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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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26 December, 2008

Israel briefly opens Gaza crossings
Al Jazeera 12/26/2008
Israel has temporarily opened three crossings into Gaza, allowing a limited amount of food and fuel to reach blockaded Gazans. The Israelis allowed 40 lorries loaded with grain and bird feed to pass through the Karem Abu Salem crossing on Friday. Another 40 lorries carrying food supplies are expected to reach Gaza via the Karni crossing later on Friday, with 400,000 litres of industrial fuel destined to reach Gaza’s only power station via Nahal Oz. About 120 tonnes of cooking gas is also expected to reach the Strip via Nahal Oz. Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, said he ordered the crossings opened for essential humanitarian supplies in response to numerous requests from the international community.

Misfired Palestinian projectiles kill two, injure ten Gazans
Ma’an News Agency 12/26/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Two young girls are dead and four others were injured after to a “mysterious explosion,” thought to be a misfired projectile, rocked a house in the Al-A’tatrah area of northern Gaza on Friday medical sources said. The two girls were identified as 12-year-old Sabah Hasuna and five-year-old Haneen Abu Khusa, and were pronounced dead on arrival at Kamal A’dawan Hospital. A third girl, identified as U’la Hasuna Abu Khusa, was seriously injured in the blast, according to medical sources. Three others were treated for injuries by paramedics, but were not taken to a hospital. This is the fifth incident in which Gazan civilians sustained injuries from misfired projectiles over the last week. According to Ma’an and Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) reports, the last week has seen two dead and ten injured in what appear to be weapons accidents.

Gaza braces for invasion as Barak threatens children
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 12/27/2008
GAZA CITY: The specter of a military invasion on Friday hung over Hamas-run Gaza Strip, where two children were killed as Palestinian militants fired more rockets despite Israeli threats of harsh retaliation. Two girls, one aged five and the other 12, were killed when their house in northern Gaza was hit by a rocket which witnesses said was apparently fired by Palestinian militants targeting southern Israel. Four other family members were wounded. The casualties came amid mounting speculation that the Israeli military would soon launch an operation in the Gaza Strip, which most media said would probably be limited in scope and not a full-scale invasion. "Army preparing for combined ground, air operation in Gaza," declared the front-page headline in Israel’s Haaretz. Violence in and around the Palestinian enclave has flared since a six-month cease-fire ended on December. . .

Israel sentences PFLP leader to 30 years in prison
Efrat Weiss, AFP, YNetNews 12/25/2008
Ahmed Saadat, who was accused of planning 2001 murder of Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Zeevi, sentenced for heading illegal "terrorist" organization -An Israeli military court on Thursday sentenced Ahmed Saadat, the leader of the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), to 30 years in prison for heading an "illegal "terrorist" organization. " "There is no doubt that the accused controls the PFLP," the judges said in the ruling. " When we consider the appropriate sentence for someone who headed a murderous "terrorist" organization, we take into account not only his position, but his actions as well. "The offenses the accused has been convicted of indicate that he initiated and participated in military activity with the aim of killing innocent people. "A military source said on condition of anonymity following the verdict. . .

Olmert orders the completion of the apartheid wall around Jerusalem
Palestinian Information Center 12/26/2008
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM, (PIC)-- The outgoing Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert has ordered the completion of the apartheid wall around occupied Jerusalem by the end of 2009, according to Israeli sources. After a tour of the apartheid wall’s path around Jerusalem, that the Israeli occupation calls the "Jerusalem envelope", Olmert claimed that the apartheid wall was a necessity for Israel’s security. Olmert added that he was involved in plenty of talks about the wall and saw maps and aerial pictures, but all that was not equal in value to examining progress on the ground. The apartheid wall around Jerusalem excludes many Palestinian neighbourhoods of Jerusalem, divides others and isolates many neighbourhoods from one another and from services. Olmert also claimed that in areas where the apartheid wall was completed it has prevented "terrorist attacks" against Israeli citizens, adding. . .

Palestinian cameraman dies of wounds sustained in an Israeli shelling two weeks ago
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 12/26/2008
Palestinian medical sources in the Gaza Strip reported on Friday that a Palestinian cameraman died of wounds sustained two weeks ago when the Israeli army targeted resistance fighters in Beit Hanoun, in the northern part of the Gaza Strip. The reporter was identified as Hamza Shahin, 21. He was working with the Shihab Media Agency in the Gaza Strip. Shahin remained in a serious condition at the Intensive Care Unit in Al Shifa Medical Center until he died of his wounds on Friday. Suheib Shihada, head of the Shihab Media Agency, slammed the Israeli attack and said that the Israeli occupation is ongoing with its assaults against Palestinian reporters and media agencies in order to silence them.

Dozens of mortar shells fired at Negev
Ilana Curiel, YNetNews 12/26/2008
Palestinian gunmen fire dozens of mortar shells at Eshkol Regional Council overnight. No injuries reported, vacant building damaged - Dozens of mortar shells were fired from the northern Gaza Strip in a number of barrages Thursday night. One shell hit a vacant building in Eshkol Regional Council. No one was injured, but damage was caused to the building. The windows of two other houses were shattered from the powerful blast. Eshkol Regional Council Deputy Security Officer Niki Levi said over 20 mortar shells were fired at communities in the council. Most of the shells landed in open fields in the council. Secretary of one of the Council’s communities Iris Lavi told Ynet, "We had a rough night. One of the mortar shells fell on one of the neighbor’s lawns, between two buildings, but luckily, only the windows were damaged and no one was hurt.

