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Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel
For those interested in keeping up with events in Palestine/Israel, there is no better digest than VTJP.

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22 March 2008


Israel Bars Access from W. Bank, Gaza
The Associated Press, MIFTAH 3/22/2008
Israel declared a heightened security alert on Wednesday and barred Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip from entering the country, fearing Hezbollah guerrillas may try to carry out a major attack during holiday celebrations this week. The Purim holiday coincides with the end of a 40-day mourning period for Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh, who was killed in a car bombing in Syria last month. Israel has denied involvement, but the Lebanese guerrilla group has blamed Israel and vowed revenge. The alert came amid new signs that Israel is moving closer to a cease-fire with Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip. Israeli defense officials said Amos Gilad, a senior Defense Ministry official, traveled to Cairo on Tuesday for talks with Egyptian mediators. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the talks.

Efrat settlement near Bethlehem to expand
IMEMC News, International Middle East Media Center 3/21/2008
The administration of Efrat, an illegal Israeli settlement near Bethlehem, decided to launch a construction project to build a new "neighborhood" which will be added to the settlement by annexing more Palestinian-owned lands. In 2003, the Israeli government gave its preliminary agreement to this project. There are nearly 4000 settlers living in Efrat and it is considered part of the Gush Ezion settlement bloc, south of Jerusalem. Meanwhile, in Hebron, in the southern part of the West Bank, settlers created a new illegal settlement "outpost" composed of four caravans in order to "temporarily" host new settler families after receiving approval from the Israeli Ministry of Defense. Creation and expansion of settlements on occupied land in the West Bank and Jerusalem is in violation of international law. These activities also are in direct violation of the US-backed "Road Map" Plan.

Israeli settlers attempt to confiscate a Palestinian-owned store in East Jerusalem
Maisa Abu Ghazaleh, International Middle East Media Center 3/21/2008
On Friday, a group of Israeli settlers attempted to confiscate a Palestinian-owned store in East Jerusalem. The Palestinian family who owned the store were surprised when a group of Israeli settlers accompanied by construction workers entered illegally and would not leave. Wesal Arna’ut, member of the owner’s family, said that she filed a complaint with a nearby Israeli police station against the invasion and submitted a court order she obtained from an Israeli court preventing any kind of unauthorized construction work in the store. She stated that later four Israeli police officers arrived at the scene and stopped the workers, forcing them out of the store. A few hours later she received a phone call from the police station telling her that the Israeli settlers submitted documents in which they claimed that they purchased the store from the family.

Palestinian officials accuse Israel of forging ownership documents of East Jerusalem buildings
Manar Jibrin, International Middle East Media Center 3/22/2008
Hatem Abed al Qader, the advisor of the Palestinian premier for Jerusalem affairs affirmed on Saturday the Israeli authorities are confiscating Palestinian owned homes in East Jerusalem as part of their attacks on the city. He added that what is happening is illegal and illegitimate, there is no legality of the Israeli ownership of the of any part of the city especially homes. Abed al Qader had accused the Israeli authorities of forging papers to confiscate 600 Palestinian owned buildings in East Jerusalem among them 129 buildings that are already registered in the Israeli department of lands registration. Saturday Adnan al Huseini, advisor of the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas for Jerusalem affairs, commented filing the issue to the Israeli courts to and affirmed that the Israeli courts are unfair and will not give the Palestinians their rights especially in East Jerusalem and do not serve the Palestinian cause.

Israeli blockade brings Gaza fishing fleet to halt
Middle East Online 3/21/2008
Fisherman Alaa Brek, 24, is the only breadwinner in his family of 10, but hasn’t been able to go to sea since he was shot by an Israeli navy crew enforcing a crippling blockade of the Gaza Strip. Lying on a mattress on the ground in his small brick house, Brek recalls the fateful events of March 8, when he suffered severe bullet wounds. "I was pulling up my net when an Israeli patrol boat circled twice around my boat before firing at me and leaving. I lost a lot of blood," says Brek. The border closure imposed in a bid to halt almost daily rocket fire by Gaza militants on southern Israel has left much of the fishing fleet in the impoverished Palestinian enclave lying idle at the waterside. Fuel is scarce and available only at highly inflated black market prices in the Hamas-run territory. When they do go out, fishermen risk encountering Israeli patrol boats.

Threatened by Israeli snipers, villagers in Al-Khadr protest construction of Israeli wall
Ma’an News Agency 3/22/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an – About seventy residents of the West Bank village of Al-Khadr, near Bethlehem, staged their weekly nonviolent demonstration on Friday against the construction of Israel’s separation wall, which organizers say will result in the de facto confiscation of more than 90% of the town’s land. Men from the village attended the Friday Muslim prayer service on the road leading to the construction site of the wall. Heavily armed Israeli soldiers and border police sealed the road with barbed wire, preventing the demonstrators from approaching the site and forcing civilian traffic to turn back. Several Israeli snipers were positioned on the adjacent hillside, training their guns directly on the demonstrators. On Wednesday, the Israeli military leadership issued an order allowing Israeli forces to shoot live ammunition at demonstrators who approach the Israeli wall, a move.

Palestinian nonviolent demonstration against Wall in honor of mothers
Palestine News Network 3/21/2008
Bethlehem -- At the weekly nonviolent demonstration in southern Bethlehem the President of the Women’s Center, Fatima Briggih, honored Mother’s Day. She spoke of the "struggles of mothers who protect their children against all odds; loving, teaching and caring for them under the most difficult of circumstances," while still "defending her homeland and dignity, imparting these values to her children. "Israeli forces imposed strict measures to prevent scores of foreign supports from accessing southern Bethlehem yesterday. They were on their way to participate in the weekly nonviolent Palestinian protest against the Israeli Wall, settlement expansion, and land confiscation. Soldiers imposed military barriers and a barbed wire fence along the roads leading to the southern Bethlehem Governorate. Eight Palestinian towns are under direct threat due to the expansion of the Efrat Settlement.

Journalists targets of Israeli forces
Palestine News Network 3/21/2008
Najib Farrag -- The Israeli authorities are keeping Bethlehem journalist Hassan Abdel Jawad in prison. The 56 year old was arrested two weeks ago when Israeli forces stormed Deheisha Refugee Camp and Beit Sahour at 3:00 am. They took six Palestinians that night after having attended a memorial service for the late founder of the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, George Habash, the day before in the Church of Nativity. The head of the Palestinian Journalist Union, Naim Toubassi, told a PNN editor in his office in Ramallah on Wednesday, "The Hassan of today imparts information and he is not a well man. He has diabetes and a heart condition. I am certain that he poses no threat to the security of Israel. " In the Israeli indictment of the journalist, it is mentioned that he is a PFLP member.

Despite Israeli violence, Palestinian nonviolent resistance will not be deterred
Palestine News Network 3/21/2008
Bil’in / PNN -- It has been ongoing for four years: the weekly nonviolent Palestinian demonstrations against Israeli Wall and settlement construction. The Israeli policies contravene international law and Bil’in residents continue to protest. These nonviolent demonstrations began years ago in western Ramallah’s Bil’in Village, normally held after Friday prayers, and today was no different. Residents are seeking additional legal redress after the Israeli government continues to dismiss international law and the ruling of the International Court of Justice. A massive Palestinian march began this afternoon with the support of several foreigners and Israeli activists. All held banners against the illegal Israeli practices while Palestinian flags waved in the light breeze of an unseasonably warm Good Friday and Mother’s Day (Eid Al Um).

Israeli restrictions against Palestinian Christians at Easter
Palestine News Network 3/21/2008
Bethlehem / Najib Farrag -- Easter time has come around again and the routine Israeli restrictions against Palestinian Christians attempting to enter East Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher remain. Some of the obstacles are new, others are familiar. Palestinian Christians are expected to apply well in advance with the Israeli government in order to obtain magnetic cards that "clear them for security purposes," a well-informed source said on Good Friday. These are the types of cards that day-laborers apply for in order to be able to work inside the Israeli boundaries. Many are rejected, particularly young men. A resident of the eastern Bethlehem town of Beit Sahour said that he and his family have been refused permission to attend Easter services for four years in a row. Others are reporting being turned down for permission without even being cited as "security risks.

