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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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21 December, 2008

Livni vows to topple Hamas
Al Jazeera 12/22/2008
The leading candidates to become Israel’s next prime minister say they will remove the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip. Tzipi Livni, currently the Israeli foreign minister, said on Sunday that her primary goal if she wins the February election is to overthrow Hamas. "The Hamas government in Gaza must be toppled, the means to do this mustbe military, economic and diplomatic,’’ she said. "Whenever they shoot at Israel, Israel must respond. " Benjamin Netanyahu, Likud party leader and Livni’s main rival, made similiar statements. "In the long-term, we will have to topple the Hamas regime," he said. "In the short-term. . . there are a wide range of possibilities, from doing nothing to doing everything, meaning to conquer Gaza. "Netanyahu was speaking as he visited a house in Sderot in southern Israel which was hit by a rocket on Sunday.

Al-Aqsa Brigades fire projectiles from Gaza in response to killing of fighter
Ma’an News Agency 12/21/2008
Gaza – Ma’an – The Al-Aqsa Brigades, the armed wing of Fatah, claimed responsibility on Sunday for firing five homemade projectiles from Gaza at the Israeli towns of Ashkelon, Sderot and Sa’d Kibutz. The group said in a statement that two projectiles were launched at Sderot, two at Askelon and one landed in the main square at Israeli Kibutz of Sa’d. In a statement the organization said the homemade rockets were “natural retaliation” for Israel’s killing on Saturday of Ali Hijazi, a local leader of the Al-Aqsa Brigades in northern Gaza. The statement asserted that the shelling was natural retaliation for Israeli atrocities in the Gaza strip, which culminated with assassination of the group’s leader Ali Hijazi. Twenty-five-year-old Hijazi was killed by an Israeli artillery shell.

Settlers attack Palestinian house in Hebron
Ma’an News Agency 12/21/2008
Hebron – Ma’an – Israeli settlers attacked a Palestinian house in the West Bank city of Hebron on Sunday evening, the latest in a series of attacks in the city. Nedal Fareed Al-Awawi, a resident of Hebron’s settler-occupied Old City issued an appeal to international human rights organizations to protect him and his family. He told Ma’an, “My home that is adjacent to the illegal Israeli outpost of Avraham Avinu, and is repeatedly attacked by the Israeli settlers. I fear for my children’s lives because of these vindictive attacks against me after the evacuation from the Ar- Rajabi building. ”Settlers rampaged through Hebron on 4 December when Israeli police and soldiers evicted 250 hard-line settlers from a house belonging to the Ar-Rajabi family. Al-Awawi home was one of the buildings set on fire by the enraged settlers.

Anti-Muhammad graffiti on Jaffa mosque
Ali Waked, YNetNews 12/21/2008
Muslim worshippers who arrive at religious site Sunday morning discover writings spray-painted on its doors reading ’Muhammad is a pig’ and ’Death to Arabs’. Islamic Movement leader: Incitement against Muslims and Arabs continues - Muslims harassed in Jaffa: Worshippers who arrived Sunday morning at a mosque near the Jaffa Port discovered graffiti on its doors with the words "Muhammad is a pig" and "Death to the Arabs". Representatives of the Islamic Movement in Jaffa filed a complaint with the police. Sheikh Ahmed Abu Ajawa, head of the Islamic Movement’s northern branch in Jaffa, told Ynet that the incident was "a continuation of the incitement against Muslims and Arabs, in which senior politicians take part. "He added that "the miserable and un-deterring punishments against those who carried out similar offenses only encourage their repetition. "

Sheikh Jarrah protest camp demolished by Israeli forces yet again - Two internationals taken by police
International Solidarity Movement 12/21/2008
Jerusalem Region - Photos - Israeli forces have again demolished the protest tent established in Sheikh Jarrah, Occupied East Jerusalem, built on Palestinian private property in support of the evicted al-Kurd family and the 18 Palestinian families who currently face eviction from the neighbourhood. Two international solidarity activists, one British and one Austrian, who had been staying in the tent, were detained by Israeli police and taken to the local police station for their details to be taken. They were released three hours later. Israeli forces arrived at the site of the protest camp at around mid-day and began to dismantle the tent despite the protests of Sheikh Jarrah residents who repeatedly pointed out that the tent is built of private property. The police then took two of the international solidarity activists from the site.

Hamas: PA security services arrest 44 Hamas supporters in West Bank
Ma’an News Agency 12/21/2008
Nablus – Ma’an – The Palestinian Authority (PA) has arrested 44 Hamas-affiliates in the West Bank in recent weeks, said a statement from the party on Sunday. From the northern West Bank: Jalal Djerboue, from Askar refugee camp, Amjad Qozh, a university student, Mohammed Suleiman, a school teacher, Jihad Shehadeh, a journalist from Jama’in, Ayoub Nabhan, from Marda, Solomon Solomon from Marda, Gamal Abu Nidal from the Jenin governorate, Ahmed Ghanem Ghanem from Qalqilia, Nasser Ghanim from from Qalqilia, Saddam Ghanim from Qalqilia, Imattin Youssef Shteiwi from Sawan, Hossam Ghalib Musaliha from Qalqilia, Saher Tariq Abdullah Rabia from Qalqilia, Omar Mahmoud Saadou from Qalqilia, Issam Aref Hosni from the village of Hajah, Hajm Omar firm from his home in Deir Al-Ghusun, Ahmed Al-Jilad from Tulkarem. . .

Aid Ship leaves Gaza with five Gazans on board
Ma’an News Agency 12/21/2008
Gaza – Ma’an – An aid ship that defied an Israeli naval blockade to sail to Gaza on Friday left Gaza on Sunday night carrying five Palestinians who had been stranded in Gaza. Two envoys from a Qatari charity also came on the ship, along with international and Israeli activists, and an Israeli journalist. A Palestinian anti-siege activist, Amjad Ash-Shaw, said in a telephone interview on Sunday that three of those who arrived on the ship chose to stay in Gaza. He also praised the Qataris as the “first Arab delegation that could arrive in Gaza aboard a ship. ”The arrival of the ship on Saturday marked the fifth successful challenge to the naval blockade since August. Israeli warships turned back a Libyan aid ship in November, and the Israeli government rejected a request by the Qatari government to send another.

IAF air strike destroys two rocket launchers in northern Gaza Strip
Haaretz Service and The Associated Press, Ha’aretz 12/22/2008
The Israel Air Force on Sunday carried out an air strike on two Qassam rocket launchers in the northern Gaza Strip. The two launchers were loaded and ready to fire when they were eliminated. Palestinians said four people were injured in the strike, including children. Palestinian militants on Sunday morning fired 19 Qassam rockets and three mortar rounds into Israel, lightly injuring one person and damaging a private home. Rescue services said one rocket scored a direct hit on a house in the town of Sderot, causing damage to the building. Maya Iber - who was on the lower level of her house while the rocket hit its top floor - was treated for shock. "Everyone is traumatized," Iber told AP Television News. A Thai migrant worker from moshav Nativ Ha’asara sustained light shrapnel wounds from mortar fire.

Shin Bet chief: Hamas rockets can hit outskirts of Be’er Sheva
Barak Ravid Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, Ha’aretz 12/22/2008
Shin Bet security service chief Yuval Diskin said Sunday that Hamas is capable of firing rockets that can strike targets as distant from Gaza as the outskirts of the Negev capital of Be’er Sheva. He told a meeting of the cabinet that rockets could also hit Kiryat Gat and Ashdod, cities which thus far were seen as beyond range. Hamas’ armed wing used the last six months of relative calm to improve its medium and long-range rockets and mortars, he said. "We believe that if we strike at significant assets, they will respond with longer-range fire," Diskin said. Hamas officials, meanwhile, are not ruling out a renewal of suicide bombings in Israel. Ayman Taha, a Hamas representative in Gaza, told Haaretz that under the current conditions, no cease-fire is in effect whatsoever.

Gaza rockets hit southern Israel
Al Jazeera 12/21/2008
Eight rockets and mortars fired from Gaza have hit towns in southern Israel, with one house being severely damaged in Sderot, Israeli rescue service workers have said. No one was injured in the attack, which began at about 7am (0500GMT) on Sunday, two days after the official end of a truce between Israel and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. A migrant worker was wounded by shrapnel in a separate rocket attack on a Kibbutz, an Israeli farming co-operative. The Islamic Jihad group claimed responsibility for the attacks. Air raid launched Ayman Mohyeldin, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in the Gaza Strip, said that the Israeli military launched an air raid into Gaza, targeting a rocket firing squad. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Israeli strike on eastern Gaza City wounds four, including child
Ma’an News Agency 12/21/2008
Gaza - Ma’an - Four Palestinians were injured late on Sunday night after an Israeli Apache helicopter fired missiles on eastern Gaza City. One of the injured is reportedly a child. Dr Mua’waiyah Hassanein, the Ministry of Health’s director of Ambulance and Emergency Services, confirmed the injuries. He added that the four Palestinians were moderately injured in the assault. A spokesperson for the Israeli military confirmed the attack, according to Al-Jazeera. [end]

Palestinians: Civilians wounded in IAF Gaza strike
Jerusalem Post 12/21/2008
Palestinian sources on Sunday night said that several civilians were lightly wounded in an IAF air strike against rocket launchers in the northern Gaza Strip. Earlier, the army confirmed an attack in the area. [end]

Israeli troops stole money from West Bank home during raid, resident says
Ma’an News Agency 12/21/2008
Tulkarem – Ma’an – A Palestinian resident of the West Bank town of Far’un says that Israeli soldiers stole 500 Israeli shekels (134 US dollars) while raiding his home on Sunday. Bassam Abed Ar-Rahman told Ma’an that Israeli troops forced his family out of the house, destroyed the interior of the home, and questioned his sons Hamed and Ahmad. No one was arrested. Far’un is south of the city of Tulkarem. [end]

Sasson rejects calls to shelve 2005 report on outposts
Shelly Paz, Jerusalem Post 12/21/2008
Attorney Talia Sasson, who wrote a controversial report commissioned by prime minister Ariel Sharon on illegal West Bank outposts in 2005, rejected calls on Sunday from the Right that the government shelve it now that she is running for Knesset with Meretz-Hatnua Hahadasha. "I have come to the conclusion that to influence [events] and to make sure my report is implemented, I need to go into politics and advance its findings," Sasson told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. "As long as Israel controls the territories in Judea and Samaria, it controls the lives of three million Palestinians, deprives them of their basic human rights and denies the Israeli people their right to live in a democratic society," the former head of the State Prosecution Criminal Department said. The March 2005 report said that at least 105 illegal outposts had been built and expanded with governmental support.

Popular resistance challenging new settlement that will add to separation of Jerusalem and Bethlehem
Maisa Abu Ghazaleh - Palestine News Network, International Middle East Media Center News 12/21/2008
One of the most well-organized communities in the fight against settlement, Al Walajeh Village, is under new threat. Already the village between Bethlehem and Jerusalem was cut in half over the past several years and decades ago its hills were taken for settlements. The Wall is taking even more of its land and now reports indicate that Israeli forces intend to build a new settlement, Givat Yael, on Al Walajeh land. The Prime Minister’s Advisor for Jerusalem Affairs, Hatem Abdel Qader, warned of the settlement plan that threatens to engulf "large parts" of the town near Bethlehem’s Cremisan Winery, southwest of Jerusalem. Abdul Qader said during an inspection tour yesterday, "The occupation authorities have stepped up their actions against the owners of the land in Al Walajeh, particularly on the land adjacent to the southern commercial zone.

