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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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20 December, 2008

First Arab Siege-Breaking Boat Arrives in Gaza
Palestine News Network - PNN, International Middle East Media Center News 12/20/2008
The first Arab ship to break the siege arrived in the Gaza Strip this morning. Numerous Arab attempts have been thwarted by Israeli forces, but Qatar has sailed into port after launching from Cyprus on Friday. Independent lawmaker in the Palestinian Legislative Council and the Chairman for the Popular Committee against the Siege, Jamal Al Khudari, said Saturday, "This is the first of the Arab Intifada ships to make it through. "Five European solidarity ships have arrived in the Gaza Port since August, with the first Arab attempt -- a Libyan ship carrying 3,000 tons of aid -- turned back earlier this month. Al Khudari noted that the arrival of the ship to the shores of Gaza as scheduled is the beginning of a series of Arab based ships hoping to arrive in the coming days. A Lebanese effort will the next slated to set sail.

Israeli artillary kills one and injures five including two children; Brigades fire 10 projectiles
Ma’an News Agency 12/20/2008
Gaza – Ma’an – One Palestinian was killed and five injured including two children Saturday as Israeli artillery bombarded the northern Gaza Strip towns of Beit Lahiya and Beit Hanoun. Palestinian factions responded by firing several projectiles at Israeli targets. Sunday started with two ground-to-ground missiles fired by the Israeli army at a group of Palestinian fighters killing 25-year-old Ali Hijazi and injuring two others who have not been identified. Initial reports said Hijazi was with a group of civilians, though later information confirmed the three were fighters affiliated with Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Brigades. A third Israeli missile was fired at the same area, causing no casualties. Responding to the Israeli attacks Brigades affiliated with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Al-Qassam and Al-Quds, fired projectiles on a number of Israeli towns Saturday afternoon.

Israeli forces hurl tear gas canisters at ambulances in Ni’lin
Ma’an News Agency 12/20/2008
Ni’lin – Ma’an – Israeli Forces hurled two tear gas canisters toward an ambulance belonging to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society on Friday during confrontations between Israeli forces and Palestinian youth in the central West Bank village of Ni’lin, west of Ramallah. Confrontations erupted as Palestinian youth rallied protesting the erection of the separation wall in Ni’lin. According to Mu’tasim Awad, a legal official within the Red Crescent, Israeli forces hurled a tear gas canister from close distance at an ambulance while its staff was treating an injured Palestinian. The canister settled under the ambulance before going off, injuring all five of its staff as they inhaled tear gas. They were evacuated to a health center for treatment. He added that an hour later, Israeli soldiers fired another tear gas canister at another ambulance.

Clashes erupt in Israeli-run prison
Al Jazeera 12/20/2008
At least seven Palestinian detainees and three Israeli guards have been injured in a prison riot, according to Yaron Zamir, a prison service spokesman. The clashes in the Ofer detention centre near the West Bank town of Ramallah erupted on Saturday when dozens of Palestinian inmates started throwing objects at guards who had entered to search a prison ward, Zamir said. "Following the violence a larger force was sent into the ward and order was restored shortly afterwards," he told the AFP news agency. Seven prisoners injured after inhaling tear gas were treated at the jail. Three guards were lightly injured by objects thrown at them, Zamir said. More than 11,000 Palestinians are held in Israeli prisons, many of them detained for long periods without trial.

Northern West Bank under attack as Israeli forces terrorise Palestinian villages
International Solidarity Movement 12/20/2008
Nablus Region - Photos - From Thursday 18th to Friday 19th December, Israeli military forces invaded multiple villages and cities in the Northern West Bank; including Nablus, Burin, Beita, Jenin and Araba - occupying homes, destroying property, and terrorising families. In the case of Beita, the incursion coincided with Israeli authorities cutting all water supplies to the village of 12000 people, leaving all homes and businesses entirely without water. Israeli forces invaded the village of Beita at approximately 12am on the morning of Thursday 18th, storming more than 100 houses. "No one in Beita slept. No one slept that night" reported one elderly villager, whose son was arbitrarily detained, made to strip naked and tortured for six hours. Mahadi, aged 24, was detained from his home when approximately twelve Israeli soldiers invaded his home at 12am on Thursday morning.

Transition’s Jewish Meeting Brings in Peace Groups
Ben Smith, MIFTAH 12/20/2008
Senior Obama aides met with the leaders of an unusually broad spectrum of 29 Jewish groups today at transition headquarters. Transition aides listened more than they spoke during a meeting that lasted almost two hours, and they heard a lot about Iran, but also about the question of boycotting a second Durban conference on racism next year. Most interesting than the substance, perhaps, was who was there: Hawkish leaders who had been critical of Obama, like the Zionist Organization of America’s Mort Klein, were invited, as were the leaders of conservative groups like the Orthodox Union and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs; Aipac was also represented. But leaders of a series of liberal, peace-oriented groups were in attendance: Peace Now, J Street, the Israel Policy Forum, and Brit Tzedek v’Shalom. " I’ve been to a lot of Jewish meetings that the Bush adminstiration has done, and Peace Now, IPF, J Street, and Brit Tzedek were never at those meetings," said one attendee.

Gaza militants fire 15 Qassams, 23 mortar shells into Israel Sat.
Avi Issacharoff and Yanir Yagna, and Agencies, Ha’aretz 12/21/2008
Palestinian militants in Gaza on Saturday pelted southern Israel with a total of 15 Qassam rockets and 23 mortar shells, one of which slammed into the clubhouse of a kibbutz near the Hamas-ruled territory. The mortar attack on the kibbutz, which caused no casualties, came only hours after an Israel Air Force strike against a Qassam rocket squad killed a militant in the Hamas-ruled territory. The mortar shell hit the roof of the clubhouse, which was vacant at the time, and caused substantial damage to the building. The Gaza militant’s death was the first due to border violence since Hamas formally declared an end to a six-month truce with Israel. Hamas declared in a statement Friday that they would not continue a truce in Gaza that had taken effect in June. Gaza militants Saturday fired at least 13 Qassam rockets and dozens of mortar shells into Israel, continuing the barrage of the past several days. The rocket attacks caused neither damage nor casualties, the Israel Defense Forces said.

Defense officials: IDF to operate in Gaza soon
Ron Ben-Yishai, YNetNews 12/21/2008
Security establishment says Palestinian groups in Gaza have left Israel no choice but to launch broad military operation in Strip to quell incessant rocket fire. ’We will definitely pay a price, but we cannot allow the current situation to continue,’ one of them says -The security establishment estimates that Israel will soon have to launch an extensive military operation in Gaza in an effort to quell the incessantrocket and mortar fire on the country’s southern region, Ynet has learned. Senior defense officials said that the time for hesitation has passed, as the armed terror groups have left Israel no other choice but to act inside the Hamas-controlled enclave. However, it is estimated that the results from such an operation will not be evident immediately and the rocket fire will continue and even increase during the first days of the operation - before it begins to subside.

11 Qassams hit Israel, IDF strikes in Gaza
Ilana Curiel, YNetNews 12/20/2008
Residents of Negev communities awoken by renewed rocket fire this morning; at least 11 Qassams fired from northern Gaza towards Israel. No injuries or damage reported. Gaza sources report several casualties in IDF strike short time later - Residents of Israel’s Gaza-vicinity communities awoke to the sound of rockets landing near their homes on Saturday morning. At least 11 Qassam rockets and 16 mortars were fired by Palestinian groups towards the western Negev throughout the day. The first four rockets were fired at around 8:50 am, while many local residents were attending synagogue. Deputy security officer for the Eshkol Council, Nicky Levi, told Ynet that the Color Red rocket alert system sounded throughout several communities in the morning hours. Two of the rockets landed in open areas in the Eshkol Regional Council, one landed in the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council and the fourth landed just north of Gaza.

Ministers demand change in Gaza policy
Roni Sofer, YNetNews 12/20/2008
Government to hear security briefing Sunday in preparation for which Ministers Ramon, Yishai call for harsher policy in retaliation for continuing rocket fire. Ramon: ’Barak’s policy a total failure’ -Tension is mounting in the government before a cabinet meeting that will determine the State’s response to the ongoing Israel. Vice Premier Haim Ramon condemned the ceasefire, saying that it had failed. Shas Chairman Eli Yishai called for an air strike. The government is set to hear a security briefing on Sunday, in which Ministers Tzipi Livni, Shaul Mofaz, Meir Sheetrit, and Yishai are preparing to call for harsher retaliation against the artillery fire from the Gaza Strip. Defense Minister Ehud Barak expressed a contrary opinion, against a military operation in the Strip. However Barak directed the IDF to be prepared for such a contingency.

Fighter Killed, Two Wounded in an Israeli Airstrike in Gaza
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 12/20/2008
Palestinian sources in the Gaza Strip reported on Saturday morning that a Palestinian fighter was killed and two others were wounded when the Israeli army fired two surface-to-surface missiles at a group of fighters in Beit Lahia, in the northern part of the Gaza Strip. Another resident died of wounds suffered five years ago. Medical sources at Kamal Adwan Hospital identified the slain fighter as Ali Oleyyan Hijazi, age 25. His body was severely mutilated. The two wounded residents suffered mild-to-moderate wounds, the Maan News Agency reported. The slain fighter is a member of the al-Aqsa Brigades, the armed wing of the Fatah movement. The Israeli Army also fired a third missile at the same area; no injuries were reported. A spokesperson of the Brigades, member of Ayman Jouda group, said that Oleyyan was planning on getting married on Monday morning.

Israeli Air Strike on Gaza Kills One, Injures Three
Justin Theriault, International Middle East Media Center News 12/20/2008
Israeli Air Force strike on Gaza kills one Palestinian man and injuries three. Militants returned homemade rocket fire into southern Israel, "severely" damaging a Kibbutz clubhouse, no injuries or fatalities were reported. Israeli online, Haaretz, reported on Saturday that Gaza militants fired at least ten homemade rockets and dozens of mortar shells into Israel. Haaretz claimed that the homemade rockets caused massive amounts of damage to a Kibbutz clubhouse in Southern Israel, although the Israeli Army stated "the rocket attacks caused neither damage nor casualties. "The Israeli air strike hit Izbet Fad’ous village, north of Beit Lahia in the Gaza Strip. Three were injured and another Palestinian, age 26, was killed in the air raid. The Al Aqsa martyrs’ Brigades, the armed wing of the Fatah movement, identified the man as one of their fighters.

