Friday, January 16, 2009

Palestine News Bulletin: Israel 'Set to Halt War on Gaza'; Qatar and Mauritania to Break Ties With Zionist State; Iran Accuses Obama of Bias Against Gazans

Friday, January 16, 2009
23:00 Mecca time, 20:00 GMT

Israel 'set to halt war on Gaza'

Israeli forces began their assault on the Gaza Strip saying it was aimed at ending rocket attacks

Israel's security cabinet is expected to decide to halt the war on Gaza at a meeting on Saturday, Israeli sources have said.

The move would be seen as being preferable to entering an Egyptian-brokered formal ceasefire with Hamas, unnamed sources told the AFP and Reuters news agencies.

The 21-day-old conflict has left more than 1,150 Palestinians dead, at least a third of them children, and devastated infrastructure within the densely populated territory.

"The security cabinet will convene and that is where a decision will be made," Tzipi Livni, Israel's foreign minister, told Israel's Channel 10 television when asked if the government would end the conflict.

"I have said the end doesn't have to be in agreement with Hamas, but rather in arrangements against Hamas."

A unilateral ceasefire would allow Israel to avoid agreeing concessions with Hamas, such as easing the blockade of the Gaza Strip, which has prevented medical aid and basic supplies reaching the Palestinians.

Egyptian efforts

Al Jazeera's Alan Fisher, reporting from the Israel-Gaza border, said that a unilateral truce would play well to the domestic audience as parliamentary elections approach.

"The Israeli government can say there was no deal with Hamas, they are not doing this as part of any negotiations with what they regard as a 'terrorist' group," he said.

An unnamed Israeli official reportedly told the AFP news agency that Israeli troops would remain in Gaza in the event of any such ceasefire being called.

"If they [Hamas] decide to open fire, we will not hesitate to respond and continue the offensive," the official was quoted as saying.

Israel's stated aim of the war, which it dubbed Operation Cast Lead, was to halt Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel.

Egypt has been pushing Israel and the rival Palestinian factions to reach a deal that was expected to see an immediate ceasefire and an agreement over security arrangements for Gaza's crossings.

A Hamas delegation from the Syrian capital Damascus arrived to Cairo on Friday for a second round of talks on a ceasefire proposal.

Their return followed a meeting between Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli envoy, and Omar Suleiman, Egypt's intelligence chief.

Earlier this week, Hamas proposed a one-year renewable ceasefire in return for an end to the Israeli blockade, which has been in place since the group seized full control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007.

"We want guarantees that the crossings will remain open. If Israel accepts the principle of guarantees, then we will start talking about their details," Osama Hamdan, a Hamas official in Beirut, said.

Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera's senior political analyst, said: "We have seen unilateral moves by Israel, whether it be in Lebanon in 2006 or Gaza in 2005

"Those unilateral decisions simply compound the problem, simply delay the problem, but they never resolve the problem.

"I think this is because Israel has run out of options. It realises Israel couldn't deliver what it needs, Hamas wouldn't agree to its conditions and it realises more of the same, the same shelling, the same bombardment ... is making people in Israel think twice about how to continue."

Israeli bombardment

However, as reports of the possible ceasefire emerged, the Israeli military continued to pound targets across the Gaza Strip.

At least 10 people attending a funeral wake died when Israeli forces destroyed a house in Gaza City.

Earlier, a woman and her five children, all under the age of 13, were killed when an air raid destroyed their house in Jabaliya, north of Gaza City, according to medics.

Hatem Shurrab, a Gaza resident living near Tar al-Hawa in Gaza City, which has experienced some of the heaviest fighting, told Al Jazeera that regular explosions could still be heard.

"I have my sister's family who came to our home to shelter. It's very difficult to describe how we feel. It's very scary. The next target is not known. Who will be killed next, we don't know.

"I can hear explosions going around and a couple of hundreds of metres away a home was burnt close to the explosions.

"What is really painful for me is that I see every day people who are being displaced. Mass internal displacement. Women running in the street trying to find a place."

Meanwhile, a funeral was held for Said Siam, the interior minister in Hamas's government, who was assassinated on Thursday along with one of his sons and a brother in an air raid in Jabaliya refugee camp.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Two Arab states suspend links with Israel

By Tobias Buck and Andrew England in Jerusalem
January 16 2009 19:03

Two Arab states on Friday suspended ties with Israel, as Muslim and Arab officials called for Israeli leaders to be prosecuted for war crimes over the Jewish state’s three-week offensive in Gaza.

In the strongest action yet taken by the increasingly divided Arab world, Qatar, which hosted the meeting, and Mauritania announced they would be suspending political and economic ties with Israel.

Qatar is the only Gulf state to have formal commercial ties with Israel and hosts an Israeli representative office in Doha, while Mauritania is one of just three Arab League members to have full diplomatic relations with the country.

The conference went ahead in spite of strong resistance from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the region’s political heavyweights, and was attended by the leaders of Iran, Sudan, Algeria, Syria and Lebanon, as well as Khaled Meshaal, the Damascus-based leader of Hamas.