Palestinian prisoners declare hunger strike after violent clashes with Israeli guards
Ma’an News Agency 12/21/2008
Jenin – Ma’an – Palestinian prisoners declared a hunger strike in an Israeli prison camp in the West Bank on Sunday, a day after clashes with prison guards left ten people injured. “The strike is ongoing until the prisoners’ demands are granted by the prison administration. Otherwise, escalating actions will be taken,” said Mahmoud As-Sa’di, a prisoner and a spokesman for the detainees in the Ofer prison camp. Eight prisoners and two Israeli guards were injured when guards water cannons, tear gas, and rubber-coated bullets to suppress a prisoner demonstration. The prisoner said they were protesting an invasive search of prisoner property. Speaking on the phone from inside the prison, As-Sa’di told Ma’an that the prison administration is still ‘provoking’ prisoners by confiscating all their belongings except their clothes.

PA ministry demands international protection for Palestinian prisoners
Palestinian Information Center 12/21/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- The ministry of prisoners’ affairs in the PA caretaker government in Gaza has called for international protection for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli occupation jails in the wake of the Israeli assault on Ofer prisoners. The ministry in a statement on Sunday also asked for sending an international fact finding committee to the Israeli jails to investigate the Israeli practices against prisoners. It held the Israeli occupation authority and the Israeli prisons authority fully responsible for the events in Ofer jail, west of Ramallah, which ended with the injury of 8 prisoners and the burning of many tents. The ministry said that escalation violations of prisoners’ rights and provocations against them heralded such clashes, and added that the surprise night search had led to the clashes on Saturday.

Palestinian prisoners’ affairs minister demands access to prison camp after clashes
Ma’an News Agency 12/21/2008
Ramallah – Ma’an – Palestinian Minister of Prisoners Affairs Ashraf Al-Ajrami demanded immediate access to Israel’s Ofer Prison near Ramallah to visit the prisoners involved Saturday’s clashes. Al-Ajrami said Sunday that he wished to meet with representatives from the prisoners involved in the clash with Israeli prison wardens that lead to eight Palestinians and two Israelis being injured and dozens of tents burned. He demanded that International organizations including the Red Cross collect first hand reports from the incidents to make sure Israeli prison officials are abiding by international law. [end]

IPS: Ofer riot was spontaneous but not ideological
Yaakov Lappin, Jerusalem Post 12/21/2008
The Palestinian prisoner riot that rocked the Ofer high-security prison near Pisgat Ze’ev on Saturday came as "no surprise" to the wardens who guard the facility, an Israel Prisons Service spokesman said Sunday. "As we see it, this was a totally spontaneous incident," IPS spokesman Yaron Zamir told The Jerusalem Post, explaining that wardens expected disturbances of this kind to erupt periodically. Zamir denied press reports that claimed the rioting had been launched by Hamas prisoners, saying that the prison wings had no clear-cut segregation between Hamas and Fatah prisoners. "The wing in which the riots began has mixed prisoners [from Fatah and Hamas]; they are not fully separated," he said. "The disorder began as a localized incident of hotheadedness, a spontaneous reaction to the entrance of IPS staff who had come to carry out a routine inspection," he explained.

Latin Patriarch visits Gaza; Asks 'where are the Peacemakers?'
Ma’an News Agency 12/21/2008
Gaza – Ma’an – The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fuad Twal visited Gaza on Sunday where he denounced the Israeli siege on the area and expressed his hope that the Palestinian people will close ranks and solve their problems rather than waiting for external mediators. Twal criticized Israel for barring Gazan Christians from visiting Bethlehem during Advent and Christmas. He called visiting the Holy Land a right granted by God, and said neither state nor any person had the right to prevent worshipers from making such a holy pilgrimage. He said both the Church and the Christian community had strong feelings for the people of Gaza, adding that “What hurts Muslims hurts Christians,” and vice versa. The Patriarch expressed his hope that peace will prevail between all countries and between the Palestinians. “Mutual love,” he said, will be what reunites Palestinians.

Khudari: Gaza at the brink of humanitarian catastrophe
Palestinian Information Center 12/21/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- The chairman of the popular committee against the siege on Gaza MP Jamal Al-Khudari has strongly condemned Sunday the Israeli economic blockade on the tiny Gaza Strip, asserting that the siege left Gaza at the brink of a looming humanitarian catastrophe. According to Khudari, the Israeli closure of all crossing points in Gaza Strip for the successive seventh week would aggravate the humanitarian crises in the populated Strip, underlining that the suspension of the main power plant in Gaza city drowned 80% of the Strip in total darkness. In a press release he issued in Gaza, Khudari explained that the blockade has affected all aspects of life in the Strip, adding that more than 273 Palestinian citizens died due to that repressive siege. "The lack of wheat has led to halt of all mills, and the sharp shortage of gas and flour forced many bakeries to close doors, which. . . "

Egypt Red Crescent to deliver aid to Gaza
Reuters, YNetNews 12/21/2008
40 tons of flour, 20 tons of rice and medical supplies to arrive at Rafah border crossing Monday - The Egyptian Red Crescent said on Sunday it would send five trucks carrying food and medical aid to the Gaza Strip. An Egyptian official at the Rafah border crossing with the coastal strip said Egyptian authorities had agreed with Israel to allow the trucks in on Monday. Mohamed Orabi, the head of the organisation in North Sinai, said the trucks were loaded with 40 tons of flour, 20 tons of rice and some medical supplies. In the past, Egyptian authorities have prevented scores of activists, mainly from the opposition Muslim Brotherhood, from delivering aid to the Gaza Strip. The Brotherhood has historical and ideological ties with Hamas, but is considering threatening to the Egyptian government.

Gazans with residencies abroad and students protest Egyptian complicity in siege
Palestine News Network - PNN, International Middle East Media Center News 12/21/2008
Students and employees with residencies abroad are protesting the Egyptian role in the siege on the Gaza Strip. During a sit-in yesterday at the Egyptian Embassy in Gaza City protestors held banners demanding that the Rafah crossing be opened for passengers. "Hundreds of people are stranded trying to return from work abroad or to their families outside, while so many of us were accepted into scholastic programs but we cannot reach them," a student said. "We are appealing for immediate and rapid intervention by all concerned parties to end this tragedy," student representative Mohammad Marahab said. Speaking on behalf of students stranded inside the Gaza Strip, Marahab read a statement to the media indicating that the "suffering of students is growing day by day" with the continued closure of the crossing for over a year and a half.

Lebanese ship to set sail to Gaza in two weeks
Palestinian Information Center 12/21/2008
BEIRUT, (PIC)-- The Lebanese "Fraternity" vessel is to set sail from Lebanon to Gaza on 3rd January 2009 carrying medical and food consignments along with representatives of various public institutions and forces. Coordinator of the Lebanese national committee to break the siege on Gaza Mu’in Bashur told the fifth meeting of the committee that contacts were ongoing with activists in Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Sudan and Bahrain to coordinate the sail of ships from those Arab countries together from Larnaca port to Gaza. He said that the ships would carry a number of messages the first to the people of Gaza that they are not alone, and the second to the official Arab regimes that they should bear their historic responsibility towards breaking the siege, and third to the silent international community regarding the siege on one and a half million Palestinians.

IOF troops storm Ramallah, Tulkarem
Palestinian Information Center 12/21/2008
RAMALLAH, (PIC)-- Israeli occupation forces stormed the cities of Ramallah and Tulkarem in the West Bank on Sunday and freely moved in the cities while PA security elements were noticeably off the streets of both cities. Media reporting of the storming, which was covered live, showed the soldiers riding in their jeeps and in front of them and moving slowly and freely in the streets with no presence of PA security apparatuses which claimed they were responsible for defending the country. Abu Abir, the spokesman of the Salahuddin Brigades, the armed wing of the popular resistance committees, in Gaza said that the PA security war on resistance and its elements allowed such a scene to happen. He said that the scene is a scandal for both PA chief Mahmoud Abbas and his entourage, noting that the situation is totally different in the Gaza Strip where the IOF soldiers find big difficulty in advancing 200 meters even in open areas.

IAF targets Kassam launchers in Gaza
Yaakov Katz And AP, Jerusalem Post 12/21/2008
Several people were in shock and buildings were damaged when Palestinian terrorists on Sunday night fired a Kassam rocket at the Sha’ar Hanegev region and two more at the Sdot Negev region. No one suffered bodily harm in the attack. Rocket fire rains down on western Negev Shortly afterwards, An IAF aircraft on Sunday night targeted two Kassam rocket launchers in the northern Gaza Strip. The army confirmed a hit and said that the launchers were loaded and ready to launch. Earlier Sunday several rockets were fired from the area. Earlier, Palestinian sources reported that a woman was moderately wounded in an IAF strike on Beit Hanun in the northern Gaza Strip. RELATEDWoman whose house was hit by Kassam: ’Nothing changes’ slideshow:Gaza flare-up The Warped Mirror: Worried about Gaza’s dignity The Palestinians. . .

Exchange of fire starts early; Gaza parents advised to keep children indoors
Ma’an News Agency 12/21/2008
Gaza – Ma’an – Thirteen homemade projectiles and several mortar shells were fired by Palestinian armed factions on Sunday, two days after a six-month old truce between Israel and Palestinian factions expired. After an initial salvo of projectiles, an Israeli aerial drone fired two missiles at a projectile launch site near Qlebo Dome in the northern Gaza Strip. In Israel a Thai man was injured, several greenhouses and a home were slightly damaged by Palestinian projectiles in the border town of Sderot, while no injuries have been reported in Gaza. On Saturday Israeli fire killed one Gazan fighter and injured five including two children playing in an open field in the north of the Strip. The same day reports of between ten and fifteen projectile launches resulted in no Israeli injuries. Director of Ambulance and Emergency Services in the Palestinian Health Ministry Muawiya. . .

Israeli minister advises Hamas leaders to remain indoors during daylight hours
Ma’an News Agency 12/21/2008
Bethlehem - Ma’an - Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Mahmoud Zahhar should avoid moving freely during the day, Israeli Minister of Transportation Shaul Mofaz told Israeli Army Radio Sunday afternoon. Mofaz’s comments seem to affirm the new Israeli position on military retaliations for Palestinian projectile launches from the Gaza Strip. To date Israeli fire has targeted Gazan resistance fighters usually at projectile launch areas, or the launch pads themselves. Mofaz expressed disapproval over the way Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has been responding to the projectile launches from Gaza, wondering what more Barak wanted before he escalated the Israeli response. He described the current response as one of ‘merely opening and closing crossings. ’“There is only one way to respond to the escalation by Hamas,” Mofaz added.

