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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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28 March 2008


Israeli military attacks weekly Bil’in protest, 17 injured including 7 journalists
Ghassan Bannoura, International Middle East Media Center 3/28/2008
Scores of residents of Bil"™in, a village near the central West Bank city of Ramallah, along with their international and Israeli supporters, took to the streets on Friday to conduct their weekly nonviolent protest against the Israeli Wall and illegal confiscation of the village’s land. Israeli troops manning the wall and its gate that cuts off the villagers from their land showered the protesters with tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets immediately after the protesters reached the gate. 17 were injured including seven journalists. Medical sources identified some of the injured journalists as Fadi Al Arouri, a photojournalist, Najud al Qassem, a cameraman, Moheb Al Bargouthi, a reporter, and George Haltah, a cameraman. Also among those injured was Eyad Burnat, of Bil’in popular committee, who told IMEMC "I was trying to protect one of the village youth who was attacked by the soldiers when soldiers attacked and beat me up. "

Arab Israelis stage angry but peaceful protests for Land Day
Majeda El Batsh, Daily Star 3/29/2008
Agence France Presse - JAFFA: Chanting "We are here to stay," more than 1,000 Arab citizens of Israel marched through Jaffa on Friday to commemorate the killing of six people during a 1976 protest against land confiscations. The demonstration, one of several "Land Day" rallies staged across the country, also aimed at denouncing alleged plans to move some 500 Arab families out of the port city just south of Tel Aviv. Many Arab residents believe the authorities are seeking to force them from their homes and bring in more Jews from abroad to the ethnically mixed city, where real estate agents are cashing in on a housing boom. "We chose to hold one of the marches here this year because it is the government’s policy to Judaize the city," said Abed Satel, who heads the League for the Arabs of Jaffa. Demonstrators waved Palestinian flags and banners in Arabic reading "We are here to stay, we will never leave our homes" and others in Hebrew reading "Take your hands off our homes".

IDF kills gunman on Gaza border fence
Hanan Greenberg, YNetNews 3/28/2008
Exchanges of fire erupt as lookouts spot armed "terrorist" near northern Strip fence. Army believes gunman planned "terror" attack against IDF patrol - A Palestinian gunman was killed Friday evening in an exchange of fire with IDF soldiers near the border fence in the northern Gaza Strip. Lookouts spotted the "terrorist" near the fence and alerted a Givati Brigade forces. An exchange of fire erupted in the area, during which the "terrorist" hurled a grenade at the force. The soldiers fired back and killed him. There were no injuries among the troops. Military sources noted that the "terror" organizations continue to try and carry out "terror" attacks against Israeli targets on the border fence. According to estimates, the "terrorist" planned an attack against the force patrolling the area. A

Israeli forces seize 3 teenagers near Jerusalem
Ma’an News Agency 3/28/2008
Jerusalem – Ma’an - Israeli forces arrested three teenage boys on Friday morning from the town of Eizariya east of Jerusalem. The Director of Information Office of Asrana, Munqeth Abu Rumy said that a large force raided the homes of the boys and detained. He named them as 16-year-old Hussam Hassan ’Atta Bassa 16, 15-year-old Adham Hisham Shatara Bassa and 15-year-old Mohammad Dauod Far’on. They were taken to an unknown destination. The Asrana organization called for all human rights institutions to intervene and work to release the three boys. [end]

Ministry of Education: Israeli Siege Violates Children’s Right of Education
Palestinian Information Center 3/28/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- The Ministry of Education and Higher Education said that the Israeli siege on Gaza and the closure of all the Gaza border crossings for the past nine months bluntly violates Gaza’s children’s Right to Education. The ministry added that the siege imposed by Israel harms the most important elements of the educational process such as school books, computer and science labs, school libraries and students’ personal needs, adding that there is a 50% shortage of books for elementary school students and a 30% shortage for middle school students. There is also a shortage of 259977 books in UNRWA schools and a 15% shortage of books in private schools. The Ministry pointed out that the severe shortage in school utilities such as computer labs, science labs, and libraries in addition to the fact that school computers cannot be repaired due to the lack of spare parts.

Hamas says will seriously consider comprehensive calm
Reuters, YNetNews 3/28/2008
Haniyeh calls on Arab leaders convening in Damascus to help lift siege on Strip, act immediately to reopen border with Egypt - Hamas wants this weekend’s Arab summit to back a Yemen-sponsored reconciliation agreement between the group and its Palestinian rival Fatah, a pro-Hamas website quoted the group’s leader as saying on Friday. Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, in exile in Syria , was also quoted as urging Arab leaders at their Damascus summit to support its fight with Israel. But he reiterated the Islamist group was open to a conditional truce with the Jewish state. The Gaza-based website said Mashaal wrote to Arab leaders requesting support for Hamas-Fatah dialogue, after a Yemen-brokered agreement to revive talks between the rival factions appeared to falter this week.

Three Palestinians killed, 13 hurt in clan violence in Qalqilyah
Haaretz Service, Ha’aretz 3/29/2008
Three Palestinians were killed and 13 others wounded Friday in clashes between rival family clans in the West Bank city of Qalqilyah, Army Radio reported. Israel allowed the Palestinian Authority to dispatch 100 armed police officers to the city in order to separate between the sides and restore order, the radio said. According to the report, the Civil Administration has also been in touch with the PA in order to offer Israeli assistance in treating the wounded, four of whom are in serious condition. [end]

Qassam damages nursery, children unharmed
Shmulik Hadad, YNetNews 3/28/2008
Palestinian rocket shatters windows of kibbutz nursery but children managed to take cover in bomb shelter prior to impact. ’We were very fortunate that none of the children were injured but they were very frightened. This is the reality they have to deal with,’ says kibbutz nurse - Three Qassam rockets were launched from northern Gaza towards Israel on Friday by noon, with one of the rockets narrowly missing a nursery in Kibbutz Nir Am. The rockets were fired several short hours after IDF soldiers killed a Hamas gunman in an exchange of fire in southern Gaza. The nursery in question is intended for toddlers aged one and half to two. The nurse for the children’s homes, Orna Schwartz, told Ynet of the ordeal: "The children were in the yard when the rocket alarm sirens sounded. We rushed to bring them into the bomb shelter and then we heard a loud explosion.

Al-Quds Brigades launch 3 projectiles at Sderot
Ma’an News Agency 3/28/2008
Gaza – Ma’an - Islamic Jihad’s military wing, the Al-Quds Brigades claimed responsibility for launching three projectiles at the Israeli town of Sderot on Friday. The brigades said that the operation came in response to the Israeli crimes against the Palestinian resistance and emphasised that they would continue with resistance and jihad. [end]

Balad chair: We won’t allow another expulsion of Jaffa’s Arabs
Yoav Stern and Yigal Hai, Ha’aretz 3/29/2008
Balad Chairman Jamal Zahalka said Friday that the Israeli Arab community would not permit what he termed another expulsion from Jaffa, during a procession marking the 32nd anniversary of Land Day in the coastal town. "Sixty years ago there was a mass expulsion from Jaffa," he told the procession, the first to be held in the mixed Arab and Jewish town. "We won’t let the expulsion happen again. "Zahalka’s comments came as the government and the Tel Aviv municipality plan to demolish 500 homes in Jaffa. "If the government and municipality are interested in expulsion, they are imposing on us a conflict that we do not want, but one which we will face and realize our right to defend our homes," he said. The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee decided to hold the procession in Jaffa for the first time, due to a request by an organization of the town’s residents, who said the procession was especially important due to the lack of housing options for Arab residents.

Palestinians protest over evictions
Al Jazeera 3/28/2008
More than 1,000 Arabs living in Israel have marched through the port city of Jaffa to commemorate the killing of six people during a 1976 protest against the confiscation of Palestinian land. The demonstrators on Friday also denounced plans to move about 500 families out of the city south of Tel Aviv. Israel has issued legal notices to the Arab families asking them to legally prove their ownership of land that they had occupied of leave it. Palestinian families in Israel say that the authorities are forcing them out to bring Jews from abroad into Israel. "We chose to hold one of the marches here this year because itis the government’s policy to Judaize the city," Abed Satel, the head of the League for Arabs of Jaffa, said. The demonstration was one of several "Land Day" rallies being staged across the country. The day has been observed by Israel’s large Arab minority of 1. 2 million every year since protesters clashed with security forces in 1976 after a government decision to expropriate land in the Galilee.

