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

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22 December, 2008
Hamas accepts 24-hour truce so long as Israel halts attacks
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 12/23/2008
GAZA CITY: Hamas agreed on Monday to hold fire against Israel for 24 hours, but warned it would resume suicide attacks if the Jewish state launched another invasion of the Gaza Strip. The Islamist group and other resistance factions in Gaza have accepted "a calm for a 24-hour period following Egyptian mediation in exchange for the delivery of aid from Egypt," senior Hamas official Ayman Taha told AFPDespite the brief cease-fire, Taha warned that Hamas would resume suicide attacks if Israel made good on its threats to unleash a major assault against the Gaza Strip. "It is our right as an occupied people to defend ourselves from the occupation by all means possible including suicide attacks," Taha said. Hamas last carried out a suicide attack in Israel in January 2005. Israel has imposed a crushing blockade on the impoverished territory, where roughly half of the 1.

Abbas seeks Russian support
Al Jazeera 12/22/2008
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, is in Moscow to seek support for the Middle East peace effort from his Russian counterpart. Abbas’s meeting on Monday with Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, will be his last before his term in office ends. Before the meeting, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said: "We support Mahmoud Abbas’ effort to maintain Palestinian unity despite many provocations. " Lavrov reiterated Moscow’s support for the peace process under the principles of the so-called "road map" adopted in 2003, saying it was being threatened by both terrorist attacks and by Israeli settlement policy. Abbas said he "appreciated" Russia’s role in the peace process. Both he and Lavrov said they were looking forward to a Middle East conference that Moscow plans to host next year.

Gaza gunmen fire at soldiers near Sufa
Jerusalem Post 12/22/2008
Gaza gunmen fired at IDF soldiers patrolling the security fence near the Sufa crossing late Monday afternoon, seemingly refuting reports of a 24-hour ceasefire. Hamas: We have ceased launching rockets into Israel at Egypt’s request The troops returned fire. No one was wounded and no damage was reported. In addition, soldiers arrested two Palestinians near Kissufim who had crossed the Gaza fence. They were transferred for interrogation. Also Monday afternoon, three Kassam rockets fired by Gaza terrorists hit southern Israel. One struck the Eshkol region, while two hit the Sha’ar Hanegev area. No one was wounded and no damage was reported. RELATED Video:Mideast expert Dan Schuefton: Hamas must be hurt badly Meanwhile, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry flatly denied reports it had asked Hamas to temporarily hold its. . .

UN: Settler violence toward Palestinians on rise
Jerusalem Post 12/23/2008
The number of incidents of violence by settlers was higher during the first 10 months of 2008 than during the entire years of either 2007 or 2006, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs stated in a report issued Monday. According to the report, there were 290 "settler-related incidents" between January and October 2008, compared with 243 in 2007 and 182 in 2006. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) defines "incidents" as casualties (killed or wounded,) property damage, preventing access, trespassing and intimidation. OCHA found that more Israelis than Palestinians have been killed over the past three years - 10 Israelis versus four Palestinians. However, during the same period, 293 Palestinians were hurt in incidents involving settlers, compared with 116 Israelis.

Israel readies offensive against Gaza Strip
Middle East Online 12/22/2008
JERUSALEM - Israel notified UN chief Ban Ki-moon that it will respond to continuing rocket fire from Gaza following the expiry of a truce with Hamas, a foreign ministry official said Monday. Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations Gabriela Shalev sent the letter to Ban on Sunday as part of a diplomatic campaign to garner international support for any offensive against the territory, the senior official said on condition of anonymity. "(Israel) will not hesitate to react militarily if necessary" to rockets fired by militants from the Gaza Strip, Shalev said in her letter, according to public radio. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, leader of the governing Kadima party, "is due to soon meet with foreign ambassadors to Israel and to speak with her counterparts abroad," the official said. Violence around the impoverished Gaza Strip has steadily escalated since Friday, when Hamas said it would not renew a six-month truce with Israel.

Syria will eventually move to direct talks with Israel - Assad
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 12/23/2008
DAMASCUS: Syrian President Bashar Assad said on Monday that his country would eventually embark on direct peace talks with Israel, but they must be based on UN Security Council resolutions. "Peace cannot be achieved through indirect negotiations alone. But if indirect talks succeed then direct negotiations will also, and peace will come naturally," the Syrian leader told a news conference with visiting Croatian President Stipe Mesic. In May, Syria and Israel - technically still at war since the first Arab-Israeli conflict in 1948 - began Turkish-mediated indirect talks after direct negotiations halted eight years ago over Israel’s refusal to vacate all of the Occupied Golan Heights. But indirect talks have been on hold since Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert first announced in July he would step down over corruption allegations.

Israeli troops detain three men from Ni’lin, destroy property in village
Ma’an News Agency 12/22/2008
Ramallah – Ma’an – Israeli forces detained three men from the village of Ni’lin west of Ramallah and broke into several homes destroying property in the area. Local sources said Israeli troops invaded the village Monday before dawn and saw dozens of military vehicles along with a bulldozer. The jeeps fired rubber bullets and tear gas as they toured the village. Eyewitnesses reported that troops broke into the house of Ibrahim Mustafa Amira and his brothers Sami and Ahmad. Soldiers broke several windows in the home and opened fire at the water tanks above the home. Before leaving troops detained Ibrahim Amira, a university student, as well as Mahmoud Dahoud and Muhammad Zarul Amira.

Israeli forces seize seven Palestinians from Nablus
Ma’an News Agency 12/22/2008
Nablus – Ma’an – The Israeli military says it arrested seven Palestinian men during overnight raids in the West Bank city of Nablus. Local sources identified four of those men later on Monday. They are:Iyad Abu Salhieh, 20, from the Krum Ashur areaFadi Shaqqo, 24 from the Old CityMajed Khalil Abu Thera, 23, from Balata Refugee CampLocal sources said that during the raid, Israeli troops broke into the Marahil house in the Balata Refugee Camp and destroyed the interior of the house. [end]

Israeli Army Kidnaps 10 Palestinians From the West Bank
Justin Theriault, International Middle East Media Center News 12/22/2008
Israeli forces confirmed that they seized 10 Palestinians this morning during raids in the West Bank, Maan news agency reported. Three Palestinians were arrested in the city of Jenin, and seven more were arrested in the city of Nablus. All were stated by Israeli Military sources as "wanted". Palestinian security forces said in a statement that three others, not mentioned in the Israel’s account, were taken from their homes near the Israeli annexation wall in the town of Zeita, just north of Tulkarem. Those arrested in the town of Zeita were identified as Kifah Abu Al-Izz, age 18, Nasr Abu Al-Izz, Age 22, and Muhammad Abu Al-’Izz, age 30. In recent weeks, Israel has stepped-up its campaign of abducting Palestinians from all over the West Bank, while continuing its strangulation of the citizens of Gaza through its ongoing siege.

Gaza bakeries to stop working within two days
Palestinian Information Center 12/22/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- The society of Palestinian bakers has warned that all bakeries in the Gaza Strip would come to a complete halt within two days at the most if the Israeli occupation authority continued to block all crossings. Abdul Nasser Al-Ajrami, the chairman of the society, said in a press statement on Sunday that 27 bakeries out of the 47 found in the Strip have already closed down while the remaining 20 were partially functioning due to the electricity outage, lack of fuel and gas. He pointed out that the main flour mills company had stopped functioning since last Wednesday after it ran out of wheat. Ajrami asked all legal and human rights groups to act against the siege and to provide necessary fuel to make bread available for all civilians. The IOA tightened its grip on Gaza commercial crossings since 5/11/2008, which were already shut down since June 2007 and only partially and occasionally opened.

FMC: Gaza needs 5,000 tons of wheat daily to overcome the bread crisis
Palestinian Information Center 12/22/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- The Palestinian Flour Mills Company on Monday said that the Gaza Strip was in need of 5,000 tons of wheat daily in a bid to overcome the bread crisis. Abdul Dayem Awad, the FMC manager, said in a press statement that citizens depend on bread as the major component of their daily diet. He pointed out that his company was out of work since last Thursday, and added that it used to serve UNRWA as well as ordinary citizens. Stores of wheat whether at the UNRWA, FMC, distributors and bakeries have almost completely run out creating a bread crisis in the entire Strip. [end]

Gazan man killed as tunnel collapses under border with Egypt
Ma’an News Agency 12/22/2008
Gaza – Ma’an – A Palestinian man, 22-year-old Mousa Issa Abbas was killed on Monday as a tunnel collapsed underneath the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. Medical sources at Abu Yousif an-Najjar Hospital in the city of Rafah confirmed the death. Abbas was reportedly delivering goods to the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip. A vast network of tunnels operated by smugglers is currently the only reliable shipping route into Gaza, supplying the Strip with food, fuel, and consumer goods. Dozens of people have died this year as a result of accidents in the tunnels. [end]

World Bank: Israel halting W. Bank trade
Associated Press, Jerusalem Post 12/22/2008
The Palestinian private sector won’t prosper as long as Israel checkpoints in the West Bank and cumbersome cargo crossings hamper trade, the World Bank said in a report Monday. Israel has been slow in easing its tight restrictions on Palestinian movement, citing security concerns. However, the World Bank said Israel could make improvements. It singled out the Israeli-run Allenby Bridge crossing between the West Bank and Jordan, the main route for Palestinian exports to the Arab world. The World Bank warned that the Palestinian economy, heavily reliant on trade, will not recover unless the restrictions are eased significantly. "As long as the internal barriers exist, and imports and exports are forced to go through a system of back-to-back transfer, the Palestinian private sector is unlikely to prosper," the bank wrote.

PFLP fighters fire two homemade projectiles at Kfar Azza
Ma’an News Agency 12/22/2008
Gaza – Ma’an – The military wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, claimed responsibility on Sunday evening for firing two homemade projectiles from Gaza at the Israeli border town of Kfar Azza. The group said in a statement that even if Israel begins a policy of targeted assassinations, it would not be stopped from shelling Israeli targets. [end]

Resistance Fighters Open Fire Toward Israeli Warplanes in Northern Gaza
Rami Almeghari & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 12/22/2008
The Israeli Army reported that its warplanes were exposed to Palestinian gunfire in northern Gaza last night, no causalities were reported. According to the Israeli Army, a group of Palestinian resistance fighters responded with heavy gun fire to an Israeli air strike on the northern parts of the Gaza Strip, and that the warplanes reacted to the source of fire. Palestinian medics reported late Sunday night that at least four people, including a child, were wounded by Israeli fire in northeastern Gaza. The armed wing of the ruling Hamas party, known as Ezzildin Alqassam, said in a statement that its fighters were able to force Israeli warplanes to turn back after the resistance fired a volley of bullets toward the aircraft.

2 more Qassams land in western Negev
Shmulik Hadad, YNetNews 12/22/2008
None injured as rocket tally for Monday rises to three, FM Livni concerned situation deteriorating. At Egypt’s request Hamas discussing possibility of 24-hour ceasefire, but attacks from Gaza continue - Palestinian groups fired two Qassam rockets from northern Gaza on Monday afternoon towards Israel, no injuries were reported and no damage was caused. The first rocket was fired shortly after 4:00 pm, and landed near a road opposite a kibbutz belonging to the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council. The second Qassam was fired an hour and a half later, and landed in an open area. The latter raised the tally of rockets to land in Israeli territory on Monday to three. Earlier a Qassam landed in an open area in the Eshkol Regional Council - causing no injuries or damage. No terror group has claimed responsibility for the attacks thus far.

VIDEO - Controversial E. Jerusalem road stands empty one year after completion
Haaretz Staff and Channel 10, Ha’aretz 12/23/2008
Haaretz. com/Channel 10 daily feature for December 22, 2008. The construction of a controversial road built in East Jerusalem was completed roughly one year ago, but it has yet to see a single car. The so-called road, which required the expropriation of Palestinian lands, cost NIS 120 million to build, and is designed to connect the West Bank settlements surrounding Jerusalem to the capital. Peace organizations, Palestinian groups, and the international community have all protested its construction, which they see as a part of Israel’s intention to expand the borders of Jerusalem well into the West Bank. The national road company blames the fact that the road hasn’t opened on the Defense Ministry, which it says is lagging in its promise to build a security checkpoint to search Palesitinian cars.