Israel set to carry out targeted assassinations against Gaza faction leaders
Ma’an News Agency 12/21/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Israeli security sources indicated a confrontation with Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip is imminent and that there is little chance of a détente after days of fire from both sides. According to Radio Israel the army will carry out ground and air attacks on the Gaza Strip Sunday, they will aim weapons at military and factional leaders carrying through with earlier threats of targeted assassinations. The siege will continue. In the past targeted assassinations have resulted in tens of civilian deaths, since the civilian centers in the Gaza Strip are densely populated and high-ranking officials are not likely to be in the field launching projectiles. The Israeli sources explained that the military would “not necessarily” be conducting widespread ground invasions, indicating targeted air attacks.

ISM Gaza Strip: Drone rockets strike Gazan people
International Solidarity Movement 12/21/2008
After welcoming the 5th Free Gaza boat this morning, ISM activists based in the Gaza Strip went to see the site of an Israeli rocket attack that had occurred just as the boat arrived, at about 8. 30am. Three rockets were fired from a drone plane, killing an Al Aqsa Brigades fighter and wounding a second. The rockets hit farmland where local families were working their land, grazing their sheep and goats. They ran from the area during the attack, but out of necessity were back at work when we arrived at about 1pm. While we were there, a drone plane was visible overhead; the drones over Gaza land near the border are present to such an extent that life must go on beneath them. They fire rockets without warning. Hearing reports of two children struck by one of these rockets as they played, we went visited Kamel Adwan Hospital and spoke to. . .

IOF choppers fire missiles at northern Gaza
Palestinian Information Center 12/21/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- Israeli army choppers fired two missiles at a target north of the Gaza Strip on Sunday morning but no casualties were reported, according to local sources. The Israeli occupation forces have been escalating aerial attacks on the Strip ever since the calm agreement with Palestinian resistance factions expired last Friday. The agreement, which stipulated reciprocal ceasefire, also included lifting the siege on Gaza and opening crossings gradually but Israel did not live up to its promises and retained the siege and kept the crossings working at minimal capacity. Meanwhile, the Quds Brigades, the armed wing of the Islamic Jihad Movement, on Sunday fired five locally made Quds missiles at Israeli targets adjacent to Gaza. The armed wing said that the firing was in retaliation to IOF crimes in the West Bank and the besieged Strip.

Woman injured by shrapnel from Israeli shell in northern Gaza
Ma’an News Agency 12/21/2008
Gaza – Ma’an – A Palestinian woman was moderately injured by shrapnel from an Israeli artillery shell in the town of Beit Hanoun, in the northern the Gaza Strip on Sunday evening. Witnesses said Israeli artillery shelled a house in the eastern section of Beit Hanoun, near the border with Israel. The Director of Ambulance and Emergency Services in the Palestinian Health Ministry, Muawiya Hassanain, said the woman was treated for “moderate” injuries at a local hospital in Beit Hanoun. Separately, a group of Palestinian fighters say they were unharmed after an unmanned Israeli drone aircraft fired a rocket at them near the Industrial Zone, east of the Ash-Shuja’iyyah neighborhood of Gaza city. The fighters were affiliated with the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, the armed wing of the PFLP, and the Al-Aqsa Brigades, the armed wing of Fatah.

Man lightly hurt in rocket, mortar barrage
Shmulik Hadad, YNetNews 12/21/2008
Sixteen rockets fired from Gaza Strip into Israel on Sunday; foreign worker lightly injured in his arm by mortar shell. Four rockets land in Sderot; one hits house, man suffers from shock. Two additional rockets land in Ashkelon’s industrial zone. IDF strikes rocket launcher in Gaza - Palestinian gunmen fired 16 Qassam rockets and several mortar shells into Israel on Sunday. One of the rockets fired in the first barrage at around 7 am landed within the Eshkol Regional Council, another hit the Ashkelon Coast Regional Council, and the third landed within the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council Hanegev without exploding. A mortar shell was fired at a community within the Ashkelon Coast Regional Council. A foreign worker was lightly injured by shrapnel while working in a hothouse in the area. He was evacuated to the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon.

Vilnai: Expedite fortification in South
Roni Sofer, YNetNews 12/21/2008
Deputy defense minister orders his office to speed up construction of public shelters and installation of defense systems in Gaza-vicinity towns amid incessant rocket fire - Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai (Labor) has instructed his office on Sunday to expedite the construction of public shelters and the installation of defense systems in the Gaza-vicinity communities in light of the incessant rocket and mortar Hamas-controlled territory. At least 16 Qassam rockets and a number of mortars were fired toward southern Israel on Sunday. Some 40 Qassams and dozens of mortars have been fired towards the western Negev region since the ceasefire between Israel and the armed Palestinian groups expired on Friday. Vilnai decreed that any community within a 7-kilometer range of the border with Gaza must have five or six renovated shelters.

Sunday evening: Qassam fire continues, IDF strikes in Gaza
Shmulik Hadad, YNetNews 12/21/2008
Two Qassams hit Negev; no injuries reported. Israeli forces attack rocket launchers in northern Strip. Mofaz: Israel must reestablish its deterrence -A Qassam rocket fired from northern Gaza Sunday evening landed near a kibbutz located in the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council. There were no reports of injuries, but a number of structures were damaged. A short while later IDF forces struck two rocket launchers in northern Gaza. Palestinians reported a massive explosion in Gaza City, and added that a large blaze could be seen. At around 10 pm another rocket landed within the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council’s limits. There were no reports of injuries or damage. At least 17 Qassams and a number of mortars were launched toward the western Negev region throughout the day. A foreign worker sustained light shrapnel injuries during one of the attacks.

Legal report: IOF killed 50 Palestinians during calm
Palestinian Information Center 12/21/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- The Israeli occupation forces have repeatedly violated the calm agreement forged with Palestinian resistance factions in the Gaza Strip since 19th June 2008 killing 50 Palestinians in the process, a legal report said on Sunday. The international Tadamun (solidarity) institute for human rights said in its report that the lull was brittle ever since it went into effect. It noted that the IOF soldiers violated the calm many times through different methods such as incursion, assassination, detention, demolition of homes, closure of Palestinian societies, escalation of settlement activity and the siege. The report underlined that the IOF troops killed 50 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip including 25 in the latter including 21 in shelling operations. It noted that IOF troops demolished 60 houses, installations and sit-in tents mostly in the West Bank in. . .

View from Sderot / Quick, before the next Qassam
Avirama Golan, Ha’aretz 12/22/2008
Yesterday the children of Sderot boarded buses to school and daycare between 7:30 and 8 A. M. as they always do. The route had not changed, but what had changed was the presence of a police escort. The Qassam rockets fell one after another until8 A. M. , and then a temporary quiet prevailed. The press likes to use the term "ghost town" in describing Sderot, but the city is far from that. It is a cautious city - since a rocket fell in the central commercial area last week no one spends more than the time absolutely necessary to shop. They do their business and go home. The children, who have grown accustomed in the recent months of the cease-fire to caper around the city’s public parks, have now been reduced to stare at television and computer screens or to pile into stairwells. In the seniors’ room at Kibbutz Nir Am in the Gaza envelope this weekend, members in their 80s and 90s drank tea and discussed current events.

Al-Kurd tent demolished for fourth time; Islamic Judicial Council condemns act
Ma’an News Agency 12/21/2008
Jerusalem – Ma’an – The Protest Tent of Umm Al-Kurd was demolished for a fourth time Sunday. The elderly woman was evicted from her home by an Israeli court order stating the building, constructed 50 years ago, did not have the proper permits. Umm Al-Kurd’s husband died the day after the family was evicted; she set up a protest tent on property near the site of her demolished home which has been destroyed four times since November. The Islamic Judicial Council condemned the action, which saw dozens of Israeli soldiers and police dismantle the Sheikh Jarrah tent. The condemnation came during a Sunday session of the council headed by Palestinian Judge Sheikh Tayseer Tamimi in Jerusalem. The council demanded all of the International human rights organizations intervene immediately to stop the Israeli attacks on both prisoners and the Al-Kurd family.

Police probe vandalism of Jaffa mosque
Haviv Rettig Gur And Brenda Gazzar, Jerusalem Post 12/21/2008
The Tel Aviv police opened an investigation Sunday into virulent anti-Arab and anti-Muslim slogans painted overnight on the front entrance of the Al-Bahar Mosque in the Jaffa port. The mosque’s doors were covered in red and black spray-painted slogans, including "Muhammad is a pig," "death to Arabs" and "a real Arab man is a dead Arab man. " Locals and Islamic Movement officials say the act was likely committed by extremist segments of the Jewish settler movement, a view apparently confirmed by one of the painted slogans: "No peace without the House of Peace," a reference to the disputed Hebron building evacuated of Jewish tenants earlier this month. Those who defaced the mosque’s front doors "are people who hate peace, extremists," believes local resident and mosque member Amgad Kassam. "I don’t want them to drag us into a situation like what happened in Acre," where local Jews and Arabs clashed in the streets in October.

'Muhammad is a pig,' 'Death to the Arabs' spray-painted on Jaffa Mosque
Ma’an News Agency 12/21/2008
Jerusalem – Ma’an – Israeli extremists on Saturday evening spray-painted slogans insulting the Prophet Muhammad and Arabs in general on the walls of the Sea Mosque in the city of Jaffa, on the Israeli Mediterranean coast. When Muslim worshippers arrived at the mosque for the dawn prayer, they found “Muhammad is a pig” and “Death to the Arabs,” said Muhammad Ashqar, a member of the Al-Aqsa Foundation, and organization dedicated to preserving Muslim heritage. The Head of the Islamic movement in Jaffa, Sheikh Ahmad Abu Ajwah and head of Al-Aqsa Foundation in Jaffa, Zaki Ighbariyya called the vandalism a “criminal act. ”“We don’t rule out that Israeli extremist settlers were involved in writing these slogans, especially that similar acts have taken place in the West Bank recently. We say that what happened today in the Sea Mosque was a natural outcome of the incitement campaign. . .

Israel initiates a media campaign to prepare for a Gaza offensive
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 12/22/2008
The Israeli Foreign Ministry started an international media campaign in an attempt to garner support for a large-scale military offensive in the Gaza Strip. Israel’s Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, instructed the Israeli embassies around the world to start diplomatic activities in order to gather support for an offensive in Gaza. The main Israeli focus right now is on countries that are members of the Security Council and a number of EU countries. Also, Livni instructed the Israeli delegates to the United Nations to file an official complaint to UN Security General, Ban Ki-moon. She said that the UN must understand that Israel will "not remain idle while Qassam shells are being fired at Israeli areas adjacent to the Gaza Strip". Livni added that "Israel will do whatever is can to protect its citizens", and that she will contact her counterparts around the globe, especially with American, French, German and British Foreign Ministers.

Ministers clash in cabinet as rockets rain down
Barak Ravid, Ha’aretz 12/22/2008
Yesterday’s cabinet meeting to discuss how Israel should respond to the ongoing rocket fire from the Gaza Strip wound up focusing more on what ministers had been saying to the media. Defense Minister Ehud Barak lashed out at Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Vice Premier Haim Ramon, both of whom have argued in the media that Israel needs to respond to the rockets more forcefully. "Hold your tongues!" he snapped. "Such statements don’t bolster the citizenry’s stamina. We shouldn’t be vying over who wants to hurt Hamas more or who hates it more. I know it’s a political time but we shouldn’t engage in verbal assaults. ""This has nothing to do with the elections," Ramon retorted. "I’ve been talking for months about the need for a more aggressive stance against Hamas. I want to hold a discussion in the government or the [diplomatic-security] cabinet or any other forum - and once. . .