DFLP wing fires two more shells at Israeli military post
Ma’an News Agency 12/20/2008
Gaza – Ma’an – The militant wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) claimed responsibility on Saturday morning for firing two mortar shells at an Israeli military post east of Juhr Ad-Deik in the central Gaza Strip. The shells were the fourth and fifth fired at an Israeli military post on Saturday morning. The group said in a statement that the shelling came “in retaliation for Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people” and to affirm that they will continue with resistance operations. Earlier on Saturday, their fighters fired three mortar shells at the Israeli military post of Sufa, the group said in a statement. [end]

Islamic Jihad militants fire projectile toward Israeli kibbutz
Ma’an News Agency 12/20/2008
Gaza – Ma’an – The militant wing affiliated to Islamic Jihad, the Al-Quds Brigades, claimed responsibility on Friday evening for launching a homemade projectile at the Israeli kibbutzof Eshkol. They said in a statement that a group of their fighters fired at Eshkol east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. They affirmed they would “continue with resistance. ”[end]

DFLP militant wing fires three mortar shells at Sufa military post
Ma’an News Agency 12/20/2008
Gaza – Ma’an – The militant wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) said on Friday evening that their fighters fired three mortar shells at the Israeli military post of Sufa. They said in a statement that the shelling came in retaliation for the “ongoing, daily Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people. ”[end]

East Jerusalem to the Gaza Strip: 217 Candles Lit in Solidarity
Maisa Abu Ghazaleh "“ Palestine News Network, International Middle East Media Center News 12/20/2008
From Jerusalem to Gaza, residents are confronting the practices of Israeli occupation. The closure of the Gaza Strip, and the seizure of the holy city brought hundreds of people together last night. In East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, the scene of an ongoing nonviolent resistance movement, 217 candles were lit in solidarity with the victims of the siege on Gaza. The neighborhood is one of several under direct assault, as the Israeli administration evicts residents, destroys homes, and confiscates land for settlement building. Friday night’s vigil was held at the solidarity tent in Sheikh Jarrah, where residents and supporters keep a continual presence despite harassment, and destruction of their tents by Israeli forces. Palestinian leaders, Arab and Muslim officials, delivered a "message from the people of Jerusalem to the people of Gaza" through speeches of solidarity.

Stranded Palestinians demonstrate in front of Egyptian embassy
Palestinian Information Center 12/20/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- Dozens of Palestinians stranded in the Gaza Strip as a result of the Egyptian closure of the Rafah border terminal on Saturday demonstrated in front of the Egyptian embassy building in Gaza city. The trapped Palestinians hoisted placards calling on Egypt to open the crossing before it is too late. Faisal Al-Safadi, speaking for the stranded Palestinians, said that 900 students are trapped in Gaza and could lose their chance for academic study while 375 others carry residence permits in Saudi Arabia and could also lose their residences there while 1500 others want to travel for different other reasons topped by medical treatment. He appealed to the Egyptian leadership to solve the humanitarian crisis of those trapped people. In Denmark, a sit-in was organized also before the Egyptian embassy Friday evening to protest Cairo’s closure of the Rafah border terminal.

Ni’lin hold shoe demonstration against the occupation
International Solidarity Movement 12/20/2008
Photos - At noon on Friday 19th December, around 150 protesters from the village of Ni’lin, joined by international and Israeli solidarity activists, gathered in the village to protest against the construction of the Apartheid Wall being built on Ni’lin’s land. This demonstration took the form of a prayer protest on land close to the construction of the Wall. The demonstrators then tried to reach the construction site in order to physically stop the construction where they held up shoes on sticks towards the Israeli forces, following the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at US President George Bush. Protesters then assembled road-blocks leading to the construction site in order to delay the building of the Apartheid Wall. Even though international and Israeli activists where present, live ammunition was fired by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF).

Fayyad: World must act to halt West Bank settlement growth
The Associated Press, Ha’aretz 12/21/2008
The international community must do more to hold Israel accountable - particularly on its accelerated West Bank settlement construction - if peace efforts are to have a chance, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said in an interview Saturday. Fayyad said he is disappointed by a recent European Union decision to continue strengthening ties with Israel, without linking such an upgrade to a settlement freeze. However, he said he’ll keep pressing. "If I am disappointed, I am certainly not discouraged," Fayyad said. "The point is, there is much better awareness in Europe now of this issue, something which did not exist before. "EU leaders decided earlier this month to upgrade political ties with Israel, but have not yet voted on an improved economic relationship, said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor.

Fayyad: Settlements threaten peace process, future state
Ma’an News Agency 12/20/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyadcalled on the international community to exert pressure on Israel to adhere with international law and human rights principles. Fayyad said that "the peace process and the future solution are under serious threat under the burden of 170 Israeli settlements inhabited by a half-million settlers. His remarks were during a speech delivered at the opening ceremony of a conference celebrating historic cities of the Mediterranean Sea, entitled, “White Star of David,” in Bethlehem Peace Center, near the Nativity Church on Saturday. “Thus, international community must stick to its political, legal and moral responsibilities,” Fayyad added. He described the European Union’s cabinet announcement on 18 December to strengthen relations with Israel as a negative message, which arouses more concerns.

Egypt truck explodes in Gaza smuggling bid
AFP, YNetNews 12/20/2008
Fuel tanker explodes as it unloads 50,000 liter cargo meant for delivery to Hamas-controlled territory; no casualties, four homes destroyed -A fuel tanker truck exploded in an Egyptian border town where it was unloading its 50,000 liter cargo for smuggling into the Gaza Strip, destroying four homes, a security official said. " The fuel was being unloaded near a house to be smuggled into Gaza," the official said. "Firefighters have been called in from the neighboring cities to control the blaze, which is widespread," he said, adding that there were no casualties. Last month, Egyptian police said they seized a truck loaded with 170,000 liters (about 40,000 gallons) of fuel in El-Arish which traffickers had planned to smuggle into Gaza. Gaza is an impoverished coastal strip which has been under an Israeli blockade since the Palestinian Islamist Hamas group seized power there last year.

Taher: Arabs should break the siege, open crossing
Palestinian Information Center 12/20/2008
DAMASCUS, (PIC)-- Dr. Maher Al-Taher, the politburo member of the popular front for the liberation of Palestine, has called on the Arab countries to break the siege on the Gaza Strip and not to be content with sending assistance. Taher told PIC in an exclusive statement on Friday that the Arab countries should seek an immediate end to the siege and should open the Rafah border terminal between Egypt and the Strip. "Arabs should wake up and adopt the appropriate decision," he elaborated. The PFLP leader asked the Arab and Islamic masses to hit the streets and pressure their governments to stop "this farce". Taher, who was participating in a march organized in a Palestinian refugee camp south of Damascus, said that the Palestinian people were organizing this march to initiate a series of similar demonstrations with a message to the world that the Palestinians do not accept continuation of the siege and aggression.

Aid boat breaches Gaza blockade
Al Jazeera 12/20/2008
Activists from Qatar and Lebanon have defied Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip by docking an aid boat in the territory. The ship delivered medical aid to the Hamas-controlled territory on Saturday, a day after leaving from Larnaca port in Cyprus. It is the first boat to reach Gaza’s shores since the end of a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas on Friday. Fifteen activists, including two from a Qatari charity, led by the US-based Free Gaza movement made the voyage. Israeli authorities did not prevent the ship reaching Gaza’s port, according to the boat’s spokesman. However, he said that prior support from the Qatari government helped the group reach their destination. The aid supplies contained specific medicine required for cancer brought by the Qatari government at the request of the Palestinian ministry of health in Gaza.

Activists sail to Gaza for fifth time
Associated Press, Jerusalem Post 12/20/2008
A boat carrying a Qatari delegation, Lebanese activists and journalists from Israel and Lebanon sailed into Gaza City’s small port in defiance of a border blockade. It was the fifth such boat trip since the summer. Israel and Egypt closed Gaza’s borders after Hamas seized control of the territory in June 2007. Since November, Israel has tightened the blockade to pressure Palestinian terrorists to halt their rocket fire on Israeli border towns. However, sporadic fighting has continued, and Hamas declared Friday that they would not continue a truce that had taken effect in June. An official Arab delegation reached Gaza for the first time on the "Dignity," a small vessel that made its fifth blockade-breaking run. The two Qatari citizens aboard the "Dignity" are from the government-funded Qatar Authority for Charitable Activities.

Egyptian Red Crescent prepares for huge aid delivery to Gaza
Ma’an News Agency 12/20/2008
Bethlehem - Ma’an - The Egyptian Red Crescent will begin coordinating a huge convoy of humanitarian aid including food and medical supplies for delivery to the Gaza Strip Sunday. The announcement was made internally in the society, and has not yet been made public. Commenting on the imminent arrival of aid Palestinian Authority representative to Egypt, Nabil Amr praised the decision saying it would empower Gazans and lift some of the suffering. Israeli borders with the Gaza Strip effectively closed after the June 2007 Hamas take-over in Gaza. From the take-over onwards crossings have been on average allowing between 0-30% of necessary supplies into the area. On 4 November Israel shut the crossings completely and have allowed goods through on only eight occasions since the total closure after intense international outcry.

Al Karama Qatari Ship Makes it to Gaza
Saed Bannoura, International Middle East Media Center News 12/20/2008
The Free Gaza Movement reported on Saturday that the Al Karama (Dignity) ship, organized by Qatar and the Free Gaza movement made it to the Gaza shore on Saturday morning carrying humanitarian supplies, peace activists, and reporters. The ship sailed from Cyprus on Friday morning and is the first Arab ship to successfully break the siege and sail to the Gaza Strip. Independent Palestinian legislator and head of the Popular Committee Against the Siege, Jamal El Khodary, said that the "Al Karama ship reached the Gaza shore carrying humanitarian aid provided by the Qatari people". El Khodary added that the ship carried medicines and medical supplies, and that one of its missions is to assess the health situation in Gaza, and the possibly of rehabilitating the Gaza Port and other developmental projects in the coastal region.

International activists’ boat arrives in Gaza
Reuters, YNetNews 12/20/2008
Fifth voyage undertaken by US-based "˜Free Gaza’ organization successfully docks off coast of Hamas-controlled enclave, boat carrying 15 activists to deliver medical aid -A boat carrying international activists delivering medical aid docked in the Gaza Strip on Saturday after sailing from Cyprus despite an Israeli naval blockade of the Hamas-controlled territory. Fifteen activists, including two from a Qatari charity, left the port of Larnaca on Friday, coinciding with the end of a six-month-old ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in the enclave. It was the fifth such voyage by the US-based "˜Free Gaza’ movement since it launched shuttles from Cyprus last August. Israel patrols the coastal waters around Gaza, but has not obstructed Free Gaza activists from sailing tothe enclave.

Blockade-buster boat docks in Gaza
Middle East Online 12/20/2008
GAZA CITY - A boat carrying humanitarian aid docked in the Gaza Strip on Saturday morning after being allowed through an Israeli naval blockade of the poverty-stricken territory, an media correspondent reported. The 20-metre (66 foot) Dignity left the Cypriot port of Larnaca on Friday evening and was allowed in after having been stopped at sea and searched. "Israeli security intercepted our boat at sea. It carried out an identity check, searched the boat and allowed us to continue our voyage towards Gaza," said Aed Qahtany, from a Qatari group. Among the 17 people on board were three Lebanese and four Qataris, as well as two Israelis, one of them a journalist, the correspondent reported. The cargo consisted of baby milk and a tonne of medicines, according to Amjad al-Shawa, coordinator of the campaign.