Israeli forces invade Azzun, imposing curfew
Ma’an News Agency 3/22/2008
Qalqilia – Ma’an – the Israeli occupation forces invaded the West Bank town of Azzun, east of the city of Qalqilia, and imposed a curfew. Witnesses said that several Israeli military vehicles entered the town, firing their weapons and detonating sonic bombs. Meanwhile, an armed Palestinian group calling itself the Al-Awda (literally "Return") Brigades and claiming to be linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), claimed responsibility for firing on an Israeli settler’s car near the town. [end]

IOF troops kidnap six Palestinians and Abbas’s security kidnap six others
Palestinian Information Center 3/21/2008
The Hawwara roadblockNABLUS, (PIC)-- IOF troops, Thursday night and Friday morning, kidnapped six Palestinians in the northern West Bank, while Abbs’s security men kidnapped six Hamas supporters. IOF troops raided the Balata refugee camp east of Nablus in the early hours of Friday, broke into a number of homes and ransacked them before kidnapping Muntaha al-Khatib (an 18-year-old girl). The IOF had kidnapped earlier on Thursday another 18-year-old girl called Ayat al-Qaisi whose fiancé was killed 3 weeks ago by the IOF and three of her brothers are captives in Israeli occupation jails. A Palestinian young man was also kidnapped while leaving Nablus through the notorious Hawwara roadblock where he was detained for 3 hours before being taken to the Hawwara military post. In nearby Baita village, to the south of Nablus, three more young men were kidnapped one of them taken.

Clashes between Palestinian forces and civilians near Nablus
Ameen Abu Wardah, International Middle East Media Center 3/22/2008
On Saturday clashes erupted between Palestinian security forces and civilians from the Huwwara village located near Nablus city in the northern part of the West Bank. Witnesses stated that security officers searched several homes causing damage which sparked protests against the home invasions. Clashes occurred between officers and local youth after they attempted to barricade the road to the village with tires and stones. Local sources said that four civilians and some police officers sustained injures. Palestinian Security sources stated that the PA was attempting to arrest suspects involved in an ongoing murder investigation. In related news, Israel decided to allow 50 armored vehicles donated by Russia to reach the Palestinian Authority. Israeli approved the first 25 vehicles initially, and plan to allow another 25 later.

Five injured in confrontation between PA and gunmen near Nablus
Ma’an News Agency 3/22/2008
Nablus – Ma’an – A Palestinian security officer and four civilians were injured, one seriously, during a shoot-out between Palestinian Authority forces and dozens of armed men on Saturday morning in the village of Huwwara, south of the city of Nablus. Palestinian medics told Ma’an’s correspondent in Nablus that officer Bashar Attiyani was injured in the foot, while local Palestinian sources said that 30-year-old civilian Nur Al-Akhras was seriously injured in the head. The governor of Nablus, Jamal Muheisin told Ma’an that security forces were attempting to arrest the armed men in response to requests from Huwwara residents. Muheisin said that his forces have instructions to shoot back when they are fired upon. Colonel Fawaz Dawoud, the Nablus police chief, told Ma’an that the arrest campaign began at 4am Saturday morning.

Police arrest 2 youths suspected of stoning cars on Wadi Ara road
Eli Ashkenazi and Jack Khoury Haaretz Correspondents, Ha’aretz 3/22/2008
Police arrested two boys, age 20 and 17, who are suspected of hurling stones at cars traveling on the main Wadi Ara Highway late Friday. The suspects deny any involvement with the incident. In recent weeks, authorities have reported a noticeable increase in the number of incidentsof rock-throwing at traffic along the major roadways and arteries in the north. Last week, a crowd of Arab youths stoned an Egged bus in the approach to Acre. The bus’ front windshield was shattered. Earlier this month, rocks were thrown at cars driving on the Tel Aviv-Haifa coastal highway along the section near the Arab village of Jisr al-Zarqa. Similar incidents were reported on Highway 79 between the Somech and Shfaram junctions. Most of these incidents are believed to be acts of tomfoolery by children rather than the result of national-ethnic resentment harbored by Israel’s Arab minority.

IOA to build residential neighborhood in Efrat settlement in WB
Palestinian Information Center 3/22/2008
AL-KHALIL, (PIC)-- The municipality of the Israeli Efrat settlement in the southern West Bank announced a new scheme to build a residential neighborhood in the settlement, according to Hebrew press reports. The reports added that Efrat’s mayor Eli Mizrahi along with the settlement’s rabbi would lay down the cornerstone of 54 settlement units and a park in Efrat. The IOA also placed four mobile houses in another settlement, south of Al-Khalil city in the southern West Bank. In another development, Palestinian local sources reported that a large number of IOF troops and armored vehicles invaded anew at dawn Saturday the Balata refugee camp in Nablus, northern West Bank, amid intensive gun fire and bombardment, where they broke into and ransacked many houses therein. The sources said that the invading IOF troops ransacked the houses of Mohamed Zaki Al-Tirawi and Hosni Al-Sallaj.

Israel to equip passenger aircraft with anti-missile flares to counter terror attacks
Rory McCarthy in Jerusalem, The Guardian 3/22/2008
Israel is to begin fitting some of its passenger aircraft with flares to counter potential missile attacks, defence officials said. The missile protection system was first proposed in 2002, but was delayed by disagreements over funding between government ministries, reports said. Within weeks a system of flares will be installed on some aircraft, particularly those flying to countries regarded as more dangerous, including in Africa and Asia. The system is similar to one installed on military aircraft. For protection against heat-seeking missiles flares can be dropped to draw off the weapon. The proposal emerged after two missiles were aimed at an Israeli passenger plane just after take-off in Mombasa, Kenya. The rockets narrowly missed the Boeing 757 jet but the attack seemed linked to a suicide bombing soon afterwards at a Mombasa hotel where Israeli tourists were staying - 13 Kenyans and Israelis were killed.

PFLP, Islamic Jihad claim two attacks on Israeli targets
Ma’an News Agency 3/22/2008
Gaza – Ma’an – The Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, the armed wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) claimed responsibility for launching four projectiles at the Israeli town of Sderot, bordering the Gaza Strip on Friday evening. The Brigades claimed that Israel acknowledged that the projectiles hit a party in Sderot, reportedly causing panic. The brigades agued that the attack "is to show that resistance against occupation is a right of ours and that it is a natural response to the assassinations and massacres and as a rejection of the siege. " Separately, the Al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of Islamic Jihad, claimed responsibility for engaging Israeli military vehicles pm Friday evening.

Six Hamas supporters arrested in West Bank
Ma’an News Agency 3/21/2008
Nablus – Ma’an - Hamas said on Friday that Palestinian security services arrested six of the movement’s supporters in the West Bank on Thursday evening. They said that teacher Ziad Raddad from Seida in the Tulkarem governorate was arrested after being called in for interview by the security services. Ayman Assi, director of the Polytechnic School was also arrested after being called for an interview. In the province of Jenin a student from An- Najah National University, Ibada Nawahda from Qabatia, was arrested. In the province of Nablus, the security services arrested Naseem AL Kharaz and Amid Al Kharaz. [end]

Al Qassam activist killed, one injured in explosion in Khan Younis
Ma’an News Agency 3/21/2008
Gaza – Ma’an - A 34-year-old Al-Qassam Brigades activist was killed and another injured in an explosion in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on Friday. Eyewitnesses told Ma’an they heard an explosion in a location used by the Brigades which appeared to be a shell exploding during the Brigades training exercise. Mu’awiya Hassanain, director of emergency and ambulance services in the ministry of health said that the body of Wael Hammouda and an injured fighter named Ibrahim Abu Shammala were taken to Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis. [end]

VIDEO - News / Ariel boy seriously hurt by bomb he mistook for Purim gift
Haaretz Staff and Channel 10, Ha’aretz 3/21/2008
Haaretz. com/Channel 10 news roundup for March 20, 2008. In this edition:A 15-year-old Ariel resident is seriously wounded by a pipe bomb he thought was a purim gift basket. The Health Ministry plans to vaccinate all health workers against measles. The panel of judges in the trial of the man accused of brutally murdering a 13-year-old Golan visit the scene of the crime for the first time. Tiberias garbage disposal workers discover dozens of 200 shekel notes buried in city sewage. [end]

JPOST: PA urges Palestinians to ‘return’
International Solidarity Movement 3/22/2008
The Palestinian Authority is planning to mark Israel’s 60th anniversary by calling on all Palestinians living abroad to converge on Israel by land, sea and air. The plan, drawn by Ziad Abu Ein, a senior Fatah operative and Deputy Minister for Prisoners’ Affairs in the Palestinian Authority, states that the Palestinians have decided to implement United Nations Resolution 194 regarding the refugees. Article 11 of the resolution, which was passed in December 1948, says that "refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.

