having been used as a tool by Iran, alienating members of the Arab League –

“Hamas must be aware that they were used by Iran to attack the Arabs in an unprecedented way that surpasses any previous antagonism. Iran has progressed as a result of this, and made advancements on the ground to an extremely dangerous point, which includes the attempt to create chaos in Arab countries opposed to it, and explicitly seeking to destroy Saudi Arabia, and incite the overthrow of the Egyptian regime. Such audacity serves only to unite Arab countries against Hamas. However it is also just and reasonable to say that the door is still open; it is up to the Hamas movement to choose between returning to the Arab family or remaining a weapon in the hands of Iran.

“Hamas is in a good position, and must negotiate with itself with regards to its own relationship with the Arabs, who can only respect Hamas and ensure its political and material rights on Palestinian soil. Generally speaking, we know that Hamas is not a singular organization, despite the similarity of its language and political façade; there is Hamas the hostage to Damascus and Tehran and whose leaders live in hotels, and there is the Gazan Hamas who have paid a high price in order to fulfill the orders of their brothers in Damascus, the results of which were always disastrous. The Gazan Hamas must chose between Tehran or Cairo.”

On the divisions among Arabs, the Middle East Times notes in an editorial that if both the Israelis and Hamas claim that they are victorious, “who are the losers? The Arabs, of course. Why? The Arab world comes out of this war far more divided than it has been in decades. Egypt and Syria, the two powerhouses in the Middle East remain as far apart as they have ever been.” “And one side has been working overtime trying to convince the rest of the Arab world that they should sever ties with the Jewish state (Syria’s view), while Egypt’s approach to the conflict is to keep negotiations with Israel going.

Haaretz reports on Obama’s overtures to the Middle East and omits ‘commerce’ from his statement that the borders of Gaza should be open for both ‘aid and commerce’, as reported in Al Jazeera and elsewhere.

Tipsy is given star treatment in Haaretz with as she shifts goal posts and indicates to Hillary Clinton that Israel is to continue its collective punishment of the Gazan people

Israel would not open the Gaza crossings without progress toward the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit

As Hamas begins to hand out aid to those whose homes were destroyed or damaged by Israel’s collective punishment. “Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli Defence Ministry official, met Egyptian officials in Cairo on Thursday to discuss ways to stop smuggling through tunnels between Egypt and Gaza”.

Haaretz reports that

The London-based Asharq al-Awsat reported Saturday that Hamas has suggested representatives of the Palestinian Authority be stationed at the Rafah crossing, but that they be residents of Gaza, not the West Bank.

A Hamas delegation comprising representatives from Gaza and Damascus traveled to Cairo is to meet with Egyptian officials on Sunday.

One Hamas official reiterated the group’s demand that Shalit be freed as part of a larger prisoner exchange, and that his release not be tied to the issue of opening Gaza’s border crossings.

Hamas spokesman Ayman Taha told Asharq Al-Awsat that his group wants European Union and Turkish troops to patrol Gaza’s border crossings with Israel.

The discussions in Egypt will focus on a working paper to consolidate the cease-fire with Israel following the three-week offensive.

One official said the talks – slated for Sunday – will also address the fate of Israeli soldier Shalit, captured by militants in a June 2006 cross-border raid.

The Hamas officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations.

The six-day-old truce remains fragile. Israel wants a halt to arms smuggling to the militants, while Hamas wants an end to Gaza blockade. Hamas demands the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

Enduring America perceptively comments:

These are quite clever proposals. Hamas is trying to separate the Shalit issue from the question of reopening the crossings, and their proposals for the border are very close to the Mubarak-Sarkozy plan pressed by Cairo soon after the initial Israeli attacks. If Cairo agrees, Egypt has effectively dismissed its earlier hopes of removing Hamas from power, and the diplomatic ball will be in Tel Aviv’s court.

Jews sans Frontieres has some valuable insights into Richard Falk’s assertion that Palestine is poised for victory. I’d like to be confident about that too, yet tend toward the JSF realism.

George Mitchell is due in the region next Wednesday – latest news is that

Western, Arab and Israeli diplomats said [George Mitchell] was expected to make stops in Egypt, Israel, the occupied West Bank and Jordan, but they ruled out direct contacts with Hamas who rules the Gaza Strip.

With an illegitimate President Abbas and Fatah, collaborators with the illegal Occupation as his sole base for negotiating settlement, will Mitchell contemplate his past negotiations with the IRA which led to successful resolution in Northern Ireland, smf bite the bullet to deal with the only democratically elected government in Palestine, Hamas, despite their designation, proliferated so successfully after their election by Israel, as a terrorist organisation?

Neri Bar-On throws more light on Mitchell

The Mitchell announcement came after eight years during which there has been no American peace envoy, and the substance of the Mitchell’s previous work on Northern Ireland and Israel-Palestine is both attracting attention and igniting a precious, if cautious, spark of hope that progress toward peace might just be possible.

Writing about the ‘Irish Lessons For Peace’ in the International Herald Tribune in May 2007 (together with Richard Haass), Mitchell suggested that “those previously associated with violent groups” should be brought in, preconditions be kept to an “absolute minimum”, parties be allowed to “hold on to their dreams”, and that sanctions be imposed for backsliding on commitments. All sound advice for anyone seeking to overcome the flaws in the current Middle East peace process.