As rockets rain down, political leaders split on military response
Amos Harel Barak Ravid and, Ha’aretz 12/22/2008
Mazal Mualem The recent rain of rockets on southern Israel from the Gaza Strip has sparked a heated debate in Israel over how to respond - not only between the government and the opposition, but within the government itself. Palestinians fired 15 rockets and mortars at Israel from Gaza yesterday, with most landing in the western Negev. The rocket assaults have intensified since Hamas formally ended its cease-fire with Israel last Friday. Both Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the former Kadima Party chairman, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who heads Labor, continued to urge restraint yesterday. But Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who replaced Olmert as Kadima’s head, and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who heads Likud, argued that Israel must get rid of Gaza’s Hamas-run government. Livni, who supported the truce until recently, told a Kadima faction meeting yesterday. . .

Israel kicks off global PR campaign to recruit support for Gaza raids
Jack Khoury and Barak Ravid, Ha’aretz 12/22/2008
Israel is kicking off a public relations campaign with the intention of widening a basis for international support of a military offensive on the Gaza Strip. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has instructed Israeli representatives abroad to begin diplomatic efforts focused on members of the United Nations Security Council and Europeans states. The foreign minister told Israeli delegates to the UN to file an official complaint with Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and the Security Council stating that Israel would not remain apathetic to the continued firing of rockets from Gaza, adding that it will do everything necessary to protect its citizens. Livni is also planning a series of telephone conferences with her counterparts across the world, including U. S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Ban, and the foreign ministers of Russia, France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Ben-Eliezer rejects claim Barak is soft on rocket fire
Mazal Mualem, Ha’aretz 12/22/2008
National Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer is rallying to the side of Defense Minister Ehud Barak in the face of accusations the Labor leader is not doing enough to quell rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. "The matter of Gaza and security affairs in general must not be part of election spin," said the Labor Party’s Ben-Eliezer, a former defense minister. "The ministers need to show responsibility and leave these issues out of the election campaign. Ben-Eliezer targeted one of his party leader’s main rivals, Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni. "The one who particularly surprises me is Tzipi Livni, who until two days ago everyone saw as the leader of the left, the one who’s going to resolve complicated political processes, and suddenly without warning she veered right and is now talking about destroying Hamas," said Ben-Eliezer.

Diskin: Hamas missiles can hit outskirts of Be’er Sheva
Barak Ravid, Ha’aretz 12/22/2008
Shin Bet security service chief Yuval Diskin said yesterday that Hamas is capable of firing rockets that can strike as far from Gaza as the outskirts of Be’er Sheva and other targets in the Negev. Speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting, Diskin said Hamas had given free reign to the other factions and had also renewed firing. He said Hamas wanted to continue the cease-fire but wanted to improve its conditions. "It wants us to lift the economic siege and stop attacking, and expand the cease-fire to Judea and Samaria," Diskin told the ministers. The Shin Bet chief also said that Hamas’ military wing had used the six-month lull to improve its firing capabilities of mid- and long-range rockets and mortars. "They are ready for a confrontation. They can reach Kiryat Gat, Ashdod, and even the outskirts of Be’er Sheva," he said.

Hamas’ al-Zahar: No talks on renewal of ceasefire with Israel
Roee Nahmias, YNetNews 12/21/2008
Senior Islamist group figure tells Israeli-Arab radio station that Jerusalem ’failed to implement truce agreement, did not reopen Gaza crossings as it said it would, says Hamas undeterred by possible IDF operation: ’We’ve been hearing talk of an Israeli invasion for the past three years’ - Senior Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Zahar said Sunday that the Islamist group was not conducting any negotiations with Egypt on the resumption of the six-month long ceasefire with Israel, which expired last week. "Israel did not implement the ceasefire agreement and did not reopen the Gaza crossings as it said it would," he told the Israeli-Arab radio station A-Shams. Al-Zahar said during the interview that Hamas was undeterred by the possibility of an Israeli operation in Gaza: "We’ve been hearing talk of a possible Israeli invasion for the past three years.

Despite snubbing Egyptian unity talks, Hamas waiting for Cairo call on issue of truce
Ma’an News Agency 12/21/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an – European officials contacted Hamas offering to broker a renewal of the ceasefire with Israel, but informed sources say Gaza leadership is waiting for Egypt to step in and resume its role as mediator. The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said European ministers offered their services to Hamas in order to prevent further escalation of violence in the Strip and promised to lean on Israel to lift the Gaza siege. Despite snubbing Egypt’s reconciliation efforts between Hamas and Fatah, Gazan leadership indicated that it did not want to bypass Egypt in any renewal efforts. Palestinian Authority (PA) personnel said they contacted Hamas in Gaza as well as Egyptian mediators urging both sides to contact each other and renew discussions. Sources indicated that Hamas has not stipulated new conditions for a ceasefire, but wanted assurances that Israel would cease its attacks on the coastal region and open crossing points.

Hamas: We were never officially informed of Egypt-Israel contact over ceasefire renewal
Ma’an News Agency 12/21/2008
Gaza – Ma’an – Hamas was never officially informed of ongoing contacts between Israel and Egypt regarding the ceasefire agreement between Israel and Gaza factions, but say they are prepared to discuss any possibilities. The six-month truce agreement expired on 19 December, though both the Israeli army and Palestinian factions have been involved in escalating violence since 4 November, when Israel invaded the area. All factions have declared the ceasefire terminated and no effort has been made to contact Egyptian mediators regarding a renegotiation. “We consider the ceasefire expired, and we have not renewed it,” Hamas spokesperson Ismail Radwan said Sunday, explain that the “occupation is to be held accountable for the failure of ceasefire because they failed to commit to its conditions. ”He added, “Hamas defends the Palestinian people and its behavior on the ground is according to the Palestinian people’s higher interests.

Egypt warns Israel against ’devastating’ assault on Gaza
Yaakov Katz And Brenda Gazzar, Jerusalem Post 12/21/2008
Egypt warned Israel on Sunday against launching a massive military operation in Gaza, but Israeli defense officials said Cairo was angry with Hamas leaders for ending the six-month period of relative calm. "Egypt is very upset at Hamas, and understands that the leadership there needs to be replaced," one official told The Jerusalem Post. Officially, though, the Egyptians cautioned Israel against an escalation of violence. "We say such a move would have devastating consequences, devastating humanitarian consequences," Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki told the Post in a telephone interview. "This is something we cannot accept or condone under any terms. " Meanwhile, Defense officials revealed that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak met privately on Thursday and decided that Israel would respond militarily to rocket attacks against the western Negev.

Bardawil: No contact with Hamas to extend calm
Palestinian Information Center 12/21/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- Dr. Salah Al-Bardawil, the spokesman of Hamas’s parliamentary bloc, has emphatically denied presence of any Arab or regional contacts with Hamas Movement to extend the calm agreement with the Israeli occupation forces in the Gaza Strip. He said that rumors about Egyptian pressures on Hamas were mere "test balloons" to probe Hamas’s wish to renew the calm, adding that calm with the Israeli concept is "meaningless". The MP told ’Palestine’ newspaper in a statement published on Sunday that all Palestinian factions and forces should agree to that new calm if it ever materialized. He also noted that a complete halt to Israeli aggression and a complete lifting of the siege on Gaza and including the West Bank in the calm along with guarantees were pre-requisites for any such lull. Bardawil, responding to Russia’s call on Hamas to re-consider its position toward calm, said. . .

Top official: Decision on Gaza op made
Roni Sofer, YNetNews 12/21/2008
Secret meeting between Prime Minister Olmert, Defense Minister Barak results in decision to have IDF stage scaled response to any terror attack from Strip. Tactical conditions, operational possibilities will dictate actions, says state official - The decision has been made: Right now Israel has to work towards getting international legitimization for an operation in Gaza, a senior source in Jerusalem told Ynet on Sunday. " (Israel’s) actions depend only on the tactical conditions and the operational possibilities," added the source. "Israel will react with all due force to any provocation by Hamas. "Following various security assessments by the defense establishment, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak met secretly last Thursday and decided that Israel would no longer practice a policy of restraint in view of terror attacks emanating from the Strip, opting instead for a scaled reaction.

PM: Responsible gov’t not eager to fight
Roni Sofer, YNetNews 12/21/2008
Cabinet discusses escalation in southern Israel amid plea from Gaza communities’ heads to take swift action. Olmert assure ministers government ’will know which move to make and when’ - The cabinet discussed the ongoing escalation in southern Israel on Sunday, following the lull’s official end, as Defense Minister Ehud Barak urged Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to call on the ministers to "calm down and act responsibly. ""We cannot accept the situation manifesting in Gaza. I’ve instructed the IDF and the defense establishment to offer contingencies as to what can be done. We are guided by the need for a successful operation," he told his fellow ministers. "We feel the pain of Sderot’s residents, who are faced with daily trials, but all the harsh criticism is uncalled for and damages our deterrence. "Olmert told the ministers that "a responsible government is never eager to battle, but nor does it shy away from it.

Netanyahu: Likud will back Gaza op
Shmulik Hadad, YNetNews 12/21/2008
Opposition leader visits Sderot, blames situation in south on government’s lack of action, says Kadima responsible for residents’ suffering. His party, he pledges, will support decision to strike in Strip - Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu and several other party members toured Sderot on Sunday. The Color Red alert sounded during the visit, while Netanyahu and his convoy were inside a building. "We visited a woman who miraculously survived a Qassam hitting her house, but the residents of Sderot cannot continue to rely on miracles," he said. The area’s residents, he added, were "paying a hefty price for the mistakes made by (Kadima Chairwoman Tzipi) Livni and her ministers. They shrug it off but they are responsible for the unilateral withdrawal that resulted in the increasing terror form Gaza. For three years, Kadima’s ministers have been burying their heads in the sand. "

Bibi: Israelis can’t count on miracles
Abe Selig, Jerusalem Post 12/21/2008
As Hamas rockets continued to pound the South on Sunday, Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu inspected a Sderot home damaged only hours earlier and decried what he called the "politics of pacifism" of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. "Likud would support decision to strike Hamas," Netanyahu says during visit to Sderot- "We’re paying for the mistakes of Olmert and Livni," Netanyahu said after surveying the home, which bore the burn marks of a crude rocket on an upstairs balcony. "They shrug it off, but they’re ultimately responsible for the unilateral withdrawal that resulted in the creation of a terrorist state in Gaza," he said. "For three years, the ministers of Kadima have been burying their heads in the sand," the Likud leader continued. "And that needs to change. In the long term, we have no choice but to topple the Hamas rule in Gaza.