Israeli Arabs commemorate 32nd Land Day
Middle East Online 3/28/2008
Chanting "We are here to stay," more than 1,000 Israeli Arabs on Friday marched through Jaffa to commemorate the killing of six people during a 1976 protest against land confiscations. The demonstration, one of several "Land Day" rallies staged across the country, also aimed at denouncing alleged plans to move some 500 Arab families out of the port city just south of Tel Aviv. Many Arab Israeli residents believe the authorities are seeking to force them from their homes and bring in more Jews from abroad to the ethnically mixed port city, where estate agents are cashing in on a housing boom. "We chose to hold one of the marches here this year because it is the government’s policy to Judaize the city," said Abed Satel, who heads the League for the Arabs of Jaffa. Demonstrators waved Palestinian flags and banners in Arabic reading "We are here to stay, we will never leave our homes" and others in Hebrew reading "Take your hands off our homes.

Mezan: occupation authorities classify Gazan captives as "unlawful combatants"
Palestinian Information Center 3/28/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- Al Mezan Center for Human Rights said in a statement on Thursday that the Israeli courts of law continue to give legitimacy to [Israeli] war crimes and human rights abuses. The latest such instance was the ruling, on Tuesday, by the central court in Jerusalem to consider Khaled Saeed an "unlawful combatant". This ruling against Saeed, a 39-year-old father of two from Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip who was arrested on 20 December 2007, will mean that he can be detained indefinitely in Israeli jails without being charged or receiving a fair trial in a court of law. The Israeli occupation authorities resorted to this when they failed to find any evidence that could be used against Saeed in a court of law, according the press release of al Mezan. The occupation authorities took the case of Seed to the central court in Jerusalem to try him under a special law,. . .

Palestinian civic organisations call on summit to oppose settlement of refugees
Palestinian Information Center 3/28/2008
BEIRUT, (PIC)-- Palestinian civic and social organisations concerned with issue of Palestinian refugees and their right to return called on Arab leaders meeting in Damascus in their 20th Arab summit to challenge international attempts to settle Palestinian refugees in their host countries and affirm the right of those refugees to return to their homes. The organisations sent a letter to the summiteers, through the Arab League’s Secretary General, Amre Mousa, calling them to include the Palestinian refugees issue on the summit’s agenda and to support their right to return to their homes from which they were uprooted in 1948 as the refugee issue is central to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The organisations said in the letter that the Palestinian refugees’ issue is a political issue and the region will not enjoy stability unless the refugees return to their homes in Palestine which their. . .

Cries of an ’economic transfer’ during Land Day march
Ali Waked, YNetNews 3/28/2008
Hundreds of Jaffa, Lod and Ramla residents, Arab officials and peace activists mark 32nd Land Day anniversary on background of housing conflict. Some 500 families liable to lose homes over building dispute with authorities - Hundreds of Jaffa, Lod, and Ramla residents left their homes on Friday to mark the 32nd anniversary of Land Day. PLO flags were spread over the grounds of the ceremony, and 250 police officers were sent out to keep the peace. The rally was organized by the National Council for Protection of Housing Rights, on the background of the tension that arose recently between the authorities and some 500 families living in the area that may lose their homes over the dispute. The authorities have issued warrants for the evacuation and destruction of the homes, claiming infringement of building regulations.

Anti Wall protest in Al Khader village near Bethlehem
Manar Jibrin & Ghassan Bannoura, International Middle East Media Center 3/28/2008
At least 250 Palestinians from the village of Al Khader located near the southern West Bank city of Bethlehem, joined by Israeli and international peace activists staged a protest on Friday midday against the illegal Wall Israel is building on the village’s land. The villagers of Al Khader protesting the Wall on Friday, photo by IMEMC’s Ghassan BannouraThe protest started by performing the Friday prayers at Al Nashah Israeli checkpoint located at the entrance of the village. Shortly afterwards, protesters marched towards the checkpoint where they were stopped by a razorwire blockade installed by the Israeli soldiers. Members of the local Popular Committee of Land Defense in Al Khader and the Mayor of the village delivered speeches in Arabic. The protests were then finished peacefully without any clashes with the army.

Israel seeks renewal of peace talks with Syria
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 3/29/2008
Israel is seeking to revive peace talks with Syria which have been stalled for eight years, a senior Israeli minister said Friday. "There are attempts [to revive the peace talks] and I welcome them. . . both in recent days and days before that," Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer told Public Radio. "The Israeli government’s attempts to create dialogue are constant," he said, adding that "this prime minister and the previous prime minister. . . are doing every effort to bring Syria to sit at the negotiating table. "The Labor Cabinet minister also said the Jewish state knows it will have to give up the Golan Heights - occupied by Israel since the 1967 war- in any peace deal with its northern neighbor. "We know very well that we are going to the negotiating table. . . to sign a peace agreement, and we know exactly its price," he said. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday hinted that Israel and Syria might be holding secret peace talks.

Israel says wants peace talks with Syria revived
Middle East Online 3/28/2008
TEL AVIV - Israel is seeking to revive peace talks with Syria which have been stalled for eight years, a senior Israeli minister said on Friday. "There are attempts (to revive the peace talks) and I welcome them. . . both in recent days and days before that," Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer told public radio. "The Israeli government’s attempts to create dialogue are constant," he said, adding that "this prime minister and the previous prime minister. . . are doing every effort to bring Syria to sit at the negotiating table. "The Labour cabinet minister also said that Israel knows it will have to give up the Golan heights -- occupied in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed -- in any peace deal with its northern neighbour. "We know very well that we are going to the negotiating table. . . to sign a peace agreement, and we know exactly its price. "

Ben-Eliezer confirms Israel ’trying to bring Syria back’ to negotiating table
Associated Press, YNetNews 3/28/2008
Cabinet minister says ’all efforts’ are being made to engage Syria in hopes of signing peace treaty. Defense Minister Barak, whose overtures towards Damascus while serving as prime minister were rejected in 2000, among those attempting to broker renewal of talks - An Israeli Cabinet minister confirmed on Friday that Israel was trying to bring Syria back to the negotiating table. Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer spoke just days after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hinted that Israel might be holding - or planning to hold secret talks with Syria. ’’All efforts are being made to bring Syria to the negotiating table’’ in order to ’’sign a peace treaty,’’ Ben-Eliezer told Israel Radio. ’’We know exactly what the price would be,’’ he added - namely, Israel’s return of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau captured from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war.

Jordanian MPs seek to scrap peace treaty with Israel
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 3/28/2008
AMMAN: Ten Jordanian MPs have presented a bill to the Lower House of Parliament seeking to scrap the 1994 peace treaty with Israel, one of the lawmakers said. "We submitted the draft law to Speaker Abdel-Hadi Majali on Wednesday," Islamist MP Hamza Mansur, who heads the six-member parliamentary bloc of the Islamic Action Front (IAF) told AFP on Thursday. The IAF has frequently called for the treaty to be abrogated but this is the first time it has put a formal request to the 110-member chamber. The draft gave several reasons for scrapping the treaty, including that Israel "does not honor the agreement and is still a threat to Jordan. "It said the Jewish state "has committed premeditated crimes in Jordan, and genocide in Palestine. "In 1997, Israel’s Mossad foreign intelligence service carried out a botched attempt to poison Hamas supremo Khaled Meshaal in Amman.

Jordanian legislators wants peace agreement with Israel be annulled
Palestinian Information Center 3/28/2008
AMMAN, (PIC)-- Ten Jordanian lawmakers have presented a draft resolution to the Jordanian legislature on Thursday, calling on their government to cancel the Araba Valley peace treaty with Israel. The legislators attached a number of "sufficient" grounds with their petition which was handed over to MP Abdul Hadi Al-Majali, the speaker of the Jordanian parliament, to justify their call. They said that the Jordanian government recognized the "state of Israel" although it (Israel) was established on Palestinian land usurped in 1948, and drove hundreds of thousands of Palestinian people out of their homeland, adding that the "state of Israel" still rejects UN resolutions pertaining to the Palestinian issue, especially UN resolution number 194 that sanctioned the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland.