Mr Meshaal warned that the Islamist group was not ready to accept Israeli conditions for a ceasefire, calling for a full withdrawal of Israeli troops and the immediate reopening of Gaza’s borders. Israeli leaders want this to happen only after a mechanism is in place to stop the flow of arms to the Islamist group, and after what one official described as “sustainable quiet”.

The Hamas leader said: “Despite all the destruction in Gaza, I assure you: we will not accept Israel’s conditions for a ceasefire.”

His comments came amid rising Israeli optimism that a diplomatic deal to end the fighting was close. “I hope we are entering the end game and that our goal of sustained and durable quiet in the south [of Israel] is about to be attained,” said a government spokesman.

A communiqué released at the end of the Qatar meeting said the leaders would urge an Arab League summit due to be held later this month to halt talks on the 2002 Arab peace initiative, which offers Israel normal relations in return for, among other things, a withdrawal from all lands occupied since 1967. The moves are likely to increase the pressure on Egypt, and may complicate its diplomatic efforts to end the crisis, while providing a significant display of Arab support for Hamas.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, did not attend the meeting.

The war on Gaza has exacerbated rifts in the Arab world that have stymied efforts to reconcile and influence rival Palestinian factions, as well as regional efforts to form a common stand against Israel’s actions.

So-called Arab moderate states, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have been wary that radical forces in the region, including Syria and Iran, will make political capital out of the crisis as criticism mounts that Arab leaders have failed to act while the body count in Gaza has soared to 1,138 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

The diplomatic search for a ceasefire appeared to pick up on Friday. Mr Meshaal sent his officials to Cairo for further discussions on an Egyptian ceasefire plan, soon after talks in Egypt between Omar Suleiman, the chief of intelligence, and two top Israeli officials. But the two sides still seemed to be at odds over the question of opening the border crossings, there is also disagreement about how long a ceasefire should last.

A key piece that could facilitate a ceasefire package fell into place on Friday, after Israel signed a memorandum with the US that promises greater international efforts to clamp down on arms smuggling to Hamas long before the weapons reach the Gaza Strip.

Almost 1,100 Palestinians and 13 Israelis have died since the conflict began.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Iran's Ahmadinejad says Obama regime 'hostile' to Gazans

(AFP) - - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Friday accused the incoming government of US president-elect Barack Obama of hostility towards the people of Gaza, which is under Israeli attack.

"Many analysts believe that hostility towards people of Gaza is a completely American plan and that it is from the new US administration," Ahmadinejad told a summit in Doha, according to Iranian state television.

Obama will take office on January 20.

"What has been seen is that no changes have taken place, enmity has doubled and the new leaders are following the previous policies," Ahmadinejad said about Washington's new administration.

"The new US administration has made some comments about changing its stance on Palestine. These changes had better be to condemn the Zionist regime not supporting it," he added.

Ahmadinejad's new comments appear to differ from what he told a press conference in Tehran on Thursday.

"If changes are fundamental, genuine and based on respect... we wait and see and do not make premature judgement," he said when asked about Tehran's stance toward normalisation of ties with Washington.

Iran is a staunch supporter of the Islamist Hamas movement, which controls the Gaza Strip, and does not recognise its archfoe Israel.

In part of his speech translated from Farsi into Arabic in Doha, Ahmadinejad demanded the prosecution of Israeli leaders by the International Court of Justice for "crimes" against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

He urged "punishing the criminal leaders of the Zionist entity," for the 21-day-old Israeli offensive on Gaza, which so far has killed more than 1,100 and wounded more than 5,000.

Ahmadinejad called on Arab and Muslim countries to "boycott all products of the Zionist entity" and on countries with ties to Israel "to cut them."

"This is the minimum for the solidarity with the Palestinian people and the resistance in Gaza," the Iranian leader said.

He also criticised a split in Islamic countries which has prevented them from taking a firm stance on the Israeli attack.

"The Zionist entity is using the rift in our Muslim world. I we had a united stance (it) would not have carried out this aggression," he said.

"We have to stand by the Palestinian people and the resistance. We have no doubt the resistance will be victorious eventually."

Iran had observer status at the summit, to which Qatar had invited all members of the Arab League. Only 13 of the 22 attended, with heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Egypt among those which stayed away.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas was among the absentees though the Hamas movement, which controls Gaza after splitting with Abbas in 2007, was represented by its exiled political leader Khaled Meshaal.

The Iranian president's call for a boycott of Israel echoed requests from Meshaal and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to sever all ties with Israel.

Egypt, Jordan and Mauritania are the only Arab countries with diplomatic ties to Israel, while Qatar has trade ties with the Jewish state.

The meeting continued behind closed doors.

Ahmadinejad demands prosecution of Israel's leaders

(AFP) - - Israel's arch foes condemned the Gaza onslaught at a summit in Qatar on Friday, with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calling for the prosecution of Israeli leaders by an international court.

Also at the summit, Qatar and Mauritania decided to suspended their relations with Israel, a Mauritanian diplomat said.

"Mauritania and Qatar have decided during a meeting behind closed doors to suspend their ties with Israel," the diplomat, who requested anonymity, told AFP.