Israeli election campaign begins with bellicose rhetoric on Gaza
Ma’an News Agency 12/21/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Fear is mounting that Israel will soon launch a major military operation in the Gaza Strip after a six-month old truce expired on Friday. On Sunday, the two frontrunners in the Israeli general election are promising to end Hamas’ control of the tiny coastal enclave. There are currently no talks taking place towards reviving the Egyptian-brokered agreement, which brought almost five months of relative calm in Gaza and its surroundings. The ceasefire disintegrated when Israel launched a preemptive attack in Gaza on 4 November and tightened its blockade of the territory. Since the formal end-date of the truce on Friday, Israeli leaders and the Hamas rulers of Gaza have ratcheted up their rhetoric and their actions. By one Israeli press count, Palestinian groups fired 14 more homemade projectiles into Israeli areas. . .

Mofaz calls for overthrowing Hamas
Jerusalem Post 12/21/2008
Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz on Sunday called upon the government to toughen up its response to repeated rocket fire from the Gaza Strip and overthrow the territory’s Hamas rulers. Shin Bet head says Hamas prepared to resume conflict and has improved rocket arsenal - "There is no reason why we should allow a terror organization situated only several kilometers from here to plant fear and terrorize Israeli children," Mofaz said at a meeting of the Ashkelon Municipality. "We must take steps so that deterrence is returned, and in the long-run we must overthrow the Hamas regime. Earlier, Foreign Minister and Kadima leader Tzipi Livni vowed to end Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip if elected prime minister in the upcoming general elections. "The people of Israel are threatened, missiles are falling," she said.

Israel launches PR blitz ahead of Gaza operation
Roni Sofer, YNetNews 12/21/2008
Foreign Ministry agrees on international diplomacy campaign intended to secure political backing for anticipated military action against Gaza rocket terror. Livni to meet with fellow foreign ministers from all over the world, bring ambassadors to Qassam-battered communities - Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni and Israel’s ambassadors around the world are preparing to launch a global effort in a bid to secure backing for the anticipated operation in the Gaza Strip. The campaign is intended to create an ’international umbrella’ of support for the intensification of military action against Hamas, and possibly prevent the passing of UN Security Council resolutions against Israel. The move was decided upon in a special meeting held Sunday evening by Livni with all the ministry brass in attendance.

Hamas: Israel can invade, by all means
Jerusalem Post 12/21/2008
Despite increasing calls among Israeli ministers of a need to launch a military operation to tackle the escalating threat of rocket attacks on the southern border, Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip seemed unperturbed, with one senior member even daring Israel to take the action. "For three years we’ve been hearing comments about an Israeli invasion into the Gaza Strip. Israel is like a teenager who begins to smoke, chokes, then stops," Mahmoud Zahar, a top Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, said during an interview with a Nazareth radio station. "If they want to [invade] - by all means," "Even in the days of the ceasefire, Israel didn’t allow vital supplies into the Gaza Strip, and this is a callous violation," he continued. "Israel promised to open the crossing but that never happened on the ground. . . "

Activists call on gov’t to boost Arabic culture
Brenda Gazzar, Jerusalem Post 12/21/2008
Jewish and Arab activists promoting equality in Israel have called for a government association to preserve neglected Muslim holy sites and the establishment of an official day to honor the Arabic language and culture in Israel. The calls were among those made during last week’s 4th annual Jaffa "Call to Action" Convention initiated and organized by the Jerusalem-based Citizens’ Accord Forum between Jews and Arabs in Israel. Changes are urgently needed to bridge gaps and create true equality and coexistence in Israel, panelists said. "What we need first and foremost is mutual respect, respect of the rights of the Arab Palestinian population that lives in its homeland, which doesn’t have a lot. . . but it’s important to know also, that it doesn’t have anywhere to go," MK Hanna Swaid (Hadash), co-chair of the Knesset Committee on Jewish-Arab Relations, told participants.

PA to distribute aid to poor after Italian donation
Ma’an News Agency 12/21/2008
Ramallah – Ma’an – Social allowances will be disbursed by the Palestinian Authority beginning on Monday after a donation from the Italian government, the Palestinian Minister of Social Affairs, Mahmoud Habash, announced on Sunday. Social allowances will not reach the Gaza Strip due to the Israeli blockade. Israel refuses to allow banks to transfer funds to their branches in Gaza. Habash said the Palestinian Authority is working with the European Union to overcome this problem. Italy made the donation through PEGASE, the European mechanism that channels aid to the Palestinian Authority. Habash called on the international community to pressure Israel to allow aid into Gaza, saying that 24,000 would be denied benefits by the blockade. The Italian contribution was intended for47,000 needy families, who will received 1000 Israeli shekels each.

Palestinians unhappy with Abbas’s frequent absences
Associated Press, Jerusalem Post 12/21/2008
In four years as Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas has traveled to the far corners of the earth, but never set foot in the West Bank’s largest city, Hebron. Ordinary Palestinians have long grumbled about their leader’s trips abroad, some taken during times of intense crisis, such as last year’s fierce internal fighting that led to the takeover of Gaza by Hamas. Abbas aides say he’s helping the Palestinian cause by rallying international support. They say the day-to-day government is the prime minister’s job and Abbas, who was in Chechnya on Sunday, is continuing a pattern set by his predecessor, frequent flyer Yasser Arafat. "The world is still supporting us. . . simply because of our efforts, the efforts of President Abbas and before that the late president, Yasser Arafat," said Abbas aide Nimer Hamad.

Abbas: Hamas’ abuse of religion for political end is unacceptable
DPA, Ha’aretz 12/21/2008
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, on a visit to Russia, strongly criticized the radical Islamic Hamas movement on Sunday, saying the organization’s "abuse of religion for political ends" was unacceptable, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported. Speaking in Grozny, the capital city of the Chechen Republic in Russia, Abbas said that extremists were to blame for Islam receiving so little respect in the world at present. In reality, terrorists have no relationship with religion, he declared. Abbas is the head of the moderate Fatah Party, Hamas’ rival. He also spoke of trying to unite Palestinians by trying to enter into dialogue with Hamas. This, he said, was difficult to achieve. In talks with the Kremlin leadership in Grozny, he predicted "a bright future" for Chechnya.

Hebron police crack down on water theft
Ma’an News Agency 12/21/2008
Hebron – Ma’an – Palestinian police in the West Bank city of Hebron continued a crackdown on Sunday on the alleged theft of water from municipal networks. According to Hebron police, 173 illegal water extensions have been disconnected in towns of Sa’ir, Ash-Shuyukh and Halhul. According to local water authorities, this campaign will increase water pressure in the main pipes, allowing scarce water resources to reach all areas. [end]

Haneyya briefs King of Bahrain, Emir of Qatar on Gaza conditions
Palestinian Information Center 12/21/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- Ismail Haneyya, the premier of the PA caretaker government, has telephoned each of the Bahraini King and the Qatari Emir last night and Sunday morning respectively to brief them on Palestinian developments. Taher Al-Nunu, spokesman for the government, said that Haneyya last night reached King Hamad Bin Issa Al-Khalifa and congratulated him on the occasion of his country’s national day. Nunu said that Haneyya briefed the monarch on latest Palestinian developments in the light of the Israeli escalation of aggression and tightening siege on Gaza Strip that is witnessing human tragedies. The spokesman said that the premier on Sunday contacted the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, and also congratulated him on his country’s national day. Haneyya briefed Sheikh Hamad on latest political developments in the Palestinian arena and expressed appreciation. . .

Palestinian representative to the Arab League: Israel responsible for collapse of Gaza truce
Ma’an News Agency 12/21/2008
Cairo – Ma’an – Israel bears full responsibility for the collapse of a six-month old truce in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian representative to the Arab League, Mohammad Subeih alleged on Sunday. Speaking to reporters in Cairo, Subeih said that efforts to resume talks regarding the Egyptian-brokered truce were aborted by Israel. The six-month-old truce formally expired on Friday after being eroded by months of cross border violence that began with a deadly Israeli incursion on 4 November. Subeih said Israel contributed to the collapse of the truce in Gaza by continuing military action in the West Bank, which was not included in the ceasefire. He said 22 Palestinans were killed and over a hundred injured in the West Bank over the course of six months of truce. “What is needed right now is to return to the national dialogue.

The 2009 Factsheets are now online
Palestine Monitor, Palestine Monitor 12/21/2008
The Palestine Monitor is proud to release the most up-to-date and comprehensive snapshot of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to date. To access the factsheets, go to the homepage and click on the appropriate link on the left hand side. Once inside of a link, you are provided with all of the information you will need to make your research or advocacy faster, easier, more accurate and more effective. Illustrated pdfs of each topic are also available within the links which can be downloaded, printed and shared. The hardcopy of the Factbook, including introductions, conclusions and a wealth of illustration and information, can be found at theoffice, Ramallah on Rukab Street (Open Mon-Thurs, Sat - 9-5). To pick up a copy, please contact the Health, Development, Information and Policy Institute (HDIP) at 02-2985372. -- See also: Facts @ a glance and Palestine Monitor

Lieberman’s long and winding road to the political center
Lily Galili, Ha’aretz 12/22/2008
Yisrael Beiteinu chairman MK Avigor Lieberman says an election campaign is like a marathon - you have to divide up your strength the right way. According to Lieberman, his adversary, Likud chairman MK Benjamin Netanyahu, has burst to the finish much too early. By the tone of Lieberman’s voice it seems he doesn’t think this is good advice, although he does not seem sorry Netanyahu is taking it. Yisrael Beiteinu is pacing itself in the election, its messages spread modularly over precisely nine weeks. Its target audience has changed greatly since the 2006 elections. Then, the party hoped its voters would be two-thirds Russian-speakers and one-third native-born Israelis; now, the declared goal is half and half. In order to become the ruling party, the party has to extricate itself from its immigrant image while not losing its power base as "the only Russian party.

PM opts for hearing in bid to stave off indictment on Rishon Tours case
Tomer Zarchin, Ha’aretz 12/22/2008
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has decided to exercise his right to a hearing with Attorney General Menachem Mazuz on the charges that may be drawn up against him, but doesn’t want the hearing held before May, his attorneys informed Mazuz Sunday. Mazuz announced last month that he has tentatively decided to indict Olmert in the so-called Rishon Tours case, in which the premier is suspected of double-billing various nonprofit and state agencies for the same flights abroad on public business, and then using the extra money to finance flights and seat upgrades for himself and his family. Rishon Tours is the agency through which the flights were booked. A hearing is a last chance to convince the attorney general that an indictment is unjustified. Olmert’s attorneys said the hearing should be delayed until May because it will take them. . .

Russian-speakers’ lifestyle guru may be just the ticket for Yisrael Beiteinu
Shahar Ilan, Ha’aretz 12/22/2008
If the committee in Yisrael Beiteinu in charge of arranging the names on its Knesset list puts Anastasia Michaeli in a place likely to get into the Knesset, the star of the Russian-Israeli TV channel is will be setting a precedent on two fronts: She will be the first woman MK to give birth in office, and will be the first convert in the Knesset. Michaeli, 33, was born in St. Petersburg, and has an M. A. in broadcast communication from the local university. She is also a former beauty queen of her city. She followed her husband, businessman Yossi Michaeli, to Israel, where she pursued the modeling career she began in Paris, and since 2003 has been the anchor on the show "The Pleasures of Life" on Russian-language Channel 9. The program has been criticized for flaunting a lifestyle that most of its new-immigrant viewers cannot afford.

