Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Somali News Update: Ethiopia Begins Troop Pullout; More Fighting in Capital; Sudan Expresses Concern Over Foreign Naval Presence

Ethiopia begins troop pullout in Somalia

Big News
Wednesday 31st December, 2008

Ethiopian troops have begun to pull out of Somalia.

Initially, the troops had signaled their withdrawal for Wednesday, but the Somali government said they had been convinced to stay until the first week of January.

The Somali government has been concerned a power vacuum will be created when the Ethiopians leave.

An estimated 3,000 Ethiopian troops have been in Somalia since helping to expel Islamist rebels from the capital Mogadishu two years ago.

The rebels are now in control of large parts of southern Somalia.

Ethiopia 'packing up in Somalia'

Many Somalis resent the presence of the Ethiopian troops
Ethiopian troops have started to prepare to leave Somalia on the day they were supposed to complete their withdrawal, witnesses say.

The troops were packing mattresses, personal belongings and loading trucks with military supplies, they said.

But there was no sign that the Ethiopians had started to leave the capital Mogadishu, as they have promised to do by the end of the year.

Some fear the Ethiopian withdrawal could lead to a power vacuum.

But others say it could make it easier for a new government to be formed, including moderate Islamist forces.

The Ethiopian intervention to help government forces oust Islamists from the capital two years ago was deeply unpopular with many Somalis.

Various Islamist and nationalist groups now control much of southern Somalia. Government forces only control parts of Mogadishu and the town of Baidoa.

But hardline Islamist leader Sheik Muktar Robow said his forces would continue to fight government troops even after the Ethiopian troops leave.

"We will not stop fighting even if the Ethiopian troops withdraw because our aim is to implement Islamic law across Somalia," he said.

President Abdullahi Yusuf this week resigned after a power-struggle with his prime minister, partly over whether to negotiate with moderate Islamists.

Fresh shelling kills civilians in Mogadishu

12/30/2008 3:38:00 PM
Shabelle: SOMALIA

MOGADIHSU (Sh. M. Network)-At least 10 people have been killed and dozens wounded Tuesday after government and Ethiopian soldiers shelled Bakaro market in Mogadishu, witnesses said.

"A mortar shell landed in my restaurant and six people died instantly,"said Ali Hassan the owner of the restaurant.

"Nine civilians were seriously injured,"he said.

The Shelling came after Al-shabab insurgent group fired mortars to the presidential palace where Ethiopian and government troops are based.

The government and Ethiopian troops fired back to the heavily populated market which caused the civilian deaths.

Al-shabab spokesman, Sheik Muqtar Robow Abu Manoor vowed they will continue the fighting until the Ethiopian soldiers withdraw from Somalia.

Abu Mansoor told Shabelle Media Network that the fighting in central regions of Somalia is between what he called factions under the name of religious groups that Ethiopia armed them and his group.

Earlier on Tuesday Ethiopian soldiers arrested dozens of Somali teenagers in Mogadishu and it is not known why the Ethiopian soldiers detained them.

Residents say Ethiopian troops with two tanks entered in parts of Wardhigley district in Mogadishu and took the teenagers with them to the presidential palace.

Ethiopia recently announced its intention to withdraw its troops which entered Somalia in December of 2006 in order to bolster its own security concerns and help the TFG gain stronger governing leverage in the country.

However, Human Rights Watch issued a report on 7 December 2008 saying that Ethiopia’ intervention has fueled new attacks and bombings that have encouraged the conflict to spread into neighboring regions and across borders.

Human Rights Watch accused the rival sides in Mogadishu of human rights violations and committing war crimes.

Shabelle Media Network
By: Ahmednor Mohamed Farah

Somalis killed as Islamists clash

Al-Shabab is fighting a relatively new rival Islamist militant group

At least 40 people have died in clashes between Islamist groups vying to control key towns in central Somalia.

Fifty others were wounded as a self-styled moderate Islamist group, Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca, continued to battle militants from the hardline al-Shabab.

In the capital, Mogadishu, 10 people died as insurgents fired mortars at the bases of government troops.

Monday's violence came as Somalia's president quit, adding to the chaos as Ethiopian troops prepare to withdraw.

Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca, a relatively new Islamist group, has declared a holy war on al-Shabab, blaming it for the bloodshed in Somalia.

It seized two towns in central Somalia over the weekend, triggering fierce clashes.

Various Islamist and nationalist groups control most of southern Somalia. Government forces only control parts of the capital, Mogadishu, and the town of Baidoa.

The bloodletting continued as Somalia's President Abdullahi Yusuf quit following a power struggle with the prime minister.

The pair had clashed in recent months over attempts to negotiate a peace deal with moderates in the Islamist-led armed opposition.

In 2006, President Yusuf made the unpopular decision to call in troops from neighbouring Ethiopia to prop up his fragile administration but the move has failed to quell the Islamist insurgency.

Ethiopian troops are due to pull out this week, raising fears of a power vacuum in a country that has not had an effective national government since 1991.

Fighting between the Ethiopia-backed government and the insurgents has left one million people homeless and much of Mogadishu deserted.

Somalia: Somali militia fighting claims five lives -witnesses

Mon. December 29, 2008 02:39 am
By Bonny Apunyu

(SomaliNet) Witnesses said five people were killed on Sunday in fighting between Somalia's radical Islamist Shebab insurgents and local militia over the control of a town in the country's central region.

According to reports, the local militia, a moderate Islamist group known as Ahlu-Suna, attacked the Shebab fighters who had seized control of Dhusamareb, some 400 kilometres (250 miles) northwest of the capital Mogadishu.

"Five people were killed and at least nine others were wounded," said local resident Mohamud Ibrahim.

A local elder who declined to be named confirmed the death toll, adding that they were trying to negotiate an end to the clashes.

"We are trying to mediate an end to the fighting but it is very difficult because the leaders of the warring groups are not known yet," he said.

He said the fighting was dying down.

On Saturday, at least 10 people were killed in clashes between the two groups over the control of Gurael, another town in central Somalia.

The Shebab, a militant wing of an Islamist movement ousted by Ethiopia-backed government forces in early 2007, have in recent months retaken much of the territory they lost to the joint forces.

They now control much of southern and central Somalia, except Mogadishu and Baidoa, the seat of the transitional government.

The lawless Horn of Africa country has lacked a central government since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. - Sapa-AFP

Sudan president: mobilization of naval fleets in Somali coast complicates situation

12/31/2008 5:42:00 AM
Shabelle: SOMALIA

KHARTOUM (Sh. M. Network) -- Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on Tuesday said the mobilization of naval fleets in the Somali coast would complicate the situation in Somalia and the region as a whole.

"The mobilization of fleets will not solve the problem.... It is feared that the presence of an international military will be a pretext of threat to the stability of the region," he said in a speech at the opening session of the Sanaa Gathering, which is made up of Sudan, Yemen, Ethiopia and Somalia.

He said the phenomenon of piracy on the Somali coast is the natural result of the deteriorating situation in Somalia, and "the elimination of the phenomenon of piracy depends on resolving the Somali problem and reaching a lasting peace and stability there."

Bashir stressed the importance of a conciliatory solution to the problem of Somalia, and warned that the situation in Somalia, what he described as "chaos," will affect the stability of the whole region.

He called on the international community to support the efforts of the African Union and the Arab League which aimed at finding a peaceful settlement to the conflicts in Somalia.

Somalia, which has not had a functioning central government since 1991, has witnessed an upsurge in fighting this year, which has led to massive humanitarian suffering and widespread displacement.

The waters off the Somali coasts are considered to be some of the world's most dangerous areas as pirates have hijacked and attacked dozens of ships this year.

According to the London-based International Maritime Bureau, at least 109 ships have been attacked there this year. Fourteen ships are currently held for ransom, including a Saudi supertanker Sirius Star and a Ukrainian cargo ship Faina, which was carrying 32 armored tanks.

The pirates' focus has been the Gulf of Aden, between Somalia and Yemen, where 20,000 merchant ships a year pass on the way in and out of the Suez Canal, the quickest route from Asia to Europe and the Americas.

Since June, the UN Security Council has adopted four resolutions calling on all countries to take part in patrolling gulf and waters off Somalia. The latest UN authorization allowed countries to "undertake all necessary measures in Somalia, including in its airspace" to stop the pirates.

The authorized but voluntary international intervention includes naval vessels from China, Denmark, Germany, India, Italy, Russia and the United States -- which are in concerted vigilance over the seaway from the gulf to the Suez Canal, which is the shortest route connecting Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean.

Shabelle Media Network
Source: Xinhua

Fighting starts in Gedo region

12/31/2008 8:46:00 AM
Shabelle: SOMALIA

LUUQ ( Sh. M. Network )-Heavy fighting between the Islamist insurgents and Ethiopian troops has begun at a around Garsow checkpoint and the bridge of Luuq town in Gedo region last night, Shabelle correspondent Ahmed Omar reported

The fighting has started after the Islamist insurgent fighters attacked two Ethiopian military bases those have checkpoint in the town using heavy weapons including mortar shells and machine guns and fighting has been going on for hours in the town as reported.

Islamist insurgent official has claimed the responsibility of the attack and said that they were behind that attack which was targeted the Ethiopian troops’ military bases in Gedo region and he added they have inflicted more casualties to the Ethiopian troops in over there.

No casualties have been reported until now as the reports from Gedo region say and the fighting between both Islamists and the Ethiopian troops in Luuq town has been stopped and the situation of the town is calm now.

The Ethiopian troops have been in Gedo region since eight years and were working with the administration of that region and but this was the first attack that Ethiopian troops those have bases in Luuq town targeted by Islamist insurgents in Gedo region who are greatly against the foreign troops’ presence and government policy.

Shabelle Media Network

5,000 Demonstrate Solidarity With Palestine In Dearborn

5,000 Demonstrate for Palestine in Dearborn

Arab-Americans, peace and human rights activists line Warren

by Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor
Pan-African News Wire

DEARBORN, Dec. 30--In one of the largest demonstrations in Dearborn in recent years, organizers estimated that some 5,000 people formed a human chain along Warren avenue in Dearborn, the heart of the Arab-American community in metropolitan Detroit, to express solidarity with the plight of the Palestinians now under siege in Gaza by the Israeli military.

Chanting slogans such as "Free, Free Palestine", the crowd flew Palestinian flags on the street along Warren avenue as well as from automobiles driving up and down the streets surrounding the demonstration. Although most of the demonstrators were of Palestinian and Arab heritage, there were several anti-war, peace and solidarity organizations represented who are based in the United States.

These groups oppose the aggressive policies of the Israeli government as well as US funding for Israeli military operations. Some of the groups present at the December 30 action were Jewish Voice for Peace, Solidarity, the Green Party of Detroit, the Palestine Office of Michigan and Jewish Witness for Peace.