Israeli court turns down appeal to free longest serving administrative detainee
Palestinian Information Center 3/22/2008
JENIN, (PIC)-- The Israeli military court in Negev jail has turned down an appeal to free the longest serving Palestinian administrative detainee who has been held in occupation jails for 51 months without trial. The lawyer of Nafha legal society said on Saturday that Adnan Hamarsha, 43, was detained on 31/12/2003, in the fourth such arrest by the Israeli occupation authority, without any charge and held in administrative detention since then. He added that Hamarsha, a father of six children, was moved from one Israeli jail to another and was held for 9 years in occupation jails. The wife of Hamarsha said that he suffered high blood pressure and heart ailment during his custody, and added that the Israeli military courts kept on extending his detention without charge at the pretext of having a secret file against him.

One dead after tunnel collapses underneath Gaza-Egypt border
Ma’an News Agency 3/22/2008
Gaza – Ma’an – A young Palestinian man was killed on Saturday morning after a tunnel under the Egyptian-Palestinian border collapsed in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, medical sources said. Medics identified the dead man as 20-year-old Emad Tawfiq. Tawfiq was found under a pile of rubble and taken to Abu Yousef An-Najjar Hospital, said Mu’awiya Hassanain, the director of ambulance and emergency services in the Palestinian Health Ministry. Two other people were injured in the tunnel collapse. Armed Palestinian resistance groups are reported to use tunnels to smuggle weapons and personnel from Egypt into the Gaza Strip. [end]

Israeli court extends detention of six Palestinian prisoners
Ma’an News Agency 3/22/2008
Jenin – Ma’an – An Israeli military court has extended the detention of six Palestinian prisoners from the West Bank cities of Jenin and Tulkarem. Jenin’s office for prisoners’ affairslisted the names of the detainees: Muhammad Nur Ismael Abu Ar-Rab from Qabatiya, Raed Sa’id As’ad from Tulkarem, Hussam Yahya Abu Ar-Rab from Qabatiya and Naji Wahsh Barjis from Jenin refugee camp. Israel currently holds more than 11,000 Palestinians in prisons and detention centers. [end]

IOF troops kidnap Qatari Red Crescent representative
Palestinian Information Center 3/22/2008
RAMALLAH, (PIC)-- IOF troops kidnapped Samer Hasarma, 43, the West Bank representative of the Qatari Red Crescent society a few days ago only two months after his release from occupation jails. Local sources said that Hasarma was held in custody last January before his release on bail. He was detained on several past occasions in occupation jails on the charge of affiliation with the Hamas Movement. [end]

Memorial to US activist killed by Israeli bulldozer
Middle East Online 3/21/2008
NABLUS, West Bank - The parents of US peace activist Rachel Corrie, who was killed in Gaza by an Israeli bulldozer, marked the fifth anniversary of her death Thursday by dedicating a small West Bank memorial. Corrie was 23 when she was run over by a 60-ton Israeli bulldozer in 2003 as she tried to prevent a Palestinian home from being demolished. The driver claimed he didn’t see her, and the Israeli military ruled her death accidental. But her colleagues said otherwise. On Thursday, about 150 Palestinians and foreigners attended the memorial, gathering in a street in the West Bank city of Nablus, led by Corrie’s parents, Cindy and Craig. Some held up photos of Rachel, who was from Olympia, Wash. Her parents have repeatedly returned to the Palestinian territories, including to the spot in the southern Gaza town of Rafah where she was killed.

Fighting ends in Lebanon camp
Al Jazeera 3/21/2008
Calm has returned to a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon after heavy clashes between fighters of the Jund al-Sham and the Fatah faction killed one man and injured at least four others. The rival fighters exchanged rocket fire for four hours in the densely populated Ein al-Hilweh camp outside the city of Sidon on Friday night. The victim and the four wounded belonged to Fatah, a Lebanese security official said. There was no immediate word on casualties among Jund al-Sham fighters. The echo of gunfire reverberated in Sidon and prompted hundreds of civilians in the teeming camp to flee to safer areas. An AFP correspondent said more than 100 Palestinian families fled the camp to take refuge in nearby Sidon. The correspondent added that entire families took refuge in. . .

Israeli forces seize 17-year-old girl in Balata refugee camp
Ma’an News Agency 3/21/2008
Nablus – Ma’an - Israeli forces seized a 17-year-old girl in the Balata refugee camp east of Nablus on Friday at dawn, after storming her house, as well as breaking into a number of other houses in the city. Palestinian security sources told Ma’an’s Nablus correspondent that the Israeli forces arrested Muntaha Ya’qub Al -Khatib after bursting into her home amid gunfire sound bombs. The sources added that the Israeli forces also raided a number of other houses in several districts of the city, claiming they were searching for ’wanted’ Palestinians. [end]

PCHR Weekly Report: 4 Palestinians killed, 15 wounded by Israeli forces
Saed Bannoura, International Middle East Media Center 3/21/2008
According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR)’s Weekly Report, during the week of 13 - 19 Mar. 2008, 4 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces. 12 Palestinians, including 3 children, a woman and a mentally disabled person, were wounded by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip, and 3 civilians, including 2 human rights defenders, were wounded by Israeli forces in the West Bank. [end] -- See also: Palestinian Center for Human Rights Weekly Report, week of 13 - 19 Mar 2008

Mccain Supports Israeli Response
BBC News, MIFTAH 3/22/2008
US presidential hopeful John McCain says he understands Israel’s response to rocket attacks by Palestinian militant groups. Mr McCain was speaking in the Israeli town of Sderot, which has often been hit by rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. " No nation in the world can be attacked without responding," he told reporters. Mr McCain, a Republican senator who looks set to become the party’s presidential candidate this autumn, also called for progress towards peace. The Arizona senator, who is on a fact-finding trip to the Middle East, expressed sympathy for the people of Sderot. " The fact is I come from a border state and if people were rocketing my state, I think that the citizens from my state would advocate a very vigorous response," he said. Israel launched a military offensive in Hamas-controlled Gaza three weeks ago in response it said to Palestinian militant attacks.

Mccain Backs Israeli Reprisals in Gaza
Ian Deitch, MIFTAH 3/22/2008
Touring a war-battered town, Sen. John McCain said Wednesday he understands Israel’s tough response to Palestinian rocket fire, adding that there is no point in negotiating with the Gaza Strip’s Islamic Hamas regime. The Republican presidential nominee-in-waiting also praised the moderate Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, saying he is committed to reaching a peace deal with Israel — though McCain is not meeting Palestinians this time. McCain’s visit to Israel is part of a weeklong trip through the Middle East and Europe. After a day of meetings with Israeli leaders, he visited Sderot, the southern Israeli border town that has been the target of thousands of crude Palestinian rockets in recent years. " That is not a way for people to live," McCain said. "No nation in the world can be attacked incessantly and have its population killed and intimidated without responding.