Hamas calls on Arab summit to drop peace plan
Associated Press, YNetNews 3/28/2008
Gaza rulers urge leaders of Arab nations to support group’s battle against Jewish state, saying Israel will only respond to violence - Gaza’s Hamas rulers on Friday called on the leaders of Arab nations to drop their proposal for a comprehensive peace deal with Israel, and support the militant group’s battle against the Jewish state instead. About 2,000 people gathered at a Hamas-organized rally in Gaza, as Arab leaders convened in Damascus ahead of the annual Arab summit. Hamas was not invited to the summit hosted by its closest ally in the region. Hamas leader Khalil al-Haya said Israel would only respond to violence, and encouraged others to join it. "Cut all ties with Israel, withdraw the Arab initiative," he shouted. "The Zionist enemy doesn’t have a vision of peace.

Don’t criticize Qassam fire, Mashaal tells Arab leaders
Roee Nahmias, YNetNews 3/28/2008
Ahead of Arab summit in Damascus, Hamas politburo chief sends letter to leaders, says ’this weapon is a response to the occupation and aggressiveness. The Palestinian people is entitled to the Muslim nation’s support’ - Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashaal has called on the leaders of Arab states not to criticize the Qassam rocket fire on Israel during the Arab Summit scheduled to begin in Damascus on Saturday. In a letter sent to the Arab leaders, Mashaal added that his movement "is willing to take a proposal for a truce with Israel seriously, as long as it will be an overall and mutual move. "In the letter published Friday morning by the London-based Arabic-language al-Hayat newspaper, the Hamas leader defended the Palestinian organizations’ use of the rockets, claiming that this was "a limited weapon".

Demands for inquiry into Israeli shootings
The Independent 3/28/2008
A criminal investigation was demanded yesterday into whether the killing of four Palestinian militants in a Bethlehem street earlier this month was an "extra-judicial execution" in violation of a ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court. The Israeli human rights organisation Btselem yesterday said its own investigation of the deaths suggested that the Israeli forces who shot the four men – three of whom were in a car containing an MP5 sub-machine gun and two M16s and one of whom had left it to walk across the street – operated "as though on an assassination mission". Btselem complained that no attempt had been made to arrest the wanted men and that those in the car were shot "from behind with massive automatic gunfire although [they] did not try to escape or use their weapons". Witnesses say the man who had left the car was unarmed and was shot dead after he had been already wounded in the leg.

Brigades claim action against Israeli targets
Ma’an News Agency 3/28/2008
Gaza – Ma’an - The Al-Quds Brigades, the military wing ofIslamic Jihad, claimed responsibility for targeting an Israeli special force with seven projectiles south of the Kissufim settlement at dawn on Friday. The brigades said that the shelling was a natural response to the Israeli crimes in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, the An-Nasser Brigades, the military wing of the Popular Resistance Committees announced they struck the Israeli border town of Sderot with two missiles. [end]

Qassam explodes between Negev preschool, children’s house
Reuters, Ha’aretz 3/29/2008
A Qassam rocket fired by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip on Friday exploded in a western Negev community directly between a children’s house and a nursery school. There were no injuries in the incident, as the nannies and children managed to reach shelter in time. One woman suffered from anxiety, however, and a nearby structure was damaged. Another rocket fired by Gaza militants on Friday struck an open field. In addition, militants fired six mortar shells at southern Israel, which exploded near the security fence in the central Gaza Strip. Also Friday, Hamas and Palestinian medical staff said that Israel Defense Forces troops killed two armed Palestinians and wounded two others during clashes in the Gaza Strip. An IDF spokesperson said troops shot a gunman in the northern part of the territory after he hurled a grenade at them near the border fence with Israel.

Palestinian man evades undercover Israeli force
Ma’an News Agency 3/28/2008
Tulkarem – Ma’an - Israeli Special Forces failed to arrest a man they describe as ’wanted’ in Tulkarem refugee camp in the northern West Bank on Friday. Eyewitnesses told Ma’an that 31-year-old Nihad Mer’i managed to evade the Special Forces by escaping from the camp shortly before undercover unit arrived in a civilian car. According to witnesses, an Israeli military force backed up the undercover unitand stormed the area, discharging sound bombs as the undercover unit withdrew. Israeli undercover units have recently been increasing their activities in Palestinian cities, targeting ’wanted’ Palestinians. [end]

Al-Qassam activist killed in armed clash near Israeli military base
Ma’an News Agency 3/28/2008
Gaza – Ma’an – An Al- Qassam Brigades activist was killed and two others were injured at dawn on Friday during clashes with Israeli special forces near the Kissufim military base, east of the town of Al-Qarrara in the southern Gaza Strip. Dr. Muawya Hassanain, director of ambulance and emergency services in the Palestinian Ministry of Health said that the dead man, 23-year-old Bilal Al-Astal, and the two other injured men were taken to Nasser hospital in Khan Younis. A resistance group calling itself the Nation’s Army said on Friday morning that their fighters had also targeted three Israeli soldiers south of Kissufim. "The attack came in response to the drawings which insult the Holy Prophet and crimes against Muslims in Jerusalem," the group said in a statement.

Israeli attack kills militant in Gaza
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 3/29/2008
GAZA CITY: A Hamas militant was killed and two others were wounded on Friday in exchanges of fire with Israeli forces who carried out a brief ground incursion into southern Gaza, Palestinian medics said. Several Israeli armored vehicles and tanks crossed into Gaza near the Kissufim crossing and they engaged in a gunbattle with militants, the medics said. One member of Hamas’s armed wing was killed and two other militants were wounded by Israeli fire, the sources said. An Israeli army spokesman said that "during a regular operation in Gaza, a force identified militants and opened fire at them. "Meanwhile, two rockets fired by Gaza militants hit southern Israel, but caused no casualties, the spokesman said. One rocket hit a nursery school in a kibbutz, which children had evacuated after a rocket alert sounded. Friday’s death brings to 360 the number of people killed, the vast. . .

This Week In Palestine "" Week 13 2008
Ghassan Bannoura - Audio Dept, International Middle East Media Center 3/28/2008
Click on Link to download or play MP3 file || File 10. 9 MB || Time 12m 0s ||This Week In Palestine, a service of the International Middle East Media Center, www. IMEMC. org, for March 22nd through to March 28th , 2008. Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas agree on a national reconciliation deal, while this week the Israeli army attacks on Gaza leave five Palestinians dead, these stories and more coming up, stay tuned. Nonviolent Resistance Let’s begin our weekly report with the nonviolent actions in the West Bank, IMEMC’s Conscience Londres with the details: Bil’in On Friday, scores of residents from Bil"™in, a village near the central West Bank city of Ramallah, took to the streets along with their international and Israeli supporters to conduct their weekly nonviolent protest against the Israeli Wall and illegal confiscation of the village land.

Hamas gets Iranian plans for improved Qassams
Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel, Ha’aretz 3/29/2008
Hamas militants who recently returned to the Gaza Strip after training in Iran have a detailed plan for upgrading the capabilities of the rockets being developed in the Strip, according to senior Palestinian Authority sources. A senior Palestinian source told Haaretz this week that members of Hamas’ military wing smuggled blueprints and other detailed technical instructions into the Strip that will enable the group to develop rockets capable of striking at longer distances. The PA source was unable to estimate the actual distance that these upgrades will allow the Qassam rockets to cover, but said that the aim is to strike at communities north of Ashkelon, which is approximately 15 kilometers north of the northern border of the Strip. Israeli security sources said recently that Islamic Jihad militants in the Gaza Strip have developed their own upgraded version of the Qassam rocket, with an estimated range of 18 kilometers.