The demonstration in Dearborn was called by the Congress of Arab-American Organizations. The editor of the locally published "Arab-American News", Osama Siblani, took decisive leadership in mobilizing the community for the gathering. In addition, Muslims from other nationalities attended the protest in an act of solidarity with the current plight of the Palestinians.

One of the leading anti-war and social justice organizations in the area, the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI), participated in the demonstration in solidarity with the Palestinians in Dearborn. MECAWI members held signs calling for the end of the siege of Gaza and for the withdrawal of US aid from the state of Israel.

The MECAWI statement read in part that: "We condemn the U.S. complicity in the siege and bombings of Gaza and demand an immediate halt to ALL United States military and other aid to the outlaw state of Israel. The Zionist state is the largest recipient of U.S. aid in the world and is Washington’s outpost in the Middle East. Every single one of the bombs rained down on the people of Gaza, every single fighter jet and helicopter, every piece of artillery and ammunition, is bought and paid for by the United States – stolen from working peoples’ tax dollars.

"We demand that President-elect Barack Obama end his silence on the terror attacks and condemn Israel’s actions immediately. The millions of people who elected Obama did so in large part because they want peace and an end to endless war and militarism. The murderous onslaught against the people of Gaza requires the voicing of yeah or nay – to remain silent is to condone Israel’s barbaric genocide against the Palestinian people."

The MECAWI statement echoed the sentiment of anti-war forces around the US and the world. Former US Congresswoman and Green Party candidate for President in 2008, Cynthia McKinney, was part of the crew of the "Dignity", a boat seeking to deliver aid to the Palestinians under siege in Gaza. The boat was hit by an Israeli military vessel and refused entry.

In a CNN interview, McKinney appealed to President-elect Obama, to break his silence and to speak out against the humanitarian crisis created by the Isreali military forces in Gaza. Obama has yet to say anything about the Israeli massacres brought on by the aerial bombardments.

The demonstration in Dearborn received extensive press coverage in the Detroit area as well as nationally and internationally. A rally called after the demonstration was filled to capacity. Over 1,000 people could not get in and held a simultaneous gathering outside in the parking lot.

Other activities are being planned in the southeast Michigan area. The Batsheva Dance Company from Israel will be performing in Ann Arbor in February and activists there are calling for protests against the concert. The Palestine solidarity activists see these protests and part and parcel of the campaign for boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions (bds) against the state of Israel.

Jewish Voice for Peace and the American Jews for a Just Peace
in Detroit are planning a public forum at the Royal Oak Public Libary on January 10, from 4:00-6:00pm. Barbara Harvey, an American Jew and labor/civil rights advocate and lawyer will report on current human rights, social and economic conditions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories through photographs and stories of her recent trip there.

Also MECAWI is planning a public educational meeting in Detroit in January to review the current crisis in light of the historical role of Israel in suppressing the democratic and national rights of the Palestinian people.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Palestine News Update: MECAWI Solidarity Statement; Aid Boat Hit by Israel; Hamas Vows to Continue Resistance



Statement from the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War and Injustice (MECAWI)

Note: Join today's (Dec. 30) Demonstration in Solidarity With The People of Gaza at West Warren and Chase in Dearborn, MI, Beginning at 4:00pm

December 30, 2008

The Michigan Emergency Committee Against War and Injustice (MECAWI) condemns the U.S.-backed Israeli terrorist bombings in Gaza, which have resulted in the mass murder of over 350 Palestinians and the serious wounding of thousands more. We join the angry, growing worldwide protests of these latest Israeli war crimes.

We condemn the U.S. complicity in the siege and bombings of Gaza and demand an immediate halt to ALL United States military and other aid to the outlaw state of Israel. The Zionist state is the largest recipient of U.S. aid in the world and is Washington’s outpost in the Middle East. Every single one of the bombs rained down on the people of Gaza, every single fighter jet and helicopter, every piece of artillery and ammunition, is bought and paid for by the United States – stolen from working peoples’ tax dollars.

We demand that President-elect Barack Obama end his silence on the terror attacks and condemn Israel’s actions immediately. The millions of people who elected Obama did so in large part because they want peace and an end to endless war and militarism. The murderous onslaught against the people of Gaza requires the voicing of yeah or nay – to remain silent is to condone Israel’s barbaric genocide against the Palestinian people.

We demand an immediate end to the 18-month genocidal siege of Gaza by the Israeli military and its U.S. suppliers and overlords. The people of Gaza have been struggling to survive with insufficient food, power and a damaged and depleted healthcare system. The world has condemned this siege as an Israeli crime against humanity.

The siege and the bombings are U.S.-Israeli war crimes. Without billions in yearly U.S. aid Israel could not bomb the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza, cut off their electricity and kick them out of their homes. Here in Detroit and throughout the U.S., the same U.S. government lets banks foreclose on workers’ homes while bosses lay off thousands of workers and millions live in fear of imminent destitution.

We demand the immediate cessation of the genocidal bombing campaigns by Israel against the people of Gaza. We stand in solidarity with the people of Gaza, the Hamas government, and all Palestinian people against U.S. imperialism and Israel.

We demand that U.S. aid to Israel be cut to zero and that this money be used instead for reparations for the Palestinian people, to ensure their right to return, and for homes, jobs, health care and education for working people in the U.S.

Michigan Emergency Committee Against War and Injustice (MECAWI)Phone: 313-680-5508

Israeli vessel hits Gaza-bound boat

Dignity was carrying aid for Gaza's beleaguered
health care system

A small boat, damaged as it tried to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, has arrived in the Lebanese port of Tyre.

The Dignity started taking on water after it was hit by an Israeli naval vessel as it approached the Israeli coast with its cargo of medical aid.

The Free Gaza Movement, which organised the attempt to reach the territory , said their boat was "rammed" and shots were fired when at least four Israeli vessels confronted them in international waters.

Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for Israel's foreign ministry, denied there had been any shooting but said that the ships had made "physical contact".

He said that the crew of the Dignity had failed to respond to Israeli naval radio contact.


Elize Ernshire, one of the activists onboard the boat, told Al Jazeera by telephone that the boat was rammed twice from the front and then once from the side.

"It has destroyed the front of the boat and the roof ... and has left the cabin, the wheelhouse quite destroyed," she said.

" ... [W]e were threatened directly by the Israeli navy that if we continued on our course towards Gaza they would attack us again."

Mark Regev, an Israeli government spokesman, said that the incident was nothing more than a "propoganda stunt".

"Israel would never have done anything against international law, that is inconceivable," he told Al Jazeera.

"These people just want a headline, they don't really want to help the people of Gaza, if they wanted to help the people of Gaza they would be asking Hamas why they initiated the violence."

Several small boats have arrived in the Gaza Strip carrying international activists and medical aid since August in defiance of the Israeli siege.

Ernshire said that the incident would not stop the movement trying again to take aid to the impoverished territory.

"The majority of passenger here are determined, once we reach Lebanon, to keep continuing to organise such boats as these, to reach the people of Gaza," she said.

Gaza's health system is struggling to cope with the casualties from four consecutive days of aerial bombardment by Israeli warplanes and helicopter gunships.


Hospitals were already facing shortages of medicines and other medical products due to the Israeli siege imposed after the Hamas government seized full control of the territory in 2007.

As well as more than three tonnes of aid, the Dignity was carrying three doctors to help treat the more than 1,600 wounded in recent days.

Avital Leibovitz, an Israeli military spokeswoman, said that humanitarian aid was being allowed into the Gaza Strip and the medical supplies on the boat would not have made much impact on the humanitarian situation.

"Lets not talk about a blockade because it does not exist, the humanitarian corridor is active, alive and working," she told Al Jazeera.

"There are a numerous number of trucks enetring Gaza with food and medicine according to the requests of the aid organisations."

Three Al Jazeera journalists were among the 15 people onboard the boat.

"Al Jazeera holds Israel responsible for the safety of the Al Jazeera journalists and everyone on board the Dignity," Wadah Khanfar, director general of the Al Jazeera network said in a statement.

"Al Jazeera's presence on the boat is to cover the expedition for news and journalistic purposes. We are deeply concerned for the safety and well being of our journalists."

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Violence at Gaza protest in Yemen

Protests have been held across the Middle East against the four-day-Israeli air attack on Gaza

Demonstrators in the Yemeni port city of Aden have broken into the Egyptian consulate in a protest against Cairo's response to Israel's offensive against Gaza, a security official has said.

The protesters, who were mostly students from the University of Aden, "vandalised furniture before they were removed peacefully from the building", the official said on Tuesday, asking not to be identified.

Another security official said three staff members were inside the building at the time but they were unhurt.

The official said one protester was wounded when a consular guard opened fire and that the protesters retaliated by setting fire to two consular vehicles.

More than 20 demonstrators were arrested.

Protests have been held across the Middle East against the four-day-Israeli air attack on Gaza, which has killed at least 360 Palestinians and wounded more than 1,600.

Many Arabs have accused Cairo of giving the green light to Israel's assault after Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's president, hosted Tzipi Livni, Israel's foreign minister, for talks just two days before the launch of the onslaught.

Rafah closure

In the absence of Israeli embassies in most Arab capitals, Egyptian diplomatic missions have been a particular focus of the demonstrations.

Demonstrators in Beirut, Lebanon - angry over Egypt's response to Israel's raids on Gaza - attacked the Egyptian embassy, throwing stones before police used tear gas to disperse them.

Protests have also been held outside the Egyptian embassy in Amman, the capital of Jordan.

Egypt has come under heavy criticism from Arab and Muslim countries over its refusal to re-open its border crossing with the Gaza Strip at Rafah over the past year, thereby aiding Israel's blockade of the territory.

Mubarak announced on Egyptian television on Tuesday that the Rafah crossing will not be fully re-opened until Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, regains authority in the territory.

"We will not deepen the division and that breach [among the Palestinians] by opening Rafah border crossing in the absence of the Palestinian Authority and the European Union monitors," he said, making reference to a 2005 agreement over the border.

Jakarta rally

Thousands have also rallied in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, to voice their opposition to the Israeli assault on Gaza.

Demonstrators waved Palestinian and Indonesian flags while some carried banners with slogans such as "Move Israel outside Palestine land".

Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim nation and many Indonesians have been staunch supporters of the Palestinian cause.

The protest coincided with a condemnation of the raids by Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesia's president.

"I have sent a letter to the secretary-general of United Nations as well as to the UN security council condemning the Israeli military attacks and urging swift action to resolve the conflict," Yudhoyono said.

"The security council must formally meet and issue a resolution to force Israel to end all attacks, so that Israeli and Palestinian can continue the peace process."

Jakarta has no diplomatic relations with Israel.

Source: Agencies

Hamas vows to hit Israel harder

The warning from Hamas's armed wing came after Israel said its assault could last "weeks"

The armed wing of Hamas has vowed to send rockets deeper into Israel than ever before if the latter continued its deadly bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

"We tell the leaders of the enemy - if you continue with your assault, we will hit with our rockets further than the cities we have hit so far," a masked spokesman for Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades said in televised comments on Tuesday.