Aqsa Khatib denounces statements of American presidential candidate
Palestinian Information Center 3/22/2008
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM, (PIC)-- Sheikh Ekrema Sabri, the chairman of the higher Islamic authority, has denounced statements voiced by US republican presidential candidate John McCain during his visit to the Hebrew state in which he announced he would recognize Jerusalem as capital of Israel if he won the elections. Sabri, addressing the Friday congregation in the holy Aqsa Mosque, said that the American candidate’s statements, which also included his clear backing to military escalation against Gaza, were unacceptable. Such statements are "aggressive and inhuman", the Sheikh charged, adding that McCain’s statements infringed on Palestinian legitimate rights and did not care less about the innocent lives that would be lost in any Israeli military escalation against Gaza. Meanwhile, shifting to the internal-Palestinian discord, he urged Palestinian media to stop hostile campaigns especially.

Lavrov slams Gaza Strip blockade, Jewish settlements
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 3/22/2008
RAMALLAH, Occupied West Bank: Visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday criticized Israeli settlement activity in the Occupied West Bank and called for an end to the Jewish state’s "unacceptable" blockade of the Gaza Strip. Following talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, Lavrov also said Russia would soon set a date for a proposed peace conference which Moscow wants to host and which he is promoting on his Middle East tour. "We are worried by the Israeli settlement activity and urge Israel to end it," Lavrov said. Israel had pledged at a US-sponsored conference in November to abide by the 2003 international peace roadmap, which calls for a freeze of settlement activity. Lavrov also called on Israel to lift the crippling sanctions it imposed on Hamas-run Gaza in January in a bid to end rocket fire from the impoverished Palestinian enclave.

Israel, Russia finalize deal on supply of armored vehicles to PA
Amos Harel Haaretz Correspondent, and The Associated Press, Ha’aretz 3/22/2008
Israel has agreed to allow Russia to supply the Palestinian Authority security services in the West Bank with Russian-made armored vehicles, Haaretz has learned. The agreement, which was consummated in principle this past November, was given the final go-ahead after Moscow agreed to a key Israeli demand to refrain from fitting the vehicles with machine guns, as the Palestinians had hoped. Late last year, a political brouhaha erupted overreports of the deal Right-wing lawmakersbitterly criticized Olmert for the decision. The deal was also held up due to Israel’s objections to Palestinian intentions to affix automatic machine guns to the vehicles. During Thursday’s meeting between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Russia accepted the Israeli demand that the vehicles not be mounted with machine guns as was originally planned.

Nunu welcomes Lavrov’s call for ending siege & settlement building
Palestinian Information Center 3/22/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- Taher Al-Nunu, the PA caretaker government’s spokesman, has welcomed Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov’s call on Israel to end the Gaza blockade and to stop building settlements on Palestinian occupied lands. "This is a positive step on the part of Russia and we hope that other countries will adopt similar positions and end the siege imposed on the Palestinian people," Nunu added. Lavrov had told a joint press conference held with PA chief Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Friday that the suffocating siege on the Gaza Strip must end in order to let the people live a normal life. He also expressed his country’s concern with the continued Israeli settlement drive in Palestinian occupied lands, and asked for its immediate stop. The Russian chief diplomat said that his country was preparing for a Middle East peace conference to be held in Moscow later this year to follow up implementation of the Annapolis conference’s agreements.

Hezbollah deputy chief says he has proof Israel killed Mughniyah
Yoav Stern Avi Issacharoff and Barak Ravid, Ha’aretz 3/22/2008
Hezbollah’s deputy secretary general Naim Qassem has again accused Israel of responsibility for the assassination of the organization’s senior military figure Imad Mughniyah. In a speech Friday to mark the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed, Qassem said "we have clear proof, of 100 percent that cannot be doubted, that Israel is the head of the assassination. " Qassem said there is no basis for the claim that others were behind the assassination. "Know that Israel is responsible and it must bear the whole responsibility. " According to Arab media reports, Hezbollah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah is to give an address Monday to mark to 40th day since Mughniyah’s death. Last week, security forces were on high alert as Israel’s intelligence community has gained possession of fragments of information hinting at plans for a Hezbollah revenge attack in coordination with Iran and Syria.

Abbas: "Peace process needs truce, and halting settlement activities"
IMEMC News, International Middle East Media Center 3/21/2008
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stated on Friday that a peace conference should be held as soon as possible in Russia and added that peace requires a comprehensive truce and a complete halt of Israeli settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Abbas’s came during a press conference with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the presidential headquarters in Ramallah city, north of Jerusalem. He added that that Lavrov’s visit is part of bilateral Russian/Palestinian relations and is focused on discussing the peace process. He also welcomed Russia’s role in pushing the peace process forward. President Abbas also stated that there was discussion of Russian support of the Palestinian Authority, the internal situation in Palestine and the internal Palestinian dialog in Yemen. He stated that the Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh offered an initiative which.

Livni: all final status issues are on the negotiating table
Ghassan Bannoura, International Middle East Media Center 3/22/2008
The Israeli Foreign Minister and head of the Israeli negotiation team, Tzipi Livni, states that all final statute issues will be discussed during current negotiations with Palestinians. Livni made her statement during an interview with the Israeli TV Channel 2. She added that the Jerusalem issue will also be among the topics discussed in the Palestinian/Israeli talks. Palestinian/Israeli peace talks were revived last November during the one day US-sponsored Annapolis conference. The core issues of Jerusalem, water resources, borders, political prisoners, and refugees have been serious stumbling blocks in past peace talks. Commenting on Israel’s siege of Gaza, Livni stated that Israel is commited to prevent the firing of home made shells by the Gaza-based Palestinian resistance into nearby Israeli towns.

PA urges Palestinians to ’return’
KHALED ABU TOAMEH, Jerusalem Post 3/19/2008
The Palestinian Authority is planning to mark Israel’s 60th anniversary by calling on all Palestinians living abroad to converge on Israel by land, sea and air. The plan, drawn by Ziad Abu Ein, a senior Fatah operative and Deputy Minister for Prisoners’ Affairs in the Palestinian Authority, states that the Palestinians have decided to implement United Nations Resolution 194 regarding the refugees. Article 11 of the resolution, which was passed in December 1948, says that "refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should. . .

Hizbullah ’100% certain’ Israel killed Mugniyah
Dudi Cohen, YNetNews 3/21/2008
Terror group’s deputy secretary general says it has ’solid evidence’ Israel assassinated its top commander in Damascus last February; Hizbullah to hold rally Monday to mark end of mourning period - Hizbullah’s deputy secretary general, Sheikh Naim Qassem said Saturday that the Lebanese terror group had "100% solid evidence" thatIsrael was behind thedeath of the "martyr" Imad Mugniyah in a car blast in Damascus on February 12, according to Iran’s Press TV. The English-language news station said Hizbullah urged its supporters to hold a mass rally on Monday in the southern Beirut district of Rweiss to commemorate its slain commander and mark the end of the 40-day mourning period. Lebanese daily Al-Safir said Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallahmay speak at the rally.

Hamas Refuses Fatah Demand it Cede Gaza Control for Reconciliation
Reuters, MIFTAH 3/22/2008
Hamas voiced willingness on Wednesday to talk to Fatah as part of a Yemeni reconciliation initiative but said the secular faction must drop its demand the Islamist group first give up control of the Gaza Strip. " We do not accept it as a condition to restore dialogue," Hamas spokesmanAyman Taha said. "[The Gaza Strip] is only an item that can be discussed within the agenda of the talks. " Fatah official Ziad Abu Ein said it was sticking to the "fundamental condition that legitimacy must be returned to the Palestinian Authority" -- a direct reference to regaining Gaza sovereignty - for contacts with Hamas to resume. The acceptance of the Yemeni initiative meant they were willing to accept mediation but were not budging from their positions on direct talks and the future of the Gaza Strip. Delegations from the two factions were to meet separately with Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh

Abu Marzouk: The PA delegation’s statements undermines Yemeni efforts
Palestinian Information Center 3/22/2008
SANA’A, (PIC)-- Dr. Mousa Abu Marzouk, the deputy head of the Hamas political bureau, said that the statements of the PA leadership and its delegation to Sana’a that Hamas did not approve the Yemeni initiative and was not ready for dialog aimed at undermining the Yemeni efforts to bridge the rift in the Palestinian arena. Dr. Abu Marzouk underlined that the statements of Azzam Al-Ahmed, the representative of the Fatah faction in the PA leadership’s delegation, in this regard reflect an unstable condition in his mentality and psychology.  The Hamas leader questioned the seriousness of PA chief Mahmoud Abbas to reach a solution to the inter-Palestinian crisis, pointing out in this regard that Abbas knows well that the problem is between Fatah and Hamas and the two movements are only concerned with dialog, but sending a delegation of the central council of the PLO means that he is not serious at all.