Free Gaza Movement: Dignity pulls into Gaza Port despite Israeli threats
International Solidarity Movement 12/20/2008
(Gaza Port, Gaza, 20 December 2008) The DIGNITY pulled into Gaza Port at 8:00 am today after the Israeli Navy threatened to board them and take the two Israelis off the boat. "We know you have Israelis on board, so either turn back, or we will board and take them off," said the voice on the radio. "We are going to Gaza," Huwaida Arraf, the delegation leader, replied. Neta Golan, one of the Israelis on board and a co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement stated, "Countries that commit crimes against humanity often hide those crimes from their own people. Israel is doing exactly that, by not allowing Israelis to come in to witness what they are doing in our name. " The Dignity also carries two envoys from the Eid Charity in Qatar who are going to Gaza to assess the tragedy there.

Hamas: Arrival of Qatari boat qualitative step
Palestinian Information Center 12/20/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- Hamas on Saturday described the arrival of "Dignity" boat in Gaza with Qatari medical assistance as a "qualitative move towards breaking the oppressive siege imposed on one and a half million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip". Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, thanked the Qatari Eid charitable society for its courageous and challenging act. He noted that the Qatari step came at a time the Palestinian people are the victim of an Israeli massacre with unlimited American support in a bid to subdue them and endorse "Zio-American projects on the ruins of our people’s rights and constants". The spokesman hoped that the Qatari act would herald the start of greater official and popular Arab support to enforce the breaking of the siege.

Israeli forces claim bombs discovered near Jenin
Ma’an News Agency 12/20/2008
Jenin – Ma’an – Israeli forces claimed on Saturday morning to have discovered homemade explosive devices in a deserted house in the northern West Bank town of Qabatia, west of Jenin. Palestinian security sources told Ma’an’s reporter that Israeli patrols raided Qabatia at 1:30 am and ransacked a deserted house, claiming they found homemade bombs. The sources added that Israeli forces set fire to the devices, detonating them, which resulted in material damage to the area before they withdrew through Jenin to the Al-Jalama Checkpoint. No arrests were reported. [end]

Palestinian fighter killed, two citizens wounded in IOF missile shelling
Palestinian Information Center 12/20/2008
BEIT LAHIA, (PIC)-- Israeli occupation forces fired a land-to-land missile on Saturday morning at a group of Palestinians in Beit Lahia north of the Gaza Strip killing Ali Hijazi, a member of the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades the armed wing of Fatah faction, and wounding two others. Dr. Muawiya Hassanein, the director of ambulance and emergency in the health ministry, told PIC in a telephone contact that the IOF troops fired one missile that turned Hijazi’s body into mutilated remains and injured two others. He said that the shelling reflected the IOF savagery, pointing to the remains of Hijazi’s body. Witnesses said that the IOF troops fired another missile later on to inflict more victims among the citizens who rushed to evacuate the casualties. Meanwhile, the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas Movement, held the IOF responsible for the consequences of any aggression on the Gaza Strip.

UN secretary-general calls for end to rocket attacks against Israel
Ma’an News Agency 12/20/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an – United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday demanded that Palestinian militants immediately end rocket attacks against southern Israel. “The secretary-general is extremely concerned at statements calling into question the continuation of the Egyptian-brokered calm in and around Gaza,” spokesperson Marie Okabe said a news conference in New York. Hamas on Friday announced the end of a so-called calm with Israel that began six months earlier, in June. “A major escalation of violence would have grave consequences for the protection of civilians in Israel and Gaza, the welfare of the Gazan civilian population, and the sustainability of political efforts,” Okabe said. “We reiterate the appeal made yesterday by Special Coordinator Robert Serry, on behalf of the secretary-general, that the calm should be respected and extended, rocket attacks. . .

Hamas: Palestinian factions must respond to Israeli attacks
Ma’an News Agency 12/20/2008
Gaza – Ma’an – Hamas called on resistance factions to shoulder their responsibility and to respond to Israeli aggression in Gaza now that the ceasefire has expired. Responding to Saturday morning’s shelling and to the apparent deployment of Israeli forces at the borders with the Gaza Strip, leaders of Palestinian factions called on all militant groups to close ranks in order to confront any expected Israeli invasion. Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum said “resistance factions are obligated to stick to their responsibilities toward the Palestinian people and respond to any Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip now that the ceasefire has expired. ”He told Ma’an that the latest escalation emphasizes the necessity of building a united front to face “Israeli aggression. ”With regard to Russia calling on Hamas to reconsider its renewal of the ceasefire, Barhoum explained. . .

Gazans fire dozens of rockets at Negev towns as ’truce’ ends
Yaakov Katz and Khaled Abu Toameh, Jerusalem Post 12/20/2008
Violence flared on the Gaza front over the weekend as the informal cease-fire with Hamas expired and dozens of rockets and mortars pounded the western Negev. One Palestinian was killed by an Israel Air Force strike in the northern Strip on Saturday. Another man was wounded, according to Palestinian sources. Between the cease-fire’s expiration on Friday morning and Saturday evening, 17 Kassam rockets and 24 mortar shells were fired into Israel. On Friday, gunmen opened fire at farmers near Kibbutz Nir Oz, in the Eshkol region. Nobody was wounded, but a number of vehicles were damaged. On Saturday, one of the shells scored a direct hit on a kibbutz youth clubhouse in the Sha’ar Hanegev region. No one was injured but the structure was seriously damaged. Military sources said the IDF was preparing for a wide-range of scenarios, pending government instructions.

5 Qassams fired towards Negev Saturday evening
Ilana Curiel, YNetNews 12/20/2008
One rocket hits Sderot factory’s courtyard but causes no damage; earlier mortar barrage hits kibbutz, causing damage to cosmetician’s office, private home. Residents say atmosphere tense, expect escalation in violence following termination of ceasefire -Four Qassam rockets were fired from northern Gaza Saturday evening towards the city of Sderot in south Israel. There were no reports of injuries or damage. One of the rockets landed in the courtyard of a local factory, but caused no damage to the site. Another rocket landed near a kibbutz in the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council, while the third landed near the security fence separating Israel from the Hamas-controlled territory. The landing site of the fourth Qassam has yet to be located. The attack on Sderot took place at around 19:30 pm; loud explosions were heard in the city.

Bush: Progress made in Mideast
Al Jazeera 12/20/2008
George Bush, the US president, has insisted that a "good deal" of progress has been made in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, despite the failure of both sides to reach a settlement before he leaves office in January. Speaking on Friday after what is likely to be his final official meeting with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, Bush said: "People must recognise that we have made a good deal of progress. "Bush acknowledged that the Middle East peace talks were a difficult but "irreversible" process, and said that Abbas had "done a lot of important and hard work in helping the region understand the importance of two states living side by side in peace". "I was pleased to note that the United Nation’s Security Council passed a resolution which confirms that the. . .

Ben-Eliezer: 'Truce is Over; Army Will Operate as Hard as it Can'
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 12/20/2008
Israeli Infrastructure Minister, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, threatened on Friday that the Israeli army will operate as hard as it can in the Gaza Strip under the pretext of stopping the firing of homemade shells by resistance fighters in Gaza. He also said that such a possible offensive would serve Ehud Barak in the upcoming general elections. "As far as Israel is concerned, the truce is over", Ben-Eliezer stated, "The Palestinians must understand that they will be the ones paying a high price because of their leadership". He added that the army will not hesitate and will "use all of its might" to stop the firing of homemade shells. Ben-Eliezer also said that he believes that ending the truce is better for Israel, and added that the Israeli army used the truce to prepare for a possible offensive. "The army was never more ready than it is now" he stated, "if troops have to invade Gaza, they will do it in the best way".

Six Months of 'Truce'; 23 Palestinians Killed, 62 Injured and 38 Kidnapped
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 12/20/2008
Israeli violations did not cease during the six-month "truce" which was mediated by Egypt on June 19 with the hope that, six months later, the truce would be extended to include the West Bank. Yet, during this period, the Israeli army killed 22 Palestinians, wounded 62, and kidnapped 38 residents in the Gaza Strip. The truce deal stated that Palestinian factions would halt the firing of homemade shells into adjacent Israeli areas and that the Israeli Army would halt its military offensives, and lift the siege on Gaza. Although the truce was met with skepticism, resistance factions in Gaza accepted it, but the situation in Gaza did not improve as the siege was only intensified, and the assaults and military incursions reoccurring. During six months of declared truce, Israel carried out 193 violations until December 18, 2008.

Islamic Jihad ’prepared to consider renewal of cease-fire with Israel’
Jerusalem Post 12/20/2008
The Islamic Jihad is willing to consider the renewal of a cease-fire with Israel if the Jewish state agreed to adhere to it, Israel Radio reported Saturday. A senior member of the group, Khaled al-Bajj, told Al-Arabiya that Israel expected the truce to be automatically renewed, adding that this was unacceptable. Bajj insisted that any such agreement would have to take into consideration the interests of the Palestinians. [end]

Hamas, Jihad against Fruitless Truce
Ola Attallah – Gaza, Palestine Chronicle 12/18/2008
Palestinian factions: ’We will respond to any Israeli escalation. ’ - As Israel continues attacks on the besieged Gaza Strip, Palestinian factions are rejecting the renewal of a six-month truce with Israel, set to expire on Friday, December 19. " The truce will end on Friday and Hamas will not renew it," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum told IslamOnline. net. Islamic Jihad echoed a similar position. "Islamic Jihad is not going to renew the truce," said Jihad leader Nafez Azzam. " There is no positive sign that encourages the Palestinians to renew the truce as the Israeli siege and aggression continue. " Israeli planes launched two airstrikes into the Gaza Strip early Thursday, destroying metal workshops in north and south Gaza. The raids came shortly after a 42-year-old Palestinian man was killed in an Israeli raid on Wednesday. Israel killed 22 Palestinians in 195 raids since the Egyptian-brokered truce came into effect in June, according to Islamic Jihad estimates. Nearly 66 Palestinians were injured in the Israeli attacks.

Channel 10 reporter who entered Gaza released from police custody
Jerusalem Post 12/21/2008
An Israeli reporter who was arrested Saturday after entering Gaza was released from custody. Shlomi Eldar entered the Gaza Strip with a boat carrying supplies and journalists and was arrested after requesting to return to Israel. He is expected to stand trial. Israelis are forbidden from entering the Gaza Strip. [end]

PENGO: democracy off the rails in Palestine, Abbas must ensure municipal elections held on time
Ma’an News Agency 12/20/2008
Bethlehem - Ma’an - Municipal elections must be held before the end of the four year term, especially in those cases where appointed representatives are governing Palestinians, said the Palestinian Network of Non-Governmental Organizations (PENGO) on Saturday. Several municipal councils have been dissolved since they were elected in 2004 and replaced with appointed representatives. Elections were held in shifts across West Bank starting on 25 December 2004; though in many cases elections were voided and cancelled before a municipal government could be elected. In its statement PENGO expressed deep concern over the fact that no preparations have been made or timetable set for holding municipal elections. The group condemned the act of appointing local governments, and said the practice had proved to be a failure in several cases.

Jenin municipal council dismisses 725 employees; union protests
Ma’an News Agency 12/20/2008
Nablus – Ma’an – The Union of West Bank Municipal Council Employees announced a one-hour strike on Saturday morning in solidarity with 725 employees dismissed from Jenin’s Municipal Council. Hundreds of employees from the Nablus Municipal Council participated in a one-hour sit-in strike in front of the municipality headquarters in the city center, protesting Thursday’s decision by the Palestinian Cabinet to dismiss the Jenin employees. The 725 individuals were hired in 2000 on temporary contracts. “The Union of Municipal Councils’ employees must protect [the fired employees’] rights. This is an illegal procedure, and representatives of all West Bank municipal councils and local councils will hold a meeting on Sunday in Jenin to discuss the decision,” said Dirar Tuqan, head of the union. He described the dismissal of 725 employees out of the council’s 1,300 as an unprecedented procedure.

Taxi strike averted, some fixed-fairs to be reconsidered; bus strike still in effect Sunday
Ma’an News Agency 12/20/2008
Nablus –Ma’an – The comprehensive transit strike in the West Bank Sunday will not include taxis, said Palestinian Minister of transportation Mashhur Abu Daqa on Saturday. According to the minister government offices were able to reach a deal with the Drivers’ Union, but not with the Union of Bus Companies, so the transit strike will only affect busses, not service or private taxis. Abu Daqa confirmed that he held a meeting with both unions Saturday afternoon. With the Drivers’ Union he promised to re-consider some of the fixed fairs (for example there is a standard fair of 15 shekels from Ramallah to Nablus, and 2 shekels from Bethlehem to its suburb Beit Sahour) so they take into account distances with current road closures and checkpoint wait times for idling. Head of Drivers’ Union in the West Bank Naser Yousef confirmed the agreement, saying it was “in the interest of both sides,” and urged all drivers to go to work as usual Sunday.

Hamas: We have no knowledge of Turkish mediation in internal rift
Palestinian Information Center 12/20/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- Hamas has denied any knowledge of a reported Turkish mediation to heal the internal Palestinian rift as voiced during a visit to Turkey by Azzam Al-Ahmed, the head of Fatah’s parliamentary bloc in the Palestinian legislative council. Dr. Salah Al-Bardawil, the spokesman of Hamas’s parliamentary bloc in the PLC, said in a press release on Friday that his Movement had no information on such mediation efforts. He said that Ahmed’s statement may be referring to Turkish mediation between the PA leadership and Israel since the PA’s priority is conciliation with Israel and not with Hamas. In another issue, Bardawil belittled the importance of PA chief Mahmoud Abbas’s current visit to the USA and Russia, saying that Abbas’s tenure is about to expire. He said that Abbas’s state of frustration and desperation over the absence of any fruitful political horizon was pushing. . .

16 lightly wounded as Palestinian inmates clash with guards
Raanan Ben-Zur, YNetNews 12/20/2008
Prisoners are housed in tents - Inmates at Ofer Prison clash with guards during routine search, set fire to mattresses and hurl objects. Ten guards lightly wounded from tear gas, reinforcements sent to restore order - Palestinian inmates at Ofer Prison clashed Saturday afternoon with guards and set tents and mattresses on fire. Ten guards and six prisoners have been reported lightly wounded in the clashes. The inmates began hurling objects at the guards and torching their mattresses during a routine search of one of the facility’s quarters, in which prisoners are housed in tents. Large reinforcement troops were immediately alerted to the scene to restore order, and firemen arrived to extinguish the blaze. The Israeli Prison Authority put into action an emergency plan and summoned guards from other prisons to help quell the outburst.

Guards, detainees clash at Ofer Prison
Ap And Staff, Jerusalem Post 12/20/2008
Clashes broke out between Palestinian inmates and Israeli guards at the Ofer Prison near Ramallah on Saturday. Palestinian Authority deputy minister of prisoner affairs, Ziad Abu Ein, said guards were carrying out an inspection when the clashes erupted. He said the guards used sound grenades, tear gas and clubs adding that eight prisoners were injured. The Israeli Prison Service confirmed seven inmates suffered minor smoke inhalation and three guards were injured during the clashes. The difference in numbers couldn’t be immediately rectified. According to reports, the guards had tried to search the tents in which the inmates sleep. The prisoners refused, and immediately began to throw objects at the guards. During the violence which ensued, two tents were burnt down. The Prison Service says about 150 prisoners took part in the fighting.

Palestinian prisoners clash with Israeli guards at West Bank jail
The Associated Press, Ha’aretz 12/21/2008
Clashes broke out Saturday between Palestinian inmates and Israeli guards at a West Bank prison. The Israel Prisons Service said about 150 prisoners took part in the fighting that started when inmates threw objects at the guards and set two tents on fire. It said order was laster restored and the fires extinguished. Palestinian deputy minister of prisoner affairs, Ziad Abu Ein, said guards were carrying out an inspection at the Ofer prison when the clashes erupted. He said the guards used stun grenades, tear gas and clubs. The Prison Service said seven inmates suffered minor smoke inhalation and three guards were injured during Saturday’s clashes. Abu Ein, however, said eight prisoners were injured. Outside the prison, several ambulances and scores of Israeli riot police wearing gas masks were seen entering the facility.

Eight Palestinian prisoners, two Israeli wardens injured in Ofer prison clashes
Ma’an News Agency 12/20/2008
Ramallah - Ma’an - Eight prisoners and two wardens were injured during clashes in Israel’s Ofer Prison in the West Bank on Saturday. The Palestinian prisoners were protesting an earlier search of prisoner property which damaged the living quarters of the prisoners. In response to the protest Israeli soldiers fired rounds of rubber coated bullets and gas canisters on the prisoners, igniting some of the tents. Several prisoners were able to make calls from the prison during the clashes and reported that several prisoners with heart or lung conditions were suffocating on the dozens of gas canisters fired at the group. Others reported having been harshly beaten by Israeli soldiers, saying many were forced out of their living areas and taken to solitary confinement cells. According to some estimates about 400 prisoners participated in the clash.

Ofer prison guards assault Palestinian prisoners, many injured
Palestinian Information Center 12/20/2008
RAMALLAH, (PIC)-- Tens of Palestinian prisoners in the Israeli Ofer prison west of Ramallah were injured or suffered suffocation on Saturday evening after Israeli jailors assaulted them with batons, rubber bullets and gas canisters. Sources in both Wa’ed society catering for prisoners and ministry of prisoners said that the Israeli Nahshon unit members, specialized in quelling prisoners, also opened water cannons at hundreds of prisoners in wards 5 and 6. The sources said that the prisoners tried to defend themselves and threw whatever they had in their possession at the soldiers. The prisoners were confronting a violent search of their wards, the sources said, adding that around 400 prisoners were targeted in the quelling operation. They said that four Israeli soldiers were hurt in the clash, and noted that the disturbances extended to all other ten wards leading to the burning. . .

Israel angered by UK settlements move
Ben Lynfield in Jerusalem, The Independent 12/20/2008
Britain has been accused of anti-Semitism by a hardline Israeli MP because Britons are to be warned against buying property in settlements in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. An advisory, to be posted on the Foreign Office website, is to refer to settlements in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Golan Heights, all areas occupied by Israel during the 1967 Middle East war. It will warn that future peace deals between Israel and the Palestinians and Israel and Syria could affect property purchases there. Yuval Steinitz, a hopeful for the post of foreign minister if Benjamin Netanyahu leads the right-wing Likud party to victory in February, advised Britain to abandon the campaign. Foreign Office officials said that it would include possible steps against newspapers advertising property in the occupied territories.

Weizmann-UK collaboration program challenges efforts at academic boycott
Judy Siegel-itzkovich, Jerusalem Post 12/20/2008
Despite ongoing efforts by academics in the United Kingdom to impose a boycott against Israeli institutions of higher learning, a new program to enhance scientific collaboration between the UK and Israel has been initiated by the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot. The program, called "Making Connections," will bring together Weizmann scientists and their counterparts from the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge, Imperial College London (ICL) and University College London (UCL) - whose staffers were among the leaders of the boycott effort. Originally planed to run two programs over a five-year period, the enthusiastic initial response hints that a swift increase may be possible. The timing of the launch is significant, as the UK University and College Union has just announced that it is ending its academic boycott of Israel.

’World must hold Israel accountable’
Associated Press, Jerusalem Post 12/20/2008
The international community must do more to hold Israel accountable - particularly on its accelerated West Bank settlement construction - if peace efforts are to have a chance, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayad said in an interview Saturday. Fayad said he is disappointed by a recent EU decision to continue strengthening ties with Israel, without linking such an upgrade to a settlement freeze. However, he said he’ll keep pressing. "If I am disappointed, I am certainly not discouraged," Fayad said. "The point is, there is much better awareness in Europe now of this issue, something which did not exist before. " EU leaders decided earlier this month to upgrade political ties with Israel, but have not yet voted on an improved economic relationship, said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor.

Hamas holds world community responsible for mass execution of Gaza people
Palestinian Information Center 12/20/2008
TULKAREM, (PIC)-- Hamas has held the world community and the official Arab and Islamic regimes responsible for the mass execution of the people of Gaza Strip. Ra’fat Nassif, the political leader of Hamas in the West Bank, said in a press release on Friday that Israel had escalated its aggression on the Strip ever since Egypt declared that the inter-Palestinian national dialogue that was scheduled to be held in Cairo would be postponed after the PA presidency refused to release political detainees in West Bank jails. He said that the Israeli policy of tightening the siege, shutting crossings and shelling was backed by local and regional parties directly or indirectly. Nassif said that his Movement had and would continue to exert all possible efforts to lift the siege on Gaza. He said that Hamas appreciated the popular Arab and Islamic moves against the Gaza siege, and called for more such activities until the siege is totally broken.

Agriculture group provides grant to Palestinian farmers
Ma’an News Agency 12/20/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Palestinian farmers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip will receive a portion of the US $12. 85 million in loans for the Middle East provided by the Italy-based International Fund for Agricultural Development, according to a statement. "The agreement of the Executive Board to this package will enable IFAD to continue to work closely with national governments and partners to help poor rural people in these 16 developing countries build better lives," said IFAD President Lennart Bage. "The rural poor, who are the most vulnerable to global problems like climate change and financial crisis, are at the centre of IFAD’s work and we are single-minded in our commitment to do more and serve them better. The Board’s support will allow us to do that. ”Near East and North Africa region and Central and Eastern Europe and Newly Independent States region will receive $12.

Hamas considers renewing suicide bombings in Israel
Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, Ha’aretz 12/21/2008
The Israel Defense Forces is preparing to escalate its activities at the Gaza Strip border in response to continuing Qassam rocket and mortar fire into the western Negev. Yesterday alone 13 rockets and 20 mortar rounds were fired into Israel. No one was injured, but one rocket damaged a kibbutz building. The violence came after Hamas’ official announcement that it would not extend its six-month cease-fire with Israel. The Israel Air Force staged a number of operations over the Strip in the past two days in an effort to weaken the rocket launchers. Yesterday an air force strike in Beit Lahia killed Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades militant Ali Hijazi, 25, while he was trying to launch rockets. Two others were wounded. Though affiliated with Fatah, the organization’s branch in Gaza does not operate under the instruction of the movement’s leadership in the West Bank.

’Israel has given up its sovereignty over territory near Gaza’
Yanir Yagna and Barak Ravid, Ha’aretz 12/21/2008
Residents of a Gaza-area community on Saturday accused the government of having abandoned them in the face of ongoing cross-border attacks by Palestinian militants. "The state of Israel ceded its sovereignty over Gaza-area communities because of electoral considers dictate to the Israel Defense Forces what to do," fumed a resident of Kibbutz Kfar Aza. He made the comments at a ceremony to mark the birthday of kibbutz member Jimmy Kedoshim, who was killed in May in a mortar attack launched by Hamas militants. The Kfar Aza resident added: "We entered the truce from a position of weakness, they told us that this is because of Gilad Shalit. 180 days have passed and Gilad Shalit is still in captivity and the mortar shells are still hitting the kibbutz. " Earlier Saturday, Vice Premier Haim Ramon blasted Defense Minister Ehud. . .

Hamas: Resistance should retaliate to IOF crimes
Palestinian Information Center 12/20/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- Hamas asserted on Saturday that all resistance factions should retaliate to the Israeli occupation forces’ aggressions and crimes against the Palestinian people. Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said in an exclusive statement to the PIC that IOF ceaseless crimes should be met with resistance and retaliation to protect the Palestinian people. He urged all factions to respond to IOF attacks with force and firmness, and added, "We cannot accept that our people would remain under siege and suffering while occupation enjoys security". He warned that Israeli settlers would pay for the "foolishness of their government, which employs all forms of terrorism against our Palestinian people". "Israeli leaders are using the blood and suffering of the Palestinian people to win votes and achieve victory in the general elections", Barhoum underlined.

Latest Free Gaza ship docks; fifth since August
Ma’an News Agency 12/20/2008
Gaza – Ma’an – A ship of civil society activists from around the globe arrived in the Gaza Strip from Larnaca Port in Cyprus Saturday morning after being accosted by Israeli warships. The craft, the SS Dignity, pulled into Gaza Port at 8:00 am after the Israeli Navy threatened to board and remove two Israelis from the boat. "We know you have Israelis on board, so either turn back, or we will board and take them off," said a voice on the ship’s radio, the Free Gaza Movement said in a statement. "We are going to Gaza," Huwaida Arraf, the delegation leader, reportedly replied. Neta Golan, one of the Israelis on board and a co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement stated, "Countries that commit crimes against humanity often hide those crimes from their own people. Israel is doing exactly that by not allowing Israelis to come in to witness what they are doing in our name.

'Dignity' boat arrives in Gaza with Qatari aid
Palestinian Information Center 12/20/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- The "Dignity" boat docked at the Gaza city harbor at an early hour on Saturday carrying one ton of Qatari medical aid along with representatives of Qatari charitable society and other activists. MP Jamal Al-Khudari, the head of the popular anti siege committee, said in statement after the arrival of the boat that the vessel was the first Arab one to break the siege after the Libyan Marwa ship’s unsuccessful attempt in mid December. He said that the arrival of this boat signals the start of a series of Arab dispatched ships that would be launched within the few coming days including the Lebanese ship to be followed by a ship carrying Arab, Islamic and foreign parliamentarians. The Qatari delegates would visit health installations in the Strip and return with greater support, Khudari said, adding that the present trip was "symbolic".

Hadassah women’s group loses $90m in Madoff investments
Dana Weiler-Polak, Ha’aretz 12/21/2008
Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, said Thursday that it has lost $90 million it invested with Bernard Madoff, the Wall Street investment manager who recently admitted to a running a Ponzi-scheme fraud that totaled $50 billion. "We have received a report about what happened," Hadassah’s Barbara Sofer told Haaretz. "I’m sure it will take some time to study the subject and the issue’s implications on our activity. " The organization released a statment on Wednesday confirming the loss, but said that while "falling victim to this unprecedented fraud will require us to make necessary adjustments. . . it has not in the slightest affected our commitment to our core Zionist mission. These are indeed turbulent times, but the key pillars of Hadassah remain as strong as ever. "Hadassah has provided significant funding to Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem in Jerusalem.

Reeling from Madoff losses, Hadassah determined to recover
Yitzhak Benhorin, YNetNews 12/20/2008
Longstanding Jewish philanthropic organization lost staggering $90 million when it fell victim to Bernard Madoff scam. In rare emotional plea, Hadassah president issues call to arms for immediate donations: "˜We’ve had to tighten our belt so much it hurts. But everything we do to meet the challenge is aimed at protecting our core mission of strengthening Israel and the Jewish people’ - WASHINGTON – ‘Hadassah’ President Nancy Falchuk issued an urgent call for donations on Friday to America’s oldest Zionist philanthropic organization in the wake of the Bernard Madoff scandal. Hadassah announced earlier this week the organization’s losses stand at $90 million. Falchuk warned that the organization’s plight was “critical,” and called on both regular donors and non-members to help Hadassh pull through. Numerous Jewish charity groups are among former NASDAQ Chairman Madoff’s victims.

Obama ally nominated to chair US Jewish umbrella group
JTA, Jerusalem Post 12/20/2008
WASHINGTO) - A nominating committee proposed a confidante to Barack Obama as the next chairman of the foreign policy umbrella for US Jewish groups. "We had an unusual group of outstanding candidates, each with unique capabilities and qualities," said James Tisch, a past chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations who chaired the nominating committee, in a statement. "The Nominating Committee faced a daunting task and unanimously recommended Alan Solow, who has been involved for decades in Jewish communal affairs. " The nomination goes to the full conference, made up of more than 50 national Jewish groups, next month. There were at least four national Jewish leaders besides Solow who were nominated for the position. Solow, a Chicago-area bankruptcy lawyer and philanthropist, has backed President-elect Obama since his first run for Illinois state senate in 1996.

Jewish groups meet Obama team
JTA, Jerusalem Post 12/20/2008
WASHINGTO() - Leaders of 29 Jewish organizations met with representatives of Barack Obama’s transition team here Thursday. For more than two hours, they discussed domestic and international issues. The agenda included the economy and legislation to assist vulnerable populations, church-state issues, judicial appointments, energy independence, Iran, the Middle East peace process, international anti-Semitism and US participation in the Durban II conference, according to William Daroff, the director of the Washington office of United Jewish Communities. "President-elect Obama’s transition team shrewdly invited just about every national Jewish organization to participate in a wide-ranging roundtable discussion that touched on just about every issue of concern to the Jewish community," Daroff said. "Left-leaning groups, right-leaning groups and all of us in between were. . .

Israel, Arab states at odds over first UN gay rights declaration
Shlomo Shamir Haaretz correspondent, Ha’aretz 12/21/2008
Israel has joined a group of United Nations member states calling for the institution’s first gay rights declaration, an initiative which has met with resistance by an Arab-backed opposition. The declaration that was presented Thursday at the UN General Assembly calls for decriminalization of homosexuality. A Syrian representative read out a statement drafted by the opposition, arguing that the declaration would result in more sex crimes against children. France and the Netherlands initiated the declaration following the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 60th anniversary that was marked earlier this month. "This is the first time in history that a group of member countries voices its objection to discrimination that is based on sexual identity and orientation," said Dutch foreign minister, Maxime Verhagen.

After Mumbai attacks, India bans parties at Israeli backpacker hotspot Goa
Haaretz Service and Reuters, Ha’aretz 12/20/2008
Authorities in India’s tourist destination of Goa have banned Christmas and New Year parties on its beaches, which draw large crowds of Israeli and Western backpackers, following security threats after the Mumbai attacks. "No party will be allowed in the open on any beach of Goa between December 23 and January 5," Kishan Kumar, the Inspector General of Police told Reuters on Saturday. Last week, Israel’s Anti-Terrorism Bureau issued a travel advisory warning Israeli nationals against making unnecessary visits to the southern Indian region this month, in light of the terror attacks last month. "Obviously there is a security threat, but we cannot say anything more specific at the moment," he said by telephone from Goa. Large numbers of Israelis visit Goa throughout the year, but the numbers rise around the New Year holiday.

Diplomats: Assad says he won’t restrain arming of Hezbollah
Barak Ravid, Ha’aretz 12/21/2008
Syrian President Bashar Assad has told a number of European foreign ministers and senior diplomats this month that he would not lift a finger to restrain Hezbollah’s arming in Lebanon. "I am not Israel’s bodyguard," he reportedly said. The future of Syria’s relations with Iran and Hezbollah is one of the main subjects Israel has raised in its indirect negotiations with Syria. Assad’s remarks show no willingness for a concession to Israel on this issue, let alone an overall change of policy. Israel claims that Iran is smuggling rockets and other weapons to Hezbollah through Syria, and that the Syrian army is even arming the organization. Both front-running candidates for prime minister, Tzipi Livni and Benjamin Netanyahu, say Syria must show a willingness to act against the smuggling.

Lebanon names ambassador to Syria
The Associated Press, Ha’aretz 12/21/2008
BEIRUT, Lebanon - Lebanon named an ambassador to Syria yesterday in another step toward normalizing relations, after the neighboring countries agreed earlier this year to establish diplomatic ties for the first time since they gained independence from France in the 1940s. Information Minister Tarek Mitri made the announcement after the Cabinet met to approve the nominee. He told reporters the government would not disclose the ambassador’s name until Syria approves the choice. Lebanese TV stations, however, reported that the position will go to Michel Khoury, currently Lebanon’s ambassador to Cyprus. Mitri said Syria has not yet informed the Lebanese government of its choice for ambassador to Beirut. There was no immediate comment from Syria on the Lebanese decision. Relations between the long-feuding neighbors reached a turning point in August when the two agreed to establish ties and demarcate their contentious border.

Israel releases two Lebanese brothers arrested near border
Ma’an News Agency 12/20/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an – An Israeli military force arrested on Friday evening two Lebanese citizens near the village of Bleida on the Israeli-Lebanese border, Lebanese sources said. According to the sources, the two arrestees were brothers in their fifties. The sources added that contacts are ongoing between the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and Israel to release the arrestees. A UNIFIL spokesperson confirmed the claims. They were later released to UNIFIL forces at the Israel-Lebanon border. ***Updated 12:09 Bethlehem time[end]

Israeli Troops Kidnap Two Lebanese Men Near the Border
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 12/20/2008
Senior Lebanese security sources reported on Friday evening that an Israeli military force kidnapped two Lebanese brothers, in their fifties, near Blida Lebanese village, adjacent to the Israel-Lebanon border. The security sources added that the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is holding talks with Israel in order to ensure the release of the two Lebanese brothers. The AFP reported that the two brothers were identified as Tarraf Tarraf and Hasan Tarraf, and added that both were kidnapped near Blida border village. Meanwhile, a spokesperson of the Israeli army claimed that the two Lebanese nationals were kidnapped because they crossed the border into Israel. The Israeli army officially notified the UNIFIL that they have the two brothers in custody, UNIFIL spokesperson, Yasmina Bouziane, said.

Pilgrims celebrate Christmas in Palestinian city of Bethlehem
Middle East Online 12/20/2008
BETHLEHEM, West Bank - Pilgrims could be bringing Christmas joy to the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, flocking in large numbers to the traditional birthplace of Jesus. Tourism had collapsed during the years of the Palestinian uprising due to brutal Israeli policies. "This year is the best since 2000," says Samir Hazbun, who heads the local chamber of commerce, pointing out that the Palestinian West Bank city welcomed more than one million tourists this year, twice as many as in 2007. And Christmas will bring even more cheer, he said. "All hotels in every category are full. " That represents as many as 3,000 rooms and a sharp contrast to the days of the uprising that started in 2000. The city of 185,000 has put on its Christmas best to welcome the pilgrims. Garlands of flickering lights, synthetic pine trees, fake snow and other Christmas favourites give a festive, if somewhat commercial, feel to the city.

Hundreds Gather in West Bank Town of Beit Sahour to Start the Christmas Celebrations
Ghassan Bannoura, International Middle East Media Center News 12/20/2008
On Saturday afternoon, the residents of Beit Sahour, along with Palestinians from Israel and internationals, gathered in the town center. The gathering was organized by the local municipality, and the Committee of Local Churches in the town. From the center of town, gatherers in the celebration, led by a Boy-Scout troop band, marched throught the streets towards the municipality building where a stage was prepared for an event which featured a local band playing Christmas songs. The Mayer of Beit Sahour, Hani Al Hayek, delivered a speech in which he thanked the Palestinian government, and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for their support for the celebrations. Al-Hayik also extended gratitude to all church leaders and Palestinians from Haifa and Jaffa who took part in the ceremony. Amidst songs by town residents and fireworks, the tree of Christmas was lit, marking the beginning of Christmas in Beit Sahour.

Palestinian project wins 2008 Dubai Film Fest for best Arabic documentary
Ma’an News Agency 12/20/2008
Bethlehem - Ma’an – A Palestinian documentary won first prize in the Arabic category in the third annual Dubai Film Festival on Friday. The film, Dhakirat As-Subbar “Cactus Memory,” was produced by the Human Rights organization Al-Haq and directed by Hana Musleh. The 42 minute documentary narrates the story of the expulsion of the residents of the Al-Latrun villages (including A’mwas, Yalu and Beit Nuba) west of Jerusalem. The villages were destroyed by the Israeli army during the 1967 war and replaced by an Israeli settlement, Canada Park, built with funds from the National Jewish Fund of Canada. Director Hana Musleh told a gulf newspaper that he expected to win the prize, since the scale of the project was large and it was made under very difficult circumstances. He said winning the competition affirmed for him that Palestine is in the heart of all Arabs.

Looking out for number one
Zvi Bar'el, Ha’aretz 12/21/2008
"Egypt will not tolerate an Islamic emirate on its eastern borders," warned the chairman of the Egyptian parliament’s foreign relations committee, Mustafa al-Faqi, referring to the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip. Hamas claims that Egypt is not a "fair intermediary" between it and Fatah, and Al-Faqi didn’t really try to find middle ground between the two organizations. He blamed Hamas for the failure of a reconciliation meeting with Fatah - Hamas decided not to take part a day before. Faqi added that Hamas was responsible for the closing of the Rafah crossing. Last week Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit added fuel to the fire. "Iran is not concerned about the interests of the Palestinians, it is concerned only about its own interests," he said in response to accusations by former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who claimed that Egypt is preventing. . . "

Israel’s Arab parties elect chairmen
Sharon Roffe-Ofir, YNetNews 12/20/2008
Barakeh, Tibi and Zahalka to stay on as leaders of their respective parties. Balad secretary-general says government ’forced Bishara out of the country’ -Israel’s Arab parties have elected their chairmen over the weekend ahead of the February 10 general elections. Knesset Member MK Mohammad Barakeh will stay on as head of the Hadash Party after receiving 90% of the votes, while MK Ahmad Tibi will continue as chairman of United Arab List-Ta’al. A woman claimed the fourth spot on Balad’s roster, meaning she will become a Knesset member should the party gain at least four mandates in the general elections. The early elections in the Arab parties drew thousands of activists to the conventions of Balad and Hadash’s councils in Nazareth, during which the parties elected their roster for the 18th Knesset.

Amos Gilad, the man in charge of Israel’s security
Amos Harel, Ha’aretz 12/21/2008
The Israeli media has been awash in recent weeks with statements that the country is not being run, but is basically running itself. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s resignation (which does not actually involve leaving the Prime Minister’s Office), the elections and the bottomless pit of hatred between him, Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak have all but paralyzed the political-security system. Israel’s slide into the end of the Gaza cease-fire is often touted as proof of this reality, supposedly proving that Hamas, more than Israel, calls the shots in the region. But this characterization is seriously flawed for the simple reason that there is a leader in charge of Israel’s current security and foreign policy. He is a senior official, albeit unelected, by the name of Maj. Gen. (res. ) Amos Gilad. Today, Gilad enjoys more influence over government policy than many of those who outrank him in the government hierarchy.

Netanyahu’s election slogan: ’Likud - because the state needs to be run’
Mazal Mualem, Ha’aretz 12/21/2008
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party over the weekend unveiled its election campaign slogan, which urges Israelis to vote: "Likud - because the state needs to be run. "A campaign based around the slogan will be launched on the internet on Sunday, and will also be plastered on billboards across Israel in a bid to sway voters ahead of February’s general election. In the light of recent polls indicating a resurgent Kadima, Likud’s main rival, officials in Netanyahu’s center-right party have requested that the campaign be focused on the issue of leadership. Specifically, the officials wish to stress that only Netanyahu and Likud can steer Israel through the crises it faces, as opposed to Kadima, which they say failed during the Second Lebanon War and in the current conflict with Gaza militants #newsletterLink a {text-decoration:. . .

Will Bibi or Livni Be Any Better?
George S. Hishmeh, MIFTAH 12/20/2008
Unlike the just-concluded American election, where everyone is eagerly awaiting the change that has been promised, the ongoing election campaign in Israel which ends one month after President-elect Barack Obama settles in the White House, is noted for the absence of any similar commitments. If anything, the positions of the competing Israeli frontrunners have not been encouraging and even very alarming. In the first weeks of the election campaign, there has been widespread disappointment over the news that the former Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, a notorious hawk, was seen as the frontrunner. But during the primary election of his Likud Party, the extremists within his midst, led by Moshe Feiglin, a far right-winger, surprisingly managed to score unexpected successes, assuring themselves several of the top seats within Bibi’s cabinet should the Likud win the elections on February 20.

VIDEO - MK from Kfar Aza: We’re being held hostage for Shalit
Ilana Curiel, YNetNews 12/20/2008
(Video) Kadima MK residing in Kfar Aza blames defense minister for constant fire on southern towns, claiming government abandoning Negev residents for ’ballot box votes’ - VIDEO - MK Shai Hermesh (Kadima), who resides in the southern town of Kfar Aza, told Ynet that "they can’t hold us hostage for Gilad Shalit. "Hermesh was referring to the rockets and mortar shells that have plagued the town and its area recently. The southern towns of Israel were Defense Minister Ehud Barak, claiming he was thwarting a possible military operation in Gaza. "The prime minister (Ehud Olmert) can’t embark on a military operation without Barak’s support," he said. "The number one security man has let us down. Since he signed this ceasefire agreement from a point of inferiority he has been surrendering to them. "Video: ReutersReferring to kidnapped soldier. . .

Israel AIDS Task Force head found dead after apparent suicide
Noah Kosharek, Ha’aretz 12/21/2008
The head of the Israel AIDS Task Force, Dr. Gideon Hirsch, was found dead Friday in his Jaffa apartment, apparently after committing suicide by overdosing on pills. No funeral arrangements had been announced at press time. News of Hirsch’s death came as a shock to family, friends and colleagues. Hirsch, 48, had been HIV-positive for 20 years, and had served for four years as CEO of the Israel AIDS Task Force. He is survived by a younger brother, Arnon, who found his body. This is the third tragedy to strike the Hirsch family: Gideon’s mother Hannah committed suicide in 1994, as did his father Shaul in 2002. "I did not know of any change in his medical status," Arnon Hirsch told Haaretz yesterday. "This is a total surprise. The last time I talked to him was on Thursday evening and there was no sign," he added.

Confrontation between Katsav, A. doesn’t change police move to indict
Jonathan Lis, Ha’aretz 12/21/2008
The police’s recommendation to indict former president Moshe Katsav on charges of rape has not changed following a confrontation Friday between Katsav and the complainant, A. from the Tourism Ministry, police said yesterday. "The police have said all along that a confrontation was unnecessary, and we stand by our decision that the evidentiary basis is strong enough to indict Katsav for rape," a police official said yesterday. The confrontation was arranged at the request of the prosecution as part of the process of completing preparations for an indictment, after Katsav rejected a plea bargain that had previously been reached. During the confrontation, conducted by the lead investigator on the case, Maj. Gen. Yoav Sigalovich, and two other detectives, A. was asked to describe Katsav’s alleged sexual attacks.

Labor turns to ’hamsa’ for luck
Shelly Paz, Jerusalem Post 12/21/2008
Not long after launching an advertising blitz portraying Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak as neither trendy nor nice, but as a leader, the party unveiled the second phase of its election campaign on Thursday evening. The new effort features Labor’s Knesset candidates, divided into clusters of four with Barak at the center of each, next to the popular Mediterranean phrase "Hamsa hamsa" (a local variant of "knock on wood"). "We have chosen to send the obvious message: We have the best team," Labor campaign manager Mordi Amar said Thursday. "The message is passed in a surprising and simple way, and at eye-level: we have a quality team that is headed by Ehud Barak. " The first ad includes pictures of Labor’s leading candidates - Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog and MKs Ophir Paz-Pines, Avishay Braverman and Shelly Yacimovich - surrounding Barak.

Terrorism spurs interest in Israeli tech
Yaakov Katz, Jerusalem Post 12/21/2008
The Defense Ministry and Israeli security companies have received a growing number of requests for homeland security technology since the terror attacks in Mumbai last month, top defense officials said Thursday, leading to speculation that Israeli defense exports will increase dramatically in 2009. Since the attack, which killed over 170 people, including a number of Israelis, India and other countries have turned to Israeli defense industries and consultants. One example was a visit to Israel last week by a high-level delegation from the US state of Georgia to view a new evacuation platform that could be used to rescue hostages in an attack like that in Mumbai. Designated by the US Department of Homeland Security as a Qualified Anti-terrorism Technology, the external evacuation platform, manufactured by Escape Rescue Systems, provides fight and flight capabilities for emergencies in high-rise buildings.

Could Israel have its own Bernard Madoff madness?
Meirav Arlosoroff, Ha’aretz 12/21/2008
Senior figures in Israel’s financial industry fear that a Madoff-style fraud could happen in Israel. The private investment fund market is considered the most vulnerable arena, since in Israel, as in the United States, it is unsupervised. The greatest fear is focused on risk capital funds, whose combined assets peaked at about $10 billion. The investment portfolio field is considered to face a very low risk of this type of fraud. The money managed by institutional bodies is well supervised, so the risk there is nonexistent. Israeli law obligates anyone raising money from the public to report to the Israel Securities Authority and face supervision. Reporting is not required, however, when there are no more than 35 investors, or when the money comes from professional investors such as institutions or wealthy businessmen that the state judges can look after themselves.

FAA aviation safety downgrade may up ticket prices to U.S.
Zohar Blumenkrantz, Ha’aretz 12/21/2008
The U. S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) downgraded Israel’s aviation safety standard rating to that of Third World countries this weekend, in a move that carries dire consequences for Israeli airlines and seriously damages Israel’s international status. The FAA moved Israel from Category 1 to Category 2, following an assessment last July, the FAA reported in a statement released Friday. The rating, given by the FAA’s International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) program, is not related to security issues, but rather to standard safety matters. The reason for the change in status is flight safety problems and oversight issues that have not yet been solved, at Ben-Gurion International Airport among others. The assessments are not an indication of whether individual air carriers are safe or unsafe.

Pilots blame gov`t for poor Israel flight safety rating
Zohar Blumenkrantz, Ha’aretz 12/20/2008
The Israel Air Pilots Association has blamed the Transportation Ministry for Israel’s poor ranking for flight safety, after a report by the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in November found serious flaws in safety regulations at Israel’s airports. The Israel Air Pilots Association has asked the government to adhere to its obligations and raise their involvement in the assurance of flight safety for Israeli aviation. Head of the Israel Air Pilots Association Captain Boaz Hativa told Haaretz Saturday that "the drop in Israel’s ranking comes from mistakes made by the Civilian Aviation Authority and are expected to harm in particular Israeli aviation companies and their employees, first and foremost the pilots. "Hativa also called for the government to get involved in implementing safety suggestions made by Israeli aviation companies. . . "

ANALYSIS / Mogul Gaydamak is fated to wander the world as a vagabond
Yossi Melman, Ha’aretz 12/20/2008
Anyone who is close to Russian-Jewish billionaire Arcadi Gaydamak, or has paid attention to his irrational business dealings over the last year, gets the feeling that the mogul’s wild love affair with Israel may be coming to an end. It was clear, especially after his dismal showing in the Jerusalem mayoral elections, that Gaydamak had no intention of staying in the country. He is in the process of selling off several of his properties in Israel, and this week flew to Russia for an undetermined amount of time. Gaydamak’s problems started after his economic difficulties made it hard for him to put up the $2. 5 million he owed courts in cash bonds relating to a money laundering investigation. While some people said he would flee Israel on his yacht, others had the Russian mogul and former arms dealer leaving legally in broad daylight.

U.S. congressman warns: Give talks with Iran no more than 3 months
Barak Ravid, Ha’aretz 12/21/2008
The Obama administration should devote no more than about three months to dialogue with Iran, the chairman of the United States’ House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, Howard Berman, has told Haaretz. Berman says that if negotiations fail, the United States will have to "buy in for a crippling level of sanctions. " A California Democrat, Berman came to Israel last week to meet with government leaders and take part in discussions at Tel Aviv’s National Institute for Security Studies, which focused on U. S. -Israel relations after the political transitions in both countries. Berman says President-elect Barack Obama’s policy of dialogue with Iran should be conducted quickly to prevent the Islamic Republic from attaining a nuclear capability. "If the goal is to keep them from being a nuclear-weapons-capable state. . .

Iraq could ban Blackwater
Middle East Online 12/20/2008
PACIFICA – The US State Department Inspector General is warning the private military firm Blackwater Worldwide could lose its authorization to operate in Iraq next year, Democracy Now! reported. In a new report, the inspector general says there’s a “real possibility” the Iraqi government will deny Blackwater a license and ban it from the country. Five Blackwater guards were indicted earlier this month for the September 2007 massacre of seventeen Iraqi civilians in Baghdad. According to the indictment, the accused were part of a Blackwater detail guarding a convoy of trucks when they opened fire with automatic weapons on unarmed civilians in Baghdad. Critics have repeatedly accused Blackwater of having a cowboy mentality and a shoot first, ask questions later approach when carrying out security duties in Iraq.

Humiliation: Iraqi MPs reject UK exit deal
The Independent 12/21/2008
Britain’s exit strategy from Iraq suffered a setback yesterday when the country’s parliament rejected a draft law paving the way for withdrawal of forces by the end of July. The reversal was embarrassing for both Gordon Brown and the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, after the two leaders publicly declared last week that an agreement had been reached on the pullout. Foreign Office sources admitted that unless the law receives formal Iraqi approval by the end of this month, when the United Nations mandate for the occupation expires, the vote could lead to British troops being confined to base, because they would not have the legal authority to do anything else in Iraq. However, officials attempted to dampen speculation that the resolution could have such a dramatic impact, and insisted that the problem was "procedural".

Pentagon prepares to shut Gitmo
Middle East Online 12/20/2008
PACIFICA – The Pentagon has announced it is preparing for an anticipated order to shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison after Obama takes office next month, Democracy Now! reported Friday. Officials have begun drawing up contingency plans, should Obama uphold his campaign promise to close the prison. Anthony Romero of the American Civil Liberties Union said: “This is an important first step toward turning the page on eight years of shameful policies that allowed torture and violations of domestic and international law. ” Recently, a former US military prosecutor Lieutenant-Colonel Darrel Vandeveld said the tribunals used to try suspects at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp were defective, immoral and "sullied" the US constitution. Vandeveld noted that the way detainees were treated at the camp on Cuba was "appalling, wrong, unethical and finally, immoral".


Israeli blockade ’forces Palestinians to search rubbish dumps for food’
Peter Beaumont, The Observer, The Guardian 12/21/2008
      Impoverished Palestinians on the Gaza Strip are being forced to scavenge for food on rubbish dumps to survive as Israel’s economic blockade risks causing irreversible damage, according to international observers.
     Figures released last week by the UN Relief and Works Agency reveal that the economic blockade imposed by Israel on Gaza in July last year has had a devastating impact on the local population. Large numbers of Palestinians are unable to afford the high prices of food being smuggled through the Hamas-controlled tunnels to the Strip from Egypt and last week were confronted with the suspension of UN food and cash distribution as a result of the siege.
     The figures collected by the UN agency show that 51.8% - an "unprecedentedly high" number of Gaza’s 1.5 million population - are now living below the poverty line. The agency announced last week that it had been forced to stop distributing food rations to the 750,000 people in need and had also suspended cash distributions to 94,000 of the most disadvantaged who were unable to afford the high prices being asked for smuggled food.

’In Gaza, all dreams and hope have gone’

Ameera Ahmad, The Observer, The Guardian 12/21/2008
      Ameera Ahmad, 25, gave birth to daughter Layan six months ago. Here, she tells of life under siege and of her struggle to bring up a child after 18 months of Israeli blockade.
     During the months of the blockade, everything in my life has changed. Before, I would wake up and hope that tomorrow would be better than today. But it never happened. The reason is simple. It is because I live in Gaza, where all dreams and hope vanish because of the situation we live in.
     Even the most basic things are really hard to find. My daughter, Layan, is six months old. Things are so tough here that even when I needed to buy baby formula for her, I can’t find it. All the money that my husband Fady and I had saved up we have spent during the last three months. I never imagined that my children would grow up like this, in this awful predicament. Poor and always threatened.
     My husband is a television cameraman and sound man. But he has not received any salary during the last three months. The problem is that he works for a Palestinian company, but because this company is Palestinian there is very little work, and even then he has to wait until they decide they can afford to pay him. He can’t even get insurance for his life because his work here is dangerous, covering the internal fighting or Israeli incursions.
     Everything here that you need to survive is hard to find. There can be no electricity for hours and hours. Some days we only have power for six hours a day. Recently we had a period when we had no power at all for two whole days.

Maisa’, a child growing imprisoned behind the Annexation Wall

Alsahl for Press and Media - Translation - Saed Bannoura, International Middle East Media Center News 12/20/2008
      Childhood in Palestine is not like childhood in the rest of the world, children in Palestine cannot enjoy their childhood, they are facing slow death, facing Israeli military and settler attacks, facing a ruthless occupation that does not have mercy on the children and does not allow anybody to have mercy on them. Masia’, a child with an unprecedented story
     Masia’ Hani Omar, 11, from Masha village west of Salfit district and south of Nablus and Qalqilia. She resembles a unique story in the history of mankind. She lives alone with her family in a house totally surrounded by the Annexation Wall, barbed-wires, Iron gates and above all soldiers, armored vehicles and armed settlers.
     The Al Sahl for Press and Media met her at her home, behind the Wall;
     She said that since the occupation started constructing the Wall, she and her family became isolated from their own town, Masha. Soldiers also installed a barbed-wire separating the family from an illegal settlement near their home.
     Soldiers also installed military roads, huge concrete blocks and huge gates to the northern and south of their home which became a prison.
     Childhood amidst fear and horror
     “At night I wake up screaming and shouting, I keep having nightmares of settlers attacking us, throwing stones at our home, when I scream my brothers also wake up and start screaming and crying, we are all living in horror, we want to live a normal life”, she said.

Truce in Gaza Ends, but May Be Revived by Necessity

Ethan Bronner, MIFTAH 12/20/2008
      Rockets are flying from Gaza into southern Israeli communities again. Israeli warplanes are firing missiles back, and Israel is closing the crossings through which food and fuel are supplied. The United Nations agency that feeds Palestinian refugees in Gaza says its stocks of flour are exhausted.
     In other words, the six-month truce that Israel and Hamas, the militant Palestinian leaders of Gaza, agreed to on June 19 is over. On Friday, Hamas officially declared in a statement that the ceasefire had expired, saying the truce would not be renewed because Israel was failing to fulfill its “fundamental conditions and obligations.” The end of the truce was greeted by relative calm, with only a scattering of rocket attacks and no major Israeli military activity. Officials and analysts on both sides say that things are likely to deteriorate further in the short term, but that both sides need the truce, so they will probably grope their way back to it. The question is how soon and after how much suffering.
     Israel and Hamas accuse each other of bad faith and of violations of the Egyptian-mediated accord, and each side has a point. Rockets from Gaza never stopped entirely during the truce, and Israel never allowed a major renewed flow of goods into Gaza, crippling its economy. This is at least partly because the agreement had no mutually agreed text or enforcement mechanism; neither side wanted to grant the legitimacy to the other that such a document would imply.

Arabs’ Deadly Silence: All Quiet on the Gaza Shore

Rannie Amiri, Palestine Chronicle 12/19/2008
      ’The complicity of the Arab states in abetting the Israeli siege.’ (Photo: AP) "’a person who hears the voice of a man who calls the Muslims to his help but he does not respond to him, is not a Muslim." -- Prophet Muhammad
     Gaza is an island.
     Although located in the middle of the Arab world and bordering one of its principal and most populous countries, it could very well be in the middle of the ocean, isolated and unbeknownst to anyone. Its residents, if given the choice, may actually prefer this setting than bear witness to the malignant neglect afforded them by their fellow Arabs as Gaza inexorably withers under the barbaric Israeli siege.
     If there were any doubts of its dire situation, they were removed by Dr. Richard Falk, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinians Territories.
     On Dec. 9, Falk clearly and forcefully stated that, "An urgent effort should be made at the United Nations to implement the agreed norm of a responsibility to protect a civilian population being collectively punished by policies that amount to a Crime Against Humanity."

Talk with Hamas

Gideon Levy, Ha’aretz 12/21/2008
      The situation in the south is depressing. Qassam rockets are being fired out of a territory beset by boycott, siege and intolerable conditions at Israeli communities whose situation is no more tolerable, and the Israeli defense establishment admits it has no real response. With the exception of a few loud-mouthed politicians including Kadima head Tzipi Livni who have elections in mind, most level-headed politicians know the truth: There is no military solution. No wide-scale or small operation; no targeted killing or bombing will help, nor is there a military solution for the situation of abducted soldier Gilad Shalit.
     So what’s left to do but shrug? Gaza is banished and impoverished, Sderot is threatened and despaired and no one dares try to break the vicious cycle.
     Even outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who in the twilight of his political career has excelled by making some blunt and courageous remarks, has done nothing. If any debate is held over what course of action to pursue it is either for or against a "wide-scale operation." Meanwhile, analysts sit in news studios and dispatch advice, all of it belligerent and militaristic. Politicians, generals and the public all know that any substantial incursion into the Gaza Strip will be a catastrophe. Still, no one dares ask why, for heaven’s sake, not try to talk directly with Hamas.

Lift the Siege of Gaza

The Economist - Editorial, MIFTAH 12/20/2008
      Contrary to the absurd claim of the rapporteur of the UN’s Human Rights Council, to whom Israel refused entry this week, the Gaza Strip is not facing a Nazi-like “Holocaust” at Israel’s hands. But the lot of the 1.5m Palestinians cooped up in this miserable scrap of desert is undeniably awful. Locked in on one side by Israel and on the other by Egypt, the Palestinians of Gaza have been subjected to an ever-tightening economic siege since the Palestinian Islamist movement, Hamas, booted the secular Fatah movement out of the strip in June 2007. The possible end this week of a truce between Hamas and Israel can only make things worse. As the truce has frayed, Israel has responded to the Palestinian rockets flying over the border by closing the crossings for long periods, depriving Gaza’s residents of many necessities of life (see article).
     If the lot of Gaza is awful, the condition of the Palestinians as a whole is not much better. Unlike Hamas, the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank stands by the decision the Palestine Liberation Organisation made a decade and a half ago to recognise Israel. Since the summit George Bush held last year in Annapolis, the PA’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, has been talking to Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, about how to form a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. But they have not closed the gap on crucial issues such as borders, Jerusalem or refugees. And even if they had, it is not clear what such an agreement would be worth. Mr Olmert is a lame duck who will leave office after Israel’s election in February. Hamas calls Mr Abbas a lame duck too: his four-year term expires in January. Though he will probably stay on anyway, a Palestinian president who speaks only for the West Bank and not for Gaza is in no position to deliver peace.

Israel’s Cruel Siege of Gaza must End

Gulf News - Editorial, MIFTAH 12/20/2008
      There is much that is required when it comes to the situation in Gaza. The merciless Israeli siege of the territory has to come to an end once and for all. Hence, all efforts by both Palestinians and the international community should focus on this immediate and urgent matter.
     The recent renewal of rocket-firing from Gaza, targeting Israeli cities, is pointless as it simply aggravates matters further. The rockets, fired by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, did not cause any casualties or damage but brought into question the future of the six-month truce between Israel and the Palestinians, which will soon be coming to an end.
     But the ground reality cannot be based on extreme measures. Israel’s blockade of Gaza has created a humanitarian situation, and innocent civilians are paying the price.
     And it is for this very reason that the firing of rockets as a strategy should stop, as this has proved to be counterproductive in the long-term. The need of the hour is for Palestinians to discard their political and ideological differences and come together as a united force, as well as for the international community to put an end to Israeli aggression.

Divide and Shock in Palestine

Ewa Jasiewicz, Palestine Chronicle 12/18/2008
      ’The West Bank is in the process of being strapped up for shock therapy.’
     The Palestine Trade and Investment Forum began in London this past weekend. Organised on the behalf of UK Trade and Industry and the Department for International Development, this British government lead initiative welcomed over 40 Palestinian delegates from the occupied West Bank, and just three from besieged Gaza.
     Whilst private sector business representatives talked of privatising Palestinian assets, services and natural resources, Israel continues to develop new settlements in the west bank and East Jerusalem, a light railway system on occupied territory and an apartheid wall declared illegal by the International Criminal Court; facts on the ground which fly in the face of any semblance of both sovereignty and territorial contiguity or independent development.
     In its decontextualisation of the Palestinian economy from both the conditions of military occupation and colonisation of both land and water resources by Israel in the West Bank, and the ongoing collective punishment of Gaza, this event and the Palestinian Reform and Development Plan it adheres to risks a normalisation of occupation and an abandonment of Gaza.

Obama and the Israel-Palestine Conflict

Jeff Halper, MIFTAH 12/20/2008
      Writing recently in The Washington Post ("Middle East Priorities," Nov. 21), Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, two former US National Security Advisors, a Republican and a Democrat, declared: "We believe that the Arab-Israeli peace process is one issue that requires priority attention [from the incoming Obama Administration]."
     Their assessment is correct, of course. Addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an urgent priority. It is a conflict with global ramifications in a part of the world crucial to Western, and especially American, political and economic interests. The Israeli Occupation fuels anger and alienation among Muslims – as well as among peoples beyond the Muslim world, including in Europe – towards the US and its European allies. And the Palestinians are the gatekeepers that cannot be by-passed. No matter what peace plan is devised or how much pressure is exerted on the Palestinian leadership to accept it, until the Palestinian people everywhere, including the refugee camps, say that the conflict is in fact over, it’s not over. This is their ultimate clout. Only when a just solution is reached that genuinely addresses their grievances and needs will they signal to the rest of the Arab and Muslim worlds that the time has come to normalize relations with Israel and its American and Western patrons. This reality is obliquely acknowledged by Scowcroft and Brzezinski when they write: "Not everyone in the Middle East views the Palestinian issue as the greatest regional challenge, but the deep sense of injustice it stimulates is genuine and pervasive."

Hassan Zbeidat: 'We will not leave our land. If we are born here, we will die here.'

Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign, Stop The Wall 12/15/2008
      The fertile Jordan Valley has long been a target of the Occupation’s colonial aims.Due to its abundance of water resources, rich soil, and natural minerals, the Valley has been the site of extensive land confiscation and expulsion of Palestinian residents, especially since the signing of the Oslo Agreement.Oslo severely restricted the Palestinians’ capacity for growth in the region, and effectively opened the door for increased military occupation and settlement expansion that is aimed at eventually eliminating the Palestinian presence in the Jordan Valley.Currently, only 5.62% of the Valley is under Palestinian control, while 94.37% lies under the Occupation’s control.
     Hassan Zbeidat, the mayor of Zubeidat, explains how the Occupation control infringes upon all aspects of the people’s lives. The small village of Zubeidat is one of the five villages in the Valley that have been designated as being Area B, meaning Palestinians are allowed to build on the land. However, Zubeidat is surrounded on all sides by settlements, closed military areas, and Area C lands, thus completely preventing any outward expansion. This means that as the village population grows, the inhabitants are forced to build vertically, constructing additional storeys on top of already-existing buildings. According to Hassan, Zubeidat presently has 1,700 people living on 42 dunums of land.
     The building restrictions also inhibit the construction of schools and hospitals, as there is no space upon which to build any large structures such as these. Children from the village must therefore walk several kilometres to go to school, and the nearest hospital or clinic is several villages away.

Who is behind fraud, theft of Palestinian land?

Matti Friedman - BURQA, West Bank, Middle East Online 12/20/2008
      The transformation of a piece of West Bank land from a Palestinian field into a Jewish settlement has roots in an unlikely place — Orange County, Calif. — and in a document that a man supposedly signed more than four decades after the date of his death.
     Unfolding from the West Bank’s terraced olive groves to a strip mall in a Los Angeles suburb, the story of this posthumous deal offers a rare glimpse into the underworld of straw companies and middlemen through which chunks of land move from Palestinian to Israeli hands. Each transaction further complicates an Israeli withdrawal that would be key to any peace agreement.
     The land now houses a thriving Jewish settlement, another of the "facts on the ground" that strengthen Israel’s grip on the West Bank and outrage the Palestinians. Such property deals are driven by the settlers’ belief the land is their God-given right; the cooperation of Israel’s governments, even those that have talked peace; and cash from wealthy donors, many of them American Jews.
     In this case, a 2004 document shows a Palestinian farmer named Abdel Latif Sumarin sold a plot long tended by his family near the village of Burqa, east of the city of Ramallah, to a company with an Arabic name. The paper contains Sumarin’s signature in clear English script and that of a California notary. -- See also: Haaretz: Shady land deal unfolds from West Bank to California strip mall

Bush’s Parting Gift to Israel

Jonathan Cook, Middle East Online 12/20/2008
      Almost unnoticed, Israel and the White House signed a deal over the summer to station an early-warning missile radar system, staffed with US military personnel, in Israel’s Negev desert. The media here described the Joint Tactical Ground Station, which brings Israel under the US protective umbrella against missile attack, as a “parting gift” from President Bush as he prepared to leave office.
     The siting of what is likely to become America’s first permanent base on Israeli soil was apparently not easily agreed by local defense officials. Aware of the country’s vulnerability to missile strikes, they have been trying to develop their own defenses – so far without success – against the varying threats posed by Palestinian Qassam rockets, Hizbullah’s Katyushas, and Iran and Syria’s more sophisticated arsenal.
     In finally accepting that it must rely on the US shield, Israel may have answered the Middle East’s biggest question of 2008: will it launch a go-it-alone strike against Iran’s presumed nuclear weapons program?