"If you think that Hamas and al-Qassam will be crushed, we will rise up from the rubble," the spokesman said.

The Hamas announcement followed Israeli warning that the onslaught in the Gaza Strip could last for "weeks".

More than 360 people have been killed, including at least 61 women and children, in four consecutive days of Israeli bombardment and local hospitals are saying they are unable to cope with any more casualties.

Civilians and security guards were among the dead in the latest raids on Tuesday, Palestinian medical workers said.

Israel said there would be no let up until the threat of Palestinian rockets attacks from the Gaza Strip had been removed.

"There is no room for a ceasefire," Meir Sheetrit, Israel's interior minister, said.

"The government is determined to remove the threat of [rocket] fire on the south.

"Therefore the Israeli army must not stop the operation before breaking the will of Palestinians, of Hamas, to continue to fire at Israel."

Four Israeli citizens have been killed by missiles fired from Palestinian positions since the offensive began on Saturday.

Military preparations

The Israeli army has been massing infantry and armoured forces along the border amid increasing fears that a ground invasion is planned.

Matan Vilnai, Israel's deputy defence minister, said the military "has made preparations for some long weeks of action".

On Monday, areas of the border were declared "closed military zones" and thousands of reservists have been called up by the Israeli military.

"The ground forces are ready," Avital Leibovitz, an Israeli military spokeswoman, said on Tuesday.

"The option exists. It is possible that we will apply it but for the moment we are only hitting from the air and the sea."

Al Jazeera's Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from Gaza Strip, said that the confirmation that naval vessels were now launching attacks was a further widening of the offensive.

"We undertsand they are targeting buildings and various other targets throughout Gaza," he said.

Mohyeldin said that a ground offensive would worsen the humanitarian situation for Gazans.

"A ground offensive will mean urban warfare, close proximity fighting from street-to-street ... Gaza is so densely-populated that ultimately in that kind of operation the civilian population will find themselves caught in the middle," he said.

More than 1,600 Palestinians have already been wounded in the assault and hospital are running out medicines and other products needed to treat them.

Ceasefire call

Ban Ki-Moon, the UN secretary-general, has added his voice to calls for an end to the violence.

"All this must stop," Ban told a news conference at UN headquarters in New York.

"Both Israel and Hamas must halt their acts of violence and take all necessary measures to avoid civilian casualties. A ceasefire must be declared immediately. They must also curb their inflammatory rhetoric."

Mark Regev, an Israeli government spokesman, told Al Jazeera that the Israel military was was being "as surgical as it can be", while Hamas rocket attacks indiscriminately targeted civilians.

"We have been hitting Hamas command-and-control, Hamas military structures ... our target is not the innocent people of Gaza, it is only the Hamas military machine," he said.

"Our feeling towards the people of Gaza is not hostility, we see them as victims of the terrible Hamas Taliban-type regime, just as the people of southern Israel are victims."

Support for Israel came from the US, with the White House saying Hamas must halt cross-border rocket fire.

"In order for the violence to stop, Hamas must stop firing rockets into Israel and agree to respect a sustainable and durable ceasefire," Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman said.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Gaza strikes challenge for Obama

By Tom Ackerman in Washington DC

The violence in Gaza will be one of Obama's top challenges when he takes office

While the Gaza Strip erupted at the weekend Barack Obama remained in holiday mode in Hawaii, sticking to his regular gym routine and otherwise relaxing.

The military action comes just three weeks before Obama is sworn in as president and poses a great challenge for a man who has promised to work for Middle East peace from his first day in office.

But although the president-elect has received briefings on the situation, David Axelrod, Obama’s top political adviser, said it would be inappropriate for the incoming chief executive to comment while George Bush is still president.

Nevertheless, he said Obama stood by his defence of Israeli actions when he visited the southern town of Sderot last July, a frequent target of Hamas rockets.

"He said then that when bombs are raining down on your citizens there is an urge to respond and act to put an end to that," Axelrod told CBS talkshow Face the Nation on Sunday.

"That's what he said then, and that’s what he believes."

He said Obama planned to work closely with Israel which he said was Washington's "most important ally in the region".

"They're a great ally of ours... And that is a fundamental principle from which he'll work. But he will do so in a way that will promote the cause of peace, and work closely with the Israelis and the Palestinians on that."


Like Bush, Obama has ruled out talks with Hamas for its refusal to recognise Israel.

During his White House campaign, Obama pledged to further cement the US-Israeli alliance saying he would "always stand up for Israel's right to defend itself in the United Nations and around the world".

Even so, critics of US Middle East policy say Obama ought to express more empathy for the Palestinians' situation.

Michael Hudson, professor of international relations at Georgetown University said that by backing Israel's position the US was opening itself up to attack.

"If you're identified with an Israel that is bombing indiscriminately and disproportionately, this is really good for Osama Bin laden, it's good for extremists all across the region and I fear that Americans as well as Israelis will now suffer," he told Al Jazeera.

In contrast to the incumbent president, Obama has pledged to take an active personal role in peace efforts early in his administration.

How long those efforts are waylaid by the ongoing fighting, however, is a question no one can yet answer.

Source: Al Jazeera

Ghana News Bulletin: Controversy Looms Over Delayed Election Results

Controversy over Ashanti votes


As NPP & NDC boycott declaration of results

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Thousands of supporters of the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) yesterday besieged the premises of the Electoral Commission (EC) after the leadership of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the NDC disagreed over the results of some constituencies in Ashanti region.

Media reports had earlier in the day put the Presidential Candidate of the NDC, Prof. John Evans Atta Mills ahead of the NPP’s Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo based on certified results from some of the constituencies.

With 223 out of 230 constituency certified results declared so far, the law Professor leads with 4, 414, 419 votes representing 50.64%. His challenger, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo trails him with 4, 307,120 representing 49.36%.

Meanwhile, Issa Alhassan reports from Kumasi that Ashanti Region, widely known to be the stronghold of the ruling New Patriotic Party experienced an uneasy calm throughout yesterday, as results of the presidential run-off trickled in slowly via the various local radio stations.

Many residents, who until yesterday morning were very optimistic of the chances of the NPP, after the party recorded astronomical figures in certain polling stations in some constituencies in the metropolis, recoiled to their shelves in anxiety, as early results which trickled in from over 216 constituencies out of 230 indicated that the NDC flagbearer, Prof. Mills, was leading in popular votes.

Many residents continued to count their losses and ponder over the possibility that the ruling party may not be able to retain power.

Most of the constituents were shocked to see the NPP lose the elections to the opposition NDC, in the face of the huge electoral successes recorded at Manhyia, Bantama, Pankronu, Subin, Nhyiaeso, Asokwa and Suame constituencies.

Some of them, however, still remained cautiously optimistic considering the fact that there were a number of constituencies in the NPP’s strongholds in both the Ashanti and Eastern Regions which were yet to be declared.

Planned events and programmes by sympathizers of the NPP to mark victory have thus been nipped in the bud, as shock is written all over the faces of constituents. Nationwide provisional results of the second round polls made public by radio stations in the city, as of Monday, placed Prof. Mills ahead in percentage and popular votes, a situation which is quite different from what was witnessed in the first round of the December 7 elections when Nana Akufo Addo was leading.

Whereas the NPP was recording impressive gains in some popular constituencies such as Manhyia, Subin and Asokwa constituencies, the NDC had also made significant improvement in the Volta, Northern and Brong Ahafo Regions, heightening fears and speculations of many residents that the National Democratic Congress might come back.

The Ashanti Region was identified as having held the key to NPP’s victory in the second round of the elections, after the ruling party attributed its inability to record a first round victory to the low turn out of voters in the region. This compelled the ruling party to embark on an intensive house-to-house campaign dubbed “Fre Wo Nua”, which literally means call your brother to go and vote on December 28.

While this campaign seem to have paid off, considering the increase of voting percentage from 73 to 83 percent respectively in the first and second round voting, the NDC once again put up a splendid performance in the NPP stronghold, resulting in the increase of percentage of votes for Prof. John Evans Attah Mills.

When The Chronicle stormed the city on Monday to interact with voters and seek their views on the outcome of the elections, most of them expressed shock at the turn of events, and brooded over what would become of them when the NPP fails to win.

A shop keeper at Adum, who gave his name as “Mugabe”, said he felt let down and terrified about the unfolding events in the elections. “I felt very worried and terribly shocked when I heard results that were coming in and I asked myself how come the NPP failed to maintain its lead as happened in the first round.”

Samuel Agbowode also reports from Ho that there were jubilations in the town as taxis and motorbikes tooted their horns to signify victory for the NDC, while others were spotted singing victory songs.

Earlier in the day, Ho remained calm as the results of the presidential run-off was being announced even though Prof. Atta Mills was ahead of Nana Akufo-Addo by a slim margin.

The situation in the Ho municipality was characterized with fear and anxiety, which saw business activities going on smoothly as some of the people quietly discussed the trend of the election with the fear that the NDC ‘s Prof. Mills would not win for the third time, while others were hopeful that this time the NDC would win.

Some of the people who expressed their views on the election results and the possible positions of the candidates said they were sure that the NDC would emerge the victor due to the fact that Mills was leading the race. A businessman, Mr. Joshua Narh, who spoke to The Chronicle, said the NDC Candidate would win at all cost because Prof. Mills had suffered for too long.

He continued that the Ho Township and the municipality remained quiet, due to the fact that the people would not like to start the jubilation at the time the out- come of the election still remained unclear as to who would become the next President of the country.

“You are a media man, just wait and see how we will jubilate after the declaration of the final results.”

A teacher in Ho, Madam Theresa Kpeyibor, who also expressed the hope of the NDC winning the elections, said the party, after been given the mandate to govern the country, should be prepared to meet the socio-economic challenges confronting the country as a result of the world economic difficulties.

She, however, reminded the NDC that in case the party was given the opportunity to administer the affairs of the country, the party should be able to satisfy the needs of the people, as the expectations of the people were very high and anything short of that would be a disappointment to them.

Madam Kpeyibor noted that even though the supporters of the party would jubilate if the party wins the elections, they should understand that the presidency rotates and that when one party gets the chance to win the elections, then it requires more responsibility.

To her, all that was important was to ensure a peaceful environment that would promote economic activities to improve on the lives of the people.

Some of the people who pleaded anonymity said even if the NDC wins the election, it would not mean much to them unless they see some improvement in their socio economic lives, which would be better than what the NPP was doing.

They said, the most important aspect of elections was to promote development and anything short of that would not be tolerated, noting that Ghanaians should learn to vote, based on issues of development rather than ethnic, tribal and religious affiliations.

Ghana knife-edge result delayed

The electoral commissioner of Ghana has delayed the result of Sunday's knife-edge presidential run-off until Friday.

Results in the Ashanti and Volta regions have been disputed and the Tain area, where the poll was delayed, will now vote on Friday.