Israel seeks international approval for Gaza op
Roni Sofer, YNetNews 12/26/2008
FM Livni speaks to counterparts, as well as to representatives in the EU and the United Nations, emphasizes necessity of Israel reaction to unceasing, civilian-targeted rocket fire from Hamas-controlled territory -The opening of the Gaza crossings Friday morning and the expected transfer of 40 trucks full of food and humanitarian supplies appears to be a tactical decision. Israeli sources say that the move’s objective is to allow the Gaza community to stock up on basic necessities, and thus mitigate the situation in the eyes of the international community, in the event that the IDF will need to undertake a military operation in the coastal enclave. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will hold a series of meetings Sunday with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni (called the kitchen cabinet) to discuss the option of a potential Gaza operation.

Al-Qassam figher dies of wounds sustained in Israeli strike
Ma’an News Agency 12/26/2008
Gaza – Ma’an – A Palestinian fighter affiliated with the Al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, was pronounced dead on Friday after sustaining wounds in an Israeli artillery strike in the northern Gaza Strip earlier in December. Medical sources said that Hamza Shaheen of Jabaliyah was so seriously wounded that doctors were forced to amputate both of his legs. He died of complications on Friday. Shaheen was reportedly injured in an Israeli airstrike, in which two missiles targeted a group of fighters in the Tal Az-Za’ater area of Jabaliyah Refugee Camp in the northern Gaza Strip. He was apparently firing a homemade projectile toward Sderot, his southern Israeli target, when the Apache helicopter fired toward him and others.

Sabri calls on Palestinians to mark the Islamic New Year at the Aqsa Mosque
Palestinian Information Center 12/26/2008
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM, (PIC)-- Sheikh Ekrema Sabri, head of the Islamic Higher Committee in occupied Jerusalem, called on the Palestinian people to mark the Islamic New Year, which falls on Sunday,  at the Aqsa Mosque. Sheikh Sabri said in a statement that it was the duty of Muslims to take the opportunity of this occasion to intensify their presence at the Aqsa Mosque to attend prayers and religious lectures held at the mosque to commemorate the Hijra (immigration of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) from Makka to Madina) and to draw lessons from that important event in the Islamic history. Sheikh Sabri used the occasion to call on Arab and Islamic countries to unite their efforts to defend Islam in the face of international campaigns against it by publicising the true teachings of Islam which is based on moderation and respect for other faiths.

Al Massara Village Protest the Israeli Illegal Wall
Ghassan Bannoura, International Middle East Media Center News 12/26/2008
At least 200 Palestinians from al-Ma’ssara village located near the southern West Bank city of Bethlehem, supported by international and Israeli peace activists, protest the Israeli Annexation Wall on Friday. The protest today was organized in the lands where Israeli is building the illegal wall. The demonstration was lead by the groom of a wedding party, Mohamed Zawahra. His wife, Yasameen Zawahra, was en route from the city of Bethlehem to the village when troops stopped her at the wall and attacked her. Eyewitnesses told IMEMC that Yasameen sustained mild injuries. Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers invaded the wedding party with tear gas and sound bombs. Two civilians sustained mild injuries, another two civilians where kidnapped by the Israeli Army. Mohamed Brijeyiah was one of those kidnapped. He told IMEMC that soldiers took him to a nearby military outpost, then released him while the other kidnapped civilian was taken to a prison in Jerusalem.

Troops invade village near Jenin
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 12/26/2008
The Palestine News Network reported on Friday evening that Israeli soldiers invaded Arraba town, south west of Jenin, in the northern part of the West Bank, and clashed with dozens of youth who hurled stones at them. One youth was treated by field medics after inhaling gas fired by the army. Soldiers fired rounds of live ammunition in several directions while invading the town, and broke into a number of homes. Eyewitnesses reported that soldiers detained several youths in Abu Ali Mustafa Street. Dozens of youths closed the street with rocks and hurled stones and empty bottles at the invading forces. The army fired gas bombs and rubber coated bullets; one youth was wounded. Furthermore, soldiers closed the Al Hamra roadblock, near Jenin, for two hours and searched dozens of vehicles attempting to cross. Later on, soldiers kidnapped one youth and took him to an unknown destination.

Israeli army halts Spanish delegation en route to Nablus Christmas Day
Ma’an News Agency 12/26/2008
Nablus – Ma’an – A high-ranking Spanish delegation was halted by the Israeli army Christmas day as the group made its way to Nablus. The delegation, which consisted of 186 Spanish members of parliament, lawyers, university professors, artists and journalists, were stopped for close to two hours and were not permitted into the city until Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak was contacted and intervened. The delegation was received by Nablus governor Jamal Muheisen, and Mayor of the city Adli Ya’eesh. They were given a tour of the city and learned about how the Israeli checkpoints and constant invasions effect life there. Asked why he thought the delegation was stopped by the Israeli army Muheisen said noted “Spain was the last country that recognized Israel, and the first to open a Palestinian embassy. ”

PCHR Weekly Report: 2 dead, 10 Palestinians wounded in 25 incursions by Israeli forces
Saed Bannoura, International Middle East Media Center News 12/26/2008
In its weekly report of Israeli human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (West Bank and Gaza) for the week of 18- 23 December 2008, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) reported that 10 Palestinians, including 3 children and a journalist, and an Israeli journalist, were wounded by Israeli forces in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. One Palestinian resistance fighter was killed, and one man died of earlier wounds. In addition, Israeli forces attacked 2 Palestinian ambulances, conducted 25 incursions, abducted 18 Palestinian civilians, including 4 children, stormed a medical center in Hebron, and continued to impose a total siege and have isolated the Gaza Strip from the outside world. Israeli attacks in the West Bank: During the reporting period, 6 Palestinian civilians, including 2 children and a journalist, and an Israeli journalist were wounded when. . .

