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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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16 December, 2008

UN head reports death threats after Israel criticism
Thalif Deen, Electronic Intifada 12/16/2008
UNITED NATIONS (IPS) - The outspoken president of the United Nations General Assembly, Father Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, who recently described Israeli policies in the occupied territories as tantamount to "apartheid," says his life is under threat. Enrique Yeves, spokesperson for the president, told reporters Monday there were "very serious threats" on the Internet against d’Escoto’s life and the matter is being looked into both by the UN security services and law enforcement officials in the United States. The threats may have been triggered by widespread media reports -- described as false -- that d’Escoto tried to prevent Israel’s representative from speaking on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights early this month. "This is a malicious and absolute lie," Yeves said, pointing out that the news stories had appeared in several Israeli newspapers last week.

Israeli forces kill Palestinian fighter near Jenin; Jihad vows revenge
Ma’an News Agency 12/16/2008
Bethlehem - Ma’an – Islamic Jihad vowed on Tuesday to strike back at Israel for the killing of one of its fighters on Monday. Israeli forces assassinated a leader in the armed wing of Islamic Jihad during a raid near the West Bank city of Jenin late on Monday. In a statement Islamic Jihad said it would respond to the killing “at the proper time. ”An Islamic Jihad source told Ma’an that Israeli troops surrounded the home of 23-year-old Jihad Nawahda, in the town of Al-Yamoun before seizing him from the house and executing him in a field. The source said Nawahda is a leader of Islamic Jihad’s armed wing, the Al-Quds Brigades in the northern West Bank, and has been “wanted” by the Israeli government for years. Palestinian security sources offered a different account of the killing. They said Nawahda was leaving an internet café when Israeli troops approached him in the street, asking him to surrender.

PLC Speaker Aziz Dweik sentenced to 36 months by Israeli court
Ma’an News Agency 12/16/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an – An Israeli military court sentenced Aziz Dweik, the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) to 36 months in prison on Tuesday. Dweik, who last went before a judge in 2007, has already served 28 months, meaning he technically has eight months left to serve. As PLC speaker, the Hamas movement says it believes Dweik will by default become the acting Palestinian president when the current president, Mahmoud Abbas, reaches the end of his term on 9 January. Dweik is reported to be in poor health and underwent surgery in prison to remove kidney stones last week. Since 2006, he was held by Israel along with 40 other members of the PLC who were seized during an Israeli campaign in retaliation for the abduction of an Israeli soldier. The Gaza-based Acting Speaker of the PLC, Dr Ahmad Bahar, condemned the Israeli court decision and demanded Dweik’s immediate release.

Israel’s detention of UN expert ’unprecedented and deeply regrettable’ – rights chief
United Nations News Service, ReliefWeb 12/16/2008
Israel’s refusal to allow a United Nations expert to transit to carry out his officially mandated functions in the occupied Palestinian territory, his detention and subsequent expulsion is "unprecedented and deeply regrettable," the world body’s top human rights official said today. "It is the responsibility of States to cooperate with the independent United Nations experts appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay added of the treatment accorded the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, Richard Falk. "That is an important principle. " She said she was taking the matter up directly with the Israeli authorities, including possible breaches of UN privileges and immunities in the treatment and detention of Mr. Falk at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, where he was stopped at immigration shortly after arriving on Sunday on a mission at the invitation of the Palestinian Authority.

UN adopts Middle East resolution
Al Jazeera 12/16/2008
The United Nations Security Council has adopted a resolution reaffirming support for a two-state solution and declaring the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations to be "irreversible". Resolution 1850, co-sponsored by Russia and the US, was the first on the Middle East to be adopted in five years, and was passed on Tuesday by 14 votes to zero, with Libya abstaining. The resolution recognises progress made in the talks and calls for "an intensification of diplomatic efforts" aimed at securing a "comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East". Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, welcomed the resolution but said he hoped that "it will not be added to the archives of other resolutions that have not been implemented so far". Giadalla Ettalhi, the Libyan ambassador to the UN, had criticised the resolution for not condemning Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, which he described as "basically a crime against humanity.

UNGA head accuses Israel of slander
Allison Hoffman, Jpost Correspondent In Ny, Jerusalem Post 12/16/2008
A top UN official accused Israeli diplomats of slander Monday after a dispute last week over diplomatic protocol in which he allegedly tried to prevent Israel’s envoy from giving a speech on human rights. General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann issued a strongly worded statement calling the claim a "malicious and absolute lie" and suggesting that comments from Israeli officials to the press "could best be characterized as ’slander’" and suggesting that "in any court of law this is a criminal act. " In a statement issued by his spokesman, Enrique Yeves, d’Escoto also said he had received death threats on the Internet that were being investigated by "the pertinent authorities. " D’Escoto said in the statement he planned to bring up the issue with the Israelis at a meeting scheduled for Monday afternoon.

Israeli forces seize 22 Palestinians in West Bank raids
Ma’an News Agency 12/16/2008
Bethlehem - Ma’an - Israeli forces detained 22 “wanted” Palestinians from various locations in the West Bank early Tuesday morning and took them to detention centers. The Palestinians were taken from Deir Abu Mash’al in Ramallah, the Al-Fawar Refugee Camp and Beit Ummar in Hebron along with other areas in the West Bank. [end]

Three injured in Israeli airstrike on northern Gaza Strip
Ma’an News Agency 12/16/2008
Three Palestinians including two women were injured on Tuesday evening when an Israeli aerial drone fired a missile at Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip. Witnesses told Ma’an that the Israeli drone fired at least one missile at a group of ordinary Palestinian civilians north of the town. The director of ambulance and emergency service in the Palestinian Health Ministry, Mu’awiya Hassanain, said that one injured person was transferred to Kamal Udwan Hospital in the northern Gaza Strip. Hassanain described the injury as moderate. In the same regard, the military wing affiliated to Islamic Jihad, earlier on Tuesday, fired three homemade projectiles towards Israeli town of Sderot. In a statement the Al-Quds Brigades said shelling was in retaliation for the assassination of the group’s operative Jihad Nawahda on Monday night in Jenin, in the northern West Bank.

2 haredi soldiers accused of beating Palestinian
Hanan Greenberg, YNetNews 12/17/2008
Palestinian policeman says soldiers in haredi infantry unit assaulted him, leaving him hospitalized for three days -Two combat soldiers in the haredi infantry unit of the Nahal Brigade were arrested this week on suspicion of having beaten a Palestinian policeman at a checkpoint, Ynet discovered Monday. The soldiers were originally to be detained for 28 days but, because of the severity of the charges, the case was transferred to the military police for investigation. As such, the two may face criminal charges and penalties. According to reports received by the IDF, the incident took place over a month ago, when the policeman arrived at checkpoint in the Jordan valley and was allegedly assaulted by two soldiers. There were two other soldiers at the checkpoint at the time of the alleged incident, neither of whom have given testimony, but it is known that. . .

Israel re-closes borders with Gaza following new rocket fire
Deutsche Presse Agentur - DPA, ReliefWeb 12/16/2008
Gaza City_(dpa) _Israel re-closed its border crossings with Gaza Tuesday after militants from the strip fired more rockets into its territory. Defence Minister Ehud Barak cancelled the authorization he had given to international agencies which were planning to drive trucks with basic humanitarian aid into the strip later in the day. "We are not afraid of an operation in Gaza and we are not running toward an operation in Gaza. Calm will be met with calm," Barak told reporters while touring in northern Israel Tuesday. He spoke as an Egyptian-brokered, six-month truce between Israel and Gaza militant factions is due to expire on Thursday. Barak, of the left-of-centre Labour Party, was rebuffing charges by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, of the centrist Kadima party, that he was not responding harshly and decisively enough against the rocket attacks from Gaza.

Jihad says ’rockets will rain on Israel’ as 7 Qassams hit Negev
Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel, Ha’aretz 12/17/2008
Palestinian militants in Gaza on Tuesday fired seven Qassam rockets and a mortar shell at the western Negev, as Islamic Jihad threatened to increase its cross-border rocket fire. ’Our rockets will not stop and it will be like the rain over all the Zionist towns around the Gaza Strip, said Abu Hamza, a spokesman for the Palestinian militant group. The rocket attacks came just days before a six-month truce between Israel and Gaza factions was set to expire. One of the rockets, fired late Tuesday afternoon, exploded in the soccer field of the Sapir College in the Negev town of Sderot. There were no casualties reported in the incident, but a number of people were treated for shock. The other four Qassams exploded earlier in the day in open fields in the Eshkol Regional Council and the shell struck the nearby area of Sdot Negev.

4 Qassams land in Negev; child suffers shock
Shmulik Hadad, YNetNews 12/16/2008
One Qassam lands near school, another causes damage to factory in Sderot. IDF responds to rocket attack by hitting launcher used to fire Qassams - Four Qassam rockets were fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip Tuesday afternoon and evening. One of the rockets exploded at a school in the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council near a field where a soccer practice was being held. One of the children attending the practice suffered shock and was transferred to Sderot for further treatment. Another rocket landed near a factory in Sderot and caused damage at the place. The two other rockets landed in open fields near kibbutzim in the area, causing no injuries or damage. Noam Yisrael, 14, told Ynet: "I was just getting off the bus and approaching the field where younger kids were playing when the alert system went off.

Boy in shock as 3 Kassams hit Negev
Yaakov Katz, Jerusalem Post 12/16/2008
Close to 10 Kassam rockets and mortar shells pounded the western Negev on Tuesday as Defense Minister Ehud Barak continued to call for an extension of a cease-fire with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Kassam barrage hits western Negev after IDF guns down senior terrorist in W. Bank "We are not deterred from an operation in Gaza but we are also not rushing into one," Barak said Tuesday on the sidelines of a military exercise in the Golan Heights. "Calm will be met by calm but if there is no choice we will act when and where we see fit. " In the morning, Islamic Jihad took responsibility for the firing of four Kassam rockets that landed in open fields in the Eshkol Regional Council. Islamic Jihad said it fired the rockets in response to the death of 23-year-old Jihad Nawhda, who was shot and killed by IDF troops near Jenin.

Bil’in residents cautious following Supreme Court order to move the annexation wall
International Solidarity Movement 12/16/2008
Bil’in Village - The Israeli Supreme Court yesterday ruled that the second proposed route of the annexation barrier proposed by the Israeli military is illegal. The High Court judges concluded following the court session that the route presented by the Israeli State did not conform to the previous court ruling from September 2007. The State was also ordered to adhere to a new route and pay the residents of Bil’in’s legal fees which amounted to 10,000 NIS. Residents of Bil’in have, however, reacted to the court decision, which if implemented would return 250 acres to the village, with extreme caution following the disregard of the State to previous Supreme Court rulings towards Palestinian land. Resident of Bil’in Nasir Samara commented that "While we welcome the Court’s ruling that the route of the wall is illegal, this is not the first time that the Court has told the military to change the route.

Bil’in residents cautious following Israeli court ruling on wall
Ma’an News Agency 12/16/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Residents of the West Bank village of Bil’in reacted with caution on Tuesday to an Israeli court ruling that, if implemented, could save some of their community’s land from annexation by the separation wall. Israel’s Supreme Court ruled on Monday that Israel’s wall’s route cannot be based on plans to expand West Bank settlements. In its ruling the court rejected a state plan that would still route the wall through Bi’in, on the grounds that this route was not motivated by “security concerns. ”Residents of Bil’in have, however, reacted to the court decision, which if implemented would return 250 acres to the village with hesitation, as the Israeli state failed to implement a 2007 ruling that would also have saved some of the land. Resident of Bil’in Nasir Samara said, "While we welcome the Court’s ruling that the route of the wall is illegal, this is. . .

Israeli forces bulldoze Sheikh Jarrah eviction protest camp
Ma’an News Agency 12/16/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an - Israeli forces began to demolish on Monday morning a protest tent established in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem in support of the evicted Al-Kurd family and 500 other Palestinians currently facing eviction. Dozens of Israeli officers detained and confiscated the phones of two international solidarity activists, one Danish and one Swedish, who had been sleeping in the tent at 8:30am Tuesday. An Israeli bulldozer is currently at the site and will start the demolition shortly. The Al-Kurd family were made refugees from Jaffa and West Jerusalem before being evicted from their home of 52 years in East Jerusalem on 9 November. The family was removed at gunpoint and accused by the Israeli government of neglecting to obtain proper building permits. A protest camp was also established by the Sheikh Jarrah Neighborhood Committee and has. . .

Sheikh Jarrah protest camp due to be demolished again - Two internationals taken by Israeli police
International Solidarity Movement 12/16/2008
Reports - Jerusalem Region - UPDATE: The two internationals have been released from the Israeli police station without charge. The tent was eventually taken down by the residents of Sheikh Jarrah, though it has now been rebuilt. The bulldozer, after threatening to demolish the tent, instead built a small rock wall inside the Palestinian property. The purpose of this wall is as yet unclear. Israeli forces are now demolishing the protest tent established in Sheikh Jarrah, Occupied East Jerusalem established on Palestinian private property in support of the evicted al-Kurd family and the 18 Palestinian families who currently face eviction from the neighbourhood. Two international solidarity activists, one Danish and one Swedish, who had been sleeping in the tent have been taken from the protest camp by Israeli police.

Court orders Israel to reroute part of WBank barrier
Reuters Foundation, ReliefWeb 12/15/2008
JERUSALEM, Dec 15 (Reuters) - The Israeli High Court rejected government plans on Monday to build a section of its barrier in the occupied West Bank, saying the proposed route encroached too much on Palestinian land. Palestinians welcomed the ruling, but negotiator Saeb Erekat said far more had to be done. "It just solves one problem. How many hundreds of other problems do we have in the West Bank? "he said. The High Court ordered the government to re-route part of the barrier near the West Bank village of Bilin to ensure that it was largely or entirely built on Israeli rather than Palestinian land. Israeli officials were not immediately available to comment. Israel says the barrier, made up of wire fence and concrete walls, is meant to keep out suicide bombers. Palestinians call it collective punishment and a land grab that denies them territory that they want for a future state.