PA security forces in Nablus arrest prominent Hamas leader thought to be dead since 2002
Ma’an News Agency 12/22/2008
Nablus – Ma’an Exclusive – Fatah-allied Palestinian Authority (PA) forces announced on Monday that they arrested a prominent leader in Hamas’ military organization who was thought to be dead since 2002. Sources in the security forces in the West Bank city of Nablus told Ma’an they detained 36-year-old Rajab Ash-Sharif from Shweitra Street in western Nablus after two months of preparation. In 2002 Hamas’ armed wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, claimed that Ash-Sharif was killed by Israeli forces during an incursion in Nablus’ Old City. His body was never found. The PA security services now claim they have been hunting for Ash-Sharif since 2004. Since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, the Fatah-dominated PA has consolidated power in the parts of the West Bank under its control, arresting Hamas members and shutting-down Hamas-linked charities.

Hamas’s Armed Wing Angered by PA’s Arrest of One of its Leaders believed to be dead since 2002
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 12/22/2008
Al Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas movement, held the Palestinian Security Forces loyal to the Fatah movement responsible for the life of Rajab Ash-Sharif who was thought to be dead since 2002. Ash-Shari topped Israel’s assassination list for many years until the Palestinian Authority said that he was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers during an Israeli invasion to Nablus in 2002. He remained underground since then. The Al Qassam Brigades said that his arrest by the Palestinian Security Forces is an act of betrayal and collaboration with the Israeli occupation. On Sunday, Ash-Sharif visited his parents for the first time in six years. The visit came as a surprise, as Ash-Sharif’s parenst also thought he was dead. But, soon after he entered his parents home, security forces surrounded it and arrested the Ash-Sharif shortly afterwards.

Hamas operative arrested 6 years after being declared dead
Ali Waked, YNetNews 12/22/2008
Palestinian Authority detains former commander of Hamas’ military wing in Nablus after declaring him dead in 2001 IDF strike; Hamas issues statement slamming PA for collaborating with Israel -The Palestinian Authority arrested the former commander of Hamas’ military wing in the West Bank more than six years after he was declared dead, Ynet has learned. The operation that ended in Rajab al-Sharif’s arrest took place on Saturday. In May of 2001 Hamas claimed al-Sharif had been killed in an Air Force strike on Jneid Prison in Nablus. The strike targeted Mahmoud Abu-Hanoud, a senior Hamas operative responsible for a number of terror attacks in Israel, resulting in the deaths of 12 Palestinian police officers. Abu-Hanoud, who was considered a protégé of al-Sharif, escaped the strike but was killed by the IDF a year and a half later.

Palestinian Authority Arrests Leader of Hamas Military Wing in Nablus
Justin Theriault, International Middle East Media Center News 12/22/2008
On Monday, the Palestinian Authority (PA) announced that they arrested a prominent leader of Hamas’ military wing who was thought to have been dead since 2002, Maan news agency reported. Rajab Ash-Sharif was detained in western Nablus, after two months of preparation on the part of the PA. In 2002 the armed wing of the Hamas movement, the Al-Qassam Brigades, claimed Israeli forces gunned down Ash-Sharif during an incursion into Nablus’ Old City, but his body was never found. The PA security services are claiming that they have been after Ash-Sharif since 2004. Since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in June of 2007, the Fatah-dominated PA has consolidated power in most parts of the West Bank by arresting members of the Hamas movement, and shutting-down Hamas-linked charities. The US and EU are helping to train and equip the PA’s forces in a training camp in Jordan, lead. . .

QB holds Abbas’s security apparatuses responsible for life of Qassam commander
Palestinian Information Center 12/22/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- The armed wing of Hamas Movement, the Qassam Brigades, on Monday held PA chief Mahmoud Abbas’s security apparatuses fully responsible for the life of the Qassam commander in the West Bank Rajab Al-Sharif. The armed wing said in a communiqué that Abbas’s security men arrested Sharif in his family home west of Nablus city in a new "treacherous crime" within those apparatuses’ "rabid" campaign against Hamas and its heroic Mujahideen. It said that Sharif was wanted for the Israeli security apparatuses since 1996 and was arrested by the PA security in 1998 before announcing his martyrdom during the Israeli occupation forces’ invasion of Nablus in 2002 and was since then out of sight until the IOF really thought he was killed. The QB said that Sharif’s visit to his family was his first in six years and his relatives did not know that he was still alive; however the PA. . .

U.K. cop says W. Bank police equipped to handle challenges
Avi Issacharoff, Ha’aretz 12/23/2008
Colin Smith sounded more optimistic than in the last interview with him, six months ago. The British police officer, who as head of mission of the European Union Police Coordinating Office for Palestinian Police Support had trained the Palestinian police force in the West Bank for the past two years, says his trainees are equipped to cope with complex domestic challenges. Speaking to Haaretz in Jerusalem last week as he prepared to end his assignment, Smith said the training process has been long and positive. The senior levels of the force, including the new commissioner, Hazim Atallah, are highly motivated, according to Smith, noting that their capabilities have improved, as has the quality of their equipment. The force is likely to be put to the test within the next month. Hamas is expected to organize mass protests in the run-up to the scheduled end of term of President Mahmoud Abbas on January 9.

Fight against settlements not about boycotting Israel, says U.K. envoy
Reuters, Ha’aretz 12/23/2008
Britain’s envoy to the Middle East on Monday said the United Kingdom would continue its fight against West Bank settlements, but would not mount a broader divestment campaign. "This isn’t about boycotting Israel. The settlements are not Israel," said Bill Rammell. He made the comments in Jerusalem after meeting Israeli and Palestinian leaders and touring parts of the West Bank. While Britain has stepped up inspections of Israeli imports to make sure products from West Bank settlements not enter duty-free, Rammell said pressuring British companies to pull out of the settlements would be a step too far. In addition to random inspections of Israeli goods by the British tax authority, Britain has taken the lead in trying to get the European Union to set labeling standards to make clear to consumers which products come from Israel and which come from settlements in the West Bank.

Top-level British delegation visits Hebron to witness 'facts on the ground'
Ma’an News Agency 12/22/2008
Hebron – Ma’an – British Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East Bill Rammell toured the southern West bank city of Hebron and called for removal of “illegal” Israeli settlements in the city on Monday afternoon. Rammell was accompanied on his tour of Hebron by the British consul general in Jerusalem Richard Makepeace, his deputy John Edward and consul for political affairs Karin Mckloski accompanied the minister in his visit. The tour began with breakfast at a restaurant in the old city where the delegation ate with Hebron governor Hussein Al-A’raj and Mayor Khalid Al-Useili as well as head of the committee for rehabilitation of Hebron Ali Al-Qawasmi. “I came to see facts on the ground firsthand,” Rammel told an afternoon press conference, “and I saw settlers’ assaults against residents of Hebron.

Israeli activist arrested while attempting to leave Gaza
Ma’an News Agency 12/22/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an – An Israeli citizen who sailed to the Gaza Strip in defiance of an Israeli blockade was arrested on Monday while attempting to leave Gaza through the land border with Israel. Neta Golan, International Solidarity Movement (ISM) will appear in court in the city of Kiryat Gat tomorrow. Golan arrived in Gaza on 20 December along with 17 others on the SS Dignity, on the fifth voyage to break the blockade since August. Neta Golan’s lawyer, Adnan Aladdin, condemned the arrest;"Ms Golan’s actions in no way constitute a crime. Her actions in entering Gaza were acts of necessity based on international law and a rejection of the policies of collective punishment pursued by the Israeli government"Two other Israelis, Israeli Committee Against House Demolition (ICAHD) founder Jeff Halper, and Haaretz journalists Amira Hass were also arrested after sailing to Gaza and leaving through the Erez crossing.

Neta Golan arrested by Israeli police after attempting to leave Gaza
International Solidarity Movement 12/22/2008
International Actions - Gaza Region - Neta Golan, an Israeli citizen and co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), has been arrested by Israeli police while attempting to leave Gaza through the Erez border crossing. Neta Golan, 38, arrived Gaza on the 20th December, along with 17 human rights observers on the SS Dignity, the fifth boat to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza, organised by the Free Gaza Movement. She will be taken to court tomorrow (23rd December) in Kiryat Gat. Neta Golan’s lawyer, Adnan Aladdin, condemned the arrest; "Ms Golan’s actions in no way constitute a crime. Her actions in entering Gaza were acts of necessity based on international law and a rejection of the policies of collective punishment pursued by the Israeli government. Humanitarian needs, such as those faced by the Palestinian people of Gaza due to the Israeli siege,. . . "

Israeli activist detained exiting Gaza
Ali Waked, YNetNews 12/22/2008
Neta Golan arrested at Erez crossing upon attempting to re-enter Israel from Gaza, after arriving on boat of activists protesting blockade -Israeli peace activist Neta Golan was detained Monday at the Erez crossing while attempting to make her way into Israel from Gaza after arriving at the Strip on a boat from Cyprus. The boat, carrying activists protesting Israel’s naval blockade, docked in Gaza on Saturday. Golan, 38, was detained for three hours and then taken into custody. A court hearing on her case has been scheduled for Tuesday at the Kiryat Gat Magistrates’ Court. The International Solidarity Movement, to which Golan belongs, condemned her arrest. They said she had not committed any offense and that her entry into Gaza was intended to provide relief for the humanitarian needs of the residents there.

'Dignity' boat leaves Gaza with four stranded Palestinians
Palestinian Information Center 12/22/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- The "Dignity" boat that carried Qatari aid to the Gaza Strip left Gaza harbor on Sunday after a 48-hour visit carrying with them four stranded Palestinian citizens. The 15-member delegation including Qatari nationals took back with them a group of projects to be tabled with the Qatari government and institutions to finance them. The members pledged to organize future sea voyages to Gaza. The Qatari delegates toured the Gaza harbor and studied possibilities of rehabilitating it along with the health sector, which is greatly suffering as a result of the Israeli siege. MP Jamal Al-Khudari, the head of the popular anti siege committee, said that the conditions in Gaza were still worsening and Arab and international efforts are needed to end the siege. Ismail Haneyya, the premier of the PA caretaker government in Gaza, received those who came aboard the boat and thanked them for their efforts.

Palestine Today 122208
IMEMC News - Aduio Dept, International Middle East Media Center News 12/22/2008
Click on Link to download or play MP3 file|| 3 m 30s || 3. 20 MB || Welcome to Palestine Today, a service of the International Middle East Media Center www. imemc. org, for Monday December 22 2008 Israeli military kidnaps 10 Palestinian civilians from the West Bank, Tzipi Livni call for Hamas to be toppled. These stories, and more coming up, stay tuned. The News Cast The Free Gaza Movement reported on Sunday that the Qatari ship, the first Arab solidarity boat to break the Israeli siege, sailed out of Gaza after activists onboard spent 48 hours delivering humanitarian supplies, and observing the negative and devastating effects of the unjust Israeli siege. The activists visited relief organizations and educational facilities in the coastal region. Fifteen Qatari nationals and international peace activists were onboard the ship.

Be’er Sheva mayor: We are installing Qassam warning system
Yanir Yagna, Ha’aretz 12/22/2008
Be’er Sheva Mayor Rubik Danilovich on Sunday said that his city plans to improve conditions in its bomb shelters and is preparing to install a Color Red alarm system. Danilovich’s comments came in the wake of Sunday’s announcement by Shin Bet security service chief Yuval Diskin that Hamas is capable of firing rockets capable of striking targets on the outskirts Be’er Sheva, as well as Kiryat Gat and Ashdod. "We expect that the government will not allow us to get to the point where Be’er Sheva will absorb rocket fire," said Danilovich. "The government must take measures to prevent this from happening. " Danilovich added that Be’er Sheva has begun preparatory exercises in coordination with the Home Front Command to raise the city’s level of alertness. Be’er Sheva has 250 public bomb shelters intended for use by its 200,000 residents.