Lebanon refugees see long wait to raise camp from ashes
Rima Abushakra, ReliefWeb 3/28/2008
BEIRUT, March 28, 2008 (AFP) -One man was able to recover only a family photo album. Another desperately sought the key to his home in what was once Palestine. And one woman sifted for hours through the rubble but, like most others, could not salvage anything. They are among thousands of families allowed to return to the old part of the devastated Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon to recover what belongings they can before the bulldozers move in. "All I saw was total destruction," said Haitham Awad, 35, a shopkeeper, as he left the old camp empty-handed. "It looks like Nagasaki or Hiroshima. It was indescribable. " The area known as the old camp used to have a bustling marketplace and was home to most of the camp’s 31,000 residents. But fighting last year between the Lebanese army and the Islamist militant group Fatah al-Islam reduced it to uninhabitable rubble.

Egyptian forces kill two Ivorians crossing into Israel
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 3/28/2008
AL-ARISH: Egyptian police shot dead two young Ivorian men early Thursday as they tried to cross illegally into Israel, a security official told AFP. The two men, aged around 30, were about to cross the border in the northern Sinai Peninsula when a police patrol spotted them and told them to stop. The Ivorians continued to walk toward Israel and police opened fire, killing both. The 250-kilometer Egyptian-Israeli border has become a major transit route for migrants and asylum-seekers. Dozens of migrants, mainly Africans, have been arrested in recent months as Egyptian police try to halt the constant stream into Israel. Several have been killed while trying to make the crossing. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said earlier this month that more than 1,500 Africans, mostly from Eritrea, have entered Israel illegally through Egypt since the start of the year.

OPT: Protection of civilians weekly report 12 - 18 Mar 2008
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, ReliefWeb 3/18/2008
Of note this weekGaza Strip: - Four Palestinians were killed and 12 injured by missiles fired by the Israeli Air Force. The injured include a 10-year-old boy. - The Israeli Air Force carried out six air strikes on the Gaza Strip. - On two occasions, Israeli patrol boats opened fire at Palestinian fishing boats at sea, forcing them to return to shore (Rafah). - Three demonstrations took place in the Gaza and Rafah governorates: one to protest the non-issuance of Palestinian IDs; one to demand that Palestinians in Egypt be allowed to return to Gaza; and one to protest against the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip. - IDF tanks and bulldozers carried out four levelling and excavation operations in the Gaza Strip. - 45 rockets and 10 mortars were fired toward Israel. No injuries were reported as a result.

Arab foreign ministers meet to re-endorse 2002 Saudi peace plan
Yoav Stern, Ha’aretz 3/28/2008
Arab foreign ministers yesterday re-endorsed the 2002 Saudi initiative which promises Arab recognition of Israel should it withdraw in full from the territories captured in the 1967 Six-Day War. The proposal was ratified in Damascus during the preparation for tomorrow’s Arab summit, despite proposals by some Arab elements to withdraw or modify the initiative. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said prior to the ratification, that Israel must show a commitment to the peace process if Damascus were to re-evaluate its support of the Arab peace initiative. Moallem said that due to Israel’s reluctance to take diplomatic steps toward peace, Syria proposed to withdraw the initiative if Israel rejects it. He said this was behind the Arab League members’ decision in Cairo last month to hinge the continuation of the Saudi initiative on Israeli cooperation.

Clinton says would consider limited talks with Hamas
Yitzhak Benhorin, YNetNews 3/28/2008
US presidential hopeful discusses Mideast with commentators in Jewish media, calls for low-level talks with Iran on nuclear issue - WASHINGTON "“US presidential hopeful Senator Hillary Clinton has said that she would consider entering limited talks with Hamas should Israel be interested in such a move. In a telephone interview with commentators in the Jewish media, the Democratic candidate described Hamas and Hizbullah as constituting an existential threat on Israel, but said she would consider such limited talks if elected president. Clinton harshly criticized US President George W. Bush for allowing Hamas to take part in the Palestinian Authority general elections in 2006. "It was a mistake for the Bush administration to take a hands-off approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict. "

Rice will discuss final-status talks during visit
Barak Ravid, Ha’aretz 3/28/2008
U. S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice plans to hold two trilateral meetings during her visit to the region next week. One American-Israeli-Palestinian conclave will deal with the final-status negotiations, while the other will address the situation on the ground in the West Bank and what both sides are doing, or not doing, to fulfill their obligations under the road map peace plan. Rice will arrive tomorrow night and stay for three days. She will hold meetings in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Amman - the latter with King Abdullah of Jordan. The visit is intended to signal growing American involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and to prod both sides to make significant progress before U. S. President George Bush visits the region in May. Rice is interested in raising the profile of the final-status talks and demonstrating real progress on the core issues.

Khudari calls on Arab summit to send a delegation to Gaza to see effects of siege
Palestinian Information Center 3/28/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- MP Jamal al-Khudari, chairman of the Popular Committee Against the Siege (PCAS), called on participants in the Arab summit, which will convene on Saturday, to take brave decisions to break the siege of the Gaza Strip and protect the Palestinian people. Khudari called, during a press conference held by PCAS on Friday, on the summiteers to form a delegation to visit the Gaza Strip and see for themselves the tragic situation resulting from the oppressive siege there. "If there was no summit we would have called for an urgent one to discuss the siege of Gaza and take urgent and important decisions to save the Strip, which is subjected to an Israeli suffocating siege which is being escalated all the time and that has claimed tens of victims, destroyed the economy, caused the deterioration of the health situation and paralysed life," Khudari said.

PFLP: Abbas’ forthcoming visit to the US "will not come up with anything new"
Ma’an News Agency 3/28/2008
Gaza – Ma’an - "The forthcoming visit of President Mahmoud Abbas to the United States at the invitation of American President Bush will not come up with anything new," central committee member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) Jamil Mezher said on Friday. Mezher added that the US is still maintaining its policy of supporting Israel as a strategic ally within the region in order to protect US interests in the Middle East. He described the faltering peace negotiations as "sterile" as "they have just brought aggression, murder and obstruction to Palestinians and ignored their legitimate rights. " Mezher said that Palestinian national unity was crucial in building a coherent Arab position. He stressed the necessity of putting pressure on the international community and the American administration "to respond to our legitimate rights of freedom and self-determination. . .

Top UN peacekeeper says support lagging
Daily Star 3/29/2008
UN peacekeeping chief Jean-Marie Guehenno warned Thursday that UN missions in Lebanon and Kosovo faced risks due to political disagreement both internally and internationally. "A political process is not something that can be coerced," he said at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies. "When you deploy peacekeeping operations, you need to have a peace to keep," he said. "That’s what we learned the hard way in Yugoslavia. "Guehenno singled out eight missions facing major challenges: Darfur, Sudan’s South, Eritrea and Chad in eastern Africa, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Kosovo and the Democratic Republic of Congo. All were endangered by the flagging world support to supply funds and troops to the 100,000-strong global UN peacekeeping force. "Is there enough political will? " to keep up the 20 missions, he asked.

Berri rips Israeli violations at Euro-Mediterranean summit
Daily Star 3/29/2008
BEIRUT: Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri along with MPs Yassine Jabre and Walid Khoury visited the Greek capital on Friday for the fourth Euro-Mediterranean general parliamentary meeting. During the gathering presided over by the speaker of the Greek Parliament, Dimitris Sioufas, the main parties discussed Euro-Mediterranean parliaments’ role "in serving different issues such as human rights, politics, security, environment, economy and society. " Political figures from both sides of the Mediterranean Sea gave speeches: Greek Premier and Foreign Minister Kostas Karamanlis, European Parliament Speaker Hans-Gert Poettering, EU presidency representative and Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitri Rupel, Tunisian Speaker Fouad al-Mbazaa and Egyptian Speaker Ahmad Fathi Sorour. Following the meeting, Berri, Jabre, Mahmoud Berri and communications adviser Ali Hamdan received a delegation headed by Poettering.

Syria and Palestine first
Akiva Eldar, Ha’aretz 3/29/2008
Once every few months the reports about the negotiations with the Palestinians are replaced by news about the Syrian channel. The news this week was that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told foreign correspondents he is willing to make peace with Syria and expressed hope that circumstances will be ripe for renewed talks with Damascus. This was preceded by leaks about secret contacts mediated by Turkey and open messages via Russia. Again the politicians are repeating the argument that it is easier and safer to do business with Syrian President Bashar Assad’s sovereign regime than with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ weak government. Again the pundits are writing that Jerusalem’s rapprochement with Damascus will keep Syria away from Tehran, undermine Hezbollah’s strength and restrain Hamas.