Officials said the contest between the opposition's John Atta Mills and ruling party's Nana Akufo-Addo was so close one result could decide the outcome.

The BBC correspondent in Ghana says there are fears violence could erupt.

New Patriotic Party (NPP) candidate Mr Akufo-Addo gained the most votes in the first round earlier this month but did not pass the 50% threshold needed for outright victory.

Electoral commission chairman Kwadwo Afari-Gyan said opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) candidate Mr Atta Mills had won 50.13% of the vote, while Mr Akufo-Addo had taken 49.87%.

This means just 23,055 votes divide the two candidates, out of a total cast of some 9m.

"Results are so close that the result of the Tain constituency could affect the eventual winner," Mr Afari-Gyan said.

Warning shots

He said the results covered all 230 constituencies, except Tain in the Brong Ahafo region, which was unable to vote on Sunday because of a problem with voting materials.

According to the Daily Guide newspaper, the ruling party had accused electoral officials in Tain of stealing about 1,820 ballot papers, which they claimed were given to the opposition.

The district has some 53,000 registered voters.

The privately-owned Joy FM radio station reported that during the first round of the vote in Tain earlier this month, 30,000 electors turned out and awarded a narrow victory to Mr Atta Mills.

The commissioner, who has been stuck in behind-closed-doors wrangling with both parties in the capital Accra, said they would also use the delay to audit the disputed results.

The electoral commission headquarters was besieged for much of Tuesday by thousands of NDC supporters demanding their candidate be declared the winner.

Armed police and soldiers backed by water cannon trucks and an armoured personnel carrier kept the protesters behind barricades and at one point fired warning shots.

Ice cream

As tensions rose, party officials handed out ice cream and water to the crowds to calm them down.

Mr Atta Mills had earlier claimed victory, but the NPP said this was premature.

Shops closed early on Tuesday, with businessmen fearing that there could be looting once the result is announced.

The opposition has been disputing results awarded to the governing party from five constituencies in its stronghold of the Ashanti region.

It is understood turn-out in one area was recorded at 99% - said by election experts to be unheard of - while there were also complaints dead people, children and foreign nationals had been listed among voters.

The NPP, meanwhile, said there had been widespread intimidation of its election agents in the Volta region and results from these areas would be challenged.

International observers have given the poll a preliminary clean bill of health and urged both candidates to accept the results.

Some 12.5 million people were eligible to vote in the election - the fifth since Ghana's return to democracy in 1992.

President John Kufuor is standing down having served two consecutive terms.

In the two previous elections he defeated Mr Atta Mills.

Mr Atta Mills served as vice-president under former leader Jerry Rawlings.

Monitors hope Ghana's poll can help salvage the tarnished image of constitutional democracy in Africa, after flawed elections in Kenya and Zimbabwe and military coups in Mauritania in August and in Guinea last week.

The stakes have been raised in these elections because Ghana has just found oil, which is expected to start generating revenue in 2010.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/12/30 18:18:26 GMT

Ghana: Former President Rawlings Calls for Calm

30 December 2008

Accra — Former President Jerry Rawlings has called on Ghanaians not to be despondent over the delay in the announcement of the results of the December 28 presidential election runoff.

In a statement issued in Accra on Tuesday President Rawlings said: The change we have worked for is at hand. Let us not allow ourselves to be unduly despondent but keep faith and hope alive.

The former President said he had been compelled to break his silence on the announcement of the results due to an avalanche of messages, mostly by text; he had received since last Sunday.

Everyone from the media, election observers and the general populace have observed the process and it is clear who has won, he said.

Former President Rawlings said Ghana’s democracy had evolved considerably and the smooth transition in 2000, which saw his government hand over peacefully to the New Patriotic Party (NPP) was a good example of how far the process had evolved.

Ghanaians made their voices known through their vote on December 28 and we have the assurance that the Electoral Commission will declare the verdict today, he said.

The Former President called on the security agencies to remain steadfast and not to undermine their conscience and professionalism but to uphold the will of the people.

Ghana: Religious Heads and Civil Society Groups Call for Restraint

30 December 2008

Accra — The coalition of civil society groups and some eminent religious leaders on Tuesday called on the leaders and supporters of National Democratic Congress (NDC) and New Patriotic Party (NPP) to remain calm and allow the Electoral Commission (EC) to do its work as it prepares to declare the results of the December 28 presidential election runoff.

The group said it had been in touch with the Chief of Defence Staff, who had given them assurance of the neutrality of the military and their loyalty to protect the State.

Peter Cardinal Appiah Turkson, speaking on behalf of the group at a press conference in Accra appealed to media houses to exercise circumspection in their reportage and to reflect on the implications of their work in "these rather sensitive moments."

He said following reports of disagreement over results from some constituencies late last night at the EC Head Office, which turned into rumours, the country had been plunged into a State of anxiety.

Cardinal Turkson said in an effort to seek clarification and offer advice they met with Prof. John Evans Atta Mills, NDC Presidential Candidate and Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, NPP Presidential Candidate, and leaders of the two parties at separate meeting to resolve the crisis.

He said the two leaders also engaged the Chairman of the EC on the matter to discuss the way forward.

Cardinal Turkson said there was confirmation that both Presidential Candidates had affirmed the ECs mandate to finalize and release the result.

Additionally, he said, the candidates agreed to ask their supporters to be calm and that they had recognized the need for dialogue at the highest level.

The coalition is made up of the Christian Council; Catholic Bishops Conference; Civic Forum Initiative and other eminent persons such as Maulvi Wahab Adams, Head of the Ammadiyya Mission in Ghana.

Monday, December 29, 2008

In America For Employment, A Kenyan Priest Relocates

December 29, 2008

Divine Recruits

In America for Job, a Kenyan Priest Finds a Home

New York Times

OAK GROVE, Ky. — The Rev. Chrispin Oneko, hanging up his vestments after leading one of his first Sunday Masses at his new American parish, was feeling content until he discovered several small notes left by his parishioners.

The notes, all anonymous, conveyed the same message: Father, please make your homilies shorter. One said that even five minutes was too long for a mother with children.

At home in Kenya, Father Oneko had preached to rural Africans who walked for hours to get to church and would have been disappointed if the sermons were brief.

“Here the whole Mass is one hour,” he said, a broad smile on his round face. “That was a homework for me, to learn to summarize everything and make the homily 10 minutes, maybe 15. Here, people are on the move very fast.”

Father Oneko is part of a wave of Roman Catholic priests from Africa, Asia and Latin America who have been recruited to fill empty pulpits in parishes across America. They arrive knowing how to celebrate Mass, anoint the sick and baptize babies. But few are prepared for the challenges of being a pastor in America.

Father Oneko, 46, had never counseled parishioners like those he found here at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church. Many are active-duty or retired military families coping with debt, racial prejudice, multiple deployments to war zones and post-traumatic stress disorder. Nor did he have any idea how to lead the multimillion-dollar fund-raising campaign the parishioners had embarked on, hoping to build an octagonal church with a steeple to replace their red brick parish hall.

Cutting his sermons short was, in some ways, the least of Father Oneko’s worries when he arrived here in 2004. He did not understand the African-American experience. He had never dealt with lay people so involved in running their church. And yet, in the end, the families of his church would come to feel an affinity with their gentle new pastor, reaching out to him in his hour of need, just as he had tended to them in theirs.

To the volunteers at St. Michael’s, it was clear that Father Oneko was out of his element in many ways. Marie Lake, the church’s volunteer administrator, and her husband, Fred, often invited him for dinner.

“My husband was driving him down 41A and there was a big old statue of Uncle Sam,” said Mrs. Lake, who owns an accounting business and keeps the church’s books. “He thought it was Sam from Sam’s Club wholesale.”

To help him along, the Lakes gave Father Oneko a high school textbook on American history and government.

“Many years ago we sent our missionaries to Africa, and now they’re sending missionaries here,” Mrs. Lake said. “It’s strange how that goes.”

In this largely rural, largely white area of Western Kentucky, the Rev. Darrell Venters, who is in charge of recruiting priests for the Diocese of Owensboro, knew that some of his parishes would never accept Father Oneko, who is short, stout and very dark-skinned.

But Father Venters thought that Father Oneko and St. Michael’s, a parish on the outskirts of a big military base, with its racial mix and many families who had lived abroad, was a good bet.

“We knew if any parish would accept him, it would be this one,” Father Venters said.

Inspired to Serve

When Father Oneko was growing up, the priest in his Roman Catholic parish was an American who spoke the native Luo language and was beloved by the villagers. He showed the children home movies of his parents and his seminary back in America.

“He inspired me,” Father Oneko said. “He was able to speak my language better than anybody I have known. It really interested me, the way I saw him praying the rosary every day. I just admired to be like him.”

In Kenya, Father Oneko became the sole pastor for 12 satellite parishes in an 80-mile stretch. He served more than 3,000 people communion on a typical weekend and ran a girls high school.

It was a hardship post. His car, the only one in the vicinity, was used as a school bus, an ambulance and, if the local officers caught a thief, a police car — with Father Oneko the driver.

When his bishop asked for volunteers to serve in a diocese in Jamaica that badly needed priests, Father Oneko put up his hand. He wanted a new challenge, and being a missionary suited his vision of serving the church.

He found conditions in Jamaica even more desperate than in Kenya. Violence was so common that thugs had killed a priest at the altar.

“The rats in the rectory ate my clothes,” he said. “I got a baby kitten to hunt the rats, but the kitten was eaten by hungry dogs.”

Father Oneko lasted nearly five years as pastor of five churches in Jamaica. But after so much time in hardship posts, he wanted to taste life in a developed country. He sent letters of introduction to dioceses in the United States.

He received offers from two American dioceses. He knew nothing about the Diocese of Owensboro, but picked it because he felt some affinity with its name.

“Our names start with O,” he explained. “So I was so much interested in this place that starts with O.”

Priests must have permission to leave their own dioceses, and some bishops are reluctant to let their priests go, especially if their parishes are understaffed.

In fact, the flow of priests from the developing world to Europe and the United States amounts to a brain drain: most of those developing countries have far fewer priests in proportion to Roman Catholics than the United States does. Father Oneko’s situation in Kenya, serving 12 parishes simultaneously, was not unusual.

But Father Oneko’s bishop at the time, Archbishop John Njenga of Mombasa, said he was receptive to the pleas of the bishops in Jamaica and the United States. He had traveled to Germany and seen parishes closed for lack of priests.

“The Lord will reward us for our generosity, for letting men go out there,” said Archbishop Njenga, who is now retired.

Father Oneko arrived at St. Michael’s on the heels of a Nigerian priest who had been helping out temporarily. Father Oneko said he was unnerved to hear that the Nigerian had not been a resounding success. Parishioners complained that they could not understand his accent. An American pastor said the Nigerian had seemed overly interested in material goods. When an ophthalmologist offered to fit him for glasses at no charge, he asked for three pairs.