’At least in J’lem we were safe at home’
Jerusalem Post 12/22/2008
The situation in Gaza-belt communities, according to Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, is "terrible, just terrible. " In an interview with Israel Radio on Monday afternoon, Itzik spoke of her experiences living in Jerusalem during periods of frequent terror attacks, saying "the one place we were safe was at home. We were scared to send our children on buses and in taxis, but at home we knew we were protected. " In the South, however, she said there was no respite. "24 hours a day, it’s enough to make you crazy," she said, calling for action from the government to rectify the situation. "I feel that Israel, at the moment, and I’m a part of it, isn’t doing anything," she said. Itzik went on to say that the international community accepts the constant rocket barrage on Israel because "Israel itself accepts the situation.

Israel says Apache helicopter came under fire before airstrike
Ma’an News Agency 12/22/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an – An Israeli apache helicopter came under fire from Palestinian fighters while before it fired on the northern Gaza Strip on Sunday night, the Israeli military said. The military said the helicopter fired back at the fighters, who were also preparing to launch homemade projectiles. Mua’waiyah Hassanein, the Ministry of Health’s director of Ambulance and Emergency Services said that four Palestinians were injured in a strike on the Shuja’iyya neighborhood of Gaza city. One of the injured was a child. The airstrike was one event in a day of continued violence in Gaza. A shaky-six month old truce between armed Palestinian groups and Israel expired on Friday. Hamas’ military wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades held training exercises in central Gaza involving the use of machine guns to attack Israeli helicopters.

Gunning for a good time
Nadav Shragai, Ha’aretz 12/23/2008
From Givat Ahiyah, 857 meters above sea level, one can see thousands of olive trees in the Shilo Valley below. When Yossi and Ronit Shoker planted them here 12 years ago, their action had a lot of romance in it and mostly ideology. The hundreds of dunams on which the trees were planted were leased to the Ahiyah Farm by the World Zionist Organization’s settlement department. There was a dual purpose: redeeming as much state land as possible to prevent Palestinians from taking them over, and creating a foundation for Hebrew labor. Today, Yossi Shoker is gone. He was seriously injured in a work accident in the olive press he built and died six and half years later. But his homemade olive press has become a major operation that handles 1,500 tons of olives per season and has annual sales of NIS 10 million. It and the adjacent olive groves have become a tourist attraction, especially around. . .

B’Tselem: '58% of Ofra Settlement Built on Private Palestinian Lands'
Saed Bannoura, International Middle East Media Center News 12/22/2008
The Israeli Information Center For Human Rights (B’Tselem) demanded Israel to evacuate Ofra settlement since it is considered by Israeli law as an illegal settlement outpost, especially since 58% of the settlement is privately owned by Palestinian residents of Yabroud and Silwan. Ofra settlement is one of the first settlements constructed by Israel in the occupied West Bank. B’Tselem said that the houses in the settlement did not receive construction permits and are classified as a random settlement outpost. The B’Tselem report revealed that the settlement was constructed on 670 Dunams. "Of these 670 Dunams, about 180 are included in an expropriation order issued by the Israeli military commander in 1977. According to the Civil Administration, this order merely "executes" an expropriation order issued by the Jordanian government in 1966.

B’Tselem: 33-year-old settlement as illegal as any outpost
Ma’an News Agency 12/22/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an – The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem released a report on Monday concluding that the legal status of the 33-year-old Israeli settlement Ofra is identical to that of any so-called “unauthorized outpost” in the West Bank. Using data obtained from the Civil Administration, a branch of the Israeli force occupying the West Bank, B’Tselem found that 58% of Ofra is built on land owned privately by Palestinans. The Israeli state differentiates between more than 130 sanctioned settlements, including Ofra, and dozens of “outposts. ” B’Tselems argument is that all such settlements are illegal under international law, and even violate Israel’s own criteria. Israeli government decisions and high court resolutions prohibit building settlements on private Palestinian land.

B’Tselem: Over half of Ofra built on Arab land
Jerusalem Post 12/21/2008
The legal status of a major West Bank settlement is identical to that of an illegal outpost, as more than half of it was constructed on Palestinian land, according to a report released Monday by the human rights group B’Tselem. The report said that at least 58 percent of Ofra, near Ramallah, was located on land registered as privately owned by Palestinians. The human rights group noted that government decisions and High Court rulings prohibited the construction of settlements on private Palestinian land. Government officials have repeatedly said that settlements were built on state land and not on private land. The report, based on data B’Tselem obtained from the Civil Administration, stated that 210 dunams of the 670-dunam settlement consisted of land belonging to nearby Palestinian villagers, while another 180 dunams were "unlawfully expropriated by the Israeli army three decades ago.

Israeli forces assault Palestinian prisoners
Press release, PCHR, Electronic Intifada 12/22/2008
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) strongly condemns attacks launched by Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) against Palestinian detainees at Ofer detention facility in Beitunia town southwest of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. According to investigations conducted by PCHR, at approximately 11:00am on Saturday, 20 December 2008, dozens of IOF prison guards, accompanied by representatives of Ofer the detention facility administration arrived at Department B to conduct a search without prior coordination with the representatives of detainees. They provocatively searched the department and violently beat a number of detainees. As a consequence, tension spread throughout the detention facility and the detainees declared high alert. Soon after, the administration of the detention facility sprayed hot water, and used sound bombs and tear gas canisters against the detainees.

Gazans condemn Israeli Ofer prison violence, call it step in chain of Israeli aggression
Ma’an News Agency 12/22/2008
Gaza – Ma’an – Israeli prison guards’ Saturday attacks on Palestinian detainees is the latest example of Israel’s chain of aggression against all facets of Palestinian society, said participants of Monday’s protest against in Gaza. Palestinian politicians and leaders of factions and human rights societies gathered in front of the Red Cross Headquarters in Gaza City to condemn the Ofer detention center attacks and affirm Palestinian commitment to resisting Israeli aggression. The regular sit-in is organized by the Wa’id Society for Prisoners Families. Hamas-affiliated lawmaker Mushir Al-Masri told protesters that prisoners are a top priority for this party, saying Hamas is open to all possibilities for securing the release of prisoners. He said resistance groups in Gaza will not be deterred by Israeli threats to assassinate resistance leaders, and that any attack on Gaza would only open the door to wider resistance operations.

Street sign ’solves’ Arlosoroff murder: ’Arabs’ killed him
Yanir Yagna, Ha’aretz 12/23/2008
After 75 years, the city of Be’er Sheva has finally solved the riddle of who murdered Chaim Arlosoroff: A street sign in his honor declares that he was "murdered by Arabs. " Arlosoroff, who headed the Jewish Agency’s political department, was murdered in 1933 while he and his wife, Sima, were strolling along the beach in Tel Aviv. According to Sima’s subsequent testimony, they had been followed by two men, one of whom shot her husband. The chief suspects at the time were two members of the Revisionist movement, Avraham Stavsky and Zvi Rosenblatt. The Revisionists were the chief rivals of Arlosoroff’s Mapai movement. However, the two were released a few months later due to a lack of evidence, and the murder remains unsolved to this day. Be’er Sheva’s solution to the riddle outraged two Arab lawyers from the city, Mahmood Alsheikh and Yosif Abukwider, who asked the city’s comptroller to order the sign removed.

Abbas seeks Russian support in sluggish peace process
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 12/23/2008
MOSCOW: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday met Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for the first time, seeking Russian support to keep the shaky Middle East peace process on track. Abbas’ visit to Moscow came against a backdrop of resurgent unrest in Gaza, with Israel threatening a major offensive against Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the enclave. "I am sure we will work together in a fruitful manner, above all as the problems with which the region is confronted are growing at the moment," Medvedev said during the talks. "We have many questions to discuss and we know that you bring a particular attention to the problems of the Middle East," Abbas added. Russia is a member of the so-called "Quartet" for Middle East peace that also includes the EU, the UN and the US and has had traditionally friendly relations with the Arab world dating back to the Soviet era.

Abass and Medvedev to Meet in Moscow Today
Justin Theriault, International Middle East Media Center News 12/22/2008
On Monday, December 22, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will hold talks with Palestinian National Authority (PNA) President Mahmoud Abbas, Itar-Tass news agency reports. Abbas is visiting Russia at the invitation of President Medvedev. Abbas was in Grozny on Sunday for a meeting with Chechen President, Ramzan Kadyrov. Although this will be Abbas’ 16th visit to Russia in the past decade, this will be his first meeting with President Medvedev. Many analysts are calling this current visit ’a farewell’, because Abbas’ office will expire on January 9 and general elections are to be held in Palestine. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, a Federation Council delegation, and Audit Chamber Chairman Sergei Stepashin visited Palestinian lands this year, and the Russian-Palestinian Working Committee convened in Moscow this April.

Defense officials: Drop in rocket attacks won’t stop Gaza op
Khaled Abu Toameh And Yaakov Katz, Jerusalem Post 12/23/2008
An operation will be launched against Hamas in the Gaza Strip even if the terror group heeds an Egyptian request and reduces its rocket attacks against Israel, senior defense officials said Monday. Two Kassam rockets and three mortar shells landed in Israel on Monday as Hamas officials said the group had agreed to a 24-hour cease-fire. This came after a warning from Egypt that Israel would begin assassinating Hamas leaders if the rocket attacks continued. A senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip told The Jerusalem Post that Egypt had relayed the message Sunday night. He said that Egyptian intelligence chief Gen. Omar Suleiman had contacted Hamas leaders there and in Damascus and urged a halt to the attacks so as not to give Israel an excuse to launch a massive military operation. "The Egyptians told us that Israel is planning to assassinate a number of Hamas leaders," the official said.

Mubarak calls Livni to Cairo to discuss renewing Gaza cease-fire
Amos Harel Barak Ravid and Avi Issacharoff, Ha’aretz 12/23/2008
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will head to Cairo on Thursday to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak about the possibility of reviving the truce with Hamas. Hamas announced yesterday that it would suspend hostilities for 24 hours, at Cairo’s request. Nevertheless, Palestinians fired two Qassam rockets and several mortar shells at Israel from the Gaza Strip; they also fired twice at soldiers stationed along the border fence. No one was hurt in any of the incidents. Should efforts to revive the cease-fire fail, Israel has decided to embark on an aerial offensive against Hamas. However, Israeli officials are keeping the launch date for the offensive close to their chests, in the hope of surprising the Islamic organization. Egypt mediated the talks that led to the cease-fire being declared six months ago.

Egypt Secures Pledge from Israel
Justin Theriault, International Middle East Media Center News 12/22/2008
Egypt has secured a pledge from Israel today not to launch a major invasion into the Gaza Strip for up to two weeks after the end of the six-month Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, Central Issues Israeli news reported Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had asked Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to promise to hold the Israeli military at bay, in order to allow for the truce to be renegotiated with Hamas leaders. The United States pressed Israel to agree to Egypt’s request. According to a report in a London-based Arabic newspaper, al-Quds al-Arabia, Egyptian officials have been discussing renewing the truce with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, and not the Hamas government in Gaza. In a rare public statement Israeli Chief of Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, told Israeli Army Radio that the biggest obstacle to a major military incursion into the Gaza Strip is the life of captive Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who’s been held captive in Gaza since 2006.

Mubarak invites Livni to Cairo for talks
Herb Keinon, Jerusalem Post 12/22/2008
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak extended an invitation on Monday to Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to meetings in Cairo on Thursday, according to an announcement put out by Livni’s office on Monday. According to the statement, the two will talk about the security situation in the south "and other issues. " Livni received the invitation during a conversation she had earlier in the day with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit. The invitation to Livni, and not to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, is certain to spark speculation that this represented an indirect Egyptian endorsement of Livni in the upcoming elections. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reportedly approved the trip. The trip will come just a matter of days after Yuval Diskin, the head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) said that Egypt was not presently an effective broker in negotiations with Hamas, because the trust between Hamas and Egypt had broken down.