The test that never was
Reuven Pedatzur, Ha’aretz 3/28/2008
"Real embarrassment, indeed," the Channel 2 military correspondent agreed with the presenter of the main news broadcast. "The Defense Ministry’s director-general, Pinchas Buchris, went to the United States, among other things, to examine this system [the Nautilus laser system], and to everyone’s surprise and chagrin, during the test the system simply did not work. " As our correspondent was reporting on the Nautilus’ failure, two subtitles appeared on the screen - "Failed test of the Nautilus" and "A trial demonstration of the firing of the anti-rocket system for Israeli representatives has failed. "Our correspondent also said "a total of 36 Qassams were fired. They expected to hit 27, and very surprisingly hit only eight. "The next morning both the mass-circulation daily Maariv and The Jerusalem Post reported on the failure of the test held in New Mexico during Buchris’ visit to the test site.

Spain gives 20 million Euros to PA
Ma’an News Agency 3/28/2008
Ramallah - Ma’an - The Palestinian Authority (PA) and Spain concluded a deal on Thursday for the transfer of 20 million Euros to support the PA. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and the Consul General of Spain Ramon Ansoain signed the memorandum of understanding in a ceremony at the Prime Minister’s Ramallah office. The agreement, which makes good on the pledge made by Spain at the Paris Donors’ Conference for the Palestinian State last December, will assist the PA in its implementation of the Palestinian Reform and Development Plan. Specifically, the funds will go towards the payment of salaries to civil servants and of pensions to pensioners, as well as towards other recurrent expenditures. All of these activities will support the Palestinian people in Gaza, as well as the West Bank. Following the signing, Fayyad stated: “We have much to thank Spain for.

Germany to host Mideast conference on June 24
BRDO PRI KRANJU, Slovenia, ASSOCIATED PRESS, Jerusalem Post 3/28/2008
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier says his government will host a conference on the Middle East in Berlin on June 24. Steinmeier says Friday that he hopes European Union countries will agree on a "joint European effort" to help build up the justice and police systems in the Palestinian territories. Chancellor Angela Merkel has said Germany agreed to a request from international Middle East envoy Tony Blair to hold the meeting on efforts to train Palestinian police. The gathering is expected to include representatives from the EU, the US, and Arab countries among others. [end]

Hamas and Islamic Jihad stage rallies in Gaza in support of Palestinian dialogue
Ma’an News Agency 3/28/2008
Gaza – Ma’an - Islamic Jihad and Hamas organized several demonstrations in various parts of the Gaza Strip on Friday afternoon in support of the resumption of Palestinian dialogue. A Hamas leader Khalil Al-Haya leader addressed the crowd in the Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood, saying: "Here is the Hamas that you wished to break their will. We are here today in Gaza and the north to confirm that we will not be broken by the gun and we will remain solid and strong. " He also called on leaders at the Arab summit in Damascus to adhere to their responsibilities and not to disappoint Palestinians. He called for the Arab summit to embrace the Sana’a Declaration which was signed between Fatah and Hamas last Sunday, saying that starting a dialogue was the only way to protect the national project and our holy places. Al-Haya said Arab leaders must realise that Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque are in danger.

Barenboim to lead concert for peace in Jerusalem
Donald Macintyre, The Independent 3/28/2008
Daniel Barenboim, the Israeli conductor and, since January this year, honorary Palestinian citizen, will lead 33 young Israeli and Palestinian musicians in a special "concert for two peoples" in Jerusalem today. Barenboim said the musicians, some of whom have not played together in public before, will take part in two performances of what he called a concert "against ignorance and lack of curiosity" among the peoples on both sides of the conflict. The Argentinia-born maestro, champion of Palestinian rights and friend of the late Palestinian intellectual Edward Said, said he would not be taking part in celebrations of the 60th anniversary of Israel’s foundation as a state. He said of the anniversary, which to Palestinians is that of the nakba, when hundreds of thousands of refugees fled or were driven from their homes: "It is 60 years of Israel’s independence, which also means that it is 60 years of suffering of the people who were here. "

Bakeries in Gaza continue strike over bread prices
Ma’an News Agency 3/28/2008
Gaza – Ma’an - Bakery owners in the Gaza Strip continued their strike two-day strike over bread prices on Friday morning. The bakery owners told Ma’an that they will strike until Sunday waiting for the Legislative Council’s response to their demands for an increase in the official price of bread. They said they had received a promise from the Legislative Council’s representatives to raise their demands with the ministry of economy in the de facto government. They are demanding an increase in the official price of bread in accordance with an overall rise in prices resulting from the Israeli blockade. Bakers say the cost of producing bread has risen due to an increase in the price of flour, yeast, and fuel used in the production of bread. Israel has severely curtailed shipments of these and other commercial goods, devastating Gaza’s economy.

Palestinian refugees commemorate martyrdom of Sheikh Yassin and Rantisi
Palestinian Information Center 3/28/2008
BEIRUT, (PIC)-- Representative of Hamas in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, said on Thursday that the language of dialogue between Hamas and Fatah Movements should continue in order to resolve the inter-Palestinian division, and to unite the Palestinian stand against the Israeli occupation. Hamdan’s call was made during a speech he made before thousands of Palestinian refugees in Burj Al-Barajneh refugee camp, south of the Lebanese capital Beirut, commemorating the martyrdom of the two late Hamas most senior leaders Sheikh Ahmad Yassin and Dr. Abdul Aziz Al-Rantisi. He also called on Arab leaders to rally behind and support the Fatah-Hamas deal which was signed in Yemen last week. "Dialogue is the only option for the Palestinians to rearrange their home, and the dialogue between Hamas and Fatah must continue soon, and it should be followed by a comprehensive Palestinian dialogue", said Hamdan.

Attorney General questions former Arafat aide over embezzlement allegations
Ma’an News Agency 3/28/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an - The Palestinian Attorney General Ahmed Al-Mughani announced on Friday that he has met with the former economic adviser to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Khaled Salam, who is currently under investigation for financial irregularities involving money belonging to the Palestinian Authority (PA). Media outlets have recently reported that Salam is planning to invest 600 million US dollars in a construction project in the Jordanian Red Sea resort city of Aqaba. The Attorney General’s is currently investigating whether Salam’s money was stolen from the PA as he was formerly charged with managing the PA’s investments and financial accounts. Khalid Salam, also known as Mohammed Rashid, is suspected of having embezzled huge sums of money from the PA following Arafat’s death in 2004.

Nakba anniversary remembered with dabke dance in UK
Middle East Online 3/28/2008
LONDON - This May, al Zaytouna, Britain’s leading dabke dance troupe, will be performing the first adaptation of Ghassan Kanafani’s “Ila Haifa” (Returning to Haifa) fusing music, theatre, contemporary and traditional Palestinian dance. The thirty members of Al Zaytouna come from Palestine, the Arab world, and the UK, and are based in London and Nottingham. The dancers are all volunteers, who came together with the desire to promote Palestinian culture. The Director, Ahmed Masoud, explained, “This is an undiscovered form of art, not yet introduced properly to the West. It is found across the Arab world; in Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. The Middle East is most commonly associated with belly dancing, and we want to show that this is not the only dance form we have to offer. ” Al Zaytouna conducts educational work, running classes and workshops for school children and other. . .

Secular-religious bill: Answer to split or disaster?
Neta Sela, YNetNews 3/28/2008
New proposal establishing secular-religious school system passes perliminary reading. Bill initiators, MKs Melchior and Tartman, say it ’will bridge gap between communities. ’ MK Ravitz: It bodes disaster - "Every community has its principles," Knesset Member Avraham Ravitz (United Torah Judaism) said Thursday. "Religious youths have an unshakable regard for the Torah and the word of God, and one should not combine these principles with those of the secular community. The proposal to establish a secular-religious school system bodes disaster. "On Wednesday the Knesset held the preliminary reading of a bill calling for the establishment of a secular-religious school system, which passed by a majority of 38 to 10. The bill, proposed by MK Rabbi Michael Melchior (Labor Party) and MK Esterina Tartman (Yisrael Beiteinu), combines the national schools’ values with the Jewish teachings of the religious schools, creating a third optional school system.