But parishioners soon noticed that Father Oneko was different. He listened and won people over with his humility. Where the Nigerian priest had taught the choir to sing African hymns, Father Oneko did not try to impose his worship style. And he learned to keep his sermons to no more than 15 minutes and the Masses to one hour.

One Sunday, after he opened his homily with a joke that fell flat, he said, “I know some of you are looking at your watches, so I’ll make it brief.”

He preached slowly, in his Kenyan accent: “Late us prrray.” Sometimes he spelled out words when he saw the congregation looking puzzled. “B-I-R-D, not B-E-D,” he said.

He did not tell the parishioners that in Kenya and Jamaica, he had been a charismatic Catholic, participating in faith healings and leading Masses with spirited singing and clapping that lasted for hours.

In Kentucky, he stuck to the music the congregation was used to. At the Saturday evening Mass, that meant a faint choir of three voices; at the 11:30 a.m. Sunday Mass, an extended family of Filipinos played guitar and piano.

Some afternoons, the church’s deacon, Jack Cheasty, would see Father Oneko sitting alone at the piano in a corner of the church, quietly playing the upbeat charismatic hymns he loved. “He’s cautious to do anything that might be divisive,” Deacon Cheasty said, “and that’s one of his strengths.”

Tending the Flock

Father Oneko drove slowly out of the church parking lot one day in his Ford Taurus with a bumper sticker that said, “The Holy Priesthood: Called, Consecrated, Sent.” He was making house calls, giving communion to three parishioners too ill to come to church.

At the first house, he was offered a seat in an armchair, but instead he chose to sit on a rumpled couch next to his ailing parishioner, SunI Robbins, so frail from lung cancer she could barely sit up. She opened trembling hands to receive the eucharist.

“Don’t lose hope,” Father Oneko said gently, “because we all love you. Mr. Robbins loves you. The whole church, we are all praying for you. Just trust in God’s mercy and love.” (Mrs. Robbins has since died.)

Driving well under the speed limit, as is his habit, he said that Africans were far more accustomed to death — and premature death — than Americans. In Kenya, he said, so many parents were used to having children die. In Africa, he said, “We just accept it.”

He drove into the countryside to the home of one of the church’s founding members, Shirley Korman. In the yard, Mrs. Korman’s son was stalking small game with a rifle. Inside, the house was decorated with large framed prints of Civil War battle scenes.

Mrs. Korman, a retired nurse who has congestive heart failure, sat in a glider rocker, a red wig setting off her pale skin. She said that when her husband died, Father Oneko had comforted her and led a moving funeral.

“Father Chrispin,” she said, “if you’re still here in Kentucky, I want you to come and do my funeral.”

His answer was gentle: “I hope to still see more of you, but if it happens, I will fulfill your request.”

On the way out, after passing a portrait of Robert E. Lee, Father Oneko spied a statue of a guardian angel on the kitchen table. The angel was a beautiful woman in flowing robes, and she was black.

“I haven’t seen one like that before!” Father Oneko exclaimed, delighted.

That night, he settled at a table at a Mexican restaurant filled with soldiers in uniform and their families, where he discovered to his satisfaction that sizzling fajitas tasted a lot like the grilled meat he missed from Kenya. He said that although he saw himself as a missionary, he did not think he was actually spreading the faith in Kentucky.

“People already know their faith,” he said. “Mine is only to help them. I’m not planting any new faith here. Mine is only to water it.”

He confessed that he had an easier time relating to white Americans than African-Americans because he did not understand why blacks carried such resentments toward the United States.

“Their ancestors are long gone,” he said. “They are bitter for I don’t know what.”

He has little tolerance for what he sees as unnecessary self-pity. When an unemployed Vietnam veteran told him he blamed his war experience for his poverty, Father Oneko said he told him: “I blame you, because military people have so many opportunities. You are getting some pension from the government, so you should not complain.

“There are some poor people, poorer than you, somewhere, in Africa, in Jamaica,” Father Oneko said. “But you, at least you have freedom. You have somewhere to sleep.”

‘Part of the Family’

One morning in January, Father Oneko received a phone call from his family in Kenya, where a disputed presidential election had just set off a wave of intertribal anger and violence.

A mob had set fire to his parents’ house because they had given shelter to a family of a rival tribe the mob was chasing. Father Oneko’s 32-year-old brother, Vincent Oloo, arrived in time to help their elderly parents escape the burning house. But the mob turned on Father Oneko’s brother, shooting him dead. He left a wife and three children.

“My parents were just crying and crying,” Father Oneko said. “My father is crying and saying, ‘Now I’m losing all the children, who will bury me?’ ”

Father Oneko phoned his friend the Rev. John Thomas and then Mrs. Lake, his faithful volunteer administrator. She was stunned at the news, and for half an hour listened to and consoled her priest — a sudden role reversal. Father Oneko was troubled to hear his mother wailing on the phone and to know that he could not go to Kenya to perform the funeral. His parents insisted it was too dangerous for him to come.

Mrs. Lake called three of the church’s Silver Angels, a club of elders. They phoned more church members, and in two hours 60 people had assembled at a special noon Mass in memory of Father Oneko’s brother.

At the end of the Mass, they lined up in the center aisle as if for communion, and Father Oneko stood at the front receiving their embraces one by one.

He was overwhelmed by the outpouring of sympathy. Children in the parish school in Hopkinsville made him cards; one showed his brother with a halo, in the clouds. The bishop and priests of the diocese e-mailed and phoned their condolences. St. Michael’s and the parish in Hopkinsville took up a special collection for his family that totaled $5,600.

“It seems the whole church is praying with me,” Father Oneko said a few days later, as he read through the children’s cards. “You feel like you’re not a foreigner, just a part of the family. It makes me know how much I am to them.”

Bidding Farewell

In June, after four years at St. Michael’s, Father Oneko was transferred as part of a routine reshuffling of priests in the diocese. When he told the worshipers at the 11:30 Sunday Mass about the transfer, some cried. Several told him they would leave the church.

He said: “Don’t come to the church because of me. Come because of God.”

He insisted he did not want a big goodbye party because he was afraid he would cry. Still, he was showered with gifts: calling cards; a white chasuble from the Silver Angels, hemmed for his short frame; a $1,500 check from the parish for his coming trip to see his family in Kenya; and from Mrs. Korman, a replica of the black angel he had seen on her kitchen table.

He was leaving the parish no more and no less healthy than he had found it. Attendance still fluctuated from 300 to 450 on a weekend — lower in summer and during troop mobilizations.

The campaign to raise money for the new church was still under way. But as a temporary measure, the parishioners had replaced the stacking chairs with wooden pews and built an arched altar, so the old recreation hall looked more like a real church.

At his last set of three weekend Masses, Father Oneko began his homily with a rambling African story about a hyena, a monkey and a tortoise. At the punch lines, no one in the first two Masses laughed. By the third, he had the timing down better and some chuckled. The story was about being grateful, and he spent the next 20 minutes thanking everyone he could think of by name. The homily lasted 35 minutes.

In one of his last acts, he baptized an 11-month-old baby. With the sun streaming in, the baby, Hope Charity Banse, looked like a porcelain doll in her white christening gown.

The baby’s mother, Jennifer Banse, had been waiting for this moment for months. Her husband had just returned from Iraq, in time for Father Oneko to perform the baptism before he transferred. In her husband’s absence, Father Oneko had been a comfort.

Hope rested her head on her mother’s shoulder, then stretched her hand toward the African priest, more familiar to her than her own father. “Hope Charity,” Father Oneko said, “the Christian community welcomes you with great joy.”

Guinea Coup Leader Sacks Generals

Monday, December 29, 2008
16:47 Mecca time, 13:47 GMT

Guinea coup leader sacks generals

Camara declared himself president after seizing power following the death of Lansana Conte

Coup leaders in Guinea have dismissed 22 senior military officials, including the chief of staff who had spoken out against Captain Moussa Dadis Camara's move to seize power.

A spokesman for the coup leader said in a statement on Sunday that all the generals had reached the mandatory retirement age.

"They will be appointed to other senior positions at a later date," it said.

The African Union, meanwhile, has suspended Guinea's membership in the bloc, giving the the coup leaders six months to restore "constitutional order" or face further sanctions.

Camara announced the dissolution of the government and suspended the constitution just hours after the death of Lansana Conte, Guinea's president, last Monday.

He has declared himself president, but has pledged to step down in 2010 and hold elections after tackling corruption in the West African nation.

"I know power is sweet," Camara told Al Jazeera in a spartan room in his office in the capital Conakry.

"But look at this building, what do you see? Why are we here in this heat, when we could be in air conditioned offices cutting corrupt deals?"

On Saturday, he said the new military leaders would execute anyone who embezzles state funds and froze the country's numerous mining contracts.


Camara, who until the bloodless coup was in charge of supplying army vehicles with fuel, also defended himself against those questioning his ability to lead the country of 10 million people.

"My qualification is patriotism. You don't need to go to Oxford, Cambridge or Harvard University to run a country," he said.

"I went to a university in Guinea and studied public finance. My master's thesis was on the intervention of the International Monetary Fund in Africa, Latin America and Asia. So basically, I am an economist."

Analysts had warned that the military, which is divided between bases spread out across the country and is now devoid of any central command, could become a source of opposition to Camara.

The African Union - the region's main bloc - and many other countries have condemned the coup.

After a meeting of its Peace and Security Council in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the AU on Monday announced it was suspending Guinea "until the return of constitutional order in that country".

Inside Guinea, however, the coup has been widely welcomed after 24 years of repressive rule under Conte.

"With this new military junta, we are happy. Guineans thought there would be violence. But since the military stepped in there has been peace," one resident of Conakry told Al Jazeera.

'No resistance'

Cellou Dalein, who was a prime minister under president Conte between December 2004 and April 2006, said: "There was no resistance because of a crisis of legitimacy surrounding the country's institutions and because of the misery" of the Guinean people.

"In 1995, only 40 per cent of the population lived on less than a dollar a day. Today it's 55 per cent," Dalein, who became head of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces in Guinea (UFDG) in November 2007, said.

Guinea sits on one-third of the world's reserves of bauxite reserves, the raw material used to make aluminum, and also has important reserves of gold, diamonds, and other minerals.

But because of corruption and mismanagement, Guinea ranks 160 out of 177 in the United Nation's development scale.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Guinea junta retires 22 army generals

Monday, December 29

CONAKRY (AFP) - - Guinea's military junta moved to consolidate its grip on power Sunday by retiring 22 senior army officers, including the army chief who was a leading critic of the coup.

Junta leader and self-proclaimed president, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, said in a statement the generals had all reached the mandatory retirement age.

"They will be appointed to other senior positions at a later date," the statement added without further details.

General Diarra Camara, the army's chief of staff, was loyal to the late president Lansana Conte who died Monday and opposed the coup launched just a few hours after the leader's death was announced.