Two injured in Bil’in protest; demonstrators speak out against Israeli treatment of Palestinian prisoners
Ma’an News Agency 12/26/2008
Bethlehem - Ma’an - Two Palestinians were injured in Bil’in, north of Ramallah, during the weekly Friday afternoon protest. Israeli troops fired stun grenades and rubber coated bullets at the group of locals and internationals as they approached the site of the construction of the separation wall. Each week the Popular Committee Against the Wall in the village rallies locals and internationals who carry banners and shout slogans condemning the continued construction of the separation wall, the building of settlements, checkpoints and the Gaza siege. This week the group marched in solidarity with all those in prison, including Israeli refusnicks, and the Palestinian political leaders at Israel’s Ofer detention center including Juma’a Muosa and Ahmad Sa’adat. They encouraged Israeli activists to refuse military service, and demanded Israel end its occupation of Palestinian areas.

Santa Claus Against the Wall in Bilin
Ghassan Bannoura, International Middle East Media Center News 12/26/2008
Bil’in village residents, located near the central West Bank city of Ramallah, conducted on Friday their weekly protest against the Israeli Annexation Wall. Locals were joined by international and Israeli peace activists for Friday’s protest. The protesters marched to the village lands behind the illegal wall waving Palestinian flags and banners. The protest today was an act of solidarity with Palestinian families inside Israeli jails. Santa Clause also joined the protest today, and congratulated Muslims for the al-Adha Eid and Christians for Christmas. When the demonstrators approached the gate of the wall, the Israeli Army prevented them from crossing the main gate where soldiers were standing behind concrete blocks. When the protesters attempted to cross the gate, the army fired stun grenades, tear gas and rubber-coated metal bullets.

Palestinian ’Santas’ do battle with Israeli security forces over West Bank fence
Haaretz Service, Ha’aretz 12/27/2008
As they do almost every week, Palestinians staged violent demonstrations on Friday against the route of the West Bank separation fence in the town of Bil’in and Na’alin, both of which lie near Ramallah. To honor Christmas, some 50 Palestinians, a few of whom were decked out in Santa Claus outfits, hurled stones at Israeli security forces in Bil’in on Friday, who sought to disperse the crowd with tear gas and rubber-coated bullets. In Na’alin, where 200 Palestinians and leftist activists took part in demonstrations on Friday, stones and Molotov cocktails were thrown at Israeli security personnel. Nobody was reported injured. Army Radio reported that dozens of young Likud supporters led by MK Gilad Erdan arrived in Na’alin to express their support for the Israeli soldiers working to quiet the mob.

Israeli Arab party meets leftist Palestinian faction led by convicted 'terrorist'
Yoav Stern and Amos Harel, Ha’aretz 12/27/2008
A far-left Israeli political party met in Ramallah on Thursday with representatives of left-wing Palestinian factions, one of whose leaders was sentenced on Thursday to 30 years in prison for being a member of the group. Hadash, the predominantly Arab political party which is represented by three Knesset members, began a round of meetings with leftist Palestinian factions, including the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Palestinian People’s Party. An Israel Defense Forces military tribunal on Thursday sentenced PFLP head Ahmed Sadat to 30 years in prison for his ties with the group. Although he was originally arrested on suspicion of taking part in the planning of the assassination of then-minister Rehavam Ze’evi, he was ultimately convicted on lesser charges.

Ghoul: Verdict on Sa’adat illegal, blames PA leadership for surrendering him
Palestinian Information Center 12/26/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- PA minister of prisoners and ex-prisoners Mohammed Faraj Al-Ghoul has condemned the Israeli court verdict against Palestinian legislator Ahmad Sa’adat, and described it as illegitimate and has no legal leg to stand on. Sa’adat, who is the secretary-general of the PFLP, one of the PLO’s main factions, was sentenced to 30 years in prison by an Israeli court accusing him of being the master mind in killing an Israeli minister in 2002. He was placed in PA custody in a prison in Jericho city under American and British guards before he was kidnapped by the IOF troops from the jail after his guards abandoned it. In a statement he issued Thursday, and a copy of which was obtained by the PIC, Ghoul described the verdict as "political", adding that the Israeli occupation would fail to strip legitimacy of the kidnapped Palestinian legislators.

Israeli Military Police Arrest Several Arab and Druze Refuseniks
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 12/26/2008
The Israeli military police conducted an arrest campaign that targeted Arab and Druze youth who refuse to serve in the Israeli military. Serving in the military in Israel is required by law; refuseniks are repeatedly arrested and imprisoned. A Druze group rejecting compulsory military services said that it received information that the Israeli military police arrested several Arab and Druze youths who refused to enlist in the military. The group added that some youths are now "wanted" while others have been detained. Six of the detained Druze youth from Beit Jann village, near Akko, were identified as Nayef Hussein Qabalan, Saqer Azza, Wi’am Faris, Hamad Najm, Halim Ateela and Mohammad Qalabaan. The Arabs48 news website reported that resident Wala’ Naffa’ is still rejecting to serve in the Israeli military after he was ordered to enlist last year.

Israeli forces demolish Eco-Mosque in Negev Christmas morning
Ma’an News Agency 12/26/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an – The Israeli army demolished an Eco-Friendly Straw Bale Mosque in the unrecognized Negev Bedouin village of Wadi Al-Na’am on Christmas day. The mud and straw-bale structure was near complete; it was a months-long project that saw local Bedouins and volunteers build a mosque as a demonstration of inexpensive and environmentally sound construction techniques. Mahmoud Jarbeau, a Bedouin resident of Wadi Al-Na’am oversaw the construction, and has slept in the structure most nights since the Israeli demolition order was delivered. He is a Bedouin resident of Israel, and his village is not recognized by Israel, so no building permits are granted for the area. Jarbeau served for nine years in the Israeli forces, pays taxes and has spent more than 40,000 US dollars of his own money into the Mosque construction project.