Rest of Falashmura must be brought to Israel, protests group
Anshel Pfeffer, Ha’aretz 3/28/2008
The Public Council for Ethiopia’s Jews held an emergency meeting in Jerusalem yesterday, announcing it would fight the government’s intention to stop bringing Ethiopian Jews to Israel. "It’s the state’s duty to bring the remaining Jews from Ethiopia to Israel. It’s a question of Zionist and Jewish vision, not cost. In 1948 they brought half a million Jews to Israel, hundreds of thousands of them from problematic countries. Now seven million Jews cannot absorb a few thousand? "Meir Shamgar, the council’s honorary head and former Supreme Court president, told the meeting. The government plans to end the Falashmura aliyah in three months time, after the immigration of 800 of the community’s members. Organizations working to bring the remaining Falashmura to Israel report that at least 8,000 additional Falashmura that qualify for citizenship under Israel’s immigration criteria remain in the former Ethiopian capital of Gondar.

Sanhedrin demands expulsion of women from military
Kobi Nahshoni, YNetNews 3/28/2008
Self-appointed Supreme Judicial Court of the Jewish People says that by integrating women into army units, IDF is surrendering to ’political and ideological demands’ - The self-appointed Supreme Judicial Court of the Jewish People, also known as the Sanhedrin, passed down on Thursday a halachic ruling which calls to exempt women from army service and expel those who have already been recruited. The ruling comes just two months after three religious soldiers belonging to a Yeshivat Hesder (program that combines advanced Talmudic studies with military service) were jailed for refusing to participate in a class given by women instructors. According to the Sanhedrin rabbis, by integrating women into mixed army units the IDF is surrendering to "political and ideological demands". The ruling stated that "rabbis and parents will not send their sons to an army that recruits women to mixed units. "

Jehovah’s Witnesses grow by ’devious’ methods, charge anti-missionaries
Daphna Berman, Ha’aretz 3/29/2008
Recent success by controversial religious group Jehovah’s Witnesses to bring in local Israelis has anti-missionary activists accusing the group of using devious recruitment methods. The Witnesses, as they are known, have had a presence here since the state’s founding but say their active missionary work - an obligation for members - has gained traction in recent years, bringing in several hundred additional members. They now number an estimated 2,500 in Israel. Missionary work is not illegal here, though the law forbids proselytizing to minors or proselytizing with promises of financial or material gain. Still, missionary attempts rile up many Israeli Jews. Last week, a teenager from Ariel whose family is part of the city’s small Messianic Jewish community was seriously injured after a bomb, disguised as a Purim package, went off in his apartment.

An inconvenient statistic
Cnaan Liphshiz, Ha’aretz 3/28/2008
Preliminary scientific data shows Russian immigrants fare better economically in Canada than in Israel, academics and immigration professionals learned this week. Local experts, however, say the mass waves arriving in Israel skew the data. The research, presented at the Ruppin Academic Center in Emek Hefer, examined a representative survey including hundreds of Russian immigrants living in Israel, Germany, the U. S. and Canada since the 1990s. It shows that Russian immigrants living in North America have become better integrated into the work market there than their Israeli and German counterparts. After four years in Israel, Russian men earned 60 percent less than Israelis with identical qualifications. Russian women earned 50 percent less than their Israeli-born colleagues. After fourteen years in Israel, that gap had decreased to 30 percent in men and 20 percent in women.

Prescription drugs found in irrigation water
Zafrir Rinat, Ha’aretz 3/28/2008
Scientists are concerned that pharmaceuticals - including anti-depressants - could seep into the groundwater that is used for drinking water after a variety of medications have been found in the country’s treated waste water for irrigation. The disturbing findings came to light in tests conducted over the past year by researchers from Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University. The treated waste water was tested by Dr Benny Chefetz of Hebrew University’s Faculty of Agriculture in Rehovot and Tel Aviv University’s Dr Dror Avisar. They took samples from a number of sources of treated water in various regions and were able to identify several kinds of medication, including prescription drugs, in the water. Chefetz’s findings indicated anti-depression medication, painkillers and anti-cholesterol drugs, as well as medication to treat epilepsy and heart medication.

Huge increase in private equity and hedge fund investments
Eti Aflalo, Ha’aretz 3/28/2008
Institutional investors that manage the public’s pension savings have drasticly increased their investments in private equity investment funds in general, and hedge funds in particular. In 2002, the total exposure of institutional investors to all of these funds was only about half-a-billion shekels. But within four years, by the end of 2007, NIS 13. 9 billion of our pension savings were now invested in such funds. Of this sum, NIS 7. 5 billion is in hedge funds. All the figures are from research conducted by the Finance Ministry’s Capital Markets, Insurance and Savings Division. According to treasury’s statistics, in 2004 and 2005 Israeli institutional investors had no money at all in hedge funds. As for private equity funds, the numbers rose ten-fold from 0. 2% of the public’s pension savings in 2004 to 2% in 2007.

Hariri probe blames ’crime network’
Al Jazeera 3/28/2008
A "criminal network" was responsible for the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister, killed in 2005, the new head of a UN inquiry panel has said, without naming any suspects. The findings, announced on Friday, came in a report by a UN commission headed by Daniel Bellemare, a Canadian former prosecutor. The report said that "on the basis of available evidence. . . a network of individuals acted in concert to carry out the assassination". Al-Hariri and 22 other people died in a car bomb explosion in Beirut on February 14, 2005. Individuals’ names "Names of individuals will only appear in future indictments filed by the prosecutor, where there is sufficient evidence to do so," the report said. The 10-page report, the 10th to be issued by the UN commission, is the first since Bellemare took over the panel from Serge Brammertz, a Belgian investigator, at the beginning of this year.

Jordan, Yemen snub Arab summit
News agencies, YNetNews 3/28/2008
Two more Arab countries refrain from sending their head of state to Arab summit in Syria. Amman announces it will send its Arab League representative to head Jordanian delegation; Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to represent Yemen - Jordan announced Friday it would send its Arab League representative "” not the king "” to head the Jordanian delegation to the Arab summit in Syria. Meanwhile, Yemen plans to send its vice-president to the Arab summit in Damascus, a Yemeni official said on Friday, the latest country refraining from sending its head of state to the meeting. Heads of states or of government are usually supposed to attend in person the yearly Arab League summit, being held this weekend in Damascus. The low-level delegation headed by representative Omar Rifai, rather than Jordan’s King Abdallah II, appeared to be another snub to Syria, which has irked several pro-US Arab nations.

Jordanian king snubs Arab League summit
Middle East Online 3/28/2008
AMMAN - Jordan is to send a low-level official to this weekend’s Arab summit, a minister said on Friday, adding to a list of countries protesting host Syria’s perceived role in Lebanon’s political crisis. "Jordan’s representative to the Arab League, Omar Rifai, will lead the Jordanian delegation which will participate in the work of the Arab summit in Damascus," Information Minister Nasser Jawdeh announced. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had invited King Abdullah II to the 22-member summit, due to begin on Saturday in Damascus. Syria, which was for decades the powerbroker in Lebanon until its 2005 troop pullout, already faces a snub by Arab powerhouses Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which are to send low-level delegations. Arab diplomats have said Morocco would be represented at a similar level. The United States last week called on its Arab allies in the region to think carefully. . .

LEBANON: Arab summit boycott of Syria threatens regional conflict
Hugh Macleod/IRIN, IRIN - UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 3/28/2008
Syrians protest against UN Resolution 1559 demanding Damascus withdraw its army from Lebanon, a move Damascus called "foreign interference". Analysts fear instability in the region BEIRUT, 28 March 2008 (IRIN) - A boycott by Lebanon and major Arab powers of the Arab summit in Damascus (29-30 March) has dashed hopes for a last-ditch settlement of the Lebanese presidential crisis, raising fears of a descent into violence after it passes. Political turmoil in Lebanon has often been the precursor to regional conflict and serious humanitarian problems in the past. Beirut"™s four-month-old presidential vacuum shifted to centre stage in recent weeks as the Lebanese government and its Saudi Arabian backers accused Syria of blocking the vote, and announced a boycott of the Damascus summit in response. Egypt has followed suit and, like Riyadh, is sending a junior official to the meeting. . .