The move followed appeals by both Ahmadinejad and his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad that Arab states sever any ties they had with Israel.

Mauritania has diplomatic ties to Israel, while Qatar is the only Gulf Arab country with commercial relations with the Jewish state.

Egypt and Jordan are the only Arab countries which have signed peace treaties with Israel and which have Israeli embassies.

Ahmadinejad called for the prosecution of Israeli leaders by the International Court of Justice for "crimes" against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

He urged "punishing the criminal leaders of the Zionist entity," for the 21-day-old Israeli offensive on Gaza, which so far has killed more than 1,100 and wounded another 5,000.

The Iranian leader called on Arab and Muslim countries to "boycott all products of the Zionist entity" and on countries with ties to Israel "to cut them.

"This is the minimum for the solidarity with the Palestinian people and the resistance in Gaza," he said, in an address in Farsi was translated into Arabic at the summit.

The Doha summit is being attended by 13 of the Arab League's 22 members plus hardline Israeli foe Ahmadinejad.

It went ahead despite the objections of the Palestinian leadership and regional heavyweights Egypt and Saudi Arabia and the lack of a quorum of 15 members to make the summit an official meeting of the Arab League.

Ahmadinejad's comments echoed requests by Assad, who called for "cutting all direct and indirect ties with Israel, and shutting down its embassies."

"Resistance has become the only path to peace, which comes through returning rights from an enemy that only understands the language of force," Assad said.

Hamas's exiled leader Khaled Meshaal vowed the Islamist movement would never accept Israel's conditions for a ceasefire in Gaza.

"I assure you, despite all the destruction in Gaza, we will not accept Israel's conditions for a ceasefire," the Damascus-based leader of Hamas told the gathering.

"We tell our loved ones in Gaza, the aggression will soon crash on the rock of your steadfastness," Meshaal addd.

Shortly after he spoke, Hamas said it would return to Cairo for a fresh round of talks on a Gaza truce after an Israeli delegation informed Egypt of the Jewish state's position, a senior Islamist told Al-Jazeera television.

The presence of Hamas's leadership at the Doha summit and the absence of the Palestinian Authority, led by president Mahmud Abbas, highlighted the divisions between the Arab countries, Qatar and Syria backing Hamas and Egypt and Saudi Arabia backing Abbas.

"We would have favoured the participation of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, however he decided not to come," Qatar's Emir said in his opening address.

The official Qatar News Agency said that the leaders of Algeria, Comoros, Lebanon, Mauritania, Sudan and Syria were attending the summit while Djibouti, Iraq and Libya had sent senior officials.

Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade, whose country presides over the 57-member Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), was also in Doha for the summit.

Non-Arab Iran and Turkey were also taking part with Ankara sending an aide to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Qatar had been pressing for an emergency Arab summit on the Gaza crisis since soon after Israel launched its offensive.

But it has repeatedly run into opposition from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which have been strongly critical of Hamas ever since the Islamist movement seized control of Gaza from forces loyal to Abbas in June 2007.

Arab League chief Amr Mussa acknowledged that there was "chaos" in Arab ranks over the Gaza crisis as Arab foreign ministers gathered in Kuwait City for a separate, official meeting.

Friday, January 16, 2009
17:53 Mecca time, 14:53 GMT

Fatal shooting at West Bank protest

Hamas called for a "day of wrath" in the West Bank over Israel's war on Gaza

A Palestinian has been shot dead and several others wounded after Israeli security forces opened fire during a protest in the West Bank against Israel's war in Gaza.

The man died after being shot in the head when clashes broke in the West Bank town of Hebron on Friday, medics and witnesses said.

Israeli soldiers had opened fire with live ammunition and rubber bullets after youths throwing stones had apparently tried to march towards the Israeli-controlled area of the city, witnesses said.

Several other Palestinians were reportedly wounded in the clashes, which came after Hamas called earlier in the week for a "day of wrath" on Friday in response to Israeli offensive in Gaza.

The Israeli military declared on Thursday that the West Bank would be closed off for 48 hours, but demonstrators still gathered in towns across the occupied territory.

In the town of Jenin, taxi drivers gathered in their vehicles to call for an end to the Israeli offensive which has already killed more than 1,130 Palestinians.

Protests have been held across the world every day since the aerial bombardment began on December 27.

Kuwait protest

In Kuwait on Friday, more than 5,000 people chanted slogans in support of the Palestinian Hamas movement after Friday prayers before marching to the parliament building.

"Arabs should use oil and their huge wealth to secure an end to the bloodshed," Nasser al-Sane, a Kuwaiti MP, told the gathering.

"It is shameful that they [Arab leaders] are holding a summit while there are Israeli flags still flying in Arab countries."

Up to 2,000 Palestinian refugees gathered at the Yarmouk camp in Damascus, the Syrian capital, trampling Israeli flags and chanting slogans against the Gaza conflict.

Indian police used tear gas to disperse protesters in Kashmir, while in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, some protesters urged Muslim nations to send troops to Gaza.

Source: Agencies

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