Israeli forces detain 13 Palestinian youths near Hebron
Ma’an News Agency 12/16/2008
Hebron – Ma’an – Israeli forces ransacked several homes in the town of Beit Ummar, north of Hebron, evacuated occupants at gunpoint and detained 13 Palestinian youth Tuesday morning. The Prisoners’ Society in Hebron condemned the arrests, especially those of 17-year-old Murad Abu Judah whose life may be endangered by the detention. Abu Judah was shot in the leg three years ago by Israeli soldiers and needs several medical attentions. Palestinian sources identified the arrestees as, 20-year-old Thaer Abu Hashim, 18-year-old Muhammad Za’aqiq, 17-year-old Omar Awad, 16-year-old Muhammad Ikhlayyil, 18-year-old Murad Abu Judah, 19-year-old Saddam Awad, 18-year-old Alaa Sleibi, 16-year-old Nasr Sabarnah, 17-year-old Sharif Breigheith, 18-year-old Ahmad Al-Alami, 17-year-old Omar Al-Alami, 18-year-old Muhammad Al-Alami and 20-year-old Ibrahim Sabarnah.

Report: Settlements grow three times faster than Israeli population
Ma’an News Agency 12/16/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an – The population of Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian West Bank grows at a rate that is three times faster than that of the general Israeli population, inside Israel, according to a 2007 report released Monday by an Israeli university. Ariel University Center of “Samaria” published the demographics report on Monday, which numbers the amount of Jews in the occupied West Bank at around 270,000. Age is a factor in the speed of population growth in illegal Israeli settlements, according to the report. Due to its younger population, the West Bank sees a higher birthrate than Israeli citizens living in Israel-proper. The settlers’ birthrate is about 25 births per 1,000 Israelis living in the West Bank, compared to 20 births per1,000 Israelis living in Israel. According to the study, the Jewish population in the illegal settlement enterprise has. . .

Israeli Settler Indicted for Assaulting and Kidnapping Palestinian Child
Justin Theriault, International Middle East Media Center News 12/16/2008
On Monday, the Jerusalem District Court indicted an Israeli settler on charges of kidnapping and assaulting a Palestinian child in the West Bank, according to Israeli media. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the settler, Tzvi Struk, a resident of the illegal West Bank settlement of Shiloh, beat a Palestinian child until the child lost consciousness. Struk then tied him up and forcibly removed his clothing. When the child regained consciousness, he was forced to hitchhike home naked, in humiliation. Struk is the son of outspoken Hebron settlement spokesperson Orit Struk. Prosecutors in the case disclosed that he and another unidentified settler were driving an all-terrain vehicle, armed with guns and ammunition, when they approached three Palestinian children somewhere between the village of Kfar Kusra and the "Esh Kodesh" outpost.

UN Security Council: Israel-PA peace process is irreversible
Shlomo Shamir and The Associated Press, Ha’aretz 12/17/2008
The United Nations Security Council approved a resolution Tuesday stressing that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process initiated by the United States last year is irreversible and urging intensified efforts to achieve peace throughout the Middle East. The vote was 14-0 with Libya abstaining because the resolution did not condemn Israel’s siege on the Gaza strip and intensified settlement activities. In an effort to grant the resolution special significance, the security council’s session was attended by its member states’ most senior diplomats. The resolution - co-sponsored by the United States and Russia, which have recently been at odds - backs the determined efforts by Israel and the Palestinians to conclude a peace treaty and fulfill the vision that they can live peacefully side by side as independent democratic states.

El Khodary: ''resolution 1850, protection for the occupation, settlements and annexing Jerusalem''
Saed Bannoura - MEMC News, International Middle East Media Center News 12/17/2008
Independent Palestinian Legislator, head of the Popular Committee Against the Siege (PCAS), Jamal El Khodary, stated on Tuesday that the adoption of Security Council resolution number 1850 is unbalanced and favors the Israeli side and the illegal measures of the occupation. El Khodary added that this resolution provides protection to the illegal Israeli measures against the Palestinian people, as it supports unbalanced bilateral Palestinian-Israeli talks. He also said that this resolution gives Israel another free hand to annex the Palestinian lands, increase the Gaza siege and allow Israel to annex the West Bank and Jerusalem. The independent legislator said that one of the most dangerous issues in this resolution is that it "puts the victim and the oppressor in equal positions", and added that this resolution denies the legitimate Palestinian rights, especially the rights of independence,. . .

Security Council urges Palestinians, Israelis to press search for peace
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 12/17/2008
UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council on Tuesday adopted a US-Russian draft resolution meant to give a new impetus to the US-sponsored Middle East peace process as elections loom for both Israelis and Palestinians. Resolution 1850, the first of its kind adopted by the 15-member council in five years, received 14 votes in favor. Libya, the lone Arab member of the council, abstained. The vote took place at a high-profile ministerial session attended by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and UN chief Ban Ki-moon. The text endorses principles underpinning Israeli-Palestinian peace at a time of transition with the arrival of a new US administration and early elections expected in both Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories early next year.

POLITICS: U.N. Hopes to Jumpstart Quartet Talks
Haider Rizvi, Inter Press Service 12/17/2008
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 16(IPS) - The U. N. Security Council is calling for intense international efforts to conclude diplomatic negotiations aimed at creating a peace treaty between Israel and Palestine. On Tuesday, the 15-member Council passed a unanimous resolution declaring its support for the negotiations initiated in the U. S. city of Annapolis last year in November amid calls for both parties to refrain from any step that could undermine confidence. "We must redouble our efforts," said U. N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, "all of us: Israelis and Palestinians; the regional countries and the Arab League as a whole; the Quartet, including the incoming U. S. administration; and this Council. " The resolution was adopted after the conclusion of a high-level meeting of the Mideast Quartet, which comprises the U.

Palestinian PM Fayyad Says West Bank Settlement Must End for Peace
Ian Black, MIFTAH 12/16/2008
Settlement activity in the occupied West Bank must stop at once if there is to be any prospect of reaching a two-state peace agreement with Israel, the Palestinian prime minister has warned in a Guardian interview. Salam Fayyad said he found it "devastating" that Israelis were not even debating the settlement issue in their election campaign. He warned that Palestinian support for his policy of reform and negotiation would collapse if prospects for a workable deal faded away. Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad talks toLink to this audioSpeaking before talks with Gordon Brown this morning, Fayyad dismissed as "naive" calls by Binyamin Netanyahu, leader of Israel’s rightwing Likud party, for an "economic solution" to the conflict with the Palestinians. Polls show Netanyahu beating Kadima’s Tzipi Livni ahead of February’s election.

Quartet meets ahead of UN vote on Israel-PA talks
Ma’an News Agency 12/16/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an – The Quartet of world powers held a meeting in New York on Monday ahead of a vote in the United Nations Security Council on the Palestinian-Israeli negotiation process. The UN, European Union, Russia and the US held talks before Tuesday’s vote on a US and Russian-backed resolution, which reaffirms support for a two-state solution and the results of the Annapolis international conference held in the US last year. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, met with EU foreign policy chiefs on Monday to discuss the issue. In a statement Quartet reaffirmed support for “the bilateral, comprehensive, direct, uninterrupted, confidential and ongoing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. ”However, in a press conference following the meeting, Rice admitted no peace treaty was in sight, but said that the negotiations themselves are a hopeful sign.

UN Security Council approves resolution on Israel-Palestine peace
Ma’an News Agency 12/16/2008
Bethlehem - Ma’an/Agencies - The United Nations Security Council on Tuesday approved a resolution encouraging a final-status peace agreement between Israel and Palestine. Resolution 1850 is the first adopted by the 15-member council in five years, as well as the sole resolution concerning the Middle East peace plan. The resolution received 14 votes in favor. Libya, the lone Arab member of the council, abstained. The resolution calls on both parties "to fulfill their obligations. . . and refrain from any steps that could undermine confidence or prejudice the outcome of negotiations. " "The establishment of the state of Palestine is long overdue, and there should be an end to the occupation that began in 1967," said US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice before the vote. She added that neither party should undertake any activity that contravenes Roadmap obligations or prejudices the final status negotiations.

GCC criticises EU over Israel ties boost
Middle East Online 12/16/2008
RIYADH - Arab countries in the Gulf region on Tuesday criticised the European Union for its decision to boost relations with Israel despite its blockade of the Gaza Strip. "The decision will encourage Israel to continue stalling peace efforts, especially as Israel is still imposing its blockade on Gaza," said the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). European Union foreign ministers decided on December 8 to intensify relations with Israel while insisting that Tel Avi reach out to the Palestinians and Arab nations. "The EU’s decision comes at a time when Israel continues to build settlements on Palestinian territories, among other policies that go against international law," said the GCC, which groups Saudi Arabia with Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates. "The GCC calls on the EU to put pressure on Israel to adhere to promises it pledged at the Annapolis. . .

Security Council to push for Middle East peace
Middle East Online 12/16/2008
UNITED NATIONS - The UN Security Council was set to adopt Tuesday a US-Russian draft resolution reaffirming support for the Middle East peace process at a time of transition in the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships. Western diplomats expressed confidence that the text would be adopted, perhaps by consensus. Ahmed Gebreel, spokesman for Libya’s UN ambassador Giaddala Ettalhi, the lone Arab member of the 15-member council, said the Arab side sought only minor amendments. Security Council ambassadors late Monday put the finishing touches to the draft which endorses principles underpinning Israeli-Palestinian peace at a time of transition with the arrival of a new US administration and early elections scheduled in both Israel and among the Palestinians next year. The draft, unveiled Saturday as a joint US-Russian initiative, is expected to be approved at a ministerial session. . .

Abbas Calls for the Release of All 11,000 Detainees Imprisoned by Israel
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 12/16/2008
Israeli authorities released on Monday 227 Palestinian detainees in what was described as a gesture of good will towards the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas said that Israel should release all 11,000 detainees imprisoned in several prisons and detention facilities. Israeli online daily, Haaretz, reported that the army transferred 209 detainees from Ofer Israeli prison, near Jerusalem, to the Betunia roadblock near the West Bank city of Ramallah. The remaining eighteen detainees were moved from the Shimka detention facility in the Negev to the Erez checkpoint leading to Gaza. President Abbas welcomed the 209 freed detainees in Ramallah, shook hands and greeted them, and said that Israel should release all Palestinian political detainees it is holding in its prisons and detention centers. Abbas vowed to work hard for the release of all detainees and said that "happiness. . .

Rice cites Middle East peace moves at UN
Associated Press, Jerusalem Post 12/16/2008
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said at a farewell UN appearance Monday that Israel and the Palestinians had moved much further along the path to peace since US President George W. Bush brought their leaders together a year ago, though they won’t clinch an agreement by the end of the year. Rice spoke to reporters after a meeting of the diplomatic Quartet of Mideast peacemakers, the US, the UN, the European Union and Russia, which said the Israeli-Palestinian negotiating process launched by Bush at Annapolis, Maryland "is irreversible" and should be intensified to "establish as soon as possible the state of Palestine. " The Annapolis agreement called for the Israelis and Palestinians to try to end their conflict and sign a peace agreement by the end of 2008, which would have given Bush a diplomatic victory just before turning the presidency over to Barack Obama.

Britain’s Business Secretary encourages closer trade ties with PA
Jonny Paul, Jerusalem Post 12/16/2008
With UK exports to the Palestinian territories up by more than 300 percent this year, Business Secretary Lord Mandelson said on Monday that the UK must continue to forge stronger trade ties with the Palestinian Authority despite the economic slowdown. Lord Mandelson was speaking at the Palestine Investment Forum in London on Monday morning. "The UK’s commitment to peace in the Middle East must not be weakened by economic difficulties," Mandelson said. "Growth of the Palestinian economy is crucial for driving forward change for the better. " Hosted by UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), the government’s business development organization, and the Department for International Development, and organized by the Middle East Association, the Forum was designed to encourage UK business to consider the Palestinian Authority as a trade and investment partner.

Israeli settlements are blockage to Middle East peace, says Gordon Brown
Andrew Sparrow and agencies, The Guardian 12/15/2008
Israeli settlements on the West Bank represent a "blockage" in the Middle East Gordon Brown said today. At a news conference in Downing Street with Salam Fayyad, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, Brown said he had consistently called for the settlements to be dismantled. Brown and Fayyad spoke before the opening in London of a two-day Palestine trade and investment forum, which is intended to promote Palestinian economic development. Talking about the peace process, Brown said: "Everybody now sees the contours of what a two-state solution would look like. . . One of the blockages to that is clearly the settlement issue. We have consistently said – and I’ve said this to successive Israeli prime ministers and presidents when I’ve met them – we’ve consistently seen that as a barrier to reaching the agreement that everybody thinks is possible. And I hope that in the talks in the next few weeks and months this will be recognised as a barrier that’s got to be overcome. ".

Hamas: Trial of Dwaik big blow to democracy in the world
Palestinian Information Center 12/16/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- The Hamas Movement has strongly condemned Tuesday the 3 year prison term passed by an Israeli court against PLC speaker MP Dr. Aziz Dwaik, describing the verdict as "trial of the Palestinian democratic choice and of democracy in the world". "This (trial of Dwaik) is a clear and flagrant reflection of the Zionist arrogance, undermining international law and rejecting of international human rights"¦ it is a programmed Israeli policy that targets the national symbols of the Palestinian people with the aim to impose facts on the ground in service to the occupation", Hamas underlined in a statement it issued in this regard, and a copy of which was obtained by the PIC. But the Movement made it clear that it neither recognizes the Israeli occupation nor the Israeli "racist" courts, urging international human rights organizations to carryout their mandates in bridling the Israeli. . .