Analysis: Barak maneuvering between Cairo and Livni
Yaakov Katz, Jerusalem Post 12/22/2008
Hamas on Monday proved what the IDF has been saying for the past three-and-a-half years since the disengagement from the Gaza Strip - that all terror attacks from Gaza are under Hamas’s auspices and control. Since the cease-fire collapsed in November, several groups have been behind the rocket fire into Israel - Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees. Each group had its own interests; some just wanted to terrorize Israel and others didn’t want the crossings to open and take away business from the lucrative smuggling industry along the Philadelphi Corridor. But on Monday, Hamas showed the world it was in charge. After a barrage of close to 20 projectiles on Sunday and some 30 over the weekend, by Monday night only a handful of Kassams and mortars had fallen in Israel. The lull had come at the behest of Egypt, which is playing a fascinating role in the current round between Israel and Hamas.

Barak slams backing of Gaza op
Jerusalem Post 12/22/2008
Whilst arguing over whether Israel should embark on a large-scale military operation against Hamas in the Gaza Strip following the increase in rocket attacks and the end of the six-month cease-fire, Israeli politicians didn’t hesitate to criticize each other on Monday. Mideast expert Dan Schuefton: Hamas must be hurt badly "I’m hearing repeated populist statements from those who have never experienced or seen a war, people who are now becoming promoters of ’different politics. ’ This babbling is costing us lives and may damage the effectiveness of a Gaza operation," Defense Minister and Labor chairman Ehud Barak said at a faction meeting on Monday morning, according to an Army Radio report. "When these promoters of ’different politics’ dealt with war while serving in the government, they demonstrated light-headedness and abandonment even in regards to national considerations, at times due to personal motives.

Livni: We won’t allow Hamastan in Gaza
Roni Sofer, YNetNews 12/22/2008
Foreign minister issues stern warning to Islamist group ahead of planned meeting with Egyptian president as part of Cairo bid to prevent escalation of Gaza crisis, launching of Israeli military operation - Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has invited Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni to Cairo this coming Thursday in the hopes of preventing the further deterioration of the Gaza standoff. Livni is expected to present Jerusalem’s current stance, which holds that enough is enough - and that Israel is duty-bound to protect its citizens from the incessant rocket and mortar fire from Gaza. " We will not allow the prolonged existence of a Hamastan state in Gaza," Livni said during a Kadima security convention in preperation for her visit to Egypt. Support For Op? Israel launches PR blitz ahead of Gaza operation / Foreign Ministry agrees on. . .

Bardawil: Israeli leaders’ threat to end Hamas rule will fail
Palestinian Information Center 12/22/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- MP Dr. Salah Al-Bardawil, the spokesman of Hamas Movement’s parliamentary bloc, said on Monday that Israeli leaders’ threats to end the rule of Hamas in Gaza would end up in failure. He told the PIC in an exclusive statement that the declarations by leaders of Kadima and Likud parties Tzipi Livni and Benjamin Netanyahu respectively were meant as part of the elections’ media campaign to win more votes among the Zionist extremists. The statements indicate that Hamas has become the hope of the Arab and Islamic Ummah (Nation) and not only the Palestinian people through its incessant endeavor to spur the Ummah into confronting the worst occupation in history of mankind, he elaborated. Threats have been voiced in the past and failed and those threats would also fail, Bardawil underlined, adding that each time Israel attacked Hamas it became stronger and more entrenched. . .

Palestinian armed groups threaten renewed bombing inside Israel in event of Gaza invasion
Ma’an News Agency 12/22/2008
Gaza – Ma’an – Palestinian armed groups threatened on Monday to resume bombing attacks inside Israel in the event of a major Israeli invasion in Gaza or assassination of Palestinian leaders. On Sunday, the two frontrunners in the Israeli general election, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and right-wing opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to remove Hamas from power in the Gaza Strip. While the leaders of Palestinian armed groups said they are taking Israel’s threats seriously, political leaders in Gaza dismissed the Israeli pronouncements as election season rhetoric. The spokesperson of Hamas’ Al-Qassam Brigades, Abu Ubayda told Ma’an, “Israel might assassinate factions’ leaders during the coming days, but I don’t expect a major military incursion in the Gaza Strip. ”He asserted that Palestinian resistance has the option to respond to Israeli aggression including bombings in Israeli cities.

Palestinians agree to 24-hour lull
Al Jazeera 12/23/2008
Hamas and other factions have agreed to halt firing of rockets into Israel for 24 hours to allow aid to be delivered to Gaza, a Hamas official has said. An Egyptian convoy carrying food and medical supplies worth $1m is expected to be let into the Gaza Strip, after Hamas agreed to the unilateral Egypt-mediated truce on Monday. The five-lorry aid convoy, carrying 40 tonnes of flour, 20 tonnes of rice as well as medical equipment, was expected to enter Gaza on Tuesday. Ayman Taha, a Hamas official, said Hamas and other armed factions in Gaza accepted "a calm for a 24-hour period following Egyptian mediation in exchange for the delivery of aid from Egypt". Hossam Zaki, a spokesman for the Egyptian foreign ministry, told the AFP news agency that "we asked both both parties to create a suitable. . .

UNRWA: Escalation is a ’recipe for disaster’ in Gaza
Brenda Gazzar, Jerusalem Post 12/23/2008
An escalation of hostilities between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip would push more families in Gaza under the poverty line and put them in need of food and cash assistance from the already resource-strained UNRWA, officials from the agency warned Monday. The continuing blockade on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, coupled with the end of the Egyptian-brokered cease-fire was "a recipe for disaster" for the coastal territory’s impoverished population and would further impede the international organization’s mandate for human development work, said Jerusalem-based UNRWA spokesman Sami Mshasha. But the international relief agency, which provides education, health care, social services and emergency aid to Palestinian refugees, also said it was poised to continue its work, even if the violence increased.

International player could enter Gaza cease-fire impasse
Barak Ravid, Ha’aretz 12/23/2008
An international player is attempting to renew talks between Israel and Hamas about the cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, according to senior government sources in Jerusalem, who would not identify the entity involved because of the sensitivity of the issue. The contacts were currently at the level of initial feelers, said the sources. The report follows remarks of Shin Bet security service head Yuval Diskin at the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday that international figures were trying to push dialogue between Israel and Hamas in view of the lack of faith between Hamas and Egypt, which had been mediating contacts. . It is unclear how serious these moves are, or how interested Israel is in such mediation. Sources in the foreign and defense ministries said no official approach has been made to Israel on the matter. A Foreign Ministry source said yesterday: "So far there have been many volunteers to mediate between Israel and Hamas. . . "

Livni: Israel won’t remain indifferent
Roni Sofer, YNetNews 12/22/2008
Egyptian foreign minister telephones Israeli counterpart, expresses his concern over situation in Gaza. Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper reports Cairo has launched talks with Israelis, Palestinian factions in attempt to mediate new ceasefire - While Hamas leaders claim that no talks are being held on a renewal of the truce with Israel, Egyptian officials say they have stepped up the mediation efforts between Israel and the Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip in order to try and broker another ceasefire in the area now that the Gaza truce has elapsed. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit telephoned his Israeli counterpart Tzipi Livni on Monday morning and expressed his concern over the post-ceasefire situation in Gaza. Livni told him the situation in southern Israel was escalating and made it clear that Israel has to defend its citizens and cannot remain indifferent in light of the situation. She added that Jerusalem still views Cairo as a mediator which may help calm the situation down.

Meet the Hamas military leadership
Yaakov Katz, Jerusalem Post 12/22/2008
Israel has Lt. -Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi as its chief of staff. Hamas has Ahmed Ja’abri. Ja’abri is in his late 40s and has been in Israel’s sights for a number of years. In 2004, Israel Air Force jets fired several missiles at his home in the Sajiya neighborhood of Gaza City. Ja’abri escaped the assassination attempt with moderate wounds. Five others were killed. Since then, he has slowly climbed the Hamas ranks and today is believed to be the group’s "chief of staff," replacing arch-terrorist Muhammad Deif, who was seriously wounded by an Israeli air strike in July 2006 and whose role in the organization today is unclear. Ja’abri is credited with the current Hamas build-up and is believed to be far more extreme than its political echelon. Today, the group has five brigades corresponding to five sections of the Gaza Strip - North, Center, Gaza City, and two brigades in the South.

Olmert: Israel will respond to rockets
Roni Sofer, YNetNews 12/22/2008
Prime minister meets with Turkish president in Ankara to discuss indirect peace talks with Syria, declares that fire on southern residents must receive response; adds ’peace with Syria attainable, Turkey suitable mediator’ - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is visiting Turkey in order to discuss the latter’s mediation in the indirect peace talks between Israel and Syria, but Monday’s meeting with President Abdullah Gul also focused on the ongoing fire from Gaza. " Israel cannot refrain from responding to the criminal fire on its citizens," Omert told Gul during their meeting in Ankara. Regarding negotiations with Syria he said, "Peace with Syria is attainable. I always thought Turkey would be a very suitable mediator. "Olmert is also scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Syrian President Bashar Assad said earlier that he believes direct. . .

Livni and Netanyahu vow to oust Hamas after Gaza rocket strikes
Ben Lynfield in Jerusalem, The Independent 12/22/2008
The Israeli government faced growing pressure to adopt a tough military posture against Hamas as renewed rocket attacks against southern Israel moved to the fore of the Israeli election campaign yesterday. Two days after the end of a fragile six-month ceasefire with Hamas, at least 20 rockets and mortar bombs struck southern Israel, including a direct hit on a house in the border town of Sderot. Nobody was hurt. The rocket attacks coincided with a cabinet meeting that was meant to forge a strategy on how to deal with the militant Islamic movement that rules the Gaza Strip, but instead illustrated sharp divisions within the ruling Kadima party. The Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, who hastily led Israel into war with Hizbollah in Lebanon in 2006, suggested a wait and see approach to Gaza, saying that "a responsible government doesn’t rush into battle, neither does it shy away".

Hamas: Twenty-four hour ceasefire in effect
Ma’an News Agency 12/22/2008
Gaza – Ma’an – Hamas accepted an Egyptian proposal to halt the launch of projectiles at Israeli targets for 24 hours, said party spokesperson Ayman Taha Monday evening. Sources in Gaza sent conflicting reports, some saying the decision to call the ceasefire was made late Sunday night, and others claiming it did not go into effect until five o’clock Monday evening. Monday afternoon reports of Palestinian projectiles launched at the Israeli Kissufim Military base in the southern Gaza Strip as well as Israeli airstrikes on Palestinian targets east of Gaza city put early announcements of the 24-hour truce in doubt. During his afternoon press conference Taha assured the media that all Gaza’s brigades accepted the proposed ceasefire, on the condition that food and supplies be delivered to Gaza via its southern Rafah border with Egypt.

Islamic Jihad: 'Resistance Agreed to Ceasefire for 24 Hours to Allow Entry of Aid to Gaza'
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 12/22/2008
The Islamic Jihad Movement stated on Monday that it agreed with all other factions to stop the firing of homemade shells for twenty-four hours in order to allow the entry of dozens of trucks carrying food and humanitarian supplies into the Gaza Strip. The statement came after Egypt requested a period of calm in order to facilitate the entry of aid to the residents of Gaza. Khalid Al Batsh, a senior political leader of the Islamic Jihad, said that his movement, and the rest of the Palestinian factions agreed to 24-hours of calm. He added that this short period of calm is not an extension to the truce which officially ended on Friday. Al Batsh added that the truce is over; the the occupation never lifted the siege, and continued the invasions and assaults "therefore, resistance will resume its activities after the 24 hours are over".

Hamas holding fire ’at Egypt’s request’
Reuters, YNetNews 12/22/2008
Senior group member says armed Gaza factions observing 24-hour halt to rocket fire against Israel, might consider longer truce if Jewish state reciprocates by ceasing all military attacks in Gaza, lifting blockade. Despite declaration, two rockets fired into Israel Monday afternoon -After three days of incessant firing of rockets and mortar shells into Israel, only two Qassam rockets landed in the western Negev since Sunday night. One rocket landed in an open area in the Eshkol Regional Council and another landed near a road in the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council, without causing injuries or damage. A senior member of the ruling Islamist Hamas group explained on Monday that Palestinian armed factions in the Gaza Strip were observing a 24-hour halt to rocket fire against Israel at the request of Egyptian mediators.