In nearby Ghana, the top US envoy to Africa warned that the Guinea coup could be repeated in Zimbabwe if Robert Mugabe is allowed to remain as president there.

"I think that (the coup in Guinea) should serve as a real warning to the region... of what might happen if Robert Mugabe is allowed to cling to power and in fact die in office as he seems to want to do," Jendayi Frazer, US assistant secretary of state for African affairs told reporters in Accra, where she was observing that country's presidential run-off election.

Guinea's strongman Conte died at age 74, after ruling the west African nation for 24 years, soon after which coup leaders from the military immediately announced the dissolution of the government.

Guinea's military junta also said Sunday that it would open negotiations with mining companies operating in the country "within the coming days" which would work towards "an advantageous collaboration for all parties."

Camara on Saturday said he had seized power to lead a crackdown on corruption and shut down all mining operations across the country.

The move risked threatening the country's economy, which relies heavily on mineral exports, especially in a time of financial crisis and falling raw material prices.

More than a third of the world's bauxite reserves are located in Guinea, making it the second-largest producer internationally after Australia and the world's biggest exporter.

It also has large reserves of gold, diamonds, iron and nickel, while uranium deposits were found at various sites in 2007.

Most of the international community including the African Union has condemned the coup as an unconstitutional transition of power in Guinea, one of the world's poorest countries despite its vast mineral wealth.

But opposition leaders say the junta enjoys support among ordinary people in Guinea because they lived in such abject poverty under Conte.

Cellou Dalein, who was a prime minister under president Conte between December 2004 and April 2006, told AFP "there was no resistance (to the coup) because of a crisis of legitimacy surrounding the country's institutions and because of the misery" of the Guinean people.

"In 1995, only 40 percent of the population lived on less than a dollar a day. Today it's 55 percent," said Dalein, who became head of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces in Guinea (UFDG) in November 2007.

With sentiment on the streets favouring the coup, any attempts at resistance melted and even the overturned government pledged loyalty to Camara. By Friday nearly all political parties and unions were on board.

The coup put an end to the career of parliament speaker Aboubacar Sompare, seen as a "Conte clan" member, who according to the constitution after the president's death should have become the interim head of state until elections could be held in 60 days.

Dearborn Emergency Protest Against the Massacre of Palestinians in Gaza, December 30, 4:00pm

Emergency Protest
Tuesday, Dec. 30, 4 PM
Warren and Chase
Dearborn, MI

In this email:
* Note from Hannya Eljammali
* Press Release
* info from wethepeople2008

In solidarity,
Mike Shane
MECAWI (Michigan Committee Against War & Injustice)


Greetings of Peace,

As you may already know, Gaza, Palestine are in an extreme crisis since yesterday, the 27th of December. Due to the current Israeli massacre in Gaza over 285 deaths of innocent civilians and 750 injured and they are still counting. The Congress of Arab American Organizations (CAAO) has organized a protest, so please gather at the corner of Warren and Case in Dearborn, on Tuesday, December 30th at 4:00 pm.

If possible please bring signs/posters stating: "FREE PALESTINE", "STOP THE MASSACRE OF GAZA", "END US AID TO ISRAEL", "AGAINST ISRAELI AGGRESSION", "STOP THE MURDER OF INNOCENT CHILDREN", "JUSTICE IN PALESTINE", etc. etc. We cannot keep silent about whats happening in Palestine. Please forward this to all of your lists and inform everyone you know to attend this protest...the Palestinians have a just cause and WE NEED TO SUPPORT IT.

Thank you,
Hannya Eljammali


Contact: Osama Siblan 313.505.4889
Date: 12/27/08

Stop the massacre against Palestinians in Gaza

Dearborn - The Congress of Arab American Organizations (CAAO) - Michigan, strongly condemns the current Israeli massacre in Gaza , in which more than 225 Palestinians have been murdered in the bloodiest one-day death toll in 60 years of conflict between the Palestinians and Israel .

More than 700 Palestinians have been wounded in the same time period.

For the last two years, Israel has imposed an inhumane economic seige on the one and a half million Palestinians living in Gaza, a seige that has created a huge open-air prison. Humanitarian organizations have long warned of impending disaster in Gaza , where Israel has prevented food and fuel from entering and people are starving to death.

"We call on the current and the incoming American administrations to take immediate action to prevent any more deaths of innocent civilians, by starvation and by bombing," said CAAO spokesman Osama Siblani. "The United States stands alone in the world in its unconditional support of Israeli aggression and genocide, and that is inexcusable," he added. "The economic seige should be lifted now, adequate food and fuel allowed in to warm and feed the people and all military aggression against this civilian population stopped immediately."


1 - CAAO will hold a community leadership meeting to discuss further actions. The meeting will be held on Monday, December 29, 2008 at 6:00 PM at the Lebanese American Heritage Club, 4337 Maple Road in Dearborn .

2 - CAAO calls on all community members to participate in a (human chain protest) which will be held on Warren Avenue on Tuesday, December 30, 2008 at 4:00 PM. Gathering at corner of Warren and Chase in Dearborn. Following the protest a memorial service will be held at Byblos Banquet Hall, 7258 Chase Road in Dearborn at 5:15 PM. Program will end at 6:30 PM.

The Israeli government can shower terror and death upon the occupied lands of Palestine thanks to our extensive American foreign aid to Israel. These harsh blows are dealt by US-supplied Apache helicopters and F-16 jets. In a David vs. Goliath style drama, often with rocks as their only weapons, the Palestinian people continue to resist the illegal occupation of their land by Jews.

Starting in the 40's, Israeli terrorist forces drove the Palestinian people from their homes. And still, decades later, Palestinians are barraged with the constant encroachment of land developers and fundamentalist Zionist settlers who keep stealing what's left of their land.

The recent 2 day attack on Gaza left over 1000 Palestinian causalities. Those victims who weren't killed are trapped in their own country behind Israeli blockades and checkpoints without sufficient access to food and medicine. This is a humanitarian crisis. It must be stopped before the Arab countries are forced by our Israeli bias to save Palestinians from extermination.

How do you find out what really happened to cause all this? The truth is delivered in Sandy Tolan's book, The Lemon Tree, available in all bookstores, libraries, and on-line. Tolan is a world renowned journalist and winner of over 25 national and international journalism awards. You will be glad you read this book.

Also watch the DVD, Occupation 101.

"Over two years ago, in an election process advocated by the United States, the party of Hamas was elected to power in Occupied Palestine. In response, Israel and the United States imposed a near total blockade on the people of Gaza in an illegal act of collective punishment."

"If I were a Palestinian, watching Jews in Israel and around the world preparing to celebrate Hanukkah, I might be a bit confused. The holiday recalls a time, way back in the second century BCE, when Judea was ruled by a much stronger neighboring nation.

The Jews took up arms to free themselves from a military occupation. Yet when Palestinians even talk about taking up arms against the occupying army of their powerful neighbor today, the Israeli government and its supporters call that unjustified, immoral, an outrage. And the government of the United States generally agrees, no matter which party is in power."

Carol Christensen

Palestine News Update: The Longest Night in My Life; Most Casualties Are Civilians

Courtesy of Electronic Intifada

Diaries: Live from Palestine

The longest night of my life

Safa Joudeh, Live from Palestine, 28 December 2008

Here's an update on what's happening here from where I am, the second night of Israeli air (and sea) raids on Gaza.

It's 1:30am but it feels like the sun should be up already. For the past few hours there's been simultaneous, heavy aerial bombardment of Gaza City and the northern Gaza Strip. It feels like the longest night of my life. In my area it started with the bombing of workshops (usually located in the ground floor of private/family residential buildings), garages and warehouses in one of the most highly condensed areas in Gaza City, "Askoola."

About an hour ago they bombed the Islamic University, destroying the laboratory building. As I mentioned in an earlier account, my home is close to the university. We heard the first explosion, the windows shook, the walls shook and my heart felt like it would literally jump out of my mouth. My parents, siblings and cousins, who have been staying with us since their home was damaged the first day of the air raids, had been trying to get some sleep. We all rushed to the side of the house that was farthest from the bombing.

Hala, my 11-year-old sister stood motionless and had to be dragged to the other room. I still have marks on my shoulder from when Aya, my 13-year-old cousin held on to me during the next four explosions, each one as violent and heart-stopping as the next. Looking out of the window moments later the night sky had turned to a dirty navy-gray from the smoke.

Israeli warships rocketed Gaza's only sea port only moments ago; 15 missiles exploded, destroying boats and parts of the ports. These are just initial reports over the radio. We don't know what the extent of the damage is. We do know that the fishing industry that thousands of families depend on either directly or indirectly didn't pose a threat on Israeli security. The radio reporter started counting the explosions; I think he lost count after six. At this moment we heard three more blasts. "I'm mostly scared of the whoosh," I told my sister, referring to the sound a missile makes before it hits. Those moments of wondering where it's going to fall are agonizing. Once the whooshes and hits were over the radio reporter announced that the fish market (vacant, of course) had been bombed.

We just heard that four sisters from the Balousha family were killed in an attack that targeted the mosque by their home in the northern Gaza Strip.

You know what bothers me more than the bangs and the blasts, the smoke, the ambulance sirens and the whooshes? The constant, ominous, maddening droning sound of the Apache helicopters overhead that has been buzzing in my head day and night. It's like I'm hearing things, which I'm not, but I am.

Safa Joudeh is an master's candidate in public policy at Stony Brook University in the US. She returned to Gaza in September 2007 where she currently works as a freelance journalist.

Human Rights

Most Gaza casualties were non-combatants, civilians

Press release, Al Mezan, 28 December 2008

In one of its bloodiest military operations, the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) initiated a wide-scale air strike operation against the Gaza Strip. Dozens of targets were attacked from the air simultaneously using heavy missiles and bombs. Mostly, the strikes targeted police and security installations across the densely populated Gaza Strip, which is indicative of IOF's disregard for civilian life and well-being.

More than 900 people have been killed and injured, most of whom are non-combatants. The number of casualties was because the timing of the strike, which coincided with the change in school shifts when tens of thousands of schoolchildren were on their way to or from school. Seven UNRWA [the United Nations agency for Palestine refugees] Gaza Vocational Training Center students were also killed in one of the air strikes in Gaza City.

According to Al Mezan's monitoring, at approximately 11:30am on Saturday 27 December 2008, Israeli military aircraft launched a coordinated series of air strikes targeting dozens of police, security and other premises across the Gaza Strip. The first wave of attacks lasted for less than five minutes, during which more than 100 missiles and bombs were dropped on Gaza.

One of the largest strikes targeted the Arafat Police Town, which is located near several UNRWA schools. Dozens of people were killed in this attack, including tens of young men who were undergoing training to join the police. Moreover, Colonel General Tawfik Jabir, who is the Police General Director in the Gaza Strip, and Captain Ahmed al-Jabari, the Director of the Security and Protection Apparatus, were killed in the same attack.