Siniora states his case for decision to boycott summit
Hussein Abdallah, Daily Star 3/29/2008
BEIRUT: On the eve of the Arab Lague summit in Damascus, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said Friday that his government was staying away from the gathering to demonstrate the Lebanese people’s refusal to accept a presidential vacuum. In a televised speech, Siniora addressed the Arab community, stressing that "Lebanon should only be represented by its Christian president, who reflects the country’s diversity and is the only Christian Arab president," Siniora said. Lebanon has been without a president since Emile Lahoud stepped down at the end of his term. Parliament sessions to elect a new head of state have been postponed on 17 occasions as part of the power struggle between the government and the opposition, which Siniora and his allies accuse of obstructing the process on behalf of Syria. The prime minister described as "disappointing" the fact that Lebanon has been without a president for four months.

Jitters over Syria’s Kurdish clashes
Sami Moubayed, Asia Times 3/29/2008
DAMASCUS - Clashes took place last week in the Kurdish district of Qamishly,northeastern Syria, between Syrian security and Kurds celebrating their Nawrooznew year. Three Kurds were killed, enraging both Masoud al-Barazani, thepresident of Iraqi Kurdistan (a former ally of Syria) and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. This might explain why Talabani will not be heading his country’s delegation tothe upcoming Arab summit in Damascus this weekend. Barazani said, "We stronglycondemn the killing of the innocent people in Qamishly. These people were justcelebrating the beginning of their new year and had committed no crime," calling on the Syrians to launch an investigation into the event. Security forces had tried to disperse a gathering of 200 people, who had litcandles and a bonfire, celebrating a holiday that is not recognized by the government.

Absences overshadow Arab summit
Al Jazeera 3/28/2008
Arab leaders have begun gathering in Damascus for a summit already undermined by a series of high-profile snubs. Yemen and Jordan on Friday announced they would be sending low-level representatives to an annual Arab League meeting normally attended by heads of state. A Jordanian official said that the kingdom’s delegate to the Arab League, Omar Rifai, would head the Jordan delegation at Saturday’s summit. While the Yemeni news agency Saba said that Abd Rabbo Mansour, the country’s vice-president, would represent Yemen. Saudia Arabia and Egypt had earlier announced they would be represented by low-level delegations in protest against what they called Syrian "meddling" in Lebanon. Lebanon’s government said it would boycott the event amid the continuing deadlock with the Syrian-backed opposition over the make-up of the cabinet and the election of a new president.

Egypt suspends rice, cement exports
Middle East Online 3/28/2008
CAIRO - Egypt is to suspend rice exports for six months, from April until October, to try to meet the demands of its own people hit by soaring food prices, a commerce ministry official said on Friday. "We have taken this decision to provide for the needs of the local market," said Sayyed Abul Komsan, advisor to Commerce Minister Mohammed Rashid. "Rice is a staple food in Egypt and the main substitute for dough whose price has gone up following wheat price rises on the international market," he explained. Egypt produces around 4. 5 million tonnes of rice a year, of which 3. 5 million is allocated to the local market, said Komsan. Most exports go to Turkey, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. The country, with a population of 80 million, was due to have exported between 300,000 and 400,000 tonnes in the coming six months, he said.

Beirut bloc urges pressure on Syria
Al Jazeera 3/27/2008
Tensions between Beirut and Damascus have mounted in advance of the Arab League summit to be held in Syria. Lebanon’s ruling coalition on Thursday called for other Arab nations to pressure Damascus over what it sees as Syrian interference in its country’s affairs. "We call upon Arab states who support Lebanon to exert maximum pressure on Syria to override their goals in Lebanon," the March 14 camp said in a statement. Syria, for its part, called on Saudi Arabia to pressure Lebanon’s governing coalition to solve the country’s political crisis. Syria accuses the March 14 camp, the West and Arab states like Saudi Arabia of blocking presidential elections in Lebanon which has left the country without a president since the end of November. Beirut urged Arab states to work to make Damascus stop what it termed "its intolerable and repeated attempts to restore its era of hegemony and tutelage in the country. "[end]

Saudi interfaith call seen as less than seems
Middle East Online 3/28/2008
RIYADH - A call by King Abdullah this week for an interfaith dialogue fits with Saudi Arabia’s policy of promoting moderation to combat militancy but will probably not lead to dramatic meetings soon, observers say. The octogenarian king said in a speech this week that he would hold meetings with Muslims around the world to build a consensus for a new dialogue with Christians and Jews, after winning approval for the idea from some Saudi clerics. Saudi newspaper commentaries suggested the king’s motives were addressing militant violence inside Muslim countries and tension between Muslims and the authorities in Europe. "The dialogue could clear up some facts about our religion, far from the distortions that extremists and fanatics have caused," wrote Saudi daily newspaper al-Jazirah, referring to militant violence in Saudi Arabia and the region.


Powerful lessons: Ultra-orthodox awkward squad
Donald Macintyre, The Independent 3/27/2008
      Rabbi Obadia Yosef’s hardline Shas party is an implacable opponent of the two-state solution. And its influence over a generation of young Israelis is growing.
     In a schoolroom in the heart of the growing immigrant town of Beit Shemesh – its Jewish origins dating back to biblical times – Rabbi Pinchas Mazuz is conducting a boisterous class of teenage boys who attend this yeshiva with a difference. This afternoon’s lesson seeks answers to the question of what you would tell a visitor from abroad about how to conduct the Seder, the ritual family meal on the first night of Passover, and the students, preparing for a test on just this subject eagerly shout back their answers: clearing the house of chametz, or leavened bread, the reading of the Haggadah, the account of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt after generations of slavery, the drinking of four glasses of wine.
     What makes this yeshiva, or Jewish seminary, untypical is the students themselves, from families that are Sephardic, or originally from Arab countries, and dressed in white shirts, black trousers and black velvet kippas for their lessons in maths, English and Bible studies. All are drop-outs from other more conventional yeshivas in the town. Some had behavioural problems; some come from broken homes; all felt out of place in what they saw as the stifling atmosphere of religiosity and scholarship in those institutions.

A devastated town recovers, in a way

Rebecca Murray, Electronic Lebanon, Electronic Intifada 3/26/2008
      SIDDIQINE, Lebanon, 26 March (IPS) - Ali Mohanna lives in a two-room cinderblock structure with his wife and brain-damaged son. By the side is a small, freshly plowed tobacco field and the plot of rubble he once called home.
     Mohanna’s house was bombed by Israel during the 34-day conflict in 2006, as were houses of most residents of Siddiqine -- an impoverished village of 6,000, about 10km inland from the coastal town Tyre. Siddiqine resembled a flattened moonscape in the bitterly cold and damp winter that followed, with more than 700 homes out of a total 1,050 hit, and half that number completely destroyed.
     Mohanna lost two tobacco harvests from the bombardment and unexploded cluster munitions, and is now 10,000 dollars in debt to his bank. Forced to give up supplementary work in construction after his heart surgery, the 62-year-old struggles to provide for his family and pay a monthly 100-dollar medication fee for his grown up son Ibrahim, who has violent seizures related to a lifelong affliction with chronic meningitis.

Death of the Two-State Solution

Patrick Seale, Middle East Online 3/28/2008
      It is now clear beyond reasonable dispute that a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has passed into the realm of fiction. The project -- if it ever was a real project -- is stone dead.
     Some Western politicians, U.S. President George W. Bush among them, continue to pay lip service to the notion of an independent and viable Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel in peace and security. But their actions belie their words.
     There is today no effective pressure on Israel -- either from the United States, or Europe, or indeed from the Arab states themselves -- to end its occupation of Palestinian territories, halt its settlement expansion, or agree to the creation of a Palestinian state. In the absence of such pressure -- and it would have to be severe -- Israel will not comply.
     Ever since its emergence on the ruins of Arab Palestine six decades ago, Israel has sought to crush any resurgence of Palestinian nationalism. That determination is as real today as it was then. Israel continues to be driven by the belief that any concession to the Palestinians -- and any recognition of its responsibility for their dispossession -- would undermine Israel’s own legitimacy.