Leftist protestors say ’no’ to Gaza op
Maya Leker, YNetNews 12/26/2008
MK Khenin says Gaza siege boosts Hamas as 150 people demonstrate in Tel Aviv - About 150 demonstrators attended a rally in central Tel Aviv Friday to protest the expected Israeli response to Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza. The rally was organized by the Coalition against the Gaza Siege and by the Hadash movement. "I suggest that we go the other direction," said Hadash Knesset Member Dov Khenin. "Our power is our tragedy. One powerful blow will not bring the end. They will respond with rockets and eventually we’ll embark on an all-out war. Going in the other direction means reinforcing the lull, securing a ceasefire, and lifting the siege that only serves to unite the population around Hamas. A genuine peace process will be engaged in vis-à-vis the Palestinian Authority, led by Abbas," he said.

Barak instructs troops to open Gaza crossings
Hanan Greenberg, YNetNews 12/25/2008
Despite continued rocket attacks, 40 trucks carrying sugar, rice and flour expected to enter Hamas-controlled territory Friday morning. ’We will make every effort to prevent a humanitarian crisis,’ defense official says -Crossings into Gaza will be opened Friday to allow for the transition of humanitarian supplies to the Palestinian residents of the area, Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced Thursday evening. The decision, reached despite Thursday’s rocket fire on Israel’s southern region, was based on recommendations by professionals in the defense establishment, as well as appeals from international sources. The crossings were set to be opened earlier in the week but remained closed following more Qassam attacks that emanated from the Hamas-controlled enclave. On Friday morning, barring an unforeseen development, some 40 trucks loaded. . .

Gaza crossings open Friday as Barak bows to international appeals
Ma’an News Agency 12/26/2008
Gaza/Bethlehem - Ma’an – Humanitarian supplies, medicine, industrial fuel and cooking entered the Gaza Strip Friday afternoon, Palestinian sources confirmed. The decision from Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak was announced Friday morning on Israeli Radio following what were described as “consultations” with Israeli security after repeated requests to open the crossings from the international community. Secretary in the Palestinian ministry of Economy Naser As-Saraj said fifty truckloads of food forty truckloads of animal fodder and wheat are expected to be allowed in. Mahmoud Al-Khazedar, with the Society of Fuel-station Owners was able to confirm that fuel was being pumped into the area for the power plant. He said 500,000 liters of industrial fuel and 43 tons of cooking gas are expected to be transferred into the area.

90 Trucks of Humanitarian Aid Allowed into Gaza Today
Justin Theriault, International Middle East Media Center News 12/26/2008
On Friday, Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, allowed 90 trucks of international humanitarian aid into the Gaza strip, despite military preparations for a full scale military campaign against Gaza resistance groups. The Israeli Army reported that the first of the 90 trucks had arrived into the impoverished Gaza Strip and began to unload supplies, which consisted of much needed medicine, cooking gas, fuel and other vital items. Among the aid included a large donation from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s wife. Cabinet Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, in an interview with Israeli radio said, "we are sending [the residents of Gaza] a message that the Hamas leadership has turned them into a punching bag for everyone. " He also stated that, "It is a leadership that has turned school yards in rocket launching pads. This is a leadership that does not care that the blood of its people will. . .

Khudari: the trickle of food supplies allowed into Gaza not enough
Palestinian Information Center 12/26/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- MP Jamal al-Khudari, chairman of the Popular Committee of Against the Siege on Gaza (PCAS) said that the food supplies allowed into Gaza through three crossings which were partially opened on Friday will not last for a few hours. He said in a press statement on Friday that the commercial crossings of the Gaza Strip should be opened to allow entry of goods into the strip and called on the international community to pressure the Israeli occupation into keeping the crossings open. Khudari pointed out that under international law those crossings should be kept open to allow humanitarian and commercial supplies flowing. He stressed that the humanitarian situation the Gaza Strip is very bad and worsening and said that half the bakeries of the strip are still closed due to the lack of flour and fuel, adding that Gaza hospital have run out of many medicines and medical supplies.

Israel transferring humanitarian aid to Gaza
Hanan Greenberg and AP, YNetNews 12/26/2008
Despite continued mortar fire on western Negev, Israel agrees to open two main cargo crossings into Gaza as part of policy of avoiding humanitarian crisis in Strip. Forty trucks begin delivering medicine, fuel, cooking gas and vital goods -Israel has allowed trucks carrying humanitarian aid to enter Gaza Friday morning, despite continued mortar fire on Israel’s southern communities. The army said the first of an expected 40 trucks have started to deliver medicine, fuel, cooking gas and other vital goods on Friday to Gaza. Israel’s Defense Ministry agreed to open the three main cargo crossings into Gaza as part of its policy of avoiding a humanitarian crisis there. The aid was transferred through the Kerem Shalom, Nahal Oz and Karni crossings. Palestinian workers at the Gaza fuel terminal said that a limited shipment of fuel has been delivered to the main power station in the Strip.

Negev residents outraged over aid delivery to Strip
Ilana Curiel, YNetNews 12/26/2008
Heads of Gaza-vicinity communities slam defense minister’s decision to allow transfer of aid into Gaza despite ongoing Qassam, mortar attacks. ’Why are humanitarian concerns always one-sided? ’ they ask -Heads of the Gaza vicinity communities were outraged Friday by Israel’s decision to allow 40 trucks carrying humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza Strip, despite the incessant rocket and mortar fire at the western Negev. Dozens of mortar shells and one Qassam were fired at the area from the northern Gaza Strip in a number of barrages Thursday night. No injuries or damages were reported in any of the attacks. Head of the Eshkol Regional Council Haim Yelin said that after such a night he had hoped that the border crossings would remain closed. " I must say that I fail to understand the reasons behind continuing to deliver aid to those Palestinians for ’humanitarian ground’," he stated.