Two Palestinian girls appeal for releasing them from IOA detention center
Palestinian Information Center 12/16/2008
RAMALLAH, (PIC)-- Two Palestinian female children have appealed to legal centers on the local and international levels to demand their release from the Israeli occupation authority’s notorious Maskobeh detention center in occupied Jerusalem. Sources of the Palestinian prisoner’s club said that Samah Sumada, 15, was detained at the Qalandia roadblock on 2/12/2008 and was since then subjected to cruel interrogation rounds in Maskobeh. Israeli soldiers manning the road barrier claimed that she had a knife and was investigated over suspicion of planning to kill one of the soldiers. The other child Baraa Barakat, 15, was also detained at the same barrier on the same day with the same charge, the club sources noted. They added that she was blindfolded, hand shackled and taken to Maskobeh on the same suspicion. The club sources said that the mental conditions of both girls were. . .

Head of ’Hamas parliament’ sent to 3 years in jail
Ali Waked, YNetNews 12/16/2008
Dr. Aziz Dwaik, Hamas’ designated president, sentenced to three years jail time, two years probation by Israeli military court - The Military Court at Ofer Base sentenced Dr. Aziz Dwaik, head of the Hamas parliament [sic - Palestinian Legislative Council], to three years in prison, two years probation and a NIS 6,000 fine, after convicting him of membership in Hamas. Dwaik was arrested by Israel shortly after Gilad Shalit was kidnapped to Gaza. Dwaik will be credited 28 months for time served. The court noted that his health played a part in the verdict. If Dwaik is not released, Hamas plans to name his deputy, Dr Ahmed Bahar, acting president. The movement considers Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas nothing more than head of the Fatah organization. Dwaik has been in held by Israel June 2006, along with 40 other Hamas lawmakers.

Celebrations welcome 18 released detainees in Tulkarem
Ma’an News Agency 12/16/2008
Tulkarem – Ma’an – Eighteen Palestinian detainees arrived in Tulkarem on Monday through the Ennav checkpoint and the entrance to the Nour Shams refugee camp. The released detainees were welcomed by crowds including their families, friends, relatives and Fatah leaders and members. Celebrations took place in many parts of Tulkarem and included singing, clapping, fireworks and a few gun shots into the air to express happiness. The men were among 227 Palestinians freed by Israel in a gesture to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Some 11,000 Palestinians remain in Israeli jails. [end]

MIDEAST: Truce Beginning to Crack
Analysis by Mel Frykberg, Inter Press Service 12/17/2008
RAMALLAH, West Bank, Dec 16(IPS) - Ten days of intensive fighting broke out between Israel and the Islamic resistance organisation Hamas last month despite a ceasefire. Israel carried out a cross-border incursion into Gaza, sparking a cycle of tit-for-tat violence which claimed the lives of dozens of Palestinian fighters and lightly injured two Israelis. This serious breach of a six-month ceasefire between the two raises questions whether the current truce, which formally ends in several days will be renewed, or whether Israel will embark on a major military incursion into the Gaza Strip as it has been threatening. While a number of analysts have argued that there is a strong possibility of the truce continuing, most agree that an eventual bloody showdown between the Jewish state and Hamas is only a question of time.

Gaza truce set to expire
Mel Frykberg, Electronic Intifada 12/16/2008
RAMALLAH, occupied West Bank (IPS) - Ten days of intensive fighting broke out between Israel and the Islamic resistance organization Hamas last month despite a ceasefire. Israel carried out a cross-border incursion into Gaza, sparking a cycle of tit-for-tat violence which claimed the lives of dozens of Palestinian fighters and lightly injured two Israelis. This serious breach of a six-month ceasefire between the two raises questions whether the current truce, which formally ends in several days will be renewed, or whether Israel will embark on a major military incursion into the Gaza Strip as it has been threatening. While a number of analysts have argued that there is a strong possibility of the truce continuing, most agree that an eventual bloody showdown between Israel and Hamas is only a question of time. Impacting the decision-making on both sides are a number of factors including upcoming elections in Israel next February, Palestinian political infighting, and military and strategic assessments.

Abbas calls for extension of Gaza truce
Ma’an News Agency 12/16/2008
Ramallah – Ma’an – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas urged on Tuesday the continuation of an Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire in the Gaza Strip should be extended, four days before the truce formally expires. Abbas argued that the termination of the agreement serves no one’s interests and would double the impact of the Israeli seige on the Gaza population. In making this pronouncement, Abbas endorsed an agreement that does not apply to his main area influence, in the West Bank. The Egyptian-brokered truce involves only Israel, the Hamas government in Gaza, and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza. Abbas’ comments came during a press conference held after the signing of a cooperation agreement between Russia and the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the presidential compound in Ramallah. Abbas hailed the agreement, which includes a financial contribution to the PA, as “perfect” and “unprecedented.

Mishaal briefs Carter on Palestinian developments, Hamas views
Palestinian Information Center 12/15/2008
DAMASCUS, (PIC)-- Former American president Jimmy Carter met on Sunday evening with a senior delegation of the Hamas Movement led by its supreme leader Khaled Mishaal in Damascus to discuss Palestinian developments. A terse Hamas statement said that the meeting fell in line with the Movement’s meetings with different international parties and leaderships. It pointed out that the discussions tackled latest Palestinian developments, noting that Mishaal briefed Carter on those developments. Dr. Mousa Abu Marzouk, the deputy political bureau chief of Hamas who attended the meeting, said that the discussions covered a number of issues and proposals, describing the meeting as "constructive". He said that the exchanges touched on the Palestinian conditions in general, the conciliation, the captured Israeli soldier, the calm agreement and other topics.

Israeli Authorities demolish dozens of homes and barns in the Negev
IMEMC News, International Middle East Media Center News 12/16/2008
The Regional Committee for Unrecognized Villages in the Negev reported on Monday that Israeli authorities displaced the population of an unrecognized Arab village in the Negev, inside Israel, rendering dozens of families homeless. The committee stated that the army attacked the village during early morning hours and demolished dozens of homes belonging to the Al Zarqan and Abu Hadwiyya families. Several dozen families were left in the cold, as authorities sent part of their belongings to a ’recognized’ village, and dumped the rest near the area. Hussein Al Rafay’a, head of the Regional Council, and Arab member of Knesset Talab El Sane, tried to intervene, and attempted to delay the demolition until the families could find another place to live, but to no avail. The Committee slammed the attack and said that the families are now homeless without any alternative, while the Israeli government ignored their human rights.

Police demolish entire Bedouin village inside Israel
Ma’an News Agency 12/16/2008
Bethlehem - Ma’an - Two hundred Israeli police raided the Bedouin village of Abdallah Al-Atrash in the Negev desert in Israel at 5:00am on Tuesday, demolished the entire community and forcibly expelled all 20 families living there. After over six hours, no structures were left standing and all inhabitants were pushed off their land. Some residents told the Regional Council for Unrecognized Villages in Negev that they plan to sleep amongst the rubble of their demolished homes until new tents can be erected on their land. Others will go live with relatives in another Israeli unrecognized village near Hura. Concluding a court case begun in 2000, the Israeli government served the residents a demolition and evacuation order four days ago, but provided no alternative location to move to. The residents, previously expelled from their homes farther west, have been living in Abdallah al-Atrash for 20 years.

Abbas aides: Elections as soon as April
Ma’an News Agency 12/16/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Palestinian presidential and legislative elections will take place in the first half of 2009, perhaps as soon as April, Palestinian officials said on Tuesday. “Depending on Hamas’ position I can be sure that the presidential and legislative elections will be taken according to the law of full proportional representation including the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and will take place in the first part of the 2009,” said Yasser Abed Rabbo, the secretary of the Executive Committee of the PLO, in a statement to the Palestinian newspaper Al-Ayyam. The timing of the elections has been a source of contention between Abbas’ Fatah party and their rival, Hamas, who control the Gaza Strip. Hamas says it will not recognize Abbas’ legitimacy after 9 January, the day his term formally ends. Hamas also wants to wait to hold parliamentary elections until 2010, the end of the Hamas-controlled Legislative Council’s current term.

Abbas says he’ll call elections `very soon’
Associated Press, Jerusalem Post 12/16/2008
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Tuesday he’ll call general elections "very soon," signaling that he’s ready for a new showdown with Hamas. Abbas’s comments, his clearest yet on elections, come at a time of growing animosity between the rivals. Hamas, which wrested control of Gaza from Abbas 18 months ago, contends that his term as president ends January 8. Abbas initially said he has another year, but polls indicate most Palestinians disagree with him. A call for elections appear to be the only way for Abbas to retain his legitimacy. However, it remains unclear whether he actually intends to hold them, or just plans to call for a vote as a tactical move, with the expectation that Hamas would refuse to go along. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said Tuesday that Hamas opposes holding elections before the rivals have worked out their differences.

Abed Rabo Expects Palestinian Presidential and Parliamentary Elections by Mid 2009
Rami Almeghari & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 12/16/2008
Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Yasser Abed Rabo, expects Palestinian Presidential and Parliamentary elections to be held by mid 2009. Abed Rabo was responding to calls by leaders of the ruling Hamas party in Gaza that the Palestinian constitution should decide whether Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah will remain or quit office after January 9, 2009. The PLO official confirmed that the Palestinian National Council will convene early next month to institute a series of measures prior to holding the elections. Hamas has downplayed the PNC’s sessions, saying it is no longer a representative of the Palestinian people. The London-based Alhayyat Arabic newspaper pointed out that President Abbas will be calling for elections in April of 2009, and that he is set to issue a special presidential decree.

Jihad warns of exploiting prisoners’ issue to deepen Palestinian rift
Palestinian Information Center 12/16/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- The Islamic Jihad Movement has warned that Israel was exploiting the Palestinian prisoners’ issue to deepen the inter-Palestinian rift, noting that most of the those released by Israel on Monday were Fatah affiliated. The Movement said in a statement that Israel’s release of 223 prisoners was a "media stunt" to deceive the world public opinion and to cover for its daily arrests in lines of hundreds of Palestinians in the West Bank. It explained that the number of those arrested over the past few weeks greatly surpassed the number of those released. Jihad also criticized those who magnify the release while giving a blind eye to the suffering of 11,000 Palestinian captives in Israeli jails. Meanwhile, Israeli occupation forces rounded up 22 Palestinians in a pre-dawn raid on Tuesday in various West Bank areas.

Barhoum: PA’s abduction of Nassif reflects repressive policy against Hamas
Palestinian Information Center 12/15/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- The PA security apparatuses’ kidnap of Hamas leader in the West Bank Ra’fat Nassif is a result of the hysteria that engulfed the Ramallah authority and its intelligence after witnessing the massive popular support for Hamas, its legitimacy and resistance program, Hamas spokesman in Gaza Fawzi Barhoum said. In a press statement on Monday, Barhoum said that the abduction reflected the dictatorial and repressive policy pursued by AP chief Mahmoud Abbas’s subordinates against Hamas and all those refusing the negotiations process that smeared Palestinian national struggle and cause. "We, in Hamas, hold president Mahmoud Abbas personally along with his intelligence apparatuses fully responsible for the life of Ra’fat Nassif and all other leaders, cadres and supporters of Hamas," the spokesman underlined, demanding the immediate release of Nassif along with his brothers or. . .

Abbas-ordered censorship campaign threatens Palestinian press
Ma’an News Agency 12/16/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an – The Palestinian Authority (PA) has carried out an unprecedented campaign of censorship and intimidation against West Bank and Gaza Strip journalists in recent months, according to a Ma’an investigation. Long considered among the freest in the Arab world, Palestine’s few independent news agencies are being targeted by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s security establishment, particularly the PA’s Office of the Attorney General, which is currently headed by Ahmad Al-Mughanni. In mid-November, Al-Mughanni’s office temporarily shut down a leading Palestinian news agency in the Gaza Strip, Donia Al-Watan, for its story on political corruption in the PA. Because the website operates out of Gaza City, which is controlled by Hamas, the PA Attorney General’s Office is only able to censor content accessible from the West Bank, which it did last month.

UN General Assembly head accuses Israel of slander
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 12/16/2008
United Nations General Assembly President, Father Miguel D’escoto Brockmann, issued a statement accusing Israel of slander after Israeli officials claimed that he barred the Israeli envoy to the UN from giving a speech at the UN. Israel claims that Brockmann barred Professor Gabriel Shalev from delivering a speech at the opening sermonizes of a UN session on Human Rights. Brockmann said that the Israeli claims are rumors and slander and added that he received death threats after senior Israeli officials participating in the UN session published the Israeli claims on a number of websites. He stated that a probe has been initiated after he received the death threats. The UN official strongly slammed Israel for barring Richard Folk, the UN Human Rights Commissioner, from entering Israel after the Israeli authorities stopped him at Ben Gorion airport in Tel Aviv, forced him his. . .

UN human rights chief slams Israel for expelling envoy Richard Falk
Shlomo Shamir and The Associated Press, Ha’aretz 12/16/2008
The United Nations is criticizing Israel for detaining and expelling a United Nations human rights envoy on Monday, who was investigating the Israeli treatment of Palestinians. Israel says it stopped Richard Falk, the UN Human Rights Council monitor for the Palestinian territories, at Ben-Gurion International Airport after he landed Sunday because it perceives him to be severely biased. Falk, professor emeritus at Princeton University, has been unrelenting in his criticism of Israeli policies. Prior to his appointment, Falk was widely quoted as comparing Israeli policies in the territories to those of the Nazis during them Holocaust. UN human rights chief Navi Pillay says Israel’s treatment of Falk was unprecedented and deeply regrettable. Her office said Falk traveled to Israel on his U.