Fatah and Hamas continue talks over the Yemeni initiative
Manar Jibrin and agencies, International Middle East Media Center 3/22/2008
Talks between the Hamas and Fatah delegations over the Yemeni initiative had resumed on Saturday in the Yemeni capital of San’a. He added, "we have changed the agreement into four different options but Hamas refuses to sign. " He expressed hope that Hamas will change its stance, accusing some of the Arab countries of perpetuating the Palestinian crisis claiming that "our problem is not local but regional. "The two Palestinian movements had failed to reach an agreement in last Thursday’s meeting and exchanged accusations regarding who is to blame for the current situation in Palestine. Yemeni mediation efforts were undermined due to several controversial issues, but the last-minute efforts resulted in representatives of Hamas and Fatah resuming talks on Saturday.

Khater: Abbas’s authority maneuvered out of the Yemeni initiative
Palestinian Information Center 3/22/2008
SANA’A, (PIC)-- Sami Khater, a member of the Hamas political bureau, stated that PA chief Mahmoud Abbas and his entourage did not take the Yemeni initiative seriously and maneuvered out of the requirements of dialogue and the Yemeni initiative.     Khater underlined that Fatah MP and member of the PLO delegation currently in Sana’a Azzam Al-Ahmed’s allegation that Hamas refused the initiative four times was followed by a statement by the PA chief on satellite channels that the negotiations between him and the Israeli occupation would continue until the end of 2008. The Hamas leader explained that Abbas sent a delegation of the PLO which is not concerned with dialogue because the initiative is between Hamas and Fatah only and not between Hamas and the PLO factions, pointing out that the Yemeni initiative was titled "a vision for the resumption of dialogue between Fatah and Hamas.

Yemen pushes for Palestianian unity
Lamis Andoni and Adam Makary, Al Jazeera 3/22/2008
Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas have agreed to continue reconciliation talks after a personal plea by Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Yemeni president. Negotiations were on the brink of collapse after both sides disagreed on the agenda interpreting a Yemeni plan to end a rift triggered when Hamas seized Gaza in June last year. While none of the differences were resolved, the two factions reached an understanding to hold further negotiations after consulting their respective leaders. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, said both sides were hoping "for a positive outcome". In private talks, officials from both sides cautioned against high expectations as the two factions remain divided over fundamental points of the Yemeni initiative.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad meet in Rafah to discuss ceasefire
Ma’an News Agency 3/22/2008
Gaza – Ma’an – Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials are meeting in the Gaza Strip city of Rafah on Saturday to debate the possibility of a ceasefire with Israel, a source with direct knowledge of the meeting revealed. The meeting comes after a visit by Amos Gilad, the head of the Political-Military bureau at the Israeli Defense Ministry, to Cairo. Gilad met with Egyptian officials to discuss the potential ceasefire. [end]

Hamas, Jihad delegations to discuss calm and Rafah terminal in Egypt
Palestinian Information Center 3/22/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- Representatives of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements leave for Cairo on Saturday at the urgent request of the Egyptian authorities to discuss calm with Israel and opening Rafah crossing, according to Palestinian sources. The sources in press statements said that Sheikh Jamal Abu Hashem, member of Hamas’s political bureau, and Sheikh Khaled Al-Batesh, one of the Jihad’s political leaders, are to leave on Saturday for a meeting with Egyptian security officials. They said that both movements were optimistic on the question of opening the Rafah crossing, and added that the border terminal would partially open in the near future after securing Egyptian, Israeli and European approval. The sources pointed out that Hamas displayed great flexibility in the issue of the crossing, which would permit a major breakthrough in Egyptian efforts with Israel to ensure its speedy re-opening.

Islamic Jihad gears up for new confrontations with IOF troops
Palestinian Information Center 3/21/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- Khaled Al-Batesh, the prominent political leader of the Islamic Jihad Movement in Gaza strip, has urged on Thursday the Palestinian people and the Palestinian resistance factions to gear up for new confrontations against the Israeli occupation. "The IOF troops [persisting] aggressions against our people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip occur at a time talks and efforts were focusing on reaching a "Tahdea" (truce) which the Israeli occupation government wants to impose by force after she failed to achieve its goals in Gaza militarily", Batesh asserted in a statement he issued Thursday and a copy of which was obtained by the PIC. He also asserted that the Israeli occupation government was "exhausting time and draining the Palestinian people’s capabilities" before the upcoming Arab summit in the Syrian capital Damascus in order to preempt any possible Arab support for the Palestinian people.

Crisis Group calls for lifting the siege on Gaza
Palestinian Information Center 3/21/2008
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM, (PIC)-- Crisis Group, an international organisation working to prevent conflict worldwide, recommended, in a report it issued on Wednesday, that the siege on Gaza be lifted and border crossings opened. The report entitled "Ruling Palestine I: Gaza Under Hamas" analyses the situation in the Gaza Strip since the take over by Hamas in mid-June 2007 and the local and international reactions to the takeover and concludes that the policy of squeezing Gaza and isolating Hamas has not worked and that a new approach is needed if violence is to end and a viable peace process is to be promoted. "The policy of isolating Hamas and sanctioning Gaza is bankrupt and, by all conceivable measures, has backfired. Violence is rising, harming both Gazans and Israelis. Economic conditions are ruinous, generating anger and despair.

Israel, Germany plan int’l summit to stop Iran nuke program
Barak Ravid, Ha’aretz 3/22/2008
Germany and Israel will try to initiate an international conference aimed at stopping Iran’s nuclear program, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed during their working meeting in Jerusalem on Monday. Haaretz has meanwhile learned that Iran has provided Syria with more than $1 billion for arms purchases, reflecting Syria’s drive to build up its military power in the last year, as well as the strengthening of ties between the two countries. Olmert and Merkel discussed steps to continue the international pressure on Iran that has developed following the third round of sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council. Both leaders voiced ideas on increasing the pressure on Iran and enlisting the international community to support the effort.

Ex-prof with alleged terror ties refuses to testify in U.S. court
The Associated Press, Ha’aretz 3/22/2008
A former professor is again refusing to testify to a federal grand jury in Alexandria investigating Muslim charities and businesses in northern Virginia. Sami al-Arian’s refusal to testify sets the stage for prosecutors to bring contempt of court charges for a third time against the former University of South Florida professor. Al-Arian is in the 19th day of a hunger strike to protest his treatment. Prosecutors have alleged that al-Arian was a leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. But his 2005 trial ended in an acquittal on some counts and a hung jury on others. He eventually pleaded guilty to lesser charges. Since then, prosecutors have sought his testimony for a related investigation. But al-Arian has refused despite a grant of immunity.

U.S. govt. to appeal ruling on classified material in AIPAC trial
Shmuel Rosner, Ha’aretz 3/22/2008
Two former pro-Israel lobbyists charged with violating Espionage Act by revealing info. to Israeli diplomats. Friday afternoon is not the best time for major news developments, but in the case of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) trial it seems to have become a habit. For those who might have forgotten by now, the case is about two former AIPAC lobbyists, charged by the government with violating the Espionage Act, a legislation from the time of World War I, by revealing information to journalists and Israeli diplomats. This classified information, acquired by Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman in the course of conversing with American officials, dealt mainly with the sensitive topics of Iran and Iraq. The most tantalizing decision made in this case came a while ago, when the judge ruledthat the. . .