Israel opens Gaza crossings
Nidal al-Mughrabi, Reuters, The Independent 12/26/2008
Israel reopened border crossings with the Gaza Strip today, easing tensions a day after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert issued a "last-minute" warning to Hamas militants to stop firing rockets or pay a heavy price. Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said he ordered the crossings opened for "essential humanitarian" supplies, in response to numerous requests from the international community. Palestinian workers at the crossings said fuel had arrived for Gaza’s main power plant and trucks loaded with grain had crossed into the impoverished enclave, which has been under a tight Israeli blockade since Hamas took control in 2007. Raed Fattouh, coordinator of supplies, said about 90 trucks loaded with grain, humanitarian aid and goods for the private sector were due to come in to Gaza during the day. The deliveries may ease tensions that Israeli media said would inevitably end in significant military action to end rocket attacks.

’Iran Red Crescent vessel heads to Gaza’ Staff And Yaakov Lappin, Jerusalem Post 12/27/2008
An Iranian Red Crescent vessel laden with humanitarian supplies is due to set sail for the Gaza Strip on Saturday, AFP reported, quoting the Islamic Republic’s state broadcaster. Red Crescent director Ahmad Navvab was quoted as saying, "Despite the Zionist regime’s opposition. . . this consignment will leave Bandar Abbas for Palestine on Saturday and will arrive in 12 days. " He said that the ship contains "over 2,000 tonnes of food, medicine and appliances," as well as Iranian doctors and aid workers. Earlier in December, Prof. Raymond Tanter, president of the Washington-based Iran Policy Committee told The Jerusalem Post that the vessel carried a "hidden agenda," providing cover for an attempt by Teheran’s al-Quds Force to spread its influence and possibly ferrying intelligence agents. "The Iranian Red Crescent ship sailing to the Hamas- controlled Gaza Strip. . .

Iranian Red Crescent to send aid ship to Gaza Strip
Ma’an News Agency 12/26/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an/Agencies – The Iranian Red Crescent is planning a shipment of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, according to the Islamic Republic’s official broadcast news agency. “Despite the Zionist regime’s opposition…this consignment will leave Bandar Abbas for Palestine on Saturday and will arrive in 12 says,” Agence-France Presse quoted a Red Crescent official as saying on Friday. "The cargo contains over 2,000 tonnes of food, medicine and appliances and it will be accompanied by 12 Iranian doctors and relief workers," Ahmad Navvab said. Early in December, the Red Crescent said it was planning to ship a 1,000 ton delivery of grain, sugar, oil and medication to the besieged strip, which has been under an Israeli blockade since Hamas seized power of Gaza during the summer of 2007.

Gaza bracing for Israeli military strike
Middle East Online 12/26/2008
JERUSALEM - The spectre of an Israeli military invasion hung over the Gaza Strip on Friday. Gaza resistance fighters fired another volley of rockets at southern Israel on Friday, the Israeli army said. The attack comes in response to continuous Israeli attacks and the blockade of Gaza. Five rockets and two mortar rounds were fired before dawn, but caused no casualties, an Israeli military spokesman said. One mortar round landed on a house which was unoccupied at the time, near the Kerem Shalom border crossing, causing damage to the property, local residents said. Violence in and around Gaza flared up after a six-month ceasefire ended on December 19, and escalated dramatically on Wednesday. The latest violence came amid widespread speculation Israeli forces were gearing up for military action in Gaza, which some media said was likely to be a limited operation rather than a full-scale invasion.

Projectiles land in Negev as Israeli forces plan Gaza invasion
Ma’an News Agency 12/26/2008
Gaza/Bethlehem - Ma’an – Israeli sources reported the launch of 22 mortar shells from Gaza at Israeli targets overnight Thursday and Friday morning, and say the military is preparing for a “limited operation” in Gaza in the coming days. Ten projectiles were claimed by the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) Salah Ad-Din Brigades, after spokesman Abu A’beer announced the beginning of a campaign titled “Death Rope. ” The campaign, he said, will see a continuous barrage of home-made projectiles launched at Israeli targets. On Wednesday Israeli airstrikes and ground invasions killed three fighters in Beit Lahia, and two in southern Gaza. On Saturday one fighter was killed and three injured at a projectile launch pad in northern Gaza, and two children were injured in a separate Israeli attack. Hundreds of home-made projectiles and mortar shells have been launched. . .

2 Palestinian girls killed in Kassam hit
Jerusalem Post 12/26/2008
Two Palestinian girls were killed on Friday when a rocket fired by Palestinian terrorists landed short of its Israeli target. According to witnesses, the girls were immediately killed after sustaining a direct hit. Gaza Health Ministry official Dr. Moiaya Hassanain identified the two victims as 5-year-old Hanin Abu Khoussa and her 12-year-old cousin, Sabah Abu Khoussa. Three other young people were wounded, Hassanain said. Hamas announced that it planned to investigate the incident which occurred in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahiya. Earlier, Israel agreed to treat a 35-year-old Palestinian who was also wounded by a rocket fired from Gaza towards Israel. The man was evacuated to Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital in serious condition after being transferred from a Palestinian ambulance to a Magen David Adom ambulance at the Erez Crossing.

Palestinian rocket kills 2 Gaza girls
Reuters and Shmulik Hadad, YNetNews 12/26/2008
Palestinians misfire rocket, two Gaza girls killed after Qassam hits home in northern Strip; earlier Friday, Palestinian man wounded by misfired rocket taken for treatment in Israeli hospital - A rocket apparently fired by Palestinians on Friday struck a house in the Gaza Strip, killing two Palestinian sisters aged five and 13, Palestinian medics said. Hamas police said they were investigating the cause of the blast in Beit Lahiya village in northern Gaza, which medics said seemed to be due to a rocket aimed at Israel that had misfired. Earlier in the day, a seriously wounded 35-year-old Palestinian man, hurt by a misfired rocket on Tuesday, was taken to an Israeli hospital for treatment. Two children were also reportedly wounded in the Tuesday attack, but it is unclear whether they were the man’s children.