Israel denies entry to UN rights investigator
Reuters Foundation, ReliefWeb 12/15/2008
JERUSALEM, Dec 15 (Reuters) - Israel denied entry on Monday to a special U. N. investigator who planned to travel to the Palestinian territories to document human rights conditions, Israeli and U. N. officials said. Border police prevented Richard Falk, the U. N. Special Rapporteur on Israeli behavior in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, from entering Israel when he arrived at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on Sunday. Falk had angered Israel by making remarks comparing its forces’ actions in the Gaza Strip to those of the Nazis in wartime Europe. He was put on a plane back to Geneva on Monday. U. N. officials said Falk, who is Jewish, has been tasked with preparing reports on human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. "He was coming to follow up on his mandate, meet people and collect first-hand information," a UN official said.

Israel deports UN human rights expert; prevents his access to OPT
Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, ReliefWeb 12/15/2008
On Sunday 14 December 2008, Israel detained Professor Richard Falk, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, as he arrived at the airport in Jerusalem. Professor Falk deported to the United States on Monday morning. Professor Falk was scheduled to visit the OPT for one week starting tomorrow to assess the human rights situation in the OPT, acting on his mandate by the UN General Assembly. The Special Rapporteur’s visits usually involve an assessment of the situation, meeting with the authorities and civil society in OPT, and reporting to the UN Human Rights Council and/or the UN General Assembly. Al Mezan strongly condemns the Israel’s decision to ban Professor Falk’s access to the OPT. The Center emphasizes that this conduct reflects Israel’s consistent refusal to cooperate with the Human Rights Council and other human rights mechanisms.

Haneyya government condemns Israeli ban on entry of Falk
Palestinian Information Center 12/16/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- The PA caretaker government headed by Ismail Haneyya has denounced the Israeli entry denial of the UN human rights raporteur Prof. Richard Falk, and invited him to visit the Gaza Strip. Taher Al-Nunu, the government spokesman, said in a statement that the Israeli occupation authority’s step constituted an exposed attempt to conceal its daily crimes against the Palestinian people. Falk was slated to listen to testimonies about those crimes in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and to meet with representatives of human rights organizations to get acquainted with their reports on the IOA human rights violations, Nunu elaborated. He said that the government invites Falk to visit Gaza either in one of the sea voyages organized by the international solidarity activists or via land route through the Rafah border crossing to see for himself the bulk of the human disaster in. . .

Settlement builder met with worldwide protests
Press release, Adalah-NY, Electronic Intifada 12/16/2008
Signaling growing outrage at Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev’s businesses’ global rights abuses, on 12 and 13 December human rights advocates in Dubai, London and two West Bank Palestinian villages held protests against Leviev’s settlement construction. According to Gulf News, the protest in Dubai, unprecedented in the United Arab Emirates, came after a screening at the Dubai International Film Festival of a documentary film about Palestinian hip-hop artists. Leviev’s sale of his diamonds through Arif Bin Khadra’s Levant jewelry stores in Dubai has stirred controversy there. Dubai’s Gulf News reported that on Friday, "Forty T-shirts and one hundred letters from the West Bank town of Jayyous were distributed to the audience at the screening of Slingshot Hip Hop. "Gulf News continued, "The distributed T-shirts called on Dubai residents to boycott Leviev as well as Levant Jewellery, owned by Leviev’s local agent, Palestinian-Moroccan Arif Bin Khadra.

ISM London: Protest outside Leviev store on Old Bond Street, London
Boycott & sanctions, International Solidarity Movement 12/16/2008
International Actions - Photos - On Saturday 13th December a number of ISM activists braved the rain and cold, took to thestreets and voiced their opposition to Lev Leviev and his blood diamonds which finance the illegal Israeli settlement expansion into the Palestinian territories. Located on the upmarket Old Bond Street in the West End of London, activists stood out against a backdrop of designer boutiques. Despite initial opposition by Leviev’s security guards, management and police officers, the demonstration went ahead undeterred. Activists shouted various chants, read out facts about Leviev’s human rights abuses and war crimes, distributed leaflets and spoke with members of the public about Leviev’s more sinister activities. We wanted to raise awareness that the shine of the diamonds can’t take away from the darkness of his abuses.

POLITICS: Staunch Critic of Israel at U.N. Reports Death Threats
Thalif Deen, Inter Press Service 12/17/2008
Father Miguel d’Escoto BrockmannCredit:UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras UNITED NATIONS, Dec 15(IPS) - The outspoken president of the General Assembly, Father Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, who recently described Israeli policies in the occupied territories as tantamount to "apartheid", says his life is under threat. Enrique Yeves, spokesperson for the president, told reporters Monday there were "very serious threats" on the Internet against D’Escoto’s life and the matter is being looked into both by the U. N. security services and law enforcement officials in the United States. The threats may have been triggered by widespread media reports -- described as false -- that D’Escoto tried to prevent Israel’s representative from speaking on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights early this month.

Abbas urged to reverse a ’surge’ in death sentences
Ma’an News Agency 12/16/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Human Rights Watch urged Palestinian officials to place a moratorium on the death penalty and eliminate its legal use on Monday. The New York-based organization reported that 11 people have been sentenced to death in Palestinian civil and military courts in the West Bank and Gaza this year, the first such sentences since 2005. "It’s deeply disturbing that Palestinian courts have resumed issuing death sentences at a time when the rest of world is moving toward abolishing capital punishment," said Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division. “President Abbas should make clear that he will commute all of these sentences when they arrive on his desk," Stork added in regard to the president’s duty to approve all death sentences prior to implementation. Seven of this year’s 11 death sentences were issued by military courts. . .

Israeli prisons officer: Lets tighten Palestinian jail conditions
Ma’an News Agency 12/16/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an/Agencies – Israel should tighten the conditions of Palestinians in Israeli jails, according to a high-ranking Israeli prisons’ official in an interview with Hebrew-language newspaper Ma’ariv on Tuesday. The officer, who asked Ma’ariv not to identify her, was quoted as saying that Palestinian prisoners in Israel’s custody live in what resembles a boarding school, enjoying excellent life conditions, while captured soldier Gilad Shalit “is rotting in captivity. ”“I can no longer shut up, nor can I sleep knowing that Shalit is rotting inside a basement, without visits of appropriate life conditions,” she reportedly told the Israeli newspaper. “He can’t even see the sun, and in return, we have a boarding school in our jails or a collective nursery including thousands of Palestinian prisoners, some of whom are criminals and scoundrels,” the anonymous official insisted.

Israel Urged to Ease Pressure on Palestinian Banks
Bob Davis, MIFTAH 12/16/2008
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the heads of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank urged Israel’s prime minister to ease Israeli pressure on the Palestinian banking system. " We understand and appreciate Israel’s legitimate security concerns," said Mr. Blair, who is now a Mideast negotiator, IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn and World Bank President Robert Zoellick in a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. But the three argued that Israel policies "undermine the viability of the Palestinian banking sector as a whole, greatly inhibit Palestinian-Israeli trade and divert resources away from the banking system toward unregulated informal channels. " Additionally cash constraints in Gaza are "bound to seriously affect" the ability of Gazans "to cover basic needs," the letter said. At issue is a tug-of-war over cash transfers from Israel to Gaza.

Number of Gaza siege victims reaches 271
Palestinian Information Center 12/16/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- Mohammed Saad, 40, has died late on Monday evening after a "long battle with cancer" and after the Israeli occupation authority’s siege blocked him from travel abroad for treatment, Palestinian medical sources said on Tuesday. Muawiya Hasanein, director of ambulance and emergency in the PA health ministry, said in a press statement that the number of victims of the IOA siege thus rose to 271. He warned that a noticeable increase in the number of victims would be witnessed in the few coming days especially cancer patients because the ministry has run out of cancer medications. Meanwhile, MP Jamal Al-Khudari, the head of the popular anti siege committee, said in a press release that more than 3,000 containers for Palestinian merchants were blocked at Israeli ports. He added that the goods were already paid for and that many items were ruined as a result of remaining at the ports for long periods.

Brown urges PM to end Gaza cash freeze
Associated Press, Jerusalem Post 12/16/2008
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s pressed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to lift constraints on the Palestinian economy. Brown’s office said on Tuesday that Brown asked Olmert to act during talks in London. Israel is restricting cash shipments to Gaza banks in order to weaken Hamas, but Brown said the stance was damaging the wider Palestinian economy and harming prospects for peace. On Monday, Brown met with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayad. Palestinians say that cash shipments to Gaza are used by Fayad to pay government employees loyal to PA President Mahmoud Abbas. RELATED’Halting Gaza cash counterproductive’Similarly, on Sunday, top international aid officials warned in a letter to Olmert that Israeli restrictions on cash shipments to Gaza banks were largely counterproductive and ultimately harm Palestinian moderates.

Israel shuts down Gaza crossings
Palestinian Information Center 12/16/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- The Israeli occupation authority on Tuesday ordered the closure of all Gaza Strip commercial crossings only few days after partially opening them at the pretext missiles were fired from the Strip at adjacent Israeli targets. The IOA said that the closure followed the fall of four Palestinian missiles on the western Negev area but without casualties or damage inflicted. The Quds Brigades, the armed wing of Islamic Jihad Movement, declared responsibility for firing a number of homemade missiles at Israeli targets east of Khan Younis to the south of the Gaza Strip at an early hour on Tuesday. It said that the firing of those missiles was in retaliation to the Israeli assassination of its field commander in the West Bank district of Jenin Jihad Nawahda. For his part, Sheikh Khaled Al-Batesh, one of Jihad leaders in Gaza, said that the Israeli assassination of Nawahda. . .

Brown urges lift of curbs on Palestinian economy
Middle East Online 12/16/2008
LONDON - British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Tuesday urged Israel’s caretaker leader Ehud Olmert to ease constraints on the struggling Palestinian economy. Brown held talks with Olmert at Downing Street a day after joining Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, at a forum in London to promote British investment in the Palestinian territories. The pair also discussed the issue of illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, which Brown described Monday as a "barrier that’s got to be overcome" in the Middle East peace process. Following the meeting, a Downing Street spokesman told journalists: "The meeting was an opportunity to discuss the prospects for peace in the Middle East. Both men were strongly committed to making all possible progress. "The prime ministers discussed the issue of Israeli settlements and the importance of the Palestinian economy. . .

Barak renews Gaza blockade in reaction to rockets
Ma’an News Agency 12/16/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered his forces to renew a blockade of the Gaza Strip on Tuesday after four homemade rockets fired from Gaza landed in Israel. The rockets were fired by the armed wing of Islamic Jihad, the Al-Quds Brigades, in what they said was an act of retaliation for Israel’s assassination of an Islamic Jihad fighter in the West Bank on Monday night. After nearly a year and a half of closure, the Israeli military has enforced a strict blockade of Gaza since 4 November, allowing only a minimum of humanitarian aid into the territory. The most recent shipment of food was allowed in on Monday. A fragile six-month-old Egyptian-brokered ceasefire in Gaza expires on Friday. The agreement between the Israeli government and the Hamas-run de facto government in Gaza called on Israel to ease the blockade.

IOF soldiers execute Jihad activist after capturing him
Palestinian Information Center 12/16/2008
JENIN, (PIC)-- Israeli occupation forces dressed in plain clothes on Tuesday executed Jihad Nawahda after ambushing and wounding him in Jenin district shortly after midnight Monday only one month after his release from PA jails in the West Bank. A senior source in the Islamic Jihad Movement said on Tuesday that the special IOF unit assassinated Nawahda, the prominent Jihad activist, after wounding him and taking him prisoner near his family home in Yamon village northwest of Jenin city. The source said that shortly afterwards the Israeli occupation forces told the Palestinian liaison office that Nawahda was dead and delivered his body to the Jenin government hospital. Nawahda was released from PA security apparatuses’ jails a month ago and the IOA soldiers intensified campaigns to arrest him following his release, the source said, noting that even the PA security apparatuses sought to arrest him anew but he always managed to evade arrest.

Slain cabbie to be recognized as terror victim
Vered Luvitch, YNetNews 12/16/2008
State intends to make Taisir Karaki’s family eligible for state benefits despite 2007 murder being classified as hate crime rather than terror attack. Murderer deemed insane, unfit to stand trial - Taisir Karaki, a Jerusalem cab driver who was murdered in mid 2007, will be recognized by the State as a terror victim, making his family eligible for state benefits, Ynet learned on Tuesday. Karaki’s murderer, Julien Soufir, confessed to the act and claimed his actions were nationalistically motivated. Three psychiatric evaluations deemed Soufir unfit to stand trail, diagnosing him as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. The State’s latest request to have him examined by another psychiatrist was denied. The State Prosecutor’s Office classified the case as a hate crime based solely on Soufir’s confession, and subsequently presented the Defense Ministry with the family’s request to have Karaki recognized as a terror victim.

Israeli Army Assassinates Leader of the Al Quds Brigades in Jenin
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 12/16/2008
Late Monday night, an under-cover force of the Israeli army assassinatedthe leader of the Al Quds Brigades, the armed wing of the Islamic Jihad, in the northern part of the West Bank after the forces surrounded an internet coffee-shop in the Al Yamoun town, west of Jenin. The fighter was identified as Jihad Amin Nawahda, 21. Palestinian security sources reported that the soldiers surrounded the building and ordered Nawahda to surrender but he refused. Soldiers then opened fire and killed him. His body was moved to the governmental hospital in Jenin. The Palestine News Network (PNN) reported that the army ambushed Nawahda in the center of the town and killed him before speeding away. Palestinian security sources reported that the Israeli army informed the Military Coordination Office that Nawahda was dead, and then the Palestinians sent an ambulance to the Al Hamra Israeli roadblock to retrieve the body.

Islamic Jihad calls for ending the truce, vows retaliation for its leader’s assassination
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 12/16/2008
The Islamic Jihad movement called on all Palestinian factions to declare the end of true with Israel as the Israeli army did not halt its assaults against the Palestinian people and assassinated the leader of the Al Quds Brigades, the armed wing of the movement in Jenin, in the northern part of the West Bank. In an interview with the Palestine News Network, Abu Mojahid, spokesperson of the Islamic Jihad in the West Bank, said that his movement believes that Israel insists to continue its crimes and assassinations against the Palestinian people, and calls for a united Palestinian position regarding ending the truce with the Israeli occupation. "The occupation assassinated the truce more than one time, soldiers are conducting abductions, invasions, assassinations and ongoing assaults", Abu Mojahid stated, " The assassination of Jihad Amin Nawahda, 21, carries a clear Israeli message. . .

Hamas: Assassinating Nawahda fruit of security coordination
Palestinian Information Center 12/16/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- Hamas on Tuesday charged that the Israeli occupation forces’ assassination of Islamic Jihad leader Jihad Nawahda fell in line with the IOF continued attempt to liquidate Palestinian resistance that rejected all "worthless peace projects". Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, said in a statement that the crime carries the "fingerprints of Zionist criminals and those who coordinate with them in the PA security apparatuses". He affirmed that resistance would continue along its path regardless of the price and shame would befall the "Zionist criminals and those who coordinated and cooperated with them". For her part, MP Mona Mansour denounced the repeated IOF crimes against the Palestinian people the latest being the murder of Nawahda. She said that the Israeli occupation always violates international and humanitarian laws in dealing with the Palestinians, calling on. . .

IDF troops kill top Islamic Jihad militant near Jenin
Avi Issacharoff, and The Associated Press, Ha’aretz 12/16/2008
Undercover Israel Defense Forces troops early Tuesday morning killed a top Islamic Jihad militant in the West Bank city of Jenin. 20-year-old Jihad Nawahda, one of the militant group’s top commanders, has been arrested by the Palestinian Authority security forces and released a few months ago. Palestinian witnesses said the undercover troops shot at Nawahda while he was outside a coffee shop in the village of Yamoun, near the West Bank town of Jenin. Troops surrounded the coffee shop and shot at the militant when he tried to flee arrest. Security sources said he died on the way to hospital. An IDF spokeswoman said troops had gone to arrest the militant, who was suspected of plotting to carry out attacks in the Jenin area. The troops opened fire at him as he tried to flee arrest, the spokeswoman said.

Israeli forces seize two university students at checkpoints
Ma’an News Agency 12/16/2008
Tulkarem – Ma’an – Israeli troops detained two university students from Tulkarem at checkpoints on Tuesday morning. Both were taken to an unknown location. Palestinian Security sources revealed that Israeli troops at the Ennav and Za’tara checkpoints in east Tulkarem detained Musa Fa’eq Odeh, who was on his way to An-Najah National University in the city of Nablus. The second student, Mahmoud Ahmadwas detained at the Za’tara checkpoint in southern Nablus on his way to Bir Zeit University. [end]

Rockets hit Israel after killing of Islamic Jihad man
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 12/17/2008
GAZA CITY: Palestinian resistance fighters in Gaza responded to the killing of one of their members by Israeli forces in the Occupied West Bank by firing rockets into Israel on Tuesday. The retaliation by Gaza-based fighters was met with an Israeli air strike on the impoverished territory later in the day. Islamic Jihad said its armed wing had fired four rockets in response to the overnight killing of one of its members by Israeli security forces. Palestinian witnesses say Jihad Nawhda, 20, was shot by undercover security forces near the Occupied West Bank town of Jenin. The Israeli military claims to have opened fire on Nawhda after he attempted to escape. Two Islamic Jihad fighters were wounded in the Israeli air raid, which targeted a rocket launcher in the northern Gaza Strip, Palestinian medics said. Earlier, the three rockets had struck open areas in southern Israel where they caused no casualties or damage.

Three Palestinians including two women injured in IOF aerial raid
Palestinian Information Center 12/16/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- Three Palestinians including two women and a member of the Quds Brigades, the armed wing of the Islamic Jihad Movement, were wounded on Tuesday evening when an Israeli army chopper fired two rockets on northern Gaza. Medical sources told PIC reporter that the Israeli Apache fired one missile then returned a few mintues later and fired the other. The Israeli occupation forces command claimed that the shelling was targeting a group of the Quds Brigades fighters and missile launching pads. The armed wing earlier announced that it had fired three locally made missiles at the Israeli Sderot settlement to the northeast of the Gaza Strip. [end]

Palestine Today 121608
IMEMC News - Audio dept, International Middle East Media Center News 12/16/2008
Click on Link to download or play MP3 file|| 4 m 30s || 4. 12 MB || Welcome to Palestine Today, a service of the International Middle East Media Center www. imemc. org, for Tuesday December 16 2008 Late Monday night, an under-cover force of the Israeli army assassinated the leader of the al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of the Islamic Jihad, in the northern part of the West Bank after the forces surrounded an internet coffee-shop in the al-Yamoun town, west of Jenin. These stories and more coming up Stay tuned. The fighter was identified as Jihad Amin Nawahda,, age 21. Palestinian security sources reported that the soldiers surrounded the building and ordered Nawahda to surrender but he refused. Soldiers then opened fire and killed him. His body was moved to the governmental hospital in Jenin. In Israel, The Regional Committee for Unrecognized Villages in the. . .

VIDEO / IDF soldier denies throwing stones at police during settler riots in Hebron
Haaretz Staff and Channel 10, Ha’aretz 12/16/2008
The Israel Defense Forces Military Police is detaining a soldier from the elite Givati brigade on suspicion that he hurled stones at police officers and Palestinians in Hebron. Video footage filmed during the evacuation of the House of Contention in the West Bank city about 10 days ago shows settlers throwing stones at Palestinians and at a Palestinian-owned house. The footage also shows an Israeli soldier, believed by the military police to be Corporal Avraham Schneider, picking up stones and participating in the disturbance, instead of preventing it. Schneider denies involvement in the stone-throwing, and claims not to have been there. Schneider is currently awaiting a military court hearing.

International efforts to ensure Israeli compliance with UN resolutions insufficient, say speakers at Santiago Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace
United Nations General Assembly, ReliefWeb 12/15/2008
SANTIAGO, 12 December -- Panellists discussed international efforts aimed at achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the question of Palestine on the second day of the United Nations Latin American and Caribbean Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace, taking place at the headquarters of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in the Chilean capital. Their presentations focused on the efforts initiated at the Annapolis Conference, maintaining international legitimacy in efforts aimed at achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace, and the permanent responsibility of the United Nations. According to Riyad H. Mansour, Permanent Observer for Palestine to the United Nations, the international community had not shown the necessary resolve to ensure Israeli compliance with relevant international resolutions.

Eritreans want recognition as refugees
Ruth Eglash, Jerusalem Post 12/16/2008
Wearing white masks to conceal their identities, more than 500 Eritrean asylum seekers took to the streets of Tel Aviv Tuesday to protest what they describe as the Israeli government’s refusal to recognize them as refugees and grant them certain rights under the United Nation’s convention on the status of refugees, to which Israel is party. "We wore the masks because if we are identified by the Eritrean authorities then our families still living there could be persecuted," one of the protesters, Asmaram, told The Jerusalem Post following the demonstration. Preferring to use only his first name for fear of retribution, Asmaram, 24, who speaks perfect English, said the situation in his former homeland had reached extreme levels of oppression in every sphere of society, and that as a university student, he had no choice but to leave.

PA doles out US $130,000 for Bethlehem-area celebrations
Ma’an News Agency 12/16/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an – The Palestinian Authority (PA)’s Council of Ministers decided earlier this month to provide urgent financial assistance to a number of municipalities in Bethlehem for Christmas celebrations. The council plans to distribute US $130,000 to a number of municipalities throughout Bethlehem following calls from the Ziad Al-Bandak, the local government’s minister in Bethlehem. Al-Bandak said in a statement, “This assistance will help the local authorities in Bethlehem carry out necessary preparations for Christmas celebrations and decorations. ”The money will also “beautify the Palestinian city to receive pilgrims from many parts of the world,” he said. The aid will be distributed as follows: $50,000 – Bethlehem,$25,000 – Beit Jala , $25,000 – Beit Sahour , $7,500– Obeidiyya , $7,500– Al-Khader

Russians in talks with Israelis to buy unmanned reconnaissance drones
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 12/17/2008
MOSCOW: Russia could buy reconnaissance drones from Israel, a top general said Tuesday, after the military was caught short by Georgia’s own Israeli drones in a war this summer. The head of Russia’s general staff, General Nikolai Makarov, confirmed that talks were under way after a corresponding report in the Kommersant newspaper. "We’re talking about the purchase of a test batch of Israeli reconnaissance drones," Interfax quoted Makarov as saying. "If our industry is unable to produce in the near future the drones we need, then possibly we will purchase one batch, first for testing, from Israel," he said. Earlier Kommersant said the head of the armed forces, General Vladimir Popovkin, was in Israel in late November for talks on the purchase with Israel’s Defense Ministry and defense contractor Israel Aerospace Industries.

Russia to deliver 10 MiG fighter jets to Lebanon
Middle East Online 12/16/2008
MOSCOW- Russia has agreed to deliver 10 Russian MiG-29 fighter jets to Lebanon, the Lebanese defence minister said on Tuesday. "Russia has agreed to deliver to Lebanon 10 MiG-29 fighter jets," Lebanese Defence Minister Elias Murr said during talks with Russian Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov jointly announced. He did not disclose any financial details or say whether Lebanon would be purchasing or leasing the fighter jets. Serdyukov added that that Russia "had received a list of the requirements of the Lebanese armed forces and is ready to examine them in the near future. " Russia has sought to expand its clout in the Middle East and hopes to host a Mideast peace conference next year. It is a member of the so-called Quartet of Mideast peacemakers, which also includes the United States, the European Union and the United Nations. Print

Russia mulls buying Israeli drones
Associated Press, Jerusalem Post 12/16/2008
Russia is negotiating with Israel to buy a batch of spy drones, the head of the Russian armed forces said Tuesday, in what would be its first ever purchase of military hardware from the Jewish state. Israel sparked concern in Moscow after it previously sold drones to Georgia that were used successfully before and during its August war with Russia. Russia’s weapons industries have failed to supply the military with drones, developing only experimental models that experts have described as outdated. Gen. Nikolai Makarov, the chief of the general staff of the Russian armed forces, said that Russia would like to buy an unspecified number of drones from Israel, the Interfax news agency reported. RELATEDIsraeli UAVs to fly in Afghanistan"We are working on this issue.

From Russia with love: Murr extracts promised gift of 10 fighter-bombers
Daily Star 12/17/2008
BEIRUT: Russia will deliver 10 MiG-29 fighter-bombers to the Lebanese Armed Forces, Defense Minister Elias Murr said on Tuesday after a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Anatoly Serdyukov, in Moscow. According to Georges Soulage, a senior adviser to the defense minister, Murr announced after talks with Serdyukov that Russia would provide the 10 fighter planes to Lebanon and expressed the hope that the countries’ bilateral military cooperation would continue to grow. "This visit is the most important one that I have made since my appointment as defense minister," Murr said. "It carries more than one meaning on the technical, military and political levels. ""It is the start of a friendship as well as a professional military relationship between Lebanon and Russia," he added. Murr noted that he was "surprised" by Russia’s offer to supply the potent aircraft, to be given as military aid, saying it "was much more than we had expected.

Top Israeli officer says Hizbullah will be destroyed in five days ’next time’
Daily Star 12/17/2008
BEIRUT: Israel is developing plans to "destroy" Hizbullah in an armed onslaught of such severity that it would require no more than five days to complete, a senior Israeli military officer has said. The commander of Israel’s artillery division, which fired an average of 5,000 shells a day into Lebanon during the summer war in 2006, said that in any future conflict his men would "fire to destroy. ""No village will be immune," Brigadier General Michael Ben-Baruch told The Jerusalem Post newspaper. "We will give them about a 12-hour warning and then strike back. " His comments are the latest in a series of saber-rattling interviews in which senior Israeli military figures have outlined their plans for the next assault on Lebanon. The tone of the rhetoric coming out of Israel became so severe during the summer that Prime Minister Fouad Siniora complained to the United Nations about the threats.

Poll: Most Israelis oppose leaving West Bank for Arab world’s recognition
The Associated Press, Ha’aretz 12/17/2008
Two-thirds of Palestinians support a plan that offers Israel full recognition from the Arab world in return for withdrawing from occupied territory, and nearly two-thirds of Israelis oppose it, according to a survey released Tuesday. The poll also indicated that a majority of Israelis and Palestinians support an extension of a truce between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers. The truce, which has become increasingly shaky in recent weeks, expires on Friday. The Arab League’s peace plan was first proposed in 2002. In recent weeks,President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have tried to revive the idea. Israel’s official position is that the plan can be a basis for negotiations, but it objects to some aspects of it, including the prospect of Palestinian refugees being resettled in Israel.

’Most Israelis oppose Arab peace plan’
Tovah Lazaroff, Jerusalem Post 12/16/2008
Sixty-six percent of Palestinians support the Arab League initiative that calls for a full withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders, while only 36% of Israelis support the plan, according to a poll released on Tuesday. The survey also found that the newspapers ads the Palestinian Authority placed in Israeli papers last month in support of the Arab League plan did little to impact Israeli public opinion. Only 25% of Israelis said they saw the ads and only 14% actually read them. The survey was conducted between November 26 and December 7 by both the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah and the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Although it’s been almost eight years since then-US president Bill Clinton failed to reach a peace agreement at Camp David, his plan still has the support of 52% of Israelis and 41% of Palestinians.

Dutch FM threatens to skip UN racism meet over anti-Israel statements
The Associated Press, Ha’aretz 12/16/2008
The Dutch foreign minister threatened Tuesday to boycott a United Nations racism conference if anti-Israel statements are not scrapped from draft texts being drawn up for the meeting. Maxime Verhagen told Dutch radio he will not be involved in anti-Semitism at the April meeting in Geneva. Israel and Canada already have withdrawn. The United States has protested the conference, but has not decided if it will attend. "It seems like the sole intention is to criticize Israel and condemn the West for slavery and its colonial history," Verhagen said. At the last conference in South Africa in 2001, Israel and the United States walked out midway because of a draft resolution equating Zionism with racism. The resolution was not approved. Verhagen fears a repeat performance in Geneva, and said the Dutch will withdraw unless the proposed resolutions are changed.

Assad wants Syrian access to Kinneret shore Staff And Herb Keinon, Jerusalem Post 12/16/2008
Damascus has drafted a document defining the boundaries of the Golan Heights and which puts Syria on the northeastern Kinneret shore, Reuters reported Tuesday, citing sources familiar with the talks. The sources said that Damascus was waiting for an Israeli reply through Turkish mediators. "The president was clear that Syria wants to know the Israeli view about what constitutes occupied Syrian territory before progress can be made," one of the sources said. "According to Syrian thinking, Israeli agreement on the six [geographical] points could help seal a peace deal next year. But Israel may not be able to provide a response any time soon, when it is in such political turmoil," a second source said. A Syrian official said that the paper sent to Turkey includes reference to geographical points on the present northeastern shore of the Kinneret.

’Jewish groups back Durban II no-show’
Herb Keinon, Jerusalem Post 12/16/2008
Israel is confident there is strong support among Jewish organizations for following Israel’s lead and skipping the 2009 UN World Conference Against Racism, or Durban II, in Geneva in April, according to Foreign Ministry officials. Aviva Raz Schechter, director of the ministry’s department for combating anti-Semitism, said Israel’s impression from a conference call Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni held on Tuesday with Jewish organizations throughout the world was that there was understanding of Israel’s position not to attend and "wall to wall recognition that the organizations would try to convince their governments not to attend either. " There was consent by the organizations and NGOs that took part in the conference call that, considering the preparatory material for the conference, it had been hijacked by elements who wanted to turn it into another Israel-bashing convention, Raz Schechter said.

Assad seeks Israeli stance on Golan
Reuters, YNetNews 12/16/2008
Sources familiar with unofficial Israel-Syria talks says Damascus has drafted paper defining Golan Heights boundaries, waiting for Israeli reply through Turkish mediators. ’Document puts us on the water (of Lake Kinneret),’ Syrian official says -Syria has drafted a document defining the boundaries of the Golan Heights and was waiting for an Israeli reply through Turkish mediators, sources familiar with the talks said this week. President Bashar Assad recently told Western officials that Damascus wants Israel to take a clear position on the territorial problem between the two countries before agreeing to push stalled peace talks forward. The Syrian document sets the boundaries with reference to six geographical points, the sources told. " The president was clear that Syria wants to know the Israeli view about what constitutes occupied. . .

IEC, British Gas talks hit snag
Lior Baron, Globes Online 12/16/2008
British Gas Group wants a financially secured buyer for all the gas from its Gaza field. Sources inform ’’Globes’’ that the negotiations betweenIsrael Electric Corporation (IEC) (TASE:ELEC. B22 ) and BG Group plc (NYSE: BRG; LSE: BG) to buy natural gas from its reserves offshore from Gaza have run into trouble. At a meeting last week in London, BG Group told IEC representatives that it could not commit to opening the gas field until it had commitments for the purchase of all the gas from the field, estimated at 1. 5 billion cubic meters of natural gas a year. BG Group’s position does not conform to the position of the Ministries of Finance and National Infrastructures that IEC will purchase up to 800 million cubic meters of gas a year from BG Group, with private electricity producers buying the difference.

IMF praises Israel response to crisis
Adrian Filut, Globes Online 12/16/2008
"The proposed public-private fund to purchase corporate bonds is welcome. ""The proposed public-private fund to purchase corporate bonds is welcome. It should be established promptly and tasked primarily to support new credit flows for large solvent firms. ," says the IMF in its annual report on the Israeli economy submitted to Minister of Finance Ronnie Bar-On and Governor of the Bank of Israel Prof. Stanley Fischer today. The IMF added, "In this light, purchases by the fund on the secondary market would generally be avoided. These will not provide new credit to firms, and they risk implicitly transferring accrued institutional investor or corporate losses to the budget. While plans should be prepared to address priorities in the corporate bond market other than credit flows, the tasks for this fund should not be extended lest its effectiveness and accountability is diluted.

Jewish leaders fear anti-Semitic backlash
Ben Lynfield in Jerusalem, The Independent 12/17/2008
Bernard Madoff’s alleged $50bn (£33bn) financial fraud reverberated in Israel yesterday, with concern being voiced by some about a possible antisemitic backlash. One of the country’s most respected private educational funders, the Chais Family Foundation, which disburses $10m annually in Israel and another $2. 5m in Eastern Europe, has been forced to shut down. Israeli and American Jewish leaders involved in fighting antisemitism said they were concerned that although many of Mr Madoff’s victims are foundations belonging to Jews -- reportedly including ones affiliated with Steven Spielberg, famed holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and US real estate magnate Mortimer Zuckerman -- people with an anti-Jewish agenda would focus on Mr Madoff to forment hatred. "Always when Jews are in involved in something terrible and negative like this it can be misrepresented.

Business leaders push for social action
Sapir Peretz, Globes Online 12/16/2008
Iscar chairman Eitan Wertheimer: Someone who makes a lot of money can’t eat lunch twice or indulge his children too much. "What people do from the heart is worth far more than what they do from their pockets," said Iscar Ltd. chairman Eitan Wertheimer at the "Globes" Israel Business Conference. Wertheimer, who was one of the guest speakers in the breakout session "From profits to people - economic and social models for the positioning of Israel," continued, "Someone who makes a lot of money can’t eat lunch twice or indulge his children too much. I have met many people who say ’Our pockets are full, but our hearts aren’t in it, and we want to achieve a balance between heart, head, and pocket. " Wertheimer insisted that per-capita income in Israel could be doubled through export. "We need to export products to the whole world, like Switzerland and Sweden do. . . "

Olmert, Histadrut, manufacturers plan stimulus package
Sharon Wrobel, Jerusalem Post 12/16/2008
The Histadrut and the Israel Manufacturers’ Association have lobbied for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to advance an expansion of the economic stimulus plan without the cooperation of the Finance Ministry. "We have put forward a number of recommendations and the prime minister has promised us to intervene with the aim of formulating a proper solution within a week’s time to avert a wave of layoffs," said Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini at the Globes Israel Business Conference in Tel Aviv on Monday. " In a place where there is no economic leadership, I hope that that the prime minister will take leadership. " One of the recommendations seeks to expand the loan fund proposed by the Finance Ministry from NIS 200 million to NIS 1 billion, which can be leveraged to NIS 5b. Shraga Brosh, president of the Manufacturers Association, said that the Treasury’s proposed NIS 200m.

Elbit will supply UAV to every IDF ground battalion
Globes'' correspondent, Globes Online 12/16/2008
The Skylark I LE is based on the accumulated experience acquired by the Skylark I in various battlefields, both in Israel and abroad. Defense electronics company Elbit Systems Ltd. (Nasdaq: ESLT; TASE: ESLT) will supply enough mini-UAVs to provide one for every IDF ground forces battalion. Elbit was selected by Israel’s Ministry of Defense in a battalion-level IDF tender, calling for a wide procurement of mini-UAVs for all IDF Ground Forces battalions, including training and logistics support. Elbit will sell its Skylark I LE. The deal could be worth tens of millions of dollars, in accordance with IDF’s requirements and procurement process. The Skylark I LE is based on the accumulated experience acquired by the Skylark I, in thousands of operational hours performed, in various battlefields, both in Israel and abroad.

’We still need to prepare for the worst,’ warns bank regulator
Sharon Wrobel, Jerusalem Post 12/16/2008
The Bank of Israel’s Supervisor of Banks warned Monday that the financial crisis was far from over and that the worst could still be ahead of us, as he called on the country’s banks to be prepared. "The Israeli banking sector is stable but we still need to prepare for the worst and therefore I am in favor of conservative conduct," Hizkiyahu told the Globes Israel Business Conference in Tel Aviv. "The central bank is getting ready by preparing emergency plans to be enacted when needed. " Hizkiyahu added that he did not expect the banks to distribute a dividend over the coming year. "If they think that they will distribute a dividend they need to come and get approval," said Hizkiyahu. Furthermore Hizkiyahu called upon the banks to continue to secure a high level of capital and to maintain the sector’s stability.

Current account surplus drops 50%
Adrian Filut, Globes Online 12/16/2008
In the first nine months of 2008, the average quarterly surplus was around $500 million, after averaging closer to $1 billion in 2007. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, Israel’s seasonably-adjusted current account surplus in its balance of payments for the third quarter was $469 million, after a surplus of $327 million in the second quarter, and a surplus of $845 million in the first quarter. In the first nine months of 2008, the average quarterly surplus was around $500 million, after averaging closer to $1 billion in 2007. The year to date current account surplus reached $1. 64 billion, about 50% of the $3. 3 billion surplus recorded in 2007. The drop reflects a larger deficit in goods exports and revenue, partially offset by an increase in the services account and current transfers.

Israel’s largest banks extend NIS 2.5b in small business credit
Eran Peer, Globes Online 12/16/2008
Bank Hapoalim will lend NIS 1 billion and Bank Leumi will lend NIS 1. 5 billion. Bank Hapoalim (TASE:POLI ; LSE:80OA) today announced that it will provide NIS 1 billion in extra credit to small businesses. The credit is for both current and new bank customers. The bank will operate a new telephone service, *2406, which will direct calls to eight regional business centers. The centers will handle calls from small businesses that are not Bank Hapoalim customers, and review the requests for credit. The bank’s branches will complete the loans. Bank Hapoalim chairman Dan Dankner said, "We put great importance on helping all sectors of the economy, including the business sector. "Bank Leumi(TASE: LUMI) also announced today that it will provide NIS 1.

IDF launches new, outsourced classification system for recruits
Yaakov Katz, Jerusalem Post 12/16/2008
Public lecturing, group discussions and other live simulations are some of the trials teenagers going through the IDF induction process will be subjected to under a new classification system the Human Resources Department launched on Tuesday. Called Me’ah - a Hebrew acronym for "Classification, Identification and Compatibility" - the new program is being outsourced and run by Adam Milo, one of Israel’s leading human resources companies. "We want to maximize our most valuable resources, which is our soldiers," OC Human Resources Maj. -Gen. Avi Zamir said during a press conference in Tel Aviv. "Our only advantage in the Middle East is our human resource. " Since the 1980s, new draftees have gone through a series of tests that set what is called in Israel the "Kaba. "The Kaba is a number that ranges from 40 to 56 and combines a draftee’s psychological evaluation, knowledge of Hebrew, socio-economic background and other criteria.

Green group, Nahal soldiers’ parents seek court order to shut down base
Ehud Zion Waldoks, Jerusalem Post 12/16/2008
The Israel Union for Environmental Defense (IUED) and the parents of Nahal soldiers stricken with Hodgkin’s lymphoma have petitioned the High Court of Justice to order the IDF to withdraw all personnel from the Nahal training base outside of Arad until an investigation has been completed. The Israeli media broke the story recently that there was a much higher occurrence of cancer amongst Nahal solders between 1994 and 2004 than in the general public. IUED attached several expert opinions pointing to potential sources of pollution: the Arad industrial area, and the city’s water treatment facility. IUED head Tzipi Iser Itzik expressed dismay and amazement that the army could sit on reports of such incidences for seven years without doing anything about it. "For seven years, the army has had unequivocal information which pointed to a high rate of cancer amongst the Nahal soldiers.

Livni on Shalit: Not everything possible
Ahiya Raved, YNetNews 12/16/2008
Kadima chairwoman’s campaign takes her to Haifa high school, where she speaks to students about captive’s case. ’It’s not a question of what we want, but of what is possible,’ she reiterates -Kadima Chairwoman Tzipi Livni met with high school students in Haifa Tuesday as part of her election campaign ahead of the 2009 vote which will be held on February 10. Livni reiterated a sentiment expressed last week, saying that while she has the utmost empathy for the case of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, not everything can be done on his behalf. "What every young person needs to know is that they first and foremost must serve in the military, because Israel is still fighting for its existence. The public perception is that the issue of Shalit’s release is up to us, but it’s not a question of what we do and don’t want, it’s a question of what is and isn’t possible. Not everything can be done. "

Olmert: Stop attacking Livni on Shalit
Hagit Klaiman, YNetNews 12/16/2008
During London visit, prime minister rejects criticism directed at Kadima chairwoman over her remark that not all kidnapped soldiers can be returned home - LONDON – Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Tuesday rejected the criticism directed at Foreign Minister and Kadima Chairwoman Tzipi Livni following her remark that not all kidnapped Israeli soldiers can be returned home. Speaking during a visit to London, Olmert said it was unfair to take advantage of the election campaign in order to attack Livni. The foreign minister said last week, on the 900th day since Gilad Shalit’s abduction, that "not everyone can be returned". "I don’t share this criticism and I reject outright any attempt to attack Kadima’s premiership candidate. It’s wrong, unjustified and unfair. Intensive activities are taking place on the Gilad Shalit issue, and I am involved. . .

Major powers say they will stick to guns on Iran sanctions
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 12/17/2008
UNITED NATIONS: Senior officials from six major powers kicked off a rare meeting with several US-backed Arab countries here on Tuesday to assure them that they will maintain pressure on Iran to scale down its nuclear ambitions. The so-called P5-plus-1 - the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States) plus Germany - huddled behind closed doors with representatives of Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who Monday said he would attend the gathering, did not show up and was represented by the Russian ambassador to Washington, Sergei Kisliak, a former deputy foreign minister in charge of the Iranian nuclear program, according to Russian diplomats. The present included US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

Six major powers, Arab states discuss Iran
Middle East Online 12/16/2008
UNITED NATIONS - Ministers from six major powers kicked off a rare meeting with several Arab countries here Tuesday to inform them that they will maintain pressure on Iran to scale down its nuclear ambitions. The so-called P5-plus-1 -- the five permanent members of the UN Security Council members (Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States) plus Germany -- huddled behind closed doors with top representatives of Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who Monday said he would attend the gathering, did not show up and was represented by the Russian ambassador to Washington, Sergei Kisliak, a former deputy foreign minister in charge of the Iranian nuclear program, according to Russian diplomats. Present were US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

Rice says sanctions affecting Iran
Associated Press, YNetNews 12/16/2008
US secretary of state gives reporters interview summing up stint in White House, says international sanctions on Tehran will have long-term effect. Annapolis accords are base for future end of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she reiterates - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the sting of international sanctions is forcing at least some Iranian leaders to second-guess the regime’s rebuff of world demands that it roll back its disputed nuclear program. " The Iranians are paying real costs for their behavior," Rice told Theon Monday. "It hasn’t yet convinced them that they have to change their course, but there are plenty of voices being heard inside that government that are talking about the costs and about whether or not they’ve made a mistake in getting themselves so deeply isolated. " Line in the SandQuartet: US-led Mideast talks ’irreversible’/ News. . .

A peek into Iran’s nuclear Pandora’s box
Sreeram Chaulia, Asia Times 12/17/2008
The contention of a senior Russian diplomat, Vladimir Voronkov, that Iran is presently incapable of developing nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them has reopened an international Pandora’s box. The comments by Voronkov, head of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Department of European Cooperation, cast doubts on, if not contradict, Israel’s assessment that Iran is rapidly gaining nuclear-weapons capability in the guise of "peaceful" electricity generation. Russia’s word has a notable significance on the matter because it enjoys unparalleled access to Iran’s nuclear facilities. Russian engineers working for a Russian company are building Iran’s Bushehr nuclear reactor and are in daily touch with Iranian ground realities. Voronkov buttressed his claim by adding, "This information is confirmed by all the services responsible for the collection and analysis of information. "

Deaths in Israeli tourist bus crash
Al Jazeera 12/16/2008
The bus was carrying Russian tourists when it crashed near Eilat - More than 20 people have been killed and dozens more injured after a tourist bus plunged down a ravine near the southern Israeli city of Eilat. Rescue teams were working to reach people trapped inside the wreckage of the vehicle which crashed off a desert road on Tuesday. The passengers were among 150 Russian travel agents who had just arrived in Eilat from St. Petersburg for an information gathering trip, Russian media reported. The scene of the crash "looks like a battlefield," Michel Alexei, the bus owner, told the Yediot Ahronot daily newspaper website. Thirty ambulances and six Israeli air force helicopters were rushed to the scene. The tourist bus crashed through a guard rail and down the ravine after it tried to overtake another tour vehicle in a no-pass area, Rami Azani, the driver of the second bus, said.

Fatal bus crash: Driver had 22 priors
Ilana Curiel, YNetNews 12/16/2008
Investigation reveals bus driver had 22 prior traffic offenses and that just minutes before crash he had an argument with another driver. Transportation minister: Crash result of ’aggressive road behavior’ - The driver manning the wheel of the bus which crashed off Highway 12, north of the southern resort city of Eilat, has 22 prior traffic offenses, Ynet learned Tuesday. Twenty-five people were killed and 33 injured, as the bus dove off the road, plummeting 45-feet down. The 39-yaer-old driver was seriously wounded. According to the National Road Safety Authority, the driver got his license in 2001. The police believe he was unfamiliar with the road, and lost control of the vehicle while trying to skirt another bus. Unable to correct his form, he ended up hitting the guardrail and flipping over.

Russia sends planes carrying families, doctors to Israel
Yael Branovsky, YNetNews 12/16/2008
Two government planes carrying casualties’ relatives, physicians, medical equipment and rescue teams sent to Israel to assist in aftermath of fatal bus crash. Prime Minister Olmert says shocked by accident’s terrible outcome - Two Russian government planes are currently making their way to Israel, one carrying the victims’ families and the other carrying doctors, medical equipment, psychologists and rescue teams, Russian news agencies reported Tuesday. The mission seeks to help in the aftermath of the fatal bus crash that claimed the lives of 25 Russian travel agents from St. Petersburg. Another 33 passengers were injured after the bus they were riding flipped over and plunged down a45-feet chasm. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is currently in a visit to London, expressed sorrow over the terrible tragedy and the large number of casualties.

Gaza journalists rally in support of Iraqi who threw shoe at Bush
Ma’an News Agency 12/16/2008
Gaza – Ma’an – Journalists in the Gaza Strip staged a demonstration on Tuesday in support of an Iraqi reporter who was arrested for throwing two of his shoes at US President George W Bush at a Baghdad press conference on Sunday. Muntathar Zubeidi, a reporter for Al-Baghdadiya television, has attained hero status in the Arab world for expressing his resentment at the US leader who launched the occupation of Iraq. The Palestinian Journalist Bloc called for formation of a solidarity committee of Arab, Palestinian and foreign journalists to support Zubeidi. They also suggested naming 14 December “International Shoes Day”. During the rally in Gaza, protestors raised posters and slogans demanding the immediate release of Zubeidi, holding Iraqi authorities responsible for any harm that might come to him while in custody.

VIDEO - Gazans rally for Bush shoe protester
The Guardian 12/16/2008
Palestinians rally in Gaza in support of Iraqi journalist who threw shoes at US president George Bush. [end]

VIDEO - Gazans rally in support of Bush shoe protest
Roee Nahmias, YNetNews 12/16/2008
(Video) Journalist Muntadhar al-Zeidi, who hurled shoes at outgoing US president in Iraq, sparks wave of support in Strip. ’There’s nothing better than this shoe to summarize what the Arab world thinks about this foolish president,’ Gaza rally organizer tells Ynet - VIDEO -Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zeidi, who hurled his shoes at US President George W. Bush on Sunday, has sparked a wave of support in the Arab world. Dozens of Palestinians took part Tuesday in a rally in the Gaza Strip in solidarity with the Iraqi journalist. The protestors expressed their full support for al-Zeidi’s act and called for his immediate release. During the demonstration, they hurled shoes at a picture of Bush and burned flags of the United States and Israel. Video courtesy ofInfolive. tv Abu Abir, a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees, told Ynet. . .

’Broken arm and ribs’ for Iraqi who ’shoed’ Bush
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 12/17/2008
BAGHDAD: The Iraqi journalist who hurled shoes at US President George W. Bush is in hospital after being beaten up by security guards, his brother said on Tuesday, as judicial authorities launched a probe into the incident that grabbed headlines around the world. "He has been taken to Ibn Sina Hospital because he has a broken arm and ribs and is also suffering injuries to his eye and leg," Durgham al-Zaidi said of his brother Muntazer, 29. The latter became an instant star in the Arab world when he threw his shoes at Bush on Sunday during the US leader’s farewell visit to the country invaded by US forces in 2003 in a war then-UN chief Kofi Annan described as "illegal. "Zaidi, a journalist for private Iraqi television channel Al-Baghdadia, was swiftly overpowered by Iraqi security forces after his action, regarded as a severe sign of disrespect in the Muslim world.

Bombings kill seven in Iraq as Baghdad sets pullout date for non-US forces
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 12/17/2008
BAGHDAD: Seven Iraqis, including four soldiers and a policeman, were killed in two separate attacks on Tuesday, security and medical sources said, as Iraq set a deadline for the withdrawal of non-US foreign troops. The soldiers were killed in a car bombing in the town of As-Sadiyya in Diyala Povince, north of the capital, the army’s operations room said. Hospital sources said three soldiers were wounded in a second bombing in Diyala as they were on patrol in Hamrin, 50 kilometers east of the provincial capital, Baquba. Diyala remains one of Iraq’s most dangerous regions despite joint US and Iraqi offensives aimed at dislodging Al-Qaeda from the province. In the capital, meanwhile, a bomb near the Technology University killed a female student, a policeman and a civilian bystander, the Interior Ministry said. A police colonel and three other students were wounded.

Sons of Iraq a test for Baghdad
Richard Tomkins, Asia Times 12/17/2008
BAGHDAD - Come the New Year, Iraq’s Shi’ite-dominated government, led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, faces an ongoing challenge, the results of which could either bridge or widen the country’s sectarian divide, and contribute to or undermine its security efforts. The test is the transition of more than 25,000 Sons of Iraq (SOI) volunteers in parts of the so-called Sunni Triangle from US to Iraqi control. It may not seem such a difficult task, as the mechanics are already in place. A template for the process was developed and used successfully in Baghdad, where some 50,000 Sunni and Shi’ite guards were transitioned in October. Yet difficulty lies ahead and it all has to do with the concept of theka, or trust. " We don’t trust the Iraqi government," says Ahmad Hamid Muhammad al-Jaburi, a Sunni SOI leader in the town of Duluyiah in Salah al-Din governorate, north of Baghdad.

Iraqi shoe thrower ’beaten in custody’
Patrick Cockburn, The Independent 12/17/2008
The Iraqi journalist who achieved folk hero status by throwing his shoes at George Bush appeared before a judge in Baghdad yesterday amid reports he had been beaten in custody. A brother of Muntazer al-Zaidi said the reporter had been taken to the Ibn-Sina military hospital after being hit on the head with a rifle butt. Iraqi security men had also broken his arm. Dargham al-Zaidi said his brother had suffered broken ribs and internal bleeding. But another brother, Maitham al-Zaidi, later said he had spoken with the shoe thrower on the phone and he had said: "Thank God I am in good health. "The guards of the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki were seen beating Mr Zaidi just after the incident and he was seen screaming in pain, but the extent of his injuries were not clear. A judicial spokesman said Mr Zaidi had been brought before a judge and accompanied by a defence lawyer.

Secretary-General, in Security Council statement, calls for unity of purpose while stressing vital need to conclude Israeli-Palestinian peace process
United Nations Secretary-General, ReliefWeb 12/16/2008
Following is the text of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s statement to the Security Council Ministerial-Level Meeting on the Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question, in New York, 16 December: This is a very important meeting for the cause of peace in the Middle East, and for the central role of the Security Council in achieving it. For 13 months since Annapolis, Israelis and Palestinians have been negotiating continuously on all the core issues between them. The Palestinian Authority has been pursuing genuine measures of self-empowerment in the West Bank, improving security and economic life for its citizens, in a framework of increased Israeli-Palestinian partnership. And the international community has been devoting new effort with the parties to secure implementation of Road Map commitments on the ground.

Adopting text on Middle East conflict, Security Council reaffirms support for Annapolis outcomes, declares negotiations ’irreversible’
United Nations Security Council, ReliefWeb 12/16/2008
Resolution Garners 14 Votes in Favour as Libya Abstains, Citing ’Ambiguity’ - Reaffirming its support for the agreements and negotiations resulting from the 2007 Middle East summit in Annapolis, Maryland, the Security Council called on the parties, regional States, and other States and international organizations this morning to intensify their efforts to achieve a two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as peaceful coexistence among all States in the region. Adopting resolution 1850 (2008) by a vote of 14 to 0 -- with Libya abstaining -- at the end of a meeting in which four permanent members were represented by ministerial and other high-level officials, the Council declared its commitment to the irreversibility of the ongoing bilateral negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, and supported. . .

UN council endorses US-led Middle East peace talks
Reuters, YNetNews 12/16/2008
Security Council adopts resolution stating Israeli-Palestinian peace process initiated by US last year is irreversible - The UN Security Council on Tuesday declared that US-brokered negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are "irreversible" and urged both sides to redouble efforts to secure peace. The declaration was at the heart of a resolution drafted by the United States and Russia. The resolution, which passed 14-0 with Israel’s enemy Libya abstaining, was the first adopted on the Middle East crisis in nearly five years. The US and other delegations had hoped for a unanimous vote in favor of the two-page text, but Libyan UN Ambassador Giadalla Ettalhi criticized the text for not condemning Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, which he described as "basically a crime against humanity".

Al-Aqsa Brigades call for release of man pardoned, then arrested by Israel
Ma’an News Agency 12/16/2008
Jenin – Ma’an – Fatah’s military wing, the Al-Aqsa Brigades, on Tuesday called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to pressure Israel to release a jailed former fighter. The group said in a statement that Ahmad Abu Amirah was arrested by Israeli forces on 2 December from his home in the West Bank city of Jenin although he received a pardon from Israel. The statement also called on Abbas resolve the issue of wanted fighters once and for all. Amirah was married one month ago. [end]

Press conference by Secretary-General, Quartet on Middle East peace process
United Nations Department of Public Information - DPI, ReliefWeb 12/15/2008
The diplomatic Quartet trying to end the conflict in the Middle East was united in its determination to intensify efforts towards a just and lasting solution to the long-standing problem, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told correspondents this afternoon at a press conference that followed a closed meeting of the group. Calling the efforts of the outgoing American Administration in the area "tireless and continuing", Mr. Ban praised, in particular, the organization of the summit last year in Annapolis, Maryland, and the resulting support for ongoing bilateral negotiations. Joining Mr. Ban on the podium at the press conference were United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and European Union High Representative Javier Solana and European Commissioner for External Relations Bettina Ferrero-Waldner.

Statement by Middle East Quartet, 15 Dec 2008
ReliefWeb 12/15/2008
Following is the text of the statement issued today in New York by the Quartet ( United Nations, Russian Federation, United States and European Union): Representatives of the Quartet-U. N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, U. S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union Javier Solana, European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner, and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner-endorsed the following statement on the situation in the Middle East. They were joined by Quartet Representative Tony Blair. The Quartet reaffirmed support for the bilateral, comprehensive, direct, uninterrupted, confidential and ongoing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. . .

Bush shoe-thrower ’tortured’
Al Jazeera 12/16/2008
An Iraqi journalist arrested after throwing his shoes at the US president has been tortured during his detention, his brother has said. Muntazer al-Zaidi, who called George Bush "a dog" during his attack, was beaten by security guards after his arrest, Durgham al-Zaidi told Al Jazeera on Tuesday. We know that [Muntazer] has been tortured and his hand was broken. I asked them to go and check on him in the Green Zone [in Baghdad]," he said. Al-Baghdadia television, Muntazer’s employer, reported that al-Zeidi had been "seriously injured" while in custody. The channel has urged the Iraqi government to allow lawyers and the Iraqi Red Crescent to visit him. The Iraqi military has denied that al-Zaidi has been mistreated while in detention. Al-Zaidi has admitted "aggression against a president" during an appearance before a judge, a judicial spokesman said on Tuesday.

Bush cuts short Mideast trip to host White House Hanukkah party
Natasha Mozgovaya, Ha’aretz 12/16/2008
Outgoing U. S. President George W. Bush on Monday hosted a Hanukkah ceremony at the White House for Jewish leaders, shortly after returning from his farewell trip to Iraq and Afghanistan. Alongside the seasonal Christmas trees, the ceremony featured a historic Hannukiah that had been given to former president Harry Truman by Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. The two statesmen’s grandsons, Clifton Truman Daniel and Yariv Ben-Eliezer, were chosen to light the candles. The president told the crowd that he had cut short his trip to attend the ceremony. "I met with [Afghan] President Karzai, who is determined to help the young democracy survive," Bush said. "And so he said, why don’t you hang around for a while? And I said, well, you don’t understand. . . "

Peres: One man’s error hurt entire nation
Roni Sofer, YNetNews 12/17/2008
President speaks to Russian counterpart Medvedev, expresses sorrow on behalf of Israeli people for terrible bus crash that left 25 Russian citizens dead. Prime Minister Olmert says shocked by crash; Livni conveys condolences to Russians - President Shimon Peres spoke with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev Tuesday evening and expressed sorrow on behalf of the people of Israel for the bus accident that claimed the lives of 25 Russian citizens Tuesday. "It appears that the mistake of one person has resulted in the pain of an entire nation," Peres said. Fatal bus crash in south claims 25 livesFatal bus crash: Driver had 22 priors Russia sends planes carrying families, doctors to IsraelPeres assured his Russian counterpart that the State of Israel was doing everything in its capacity to provide quality treatment to the wounded.

’Our Jewish ID not shaped by Holocaust’
Matthew Wagner, Jerusalem Post 12/16/2008
Few Jewish Diaspora youths believe that the Holocaust has an impact on the shaping of their Jewish identity but many feel that it influenced their world view, according to a survey presented Tuesday at Bar-Ilan University. The survey took place over the decade that spanned 1992 and 2002 among 60,000 youths aged 15 to 17 who came to Israel as part of an "Israel Experience" trip. The youths, who answered questionnaires, came from 20 different countries including the US, Canada, France, Hungary, the Former Soviet Union, South Africa, Australia, and South America. Some 37. 6 percent said that the Holocaust was very influential in forming their world view, while another 54. 5% said that it was influential. Only 7% said it was not. In contrast, only 20% said that symbols of the Holocaust helped form their Jewish identity while components such as family (96%); birth. . .


The weapon of the occupied
Matthew Cassel, Electronic Intifada 12/16/2008
      It’s not surprising that since the George W. Bush shoe-dodging incident the US media has been recalling the infamous "shoeing" of the Saddam statue by a few Iraqis after American forces had brought it down. These images were aired over and over in the international media to show that Iraqis celebrated the toppling of their former ruler. Reports later emerged that this event had been mostly staged by the American military and the media had not accurately shown how few the numbers of people who had actually been around to hit the decapitated statue with their shoes. Most Iraqis did not celebrate the event because many were frightened in their homes, or packing their bags to leave their country and the extreme violence that their occupiers had brought with them to Iraq.
     But others, especially many in the Arab world, might recall another event where flying shoes made the front pages.
     It was 28 September 2000. Then opposition candidate to become Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, decided to take a "stroll" to the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, one of Islam’s holiest sites. He claimed the move was not meant to be provocative, and that he was just taking a walk "to see what happens here." However, the previous decade, there had been at least two incidents during which Jewish Israelis threatened the mosque compound and Israeli forces carried out several mass killings of worshippers, and Palestinians revolted leading to the death of nearly 100 Palestinians by Israeli forces.

Veolia involved in Israel’s waste dumping in West Bank

Adri Nieuwhof, Electronic Intifada 12/16/2008
      At the entrance of the Tovlan landfill, located beside the Jordan River in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), three flags fly proudly: those of Israel, France and the European company, Veolia. Through its Onyx subsidiary, Veolia, which is also constructing the Jerusalem light rail project on occupied Palestinian land, is managing the Tovlan landfill. In a 2004 year report on sustainable development, Veolia announced that its subsidiary Onyx brought "the new Tovlan landfill into service in Israel." Prior to that time, Tovlan was an old, unsanitary waste dump.
     Veolia has a history of juggling with names. In 2005 Onyx became Veolia Environmental Services, also operating in Israel under the name TMM Onyx. Research by the Coalition of Women for Peace confirms that the Tovlan landfill is owned and operated by TMM, a company that is 100 percent owned by Veolia Environmental Services Israel.
     Consistent with its activities in the light rail project, Veolia claims that the Tovlan landfill is located in Israel, rather than in the OPT. According to Israel’s Ministry of Environment Protection there are 18 authorized landfills, including the Tovlan and Abu Dis landfills located in the occupied West Bank. The Tovlan site is managed by the Israeli settlement regional council of Biqat Hayarden, which covers 21 settlements. It is mainly used as a dump for solid waste from Israeli municipalities and the illegal settlements of Ariel, Maale Efrayim, the Regional Councils of Megilot, Biqat Hayarden and Shomron as well as the Barkan Industrial Park.

Majdal: Home Sweet Home

Najwa Sheikh Ahmed – Gaza, Palestine Chronicle 12/16/2008
      ’I was trying to imagine what I will see from the old Majdal if there still any.’
     Home for all of us is the place where we can find peace, comfort, and love, it is where we find passion, and warmth, no matter where we are or who we are it is the place where we want to hide and seek peace.
     Home is the place where every stone, every corner recalls a memory of a certain event during your childhood; it is where the signs of how tall you became are still carved on the door.
     For me as a third generation Palestinian refugee, I missed experiencing all these feelings, the camp where I have been raised is just a temporary residence, a place that I and my family before me were forced to live in after they lost their homeland, the camp was never to be my home..
     It was hard for me to forget the stories of my parents about their homeland, and to a accept the camp as my home, though all my memories and childhood are in the camp, my whole life in the camp, but there always a feeling of commitment towards the original homeland.

Land and Population Transfer

Palestine Monitor, Palestine Monitor 12/16/2008
      The new Knesset hopeful for the Israeli right offers some interesting insights into his ‘creative’, ‘out of the box’ diplomatic efforts in Washington.
     The Jerusalem Post this morning published an interview with outgoing Israeli ambassador to the US, Danny Ayalon concerning the Annapolis Peace Process. Ayalon has recently returned to Israel to run for a Knesset seat in the extreme rightwing party Israel Beiteinu (Israel Our Home).
     The article focused on Ayalon’s diplomatic achievements in Washington concerning the prospects of a land and population transfer to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which Israel would keep settlers in much of the West Bank, and in return would give the Palestinians land in the Galilee that are primarily populated by Arabs.
     The Jerusalem Post states that: ‘Ayalon revealed that when he explained the plan in his informal talks with the highest echelons of the outgoing administration of US President George W. Bush, "they didn’t fall off their chairs."’
     Considering the audience, Palestine Monitor is not surprised in the least.

Fighting on a different front

Ben White, The Guardian 12/16/2008
      This Thursday, a group of Israeli young men and women, barely out of school, will bring home some important truths about the situation in Israel/Palestine for those who care to listen. The Shministim (Hebrew for twelfth-graders) are Israelis who, having been called up for compulsory military service, have refused to serve in an occupying army and are thus sent to prison for refusing the draft.
     December 18 has been called as a day of action for the Shministim (principally by the US-based Jewish Voice for Peace). It is a chance to raise the profile of Israel’s conscientious objectors, protest at their repeated imprisonment, and highlight exactly why these Israeli youth have decided it is better to go to jail or risk isolation and ridicule from family and friends, rather than enforce the occupation of the Palestinian territories.
     A Shministim refusenik faces the prospect of repeat sentences of up to four weeks at a time, as the cycle of draft-refusal-punishment can continue until they are 21 years old or discharged for some other reason (medical for example). Someone like Tamar Katz, because of her refusal to wear a military uniform in prison, is placed in solitary confinement.

Time to End the Settlement Project

Ghassan Khatib – The West Bank, Palestine Chronicle 12/16/2008
      ’The settlement phenomenon is the biggest threat to any potential peace..’
     The recent settler violence in Hebron, which was described by Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, as a pogrom, brought to the attention of Israelis and Palestinians the grave danger that settlements and settlers represent.
     But the riots in Hebron were in fact different only in terms of the level of violence. Otherwise they were part of an orchestrated campaign of settler violence that has been in increasing evidence this past year. The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronot reported 675 violent incidents by Jewish settlers in the West Bank, mainly against Palestinian citizens, but also against Israeli soldiers.
     The large-scale and organized nature of these activities indicates that they are not spontaneous, scattered and individual initiatives but rather the result of a political position that aims at achieving political objectives.
     This would not be the first time settlers and settlements are deliberate political pawns, whether for their own aims or those of Israel. Over the years, Israeli governments have used the settler presence in the occupied Palestinian territories at certain times in order to achieve specific political objectives.

Round and round again

Simon Tisdall, The Guardian 12/16/2008
      Pressure is building on all sides for positive movement to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict. The transition in Washington, February’s Israeli elections, and possible power shifts among the Palestinians are encouraging perceptions of a new "window of opportunity". But while the view through the glass may be clearer, the window frame remains firmly locked and bolted.
     Filling the temporary gap between George Bush and Barack Obama, Britain has presumed to lead and is busy twisting arms. Gordon Brown’s talks today with Israel’s caretaker leader, Ehud Olmert, followed a gee-up session with the Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, at a London conference on investment in the Palestinian economy. "Let’s seize the opportunity to make 2009 the Middle East year of peace," Brown said.
     Claiming to have Obama’s full backing, Brown’s clunking fist is also being directed at the Arab states. "Ultimately more is needed than a two-state solution - a broader peace between Israel and all its Arab neighbours," he said. That message was driven home by foreign secretary David Miliband during a visit to the region last month.

Al-Zaidi Puts Iraq Back on the Map

Remi Kanazi, Palestine Chronicle 12/16/2008
      ’One has to wonder what will come after the shoe protest.’
     I can’t lie. I’ve watched Iraqi journalist Montather Al-Zaidi whip those two shoes past George Bush’s head more times than I can count. I loved it; I even got into the corny jokes about the Red Sox drafting Al-Zaidi in the spring (cementing my belief that Iraqis have the second strongest arms in the Middle East—behind Palestinians of course). I also read endless blog coverage and joined the Facebook group, "Release Montather Al-Zaidi and Give Him New Shoes."
     Overnight, Al-Zaidi became a hero to many Iraqis, Arabs, Bush haters, and anti-war activists. After the episode, Iraqis rallied in the streets with shoes in hand and demanded that their new hero be released (reports have now surfaced that Al-Zaidi’s wrist has been broken and he has been tortured in jail). That’s when I realized that Al-Zaidi did something much greater than throw two shoes at a war criminal, he (even if it will only last a week) single-handedly put Iraq back on the map.

Let the Countdown Begin...

Palestine Monitor, Palestine Monitor 12/16/2008
      Monday morning - 227 Prisoners released by Israel
     Monday night - 29 Palestinians arrested and 1 killed by Israel
     Yesterday, the much hyped and celebrated Israeli release of "˜hundreds’ of Palestinian prisoners occurred. The international press, as it has done throughout the previous prisoner releases, described the event as some sort of grand concession by Israel.
     It seems that when the international press wants to focus on the prisoner issue, they wait until one of these high-profile, confidence-building releases takes place.
     The airways were full of images of happy Palestinians reuniting with their families - so many of them that they filled the entire screen. CNN described the event as historic, and the number of prisoners released in the "˜hundreds’. It looks and sounds good, but what do they fail to mention?
     They fail to mention that this historic concession comprises a mere 2% of the approximately 11,000 Palestinians held by Israel.