Cheney in J’lem: U.S. will never pressure Israel to take security risks
News Agencies, Ha’aretz 3/22/2008
U. S. Vice President Dick Cheney arrived in Israel on Saturday in an effort to bolster the recently relaunched peace talks with the Palestinians, and vowed the U. S. would never pressure Israel to take steps that threaten its security. "America’s commitment to Israel’s security is enduring and unshakable, as is Israel’s right to protect itself always against terrorism, rocket attacks and other attacks from forces dedicated to Israel’s destruction," Cheney said ahead of a meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. "The United States will never pressure Israel to take steps that threaten its security," Cheney added. He also said the United States wants to see a new beginning for the Palestinian people and is committed to pursuing Mideast peace deal. "We want to see a resolution to the conflict, an end to the terrorism that. . .

Russian FM revives talk of Mideast conference in Moscow
Middle East Online 3/21/2008
TEL AVIV - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov revived the prospect of a Middle East peace conference hosted in Moscow at a meeting with Israeli leaders Thursday. "We are negotiating with the different parties to organise a meeting in Moscow," Lavrov told reporters after a meeting with Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Earlier, Lavrov had met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Shimon Peres. "The main objective is to help the ongoing takes to create a positive atmosphere that will allow the peace process to reach a conclusion," Lavrov added -- a reference to last November’s Annapolis conference in the United States that relaunched Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. Israel’s leaders have reserved their response to the proposal, public radio reported. In Washington, a spokesman for US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice confirmed that she had discussed Russia’s plans for the meeting during her visit to Moscow this week.

Blair denies writing resignation letter criticising Palestinian politicians
Ma’an News Agency 3/21/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an - Quartet envoy Tony Blair on Friday issued a statement denying reports published on an Israeli website that he has resigned from his post. Two weeks ago the Israeli website DEBKAfile published a letter claiming it was written by Blair, saying he was resigning and expressing less than favourable views on a number of Palestinian politicians. Blair’s official spokesman Matthew Doyle said in a message sent to Ma’an, "We are aware that there is a document circulating that purports to be a letter from Tony Blair, supposedly with his views of Palestinian politicians and the peace process. As far as we are tell, this fake letter originated on an Israeli gossip website. This letter is a complete fabrication and I can categorically deny that Mr Blair has anything to do with anything like this. Such a letter never existed.

Caretaker government carries out consultations to expand its cabinet
Palestinian Information Center 3/22/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- An informed Palestinian source told the Palestine newspaper that extensive consultations are being carried out to expand the caretaker government headed by premier Ismail Haneyya through tabling a proposal in the PLC for the appointment of new ministers. The source added on condition of anonymity that the prime minister’s office suggested some names for the new portfolios. In another context, the caretaker government played down the success of talks between Hamas and Fatah in Sana’a in reaching an agreement on ending the inter-Palestinian division, holding the PA and Fatah leadership fully responsible for the failure of the Yemeni initiative.   "We express our fears of the statements and attitudes issued by the PA which do not bode well for these talks especially the decision to withdraw its delegation and then backtracking on it, and the attempt to hold Hamas responsible.

Fatah slams the expansion of the deposed government
Manar Jibrin & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center 3/22/2008
Consultations are held over expanding the Palestinian deposed government based in the Gaza Strip and headed by Isma’el Haniyeh by appointing ministers to its ministerial council, Palestinian sources said on Saturday. Local sources close to Hamas movement said that "the premiership had offered portfolios to some figures that showed readiness for this participation. " Fahmi al Za’areer, Fatah’s spokesperson, commented on this move and said that "this is another proof on Hamas’s intentions of deepening the political and marital separation between West Bank and the Gaza Strip, enforcing of the coupe in all fields and striking the infrastructure of the Palestinian political system as a whole and to the Yemeni initiative. " He added that "Hanieyah [deposed prime minister] does enjoy any legality after being deposed that took place after the bloody coupe in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas-led government in Gaza mulling cabinet reshuffle
Ma’an News Agency 3/22/2008
Gaza – Ma’an – The Hamas-led de facto government of the Gaza Strip is considering appointing new ministers and broadening the portfolios of others for the first time since the Palestinian government split between the West Bank and Gaza last June, Palestinian sources said on SaturdayThe anonymous sources told Palestinian media that the overburdened ministers in stripped-down cabinet have been overburdened over the last nine months since Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas fired a Hamas-Fatah unity government and appointed a Fatah-dominated caretaker government that holds power in the West Bank. Abbas dismissed the government after Hamas’ takeover of the Gaza Strip. The Prime Ministry reportedly submitted the proposal to fill out the government to de facto Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who is said to have agreed in principle to the plan.

Palestinian President Affirms Rejection of Approving Parliamentary Bills
Kuwait News Agency, MIFTAH 3/22/2008
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas affirmed on Thursday his firm opposition to approve or sign any bill forwarded by the Palestinian legislative assembly. The official spokesman of the president said in a statement that Abbas based his unwavering rejection on the constituent law of the parliament regarding legality of the sessions. He added that the president would not alter this stance on the basis that the council’s sessions lacked the legal quorum for drafting bills. The Islamic group, Hamas, that has a majority in the parliament, has referred several draft laws to the president for endrosement. Up to 40 members of the assembly are being held in Israeli jails. But the imprisoned lawmakers have given written authorization to other figures to represent them in the assembly’s works. Source: Kuwait News Agency, 20 March.

Fatah censures former PLC speaker over smuggling charges
Ma’an News Agency 3/22/2008
Ramallah – Ma’an – The Central Committee of Fatah has relieved former Palestinian Legislative Council Speaker Rawhi Fattouh of his responsibilities within the party as a result of accusations that he smuggled cellular phones from Jordan to Palestine in his VIP car. The Committee also approved a resolution by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to remove Fattouh from his official responsibilities in the Palestinian Authority. The Central Committee has summoned Fattouh to attend an upcoming meeting to give his account of the events that leed to the smuggling charges. Customs official seized 3,000 contraband phones from Fattouh’s car while he was crossing from Jordan into the West Bank on Wednesday. Fattouh denied involvement in the attempted smuggling.

Natshe: Corrupt people dominate Fatah
Palestinian Information Center 3/21/2008
Rafik Al-Natshe AL-KHALIL, (PIC)-- Head of Fatah’s supreme court Rafik Al-Natshe dropped a bombshell after he acknowledged on Friday that Fatah faction is currently dominated by corrupt people. The Fatah prominent leader who had once chaired the PLC also admitted that the "peace" negotiations that the PA had been engaging in with the Israeli occupation government were indeed futile negotiations that brought no good to the Palestinian people. He also attributed the sharp decline in Fatah’s popularity in the Palestinian street to the fact that the Palestinians no longer believe in or attach any hopes to those negotiations. After his fiery statements, Natshe urged the PA leadership in Ramallah city to be frank with the Palestinian people and to tell them the truth which is that the PA negotiations with Israel had indeed reached a deadlock since the infamous Oslo agreement in 1993.

PA to launch new welfare system to counter Hamas
Avi Issacharoff, Ha’aretz 3/20/2008
The Palestinian Authority is launching a new socioeconomic network meant to counter the Hamas welfare system, the Dawa, which has been successful in assisting poor Palestinians for two decades. The program is being backed by both Israel and the Quartet - the U. S. , UN, EU and Russia - including its Middle East envoy Tony Blair. On the Israeli side, the officials coordinating activities in the territories - under Major General Yosef Mishlav and Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog - are involved in supporting the PA. The program calls for setting up an organization similar to the National Security Institute in Israel, which will grant monthly stipends to families living in poverty. The stipends will also include unemployment and disability benefits. During the first phase of implementation, the estimated cost to countries contributing funds to the Palestinian Authority stands at $120 million.

Jerusalem’s First Palestinian Latin Patriarch to Retire this Year
The Associated Press, MIFTAH 3/22/2008
Michel Sabbah, the Holy Land’s top Roman Catholic clergyman, is to retire this year. The Latin Patriach is turning 75 on Wednesday - the traditional retirement age of church officials. Sabbah is the first Palestinian to hold his position. Throughout his tenure, he has been a vocal advocate for the Palestinian cause. At the same time, he has been an outspoken critic of violence. A church official said Sabbah will stay on the job at least through the upcoming Easter holiday. The official stated that Sabbah is expected to be succeeded by another Palestinian church leader, Archbishop Fuad Twal. In a pre-Christmas address last year, the Latin Patriarch said Israel’s identity as a Jewish state discriminates against non-Jews. " If there’s a state of one religion, other religions are naturally discriminated against," Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah in December told reporters at the annual press conference in Jerusalem before the Christian holiday.