The Third Choice

Roni Ben Efrat, MIFTAH 3/27/2008
      The blood still boils at the sights that came out of Gaza when Israel invaded in March. At least 107 Palestinians were killed, mostly civilians. Houses collapsed on their inhabitants. Hamas went underground, so that the "strongest army in the Middle East" again found itself in a dirty war against unarmed people.
     Israel has no solution to its Gaza problem. It cannot afford to re-occupy the Strip, exposing its soldiers to guerrilla attacks. Short of that, it cannot stop the rockets. Now we can comprehend the function of Annapolis in November: the conference established a framework enabling PM Ehud Olmert to pepper his incursions with protestations of peace. In America he is Dr. Jekyll, in Gaza Mr. Hyde. Or to vary the tale, his tailors meet daily with the tailors of PA President Mahmoud Abbas to patch a suit they can hang in the closet till Hamas magically dissolves. The emperor meanwhile remains unclothed: Israel remains unwilling to withdraw from the lands conquered 40 years ago—the minimum the Palestinians require.

The high road to freedom

Ziyaad Lunat, Electronic Intifada 3/28/2008
      Last week, Fatah and Hamas officials held direct talks for the first time since Hamas’ June takeover of Gaza. Mediated by Yemeni officials in the capital, the talks led to the recently announced "Sana’a Declaration."However, it is unclear whether these talks, like those that preceded the Gaza takeover, will result in reconciliation and national unity. While there is general consensus among Palestinians that national unity is a matter of great urgency there are doubts whether a return to the troubled past is the only viable option. What guarantee do the majority of the Palestinian people have that the shameful spiral of violence will not return?
     The prospect for Palestinian unity, under joint Fatah and Hamas leadership, is unfeasible due to a basic ideological gap between both movements and a US-backed framework that is overtly favorable to Israel. True unity and progress for the Palestinian cause can only be achieved when the US-backed Road Map and the Oslo Accords, designed to bypass international law and Palestinian rights, are replaced by a unified civil rights movement, motivated by universal values and free from party politics and exclusionary nationalist or religious rhetoric.

Investing in Fayyad

Akiva Eldar, MIFTAH 3/27/2008
      RAMALLAH - "I had a wonderful day," Salam Fayyad says with a big smile, in his spacious office. A few hours earlier, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority had received $150 million from the U.S. consul general in Jerusalem. This is far from the largest amount ever handled by Fayyad, a veteran official at the International Monetary Fund, who holds a Ph.D. in economics. What moved him was the American government’s readiness to deposit its rapidly thinning dollars into the PA’s bank account. And not in controlled infrastructure or a specific project, but as aid to finance the activities, and even the salaries, of his civil servants. At a time of economic distress in the United States, generous financing like this can truly be considered a certificate of appreciation and trust.
     Fayyad worked hard to earn that certificate, and is paying for it in hard political currency. Last Friday, when Fayyad learned that Defense Minister Ehud Barak had decided to send his aide Amos Gilad to the first meeting of the tripartite monitoring team (U.S., Israel, PA) in Jerusalem, his staff drew up a sharply worded declaration, castigating the disdain being shown by the Israeli defense minister for the forum designated at Annapolis to implement the first stage of the "road map," and cautioning their boss that if he took the affront lying down, the Palestinian public would not forgive him. They said (rightly, as it turned out) that Fayyad’s political rivals from Fatah, not to mention Hamas, would make a laughingstock over the meeting of a Palestinian prime minister with an Israeli civil servant.

Settling for less?

Akiva Eldar, Ha’aretz 3/27/2008
      A pungent aroma of hot coals filled the small car that passed the checkpoint and then sped up the road to the settlement of Mevo Dotan. On both sides of the twisting road, small bonfires cast a bit of light on a row of shabby homes. Benny Raz, from the Bayit Ehad (One Home) organization, stepped on the gas and passed a battered Subaru with Palestinian license plates.
     Raz, a resident of the Karnei Shomron settlement whose organization is promoting the passage of an "evacuation-compensation" law for the settlers living on the eastern side of the security fence, explained that we were passing through the village of Yabad. The villagers make a living by producing coals for barbecues, but they sometimes also engage in less-friendly fire. Four settlers have been murdered on this road in recent years. No one is counting the number of people hurt by stones being thrown at their cars. Men and women travel the road with weapons on their knees, at the ready. Relatives of the settlers stay away, as though the place were a leper colony.
     The 49 families who remain in Mevo Dotan do not have a "bypass road." Why waste money on building one? On the eve of the last elections, which Ehud Olmert won on the wings of the magic word "convergence," the settlement’s residents were ready to leave. They remember that cabinet minister Gideon Ezra, a member of Olmert’s Kadima party, came to visit and suggested that they "stop watering the gardens." The evacuation was just a matter of time then - and residents believed it wasn’t a matter of a lot of time.

Where do Iraqis stand?

Ramzy Baroud, Al-Ahram Weekly 3/27/2008
      In all the analysis accorded to the sad anniversary of the US invasion and destruction of Iraq, few words have focussed on the human toll for Iraqis, writes Five years after the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, mainstream media is once more making the topic an object of intense scrutiny. The costs and implications of the war are endlessly covered from all possible angles, with one notable exception -- the cost to the Iraqi people themselves.
     Through all the special coverage and exclusive reports, very little is said about Iraqi casualties, who are either completely overlooked or hastily mentioned and whose numbers can only be guesstimated. Also conveniently ignored are the millions injured, internally and externally displaced, the victims of rape and kidnappings who will carry physical and psychological scars for the rest of their lives.
     We find ourselves stuck in a hopeless paradigm, where it feels necessary to empathise with the sensibilities of the aggressor so as not to sound "unpatriotic", while remaining blind to the untold anguish of the victims. Some actually feel the need to go so far as to blame the Iraqis for their own misfortune. Both Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have expressed their wish for Iraqis to take responsibility for the situation in their country, with the former saying, "we cannot win their civil war. There is no military solution."

‘New imperialists’ under study

Jim Miles, Middle East Online 3/27/2008
      Book review of:“The new imperialists – Ideologies of Empire”, edited by Colin Mooers (Oneworld Publications, Oxford, England, 2006).
     The new imperialism is part a recognition that, yes, the United States is an imperial power as accepted and supported by various neocon pundits and apologists, and part a recognition that it takes a different form than previous empires, no longer so much as colonial-settlement projects but an economically-ideologically based empire. There is still very much a land base to the empire with over seven hundred fifty military establishments of one form or another in over one hundred thirty countries. Yet it is the institutional structuring of global enterprises that now determines the nature and kind of empire, with a somewhat different rationale behind these structures. It could be argued that the ‘new’ imperialism is only different from the ‘old’ imperialism as a matter of degree and a few not so cleverly disguised rationalizations, as the military is a necessity to support the economic push of free-market capitalism, as militarism had always supported either the greed of the original corporate entities – the Hudson’s Bay Company, the East India Company (Dutch and British) – or the settlement policies that frequently accompanied them, especially in North America, South Africa, and Australia.

The Main Issues are Political, not Economic

Yossi Alpher, MIFTAH 3/27/2008
      The growing global financial crisis will not be a significant factor in the resolution, or for that matter the ongoing deterioration, of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The past 40 years of Israeli occupation, full and partial, have witnessed a variety of attempts to alleviate or solve the conflict along with two prolonged intifadas and several additional Israel-Arab wars, all of which have demonstrated that the conflict is affected primarily by politics, not economics.
     The ups and downs of the Israeli economy or the global economy have never been a significant factor in determining the direction of the conflict. Nor have the economic pressures of conflict radically affected the cycle of prosperity and recession in Israel. Moreover, since 1967 virtually all Israeli governments, and particularly ministers of defense, have implemented a broad spectrum of economic carrots and sticks with the objective of manipulating the Palestinian political will--with little or no effect on the overall attitude of Palestinians toward Israelis and the conflict.