Ethiopians protest nixing of candidate from Likud roster
Amnon Meranda, YNetNews 12/21/2008
Dozens of community members rally outside Likud’s Tel Aviv headquarters in protest of party’s decision to disqualify Ethiopian candidate chosen for one of immigrant slots on its Knesset list -Several dozen Ethiopian protesters rallies outside the Likud party’s Tel Aviv headquarters on Sunday, in protest of the party Election Committee’s decision to disqualify the Ethiopian candidate’s win of one of the slots reserved for immigrants on its Knesset roster. The party has secured the 21st and 28th slots on it roster for representatives of the Russian and Ethiopian immigrant communities. The petition against Alali Adamso’s election, filed by two candidates who lost to him in the partyprimaries held earlier in December, said that since the Likud Codex states that only those who came to Israel after 1985 can bid for the slots, and Adamso came to Israel in 1983, he was ineligible to bid in the first place.

VIDEO - Livni, on her home life: We’re a completely normal family
Haaretz Staff and Channel 10, Ha’aretz 12/22/2008
Haaretz. com/Channel 10 daily feature for December 21, 2008. Kadima party Chairwoman Tzipi Livni and her husband Naftali Spitzer recently gave an interview in which they spoke of the relations between the prime ministerial hopeful’s political career and her family life. Speaking at home to Channel 10’s Oshrat Kotler, Spitzer was called on to describe Livni, who is also foreign minister, as a wife and mother. Spitzer took issue with the portrayal of Livni in the media as being somewhat cold and distant. [end]

Tekuma rabbis consider how best to partner Uri Ariel
Nadav Shragai, Ha’aretz 12/22/2008
The rabbis of the Tekuma party have yet to decide whether MK Uri Ariel of the newly formed Habayit Hayehudi party will join forces with MK Aryeh Eldad’s Hatikva party in a new, more hawkish partisan alignment. The new Eretz Israel Shelanu party of Baruch Marzel and Rabbi Dov Wolpe is also expected to participate in the possible merger. Ariel is the only candidate in Habayit Hayehudi’s top six slots representing Tekuma, which takes a hard line against territorial concessions. The rabbis affiliated with Tekuma fear that in the event of territorial grants of the Golan Heights to Syria or parts of the West Bank to the Palestinians, the Habayit Heyehudi Knesset faction will not quit the government as they would like. Yesterday representatives of the rabbis spoke with Maj. Gen. (Res. ) Yaakov Amidror, head of the party council that drew up the Knesset list, but the talks reportedly failed to bear fruit.

Cash crunch hits FSU Jewish learning programs
Haviv Rettig Gur, Jerusalem Post 12/21/2008
Jewish education programs in the former Soviet Union are in danger of collapse as Israel government funding dries up and the global economic crisis threatens its main donors. The most at-risk institution is the Heftsiba project, an Israeli government-funded program in 45 schools that provides funds, curricula and teachers from Israel for Jewish and Zionist education. Some 10,000 children in Russia and Ukraine participate in the program, but senior officials in the Education Ministry cannot say how long that will continue. About two-thirds of Heftsiba’s state funding has been cut in the past few years as the Education Ministry has seen its overall budget reduced and transferred much of the responsibility for the program’s funding and operation to the Jewish Agency. With the agency facing a 10 percent budget cut itself for the coming year, or some $45 million, it is unclear. . .

Members of exclusive N.Y. synagogue lose collective $2 billion in Madoff scam
Shlomo Shamir, Ha’aretz 12/21/2008
Hanukkah, which began Sunday, will not bring light and joy to the famous Modern Orthodox synagogue, situated in an upscale Manhattan neighborhood, known to many within the Jewish community as the "Fifth Avenue Synagogue. " The revelation that has dampened the joy of the holiday for the Fifth Avenue worshippers is the discovery that the Madoff scam - the $50 billion "Ponzi scheme" that may rank among the biggest fraud cases ever - cost the members of the synagogue a collective $2 billion, the New York Post reported Sunday. The fraud has crippled the synagogue, which boasts some of New York’s elite as members. Bernard Madoff, who has been arrested on suspicion of having incurred the loss of $50 billion to charities, financial institutions and private investors, is not a member of the synagogue and did not attend it.

Key Obama backer, confidante Alan Solow tipped to head U.S. Jewry’s top body
Bradley Burston, Ha’aretz 12/21/2008
Chicago attorney, philanthropist and Jewish community leader Alan Solow, a key supporter and confidante of Barack Obama, has been nominated to chair the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, U. S. Jewry’s most prominent voice in foreign and domestic policy issues. The choice of Solow follows a period of political tension surrounding the 2008 campaign, in which Obama backers chafed at reported statements and decisions of the formally non-partisan Presidents Conference, and in particular, of its influential longtime executive vice-chairman, Malcolm Hoenlein. "After considerable deliberation and consultation, the Committee unanimously decided to submit its recommendation of Alan Solow to be the chairman of the Conference of Presidents for a term ending May 31, 2010," said nominating committee head James Tisch, a former chair of the umbrella group.

Envoy: Russian missiles not being sent to Iran
Barak Ravid, Ha’aretz 12/22/2008
Russia reassured Israel yesterday that it stands by its commitment not to supply Iran with advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missiles - despite an Iranian lawmaker’s statement yesterday that the system "is being delivered to Iran. ""You will be the first to know about any progress or change in the matter of the missiles," Pyotr Stegny, the Russian ambassador to Israel, told top Israeli officials. Stegny said Russia was not planning to advance the missile deal and had not yet begun to deliver the missiles. "We are adhering to the agreements we reached during Prime Minister Olmert’s visit to Moscow. " Russia made its initial commitment regarding this matter to Israel during Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s October visit. But Russia’s RIA news agency last week quoted "confidential sources" as saying that Russia was fulfilling terms of an S-300 contract with Iran, and the official news agency. . .

Iranian official: Russia started missile delivery
Reuters, YNetNews 12/21/2008
MP Email Kosari says Moscow has begun delivering air defense systems that could help repel any Israeli, US air strikes -Russia has begun delivering S-300 air defense systems to Iran which could help repel any Israeli and US air strikes on its nuclear sites, the official IRNA news agency reported on Sunday. "After few years of talks with Russia. . . now the S-300 system is being delivered to Iran," IRNA quoted Email Kosari, deputy head of parliament’s Foreign Affairs and National Security committee, as saying. Kosari did not say when the deliveries began. Iran’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the report. Last week Amos Gilad, head of the Israeli Defense Ministry’s Security-Diplomatic Bureau, landed in Moscow to convey Israel’s opposition to the deal. While in Russia, Gilad was also expected to address the possible sale. . .

’Russia not delivering S-300 to Iran’
Herb Keinon And Yaakov Katz, Jerusalem Post 12/21/2008
Israeli officials categorically denied on Sunday Iranian press reports that Russia will soon begin delivery of a state-of-the-art anti-missile system that could make it considerably harder to attack the Islamic republic’s nuclear facilities. Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Israel had been assured by senior Russian officials that these reports were "baseless," and that the Kremlin stood by the agreement, reached with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during his visit there in October, not to sell weapons in the region that would "tip the strategic balance. " On Sunday, the Iranian news agency IRNA quoted Esmaeil Kosari, deputy chairman of the Parliamentary Commission on National Security and Foreign Policy, as saying that Teheran would take delivery of the S-300 air defense system from Russia "soon.

’Chavez helping Iran smuggle equipment to Syria’
AFP, YNetNews 12/21/2008
Italian newspaper La Stampa reports Tehran using warm ties to Venezuela leadership to duck UN sanctions, transport missile parts to Syria - Iran is using its warm relations with Venezuela to dodge UN sanctions and use Venezuelan aircraft to ship missile parts to Syria, an Italian newspaper reported Sunday. Citing US and other Western intelligence agencies, La Stampa said Iran is using aircraft from Venezuelan airline Conviasa to transport computers and engine components to Syria for use in missiles. The material comes from Iranian industrial group Shahid Bagheri, listed inthe annex of UN Security Council Resolution 1737, adopted in December 2006, for involvement in Iran’s ballistic missile program. The resolution instructed all nations to "prevent the supply, sale or transfer" of all material or technology that could be used for Iran’s nuclear. . . "

Damascus: Talks with Israel only after U.S., Israeli elections
Yoav Stern, Ha’aretz 12/22/2008
Damascus has proposed that Turkish-mediated talks with Israel resume "officially’ perhaps even directly after Barack Obama assumes the U. S. presidency and a new government is elected in Israel, according to a reporter from the Qatari paper Al-Watan, in Damascus. Arab sources told the paper that until that time, Syria is not interested in continuing talks with Israel. The Arab sources said Syria preferred to wait and see what Israel’s new government’s policies would be as far as the peace process is concerned. The sources noted that there was concern that the Israeli right would come to power and would not seek to continue negotiations. The sources added that Damascus wants the document that Syria presented to Israel via Turkish mediators - which discusses the future border between the two countries - to constitute the legal basis for discussions between the two countries, assuming Israel agrees to the document.

Report: Syria won’t renew talks until elections
Roee Nahmias, YNetNews 12/21/2008
Arab sources tell Qatari daily ’Al-Watan’ that Damascus intends to resume negotiations with Jerusalem only after Obama inauguration, completion of Israeli elections - Damascus has has recently rejected proposals to resume the indirect Turkish-mediated negotiations with Israel at the present time, Qatari daily ’Al-Watan’ reported on Sunday. The report comes just a day before Prime Minister Ehud Olmert leaves for Turkey to meet with counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose country has acted as the go-between in the talks. According to the report, Syria is adamant that the official negotiations only resume after US President-elect Barack Obama takes office on January 20th and Israel holds its general elections, which are scheduled to take place three weeks later. Olmert, however, has made it clear he is keen to see the talks move to a direct track while he is still premier.

Report: Assad won’t talk to Olmert gov’t
Jerusalem Post 12/21/2008
Syria has reportedly postponed a proposal to renew Turkey-brokered indirect talks with Israel. According to a report in the Qatari daily al-Watan, cited by Israel Radio, Arab sources in Syria were quoted as saying that Damascus prefers to wait until after US President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration to the White House, and the establishment of a new Israeli government. The sources added that Syria does not wish to carry out negotiations with outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government in its final days. The Jerusalem Post could not confirm the report. [end]

IAEA chief warns Syria to cooperate
Associated Press, Jerusalem Post 12/21/2008
The head of the UN nuclear monitoring agency warned Syria in comments published Sunday of negative consequences if it does not cooperate with the agency’s investigation of its nuclear activities. The London-based Al Hayat newspaper quoted International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei as saying in an interview that it is in Syria’s interest to cooperate. Otherwise, Syria will face a deeper confrontation with the international community, ElBaradei said, according to the paper. The pan-Arab newspaper quoted him as saying that his agency still expects clarifications from Syria and Israel on issues related to a Syrian site bombed by Israel last year that allegedly had features resembling a nuclear reactor. IAEA inspectors found traces of processed uranium at the site during a visit this year.