IOA to rally international support for major operation against Gaza
Palestinian Information Center 12/22/2008
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM, (PIC)-- The Israeli occupation authority has decided to embark on a world-wide media campaign to rally international support for an expected military operation against the Gaza Strip. Hebrew daily Yediot Ahronot said that Tel Aviv was planning a wave of diplomatic campaigns to recruit an "international umbrella" that would support it in the event a large-scale military operation against Gaza was launched. The campaign apparently kicked off when Yuval Diskin, the head of the Israeli general security apparatus the Shabak, claimed that Hamas Movement in Gaza obtained new missiles capable of reaching Ashdod and the outskirts of Beer Sheba. Diskin told the Israeli weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday that Hamas was not willing to use those new missiles unless it was hardly hit by the Israeli army.

Abbas will work for new ceasefire agreement, spokesperson says
Ma’an News Agency 12/22/2008
Ramallah – Ma’an – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will do his best to secure a renewal of the ceasefire agreement between Gaza factions and Israel, his spokesperson Nabil Abu Rdeina said Monday. Abbas, currently in Moscow, spent Friday in Washington where he bid farewell to outgoing American President George W. Bush. The trip, according to Abu Rdeina is designed as a follow-up tour in advance of the New Year. Among the topics Abbas will discuss on this trip will be the latest resolution passed by the UN Security Council, urging Israeli and Palestinian parties in the peace negotiations to continue in their work despite administration changes in the United States, Israel and perhaps even the West Bank.

Hamdan: Hamas established to protect resistance, constants
Palestinian Information Center 12/22/2008
BEIRUT, (PIC)-- Hamas was established to protect resistance and national constants and to liberate Palestine from Zionist occupation and not to replace any other faction, Osama Hamdan, Hamas’s representative in Lebanon, said. Hamdan, speaking at rally organized by Hamas marking its establishment anniversary on Sunday in Nahr El-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon, said that despite the hostile campaigns against it, his Movement was still enjoying and promoting the spirit of resistance regardless of "oppressive agreements, arrests and assassinations against its leaders and cadres". Shifting to the issue of internal dialog, the Hamas leader championed dialog on the basis of constants, restructuring the PLO and rebuilding security apparatuses to confront occupation and not resistance. He renewed rejection of an alternate homeland for the Palestinian people and refusal of "peace. . .

Court orders media to list Arab parties by name
Sharon Roffe-Ofir, YNetNews 12/22/2008
Elections committee chair accepts appeal by Dov Khenin of Hadash, which claimed that displaying Jewish parties separately while grouping Arab parties together in polls ’seriously offends principle of equality in elections’ -Supreme Court Judge Eliezer Rivlin, chairman of the Elections Committee, ordered the media to refer to all Arab parties running for Knesset by name, rather than include them under the general category of "the Arab parties" when publishing poll results. The decision followed an appeal made by Knesset Member Dov Khenin (Hadash), who claimed that the current mode of coverage prevents the public from distinguishing between the different parties. "Cataloguing Hadash as an Arab party is an act that effectively undermines the basis of our goal - to create a common political foundation for Jews and Arabs," Khenin said.

Ballot Box
Ha’aretz 12/23/2008
Israel’s Arab parties must be included individually in media reports on opinion poll results, the chairman of the Central Elections Committee, Justice Eliezer Rivlin, stated yesterday. When providing poll results Hebrew-language media outlets generally group the three Arab parties - United Arab List-Ta’al, Hadash and Balad - under the rubric "Arab parties," without detailing the numbers for each. Rivlin’s directive came in response to an appeal by MK Dov Khenin (Hadash). "This is an important victory, especially for Hadash, which is trying to be a Jewish-Arab party," Khenin said yesterday. The Arab parties are usually lumped together due to the difficulty in polling Arab voters using a small representative sample as well as the fact that the results for these parties fall within the statistical margin of error. (Shahar Ilan)Baruch Marzel’s far-right party Eretz Yisrael Shelanu ("Our. . .

Meretz approves joining new leftist party by large margin
Roni Singer-Heruti, Ha’aretz 12/23/2008
The Meretz central committee yesterday approved joining the new leftist party by a large majority. Although 87 percent of the central committee voted for the move, some people voiced criticism over the fact that Meretz candidates ranked in last week’s primary would get lower slots on the combined party’s Knesset list, in order to accommodate candidates from the new partner. Meretz chairman MK Haim Oron responded, "The number 10 slot on the new list is more secure than number seven on the Meretz list. "Television journalist Nitzan Horowitz, who won the third spot on the new list, spoke at the central committee meeting, saying he hoped the new list would bring in voters who described themselves as disgusted with politics. The room cheered when Horowitz talked about his socialist economic views. The author Amos Oz praised the new list at the meeting, and attacked Labor. . .

Meretz finalizes union with new leftist movement
Eli Senyor, YNetNews 12/22/2008
Party convenes to greenlight unity plan, author Amos Oz uses opportunity to bash Labor Chairman Barak for saying he would consider joining coalition under Likud’s Netanyahu -Meretz members voted overwhelmingly in favor of uniting their party with the new left-wing movement. Following the decision, journalist Nitzan Horowitz will be ranked third on the joint elections roster. Prior to the vote several key Meretz leaders addressed the crowd. Party Chairman Chaim Oron said he was convinced the unity vote would go smoothly. "I wasn’t concerned, but the majority we have is big, and I see that as a serious vote of confidence in our way," said Oron. Ilan Gilon, who scored a surprising victory in the recent primaries and landed the second slot on the roster, seemed pleased: "Obviously we welcome the completion of this process, now we will make an effort to get more representatives into the Knesset.

Likud: Ethiopian candidate reinstated on Knesset roster
Amnon Meranda, YNetNews 12/22/2008
Alali Adamso wins motion to overturn Elections Committee’s decision to disqualify his bid for immigrant rep on Knesset roster; Likud Court rules he is to keep 28th place on list -The Likud Court on Monday granted an appeal filed by Alali Adamso, who was elected to the No. 28 slot on the party’s Knesset roster, and stated that his election was valid despite claims that he was ineligible for the bid. The party primaries saw Adamso win one of the two slots reserved for representatives of the Russian and Ethiopian immigrant communities; however his election was challenged by two other candidates. The two filed a petition with the Likud Elections Committee, asking it disqualifies Adamso on grounds of failing to meet the Likud Codex’s criteria for running for the immigrant representative slot.

Lieberman to approve Yisrael Beiteinu roster
Yael Branovsky, YNetNews 12/22/2008
Yisrael Beiteinu’s final Knesset list to be approved Monday. MKs Yosef Shagal, Esterina Tartman not included -Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman is expected to give his final approval of the party’s roster for the 18 Knesset Monday evening. The list expected to be approved is as follows: 1. MK Avigdor Lieberman, 2. Uzi Landau, 3. MK Stasisezhnikov, 4. Yitzhak Aharonovitch, 5. Sofa Landver, 6. Orly Levi, 7. Danny Ayalon, 8. David Rotem, 9. Anastasia Michaeli, 10. Faina Kirschenbaum, 11. MK Robert Ilatov, 12. Hamed Amar, 13. Moshe Matalon, 14. MK Lia Shemtov, 15. MK Alex Miller. Sunday evening the party’s committee submitted its recommendations to Lieberman, after interviewing over 170 candidates, including current MKs and new members.

Yisrael Beitenu list: Two famous models, one disappointed ambassador
Haviv Rettig Gur, Jerusalem Post 12/21/2008
The Israel Beitenu Party announced its Knesset list on Monday evening, presenting a list of familiar names with few surprises. While some in the party vowed to fight the new list, which was drawn up Sunday night by the party’s organizing committee and approved by the party’s central committee on Monday, it will likely be the one contending for votes on in February 10. The first two slots had been reserved for party chairman MK Avigdor Lieberman and former Likud MK Uzi Landau. But the most famous name besides Landau to join the party in recent weeks, former ambassador to the US Danny Ayalon, was placed only seventh. Though he will likely make it into the Knesset, this slot almost assures he will not get a cabinet post or Knesset committee chairmanship. Current MKs Lia Shemtov and Alex Miller also suffered on the new list, falling to 14 and 15 respectively,. . .

Netanyahu’s aides nix debate for now
Mazal Mualem, Ha’aretz 12/23/2008
Associates of Benjamin Netanyahu have given what appears to be a negative answer to the debate invitation that Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni extended to the Likud chief last week. "First Livni needs to debate herself and make up her mind on whether she’s in favor of unilateral pullouts or not," a Netanyahu associate said. According to another: "Likud’s chairman would be delighted to debate Livni, but only after she decides on whether she wants to cede East Jerusalem and return to the borders of June 4, 1967. " He added that "Livni flip-flopped across the political establishment this week when she substituted her former views, which resemble the platform of the left-wing Meretz party, with those of the hawkish Avigdor Lieberman from Yisrael Beiteinu. "When Livni invited Labor chief Ehud Barak to participate in a debate, he was quick to accept.

Ariel Zilber joins Baruch Marzel’s party
Efrat Weiss, YNetNews 12/22/2008
Famous singer receives top slot on roster of Eretz Israel Shelanu, headed by extreme rightist Baruch Marzel and Rabbi Dov Shalom Wolpo. ’Israeli people tired of surrendering to enemies, I want to retrieve Israel’s respect in all fields,’ he says -Eretz Israel Shelanu (Our Land of Israel), an extreme right-wing party led by Baruch Marzel and Rabbi Shalom Dov Wolpo, announced Monday that it had accepted a celebrity into its ranks. Singer Ariel Zilber has been allotted one of the party’s four top slots. Zilber actively opposed the evacuation of Gush Katif and even expressed support for the release of Yigal Amir, who assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. "Israel is in danger and the people of Israel are in bad shape. There are no right-wing options so I chose to join Rabbi Wolpo and Baruch Marzel," Zilber told Ynet.

Treasury officials move toward wage freeze
Adrian Filut and Shay Niv, Globes Online 12/22/2008
Ministry of Finance Budget Director Ram Belnikov: A public sector wage freeze plan should be viewed positively. "I believe that Ilan Levin’s plan should be viewed favorably", Ministry of Finance Budget Director Ram Belnikov said today. Belnikov was speaking about the plan by new director of wages Ilan Levin to freeze some public sector wages at the Ministry of Finance’s weekly meeting. According to current agreements with the Histadrut (General Federation of Labor in Israel), salary upgrades in the public sector are to come into effect at the end of the year, including a CPI-linked 4% increase for management, a 5% increase for the entire public sector, as well as bigger increases for teachers, university lecturers, and doctors. Yesterday, "Globes" reported that Levin’s plan to freeze some wages was contested in the Ministry of Finance,. . .

Israel focuses on yordim
Haviv Rettig Gur, Jerusalem Post 12/21/2008
Aliya in 2008 dropped by some 20 percent, but the number of returning expats increased by almost 100%, according to figures released by the Immigrant Absorption Ministry over the weekend. During the past year, some 16,000 new olim made their home in Israel, a drop of some 4,000 from the ministry’s count of 20,000 in 2007. It is even a steep drop from the most conservative count for 2007 aliya - 18,219 - made by the Central Bureau of Statistics. Meanwhile, nearly 8,800 Israeli expats returned home, a jump of 94% from 2007’s 4,535. These figures reflect a dramatic shift among government bureaucrats away from a focus on aliya, which in 2007 hit its lowest point in 19 years, and toward a new outreach to attract "yordim" - a pejorative term for expats that is quickly losing its sting. According to ministry figures, Israeli expats are a desirable demographic.

Metzger asks Bush to pardon Pollard
Matthew Wagner, Jerusalem Post 12/22/2008
Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel Yona Metzger sent a letter Monday afternoon to outgoing US President George Bush requesting that he pardon Jonathan Pollard. "I believe that it would be a humanitarian act to release Jonathan Pollard from prison," wrote Metzger. "The act would be seen as a friendly act directed at the Jewish people in the Land ofIsrael and serve as testimony to the alliance and friendship between Israel and the US. " Metzger pointed out that Polllard has already been in prison for 24 years and that spies expressed regret for what he had done. "Millions of Jews around the world are hoping and praying for his release. " Metzger visited Pollard in prison last week together with Rabbi Pesach Lerner, Chairmanof Young Israel. Metzger’s spokesman said that during a two-and-a-half-hour visit with the man who wasconvicted for spying. . .

Russia giving Iran only defensive weapon systems
The Associated Press, Ha’aretz 12/23/2008
MOSCOW - Russia’s state arms export agency said yesterday it is supplying Iran with defensive weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, but did not say whether they include sophisticated long-range S-300 missiles. Iranian media reported Sunday that Russia had begun supplying the S-300s - a course of action Israel and the United States have aggressively opposed. Supplying the advanced missile systems to Iran would markedly change the military balance in the Middle East, and the issue has been the subject of intense speculation and diplomatic wrangling for months. Rosoboronexport said in a statement that "only weapons of a defensive nature are being supplied to Iran, including anti-aircraft weaponry. "It added that, previously, Tor-M1 air-defense systems were supplied to Iran. "Russia is developing military-technical cooperation with Iran in strict compliance with its. . .

Russia to Sell Iran S-300 Surface-to-Air Missile System
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 12/22/2008
Israeli sources reported on Sunday evening that Russia agreed to sell Iran the S-300 surface-to-air missile system despite Israel officially asking Russia not to sell the missile defense system to Iran. The missiles system is developed to hit aircraft and cruise missiles. They were initially developed by the former Soviet Union to be used by the Soviet Defense Forces. Senior Israeli military officials at the Israeli Air Force said that these missiles impose a real threat to Israel, as they are well developed and very precise at hitting aircraft and small missiles. The missiles can hit targets as high as 150 kilometers up, which threatens "the Israeli supremacy over the air force power of Middle Eastern countries", the officials said. The Israeli sources also stated that if Syria obtains these missiles, the Israeli Air Force will lose its momentum.

US warns Russia against selling missiles to Iran
Associated Press, YNetNews 12/23/2008
State Department says US has ’repeatedly made clear at senior levels of the Russian government that we would strongly oppose the sale of the S-300’ to Tehran - US officials said Monday that they want answers from Russia about whether it is selling advanced surface-to-air missiles to Iran, which the United States insists could threaten American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. A senior military intelligence official said that while Moscow has sent out conflicting responses to reports on sales of long-range S-300 missiles, the United States believes they are occurring. It appears, however, that no equipment has been delivered to Iran, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. Russia’s state arms export agency said Monday it is supplying Iran with defensive weapons, including surface-to-air missiles,. . .

US warns Russia against selling missiles to Iran
Associated Press, Jerusalem Post 12/22/2008
US officials said that they want answers from Russia on whether it is selling advanced surface-to-air missiles to Iran. The US insists such a move could threaten American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. A senior military intelligence official said Monday that the US believes the sale of Russian long-range S-300 missiles is taking place. However, the official said it appears that no equipment has yet been delivered to Iran. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. Russia’s state arms export agency said Monday it is supplying Iran with defensive weapons, including surface-to-air missiles. State Department spokesman Robert Wood said the US is seeking clarification from Russia.

Iran: BBC reporters in Tehran are spies
Dudi Cohen, YNetNews 12/22/2008
Top offical accuses British broadcasting giant of attempting to set up espionage network in Islamic Republic; says probe ongoing, arrests made - A top Iranian official said Monday that the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) operations in Iran were nothing but a cover for the UK’s espionage efforts in the Islamic Republic. " The Iranian Intelligence has recently learned that the BBC was not in Iran to report the news, but to operate an espionage ring sanctioned by the British Embassy," Muhammad Karim Abadi, of the Iranian Parliamentary Committee for Foreign Policy, was quoted by several Iranian publications as saying. According to Abadi, the Iranian Intelligence has been able to ascertain that employers of the BBC sent to Tehran "were in fact cooperating with several intelligence agencies. . . "

A shot at Iran via Iraq
Kaveh L Afrasiabi, Asia Times 12/23/2008
Last week, at an international conference on Persian Gulf security, United States Defense Secretary Robert Gates confirmed that the Barack Obama administration’s policy toward the region lacked any new vision and would continue the main contours of the George W Bush administration’s policy, above all, containing Iran. This is hardly surprising, given Gates’ role and the absence of any significant sign of a new vision for Persian Gulf security on the part of Obama. So far, rhetoric aside, meaningful novelty with respect to burning Middle East issues is in short supply on the part of Obama’s foreign policy team and, as a result, any high or even above moderate expectations of a US change in the Middle East are likely to be frustrated. Old habits die hard, and Gates, who in his 2007 speech at the same forum in Bahrain warned that Iran could "restart" its nuclear weapons program "at any time",

History according to Bibi
Brian Whitaker, The Guardian 12/22/2008
[includes links] Benjamin Netanyahu, hoping become Israel’s next prime minister, has never been one to knowingly undersell his political thoughts. Here he is in Paris, declaring that Iran is the "greatest historical challenge" the world faces. " We have never had a situation in the history of the world in which a radical regime with a retrograde ideology and apparently no inhibitions on the use of force will get access to the weapons of mass death. " Er, really? What about the Soviet Union? China? And didn’t Hitler have a "retrograde ideology" and a penchant for "mass death"? [end]

Olmert in Ankara, seeks direct talks with Syria
Roni Sofer, YNetNews 12/23/2008
Prime minister meets with Turkish leadership in bid to advance negotiations with Damascus. Earlier in the day Syria’s Assad also hinted direct talks may become reality in near future - but made clear he won’t do business with lame duck Olmert - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met Turkish leaders Monday for talks expected to center on the Middle East and Turkish-mediated peace talks between Israel and Syria. Olmert met President Abdullah Gul before holding talks with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan over dinner. "What you don’t do today in the Middle East - you may not be able to do tomorrow," Olmert said to Erdogan regarding the progression of the negotiations, adding that efforts must be focused on promoting direct talks with Syria. The two leaders met in private for nearly an hour, and were then joined by their respective entourages for further discussion.

Olmert due in Ankara to say thanks for role in Syria talks
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 12/23/2008
ANKARA: Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was due in Ankara late on Monday to meet with Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan about the indirect talks that Turkey is mediating between the Jewish state and Syria. On his short visit to the Turkish capital, Olmert was expected to thank Turkey for its efforts to work out an eventual peace between the two neighboring nations, which have been in a state of war since 1948, according to a diplomatic source. Israeli and Syrian negotiators have met four times since May with Turkish diplomats in Istanbul, but so far without any evident results. However, the indirect talks are a sign that Turkey, a Muslim but secular state, wants to play a significant role in resolving the conflicts in the Middle East. Erdogan’s chief adviser, Ahmed Davutoglu, an academic who holds the rank of ambassador, has visited Israel and Syria several times, as well. . .

Assad: ’Direct talks will happen’
Barak Ravid Mazal Mualem and Yoav Stern, Ha’aretz 12/23/2008
Syrian President Bashar Assad said yesterday he believes direct peace talks with Israel are possible and that they will eventually take place. "It’s natural that we would move, at a later stage, to direct negotiations. We cannot achieve peace through indirect talks only," Assad said at a press conference in Damascus with his Croatian counterpart, Stipe Mesic. Assad’s comments came as Olmert was in Turkey for talks with officials there that were expected to focus, among other things, on the Turkish-mediated negotiations with Syria. Assad compared the peace process to the construction of a building, saying Syria and Israel are now laying the foundations for peace through the indirect talks. "We should first lay solid foundations and then construct the building, and not vice versa," he said.

Netanyahu: Likud will keep Golan Heights
Hagai Einav, YNetNews 12/22/2008
While PM Olmert meets with Turkish counterpart to discuss talks with Syria, Likud candidates tour northern Israel. ’We don’t know what Olmert will agree to behind closed doors,’ says party leader - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s visit to Turkey to advance peace talks with Syria stirred upset responses from Likud faction members and officials touring the Golan Heights on Monday. "We don’t know what Olmert is going to agree on behind closed doors," said Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu. "We are here to state unequivocally: A Likud-led government will stay on the Golan Heights and keep them as a strategic asset. "Speaking with former IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon and former Commander of the Northern Front Yossi Peled at his sides, Netanyahu continued, "Israel’s citizens expect the government to protect their security 365 days a year and not try to use various politicians to shirk responsibility two months before elections by making indirect statements. "

Lebanon-Syria thaw puts spotlight on missing
Middle East Online 12/22/2008
BEIRUT - It was the summer of 1982 when Zahira Najjar, 66, last saw her son Abdallah, then 17 years old. The family was in Bhamdoun, a mountain resort east of Beirut, at the height of Lebanon’s 15-year civil war. Only Syrian forces were on the ground when Abdullah went to find transport to the capital to get his wounded leg seen, Najjar said. She has seen and heard nothing of him since. “I can’t describe my feelings. A mother’s heart cries blood,” Najjar said, pulling a black-and-white photograph of the youth from her wallet. “But we live in hope. May God have mercy on the mothers and families of the missing. ” Abdallah is one of 643 “victims of enforced disappearance” on a list drawn up by the NGO Support of Lebanese in Detention and Exile (SOLIDE) and based on family testimonies. Most were detained by Syrian forces during the 1975-1990 civil war, the group says, or handed. . .

Asad: 'Peace, Based on Security Council Resolutions, Can Be Reached'
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 12/22/2008
Syrian president, Bashar Asad, stated on Monday that peace cannot be achieved in the Middle East through indirect talks, adding that moving to direct talks is a natural step in the process of negotiations. Asad also stated and that the talks should be based on the resolutions made by the UN Security Council. In a press conference with his Croatian Counterpart, Stjepan Mesic, Asad slammed the ongoing Israeli siege on the Gaza Strip, and the Israeli policies of collective punishment. He added that it is important to have an active European involvement in the peace process in order to achieve comprehensive peace based on the resolutions of the UN Security Council. Asad also said that Europe must condition its relationship with Israel on the the grounds that Israel commit to abiding by the UN resolutions. Responding to a question regarding the indirect Israeli-Syrian talks under. . .

Olmert to Turkish PM: We must advance toward direct Israel-Syria talks
Barak Ravid Mazal Mualem and, Ha’aretz 12/23/2008
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with Turkish counterpart Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Monday, telling him that "Whatever we don’t do today in the Middle East, we may not be able to achieve tomorrow. We must advance toward direct peace talks between Israel and Syria as soon as possible. " Four rounds of indirect Syrian-Israeli talks have been held this year through Turkish mediators, to little avail. The talks were suspended after Olmert announced he was stepping down due to several corruption investigations against him. Olmert and Erdogan met Monday evening, and agreed that the Turkish government would continue to work toward facilitating direct talks between Israel and Syria. The two held a one-hour private meeting on the Syrian issue, after which they dined with officials and then resumed their. . .

Olmert: Peace with Syria is possible
Ha’aretz 12/23/2008
Christian leader Michel Aoun, an ally of Hezbollah, said he would support peace talks between Lebanon and Israel if Syria is present. On Sunday, the Lebanese daily Ad-Diyar reported that France was working toward the holding of direct talks between Israel and Lebanon. According to the report, which has not been verified by other sources, French President Nicolas Sarkozy was going to bring up the subject of talks on his next visit to Lebanon, which is scheduled for the beginning of January. Likud chairman MK Benjamin Netanyahu spoke out against the contacts between Israel and Syria during a visit to the Golan Heights yesterday. "We don’t know what Olmert is going to agree to behind closed doors," he said. Flanked by two Likud leaders who are closely identified with security issues, former Israel Defense Force chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon and Maj.

Israelis tighten their belts
Dafna Harel Kfir, Globes Online 12/22/2008
47% report that they have been harmed by the economic situation. According to a survey for "Globes" by Millward Brown Israeli representative Shiluv Marketing Research & Strategic Planning Ltd. , 47% of Israelis claim they have been hurt by the economic situation. The survey, which examined Israeli consumer behavior since the economic crisis hit, focused on changes in the most recent two months, since October. It found the proportion of Israelis claiming they have been hurt by the economic situation rose from 41% to 47%. The impact on consumption showed in several areas. There was a significant rise of 8% in respondents reporting purchases that were completely cancelled, a reduction by 7% in goods and services consumption, and a rise of 5% in purchases that were delayed or postponed.

Abraham Fund sponsors job fair for Israeli Arab women
Globes correspondent, Globes Online 12/22/2008
More than 350 women participated in the job fair in Sachnin. Last week, more than 350 Israeli Arab women participated in a job fair with more than 16 human resource companies involved. Overall, 450 jobs were offered by companies interested in employing women. Amnon Be’eri-Sulitzeanu, Co-executive Director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives said, “The overwhelming turnout of women that came to participate in the job fair is definitive proof that Arab women are eager to get out of the house, integrate themselves into the job market, and contribute to the earnings of their families. " The job fair was made possible through the framework of “Sharikat Haya” (life partnership a project of the Abraham Fund) in cooperation with the Joint Distribution Committee. Roughly 75 women participated in workshops acquainting them with the job. . .

IEC workers shut out management
Lior Baron, Globes Online 12/22/2008
Planned maintenance at substations has been suspended. The Israel Electric Corporation(IEC) (TASE: ELEC. B22) workers committee, under chairman David Zarfati, has carried out its threat not to allow IEC CEO Amos Lasker’s decision yesterday to implement restructuring at the company without the workers committee consent to pass unchallenged. Zarfati today told workers to bar IEC executives from entering any of the company’s offices in protest at management’s unilateral implementation of IEC’s "Compass" restructuring plan. Zarfati’s order includes the four new division managers Lasker appointed as part of the restructuring. Sources inform ’’Globes’’ that the IEC workers committee has suspended all planned maintenance at substations as part of its labor sanctions.

NIS 50b wiped off provident funds this year
Eran Peer, Globes Online 12/22/2008
In November, the net outflow was NIS 4 billion, 80% more than the monthly average. Israelis are depositing less in provident funds, and redeeming a great deal more. The funds’ average return in 2008 is minus 19. 2%. NIS 50 billion has been wiped off the value of the provident and advanced training funds since the beginning of the year. In the year to November, NIS 25. 8 billion was withdrawn from the funds, compared with NIS 16. 6 billion last year, representing a jump of 55. 6%. Withdrawals for the whole of 2007 totaled NIS 18. 2 billion. The net outflow so far in 2008 is NIS 9. 5 billion. In November itself, the net outflow was NIS 4 billion, 80% more than the monthly average. The highest inflow into provident and advanced training funds this year was recorded by Psagot, NIS 881 million.

Fischer says Bank of Israel will prevent deflation
Bloomberg, Jerusalem Post 12/22/2008
Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer said he will take action to avoid deflation and prevent the country from following the US and Europe into recession. "We’re going to do everything we can," he said Thursday in an interview in Tel Aviv. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s failure to win Knesset approval for the 2009 budget and a stimulus package means "more of the burden is thrown on monetary policy. We’ll try and take up some of the slack. " The comments suggest that he isn’t done cutting interest rates after lowering the benchmark lending rate four times in the past 10 weeks. The reductions, including two unscheduled cuts, pushed the cost of borrowing to a record low of 2. 5 percent. The central bank is also buying $100 million in foreign currency a day to help weaken the shekel and make exports cheaper. Fischer, 65, was the first deputy managing director at the International Monetary Fund during the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis.

Institutionals given free rein to price illiquid assets themselves
Tal Levy, Ha’aretz 12/23/2008
Israel’s institutional investors are about to get new freedom to price their illiquid assets by themselves, as they see fit. Yadin Antebi, the commissioner of Capital Markets, Insurance and Savings at the Finance Ministry, has told the evaluation company Shaarey Ribit to issue a temporary order allowing institutionals to independently determine the value of illiquid assets (securities not listed for trading on any stock exchange) that they purchase. The directive will apply when the institutional investor feels that Shaarey Ribit’s valuation model does not do justice to an asset’s specific risks and characteristics. The order will remain in force until December 31, 2009, and relates only to new purchases. Existing portfolio assets will continue to be assessed by Shaarey Ribit. When an institutional investor buys an asset traded on the stock exchange (shares or liquid. . .

Educational institutions brace for Madoff scandal fallout
Abe Selig, Jerusalem Post 12/22/2008
As the damage from the Bernard Madoff scandal continues to unfold, educational institutions throughout the country are beginning to reveal just how badly they’ve been affected, and while the picture is still unclear, it’s emerging as something less than pretty. Two large charity organizations - the Chais Family Foundation and the Yeshaya Horowitz Association - both of whom gave extensively to Israeli universities and educational initiatives and had invested heavily with Madoff, were forced to shut down last week in the wake of revelations that the bulk of their finances were tied up in Madoff’s scam - the largest Ponzi scheme known to date. And while some Israeli educational institutions had invested directly with Madoff’s firm - only to realize that those funds were gone the minute Madoff admitted to the depth of his scandal - even more of them were recipients of large. . .

JDC: Funding intact for 2009
Ruth Eglash, Jerusalem Post 12/22/2008
Despite the philanthropic turmoil facing Jewish charities and non-profit organizations, the American Jewish-Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) announced Monday that only a small portion of its $300 million budget for 2009 is likely to be damaged by the Madoff investment scam and the global economic crisis. "There is some $40m. in undesignated donations that could be hurt as a result of the economic situation, but all things considered we are reasonably optimistic," Steven Schweger, the JDC’s chief executive officer, told The Jerusalem Post in an exclusive interview. Considered one of the Jewish world’s largest social welfare organizations, the JDC oversees hundreds of programs in Israel and throughout the Jewish world aimed at improving the lives of weak populations. Schweger was in Israel over the weekend to calm fears among staff in the local office.

Cartoon of the day
Lalo Alcaraz, Palestine Think Tank 12/21/2008

Israeli minister insists $4.5 billion water canal will help region
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 12/23/2008
SHUNEH, Jordan: A planned $4. 5 billion "Peace Canal" to bring water from the Red Sea to the fast evaporating Dead Sea could benefit the entire Middle East, an Israeli minister said in Jordan on Monday. "I think that all the region will benefit from the project," Israeli Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer told reporters on the sidelines of a conference on water on the shore of the Dead Sea. Though Jordan has the most to gain, ensuring the survival of the Dead Sea "would serve the nations" of the region, Ben-Eliezer said, highlighting the need for the canal and the linked construction of a desalination plant. "I believe 60 percent of desalinated water will go to Jordan," he said, noting that the project’s environmental studies will take "about a year and a half. "The rest of the water would presumably go to Israel.

YouTube allows Web users to interview Israel’s future prime minister
Oded Yaron, Ha’aretz 12/23/2008
The 2009 elections appear to be the first in which the political system has been invaded by the internet and its tools. With more and more resources being invested in Israel in online campaigning, and with politicians’ blogs and videos being virally disseminated via email, the influence of the recent U. S. election is apparent. Now, a Channel 2 news initiative, in cooperation with the popular video sharing website YouTube, is riding the America-style elections trend with a new interactive Web page devoted to the upcoming general elections. The page, (http://www. youtube. com/Elections09 ), invites internet users to upload 25-second videos addressing Israel’s political candidates with questions. The page’s viewers will be able to vote on the uploaded videos, and the most popular entries will be aired on Channel 2 and answered live by the candidates themselves.

Syrian diplomats report to work at embassy
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 12/23/2008
BEIRUT: Three diplomats have begun work at Syria’s first ever embassy in Lebanon, which is set to open before the end of the year, a government official said on Monday. "The embassy’s top diplomat, First Secretary Shawki Shamat, and his two-member staff reported to work on Monday in their offices on Makdissi Street" in the Hamra district, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. In August Lebanon and Syria announced their intention to establish diplomatic ties, following a joint pledge in July by President Michel Sleiman and his Syrian counterpart, Bashar Assad. Officials in both countries have said that the respective embassies would open by the end of 2008. The local daily As-Safir quoted Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem as saying Syria’s embassy would open "immediately after Christmas. "Beirut would soon inform Damascus of its nomination for ambassador to Syria, a diplomatic official told AFP on Monday.

Lebanon rivals debate defence plan
Al Jazeera 12/22/2008
Lebanon’s rival political factions have begun debating the formation of a committee of experts, charged with studying a national defence strategy that could eventually integrate Hezbollah’s weapons into the army. A statement by participants said the decision was reached during a third round of talks on Monday, hosted by Michel Sleiman, the Lebanese president. The president’s office said the study group, which is in its planning phase, would "work to find the conclusions and common denominators between the various proposals that were submitted" on the formation of a national defence strategy. The talks are part of a deal reached in May that defused a long-running political crisis. The parliamentary majority bloc wants Hezbollah to give up its arsenal.

Beirut lands $85 million loan from Arab Monetary Fund
Daily Star 12/23/2008
BEIRUT: Lebanon received a soft loan of $85 million from the Abu Dhabi-based Arab Monetary Fund (AMF) on Monday to finance the purchase of oil and fuel oil. The loan agreement was signed by Finance Minister Mohammed Shatah and AMF President Jassem al-Manaai at the Finance Ministry. The agreement was also part of the AMF’s commitment during Paris III donor conference that was held in 2007. The AMF provides soft loans to Arab governments to help them in their economic reform efforts and to finance their energy needs. Shatah said the AMF also plans to provide Lebanon a line of credit valued at $32 million to implement financial and fiscal reforms. All loans provided by the AMF to Lebanon carry interest rates between 2. 5 percent and 3. 5 percent, far lower than those charged by commercial banks. The new loan will allow Lebanon to meet its needs for the fuel oil that currently operates most of the power stations in the country.

Health Ministry: 20,000 legal abortions performed in Israel annually
Dana Weiler-Polak, Ha’aretz 12/23/2008
Some 20,000 legal abortions are performed annually in Israel, according to a Health Ministry report to be released today. The report notes that the percentage of abortions in Israel is low compared to Europe. While in Israel the figure represents 133. 8 abortions per 1,000 births, in Europe the ratio was 246. 4 abortions per 1,000 births in 2006. The report also states that the number of abortions by means of the pill Mifegyn has doubled between 2000 and 2007. Last year, 4,799 of the abortions in Israel were by means of Mifegyn, which can be taken up to the seventh week of pregnancy. The World Health Organization has ranked Israel 21 out of 22 European countries in terms of the ratio of abortions to births. Russia was ranked first, with 1,022. 4 abortions per 1,000 births, and second is Romania, with 684.

IRAQ: It Could be More Than Three Years to US Departure
Analysis by Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa al-Omrani, Inter Press Service 12/23/2008
CAIRO, Dec 22(IPS) - Washington and Baghdad signed a security agreement earlier this month allowing the U. S. to maintain a military presence in Iraq for another three years. But while Baghdad officials hailed the pact as the "beginning of the end" of the U. S. -led occupation, Egyptian commentators -- like much of the Iraqi opposition -- say the agreement simply reflects U. S. strategic interests. "The pact reflects the balance of power and is therefore entirely in the interest of the U. S. ," Ahmed Thabet, political science professor at Cairo University told IPS. "It provides formal cover for the continuation of the U. S. occupation of Iraq and leaves all decision-making -- and the very fate of the country -- in American hands. " After months of wrangling between the U. S. -backed government in Baghdad and Iraqi opposition groups, the agreement was ceremonially signed Dec.

Iraqi shoe-thrower goes on trial New Year’s Eve
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 12/23/2008
BAGHDAD: The Iraqi journalist thrust to instant fame when he threw his shoes at US President George W. Bush will go on trial this month on charges that carry up to 15 years in jail, a judge said on Monday. Investigating Judge Dhiya al-Kenani rejected new allegations by the journalist’s family that he had been tortured in custody, charges that were leveled after a brother was allowed a first prison visit. "The investigation phase is over and the case has been transferred to the Central Criminal Court," Kenani said. "The trial will start on Wednesday, December 31. " Muntazer al-Zaidi stands accused of "aggression against a foreign head of state during an official visit," an offense that carries a prison term of between five and 15 years under Iraqi law. But the court could convict him of the lesser charge of "attempted aggression," which carries a prison term of one to five years.

Bush shoe-thrower ’tortured into writing letter of apology’
David Batty, The Guardian 12/22/2008
The Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at George Bush was tortured into writing a letter of apology, his brother said today. Muntazer al-Zaidi was wrestled to the ground after throwing his shoes during a news conference held by the US president and the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, on 14 December. The investigating judge in the case said last week that Zaidi, who will stand trial on 31 December, was beaten around the face and eyes. Zaidi’s brother, Uday, said the journalist suffered worse injuries, including a missing tooth and cigarette burns to his ears, and would sue. Zaidi is in custody and faces up to two years in jail for insulting a foreign leader. Maliki’s office said last week that Zaidi had written a letter of apology and asked him to recommend a pardon. Uday al-Zaidi said his brother told him the letter was written against his will because he was subjected to torture, including being doused with cold water while naked.

’No apology’ from Iraq shoe-thrower
Al Jazeera 12/22/2008
Al-Zaidi is expected to stand trial on December 31 on charges of insulting a foreign leader -Muntazer al-Zaidi, the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at George Bush, the US president, has said that he will not apologise for his act, amid reports from his lawyer that he has been severely beaten in custody. Dhiya’a al-Sa’adi, al-Zaidi’s lawyer, told Al Jazeera on Monday: "Muntazer al-Zaidi considers what he did when he threw his shoes at President Bush as exercising his freedom of expression, in opposing and rejecting the occupation, which has brought misery to Iraq. " Al-Sa’adi said al-Zaidi was not considering giving an apology to the US president, "not now, nor in the future". A spokesman for Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister, had said on Thursday that al-Zaidi had acknowledged his shoe throwing during a news conference in Baghdad was "an ugly act".

Iraq delays vote on troops exit over shoe row
Kim Sengupta, The Independent 12/22/2008
The ratification of the agreement underpinning Britain’s exit strategy from Iraq was delayed once again when the parliament in Baghdad became embroiled in a row over shoes being thrown at President George Bush instead of voting on the issue. The MPs had rejected on Saturday a draft law proposed by the Iraqi government under which the UK, and a number of other countries (not including the US), would cease military operations by 31 May and withdraw all but a handful of its forces of 4,100 by the end of July. It had been expected that a compromise would lead to the draft law being passed today. But, instead, a number of MPs insisted that the British withdrawal could not be discussed until matters were resolved over the action of the speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, over the 14 December shoe-throwing incident.

Troop pull-out vote delayed in Iraq
Al Jazeera 12/22/2008
Approval of a measure that would allow foreign troops to stay in Iraq has been delayed after a row in Iraq’s parliament. Parliament was suspended on Monday after deputies demanded the parliamentary speaker stand down. More than 50 MPs called for a special session to replace Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, the speaker, after claims that he had insulted them last week. Members of parliament had been due to approve a law that would allow forces from the UK, Australia and other nations to stay after a UN mandate expires at the end of the year. The fracas raised doubts over whether Iraq would be able to approve the measure in time to allow Britain to keep its 4,100 troops in Iraq until the end of July. The draft also covers troops from Australia, Estonia, El Salvador, Romania and Nato.


Gaza near to collapse as Israel tightens grip, says bank
Toni O'Loughlin in Jerusalem, The Guardian 12/22/2008
      Israel’s blockade of Gaza is pushing the territory to the brink of collapse and fuelling the growth of a black money market controlled by Hamas, the World Bank warned yesterday.
     As tit-for-tat attacks across the Gaza border began to intensify following the end of a six-month truce on Friday, the World Bank said that an acute cash shortage in Gaza was playing into Hamas’s hands. The militant Islamists, who took control of Gaza in June 2007 following violent street clashes with their more secular rival, Fatah, have large stashes of shekels which they have been selling on the black market at a premium because of the cash shortage.
     There is also a worry that Hamas, with its dominant militant and bureaucratic control of Gaza, will begin to replace the shekel with US dollars, which are more easily obtained, to smuggle through the tunnels from Egypt in the south.
     The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Quartet - the US, the EU, Russia and the United Nations - warned Israel of the crisis in a letter to the prime minister, Ehud Olmert, more than a week ago, to no avail. Instead, Israel continued to tighten its 18-month blockade of the tiny coastal territory, forcing banks and businesses to shut their doors, water, sanitation and electricity services to cease, medical clinics to turn away patients, and bread queues to form in the streets. Since the end of the truce, daily clashes have resumed, with Israel launching air strikes on Palestinian rocket-launching teams and Palestinian fighters firing makeshift rockets and mortars at neighbouring Israeli towns.

More missile strikes, more victims

Eva Bartlett, Electronic Intifada 12/22/2008
      Salah Oukal, 46 years old, had gone outside to collect herbs for dinner, harvesting in the dark as the power was out again.It was just before 9pm and he was watering the trees next to his home in Jabaliya, when the missile struck, killing him instantly .A second missile followed immediately but did not explode.Oukal’s family spent the next hour searching without success for the father of seven and the family’s sole provider.Only with the headlights of an ambulance was Oukal’s dismembered body finally retrieved.
     The ground-to-ground missile fired from the Israeli side of Gaza’s eastern border injured an additional three residents, including Oukal’s son Ahmed, seven years old, who suffered rocket shrapnel wounds to his hand and head.Israeli authorities claimed that the missile was a response to rockets being fired from the area. However, Oukal’s family and neighbors report all had been quiet.
     "He wasn’t one of the resistance fighters," his teenage daughter explained."And there weren’t any rockets being fired before he was hit.It was quiet, and the shelling was sudden," she said.

Israel’s Candidates: Spot the Difference

Uri Avnery, Palestine Chronicle 12/22/2008
      ’Nothing good will come out of this election.’
     A man was asked about his sons. ’I have three,’ he said, ’but one of them is a complete idiot.’
     ’Which one?’ they asked.
     ’Take your pick,’ he replied.
     In 51 days, we shall vote for a new Knesset and a new government.
     Three big parties are competing for the prize: Kadima, Likud and Labor.
     From there on, see the joke.
     Is there a real choice? In other words, are there any real differences between the three parties?
     As in the game "Spot the Difference", they are so tiny that one needs really good eyes to discover them.
     There are, of course, political differences between the three. But what the three parties, and the three leaders, have in common is far more important than what divides them.
     Binyamin Netanyahu says that this is not the time for peace with the Palestinians. We have to wait until conditions are ripe. Not on our side, of course, but on the Palestinian side. And who is going to decide whether the conditions are ripe on the Palestinian side? Binyamin Netanyahu, of course. He or his successors, or the successors of his successors.

Non-Jews Need Not Apply

Gideon Levy, MIFTAH 12/22/2008
      The Israeli national flag flies high, defiant and arrogant over the Palestinian home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. This flag has never looked as repulsive as it does in the heart of this Palestinian neighborhood, above the home of a Palestinian family that suddenly lost everything. The head of the house, Mohammed al-Kurd, died 11 days after the eviction. Now his widow lives in a tent. The house is reached via a narrow alley: Here Moshe and Avital Shoham and Emanuel and Yiska Dagan live happily. They are the settlers who managed to expel the Palestinian tenants and take over another outpost, in the heart of East Jerusalem. House after house, the transfer here is especially quiet: The media barely report on these houses of contention.
     Israeli greed knows no bounds: It sends its tentacles into the homes of refugees who already experienced, in 1948, the taste of expulsion and evacuation and being left with nothing. Now they are refugees for a second time. Another 27 families here can expect a similar fate, and all under the aegis of the Israeli court system, the lighthouse of justice and the beacon of law, which approves, whitewashes and purifies deceptive and distorted ways of evicting these children of refugees from their homes for the second time. The family keeps, as an eternal souvenir, the keys to the house in Talbieh that was stolen from them and the banana warehouse in Musrara that was taken from them. Now they have another key that opens nothing: the key to the home in Sheikh Jarrah, which they received decades ago from the Jordanian government and the United Nations as compensation for their lost home.

Obama and Bush, Two Sides of Same Coin

Hasa Afif El-Hasan, Palestine Chronicle 12/22/2008
      A recent World Public Opinion survey of 21 Muslim countries taken after Obama won the Presidency race revealed a plurality of respondents in the Palestinian occupied lands say the US definitely intended to create an independent and economically viable Palestinian state. Thirty-six percent of the Palestinians sampled, according to the survey, were certain and twenty-three percent thought it probable that the US goal was to help the Palestinians have the state they aspire to have; only thirty-seven percent were skeptical. In the rest of the Middle East countries, only eleven percent of respondents were certain that the US intended to create the Palestinian state; seven percent considered it likely; and fifty percent thought the US had no intention of helping the Palestinians. For some reasons that I do not understand, there is hope among some Palestinians that American patience with Israel will reach the breaking point, provoking a dramatic reversal of the US policies. Perhaps this is an expression of despair and feeling of abandonment by the Arab nations who became irrelevant in dealing with the Palestinians struggle and subservient to the US and Israel interests. In short, the US is the only sheriff in town.
     The survey suggests trouble ahead, especially for Abbas government, if Obama does not live up to the high expectation of the Palestinians. Optimistic Palestinians expect the US under Obama to play an active role and pressure Israel to make concessions rather than adopting Bush low-key mediating role. The optimistic Palestinians seem do not grasp the nature of the US-Israel relationship. The use of the US potential leverage to pressure Israel has been rarely attempted even when the US presidents were upset with the Israeli actions. Last time the US used its power to settle a Middle East conflict was under President Eisenhower more than half a century ago when it forced Israel to withdraw from Sinai and Gaza strip after the 1956 war with Egypt.

Intolerable tolerance

Shimon Shamir, Ha’aretz 12/23/2008
      As everyone knows, Jerusalem is a city of seers and visionaries. The archives are full of plans for palaces and grandiose towers that savers of the world have dreamed of building in Jerusalem to spread peace and brotherhood. However, in contrast to those plans, which remain buried in the archives, one plan arrived not long ago that is supposed to take on flesh and sinew. A splendid Museum of Tolerance, initiated by beneficent Jews from Los Angeles, is set to go up in the heart of the city.
     This is a hallucinatory plan about to be realized in a place that no one disputes is part of the historic cemetery in Mamilla - an 800-year-old site whose boundaries are clearly indicated on maps. The tabernacle of tolerance is supposed to be built in total defiance of pleas by families whose ancestors are buried in Mamilla, the anger of this country’s Muslim community and the mood of many of Jerusalem’s Jewish inhabitants who are infuriated by the absurdity. This is tolerance that cannot be tolerated.

US-led siege on Gaza pushes Arab leaders to drown Rice in Jewelry

Saed Bannoura, International Middle East Media Center News 12/23/2008
      An article I read today pushed me to write this piece; maybe it’s anger or disappointment, or maybe it is just the uncomfortable feeling that we are right when we say that Arab leaders are also responsible for our misery as Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.
     Matthew Lee of the Associated Press had an exclusive interview with Rice and said that although it seems that the US President, George W. Bush may be unpopular in the Middle East, "Arab leaders showered his diplomat with jewelry worth far more than a quarter of a million dollars last year".
     Lee reported that Rice received gem-encrusted baubles worth $316,000 from King Abdullah II of Jordan, and King Abdulla of Saudi Arabia. King Abdullah of Jordan gave Rice a $47,000 emerald and diamond necklace, a ring, bracelet and earrings.
     His wife, the Palestinian-descended Queen, also gave Rice a gift, less expensive than other gifts, but still a $4,460 Jewelry box.
     Lee also said that that in July, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia gave Rice a diamond necklace with matching earrings, a bracelet and a ring. The gift from the Saudi king is worth $165,000. The same king gave Rice a flower petal necklace worth $170,000 in 2005.

From US war resisters, a letter of solidarity to students who refuse to serve in the Israeli military

Daily Star 12/22/2008
      About 100 Israeli high school students have declared their refusal to serve in the Israeli army and participate in the occupation of Palestine. We are US military service members and veterans who have refused or are currently refusing to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.
     We stand in solidarity with the Israeli Shministim (Hebrew for 12th graders) who are also resisting military service. About 100 Israeli high school students have signed an open letter declaring their refusal to serve in the Israeli army and their opposition to "Israeli occupation and oppression policy in the occupied territories and the territories of Israel." In Israel, military service is mandatory for all graduating high school seniors, and resisters face the possibility of years in prison.
     We have also refused to participate in unjust acts of military aggression, and many of us have gone to prison or currently live with that possibility as a result. We believe that resistance to unjust war is a bold assertion of humanity in the face of overwhelming violence.