The IOF air strikes were unprecedented in their fierceness. Police stations located in densely populated neighborhoods were attacked, destroying them and causing severe damage to tens of schools and homes and killing dozens of civilians, including children and old people.

Air strikes have continued through the night, targeting houses and other civilian premises, including water-wells, workshops, mosques and communications facilities. A guard of a water well and three employees of the Palestinian Telecommunications Company were killed in North Gaza.

Another two men were killed in a strike that targeted the al-Borno Mosque near al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. The hospital was damaged in the same strike. Moreover, IOF targeted prisons, including Gaza's main prison facility of al-Saraya at noon today. Initial reports indicate that many policemen and prisoners were killed and injured in this attack.

Additionally, dozens of homes were destroyed, along with tens of UNRWA and government schools and clinics. Local government offices and private vehicles were also destroyed. Al Mezan's initial monitoring indicates that at least 257 people have been killed in the IOF's strikes in the last 24 hours. Of those, the vast majority are non-combatants and civilians; including 20 children, nine women and 60 civilians.

The majority of the rest of the casualties are members of the civilian police who were inside their stations or undertaking training. At least 597 people were also injured, including 35 children whose wounds were reportedly critical. Al Mezan believes that the number of casualties is expected to increase as many victims have been buried by their families without being registered at hospitals. Furthermore, a high number of people lie at hospitals between death and life.

Moreover, dozens of people who were lightly wounded and therefore not admitted to hospitals were not counted. As the air strikes continue, more people fall victim to them. This makes this operation one of Israel's bloodiest, most criminal military actions in Gaza in the past few decades.

This escalation comes amidst unprecedented deterioration of the humanitarian conditions Gaza's 1.5 million persons face because of Israel's tight siege which prevents their access to food, medicine and power. Ordinary Gazans have particularly been suffering from shortages in water supplies, cooking gas and foodstuffs.

The siege has also impacted hospitals' capacity to function under severe shortages in medicines and equipment. Hospitals' ability to handle very high numbers of casualties in a short time since yesterday has been particularly problematic, and particularly during the first hour after the first wave of attacks yesterday.

With the strongest possible terms, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights condemns the IOF's criminal military escalation in the Gaza Strip, which indiscriminately harms civilians and civilian property, and blatantly breaches the rules of international humanitarian law, qualifying as war crimes. Al Mezan particularly condemns the IOF attacks against civilian objects in which children and uninvolved civilians have been killed and maimed despite the advanced technological capabilities that the IOF employs in their surveillance of the Gaza Strip.

Al Mezan stresses that police members who do not take part in any hostilities are not considered legitimate military targets under international humanitarian law and must not be deliberately targeted. It further stresses that Israel must respect the rules of international law at all times, particularly when the use of force is involved. A reaction to rocket attacks cannot justify the perpetration of grave breaches of international humanitarian law, i.e. war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Al Mezan warns about the continued silence of the international community in the face of Israel's escalation, which only encourages Israel to further escalate its attacks. Al Mezan calls on the international community to intervene urgently to protect the civilian population in harmony with its legal and ethical obligations under international law. International intervention is required urgently as the IOF's attacks on Gaza continue.

This press release has been edited for clarity.

Palestinian leaders in Israel declare strike, call for boycott

Appeal, The Higher Follow Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, 28 December 2008

In the presence of all national alliances, an urgent meeting for the Follow up Committee was held today declaring Sunday 28 December 2008 a general strike in protest of the Israeli massacres committed against Palestinians in Gaza.

The meeting called for the organization of demonstrations and marches in every Arab town in al-Naqab [Negev], the Triangle, the Galilee areas and coastal towns as a symbol of the rage and severe grief of the Palestinian nation upon the loss of hundreds of its citizens in Gaza.

It was decided that the High Follow Up Committee remains on alert to hold further meetings to take steps in resistance and to stop the consistent aggression and break the siege on Gaza including the opening of all border crossings especially that of Rafah.

The following political message stemmed from the meeting:

Considering the Israeli aggression against Palestinians in Gaza an assault against Palestinian People everywhere and our duty is to resist it and break the siege.

Recognizing Israel and its political and security forces as a criminal state committing acts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity against our people in the Gaza Strip.

This with the assurance that the current Israeli parliamentary election campaign is fueled by the Palestinian bloodshed.

Saluting the determination and will of Palestinian people in the face of the aggressive Israeli scheme to break their steadfastness and human dignity.

Condemning the international complicity with the official Israeli aggression, and considering its silence and complicity as partnership in the crime. the meeting also stressed the absolute rejection of holding the Palestinian people or the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) responsible for the situation and while exempting Israel from its total responsibility.

Calling upon the international community to take its legal and moral responsibility, to sanction Israel and boycott it as a state that pursues terrorism, war crimes and crimes against humanity with premeditation.

Condemning Arab Official complicity used by Israel to cover for its predefined aggression and condemning the general Arab weakness and calling them to shut down their embassies in Israel and boycott it. We call upon Egypt to open all crossings with Gaza and break its siege.

Condemning the complying Arab and Official political voices which held the Palestinian leadership in Gaza responsible for the Israeli aggression and calling the head of the Palestinian National Authority to immediately stop the negotiations with Israel used to further fuel the Palestinian split in the West Bank and in Gaza.

Assuring the call for national Palestinian unity and its total support of the Palestinian struggle and resistance in the face of Israeli aggression.

Paying tribute to the heroic steadfastness of our people and supporters in the Arab world and elsewhere and the masses in the homeland that stood in the face of the bloody aggression and supported the steadfastness in Gaza.

Calling on the masses of our people to exercise the highest degree of readiness to contribute, on individual and collective levels, in the national relief campaign, which includes the donation of medical supplies, food and blood donation in support of Gaza and in contribution to the breaking of the siege.

Calling on the masses of our people and supporters in the world to share the worry and to have more readiness to escalate the struggle in order to defeat the Israeli aggression and provide protection for our heroic Palestinian nation.

The Higher Follow Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel is the highest representative body of the 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of Israel. It includes all Palestinian members of the Israeli Knesset (parliament) as well as elected mayors and local officials.

Palestine News Bulletin: Gaza Braces for All-Out War; Anger Grows in Arab Streets

Monday, December 29, 2008
05:31 Mecca time, 02:31 GMT

Gaza braces for all-out war

Air raids have killed almost 300 people in the heavily-populated Gaza Strip

Residents of Gaza are bracing for an all-out war, as Israeli forces continued a massive onslaught on the heavily populated strip for a second day.

So far almost 300 people have been killed and hundreds more injured and there are growing fears of a ground attack after the Israeli army called up thousands of reservists and tanks massed along the Gaza border.

Palestinian officials said several children are among the casualties while United Nations officials in New York said nine of its staff had been killed in the attacks.

In the latest raid on Sunday night Israeli aircraft bombed the Islamic university in Gaza City, with witnesses reporting a series of explosions across the campus.

A government compound was also hit.

Israel has made no comment on the latest strikes other than to say they will press ahead with the campaign in the face of mounting international criticism.

Earlier on Sunday Israeli aircraft bombed the length of the Gaza-Egypt border, taking out tunnels used to smuggle in vital goods to the besieged strip.

Dozens of tunnels are said to criss-cross between southern Gaza and Egypt's Sinai desert, providing a lifeline to residents who are starved of basic supplies due to an 18-month-long Israeli blockade.

Avital Leibovitch, an Israeli army spokeswoman, said: "The air force just attacked over 40 tunnels found on the Gaza side of the border.

"We believe [they] were used for smuggling weapons, explosives and sometimes people," she said. "The pilots notified direct hits on these targets."

Border gunfire

Gunfire was heard close to the Egyptian border with reports suggesting that Palestinians were attempting to break through, while the aerial bombardment continued over Gaza City.

Ayman Mohyeldin, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Rafah, a town split in half by the border, said at least one person died and 42 others were injured in the strikes on the tunnels.

"It's certainly a devastating blow to the civilian population in Gaza," he said, adding that speculation the tunnels might be hit had already caused the price of fuel and other goods to soar.

At the Rafah border, Palestinian fighters traded fire with Egyptian security forces, our correspondent said.

At least one Egyptian border guard and one Palestinian youth were killed in the clashes.

Medical aid

Tensions at the crossing with Egypt, bypassing Israel, had risen during the day, with Egypt blaming Hamas for not letting wounded Palestinians through and Hamas asking for medical aid to be handed over.

A Gaza health ministry official at the border, Alaa el-Din Mohammed el-Batta, said that transporting the seriously wounded was difficult and further complicated by Israeli air assaults.

"We have 25 in very critical condition," he said. "Because of the distance, there are fears that many will die on their way to Cairo.

A security official said that an Egyptian plane with 50 doctors on board as well as medical supplies had arrived in el-Arish near the border with Gaza.

Two Qatari aircraft carrying 50 tonnes of medical supplies have been waiting at the same airport.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has ordered three plane-loads of medical aid sent to the Gaza Strip, the MENA news agency reported.

Iran says it is sending plane-loads of food to Cairo to be taken by the Egyptian Red Crescent to Gaza.

Haniya office hit

Earlier on Sunday afternoon, Israeli forces struck east of Gaza City, in Khan Yunis, and Jabaliya, in the north.

A police station and a factory were among the sites reportedly hit, after a mosque and the headquarters of al-Aqsa television were struck overnight.

The Reuters news agency said that at least one missile hit the offices of Ismail Haniya, the Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, but he was not in the building at the time.

Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister, warned that the air raids could be followed by a ground incursion.

"We are ready for anything. If it's necessary to deploy ground forces to defend our citizens, we will do so," Barak's spokesman quoted him as saying on Sunday.

Israeli television has reported that hundreds of infantry and armoured forces were massing on the border of the territory, and on Sunday the army was given approval to call up reservists to bolster its fighting strength.

Mustafa Barghouthi, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, rejected the Israeli government's claims that the air raids were in self-defence.

"This is a bloodbath, the bloodiest bloodbath since 1967," he told Al Jazeera. "This is an attack on the civilian population of Gaza."


Many of the dead in Saturday's attacks were police officers, including Tawfiq Jabber, the Gaza chief of police.

Ofir Gendelman, a spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry, suggested that casualty figures put forward by the Palestinians were misleading and insisted that only Hamas targets had been hit.

"Hamas is using figures to attract public attention, media attention and for propaganda purposes," he told Al Jazeera.

"At the end of the day we are attacking Hamas strongholds ... No civilian targets are hit, it is very unfortunate that some civilians will be hit."

Hospitals, already suffering from shortages due to an 18-month blockade on the Gaza Strip, said they were struggling to cope with the number of injured, which includes women and children.

One of the buildings hit on Sunday was reportedly a warehouse used to supply local pharmacies with medicines.

A six-month truce between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip ended on December 19.