Lottery officials, Omri Sharon implicated in Payis bribe scandal
Roni Singer-Heruti, Ha’aretz 3/20/2008
Police suspect former MK Omri Sharon and some Likud party members of involvement in a lottery bribery scandal. Three lottery ticket franchisees of the Mifal Hapayis state lottery were arrested earlier this week on suspicion of bribing senior Mifal Hapayis officials in exchange for permits to sell tickets. The ticket franchisees are suspected of passing the money to attorney Yaakov Bardugo, a former Mifal Hapayis director and Likud activist, who allegedly passed it via Omri Sharon and his associate, Likud member Gamliel Hasin, to senior lottery officials, including former lottery chairman Shimon Katzenelson. The three fanchisees are Alon Alroi, Haim Golan and Rafael Dayan. Several former lottery ticket franchisees had complained for some time of irregularities and foul play in Mifal Hapayis. These people, some of whom had bid for the franchise to sell lottery tickets, said they lost because the tenders were rigged.

IDF to teach personal responsibility to high school students
Hanan Greenberg, YNetNews 3/21/2008
Initiative aims to teach high school students meaning of IDF values and personal responsibility. Thousands of soldiers to tell legacies about Israeli achievements - Thousands of IDF soldiers and officers plan to sweep through some 450 Israeli schools on Wednesday, toting manuals and maps as part of a new IDF initiative aimed at strengthening the students’ pride in Israel’s achievements, and to enforce a sense of personal responsibility for change and growth in the country. IDF officials hope the initiative will also tighten the bond between it and the school system. Initiative promoter, Commander in Chief of the Israeli Air Force Eliezer Shkedi, believes that teachers have the strongest effect on each new generation of pilots, and therefore hopes to strengthen ties between the education system and the IDF.

IAF grounds all F-16I jets over carcinogenic material in cockpit
Yuval Azoulay, Ha’aretz 3/22/2008
The Israel Air Force ordered all F-16I fighter jets grounded Friday, after a carcinogenic material was found in the cockpit of one of the planes. IAF Commander Eliezer Shkedy ordered an examination of strong smells in the cockpit following several complaints by pilots. The Medical Corps examination found that the material in question was formaldehyde, which was recently recognized as a carcinogenic substance in high levels of exposure. Although the substance was only found in one of the planes’ cockpits, Shkedy grounded all F-16I jets pending a thorough examination. The IAF informed the planes’ manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, and the examination is being carried out in cooperation with the United States-based company.

Incoming Nablus police chief vows to fight crime
Ma’an News Agency 3/22/2008
Nablus – Ma’an – In his first official statement since becoming the chief of police in the Nablus, a city known for its armed fighters and high crime rate, Colonel Fawaz Dawoud said, "no one is above the what so ever no matter how high their status is, and we will protect our people from those who step out of the law and those who gamble with the lives and blood of our people. " Throughout his statement Dawoud referred to the recent seizure by Palestinian authorities of large quantities of dangerous counterfeit medicines in Nablus. The Colonel, who met with the managers of police departments in Nablus on Saturday, urged ordinary Palestinians to help police by providing authorities with information regarding criminal activity. He also assured that there is unity and a spirit of cooperation among the security services in Nablus, saying, "The police is an integral part of those organs.

Hundreds celebrate Purim at attacked J’lem yeshiva
Ynet, YNetNews 3/21/2008
Religious Zionist members gather at Mercaz Harav rabbinical seminary to observe holiday mitzvahs ’despite the pain’ - Hundreds of members of the Religious Zionist Movement celebrated Purim under heavy security Saturday night at the Mercaz Harav rabbinical seminary in Jerusalem, which lost eight of its students in aterror attack carried out by a Palestinian resident of the capital two weeks ago. The celebrators, who arrived at the yeshiva in costume, danced in circles to hasidic renditions of traditional Purim songs. During the festivities a drunken student of the yeshiva turned to the officers on hand and asked that they "better protect the establishment in case of another terror attack". Another student said, "Despite the horrible attack and the ensuing pain, terrorists have not and will not prevent us from observing the holiday mitzvahs.

Marcel Khalifa and Edward Said Conservatory support Palestinian music scene
Palestine News Network 3/21/2008
PNN -- The Marcel Khalifa annual competition is accepting applications for July 2008. Although many Palestinians cannot attend the competition due to Israeli-imposed travel restrictions, musicians are finding their way around it. "We will use a closed circuit television system for the musicians who are not allowed to enter Jerusalem: those from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as musicians from the Golan Heights," representatives of the Edward Said Conservatory of Music announced on Friday. The Conservatory was established in 1993 and has centers in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Ramallah with some 550 students. They study classical, eastern and western styles of music. This year’s competition will include several categories in this prestigious event, including Eastern, Piano, Strings and Guitar. New to the categories this year is Arabic Singing.

Bank of Israel report: One in four Israelis over the age of 65 is poor
Moti Bassok, Ha’aretz 3/22/2008
Over one-fourth of Israelis aged 65 and over were under the poverty line in June 2007. Families headed by a person in this age category are more than twice as likely to be poor than other families. The Bank of Israel report from which these figures are taken, which will be released on April 1, emphasizes the importance of National Insurance Institute allowances in reducing poverty among the elderly. In 2006 there were about 700,000 people in Israel aged 65 and up, or about 10 percent of the population. At 24. 3 percent, the percentage of those classified as poor was high by international standards. About 90 percent of families headed by an elderly person receives an old-age stipend. These NII allowances represent a significant proportion of these families’ income. As a result of the significant state support for the elderly, and particularly. . .

Four US soldiers killed in Iraq
Al Jazeera 3/22/2008
The US military announced the deaths of four US soldiers in Iraq, including three in a roadside bombing in Baghdad. The attack on Saturday also left two Iraqis dead. Earlier on Friday,a US soldier died from injuries sustained during a gun battle. In Baghdad’s southern Al-Amel nighborhood, five Iraqis were injured during clashes between the Mehdi Army militia and American and Iraqi forces. The deaths on Saturday pushes the number of American soldiers to the 4,000 mark since the war in Iraq started five years ago. Iraqi police also reported the deaths of six Iraqis after a US Apache helicopter struck two checkpoints near the central city of Samarra. Two Iraqis were wounded during the attacks. Abu Faruq, leader of an "Awakening" Council unit allied with the US against. . .

France to cut its nuclear arsenal
Al Jazeera 3/22/2008
Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, has said that he would cut France’s nuclear arsenal to fewer than 300 warheads. However, he reaffirmed France’s need for nuclear weapons, saying they serve as "the nations life insurance" against security threats such as Iran. Sarkosy’s decision to reveal the rough size of France’s arsenal appeared to be aimed at prodding other nuclear powers to be equally transparent. Many of France’s nuclear weapons are carried aboard submarines, with the rest on warplanes. Sarkozy said the airborne component would be cut by one-third, specifying that this included nuclear weapons, missiles and planes. "After this reduction, our arsenal will include less than 300 nuclear warheads," he said on Friday.


ISRAEL: Israeli sanctions backfiring?
IRIN, IRIN - UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 3/22/2008
      JERUSALEM, 21 March 2008 (IRIN) - The Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip has hit the business sector, farmers and those who might benefit from development projects, but helped Hamas consolidate its authority in Gaza, says a new report by the International Crisis Group (ICG).
     Over three quarters of the population receive humanitarian aid, making them more dependent than ever on the international community.
     The report, entitled Ruling Palestine I: Gaza Under Hamas, quoted a political analyst who described Gaza as an "internationally-supplied welfare project".
     "International donors, along with the UN Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA, also have infused massive amounts of money, substituting humanitarian aid for development assistance, in effect turning most Gazans into wards of the international community," the ICG said. -- See also: REPORT - Ruling Palestine I: Gaza Under Hamas

Shattering a ’national mythology’

Ofri Ilani, Ha’aretz 3/22/2008
      Of all the national heroes who have arisen from among the Jewish people over the generations, fate has not been kind to Dahia al-Kahina, a leader of the Berbers in the Aures Mountains. Although she was a proud Jewess, few Israelis have ever heard the name of this warrior-queen who, in the seventh century C.E., united a number of Berber tribes and pushed back the Muslim army that invaded North Africa. It is possible that the reason for this is that al-Kahina was the daughter of a Berber tribe that had converted to Judaism, apparently several generations before she was born, sometime around the 6th century C.E.
     According to the Tel Aviv University historian, Prof. Shlomo Sand, author of "Matai ve’ech humtza ha’am hayehudi?" ("When and How the Jewish People Was Invented?"; Resling, in Hebrew), the queen’s tribe and other local tribes that converted to Judaism are the main sources from which Spanish Jewry sprang.

Israel Demolishes Palestinian Homes in West Bank

The Jordan Times, MIFTAH 3/22/2008
      Israeli bulldozers, backed by armed troops, have destroyed five homes in an Israeli-controlled section of the West Bank.
     The Israeli military said the houses were demolished because they had been built without construction permits.
     Israeli human rights groups say few building applications are ever granted. That forces Palestinians to build without approval.
     The houses razed Wednesday in the village of Deirat, south of Hebron, were home to 38 adults and children. 65-year-old Abed Abu Aram said it was the second time his home has been knocked down, but he had no intention of leaving.
     He said: "We are staying, even if we have to live in a cave or a tent."
     Meanwhile, Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat warned on Wednesday that failure to reach a peace deal with Israel this year could lead to a collapse of the moderate Palestinian Authority.

Israel: Time to Boycott, Divest and Sanction

Frank Scott, Middle East Online 3/21/2008
      "I am a black South African, and if I were to change the names, a description of what is happening in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank could describe events in South Africa." - Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
     The situation in Israel has become more murderous and unjust than ever in the sixty year life of that nation. Founded over the bodies of an indigenous population, and rationalized as somehow permissible because of the Nazi persecution of European Jews in World War Two, the Jewish state has been treated by the USA as a holy land beyond criticism, and often beyond rational thought. The Palestinian people were thrown out of their homeland, into refugee camps, or forced to live in Israel as second class citizens, maligned and forgotten souls who had done nothing to incur the vengeful wrath that was visited upon them, and has grown worse over the years.

Have a Nice Holiday

Susan Halpin, Middle East Online 3/21/2008
      A journey through occupied Jerusalem and Gaza.
     When you say you are going to be away for a couple of weeks, “have a nice holiday” is often the response. To explain that you are going to Gaza can meet with a blank look and even when you say Palestine this is confused with Pakistan. Maybe I am being hard but with a husband who has dedicated his later life to do all he can for the plight of Palestinians I feel, like him, that the Israel/Palestine “conflict” is at the heart of world peace and everyone should know about it.
     I have just returned from our joint visit – the first for me but the eighth for David. Little did we know when we booked our tickets that Israel was to invade Gaza and kill over 130 people, including many children and mothers, on the very weekend we were due to arrive. Our timing was set well in advance to coincide with a medical symposium in Gaza at which David was

Racist? Us?

Haaretz, MIFTAH 3/22/2008
      The television interview conducted by Orly Vilnai Federbush on Monday with Dmitri Bogotich - the head of a local "neo-Nazi gang," who later fled to Moscow - constituted good journalism under conditions of real risk. But more than the conversation revealed a violent criminal, it revealed the authorities’ weakness in dealing with the case.
     Bogotich, the guiding spirit behind a series of violent assaults on anyone who he considered insufficiently white or insufficiently Jewish, easily evaded the police, and now he is studying law in Moscow. Vilnai admittedly urged him to return and serve his sentence, but one can safely assume that he will not. His romance with Israel ended in a miserable absorption, military service, a violent sowing of wild oats, and flight.
     Yet both Vilnai’s report, aired on television’s Uvda ("Fact") program, and the media and public responses to the affair, leave a disturbing impression of an evasion of responsibility.

A Victory for Settler Machismo

Palestine Monitor, Palestine Monitor 3/22/2008
      There was no shortage of anger and violence at the settler rally in the Jabal Al Mukaber area of Jerusalem last Monday, as a crowd of over 500 ultra-Zionists flocked together with the intention of bringing to the ground the house of the Palestinian gunman who killed eight Israelis at a yeshiva on March 6. Parallels of religious and racist fanaticism were manifested as the crowd chanted "Death to the Arabs" in unison, and a number of teenagers breached police barriers to throw stones at the vacated house and smash up whatever cars were in the vicinity.
     I went to the rally with little intent other than witnessing first-hand the kernel of racialized nationalism that so dominates the Knesset’s agenda - one that has brought discussion of ethnic cleansing and bald-faced apartheid into the arena of acceptable political discourse in Israel.

Yemeni Talks Yet to Yield Concrete Results [March 16 – March 22]

MIFTAH, MIFTAH 3/22/2008
      Representatives from Hamas and Fateh met yet again in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa’ on March 22 in an effort to reach an agreement to jumpstart talks between the two rival parties. The talks, which began last Thursday, have ebbed and flowed with the two sides blaming the other for any lack of real progress.
     On March 20, Yemeni officials announced that the two sides had agreed to the initiative but were still mulling over when to begin actual talks. According to presidential spokesperson and longtime Fateh veteran Nabil Abu Rdeineh, Hamas is rejecting to acknowledge and start a dialogue with the PLO as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.
     Meanwhile, Hamas through its representative Mousa Abu Marzouq, said on March 19 that Hamas was willing to return to the situation before his movement’s takeover last June but that this necessitates discussions first.

In Praise of Al-Jazeera

Avi Weinberg, MIFTAH 3/22/2008
      Several journalists in Israel immediately stood up to defend the Arab network and condemn the boycott, and this condemnation is indeed justified, because it is improper for a government to limit journalists even if their reports are not to the liking of some cabinet members. Yet al-Jazeera does not need this protection: It can easily continue to report even without Israel’s official spokespersons appears on its shows. In order to document what’s happening on the ground there is no need to interview tie-wearing officials who utter sophisticated messages.
     This principle is true for all areas dealt with by television networks and the press. In fact, it is too bad that we don’t see many more boycotts in Israel by official bodies unpleased with media outlets and journalists – because a boycott on a journalist is in fact a citation.

Opinion: Iraq’s corporate genocide

Nofa Khadduri, Al Jazeera 3/18/2008
      Five years ago, I understood very little about the Iraq war. When asked to write an anti-war speech, I didn’t even know where to begin. Today, I know why it happened, and I cannot say this is a war like any other, or even that it is a just war.
     This war has been too long, too painful, too costly, too evil, too inhumane and too unjust to simply be deemed an invasion, or even worse, a liberation. Today, right here, right now, I want this war to be recognised for what it truly is - a genocide against the Iraqi people.
     It is a corporate hate crime. It is not a "just" war. It does not have a "just" cause. It lacks legitimate authority, it was executed with all the wrong intentions, it was certainly not a last resort, the probability of success was slim and most of all the weaponry has gone beyond "smart bombs".
     If the international community recognises the conflicts in Bosnia, Armenia..

Stalemate is Increasing Hamas’ Popularity

Rami Khouri, MIFTAH 3/22/2008
      The likelihood of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks making real progress this year is very slim, but that does not keep the parties from meeting and making hopeful statements. US President George W. Bush’s planned trip to Israel in May looms for many as a critical moment when any progress toward a permanent peace accord will have to be clear.
     Events on the ground suggest that Washington will continue to go through the motions of mediating a peace accord, without necessarily exercising its full political clout in an evenhanded manner to help bring one about. This was suggested by its recent performance in the tripartite committee established at Annapolis to monitor implementation of the "road map" to peace, particularly the compliance of Israelis and Palestinians with specific political and security conditions.
     The committee held its first meeting in Jerusalem last week, chaired by American