Poll: Haredim want to go to college
Matthew Wagner, Jerusalem Post 12/21/2008
Haredim want secular higher education, but are hampered by a lack of basic math and English skills, according to a new study. Fifty-seven percent of 148 haredi men surveyed in a study conducted by researchers at the Jerusalem Institute of Israel Studies said that they had looked into attaining a college degree, and another 15% said they had received advice about the possibility of pursuing studies in a college or some other institute of higher education. Three-quarters of the respondents were aged 20 to 30 and 84% married with children. Dr. Dan Kaufmann, Asaf Malchi and Bezalel Cohen, the three researchers who performed the survey, recommended that the State of Israel and philanthropists use their findings to help haredim get higher education. Their main recommendation was that haredim receive economic support for college education, as some 70% of the haredi men surveyed. . .

Haredi, religious residents clash in Beit Shemesh
Kobi Nahshoni, YNetNews 12/21/2008
Three religious teen girls beaten up by ultra-Orthodox mob while passing through haredi neighborhood. Religious residents report escalating violence on haredim’s behalf, latter cite promiscuity as trigger for clashes - Growing tensions between ultra-Orthodox and religious residents in the town of Beit Shemesh, near Jerusalem, have recently escalated into violence as three teen girls were beaten up by haredim who claimed they were "immodestly" dressed. The incident was the last in a series of reported attacks by members of the Haredi Community faction on their religious neighbors, prompted by the latter’s’ alleged "promiscuity" and negative influence on haredi children. According to reports, the three 15-year-old girls went for a walk after the Shabbat dinner last Friday, and passed through a haredi neighborhood.

2008 a record-breaking year for returning Israeli citizens
Cnaan Liphshiz, Ha’aretz 12/22/2008
The number of returning citizens has increased by a record-breaking 95-percent this year and is, for the first time in Israel’s history, higher by 50 percent of the number of new immigrants, according to the Absorption Ministry’s annual statistical roundup for 2008 which was released Sunday. The data, which pertains to people who moved this year to Israel under the Law of Return for Jews and their relatives, shows the number of returning Israelis has increased from 4,535 in 2007 to approximately 9,000 returnees in 2008. However, this hike offsets a 25-percent drop in the number of new immigrants, from approximately 20,000 in 2007 to some 15,000 who have arrived in the country since January 1, 2008. By contrast, immigration from South Africa will have increased by some 90 percent by January, with the arrival of the 360th immigrant from that country, compared to only 191 South African immigrants last year.

Police on high alert for Hanukkah
Efrat Weiss, YNetNews 12/21/2008
Security forces deploy in cities, parks, entertainment centers as holiday commences, officers to increase presence on highways and outside clubs - As in every year, police have declared a state of high alert throughout Israel with the commencement of Hanukkah The special deployment came into effect on Sunday, and will last until the school vacations end next week. The defense establishment confirmed it is currently monitoring six specific terror plot alerts, along with dozens of general alerts. Terror organizations have long put an emphasis on carrying out attacks particularly during holiday seasons. Police will erect mobile roadblocks at various points to detect suspicious vehicles or people, particularly at city entrance points. There will also be more stringent monitoring of military checkpoints in the Palestinian Authority as well as international border crossings.

Grocery bankruptcies jumping as crisis unnerves consumers
Adi Dovrat, Ha’aretz 12/22/2008
Food retail stores throughout Israel are starting to feel the bite of the economic crisis. As consumer confidence quakes, bankruptcies in the retail sector have been soaring. In the last three months, the incidence of food specialists closing down has jumped 30%, according to a survey that TheMarker commissioned from BdiCoface. "The crisis is filtering through to all sectors and is showing up in numerous economic parameters," said Tehila Yanai, the co-CEO of BdiCoface. "Because of the drop in average income, the job losses and the wage cuts, the slowdown had to be expected to hit the food-and-beverages sector. "Most people are already consuming less than before and are thinking more before purchases, she added: "Of course the businesses first to be hurt and then close are the small ones, the ones without wiggle room.

Israeli toddlers susceptible to life-threatening bacteria strand
Sarit Rosenblum, YNetNews 12/21/2008
Several studies find Israeli children aged six months to two especially vulnerable to Kingella kingae, which can cause sepsis, arthritis and cardiomyopathy. Morbidity rate unprecedented, says Hadassah specialist - A violent bacterium has been identified as the cause of an unusual epidemic among Israeli babies and toddlers over the past few years. The culprit’s name is Kingella kingae and it seems to favor the respiratory tracks of children aged six months to two years. In the majority of the cases it causes no more than a light infection with flu-like symptoms; but is some of the cases it might get into the child’s blood stream, causing sepsis, arthritis or even cardiomyopathy. Recent reports compiled by the Hadassah Mount Scopus Hospital in Jerusalem and the Schneider Children’s Medical Center in Petah Tikva, as well as a parallel study done at the Soroka. . .

Falling water level raises waves of concern over Kinneret bacteria
Zafrir Rinat, Ha’aretz 12/22/2008
The sharp drop in the water line of Lake Kinneret could lead to fecal bacteria penetrating the pumps to the National Water Carrier and change the lake’s ecosystem, according to a report released this week by by a government research agency. The report, by the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research institute, notes that the bacteria is suspended in the increasingly shallow water around the pumps and could penetrate the system. Algae could also enter the system, resulting in the development of other bacteria. The presence of toxic materials from algae is a risk that affects the entire lake, according to the report. So far, none of these risks have affected water reaching consumers. The ongoing problem of salinization, according to the report, will worsen if there is a further drop in the quantity of fresh water from springs and streams feeding the lake.

Water-short farmers seek divine irrigation
Eli Ashkenazi, Ha’aretz 12/22/2008
Groups of worshippers encircling the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai on Mount Meron yesterday while clutching the Four Species may have led visitors to check their calendars to make sure Sukkot had passed. The farmers of the Upper Galilee, led by the rabbi of Merom Hagalil Regional Council, seem to think the ritual will raise their sagging fortunes, the result of the warm, dry winter they have been experiencing. The farmers are not satisfied with weather reports promising the long-awaited arrival of rainy, wintry days. The arid winter, the severe shortages in water supplies and the struggles of the farmers led Rabbi Eliyahu Biton to hold a special prayer for rainfall composed in the 16th century by religious scholar Yosef Karo and published in his book Maggid Mesharim. The farmers’ sighs are growing louder and louder," said Biton. "The lack of rainfall and the arid winter have caused farmers serious damage, and their income has dropped dramatically. "

SPECIAL COVERAGE / Bernard Madoff’s $50 billion ’Ponzi scheme’
Ha’aretz 12/21/2008
In December 2008, respected American Jewish financier Bernard Madoff was arrested and charged on Thursday with allegedly running a $50 billion "Ponzi scheme" in what may rank among the biggest fraud cases ever. The former Nasdaq chairman is best known as the founder of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, the closely-held market-making firm he launched in 1960. But he also ran a hedge fund that U. S. prosecutors said racked up $50 billion of fraudulent losses. Madoff told senior employees of his firm that "it’s all just one big lie" and that it was "basically, a giant Ponzi scheme," with estimated investor losses of about $50 billion, according to the U. S. Attorney’s criminal complaint against him. The impact of the admission has been felt throughout the world; Madoff’s victims include European banks and American financial. . .

ADL: Madoff scandal prompts wave of anti-Semitism online
Ynetnews, YNetNews 12/21/2008
League reports outpouring of anti-Jewish comments on mainstream and extremist websites dealing with scandal - The recent arrest of Jewish businessman Bernard Madoff, whose alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme drained the finances of private investors, philanthropic foundations and banks, has prompted an outpouring of anti-Semitic comments on mainstream and extremist websites, the Anti-Defamation League reported Sunday. According to the ADL, the public comment sections of highly trafficked news sites, blogs, and financial message boards that have featured material on the scandal surrounding Bernard Madoff and his investment firm are filled with anti-Semitic comments, mostly from anonymous users. Site users have posted comments ranging from deeply offensive stereotypical statements about Jews and money - with some suggesting that only Jews could perpetrate. . .

Israelis turn to tap water as economy slows
Ilanit Hayut, Globes Online 12/21/2008
Bottled water sales fell in November despite the unseasonably hot weather. Bottled water sales data of Nielsen Ratings obtained by "Globes" suggests that Israelis are switching back to tap water. Bottled water sales in November 2008 fell 16% in volume and 15% in financial terms compared with November 2007, despite higher prices. The drop in sales was despite the unseasonably hot weather in November, clearly indicating that the inclement economic climate was the reason. Bottled water sales totaled NIS 20. 4 million in November, down from NIS 24 million in November 2007. After two years of steady growth, sales of natural spring water fell by 29% to NIS 3. 1 million in November from NIS 4. 4 million in November 2007. All three leading bottled water brands -Eden Springs Ltd.

Falling Gabriel selling Leumi shares
Sharon Shpurer, Ha’aretz 12/22/2008
Ezra Merkin’s Gabriel Capital hedge fund is dissolving itself after racking up serious losses this year - in no small part, thanks to Bernard Madoff’s $50 billion Ponzi fraud. One of the things Gabriel Capital will be divesting is its roughly 5% interest in Bank Leumi. On December 18, Merkin advised clients of Gabriel Capital that after losing 39% this year to the end of November, the fund’s "only realistic option" was to close down. The process will take years, however, because the assets are illiquid. Three years ago Gabriel Capital teamed up with Cerberus, another hedge fund group, to buy the controlling interest in Bank Leumi from the state. However, after they’d bought 10% of the bank’s stock, the two funds were disqualified from owning a controlling interest. They split the stake into two pieces of 5%.

Jailed Hamas leader: Iraqi shoe-thrower expressed popular rejection of US, Israel
Ma’an News Agency 12/21/2008
Gaza - Ma’an – A Hamas leader issued a statement from his cell in an Israeli prison on Sunday praising the Iraqi journalist Muntader Zeidi for throwing a pair of shoes at US President George W. Bush in Baghdad last week. Jailed Hamas leader Abbas As-Sayed said “The insult of US President George Bush by throwing shoes on him by Muntader Zeidi … expressed the Arab public’s rejection of the American-Israeli project in the region. ”As-Sayed said that the event would also be remembered as an event embarrassing pro-American Arab regimes. Zeidi was jailed by Iraqi security forces last Sunday for hurling two shoes at Bush during a press conference during Bush’s farewell visit to Iraq.

’Baghdad Clogger’ suffered brutal beating after arrest
Afif Sarhan, The Observer, The Guardian 12/21/2008
Muntazer al-Zaidi has not been seen in public since he hurled his shoes at President George Bush. In Baghdad, Afif Sarhan talks to witnesses who claim that a series of savage attacks left him with a broken rib and serious damage to his eye - The Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at President George Bush was viciously beaten after being taken into custody, according to a police officer who accompanied him to prison. Wrestled to the ground and then buried under a frantic mound of security officers, Muntazer al-Zaidi was last seen being dragged into detention. Controversy has since raged over what treatment was meted out to the man hailed a hero in many parts of the Arab and Muslim world for his protest against the invasion of Iraq. Yesterday there were further demonstrations in the Middle East calling for his immediate release.

New questions raised over Lockerbie bombing on 20th anniversary
Jpost Staff And AP, Jerusalem Post 12/21/2008
Ceremonies were held Sunday in the Scottish town of Lockerbie to mark the 20th anniversary of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in which 270 people were killed. In a report coinciding with the anniversary, a British newspaper claimed that fresh evidence has cast doubt on the conviction of the Libyan man serving a life sentence for the bombing. New forensic analysis on a fragment of the timing device alleged to have triggered the bomb that brought down the plane is said to have found no trace of explosive residue, the Mail on Sunday reported. Lawyers acting for Abdelbasset Al Megrahi, the 56-year-old Libyan jailed for life for the bombing in 2001, will present the evidence at a forthcoming appeal. His legal team says the new information supports claims the timer was planted by investigators in a politically motivated attempt to incriminate Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Choosing between bad options
Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, Ha’aretz 12/22/2008
The rocket barrages on communities near the Gaza Strip, particularly since the official end of the cease-fire on Friday, have led Israel to officially change its line from "quiet in exchange for quiet" to open threats. The Olmert-Barak-Livni trio has decided to respond, and the timing will depend on operational conditions; in other words, the Israel Air Force will go into action. The Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet security service assume that increased operations from the air will be met with heavier rocket fire from Hamas on targets farther from Gaza. The IDF might then launch a ground operation. Ground troops have not received operational orders, but on the home front, warning systems have been upgraded in communities 30 to 40 kilometers from the border, in rocket range. That’s the distance Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin discussed with the cabinet when he warned that Hamas rockets can reach the outskirts of Be’er Sheva.

High school students lobby PM to secure Shalit’s release
Ronen Medzini, YNetNews 12/21/2008
Holon students hold Hanukkah ceremony in honor of kidnapped soldier; MK Yishai says: Gov’t hasn’t done enough to secure Shalit’s release -Three hundred students from a Holon high school gathered in front of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s house Sunday morning, calling upon him to expedite the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. The students, accompanied by teachers, held up signs reading: "Free Gilad," "Bring Gilad Home" and "Gilad Still Lives. " The protesters also held a Hanukkah ceremony in Shalit’s honor, which included the lighting of a large menorah that they brought with them. Students rally for Shalit (Photo: Gil Yohanan)"Today we will light the first candle of Hanukkah, a holiday that commemorates the victory of light over darkness. We hope that this will help light Gilad’s way home and we will witness the miracle of his release soon," said the school’s principal, Malka Hiruti.

Diskin: Hamas could reach Beersheba
Roni Sofer, YNetNews 12/21/2008
Shin Bet chief tells cabinet ministers Palestinian organization has improved its rocket launching capabilities, capable of firing rockets into additional southern cities. He stresses, however, that Hamas’ political echelon seeks improved lull -Hamas’ military wing is ready to continue its military conflict withIsrael and its improved rockets are now capable of reaching Kiryat Gat, Ashdod and even the Beersheba vicinity, Shin Bet Director Yuval Diskin told government ministers on Sunday morning. He stressed, however, that in spite of its declarations, Hamas is interested in maintaining its truce with Israel. Ongoing FireMan lightly hurt in rocket, mortar barrage/ Shmulik Hadad Fourteen rockets fired from Gaza Strip into Israel on Sunday; foreign worker lightly injured in his arm by mortar shell.


On "The Lemon Tree"
Dima Hamdan, Palestine Think Tank 12/21/2008
      While so much attention has been given to the Israeli animated film "Waltz with Bashir", which was hailed as a brave account of Israel’s complicity in the Sabra and Shatila massacres in 1982, another Israeli film, "The Lemon Tree", deals with the Israeli-Palestinian issue on a different, and perhaps, more profound level.
     Based on true events, the film tells the story of Salma, a Palestinian woman who wakes up one day to find that her new neighbour is no other than the newly-appointed Defence Minister of Israel. The Israeli Intelligence fear that her lemon groves might be used as hideouts for Palestinian militants, and so an order is issued to cut down her trees.
     Salma decides to fight this decision, and takes her battle all the way to the Israeli Supreme Court with the help of Ziad, a young ambitious lawyer. On the other side of the fence, the minister’s wife, Mira, is fighting with her own conscience as she feels the need to speak out against her husband’s decision and attempts, in her own words, to "become a better neighbour" to Salm

Arab Town Blamed for Jewish Pride March’s Cancellation

Jonathan Cook - Nazareth, Palestine Chronicle 12/19/2008
      ’The Jewish National Front is widely seen as a reinvention of the Kach movement.’
     Jewish peace groups have accused the Israeli police of fuelling racism by cancelling a "Jewish Pride" march by a far-right group that was to have taken place through one of the largest Arab towns in Israel.
     The police postponed the march, due last Monday, claiming they had evidence extremist residents of Umm al Fahm in northern Israel would open fire on the marchers and police.
     "There was a real danger that lives could be lost," said a police spokesman, adding that the decision to ban the march would be reassessed in two weeks.
     But local Arab leaders and Jewish peace activists claimed the police concocted the story to justify the cancellation of the march. Thousands of Jews had planned to form a human chain with the residents of Umm al Fahm at the entrance to the town to block the way of the Jewish National Front.
     Adam Keller, of the peace group Gush Shalom, said the planned show of solidarity would have been non-violent. He denounced the police for exploiting the stereotype of violent Arab citizens promoted by the marchers, many of whom are hardline settlers in the West Bank. -- See also: The war of dependence

Stripping Israel of Its Blanket Immunity

Joharah Baker – The West Bank, Palestine Chronicle 12/19/2008
      Politics is a funny game, and as the popular saying goes, also makes strange bedfellows. That is why, when well-known adversaries become unlikely allies, most people are not necessarily fazed or even remotely surprised. Human rights, however, is a different story. Designed to be clear-cut, human rights are supposedly universally applied across the board, regardless of political considerations, race, religion or gender. That is why, when Israel’s closest friends are also the world’s most democratic ones, Palestinians and their supporters chalk up the inconsistencies to politics. However, when the issue comes to basic human rights, even the most unfazed of us is shocked at just how much Israel can get away with.
     On December 14, UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur to the Palestinian Territories, Richard Falk, was deported from Israel after arriving at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport from Geneva. Falk, an elderly Jewish American professor, was forced to spend the night in one of Ben Gurion’s infamous holding cells before being transported back to Switzerland.
     For all those who are well-versed in Israel’s relationship with international personalities sympathetic to the Palestinians, the writing was already on the wall way before Falk’s plane landed. According to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Falk had been previously informed that he would be barred entry into the country. Still, one can only balk at the audacity of this so-called democratic state, which denied a high-level UN official entry to its country on the grounds of his perceived bias towards the Palestinians.

Is the Peace Process Irreversible?

Daoud Kuttub, MIFTAH 12/20/2008
      Lame-duck Palestinian, Israeli and US leaders are making serious effort these days to ensure that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process enters an irreversible track before they leave office.
     This irreversible train left the station in September shortly after Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, resigned from his office due to police investigation. Olmert, who has continued as caretaker prime minister, surprised the Israeli public by stating publicly that the ultimate solution of this conflict will require a return to the 1967 borders and will have to include Israel giving up parts of Jerusalem.
     The US president, George W. Bush, who failed to accomplish his declared goal of reaching an agreement on an independent state before the end of his term, has decided instead to institutionalise his position in the UN. After five years of refusing to allow the UN Security Council in the conflict, the US has cosponsored with the Russians a resolution documenting the position of the international community. The resolution, supporting the Annapolis process, was approved with 14 votes, with Libya abstaining, even though it failed to speak about illegal Jewish settlements.

A Comprehensive Approach to the Middle East Peace Process

David Miliband, UK Foreign Secretary, Dar Al-Hayat, MIFTAH 12/20/2008
      Next year needs to be an important year for the Arab-Israeli conflict. Unless we make real progress, the prospect of a two-state solution will slowly - or perhaps fast - slip away. The situation on the ground leaves too many people insecure, in poverty and despair, and is rapidly undermining the political process. While both sides are tiring of the conflict, they are also tiring, faster, of efforts to resolve it.
     The basics of an agreement to the Israel-Palestine conflict now command an unparalleled level of consensus. There is no viable alternative to a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders: a democratic and viable state of Palestine must live peacefully alongside an Israel secure from attack and recognised by its neighbours. Jerusalem must be the capital for both, with a just settlement for refugees.
     This is not just what the Palestinian President wants; it is also what the Israeli Prime Minister aspires to. It is the position of the both the outgoing and the incoming US administrations, of Europe and the Arab world. Yet our efforts to realise this vision are not succeeding. For many ordinary Palestinians and ordinary Israelis, the endless rounds of negotiations and talks are not delivering improvements on the ground. Israelis continue to feel threatened and under siege. They tried withdrawal from Gaza and Lebanon, but were rewarded only with rocket fire.

Celebrities further disassociate with settlement financier

Press release, Adalah-NY, Electronic Intifada 12/21/2008
      Thirty human rights carolers braved the cold and ice on 20 December to serenade Manhattan’s holiday shoppers with a call, for the second year, to boycott the jewelry store and companies of Israeli settlement-builder and diamond mogul Lev Leviev. Leviev’s Madison Avenue store has been the site of 12 protests since it opened in mid-November 2007, and protests against his businesses have spread to London, Dubai and the West Bank villages where he is building settlements. Additionally, during the past year the UN children’s agency UNICEF and the Oxfam coalition have renounced Leviev, major Hollywood stars have distanced themselves from him, and the governments of United Kingdom and Dubai are under pressure to boycott Leviev’s businesses.
     The carolers, from the New York-based human rights coalition Adalah-NY and other groups, were accompanied in singing and chanting by a percussion section from the Rude Mechanical Orchestra. Hundreds of copies of the comic "Who is Lev Leviev?" were given to passersby, many of whom stopped to hear the parody holiday songs while carrying shopping bags from Madison Avenue’s most exclusive shops.

'Our struggle will continue until the Wall is torn down!'

Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign, Stop The Wall 12/20/2008
      A massive demonstration against the Wall was held in Jayyous on December 19, with about 1000 people, mostly youth, protesting against the new path of the Wall that will permanently confiscate nearly 6,000 dunums of village land. The demonstration, which lasted for nearly five hours, resulted in several injuries to villagers, international solidarity activists, and four soldiers.
     At 1:00 in the afternoon, the protestors began to march from the centre of the village, to the south gate of the Wall, which is the area that is slated to be re-routed. As they marched, Occupation forces did not stop them from reaching the gate, but rather they entered the village from two different directions, and stationed themselves in a manner that surrounded the demonstrators. Undeterred by their vulnerable position in the middle of the forces, however, the demonstrators continued to march, and when they reached the gate, several different community activists gave speeches to the crowd, reaffirming Jayyous’ resistance to the Wall, and denouncing the Occupation in general.
     For approximately 45 minutes, the speeches continued without confrontation, and it was announced that the village would organize another demonstration next week. As this announcement was made, however, the Occupation forces began to close in on the protestors, and began taking pictures of the youth, in order to facilitate their targeting of the most active people in the future. In response to this, several youth began throwing stones at the forces.