Israel said it began its aerial assault on Gaza in response to rocket attacks launched by Hamas fighters into the south of the country.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Sunday, December 28, 2008
23:03 Mecca time, 20:03 GMT

Arab street angry over Gaza attacks

Tens of thousands gathered in Yemen to protest against the Israeli attack

Protesters across the Middle East have held a second day of demonstrations against Israel's military assault on the Gaza Strip.

In the occupied West Bank, one protester was killed and at least two others critically injured by Israeli fire at a protest near Ramallah on Sunday.

In Yemen, tens of thousands of people gathered in and around a stadium in the capital, Sanaa, chanting anti-Israeli slogans and criticising Arab leaders for failing to act.

"How long will the silence last? Arabs wake up!" read one banner.

The demonstration was backed by the ruling party, opposition groups and other organisations.

A few members of Jordan's parliament burned the Israeli flag under the parliament dome while in session on Sunday, after calling for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador to Amman.

Action demanded

In Lebanon, hundreds of Lebanese and Palestinian refugees staged a sit-in near the United Nations office in central Beirut.

The protesters held banners calling on the global body to put pressure on Israel to end the attacks that have killed more than 280 people.

The protest was organised by the Lebanese-branch of the Muslim Gamaa group, along with Hamas and other groups. Lebanon is host to more than 400,000 Palestinian refugees living in 12 camps across the country.

Al Jazeera's Rula Amin, reporting from Beirut, said that people were demanding more decisive action from their leaders.

"From the people we have heard very critical remarks, not only against Israel, but also against Arab governments. Many were angry at the Egyptian government, they feel they needed to do more," she said.

'Firm stand'

The Hezbollah movement, which fought a 33-day war with Israel in 2006, has condemned the attacks as a "war crime and a genocide that requires immediate action from the international community and its institutions".

In a statement, the group called on Arab countries to "take a firm stand and exert its utmost efforts against the Israeli barbarism - which is covered by the US - and the international community to stop this ongoing massacre".

The Arab League will not meet to discuss a common response to the Israeli assault until a summit in Doha, Qatar, on January 2.

Arab foreign ministers were due to hold an emergency meeting on Sunday, but the meeting was postponed until Wednesday.

Amr Moussa, the Arab League secretary-general, said the delay was because many ministers were busy in separate meetings of two Arab regional groups - the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) and the Maghreb Union.

"The time worries us very much because of the delay in holding the ministerial meeting but we will not remain silent and consultations are continuing," he said.

The attack will, however, be discussed by the GCC, which on Saturday described the situation as "barbaric" and "ugly".

Government support

Meanwhile in Damascus, the capital of Syria, an estimated 5,000 people congregated in the Yusif al-Azmeh square, shouting slogans and cluttering the horizon with the flags of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the PLFP, Hezbollah, Syria, Iraq, and Palestine.

Many were bussed in for the demonstration, suggesting that it was government orchestrated, though some protesters insisted that their attendance was not obligatory.

One lorry slowly circled the square, covered in Hamas banners and carrying masked men dressed in white with fake suicide belts. From loudspeakers, Hamas supporters called for "jihad" against Israel and led their followers in fist-pumping chants calling for "struggle in the name of God".

In other parts of the square some burned Israeli flags. Others praised Bashar al-Asad, the Syrian president, while calling on Egypt's Hosni Mubarak to take a stand against Israel.

"I came here to stand alongside my brothers in Gaza and to stand against the Israeli aggression and rape of Gaza. Israel doesn't want peace," said Ismael Balaan, a 45-year-old telecommunications worker.

Nearby, followers of Muqtada al-Sadr, an Iraqi populist leader opposed to the US presence in his country, dressed in the black uniform of al-Sadr’s militia, danced while chanting against the US and Israel.

"We are protesting for the oppressed people in Gaza and against the Israeli bombing that has killed women and children," said Akram al-Musawi, a black-turbaned Sadrist. "We will resist all oppressors and anyone that kills women and children whether it's in Iraq, Lebanon, or Palestine."

One Iraqi born Palestinian, who asked not to be named, was critical of the demonstration, which he believed to be government orchestrated.

"If the Syrian government really cares about Palestine why don't they let in the Palestinians stuck in the al-Tanf refugee camp on the border?" he said, referring to the Iraqi-Palestinians living in the no-mans-land between Iraq and

Protest attacked

Demonstrations also took place across Iraq.

Dozens of Palestinian refugees gathered in Baghdad's eastern Baladiyad neighbourhood chanting anti-Israeli slogans and waving messages of support for Gaza.

Dalil al-Qasoos, the Palestinian ambassador to Iraq, said: "I'd like to say to my relatives and to my people in Gaza that Gaza will remain steadfast in the face of Americans and Zionists whatever the plots and conspiracies hatched by tyrants and arrogant enemies."

In Mosul, a suicide bomber blew himself up among a crowd of demonstrators killing at least four people and injuring 20 others, police said.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

02:53 Mecca time, 23:53 GMT

Hezbollah fighters placed on alert

Nasrallah said Israel was either taking precautionary measures or preparing for an attack

Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hezbollah, has told his fighters to be on alert for any possible Israeli attack on Lebanon following raids on Gaza that have killed nearly 300 Palestinians.

Nasrallah told a gathering in Beirut's southern suburbs that the Israeli assault on Gaza was a carbon copy of its attacks on Lebanon during a 34-day war with Hezbollah in 2006.

About 1,200 people died in Lebanon and 158 in Israel in that conflict.

"I have asked the brothers in the resistance in the south specifically to be present, on alert and cautious because we are facing a criminal enemy and we don't know the magnitude of the conspiracies," Nasrallah said.

Speaking via video link for security reasons, Nasrallah said Israeli forces had gone on alert along the border with Lebanon since Saturday when the attack on Gaza began.

He said the Israelis were either taking precautionary measures or preparing for an attack in an attempt to avenge its failure to destroy Hezbollah in 2006.

"We are ready to face any aggression on our land, our country or our dignity," he said.

'Blunt truth'

Rula Amin, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Lebanon, said Nasrallah wanted to talk to the Arab people "bluntly and truthfully".

"He said this attack by Israel is part of a larger US-Israeli plan to weaken Hamas, to impose upon the Palestinians and on Hamas to surrender and accept a settlement plan on Israeli terms.

"The harshest words he had were for the Arab regimes. He said some were 'partners in this plot'.

"He quoted Israeli officials saying that the support they were receiving from Arab countries to continue their attacks on Gaza was even stronger than the support received during the time when they were attacking Hezbollah in 2006.

"What he says echoes the sentiments on the Arab street. Today in Beirut, many of the harsh words were not only against Israel, but against Arab governments, who they say have been silent, standing by, and according to some protesters, taking part."

Call to Egyptians

Nasrallah urged Egyptians in their "millions" to take to the streets to force their government to open the country's border with Gaza, where Israel is conducting deadly air raids against Palestinians.

"If the Egyptian people took to the streets by the millions, could the police kill millions of Egyptians?

"People of Egypt, you must open this border by the force of your chests," he said.

The Hezbollah chief also called for a mass rally to be held in his movement's bastion in the Shia southern suburbs of Beirut on Monday in solidarity with the people of Gaza.

"We will tell the world we are here, and terrorism and killing cannot intimidate us," he said.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Sunday, December 28, 2008
20:57 Mecca time, 17:57 GMT

Abbas blames Hamas for bloodshed

Abbas said Hamas were warned not to end the truce otherwise mayhem and bloodshed would follow

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, has blamed Hamas for triggering Israel's deadly raids on Gaza, by not extending a six-month truce with the Jewish state.

He also blamed Hamas, which controls the coastal Gaza Strip territory, for disrupting national unity talks that could have paved the way for general and presidential elections.

"We have warned of this grave danger," he said in Cairo, Egypt, on Sunday.

"We talked to them [Hamas] and we told them, 'please, we ask you, do not end the truce. Let the truce continue and not stop", so that we could have avoided what happened."

However, Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, said he was "surprised" by Abbas's claim.

"He downplayed the sufferings of our people in Gaza and belittled their pains, providing justification of the holocaust and war waged by Israel," he said.

Abbas, whose Fatah movement has been at loggerheads with Hamas, said maintaining the truce could have helped the Palestinians avoid the raids, which have so far killed more than 280 people over the past two days.

Nour Odeh, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Ramallah, reported that senior figures had supported Abbas in his call on Hamas not to abandon the truce.

She added that during an Israeli election year, a hardline position towards Palestinians has always won more seats, making the timing particularly risky for Hamas.

"Not just Abbas, but people close to the circles of decision-making in key Arab states, said that Hamas was warned that breaking the ceasefire or not keeping it would result in mayhem and bloodshed," she reported.

Ayman Mohyeldin, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Gaza, said the stance at all levels of the Hamas leadership was the same: "They will remain defiant in the face of any attacks and that the movement is larger that an single assault or attack.

"That they were democratically elected by the Palestinian people, and only through the ballot box will they leave the political scene."

Hamas argues that Israel violated the truce by failing to ease its 18-month blockade on the Gaza Strip.


Egypt's foreign minister has also blamed Hamas for preventing hundreds of wounded Palestinians from entering Egypt via the Rafah crossing for treatment - the only crossing that does not border Israel.

Ahmed Aboul Gheit said the wounded were "barred from crossing" and he blamed "those in control of Gaza" for putting the lives of the injured at risk.

But Barhoum denied the accusations, saying that Aboul Gheit was taking advantage of the "massacre and the suffering", to "cover up the state of inaction in Egypt".

Odeh said two lines were being taken on the Palestinian-Israeli issue with Arab states divided between those supporting the Hamas line of armed resistance and not recognising Israel, and those that preferred non-confrontational options.

"More now than ever, they are divided along regional lines of competition of interests in which states are using the Palestinian paper to tug between one another and gain that regional influence.

"There is a lot of anger toward the helplessness and the realisation that in such dire times, Palestinians have been unable to set aside their political differences."

Ground operation

Dozens of tanks and personnel carriers were seen parked at several points near the boundary between Israel and Gaza on Sunday after Israel's defence minister warned it could launch a ground offensive in addition to its air bombardment.

Ehud Barak vowed to "expand and deepen" the bombing raids, unleashed in retaliation for persistent rocket fire into the south of the country from Gaza.

"If it's necessary to deploy ground forces to defend our citizens, we will do so," his spokesman quoted him as saying on Sunday.

The cabinet gave the green light to call up 6,500 reserve soldiers, a senior official told reporters after the meeting.

Jacky Rowland, Al Jazeera's corespondent in Jerusalem, said: "This move gives the Israeli army a lot of leeway to commit troops to this operation as and when they see fit.

"If the fundamental objective of Israel is to change the situation on the ground, clearly they will not be able to do that from the air, they will need to commit ground troops.

"When we look at the full range of air strikes, it does seem that any ground operation would indeed be far-ranging and involve hundreds of troops."

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies