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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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24 December, 2008

IDF gets green light to strike Hamas after rocket barrage
Yaakov Katz And Herb Keinon, Jerusalem Post 12/24/2008
The IDF received the green light Wednesday for a series of operations against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, after more than 60 mortar shells and Katyusha and Kassam rockets pounded the Negev. Gaza terrorists fire over 60 rockets and mortar shells into southern Israel The barrage hit communities throughout the South, reaching as far north as Ashkelon and as far south as Kerem Shalom. At least two Grad-model Katyusha rockets were fired into Ashkelon on Wednesday, and a Kassam with extended range hit Netivot. No one was wounded, even though terrorists hit close to educational facilities and homes; however, nearly 60 people, almost half of them children or teenagers, were treated for emotional trauma and anxiety. "It was a Hanukka miracle," Magen David Adom spokesman Yerucham Mandola said.

Hamas ’may extend’ truce if Israel ends siege, stops attacks
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 12/24/2008
GAZA CITY: A tense calm reigned over Gaza on Tuesday, as Hamas confirmed that it might consider agreeing to a new truce with Israel if it lifted its crushing siege of the impoverished territory. Hamas declared the end of a 24-hour lull, but deposed Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahhar, a senior party leader, told AFPthe Islamist movement could consider renewing it and agreeing to a new long-term truce. An Egyptian-mediated six-month truce ended Friday and Hamas initially said it would not renew it in light of repeated Israeli violations of the deal. Gaza militants fired three rockets and one mortar round which hit without causing damage or injury during the period. It was not immediately clear which resistance group in Gaza launched the attacks. Israel did not launch any raids on the territory after Hamas announced on Monday that it would not launch rockets or fire mortars for 24 hours.

Israel prevents transfer of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip
Ma’an News Agency 12/24/2008
Gaza – Ma’an – Israel decided on Wednesday to cancel its decision to temporarily open the Gaza Strip border crossings of Kerem Shalom and karni on Wednesday to transfer humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, said the Assistant Undersecretary of the Palestinian Ministry of National Economy Nasser As-Sarraj. As-Sarraj told Ma’an, “The Israelis informed us early on Wednesday morning that the decision to open Kerem Shalom and Karni crossings has been cancelled. They gave no reasons, neither did they mention opening Nahal ‘Oz crossing for fuel deliveries. ”According to As-Sarraj, 20 truckloads of flour, rice, sugar and cooking oil were supposed to enter the Gaza Strip in addition to 39 truckloads of wheat and fodder and 25 truckloads of food products for the UNRWA. For his part, Israeli defence minister, Ehud Barak gave directives to cancel the planned transfer of humanitarian. . .

Five Qassam fighters killed within the past few hours
Palestinian Information Center 12/24/2008
KHAN YOUNIS, (PIC)-- Five members of the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, were killed over the past few hours three in Israeli occupation forces’ shooting and two while on "Jihad mission", the armed wing announced in a communiqué on Wednesday. The communiqué said that Islam Jadallah, 23, and Mohammed Al-Halabi, 21, were killed at dawn Wednesday while on a "Jihad mission" east of Khan Younis, to the south of the Gaza Strip. The armed wing also announced that three Palestinian resistance fighters that the IOF soldiers had shot and killed at a late hour on Tuesday were members of its special unit and held the IOF fully responsible for consequences of their assassination. The Qassam Brigades in retaliation to the IOF crimes fired 17 mortar shells at five Israeli army positions and settlements to the north and south of the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian Dies Due to Negligence in al-Ramah Israeli Prison
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 12/24/2008
The Palestinian Prisoners Society reported on Wednesday that detainee Jom’a Ismail Mousa, age 65, from Shu’fat refugee camp in East Jerusalem, died as a result of medical negligence on the part of the Israeli Prison Services. The detainee spent most of his time in the al-Ramla prison hospital, which lacks the basic medical equipment. Mousa was sentenced to one life-term, and an additional ten years. The Israeli Prison Authorities claimed that the police are investigating his death, and that "he died while receiving medical treatment at the prison hospital". Fares Abu Hasan, head of the International Solidarity Institution for Human Rights in Palestine, held the Israeli occupation responsible for the death of Mousa because Israel ignored calls by several human rights groups, demanding the immediate release of Mousa in order to receive proper medical attention and treatment.

Thousands flock to Bethlehem
Al Jazeera 12/25/2008
Thousands of pilgrims have flocked to the West Bank town of Bethlehem - believed to be the birthplace of Jesus - from around the world to celebrate Christmas. Hundreds of security forces were deployed in the area by the Palestinian Authority on Wednesday to safeguard the celebrations. The Palestinian ministry of tourism says it expects about 40,000 people to visit Bethlehem over the next week. Both Christians and Muslims, from the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Israel and other parts of the world, gathered in Manger Square on Christmas eve for festivities that would last through the night, Al Jazeera’s Nour Odeh, reporting from Bethlehem, said. "But to get to Bethlehem, you have to go through a number of checkpoints, and you also have to brave the elements - it is about to rain here," she said.

Gaza priest cancels Midnight Mass in protest of Israeli blockade
Ma’an News Agency 12/24/2008
Gaza - Ma’an - Gaza City’s Catholic Holy Family Church cancelled its annual Midnight Mass service for Christmas Eve in protest of the Israeli siege on the Gaza Strip and most recent "Israeli threats and escalations" there, according to the church’s priest. Father Manuel Musallam confirmed the cancellation on Wednesday in an interview with Ma’an. “Midnight Mass has been cancelled because Israel prevented Christian clerics from traveling to Bethlehem," Musallam said. "The Midnight Mass will be replaced with a silent gathering at the Holy Family School,” he said. The Catholic priest called on Christians in the Gaza Strip to take part in a sit-in strike at the Holy Family School, where normal prayers will be read.

Israeli Military Detains Palestinian Residents from the West Bank
IMEMC Staff & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 12/24/2008
The Israeli Army detained on Wednesday several Palestinian residents from different West Bank areas. Palestinian security sources reported that at least seven Palestinian residents were rounded up by Israeli troops in the West Bank cities of Bethlehem, Nablus, Hebron and Qalqilia. The sources said that a large number of Israeli soldiers cordoned off residents’ houses in the said areas and began ransacking them before detaining seven residents. Despite repeated calls on Israel to release 11,500 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, Israel continues to arrest more Palestinians, on daily basis. [end]

Israeli forces seize five West Bankers
Ma’an News Agency 12/24/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Israeli forces arrested on Wednesday morning five Palestinian youths from the northern West Bank city of Qalqilia and the southern West Bank town of Beit Ummar north of Hebron, after ransacking their homes. Israeli forces said all “wanted” five youths were taken to interrogation centers. [end]

IDF preparing for Gaza op
Hanan Greenberg, YNetNews 12/25/2008
Massive rocket and mortar fire on Negev deems military action against terrorists almost ’inevitable’. IDF: Our goal is to make Hamas come to a decision that the attacks must cease -After more than 40 rockets and 20 mortar shells hit Israel Wednesday, causing dozens of people to suffer from shock as well asextensive damage to homes and places of business, the IDF has begun to prepare for a military operation. The operation will go forth according to all stipulations unless Hamas ceases its fire. Military officials said the IDF would enter Gaza when the weather and other factors allowed for the operation to go forth. It will be conducted mostly through air strikes. The officials said Israel did not intend to recapture Gaza, but merely to put pressure on the terror organizations. An IDF official said Wednesday that "our goal is to make Hamas come. . .

70 rocket strikes in southern Israel; Cabinet approves military response
Avi Issacharoff and Barak Ravid, Ha’aretz 12/25/2008
The defense establishment is currently preparing for a military move against Hamas targets in Gaza, after the Islamist group launched more than 70 rockets into Israel yesterday. As an initial retaliatory measure, an Israel Air Force strike killed a Hamas gunman in the southern Gaza Strip yesterday. Israel’s response will go beyond the air raid, an Israeli official told Haaretz. "Our response will be substantial and painful to Hamas," the official said. By late morning yesterday, the Magen David Adom rescue service declared its highest level of alert. One of the rockets exploded next to a children’s playground in the southern town of Netivot and a mortar shell scored a direct hit on a house in Kibbutz Sha’ar Hanegev, causing extensive damage. A house in the community of Sdot Negev was also severely damaged after it absorbed a direct rocket hit.

Report: Egypt won’t object to short IDF op in Gaza
Avi Issacharoff, Ha’aretz 12/25/2008
Egypt has informed Israel that it would not object to a limited Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip, the London-based newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi reported Wednesday. The paper claimed that Egyptian Intelligence chief, Omar Suleimanm, met last week with Amos Gilad, the head of the Defense Ministry’s diplomatic-security department, and rejected Gilad’s request that Cairo use its influence to persuade Hamas to extend a truce with Israel that expired last Friday. At the same time, the paper said, Suleiman told Gilad that Egypt would not object to a limited Israeli operation in Gaza aimed at toppling the Hamas government. According to the report, which has yet to be confirmed by any other source, Cairo is furious with Hamas for having torpedoed Egyptian-sponsored reconciliation talks between the Islamic movement and the rival Fatah party, which controls the West Bank, last month.

Egypt to warn Livni against Gaza op
Herb Keinon And Brenda Gazzar, Jerusalem Post 12/24/2008
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is expected to warn Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni against a major military operation in Gaza when the two meet in Cairo on Thursday. Senior diplomatic officials said Tuesday that Mubarak’s invitation to Livni was similar in motivation to the one Jordan’s King Abdullah II extended to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak last month, to warn that massive military action in Gaza would destabilize the region. Beyond the personalities involved, another difference between the two meetings is that while Olmert and Barak traveled to Jordan clandestinely, the Livni-Mubarak meeting was announced well in advance. Livni is one of the main advocates inside the government for a harsher IDF response to the continual Kassam fire from the Gaza Strip.

IOF declares 3 Palestinian fighters killed in northern Gaza clash
Palestinian Information Center 12/24/2008
BEIT HANUN, (PIC)-- The Israeli occupation forces said that three Palestinian resistance fighters were killed near the security fence in northern Gaza Strip on Tuesday night in a clash with those forces. The website of the Hebrew daily Yediot Ahronot reported that an IOF unit spotted three resistance elements near Netiv Ha`asara settlement adjacent to the Strip while trying to plant an explosive device. A paratroopers unit was dispatched to the Palestinian area and engaged the fighters who responded by firing at the attackers, the Hebrew report said. It claimed that none of the IOF soldiers was hurt while the three fighters were killed on the spot. Local sources said they heard sound of clashes but no Palestinian affirmation on the death of the three Palestinians was made so far.

Livni to meet today with Mubarak in Cairo
Barak Ravid, Ha’aretz 12/25/2008
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is to update Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak today in Cairo on the cabinet decision approving a military response to continuing rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. Livni is expected to tell Mubarak that Israel has decided to end its restraint, strike at Hamas and not agree to a cease-fire except on its own terms. Livni will meet with Mubarak, Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman and Foreign Minister Ahmed Abu-Gheit. The Egyptians, who over the past few days have been tying to renew their efforts to broker a renewed cease-fire in Gaza, are expected to appeal to Livni for Israel to give another chance for a cease-fire. Livni is to tell Mubarak that Israel’s response will be harsh and will be directed against Hamas government institutions. Speaking at a Kadima rally yesterday, the foreign minister said: "The status quo that Hamas is trying to present has to change and it will change.

Color Red activated in additional cities
Shmulik Hadad, YNetNews 12/25/2008
Large cities such as Ashdod, Rahat deemed by Homefront Command to be exposed to rocket threat after Wednesday’s incessant barrage; residents in Gaza vicinity spend night in shelters, expressing little hope for reprieve in near future -The barrage of artillery fired at Israel from Gaza throughout Wednesday caused defense officials to order the activation of the Color Red alert system in all cities within a 30 km radius of the Strip, including Ashdod and Rahat. "I never thought we’d come to this," Yechiel Lasry, the mayor of Ashdod, told Ynet. "I thought the state would do something to stop the fire but that hasn’t been done. I don’t like the idea of activating the alert system in the city, but we need to be prepared. " He said the city’s residents had already received pamphlets from the Homefront Command indicating what was to be done in the case of a rocket attack.

In Ashkelon, officials must decide: emergency or business as usual?
Yaakov Lappin, Jerusalem Post 12/25/2008
The underground command and control room at Ashkelon City Hall was full on Wednesday afternoon, hours after dozens of locals were sent into shock by Kassam and Katyusha rocket fire. The local leaders crammed into the room had to decide whether to place the city on a full-fledged war-preparation footing, or to continue with business as usual. For now, they were choosing the middle ground. Those present included Ashkelon Mayor Benny Vaknin, the city’s police chief, Cmdr. Haim Blumenfeld, the municipality’s head of security, Yossi Greenfeld, and representatives from the IDF Home Front Command, the Fire and Rescue Service and Magen David Adom. A satellite map of the city was projected on a large white board as city officials marked the areas that had been hit. Nearby, a projected table of data showed each of the day’s attacks so far.

Israel hit by rocket fire from Gaza
Al Jazeera 12/25/2008
Palestinian fighters in the Gaza Strip have opened up heavy rocket and mortar fire on Israel, Israeli and Palestinian officials say. Israel’s retaliation was swift, with an air raid killing one Hamas fighter late on Wednesday near the town of Rafah, according to Palestinian sources. An Israeli army spokesman confirmed the incident, saying: "It targeted terrorists which fired rockets against Israel. "Palestinian medical workers said one Hamas fighter was killed in the raid and two other Palestinians were wounded, including a cameraman from Hamas’s television station. Rocket salvoes No injuries were reported as a result of the Palestinian projectiles, at least 60 of which fell on Israeli towns and cities by nightfall on Wednesday.

Violence escalates around besieged Gaza
Middle East Online 12/24/2008
GAZA CITY - Violence escalated around the besieged Gaza Strip on Wednesday after a two-day lull, denting the chances of Israel and the Palestinian resistance group renewing a ceasefire. Gaza resistance fired off a barrage of several dozen rockets and mortar shells into Israel early on Wednesday in retaliation to the Israeli army’s killing of three Hamas members, raising tensions around the besieged Palestinian enclave. The military wing of Hamas said in a statement that the firing was "to avenge the killing" of three of its members by the Israeli army late on Tuesday. Israeli Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilani said on army radio that the renewed rocket and mortar volleys were "intolerable and we will take all necessary measures to stop them. " Since the expiry of an Egyptian-mediated six-month truce on Friday, Israel has threatened to launch a major offensive on Gaza and Hamas warned it would retaliate.

Qassam, mortar barrages hit south
Shmulik Hadad, YNetNews 12/24/2008
At least 38 rockets, 18 mortar shells fired from Gaza Strip on Tuesday night, Wednesday. About 30 people suffer shock; houses, factory and building in military base sustain damage. Rocket fire follows killing of three terrorists by IDF on Tuesday - Palestinians fired at least 38 rockets and more than 18 mortar shells from the northern Gaza Strip towards southern Israel on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. One rocket hit a house in the Sdot Negev Regional Council and another hit a factory in the Eshkol Regional Council, causing heavy damage. In total, some 31 people suffered shock. The same factory was hit by several mortar shells in the early afternoon hours. A number of people were treated for shock. Holiday NightmareRocket fire leads to close calls / Ilana Curiel Intense Qassam barrage on south gives way to small miracles in western Negev. . .

Qassam damages Sderot factory; 3 suffer from shock
Shmulik Hadad, YNetNews 12/24/2008
Rocket hits southern city’s industrial zone just hours after President Peres tours area; factory employees were present at time of attack -A Qassam rocket fired from Gaza Wednesday night landed near a factory in Sderot’s industrial zone, just hours after President Shimon Peres toured the area. Damage was done to the building, and three people suffered from shock. Nightshift factory employees were present during the attack. More than 60 rockets and mortar shells were fired at Israel Wednesday; some 60 Israelis suffered from shock and extensive damage was caused to a number of structures. During a tour of the Osem food factory in Sderot Peres said, "We must act prudently and not say when and where we will retaliate. The IDF can face any threat. " Due to the escalation, Israel’s security establishment has decided to activate an alert system that. . .

Hamas goes into hiding in Gaza
Ali Waked, YNetNews 12/24/2008
Fearing harsh Israeli response to massive rocket, mortar fire on Negev, gunmen abandon exposed structures. ’Our artillery unit fulfilling its obligation to defend Palestinian people and face the Zionist enemy’s arrogance,’ Islamist group says -Most Hamas gunmen in Gaza have gone into hiding on Wednesday for fear of a harsh Israeli response to the heavy rocket and mortar barrages emanating from the Strip, Ynet has learned. All exposed Hamas structures, including police stations and government buildings, have been abandoned. On Wednesday evening the Israeli Air Force targeted a terror cell that was apparently preparing to launch mortar shells from northern Gaza. The attack, which came after dozens of Qassams and mortars were fired toward Ashkelon and the Gaza-vicinity communities, left a Hamas gunmen dead and four other Palestinians wounded.

Sunday evening: Rocket fire resumes; alert system to be activated in Ashdod
Shmulik Hadad, YNetNews 12/24/2008
Four Qassams, six mortars fired toward Negev, bringing Wednesday’s total to more than 60. Rocket alert system to be activated in Ashdod, city official says ’only a matter of time before we’re attacked’ -Following an hour and a half-long lull, the rocket attacks on Israel resumed Wednesday evening, as at least two Qassams fired from northern Gaza landed in the western Negev. One rocket landed in an open area within the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council’s limits at around 17:30, but resulted in no injuries or damage. Another Qassam fired a short while later a second Qassam landed in an open area in the Eshkol Regional Council. There were no reports of injuries or damage. At around 7 pm six mortar shells landed in open spaces in the Eshkol Regional Council. No injuries or damage were reported. More than 60 rockets and mortars were

Israeli air strike kills Gaza terrorist, medics say
Hanan Greenberg, YNetNews 12/24/2008
Hamas gunman killed, two other Palestinians wounded in Air Force attack on group of terrorists preparing to fire mortars from northern Strip toward Negev region; Qassam lands near factory in south Israel; no injuries -Medical officials in Gaza said Wednesday evening that an Israeli air strike killed a Hamas gunman and wounded four other Palestinians, this after dozens of rockets and mortars were fired towards the Jewish state throughout the day. An Israeli military spokesman said the air strike targeted a group of terrorists who were preparing to fire mortar shells towards Israel. The man killed in the attack was apparently a member of Hamas’ armed wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades. Meanwhile, a Qassam rocket fired from northern Gaza at around 7:30 pm exploded near a factory located in the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council’s industrial zone.

Hamas: Qassam rocket fire intends to deter IOF
Palestinian Information Center 12/24/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- The Hamas Movement on Wednesday said that its armed wing, the Qassam Brigades, firing of homemade missiles at Israeli targets adjacent to the Gaza Strip was meant to warn the Israeli occupation forces of consequences of a large-scale operation against the Strip. Fawzi Barhoum, the Movement’s spokesman, said that the Qassam rocket fire was in self defense in face of ceaseless IOF crimes and aggression. He held the Israeli occupation government responsible for the repercussions of IOF escalation against Gaza, calling on all Palestinian resistance factions to firmly retaliate to IOF crimes so that it would think a thousand times before targeting any Palestinian. The armed wing, for its part, said in a statement that escalation of IOF aggression would be met with severe reprisal that might expand in targeting new Israeli settlements.

Peres in Sderot: IDF can quell rocket fire
Ilana Curiel, YNetNews 12/24/2008
President tours south despite massive Qassam, mortar fire, tells residents ’we mustn’t say when and where we will retaliate’ -President Shimon Peres toured an Osem food factory in Sderot, in which a new line was established to provide the struggling city with additional income. " In Gaza rockets are being lit, while in Sderot candles are being lit. Gaza is being darkened while Sderot is being lit up," he said during a Hanukah candle-lighting ceremony at the factory Wednesday evening. " I don’t know of any other place in the world that would hold such a beautiful celebration under a barrage of dozens of rockets. " Nearly 60 rockets and mortars were fired toward Israel from Gaza since Tuesday night; more than 40 Israelis suffered from shock andextensive damage was caused to a number of structures.

Rockets hit Ashkelon
Globes Online 12/24/2008
A barrage of at least 15 rockets was fired into southern Israel from the Gaza Strip last night and this morning. A barrage of at least 15 rockets was fired into southern Israel from the Gaza Strip last night and this morning. There were reports of 30-40 people treated for shock. Two Grad missiles landed in Ashkelon, one near a factory and one near a parking lot. Several cars were damaged. Earlier, a Kassam rocket landed on a house in a kibbutz, Shaar Hanegev, and destroyed the ceiling. Minister of Defense Ehud Barak halted a shipment of humanitarian aid that he had previously authorized, and ordered that crossings into Gaza remain closed. [end]

DFLP fires homemade projectiles at Sderot Tuesday evening
Ma’an News Agency 12/24/2008
Gaza – Ma’an – An armed group affiliated with the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) launched a homemade projectile at the Israeli town of Sderot on Tuesday evening. The group claimed the launch in a statement, which said the shelling came in retaliation to “Israeli daily aggression against the Palestinian people. ”[end]

Gazan man injured in ambiguous explosion at home
Ma’an News Agency 12/24/2008
Gaza – Ma’an – A Palestinian man from the Tal Al-Hawa neighborhood of Gaza City was injured on Wednesday morning in ambiguous explosion in his own home. Palestinian medical sources identified the victim as 37-year-old Iyad Dreimly asserting that he was transferred to the Ash-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. [end]

IOA revokes decision to partially open Gaza crossings
Palestinian Information Center 12/24/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- The Israeli occupation authority has retracted an earlier decision to partially open the Karm Abu Salem and Mintar crossings in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, well informed sources in the Strip announced. The sources said that the IOA informed the Palestinians at an early hour on Wednesday that both crossings would not be open. They said that 45 trucks were waiting at the Karm Abu Salem crossing including 20 for the private sector carrying wheat, rice, sugar and cooking oil in addition to 25 others for UNRWA while 39 trucks were waiting at the Mintar crossing carrying wheat and fodder. Israeli war minister Ehud Barak on Tuesday decided to open both crossings to allow passage of foodstuff and other relief material but revoked his decision at dawn Wednesday after his forces killed three Qassam fighters and the armed wing of Hamas retaliated firing a number of projectiles at Israeli targets adjacent to the Strip.

’VIP tunnel’ smuggling wealthy Gazans into Egypt
Avi Issacharoff, Ha’aretz 12/25/2008
A special "VIP tunnel" was recently dug to smuggle wealthy or important people under the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, Palestinian sources report. The tunnel has electricity and telephone service, and it is high enough that people can walk upright. In most of Gaza’s numerous smuggling tunnels, people have to stoop or even crawl. The tunnel is also unusually wide, enabling cattle or large electrical appliances, such as refrigerators, to be brought through it. Passage through this tunnel, however, is more expensive than it is at any of the others. Altogether, there are thought to be hundreds of tunnels leading from Egypt into Gaza. Some specialize in conveying fuel, others focus on other merchandise and still others are for human transit. Hamas collects taxes on all the tunnels and uses this money to reinforce its government in Gaza.

Weekly Report: On Israeli Human Rights Violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory 18- 23 December 2008
Palestinian Centre for Human Rights 12/24/2008
Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) Continue Attacks against Palestinian Civilians and Property in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) amidst a Humanitarian Crisis in the Gaza Strip Due to the Closure - A member of the Palestinian resistance was killed by IOF and a Palestinian civilian died from a previous wound in the Gaza Strip. *10 Palestinians, including 3 children and a journalist, and an Israeli journalist were wounded by the IOF gunfire in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. *IOF attacked 2 Palestinian ambulances in Ne’lin village, west of Ramallah. *IOF conducted 25 incursions into Palestinian communities in the West Bank. *IOF arrested 18 Palestinian civilians, including 4 children. *IOF stormed a medical center in Hebron. *IOF have continued to impose a total siege on the OPT and have isolated the Gaza Strip from the outside world.

Elderly Palestinian prisoner dies in Israeli jail
Ma’an News Agency 12/24/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Palestinian prisoner, 65-year-old Jum’ah Isma’il Muhammad Mousa from Jerusalem died on Tuesday evening at Israeli Nitzan prison in Ramla after he fell ill. According to Israeli sources, the victim was hospitalized in Israeli Prison Service medical facility where he collapsed and was later announced dead. Mousa had been serving lifetime imprisonment since 1993. According to the Palestinian Prisoner Society in Bethlehem in the southern West Bank, he suffered from heart disease, blood pressure and diabetes. He was married and left behind a widow and eight children. Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) member from Bethlehem Issa Qaraqi’, in charge of prisoners committee in the PLC held Israel accountable for deathdescribing that as “war crime”. He called for formation of international committee to investigate the incident along with the cases of several other prisoners who do not receive proper medical treatment.

Palestinian Jerusalemite prisoner dies in occupation jail due to medical neglect
Palestinian Information Center 12/24/2008
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM, (PIC)-- The Israeli prisons authority on Wednesday declared the death of Juma Mousa, 65, from the Sha’fat refugee camp east of occupied Jerusalem, who was serving a life term along with ten years. Mousa was suffering from chronic diseases, heart and diabetes in addition to urinary tract infection, and used to spend more time in Ramle prison hospital than in his prison cell over the past ten years. The IPA alleged that Mousa died while receiving treatment in the prison hospital and that the police was investigating his death. Mousa was detained since 29th March 1993 and was one among 30 similar cases of prisoners in Ramle prison hospital with chronic diseases. The Wa’ed society for prisoners and ex-prisoners denounced the Israeli systematic humiliation and penal measures against prisoners.

VIDEO - Jewish parents thwart enrollment of Arab girl in daycare
Haaretz Staff and Channel 10, Ha’aretz 12/25/2008
The opposition of a group of parents has caused a daycare in Moshav Merhavia to reject the registration of a young Arab toddler from a nearby village. Mayssa and Shua’a from the village of Sulam, say they were warmly received by the teacher of the daycare when they told her they wanted to register their daughter, Dana. But after making all the necessary payments, they received a disturbing phone call from the teacher. [end]

Fugee Fridays / Left to fend for themselves on the streets of Tel Aviv
Daniel Gold, Ha’aretz 12/24/2008
"I found her Saturday night, 8 months pregnant and sleeping in the park," Yotam Sheffy tells me. The woman, an Eritrean refugee, had spent three nights in the park after prison authorities released her from Ketziot Prison without notifying any of the various organizations assisting the refugee population. She is the newest addition to a cramped shelter run by the organization Yotam works for, the African Refugee Development Center (ARDC). There is no hint of emotion in his voice as he tells me this, no exasperated sigh or sadness to betray his stoic demeanor. After more than a year of working for the ARDC, the sight of helpless African refugees left to fend for themselves in the streets of south Tel Aviv has grown all too familiar for him. I have spent the past two months investigating the refugee crisis, interviewing volunteers,. . .

Death penalty in Palestinian territories alarms rights groups
Mel Frykberg, Electronic Intifada 12/24/2008
RAMALLAH, occupied West Bank (IPS) - New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has sent urgent letters to Palestinian leaders in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, urging them to commute the death sentences of 11 Palestinians currently awaiting execution. The death-row inmates, including one who was a juvenile at the time of his conviction, were sentenced this year by Palestinian military and state security courts. Two of the inmates received trials that lasted just one day. Joe Stork, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division, appealed to Gaza’s Hamas leader, and de facto Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, and the West Bank’s Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas to urgently review the cases. Under Palestinian law the penalties have to be either ratified or commuted by the PA president before they can be carried out. "It’s deeply disturbing that Palestinian courts have resumed issuing death sentences at a time when the rest of world is moving toward abolishing capital punishment," said Stork.

Hamas denies ratification of new penal codes based on Islamic teachings
Ma’an News Agency 12/24/2008
Gaza – Ma’an – Head of the Hamas-affiliated legal committee in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) in the Gaza Strip, Ahmad Abu Halabiyya denied on Wednesday that Hamas lawmakers in the Strip have ratified a new law to impose penal codes based on Shari’a (Islamic teachings). “Media reports are incorrect. No new laws have been ratified in this regard, but the topic was discussed during a workshop last Monday. More workshops will be held in the future, and will be attended by representatives of civil and official organizations and humanitarian societies before the law will be submitted to the PLC for ratification,” Abu Halibiyya explained. Local and international media outlets reported that Hamas lawmakers have ratified new penal codes based on Islamic teaching. The new law, according to different news reports, includes death penalty, ransom, reprehension, imprisonment, fines, confiscation and dismissal from job amongst other punishments.

Hamas pushes for Sharia punishments
Jerusalem Post 12/24/2008
The Hamas parliament in the Gaza Strip voted in favor of a law allowing courts to mete out sentences in the spirit of Islam, the London-based Arab daily Al Hayat reported Wednesday. According to the bill, approved in its second reading and awaiting a third reading before the approval of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, as the Palestinian constitution demands, courts will be able to condemn offenders to a plethora of violent punitive measures in line with Sharia Law. Such punishments include whipping, severing hands, crucifixion and hanging. The bill reserves death sentences to people who negotiate with a foreign government "against Palestinian interests" and engage in any activity that can "hurt Palestinian morale. " According to the report, any Palestinian caught drinking or selling wine would suffer 40 lashes at the whipping post if the bill passes.

Fatah leader: No central celebration commemorating Fatah 44th anniversary in Gaza
Ma’an News Agency 12/24/2008
Gaza – Ma’an – The central celebration commemorating the 44th anniversary of Fatah movement on 1/1/2009 will be held in Ramallah in the central West Bank, said Ibrahim Abu An-Naja, member of Fatah Central Committee from the Gaza Strip. As for celebrations in the Gaza Strip, Abu An-Naja told Ma’an that the movement’s officials will only visit families of “martyrs”, prisoners and injured ones. Over that past two years, the Hamas-run de facto government in the Gaza Strip has banned Fatah celebrations commemorating its anniversary in Gaza, and the Palestinian Authority has banned Hamas celebrations in the West Bank. Two years ago, clashes erupted between Hamas and Fatah supporters in Gaza City while Fatah supporters celebrated the 42nd anniversary of the movement.

Nativity Church deportees to Gaza complain of dire economic conditions
Ma’an News Agency 12/24/2008
Nablus – Ma’an - Palestinians who were deported to the Gaza Strip after the 2002 siege of the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Wednesday appealed to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to improve their living conditions. Twenty six West Bank Palestinians were exiled to the Gaza Strip and 13 to European countries after Israeli forces laid siege to the church for more than a month in 2002. “We have been away from our families, wives and children since six and a half years enough suffering for us. That is enough suffering, but our suffering culminates as we are asked to evacuate our rented homes in the Gaza Strip because the Palestinian Authority has not paid the rent since six months,” says Fahmi Kan’an, spokesperson of the Nativity deportees in the Gaza Strip. Kan’an told Ma’an that deportees in Gaza and their families in the West Bank were suffering. . .

2 Israelis who entered Bethlehem ejected by PA security forces
Jerusalem Post 12/24/2008
Two Israelis who entered Bethlehem on Wednesday night were arrested by Palestinian security forces and transferred to Israeli police custody in coordination with the Civil Administration. The IDF stressed, once again, that Israelis are strictly prohibited from entering Palestinian Area A, while Area B was extremely dangerous. [end]

Vatican protests destruction of church access path
Jack Khoury, Ha’aretz 12/25/2008
The Holy See’s ambassador to Israel, Archbishop Antonio Franco, has asked Israeli authorities to permit an access path to a church in the former Arab village of Ikrit. Last week, the Ma’aleh Yosef regional council dismantled a 150-meter path built by former villagers in preparation for Christmas mass. A court had delayed the demolition order issued by the regional council against the path pending further hearings, yet the path was demolished in violation of the injunction, after the council said it did not receive the court’s decision. The villagers of Ikrit were told to leave their homes during the War of Independence in 1948, when the nascent Israel Defense Forces seized the Upper Galilee region. The former Ikrit residents have lived in various other Arab communities in the area since 1948, and have not been allowed to return, despite a High Court of Justice ruling.

ACTION ALERT- Urgent call for Action on upgrade of the EU-Israel Association Agreement
Haitham Sabbah, Palestine Think Tank 12/24/2008
*** KINDLY REPRINT AND SPREAD WIDELY *** The recent postponement of the vote in the European Parliament on the extension of existing EU programmes with Israel has been attributed to the great mass of letters received by MEPs, MPs and Ministers, showing the growing influence of civil society on attitudes towards Israel. We now need you to write again about an even more crucial and urgent issue relating to the upgrading of EU relations with Israel. Although the postponement was important, the vote was not related to the upgrade agreement recently signed by the foreign ministers of all the Member States (the EU Council) This was a crucial step in the upgrading of relations with Israel and one over which the European Parliament has no control. The new EU-Israel Action Plan is currently being drafted by the European Commission for discussion by the Member States at the beginning of the next year.

Abbas: We won’t Agree to Israeli Invasion of Gaza
Roee Nahmias, MIFTAH 12/24/2008
"We won’t agree to an Israeli invasion in Gaza or even an aerial attack," Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Tuesday during a joint press conference in Cairo with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The Palestinian president said Egypt will push for a new truce between Israel and Hamas, which controls the Strip, and referred to the rocket fire on the Jewish state as "foolish". The six-month-old truce, mediated by Mubarak, expired last Friday. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is scheduled to come to Cairo Thursday for talks with Mubarak about a new truce. Abbas also said he and Mubarak agreed that reconciliation talks between Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah party should go forward. Talks brokered by Egypt and slated to take place last November fell apart when Hamas pulled out at the last minute over a dispute with Fatah over releasing Hamas prisoners. On Monday Mubarak invited Livni to Cairo in the hopes of preventing the further deterioration of the Gaza standoff.

Lieberman: Fire Barak if he’s delaying decisions on Gaza
Yael Branovsky, YNetNews 12/24/2008
’Hamas is setting the agenda and taking the initiative; Israel is only responding,’ Yisrael Beiteinu chairman says amid massive rocket fire on Israel -"The government has failed in its job to safeguard the people of Israel; we mustn’t wait until after the elections to make the necessary decisions, and if (Defense Minister Ehud) Barak is undermining these decisions he should be dismissed immediately," Avigdor Lieberman said Wednesday in response to the massive rocket and mortar Hamas is setting the agenda and taking the initiative; we are only responding," the Yisrael Beiteinu chairman added, "the Hamas prisoners are being treated well in Israel despite the fact that no one has seen (kidnapped IDF soldier) Gilad Shalit. "However, Lieberman stressed that Israel should refrain from launching an operation in Gaza before taking all of its outcomes into consideration.

Livni: Israel will act against Hamas
Attila Somfalvi, YNetNews 12/24/2008
During conference of identification with Qassam-riddled south Kadima chairwoman says ’Israel will not allow Middle East to become neighborhood of bullies, hatred, incitement, and terror’ -The Kadima Party made a last minute decision Wednesday to alter the theme of its celebratory convention, and instead to hold a rally of identification with the southern residents of Israel, who were pelted with artillery from Gaza throughout the day . Kadima Director-General Moshe Shehori opened the event by saying, "On a day such as this there is no place for an elections ceremony, but rather for a convention that will support and unite us all. " Hamas - don’t delude yourselves. Our desire for peace and quiet does not soften our will to act in the face of kidnappings and threats. The desire for peace does not quell the desire to act when necessary, and it is necessary now.

Barak vows to stop Gaza rocket fire
Jerusalem Post 12/24/2008
Defense Minister Ehud Barak vowed Wednesday night to put an end to rocket fire on the western Negev. Mideast expert Dan Diker says Hamas wants to create a strategic balance of power with Israel "We will finish this and bring about a solution to this situation," Barak told the Channel 2 current affairs show ’Mishal Cham. ’ Barak said he had instructed the IDF and security establishment to prepare for a response to the Gaza rocket fire, which he called "unacceptable. " Refusing to divulge the details of the operation, Barak said, "I’m in favor of threatening less and doing more. "

Hamas vows to step up attacks if Israel retaliates
AFP, YNetNews 12/24/2008
’Israel should know that any decision to attack Gaza will open the gates of hell,’ Islamist group’s armed wing says. Israeli government spokesman: We will answer terrorist attacks with actions to protect our people -Hamas militants pounded Israel with rocket and mortar fire on Wednesday and vowed more attacks as the Jewish state warned it would hit back, further dimming the chances of a renewed ceasefire. Gunmen launched nearly 60 rockets and mortars since Tuesday night, the largest barrage since before an Egyptian-brokered truce went into effect in and around the besieged Palestinian territory in June. The ceasefire expired five days ago. Hamas vowed to step up its attacks if the Israeli army responded with strikes against the impoverished territory.

Bibi: End ’defensive’ Gaza policy Staff, Jerusalem Post 12/24/2008
"The residents of the South cannot tolerate an Iranian base in the Negev," Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu said Wednesday, responding to the surge in rocket salvos fired from Gaza on western Negev communities. Speaking while inaugurating the immigrants’ branch of the Likud party in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu said, "When we were in Sderot three days ago, a Kassam hit the house of a new immigrant and single mother who spoke to me from the bottom of her heart. This is not only a problem of immigrants, but of the entire citizenry of Israel. " Sderot and other western Negev communities have a high percentage of new immigrants in their population. "We must move from a defensive to an offensive policy and restore our national honor," Netanyahu said. "The situation as it stands is unbearable and we will change that. . . "

Netanyahu pledges to topple Hamas if elected prime minister
Lily Galili , and Haaretz Staff, Ha’aretz 12/25/2008
Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday pledged to topple the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip if elected prime minister in the February elections. Speaking to a group of Russian speakers, Netanyahu said that under his leadership, Israel would move from a policy of absorbing blows to a policy of being on the offensive. He said that apart from stopping the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, such a policy would also restore Israel’s "national honor. " He also reiterated previous remarks that Israel would hold on to the Golan Heights. "It should be clear to the Syrians and to the world, the Golan Heights will stay in our hands," Netanyahu said. In response to reports that leaders of the Meretz party are seeking to create a "blocking majority" against a rightist government, Netanyahu emphasized the importance of turning Likud into the biggest party so that it could assemble a government.

Livni: The equation in Gaza can change, and will change
Mazal Mualem, Ha’aretz 12/25/2008
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Wednesday warned that things were about to change in Gaza, speaking after a day that saw more than 60 Qassam rockets and mortar shells pound Israel’s south. " We withdrew from Gaza, but we did not leave our destiny at the hands of Hamas," Livni said at a Kadima Party conference in Jerusalem. "The equation must change, and it is about to change," she added. At the last minute, Livni decided to cancel scheduled festivities to mark the launching of elections season, turning the Kadima event into a demonstration of solidarity with the residents of southern Israel, who have been terrorized by rocket fire, especially since the six-month cease fire agreement between Israel and Hamas expired last week. The colorful decorations were put away, the videos and jingles were called off, and in their. . .

Peres in Sderot: In Gaza they’re lighting rockets, here we’re lighting candles
Haaretz Service, Ha’aretz 12/25/2008
President Shimon Peres visited the western Negev town of Sderot on Wednesday to take part in a Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony with its residents. "In Gaza they are lighting rockets and in Sderot we are lighting candles," Peres told the crowd at a local community center. "We are a people of tremendous resilience and moral fortitude. " Peres urged the residents of Sderot to trust that Israel Defense Forces does its utmost to ensure their safety. "The IDF has formidable power and amazing abilities," he said. "I trust them to respond [to rocket threat] responsibly and effectively. The unnecessary chatter should stop ? let the IDF act and make the right decisions about the timing and extent of the action. "He also addressed the Palestinians of the neighboring Gaza Strip.

UN secretary-general calls on Hamas to stop rocket attacks on Israel Staff, Jerusalem Post 12/25/2008
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon condemned the shooting of rockets against Israel on Wednesday night, calling on Hamas to discontinue the attacks immediately, Israel Radio reported. "The secretary-general is concerned with the escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip and calls on all sides to secure the return of the quiet to the area, to alleviate the situation of Gaza residents and to allow the transfer of humanitarian aid," a statement released by the UN read. [end]

Hamas Says it May Consider New Truce with Israel
Agence France Presse, MIFTAH 12/24/2008
GAZA CITY - A tense calm reigned over the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Tuesday as the Palestinian Islamist group said it might be willing to agree to a new truce with Israel. Gaza militants fired one rocket which hit without causing damage or injury, and Israel did not launch any raids on the territory after Hamas announced on Monday that it would not launch rockets or fire mortars for 24 hours. Senior Hamas leader Mahmud Zahar told AFP that the movement could consider extending the temporary lull and agreeing to a new long-term truce, following the expiry on Friday of a six-month ceasefire. Hamas is ready to renew the truce ‘if Israel respects the conditions of a ceasefire,’ he said. These include lifting the blockade of the Palestinian enclave and stopping military raids on the besieged territory, stronghold of the Islamist movement considered a terror group by Israel and the West.

Meretz chair calls for talks with Hamas
Eli Senyor, YNetNews 12/24/2008
Chaim Oron tells Ynet politicians must stop talking about wide-scale operation in Gaza, which will only cause Israel ’to sink into mud much deeper than the one in Lebanon’ - In the sea of voices calling for a military operation in Gaza in light of the ongoing rocket barrages directed at Israel’s southern communities, Meretz Chairman Chaim Oron stood up Wednesday and called on the government to utilize the chance for a ceasefire through dialogue. Oron told Ynet, "Concrete negotiations for a ceasefire, as fragile as it is and as long as it is not a long-term solution, are preferable over an exchange of mutual accusations which will only worsen. " According to the Meretz leader, "A ceasefire will not lead to a state of calm for many years, but it’s the most effective, rational and self evident way to bring about a lull at this time, save our citizens in Sderot and the region’s communities. "

Bibi: Israel must restore national pride
Yael Branovsky, YNetNews 12/24/2008
Likud chairman presents immigrants’ headquarters to press, promises to push issue of civil marriage, keep Education portfolio away from Shas; says rocket fire on western Negev unacceptable -Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu called a press conference Wednesday aimed at introducing the party’s immigrants’ headquarters to the press, ahead of the nearing eneral elections. Introductions aside, Netanyahu quickly turned his attention to the escalation in southern Israel. "I will not accept this situation," he told Ynet. "I can’t think of any other country that would do nothing when faced with constant rocket fire. We have to go from a policy of compliance to one of assault. We have to restore our national pride. "The current situation in unbearable and we will change that. The resident of southern Israel will not abide having an. . . "

Cabinet debates operation in Gaza
Roni Sofer, YNetNews 12/24/2008
National Security Cabinet convenes to discuss escalation in Strip, rocket barrages on south Israel. Preparations for gradual military operation continue - The National Security Cabinet convened Wednesday afternoon to discuss the escalation in Gaza and the rocket barrages on Ashkelon, Sderot and the western Negev. On the agenda: A gradual Israel Defense Forces operation which the cabinet members decided on last week in response to the ongoing firing of rockets by Hamas and the Palestinian factions. Meanwhile, the preparations for a military response continue, while the weather conditions have prevented aerial activity. Defense establishment officials estimated that Wednesday’s rocket barrage was a response to the killing of three terrorists who approached the border fence on Tuesday afternoon.

Pollard offered to lead right-wing party
Matthew Wagner, Jerusalem Post 12/24/2008
Convicted spy Jonathan Pollard was offered the top slot on the right-wing Eretz Yisrael Shelanu list Wednesday, in attempt to secure his release by turning him into a Knesset member. However, Pollard’s family declined to accept the offer, saying the fight for his release should not identified with any specific political agenda. "We looked into the legal aspects of the matter and we discovered that it was possible for Pollard to be elected to the Knesset since he is an Israeli citizen," said Shay Gefen, a party spokesman. Pollard was found guilty of spying against the US for Israel and was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1987. "If he were to become an MK he would enjoy certain immunities which would increase pressure on the US for his release. We respect the family’s wishes, but during our campaign we will work to increase awareness of the injustice being perpetrated against Pollard.

Bush pardons man who aided Israel in ’48
Associated Press, Jerusalem Post 12/24/2008
The last words Charles Winters spoke to his son nearly 25 years ago - "Keep the faith" - guided the Miami businessman as he sought a rare presidential pardon for his late father’s crime: aiding Israel in 1948 as it fought to survive. Charles Winters, a Protestant from Boston, was convicted in 1949 for violating the Neutrality Act when he conspired to export aircraft to a foreign country. He was fined $5,000 and sentenced to 18 months in prison. Winters’ son, Jim, found out about his father’s daring missions and imprisonment only after his death in 1984. On Tuesday, President George W. Bush officially forgave Charles Winters, issuing a pardon posthumously to a man considered a hero in Israel. "I’m overwhelmed," said Jim Winters, 44, a Miami maker of artistic neon signs. "It happened 16 years before I was born.

Rice claims history will recognize that ’America has stood for the Arab world’
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 12/24/2008
WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice acknowledged Monday that the Bush administration fell short of goals it had set for itself but claimed that history would prove it right. In an interview with AFP, Rice conceded that eight years after President George W. Bush came to power, his administration’s popularity was "not very great" in the Arab world. "I understand that a lot of the history between the US and the Arab world is one that Arabs look to as a time of humiliation and of lack of respect. That did not start with President Bush and it will not merely end with President Bush," she said. American popularity in the Arab world has seen a steady decline in the wake of the US-led "war on terror," despite an initial surge of sympathy in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, suicide hijackings in the United States.

Security cabinet proscribes 35 global terrorist groups linked to al-Qaida
Barak Ravid, Ha’aretz 12/25/2008
The security cabinet on Wednesday proscribed 35 terrorist organizations with links to al-Qaida and the Taliban, during a meeting convened to discuss the situation in the Gaza Strip. The security cabinet decision, based on intelligence provided by the National Security Council, blacklists 35 terrorist organizations operating mainly in Pakistan, Afghanistan and African states, that have acted against Western interests and not just against Israel itself. The decision expands the list of terrorist organizations that already includes Hamas and Hezbollah. The Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement, saying "this decision constitutes a meaningful step in the global struggle against financing of terrorism, and is designed to bring Israel into line with the Western nations, primarily the United States, who deal with terrorism via. . . "

Friends in need
Bassel Oudat, Al-Ahram Weekly 12/24/2008
Iranian-owned assets in Syria have reached $3 billion and may grow to $10 billion in the next five years, Iran is buying into Syria as if there is no tomorrow, prompting critics to claim that Tehran has ulterior political motives. The Iranians are buying into industrial cities, free zones, oil, energy, steel and agriculture. And the incentives lavished upon them by the Syrian authorities are said to be unprecedented. How much of this is politics and how much is economics? In 2008, Iranian investment in Syria ranked third after Saudi Arabia and Turkey, reaching a total of $3 billion. Experts expect Iran to become the main investor in Syria by 2009. The Iranians began their acquisitions in Syria with a mineral oil factory they bought seven years ago. Now they own or control nearly 110 big or medium-sized companies. Iranian investment is diversified.

Water, oil and Israel
Assem El-Kersh, Al-Ahram Weekly 12/24/2008
Anti-Israeli demonstrations are an understandable expression of the popular will. - On many campuses this week Israeli flags were burned as students cried out for relief for the people of Gaza and protested at the injustices of an occupation that looks set to continue indefinitely. Against the images of flag burning came the angry chant "No to normalisation!", and an outcry against the handshake exchanged between the grand imam of Al-Azhar and Israeli President Shimon Peres. Not long before the protests a court ruling that exports of natural gas to Israel should be halted had been greeted with jubilation. The same tone was struck whenever the subject of Israel arose, whether in the realm of business, political proprieties, Oriental dancing, in which Israel is attempting to compete with the Arabs on their home ground, the murky world of espionage, the culinary arts -- Israel claims falafel

Greeting storm
Reem Leila, Al-Ahram Weekly 12/24/2008
Following his handshake with Israeli President Shimon Peres critics of the grand imam of Al-Azhar smell blood - Demands for the resignation of Sheikh Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, the grand imam of Al-Azhar, after he shook hands with Israeli President Shimon Peres, gained momentum after newspapers began running a photograph of their meeting at a United Nations-sponsored interfaith conference in New York last November. The two men encountered one another at a small dinner attended by, among others, the Saudi king and crown prince of Kuwait. Tantawi initially told reporters he was unaware it was Peres who was approaching him with a proffered hand. Peres has served twice as Israeli prime minister and, together with Yitshak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, was a joint winner of the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize: his critics argue that it is unlikely that he should have failed to recognise someone who has played a leading role in Israeli politics for decades.

Lebanese politicians at odds over Israeli talks
The Media Line News Agency, Jerusalem Post 12/24/2008
Following the recent developments on the Israeli-Syrian track, Lebanese politicians are divided regarding the possibility of holding peace talks with Israel. Most of the Lebanese politicians have rejected the possibility of holding direct talks with Israel. "We hope peace is achieved between Syria and Israeli, but for our part we do not want to engage in direct negotiations between Lebanon and Israel, which are against our national interests," Al-Mustaqbal (The Future) movement leader, Sa’ad A-Din Al-Hariri, said on Tuesday according to the Lebanese Daily Star. Hizbullah for its part has rejected any kind of negotiations with Israel - direct or indirect. RELATEDAssad: Hizbullah is not my problem The Media Line News Agency "There is no need for negotiations as long as our rights are clear"¦ Israel. . .

Rival Lebanese politicians rule out talks with Israel
Daily Star 12/24/2008
BEIRUT: Politicians from Lebanon’s rival groups agreed Tuesday on rejecting calls for holding direct talks with Israel. Future Movement leader MP Saad Hariri said after meeting Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir in Bkirki that direct negotiations between Lebanon and Israel were against national interests. "We want just peace for Lebanon and Syria. . . We hope peace is achieved between Syria and Israel, but for our part we don’t want to engage in direct negotiations," he said. Syrian President Bashar Assad said on Monday that the Turkish-mediated indirect talks between Syria and Israel would eventually become direct talks if based on implementing international resolutions. Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun said over the weekend that he did not mind direct negotiations between Lebanon and Israel "if Syria is at the same table.

Murr: Lebanese Army incapable of absorbing Hizbullah’s assets
Daily Star 12/24/2008
BEIRUT: The Lebanese Army is incapable of integrating Hizbullah’s fighters and weapons into its force, Defense Minister Elias Murr has said in an interview with Future Television. In the interview, aired Monday night, Murr said the army did not have the capacity to absorb Hizbullah’s armed wing and warned that the continued presence of the group’s weapons caches could serve as a pretext for another Israeli strike. "Why don’t those who armed Hizbullah and claim to be keen on Lebanon provide the army with needed weapons? " he said. "I am keen on my country’s safety and do not want to give Israel a pretext to destroy it again - on our heads - as it did in 2006. "Murr has presided over a large-scale re-equipping of the army. The United States has pledged $410 million of military aid, including training, Humvees and M-60 battle tanks.

Latin patriarch of Jerusalem rails at occupation
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 12/24/2008
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: The Latin patriarch in Occupied Jerusalem on Tuesday prayed for an end of "occupation and injustice" in the Holy Land and voiced concern for the future of the Holy City he said is "strangled by settlements. ""As Bethlehem waited throughout history for the one who would ’smash the yoke that burdened’ the people. . . so we are awaiting a manifestation of the savior’s grace that will put an end to the occupation," Fuad Twal told Christians in his Christmas message. He also expressed concern for the future "in the homeland of Christ" of the Christian community whose numbers are dwindling in the face of the Israeli occupation, and particularly for the future of Occupied Jerusalem. "We do not forget what divides us: greed mixed with injustice, violence and man’s persecution of his fellow man. All these beset the Holy City, not mentioning the building of settlements which. . . "

Thousands of Palestinians head to Nativity Church for Midnight Mass
Ma’an News Agency 12/25/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Fireworks ignited the sky as thousands of Palestinian and international guests of Bethlehem anticipated the annual Christmas address by the Catholic Church’s most senior leader in the Holy Land. Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal made the holy pilgrimage from Jerusalem to Bethlehem this afternoon, stopping in at Mar Elias Monastery, where he was joined by the mayor of Beit Jala, Raji Zeidan, and several other Latin clerics and dignitaries. The procession then made its way to the spot where Christians believe Jesus was born. The famous Nativity Church now marks the holy site, which is also famous for some of the largest Christmas celebrations in the world. Manger Square was soon filled with voices from around the world as choirs from Russia, Italy, Spain and Palestine performed for pilgrims lining up to kiss the star on the floor of the grotto marking Jesus’ birthplace at midnight.

Christian pilgrims flock to little town of Bethlehem
Reuters, Ha’aretz 12/25/2008
Thousands of Christian pilgrims gathered in Bethlehem’s Manger Square yesterday to celebrate Christmas under the protection of security forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. About 500 security men arrived from the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Jericho to provide security for the holiday. Similar deployments have taken place across the West Bank over the past year with U. S. backing. "We expect about 40,000 visitors in Bethlehem this week," said Khouloud Daibes-Abu Dayyeh, the Palestinian Authority’s minister of tourism. The estimate includes Christians from the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Israel and the rest of the world. About 900 from Gaza applied for Israeli permission to go to the site where Christians believe Jesus was born, but only 300 got it. While Gaza teeters on the brink of a major crisis following the end of a six-month truce between Israel and. . .

Bethlehem fills up with Christmas pilgrims
Reuters, YNetNews 12/25/2008
Palestinian tourism minister says increase in security and easier movement ’means we have our largest numbers, and we are making great efforts to restore tourist activity’; many visitors see wall between Jerusalem and Bethlehem as ugly scar defiling Church of the Nativity -Thousands of Christian pilgrims gathered in Bethlehem’s Manger Square on Wednesday to celebrate Christmas under the protection of security forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. About 500 security men arrived from the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Jericho to provide security for the holiday. Similar deployments have taken place across the West Bank over the past year with US backing. "We expect about 40,000 visitors in Bethlehem this week," said Khouloud Daibes-Abu Dayyeh, the Palestinian Authority’s minister of tourism.

Pilgrims flock to Bethlehem for Christmas
Middle East Online 12/24/2008
Braving chilly temperatures and brisk winds, thousands of Christian faithful on Wednesday flocked to Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas and pray for peace in the traditional birthplace of Jesus. The pilgrims, returning in the largest numbers yet since the start in 2000 of the Palestinian uprising, brought a strong dose of Christmas cheer to the city in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. But the faithful also came face to face with the stark reality of a troubled region, in the shape of an eight-metre (26-feet) high concrete wall - part of Israel’s separation barrier - just a few hundred meters (yards) from the spot where Christians believe Jesus was born. "It was heartbreaking to see that wall, it’s a blot on Israel," said Jessica Kelly, a 22-year-old student from Sydney. She and her boyfriend Sean Wright, a 30-year-old student also from Sydney, both said they felt torn between. . .

Bethlehem: Christmas Celebration Starts
Ghassan Bannoura, International Middle East Media Center News 12/24/2008
Since early morning on Wednesday, hundreds of Palestinians and international tourists flocked to the Manger Square of Bethlehem, in the southern part of the West Bank. Locals and tourists stood on both sides of the narrow streets of Bethlehem Old City as hundreds of Boy Scout groups marched through, playing there bagpipes and drums. Later in the day, the Palestinian President is expected to arrive to the city for the midnight mass at the Church of the Nativity. Dr. Kholoud d’Eibis, the Palestinian Minster of Tourism, told IMEMC that all preparations have been completed for the celebrations, and she added that nearly one million tourists have visited the city of Bethlehem throughout 2008. D’Eibis wishes that next year will bring more hope and peace to Palestinians. The Holy City is completely surrounded by the Israeli annexation wall and illegal settlements.

Thousands of pilgrims flock to Bethlehem for Christmas
Haaretz Service and Reuters, Ha’aretz 12/24/2008
Thousands of Christian pilgrims from around the world arrived in Bethlehem on Wednesday, to spend Christmas Eve in the birthplace of Jesus. About 500 security men loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas arrived from the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Jericho to provide security for the holiday. "We expect about 40,000 visitors in Bethlehem this week," said Khouloud Daibes-Abu Dayyeh, the Palestinian Authority’s minister of tourism. The estimate includes Christians from the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Israel and the rest of the world. About 900 from Gaza applied for Israeli permission to go to the site where Christians believe Jesus was born, but only 300 got it. Heightened security has led to a boom year for tourism in the West Bank city, which tourists had largely abandoned when the Palestinian uprising against Israel began in 2000.

80% of Christians in Israel are Arabs
Ynet, YNetNews 12/24/2008
Statistics Bureau publishes findings on Christian population in Israel from 2007, stating that among Arab-Christians, men’s median age for marriage is 28, average number of children per household is 2. 1 -The Christian population in Israel numbers 154,000 people, of whom 80% are Arabs, and constitutes 2. 1% of the general population, the Central Bureau of Statistics stated Christmas Eve. The data presented was collected in 2007. The bureau stated that most of the Arab Christians in Israel reside in the north, while just 10% reside in Jerusalem. The non-Arab Christians are scattered throughout the country. The city with the largest Arab-Christian population is Nazareth, where 20,000 people belonging to the denomination reside.

Jerusalem group, Swiss agency announce partnership
Ma’an News Agency 12/24/2008
Bethlehem - Ma’an - The Applied Research Institute - Jerusalem (ARIJ) partnered with the Swiss Agency for Development (SDC) on Tuesday to sign a funding agreement for 2009, according to a statement. The Core Fund agreement was signed on Tuesday morning by Mrio Carera and Lucase Routtemen on the part of the SDC and Jad Isaac, Nader Hrimat and Fahd Abu Saymeh with ARIJ, who welcomed the Swiss specialists to the center. During the meeting, ARIJ officials discussed and reviewed the activities and achievements of ARIJ during the past year, as well as worked out a plan for the institute in the coming year, which was signed following the meeting by officials from both parties. The new Core Fund agreement will benefit the institute’s many activities, including research in environmental, agricultural and natural resources.

Experts: Assad signaling desire to talk
Brenda Gazzar, Jerusalem Post 12/24/2008
Syrian President Bashar Assad’s comments Monday about conducting direct peace talks with Israel at a later time are in line with Syrian policy, but are also a signal to Israel and the new American administration that he is serious about negotiations, some Syria experts said Tuesday. Alon Liel says Syria talks important even before election- "I think he’s sending a message both to Israel that he’s game for [peace] talks" after the February elections "and second, he’s trying to send a message to Washington that ’if you end your isolation of Syria and get involved in these talks, they can go somewhere’," said Andrew Tabler, who deals with the issue of Syrian engagement as a fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Syria is seeking, in part, respect from the United States, which from its perspective would involve direct talks between Syria and America, Tabler said.

Assad: I hope Obama will pursue Middle East peace ’sincerely’
Haaretz Service, Ha’aretz 12/24/2008
Syrian President Basher Assad on Wednesday expressed his hopes that the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama would bring about a change to U. S. policy on the Middle East, to allow it to pursue peace throughout the region "sincerely. " Assad told the Washington Post in an interview published on Wednesday that he had three hopes for the Obama administration’s Middle East diplomacy, beginning with an abandonment of the "pre-emptive war" doctrine of the Bush administration. Assad said he hopes such a move would be followed by support for Syria’s indirect talks with Israel and the pursuance of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and the Lebanese at the same time. The Syrian President said he does not believe any diplomatic track should come first, saying "each track will help the other.

Assad: Hizbullah is not my problem Staff, Jerusalem Post 12/24/2008
Syria bears no responsibility for the actions of Hizbullah, and Israel should not demand that Damascus rein in the Shi’ite terror group ahead of a peace deal, Syrian President Bashar Assad said in an interview published Thursday, suggesting that Israel take up the matter with Lebanon. "The longer the border, the bigger the peace," Assad told the Washington Post. "Hizbullah is on the Lebanese border, not [the] Syrian [one]. Hamas is on the Palestinian border"¦ [Israel] should look at those other tracks. They should be comprehensive. If you want peace, you need three peace treaties, on three tracks. " The Syrian leader remained ambiguous regarding Israel’s demand that his country sever its special relationship with Iran, saying that the ties helped protect Syrian interests. "It’s about who plays a role in this region, who supports my rights.

Egypt angry over Syrian protests
The Media Line News Agency, Jerusalem Post 12/24/2008
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry summoned the Syrian ambassador to Cairo for consultations on Tuesday to express concern about recent demonstrations outside the Egyptian embassy in Damascus. Demonstrators, who according to news reports were mostly Palestinian refugees, protested this week against the blockade on Gaza and demanded Egypt ease the plight of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Protesters called on Egypt to open the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza, send aid to the Gazans and not give in to what they called American and Israeli pressure. Egypt insists it is making great efforts to ease the humanitarian situation in Gaza and rejects accusations from several Arab countries that it is responsible for the suffering of Gazans.

Zaza: Shame on Egypt for waiting for Israeli permission to allow entry of aid
Palestinian Information Center 12/24/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- Ziyad Al-Zaza, the economy minister in the PA caretaker government, has said that it was a big shame, for Egypt and the Arab and Islamic Worlds, that Cairo was waiting for an Israeli permission to allow entry of relief material into the Gaza Strip. Zaza said in a press statement on Tuesday that Egypt should open the Rafah border terminal for the movement of people and goods immediately. He added that Egypt’s border with Palestine is open and it should serve as the gateway for Arab and international dealings with Gaza. The minister warned that the continued closure of all Gaza crossings might force the government to use other alternatives, which he refused to clarify. The Palestinian leadership in Gaza would not allow the starvation of the Palestinian people while the entire world is watching idly, Zaza elaborated.

Coming in from the cold
Dyab Abu Jahjah, Al-Ahram Weekly 12/24/2008
Red carpets have been rolled out in Damascus over the past few days for an unusual visitor -- General Michel Aoun, observes Aoun has been Syria’s arch enemy in Lebanon for 17 years and when Syria pulled its army back out of the country in 2005, following the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Al-Hariri, Aoun was considered to be the real victor since he was the only Lebanese political leader who never collaborated with the Syrians. Since then Aoun has made some very interesting strategic choices. He deserted the pro-American 14 March coalition because of its domination by the pro-Saudi Movement of the Future, led by Saad Al-Hariri, and signed a memorandum of understanding with Hizbullah. After that, Aoun’s Free National Current (FNC), representing 70 per cent of Lebanese Christians after the elections of 2005, and Hizbullah became close allies and together they form the core of the Lebanese opposition front.

Big Apple souring for Lev Leviev
Michal Ramati and Michael Rochvarger, Ha’aretz 12/25/2008
The downturn on the U. S. real estate market is taking its toll on businessman Lev Leviev and his company, Africa Israel, in New York. The Wall Street Journal has reported that Leviev filed an emergency injunction to wrest control of the Apthorp building, on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, from its current managing partner and 50% owner, Maurice Mann. The WSJ also reported that Leviev has been unable to lease renovated space in the old headquarters of the New York Times building that he purchased last year for $525 million. Leviev sold 50% of the New York Times project in August of last year to raise financing for the Apthorp project. Trouble at the Apthorp building has been brewing for some time. The building, built by the Astor family in the early 1900s, is located in one of the most exclusive areas in New York.

Leviev continues to off-load Africa Israel assets
Bloomberg, Jerusalem Post 12/24/2008
Africa Israel Investments Ltd. , the real estate holding company that’s selling a stake in New York’s historic Clock Tower, is planning more asset disposals to help repay debt, Chief Executive Officer Izzy Cohen said. Africa Israel will suspend all projects that aren’t yet under construction and eliminate jobs in 2009, Cohen said in an interview at the company’s headquarters in Yehud. It will proceed with three out of 30 planned developments in Russia for next year and 12 of 40 planned in Eastern Europe, he added. Controlled by diamond billionaire Lev Leviev, Africa Israel is the worst performer on Tel Aviv’s benchmark TA-25 Index this year. Its debt rating was cut twice as investments in markets affected by the subprime crisis soured. Cohen doesn’t rule out a sale of any of the company’s assets, which also include hotels, a US oil company and a clothing unit that owns swimsuit maker Gottex Models Ltd.

Jobseeker numbers up 2.2% last month
Sharon Wrobel, Jerusalem Post 12/24/2008
The number of people looking for jobs rose 2. 2 percent in seasonally adjusted terms in November, while the number of university graduates seeking work jumped 10. 7%, the National Employment Service reported Tuesday. "To our regret, the dramatic increase in the number of laid-off employees in the labor market in general and of university graduates in particular is continuing to take its toll, as shown in the higher figures this month," said Yossi Farhi, director-general of the Employment Service. During November the number of jobseekers was 198,400 in seasonally adjusted terms, up from 194,000 in October. The raw figures, without the seasonal adjustment, show that last month 24,000 jobseekers were added, out of which 16,500 were laid-off workers. In the same month, the number of university graduates seeking employment increased by a dramatic 10.

Wed: TASE still sinking
Tamar Koblenz, Globes Online 12/24/2008
The Tel Aviv 25 Index has fallen 9% over the past two weeks. There were sharp falls today for Africa-Israel, Property & Building, Delek Auto and Israel Discount Bank. The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange (TASE) fell again today. The Tel Aviv 25 Index fell 2. 25% to 632. 57 points, the Tel Aviv 100 Index fell 2. 49% to 550. 49 points, the Tel-Tech Index fell 1. 22% to 128. 66 and the Real Estate Index was down 4. 18% to 135. 36 points. Turnover was NIS 1. 18 billion. On the foreign currency markets the shekel was weaker today, with the shekel-dollar exchange rate up 0. 99% at NIS 3. 873/$, while the shekel-euro exchange rate climbed 1% to NIS 5. 42/€. Negative sentiment prevailed again today as the Tel Aviv 25 Index completed a 9% fall over the past two weeks. The TASE has fallen more steeply than global markets in recent days.

Research firm IDC sees 13,000 high-tech layoffs
Shmulik Shelah, Globes Online 12/24/2008
IDC expects IT expenditure in Israel to fall 1% in 2009. In its end of year report research firmIDC Israel sees the country’s Information Technology expenditure falling 1% in 2009 to $5. 1 billion, compared with a 2. 8% rise in 2008. As recently as May, IDC forecast a 3. 5% increase in IT expenditure this year, and 4% growth next year, but all that changed after September. Worldwide, IDC sees just a 2. 5% increase next year. IDC observes that the fall in IT expenditure will be most significantly felt in the employment arena, and estimates that Israel’s IT sector workforce will fall by 7%-8%, meaning that some 13,000 out of 170,000 employees will be let go during 2009. IDC managing director Gideon Lopez claims that despite the current atmosphere, "the situation will remain under control.

Housing prices fall 5%
Michal Margalit, Globes Online 12/24/2008
Global Property Guide: US housing prices were 20% lower in the third quarter than a year earlier. Housing prices in Israel fell by 5. 3% in the third quarter of 2008, compared with the corresponding quarter of 2007, and by 3. 7% compared with the preceding quarter, according to Global Property Guide. Housing prices fell, net of inflation, in 21 of the 29 countries covered in the survey. The third quarter housing figures is bad news, even in countries were housing prices actually rose. Housing prices in the UK were 14. 4% lower in the third quarter than a year earlier, and 6. 7% lower than in the preceding quarter. In the US, housing prices fell 20. 8% in the third quarter compared with the corresponding quarter and 4. 6% compared with the preceding quarter.

4 Palestinians convicted of Brink’s heist
Vered Luvitch, YNetNews 12/24/2008
Gazans found guilty of shooting security guard, robbing NIS 3 million from armored truck in Tira four years ago; fifth convict involved currently serving prison term for murder -The Tel Aviv District Court convicted four Gazans Wednesday of robbing a Brink’s truck in the Israeli-Arab city of Tira four years ago. Moti Cohen, the security guard on duty at the city’s Hapoalim Bank, was killed in the heist. The four defendants were working illegally in Tira, and were convicted of conspiring with another man in order to pull off the robbery. When the Brink’s truck secured by Cohen arrived at the bank, they shot him and stole NIS 3 million ($780,000). The four were convicted of murder, armed robbery, conspiracy to commit a felony, and possession of weapons. The incident occurred in December 2004.

Fischer unveils plan to increase credit
Adrian Filut, Globes Online 12/24/2008
From January 2009, the Bank of Israel will reduce the absorption of surplus liquidity that it carries out via the issue of short-term bills. Governor of the Bank of Israel Prof. Stanley Fischer today unveiled his plan to increase the liquidity of the financial system in order to prevent a possible credit crunch. Although Fischer’s plan resembles plans already launched in other countries, including the US, it is significantly narrower in scope. The Bank of Israel’s plan applies tools relevant to its function as the bank of banks, a critical function of central banks worldwide. From January 2009, the Bank of Israel will reduce the absorption of surplus liquidity that it carries out via the issue of short-term bills issued by the Bank. The public’s purchases of short-term bills results in money deposited at the Bank of Israel thereby taking it out of circulation.

Investor hit by Madoff scam kills himself
Associated Press, Jerusalem Post 12/24/2008
He was a distinguished investor who traced his lineage to the French aristocracy, hobnobbed with members of European high society and sailed around the world on fancy yachts. But after losing more than $1 billion of his clients’ money to Bernard Madoff, Rene-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet had enough. He locked the door of his Madison Avenue office and apparently swallowed sleeping pills and slashed his wrists with a box cutter, police said. A security guard found his body Tuesday morning, next to a garbage can placed to catch the blood. The bloody scene marked a grisly turn in the Madoff scandal in which money managers and investors were ensnared in an alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme. De la Villehuchet is believed to have lost about $1. 4 billion to Madoff. No suicide note was found, said NYPD spokesman Paul Browne.

Defense drill to involve whole country
Yaakov Katz, Jerusalem Post 12/25/2008
The Defense Ministry is planning a nationwide exercise for next year that will, for the first time, include the entire population. The exercise, scheduled for July, is called Turning Point 3. It will be the third home front exercise to be held since the Second Lebanon War and the founding of the National Emergency Administration (NEA), the Defense Ministry body responsible for setting national emergency standards. Turning Point 1 was held in the summer of 2007 and drilled the IDF, Israel Police, Fire and Rescue Services, Home Front Command and other emergency organizations. The second drill, held last April, included all of the above plus various government ministries. "The third drill will include all of the emergency organizations, all of the government ministries [and] the entire civilian population," a top NEA official told The Jerusalem Post this week.

Poll: Right-wing voters defecting from Likud
Yossi Verter, Ha’aretz 12/25/2008
Over the past two weeks Likud has lost approximately 15 percent of its former electoral support to other right-wing parties, according to a Haaretz poll. The poll, commissioned by Haaretz and performed by the survey company Dialogue, indicates Likud would receive 30 seats in the Knesset compared to 36 in a previous survey by the same pollster. Apparently, all the votes that make up the six-seat difference went to Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas and Habayit Hayehudi - all of which could boast a significant increase in constituents. On the whole, the rightist bloc is still leading over the centrist Kadima and the leftist Labor by some 12 seats. The Pensioners Party managed to garner more support compared to the December 10 poll, bringing it to a total of two seats. A possible explanation as to why Likud hemorrhaged votes can be found in. . .

Likud sets sights on younger voters
Mazal Mualem, Ha’aretz 12/25/2008
Likud is planning a major effort to target younger voters based upon the theory that they tend to be more conservative than their elders. The effort will kick off on Saturday night when Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu will visit one of Tel Aviv’s trendiest night clubs along with the 10 members of the party’s young guard who are high enough on its Knesset slate to have a realistic chance of being elected. It will be followed by a public relations campaign and other high-profile events. All public opinion polls and focus groups conducted in recent years have found that younger voters tend to constitute a protest vote. Sometimes they express their protest by not voting at all and other times by voting for niche parties that are considered unlikely to enter the Knesset. This protest vote was widely credited with the Pensioners’ surprise success in the last election as the. . .

Qassams top agenda at Kadima campaign launch
Mazal Mualem, Ha’aretz 12/25/2008
Kadima chairwoman, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni decided to turn last night’s festive opening of the Kadima campaign into an event identifying with the Qassam-battered residents of the south. After the decision was made yesterday afternoon, the multi-colored scenery at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem was folded away and the films and jingles set aside, to be replaced by speeches by Livni and Mofaz. The speeches were not devoid of political messages, but were heavy on security. "While we are sitting in Jerusalem, the south is under attack, and civilians and children have become unwilling soldiers," Livni said. [end]

TA Court bounces Feiglin case back to Likud court
Gil Hoffman, Jerusalem Post 12/24/2008
The fate of Likud activist Moshe Feiglin remained unresolved on Wednesday after Tel Aviv District Court Deputy President Yehooda Zaft returned a case that could decide whether Feiglin will enter the Knesset to the party’s internal court. The appeal to the district court was filed by former Likud MK Michael Ratzon, who along with Feiglin and former MK Ehud Yatom was demoted to lower positions on the party’s Knesset slate by the Likud election committee two weeks ago. The district court said the Likud court had to deal with the matter on Thursday and then the district court would reconvene on Friday. Both Ratzon’s attorney, Ilan Bombach, and the Likud claimed victory. Bombach called the court’s ruling "a significant achievement," but Likud officials pointed out that the judge wrote that he did not want to interfere in an internal party matter.

Ministers agree an employment support plan
Adrian Filut and Shay Niv, Globes Online 12/24/2008
Details of the plan will be completed next week and presented to the cabinet for approval. Minister of Finance Ronnie Bar-On, Minister of Welfare Isaac Herzog and Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor Eli Yishai today discussed the measures required to strengthen the employment market due to the economic crisis. The three ministers reached agreement on a series of steps that are needed to support the job market, and they instructed their joint teams to complete details of the plan within seven days so that it can be presented to the cabinet. The guidelines of the plan were formulated in recent months by the social economic agenda forum of the government which is comprised of representatives of the Ministry of Finance, the Bank of Israel, Israel National Economic Council, National Insurance Institute, and Employment Service.

Finance Ministry proposes guarantees for non-bank credit
Stella Korin-Lieber, Globes Online 12/24/2008
Senior government officials want to encourage the non-bank sector to offer new credit but the plan has opponents. Senior figures in the Ministry of Finance, the Bank of Israel and the Israel Securities Authority want to stimulate new activities in the economy by encouraging non-bank credit. The non-bank credit sector is frozen due to losses and fears. Opponents to the plan claim that the non-bank credit sector has already received incentives in the existing government stimulus package. Supporters of the plan are urging the government to provide immediate guarantees to non-bank credit companies, so that they will provide immediate credit to the business sector. This support would be in addition to the NIS 6 billion in guarantees that the government will provide for raising capital from the banking system that has already been approved in the stimulus package.

Public sector leaders join MKs with wage freeze
Lilach Weissman, Globes Online 12/24/2008
Ministry of Finance Director of Wages Ilan Levin :The freeze sets a personal example by a country’s leaders at a time that employers are firing staff. The Knesset Finance Committee today froze salaries of senior public sector officials, a day after the Knesset House Committee froze the salaries of MKs. The wage freeze applies to, among others, President Shimon Peres, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, Governor of the Bank of Israel Prof. Stanley Fischer, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, all cabinet ministers, and Supreme Court judges. The salary freeze means that the 3% pay hike, based on the average national salary, which was due to come into effect in January, will not be paid. The salary freeze applies only to 2009. The salary freeze means that ministers, Fischer, and Lindenstrauss will have to forego a NIS 1,000 increase to the their NIS 36,000 gross monthly salaries.

Hatzofeh stops the presses after 71 years
Nadav Shragai, Ha’aretz 12/25/2008
The new political party that was built to be the home of the national religious public is still standing, but the newspaper that has been the voice of religious Zionism for the past 71 years, Hatzofeh, will print its last edition tomorrow. The paper began showing signs of economic trouble over a year ago when it went from daily production to weekly. Eleven of the paper’s staffers received termination notices, among them the paper’s veteran columnist Meir Uziel, the sports editor, Hayuta Deutsch, and reporter Haggai Huberman. Hatzofeh, founded in August 1937 by Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan, first represented the Mizrahi movement, and later the National Religious Party. Five years ago it was purchased by Shlomo Ben-Zvi and Ron Lauder, and about two years ago it merged with the daily Makor Rishon. In recent years the paper has published articles on the conspiracy theories surrounding. . .

At Habayit Hayehudi, ideology is one thing- and politics is quite another
Nadav Shragai, Ha’aretz 12/25/2008
When Maj. Gen. (res. ) Ya’akov Amidror agreed to chair the public council that would put together the list of Knesset candidates for the new party Habayit Hayehudi ("The Jewish Home"), he had no idea how hard the task would be. Now he knows. "Orthodox politicians have egos, too," he says. "Combine that with the ideological dimension, which in the Orthodox community is a way of life and not just something you spout off, and you’ll get an explanation for what happened," he says, referring to cracks and rancor in the party, founded just a month ago. "A split will only increase the ruination, and will set religious Zionism back years," Amidror warns. He sees the headlines about Habayit Hayehudi, whose "walls are collapsing," and is aware of the feeling of disgust supporters had when they heard the mutual recriminations exchanged on Tuesday by Zevulon Orlev, Effi Eitam and Uri Ariel that they were "prostituting themselves.

War of words
Amirah Ibrahim, Al-Ahram Weekly 12/24/2008
EGYPT - Reasons for protests by Bedouins in Sinai still stand, Just as Sinai’s Bedouins hoped the authorities were becoming more responsive to their demands government officials have signalled a change of tack in dealing with unrest in the peninsula. Early in December, following a visit by the People’s Assembly’s Defence and National Security Committee to investigate November’s clashes between security forces and Bedouins, a change in the official tone seemed to suggest the authorities were willing to accommodate at least some of the Bedouin’s demands. They include the immediate release of all Bedouins detained without charge, the cancellation of court judgements against Bedouins tried in absentia and based on what many claim is trumped up evidence, the suspension of any shoot-to-kill policy in Sinai and of security forces using women and children as hostages, legal title to tribal lands and a reduction in the punitive interest rates charged by the state-owned Agricultural Credit Bank to Bedouin farmers.

Hello handsome
Gamal Nkrumah, Al-Ahram Weekly 12/24/2008
Farouk Hosni’s longings, Ahli blues, beggary, playful come-ons, Romeos and Juliets and even skullduggery hit the headlines, note and Mohamed El-Sayed With a bit of luck, Culture Minister Farouk Hosni might end up being the next secretary general of the UNESCO. The luck required for this outcome depends to a great degree on the goodwill of the United States of America. Yet eyebrows will be raised both by the timing and by the viscous verbal abuse hurled by the Israelis and their backers in Washington who would not like to see Hosni head UNESCO. There is truth in that pundits in Egypt are unanimous in their support for Hosni’s bid for the UNESCO top job. The nightmare scenario is that Hosni would lose due to deliberate Machiavellian machinations by the Israelis and the Americans. Hosni is as popular as ever among artists and intellectuals in the country. It appears that newspapermen are now backing his bid. He now has a growing throng of supporters among journalists and the public.

Iraq authorizes non-US troops to stay beyond end of year
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 12/24/2008
BAGHDAD: The Iraqi Parliament voted on Tuesday to allow the presence of non-US foreign troops after December 31, as the speaker of the lawmaking body announced his intention to resign his post. The vote gives British troops a legal basis to remain beyond the expiry of a UN mandate - obtained after the fact of the initial 2003 invasion. A vast majority of the 223 MPs in attendance voted to approve the resolution, a parliamentary source told AFP, but the exact breakdown was not immediately available. The United States, which supplies 95 percent of foreign troops in Iraq, has already signed a so-called Status of Forces Agreement with the Baghdad government, under which its combat forces can remain in the country until the end of 2011. During a surprise visit to Iraq last week, British Premier Gordon Brown announced that his country’s troops would wrap up their mission by the. . .

Turkey, Iraq pledge cooperation against PKK
Middle East Online 12/24/2008
The prime ministers of Turkey and Iraq vowed Wednesday to step up their cooperation in the fight against Turkish Kurdish rebels whose presence in northern Iraq has cast a shadow over relations. The thorny issue of rebels from the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) sheltering in neighbouring Iraq was at the centre of talks during a visit in Ankara by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. "We should not allow terrorist organisations, in particular the PKK, to weaken our relations," Maliki said during a working lunch with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "There is a shared willingness to reinforce our cooperation," said Maliki, who earlier held talks with Turkish President Abdullah Gul. Maliki said the goal of his visit was to set up the supreme council of strategic cooperation, which had been announced during Erdogan’s visit to Baghdad in July.

Iraq reverses position on fate of Iranian rebel group, vows humane treatment
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 12/24/2008
WASHINGTON: The White House on Monday said it received assurances from Baghdad that an Iranian rebel group based in Iraq will not be expelled to a country where they may be persecuted, apparently excluding their return to Iran. The Iraqi government promised Washington in writing that members of the People’s Mujahideen Organization of Iran (PMOI) at a camp north of Baghdad would be treated humanely, White House spokesman Benjamin Chang told AFPThe comments appeared to contradict a vow on Sunday from an Iraqi government delegation to oust the 3,500 PMOI rebels based at Camp Ashraf. The delegation spoke ahead of a trip by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to Tehran, where the government has long demanded the rebels be transferred to Iran. The fate of the rebels has put Iraq’s government in a bind, facing rival demands from its powerful neighbor Iran and the US.

Talabani says Iraqi Kurds will stop rebels from striking Turkey, but not with force
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 12/24/2008
ANKARA: Iraqi Kurds are determined to stop Kurdish rebels from using their territory for attacks on Turkey and Iran and will soon call on the militants to lay down their arms, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said in an interview published on Tuesday. Kurdish parties in northern Iraq will soon convene a meeting at which they will issue a joint appeal to the rebels "to abandon their armed struggle and join the democratic political process," Talabani, a Kurd, told Turkey’s Aksam daily. "Let me put it very clearly: we, the Iraqi Kurds, will no longer allow armed people from any Kurdish group to use our territory to carry out attacks on Turkey or Iran," Talabani said. "We will take the necessary measures. "However, he stressed that the Iraqi Kurds would not fight the rebels, adding: "You will see that the problem can be resolved without fighting.


Christmas in Gaza
Stuart Littlewood, Middle East Online 12/24/2008
      In World War II the Nazis practised collective punishment to suppress resistance. Entire villages, towns or districts were held responsible for any resistance activity that took place there. Oh, come all ye faithful… Let’s crush Gaza, starve their little ones
     Who is holding the governments of Britain, the EU and the US to account this Christmas for aiding and abetting the deliberate starving of 1.5 million in Gaza?
     Hardly anybody. Most of those in a position to do so are Friends of Israel.
     What of our foreign secretary, David Miliband, our very Christian prime minister Brown and our even more pious peace envoy Mr Blair…. have they done anything at all to insist that Israel’s blockade is ended?
     The ‘Zionist Tendency’ in Whitehall still goes unchallenged.
     Please tell us Messrs Brown, Miliband and Blair: isn’t the Fourth Geneva Convention supposed to protect civilians under military occupation…. no violence to life or person, no cruelty, no torture; no taking of hostages; no outrages upon personal dignity; no collective punishment, no sentencing or executions unless ordered by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees demanded by civilised peoples…all that sort of thing?

Amira Hass / The sewage is about to hit the fan in Gaza

Amira Hass, Ha’aretz 12/25/2008
      Each day of electricity cuts increases the prospect that Palestinian Water Authority engineer Saadi Ali’s nightmare will come true. Ali, in charge of the North Gaza Emergency Sewage Treatment Project, lives in constant fear of a recurrence of the calamity that took place in March 2007 when the dirt embankments surrounding a temporary infiltration pond of sewage water collapsed, and the effluent water that flooded the nearby Bedouin village of Umm al-Nasser led to the drowning deaths of five people. About 1,000 people were evacuated from their homes, animals died and considerable damage was caused to property and crops.
     The temporary infiltration basin was originally built to lower the level of water in the nearby giant sewage lake that has slowly developed. Last November, the PWA, which is directly accountable to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, was slated to empty the lake and transfer the sewage water to new infiltration basins seven kilometers to the southeast away.

Championing global human rights: interview with Richard Falk

Victor Kattan, Electronic Intifada 12/24/2008
      Earlier this month, Israeli authorities deported Professor Richard Falk, United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, who had arrived in the country to conduct his duties to investigate rights abuses in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Electronic Intifada contributor Victor Kattan interviewed Falk about the motivation behind his deportation, comparisons he has made between Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and Nazi crimes committed during World War II, his dual role as an academic and a human rights advocate, and how defenders of Israel deflect attention from what is happening on the ground by attacking critics of the state’s policies.
     Richard Falk is the Albert G. Milbank Professor of International Law and Practice, Emeritus, Princeton University and a member of the New York Bar. He is currently Visiting Distinguished Professor of Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He has, since March 2008, been the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Falk is the author of over 20 books on international law and served on the MacBride Commission of Inquiry to investigate the atrocities in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut in 1982, as well as a UN Commission of Inquiry to investigate human rights violations at the onset of the second Palestinian intifada in September 2001. His latest book Achieving Human Rights was published by Routledge in October 2008.

Israel, piracy and the Red Sea

Galal Nassar, Al-Ahram Weekly 12/24/2008
      Beneath the surface of daring maritime hijackings, a larger agenda appears to be in play.
     Piracy has topped the news recently from the Middle East, in spite of major developments in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. Every day, it seems, brings a new scene straight out of Hollywood: another maritime hijacking, intense negotiations to free a detained oil tanker and its crew, and police hunts for suspected hijackers. We have even had gun battles on the high seas, as occurred recently when an Indian naval force vessel overpowered and sunk a pirate ship. Warships from around the world have converged around the Horn of Africa and are stationed and on the ready from the Indian Ocean to the Gulf of Aden. One is reminded of a film about extraterrestrial invaders, in which the most powerful weapons on earth have been assembled but are powerless to fend off the alien peril, and hence only some brave and ingenious hero (an American most likely) will save the world from immanent destruction.
     We are surrounded on land... The sea is our only route of contact with the rest of the world. Developing Eilat will be a major goal towards which we will direct our steps’ -- Ben-Gurion, 1949
     What should the Arabs do to forestall these plans?... Revive an idea that had gained some support in the 1980s until it was shelved as the result of US pressure. This was to create an Arab Red Sea Organisation establishing a security system for the Red Sea basin.

New stage coming

Saleh Al-Naami, Al-Ahram Weekly 12/24/2008
      The near end of the truce in Gaza is likely to see a sharp escalation in direct Palestinian-Israeli confrontation.
     Tens of thousands of Hamas supporters attend a rally in Gaza marking the 21st anniversary of the movement’s creation on 14 DecemberThe booms of explosions and the whistle of bullets can be heard in the military camp of the Ezzeddin Al-Qassam Brigades, the military arm of Hamas. It lies north of the Al-Maghazi Refugee Camp in the central Gaza Strip, and scores of new recruits are being trained there around the clock. Hamas has stepped up its training of members recently, and plans to end this military training with the current truce’s end, scheduled for Friday, 19 December.
     Hamas has communicated with all of the Palestinian factions about the fate of the truce, and it is clear that there is a Palestinian consensus on not extending it. Khalil Al-Hayya, a prominent Hamas leader, says that the intention is to reject extension of the truce and to blame Israel for having "torn it up". "Israel is trying through the truce to gain security and maintain the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip, and we won’t agree to this. We won’t ever accept for this situation to continue, and there will never be a truce as long as there is a siege," he told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Ignoring the Plight in Gaza

Yousef Munayyer, MIFTAH 12/24/2008
      The lights are out in Gaza again and few are paying attention. The 1.5 million Palestinians living in the densely populated strip are being collectively punished once more, while Israel attempts to strangle the Hamas government. The UN agency that feeds hundreds of thousands of people is unable to get supplies in because the border is closed, and a plea from UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has been ignored.
     Today, Gaza is a horrifying and miserable place. In many areas, the air smells like human waste because of failures in the sewage system that have led to raw sewage overflows. Mosquitoes swarm throughout the area.
     When Israel first withdrew its settlers from Gaza in the fall of 2005, it followed the withdrawal with a campaign of sonic booms. Terrifying noises banged through the night. Children began displaying zombie-like behavior and consistently complained of nightmares. Miscarriages rose dramatically during this period.
     After Hamas was democratically elected, sanctions followed and the grip began to tighten on the Gaza Strip. Fuel supplies ran short, malnutrition rose, and Gaza’s only power plant could not be relied on to provide electricity. Store shelves were often empty of food, and many who were already impoverished were now struggling even more.

One State Solution Gains Supporters

Osama al-Sharif - Amman, Palestine Chronicle 12/24/2008
      Few weeks ago, the Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa sent a letter to U.S. President-elect Barack Obama affirming Arab states’ commitment to concluding a comprehensive peace agreement with Israel based on the Arab Peace Initiative that was adopted in Beirut in 2002 and later in Riyadh in 2005.
     That deal would have secured the birth of an independent Palestinian state to coexist next to Israel. That the Arabs would finally agree on a singular approach to solving the Arab-Israeli conflict — 60 years after the creation of the Jewish state — was a historic breakthrough of enormous magnitude. But the initiative was brushed aside by the Sharon government and the Bush administration. A rare opportunity to hammer out an acceptable settlement to this bloody and intractable conflict was lost.
     Today as Israel considers an all-out invasion and reoccupation of Gaza with the purpose of destroying Hamas and other resistance movements there, the prospects of a two-state solution being resurrected soon seems far-fetched.
     The ramifications of a major onslaught on Gaza will be enormous and its reverberations will be felt in Israel, the Palestinian territories and across the region for many years to come.

Obama and the Muslim World

Rami G. Khouri, Middle East Online 12/24/2008
      BEIRUT-- Incoming American President Barack Obama faces major challenges and opportunities in the foreign policy realm, and he is getting plenty of free, unsolicited advice. Here’s my contribution on an issue that he -- in an interview with the Chicago Tribune earlier this month -- defined as a priority for his administration: improving the U.S. image in the Muslim world.
     He plans a major speech in an Islamic capital, to emphasize that the United States is not waging war against Islam or Muslims. This is a simplistic approach that he should drop quickly, because it reflects the failed strategy of George W. Bush that treated Muslims as simpletons who could be swayed by nice words, rather than adults who react to how people and countries behave, not merely what they say.
     Bush devised a two-pronged counter-productive foreign policy in the Middle East that was defined by.
     a) sending troops to Iraq, largely ignoring the Arab-Israeli issue, misreading Islamists’ real power and legitimacy, misdiagnosing the terror phenomenon, and supporting freedom and democracy in most of the Middle East, while also supporting police states and life-long autocrats; and...

Settling scores

Nevine El-Aref, Al-Ahram Weekly 12/24/2008
      A campaign to prevent Farouk Hosni becoming the next UNESCO director-general is taking shape.
     It was not an easy week for Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni and the members of his 2009 UNESCO election campaign committee. Hosni was caught up in yet another drive against his nomination for the post of UNESCO director-general and its impact lingers on.
     Earlier this week a rumour began circulating suggesting that Israel had convinced the current US administration to oppose Hosni’s nomination. According to leaks the Bush administration has already started a counter campaign and is keen to convince Barack Obama’s incoming administration, as well as some European and Latin American countries, to follow its lead.
     The rumours raise two important questions: are they true, and if so, why now?
     An official source who requested anonymity confirmed the US position towards Hosni’s nomination and told Al-Ahram Weekly that Washington had asked Egypt to reconsider Hosni’s candidacy and nominate someone else. Should Hosni succeed in gaining the post, the US and several other countries have threatened to reconsider their relationship with UNESCO.

Gaza or Tehran

Dina Ezzat, Al-Ahram Weekly 12/24/2008
      Is Egypt ceding influence in Gaza to Iran, and is the latter fighting for it?
     Cairo is shrugging off statements made this week by Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah who called on Egypt to unilaterally open the Rafah border crossing to facilitate humanitarian assistance to over 1.5 million Palestinians desperate under a harsh Israeli siege. Nasrallah, Egyptian officials said, is free to make whatever appeals he wishes, but that will not change the Egyptian stance, which is to insist that only by the reinstatement of Palestinian Authority security personnel on the Palestinian side of Rafah would Egypt open its side of the crossing.
     "The umma [Islamic and Arab world] and history will always appreciate such a historic and brave move on the side of the Egyptian leadership should it decide to make the move," Nasrallah said Monday evening as he called for demonstrations in South Lebanon in solidarity with Gaza. The leader of Hizbullah called on the Arab League and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference to support Egypt towards making this move.

No strategy, no change

Yossi Alpher, Jerusalem Post 12/23/2008
      The official end of the six-month cease-fire with Hamas in Gaza is not going to change very much in Israel-Hamas relations. Of course, it could change a lot for those Israelis and Palestinians who may now again be exposed to more intense physical danger. But just as before the cease-fire and during the cease-fire, the country will continue not knowing what to do about Hamas.
     Not only this country, but Egypt, the PLO, the US and Europe as well will remain at a loss. None of these actors has a workable strategy for dealing with Hamas. While the more distant actors in Washington and Brussels can perhaps afford to continue muddling through this issue, for Jerusalem, Cairo and Ramallah this has become a critical and inexcusable lacuna. All three would like Hamas to disappear. But they don’t know how to make this happen, at least not at a reasonable price. And when they fail, they have no reasonable alternatives to fall back on. Obviously, it is Israel that concerns us here. Over the three years since Hamas began gradually taking over the Gaza Strip, first through elections and then by force, this country has invoked a variety of economic, military and political measures for dealing with it. All have proven ineffective.

Forget the Iris; save Nawar

Gideon Levy, Ha’aretz 12/25/2008
      The signs showed the pied piper had arrived. Nitzan Horowitz was going to Jerusalem. The opinionated, involved and lovable foreign desk chief was selected for the third place of the "New Movement-Meretz" list. Israel’s left presents the supporter of the orange revolution in Ukraine, the red revolution in Venezuela and the green revolution in Israel.
     ...Green is the color and for the issue of the Gilboa Iris it will always be springtime at the Knesset: Every initiative to build on the endangered flower’s habitat will be met with a fusillade of criticism by the new and promising lawmaker. Horowitz will also be the proud voice of the gay community. Every parliament in Europe decorates itself with one such young lawmaker with an up-to-date political agenda.
     Lamentably, Israel is no Sweden and not even a Finland. The atrophied and reduced left cannot afford such shiny luxuries. The moribund peace camp cannot waste its precious resources on flamboyant and fashionable symbols. It may not be politically correct to say this but there is no choice: Before they debate the future of vultures’ nests in the Golan Heights - how very annoying - they should debate the future of the settlements in the region; before they debate protection of endangered species - how very unfortunate - they should debate arresting Palestinians; before they debate gay rights - how anachronistic - they should debate basic human rights for 3.5 million Palestinians who have had none for over 40 years.

Shifting sands

Mustafa El-Labbad, Al-Ahram Weekly 12/24/2008
      Growing tensions between Cairo and Tehran are a result of Iran seeking to wear the mantle Cairo once claimed as its own.
     Egyptian-Iranian relations took a turn for the worse following last week’s demonstrations in front of the Egyptian Embassy in Tehran protesting against the Israeli blockade of Gaza. The protesters alleged that Egypt was complicit in the blockade and chanted slogans against the Egyptian leadership. Cairo responded forcefully, both through the media and diplomatic channels.
     The foreign minister announced that Egypt would "join international efforts to prevent Iran from possessing nuclear weapons", a statement that while it does not contradict Egypt’s long held stance that Iran has the right to possess nuclear technology for peaceful purposes was read in Tehran as a shift in Cairo’s official position.
     Demonstrations are, of course, a legitimate channel for the public to express its opinion. Yet, however democratic Iran may be compared to other countries in the region Tehran is far from being London, Paris or Geneva. Demonstrations mounted by the political opposition are immediately suppressed. The protests that passed before the premises of the Egyptian diplomatic mission in Tehran, therefore, clearly had the government’s blessing if they were not actually organised by the government. There was nothing innocent about the route or the timing, both calculated to turn up the heat on Cairo while projecting Tehran as the Palestinians’ champion in contrast to Arab capitals which have abandoned their cause.