Two children killed, one seriously wounded in an explosion in Beit Lahia
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 12/26/2008
Palestinian sources reported on Friday that two sisters, aged 12 and 5, were killed and another child was seriously wounded, when a mortar shell hit their home in Al Atatra area, in Beit Lahia, in the northern part of the Gaza Strip. The two sisters were identified as Sabah, 12, and Haneen Abu Khousa, 5. The seriously wounded child was identified as Ola Hassouna. Sources in Gaza reported that a mortar shell apparently fired by Palestinian gunmen apparently missed its target and hit the Palestinian home killing the two children. The Israeli army denied any involvement in the incident, Israeli sources reported. The sources added that it seems that fighters fired a shell at an Israeli target but the shell missed its target and hit the Palestinian home.

Mysterious Gaza explosion result of gaffed projectile attack, says Ad-Dremeli family
Ma’an News Agency 12/26/2008
Gaza - Ma’an – The family of Iyad Ad-Dremeli, injured in a mysterious explosion in his brother’s home Wednesday, say the explosion was not from inside the building but rather the result of a projectile attack. The home, which belongs to Gaza journalist Imad Ad-Dremeli, was damaged by the explosion. The family says investigations are ongoing and no attackers have yet been identified. During a phone interview Imad demanded those involved in the investigations announce the names of those responsible for the attack and bring them to justice. He hinted that a group of armed men using fields near the home as a launch pad for projectiles aimed at Israeli towns misfired their weapons.

Palestinian cameraman succumbs to wounds he sustained two weeks ago
Palestinian Information Center 12/26/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- Palestinian medical sources stated on Friday that Hamza Shahin, who worked as a cameraman for a local news agency succumbed to wounds he sustained in an Israeli occupation attack two weeks ago. The sources added that Shahin was seriously wounded during an Israeli occupation air raid on the town of Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip about two weeks ago. Since then Shahin was in intensive care at the Shifa hospital in Gaza city where both his feet had to be amputated. Shahin succumbed to his wounds on Friday. Suhaib Shehada, the director of Shehab News Agency, condemned the Israeli occupation for targeting journalists in an attempt to gag  journalists and considered the targeting of Shahin an attack on the press freedom and a continuation of the Israeli occupation policy of targeting journalists.

Ready to fire
Saleh Al-Naami, Al-Ahram Weekly 12/25/2008
Abdel-Hadi Al-Muqadma is a hero to thousands of Palestinians living in the central Gaza Strip. He died last Thursday when his gun accidentally went off as he was cleaning it before setting off to guard a forward position of the Qassam brigade, Hamas’s military wing. He was among the first elderly Gazans to join the Palestinian resistance when Israel threatened a massive military incursion into Gaza following the end of the ceasefire. After the news of his death dozens of other senior citizens signed up with resistance support units. A climate of impending war looms over Gaza in the wake of Israeli news reports of the Israeli government’s plans for a major military offensive in Gaza. Resistance factions have set up more posts around towns, villages and refugee camps, especially those close to the border with Israel. Fighters have been seen taking up positions in nearby fields in order to

Rockets in Beersheba? Don’t be ridiculous
Abe Selig, Jerusalem Post 12/25/2008
When Saddam Hussein’s Scud missiles pounded the country during the 1991 Gulf War - the last time an air raid siren was heard in Beersheba for non-ceremonial purposes - Yitzhak Agron didn’t go into his building’s bomb shelter. Instead, the 63 year-old shopkeeper went to the shuk, and opened up his vegetable stand. "What am I, a freier (sucker)? " Agron chuckled on Thursday afternoon as he sat inside a small lotto stand on the city’s west side, recalling the scene from 17 years ago. "I didn’t go into the shelter then, and I won’t go now. When everyone was running scared in ’91, nothing happened in the end, and nothing’s going to happen this time either. " Indeed, the Scud missile that sent Beersheba into a panic in 1991 was actually on course for the Soreq nuclear reactor near Dimona, and missed that target as well - landing in the open desert near Arad.

This Week in Palestine
IMEMC News - Audio Dept, International Middle East Media Center News 12/26/2008
Click on Link to download or play MP3 file || 16 m 00s || 14. 6 MB || This Week in Palestine:- a service of the International Middle East Media Center www. imemc. org, December 20th through to December 27th, 2008. As Palestinians celebrate Christmas, Israeli army attacks on Gaza this week leaves seven Palestinians dead, these stories and more coming up. Please stay tuned. Nonviolent Activities Let us begin our weekly report with the nonviolent activities in the West Bank with IMEMC’s George Rishmawi: Bil’in On Friday, Bil’in village residents, located near the central West Bank city of Ramallah, conducted their weekly protest against the Israeli Annexation Wall. Locals were joined by international and Israeli peace activists for Friday’s protest. The protesters marched to the village lands behind the illegal wall waving Palestinian flags and banners.

Soldier indicted for firing in Hebron squabble
Hanan Greenberg, YNetNews 12/25/2008
Pursuant to footage released Tuesday, military court decides to imprison soldier until end of legal proceedings - A military court indicted an infantry soldier on Thursday, on counts of threat of force and illegal use of a weapon. Corporal Nahum Ben-Yaakov is accused of firing into the air repeatedly in the vicinity of civilians and of threatening them. According to the ruling, passed by Col. Nir Aviram, the chief justice of IDF Southern Command’s military court, the soldier will be detained in military prison until legal proceedings against him come to an end. In footage released by Ynet on Tuesday, Ben-Yaakov, of the Givati brigade, was seen firing a weapon into the air and making threats during a clash between Palestinians and settlers in Hebron last month. Clashes in Hebron-An IDF soldier residing in the West Bank settlement of Kiryat. . .

Abbas’s security men kidnap 16 Hamas supporters in the West Bank
Palestinian Information Center 12/26/2008
RAMALLAH, (PIC)-- Abbas’s security forces have kidnapped 16 Palestinian supporters of Hamas in various towns and villages of the West Bank in the past 24 hours. Local sources in the northern West Bank city of  Nablus said that Abbas’s men kidnapped five residents of the city, three of them were released recently from Israeli occupation jails. In northern West Bank district of Jenin three more men were kidnapped by the same forces, one of those kidnapped is the brother of two Qassam captives in Israeli jails. A student at the Najah university in Nablus was also kidnapped from Qalqilya district in the northern West Bank. Two men were kidnapped in the northern West Bank district of Tulkarem, one of them a man from the city of Tulkarem who was recently freed from Israeli occupation jails and the other is the Imam of the old mosque at the nearby village of Illar.

Hamas: PA security arrests 14 members across West Bank
Ma’an News Agency 12/26/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Fourteen Hamas-affiliates were seized by Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces across the West Bank, a Friday statement from the movement announced. From Nablus the following were arrested:Marwan A’j’ajNael Al-BashtawiMuneer Al MasriZuhdi As-SayeghFrom the Jenin governorate:Fares Saba’nahLuay Al-QarmFrom Hebron:Usama SahheenGhasan AmerAla’ Abu A’jamieyahMohamad I’zzat Nawaj’ahFrom Qalqilia:Mus’ab Zahran[end]

Espionage activities of PA security apparatuses disclosed
Palestinian Information Center 12/26/2008
DOHA, (PIC)-- Senior political official of the Hamas Movement Mohammed Nazzal has unveiled Wednesday some of the "serious" documents seized by his Movement from offices of the defunct PA security apparatuses in the Gaza Strip that implicate them in espionage activities harmful to the Palestinian cause. He also disclosed that officials and elements of those defunct apparatuses that were routed in the Gaza Strip 18 months ago were involved in spying on Arab and Muslim countries in favor of the USA, Israel, and other European countries, in addition to spying on PA chief Mahmoud Abbas. Nazzal’s remarks were made in a live interview with the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera satellite TV channel in Doha, where he also accused the PA security apparatuses of turning themselves into a " weapon for hire". According to Nazzal, the PA intelligence department spied on Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen,. . .

PA requests billions for 2009 budget, development projects
Ma’an News Agency 12/26/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an – The Palestinian Authority (PA) wants US 1. 6 billion in budgetary assistance to fund operations in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, according to a government report on Thursday. The PA needs about 30 percent less in foreign financial donations than it did in 2008 ($2. 2 billion), due to the government’s success in paying back debts accumulated in previous years. PA Planning Minister Sameer Abdallah told Ma’an that the PA’s development plan will include a total of US $1. 6 billion in projects for 2009, while about $200 million in projects are slated for signing in the near future. Abdullah added that unemployment has fallen to about 17 percent, “a pretty big accomplishment compared with the past eight years, which saw a much higher unemployment percentage. ”He said that the government is working with the private sector to implement industrial. . .

Palestinian foreign minister says Egypt to host 2009 unity talks
Ma’an News Agency 12/26/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an Exclusive – The Palestinian minister of foreign affairs told Ma’an that Egypt promised President Abbas during his latest visit to Cairo that the north-African nation would again host unity talks at the start of next year. In a telephone interview, Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki said that Egypt had pledged its support during a meeting: “President Hosni Mubarek of Egypt, along with senior officials, pledged to President Abbas during a meeting they held that they will resume contact among Palestinian factions during the first days of the new year. ”Al-Maliki added that he is confidently “optimistic toward the success of these efforts to end internal Palestinian division. ”Meanwhile, Al-Maliki confirmed that President Abbas had contacted a number of countries, particularly Egypt, to pressure Israel and the Hamas movement to renegotiate “a truce that will distance Palestinians from any grave consequences of the occupation.

Foreign Ministry to alter, step up diplomatic work next year
Ma’an News Agency 12/26/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an Exclusive – The new year will see major changes in Palestine’s diplomatic operations, according to Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki. Al-Maliki told Ma’an on Friday that diplomatic changes will take place all over the world in 2009, particularly in changes to ambassadorships worldwide, where many have reached retirement age. “Palestinian diplomatic work has witnessed enormous activist during 2008 as Palestinian Authority (PA) diplomats held meetings with several PA ambassadors,” Al-Maliki told Ma’an in an exclusive telephone interview. “We worked on switching out several ambassadors in European counties and in Latin America over the past months due to a few reaching retirement ages,” he added. Al-Maliki also announced a new plan for the Foreign Affairs Ministry for the year 2009 to increase diplomatic activity worldwide, as well.

Israeli election: Binyamin Netanyahu loses ground in polls
The Guardian 12/26/2008
Two new polls show Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party losing part of its substantial lead in Israel but still the most able to put together a government after national elections on 10 February. Several weeks ago, Netanyahu was solidly ahead in the polls, leaving his moderate rival, foreign minister Tzipi Livni who will lead the ruling Kadima Party, lagging behind by as many as nine seats. The latest polls showed his lead shrinking to four seats, with potential hawkish partners gaining the strength he lost. A Dialog survey published in the Haaretz daily showed Likud winning 30 of parliament’s 120 seats, down from 36 seats in its previous poll two week ago. The poll, which surveyed 475 people and had a margin of error of 4. 5 percentage points, had Kadima winning 26 seats, down one from its previous showing.

Israeli far right gains ground as Gaza rockets fuel tension
Toni O'Loughlin in Jerusalem, The Guardian 12/27/2008
Beiteinu party up in polls as calls grow for tough line - Support for Israel’s ultra-nationalist rightwing parties is growing as the Jewish state and Hamas, the Islamists who rule Gaza, lurch closer to a major confrontation. Polling published in several Israeli dailies yesterday showed rising support for Israel Beiteinu, which takes a hard line on Gaza and advocates transferring predominantly Arab towns in Israel to a future Palestinian state. The surge in support for the far right comes amid growing tensions in Gaza since the official end to a six-month ceasefire a week ago. Yesterday, a rocket fired from Gaza at Israel accidentally struck a Gazan house, killing two Palestinian sisters, aged five and 13, and wounding a third, medics said. Hamas had hoped the ceasefire would lead to the lifting of the blockade. . .

Right-wing Israeli party taps convicted spy for top seat
Ma’an News Agency 12/26/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an/Agencies – The extreme rightist “Our Land of Israel” Party has offered its top Knesset seat to convicted American spy Jonathan Pollard, according to an Israeli newspaper on Friday. But Israeli legal experts are not sure the appointment is even legal, while Pollard’s family has refused to endorse it, saying that his illegal espionage activities “were meant to help all of Israel,” Ha’aretz said. Pollard was an American intelligence analyst for the US Navy during the 1980s, where he used his privileged information to funnel classified intelligence to Israel in exchange for money and jewelry. An American federal court found him guilty of espionage in 1987 and sentenced him to life in prison, without the possibility of parole. The right-wing party called on other parties with representation in the Israeli Knesset to “follow their lead” and add Pollard to the tops of their lists, as well.

Special Christmas carols lament Bethlehem’s fate
Matthew Mosley, Daily Star 12/27/2008
Concert at London church raises a ruckus - LONDON: What once stood in royal David’s city? On November 26, an unexpected answer was sung back. No mention was made of a "lowly cattle shed;" instead singers raised the rafters with the line, "Stood a big apartheid wall. "The event, entitled "Bethlehem Now: Nine Alternative Lessons and Carols for Palestine," was a highly unorthodox carol service held at the Anglican Church of St. James in Piccadilly. Organized jointly by Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods and Open Bethlehem, it featured edited lyrics of various well-worn carols, designed to draw attention to the plight of modern-day citizens of Bethlehem. Bethlehem, the biblical birthplace of Jesus, is bordered on three sides by an Israeli-built wall that cuts through the city and has rendered inaccessible most of Bethlehem’s agricultural land. Movement in the area is heavily restricted by the Israeli government.

British NGOs use Christmas for anti-Israel attacks
Ynetnews, YNetNews 12/26/2008
Religious symbols used by several UK groups to criticize security barrier, malign Israel, NGO watchdog says - Several British NGOs are manipulating Christmas and its religious symbols, in order to promote an anti-Israel political agenda, Jerusalem-based watchdog NGO Monitor revealed in a new report. Prominent groups, such as War on Want and Christian Aid have exploited holiday sentiment through highly politicized Christmas cards, carols and charity fundraising, to condemn Israeli responses to terror in a distinctly unbalanced manner, the group noted. In November, an ’alternative carol service’ was held at the prominent Anglican St James church in Piccadilly, London. The event was strongly condemned by Christian and Jewish community leaders, as traditional lyrics were crudely altered to bluntly make a political statement.

Expecting IDF offensive in Gaza, Egypt boosts border security
Haaretz Service, Ha’aretz 12/27/2008
Egypt has boosted the security along its border with Gaza, officials said Friday, in anticipation of an imminent Israel Defense Forces operation within the territory, fearing an Israeli incursion would result in a breach of the border. In January, Hamas militants frustrated over the tightened Israeli closure of Gaza blew holes in the border partition, allowing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to stream into Egypt unchecked for ten days and stock up on food and other goods made scarce by the blockade. Egyptian officials told Israel Radio, however, that Egypt is pressing on with efforts to prevent the escalation of violence in the region. The officials said that representatives of Egyptian Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman have approached senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar in the Gaza Strip and presented him with Egypt’s concerns.

Egypt boosts security on Gaza border
AFP, YNetNews 12/26/2008
Egyptian security forces prepare for possible IDF operation in Gaza that officials fear could lead to breach of border - Egypt has boosted security along its border with the Gaza Strip in anticipation of an Israeli attack on the Hamas-ruled territory, officials said on Friday. Officials and residents in north Sinai said they fear a repeat of the Palestinian breach of the border in January, when tens of thousands of Gazans poured into Egypt after gunmen in Gaza blew holes in the border barricade. "There is a heavy security presence near the border with Gaza," a security official told. "We are worried that because of Israeli pressure, the Palestinians will breach the border. " An correspondent said police had set up checkpoints on roads leading to the border and that some north Sinai residents have begun stocking up on food.

Barhoum: Livni used the Egyptian arena to declare war on Palestinian people
Palestinian Information Center 12/26/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- Hamas Movement has condemned Thursday the aggressive statements of Israeli foreign minister Tsipi Livni against the Palestinian people and Hamas Movement, accusing her of using the Egyptian arena to declare new war on the Palestinian people. In a statement he issued and a copy of which was obtained by the PIC, Hamas’s spokesman in Gaza Strip Fawzi Barhoum expressed surprise over Livni’s "criminal" remarks against the Palestinian people and Hamas Movement that she made in the Egyptian capital Cairo. "We consider the statements of Livni as a call for racism, extremism, and criminality, which unveils her intention to commit new war crimes against our Palestinian people", said Barhoum, adding that Livni should have been prosecuted as a war criminal, and that she shouldn’t be received in any Arab capital or any other country.

Egypt Beefing up Security Along Border with Gaza
Justin Theriault, International Middle East Media Center News 12/26/2008
Egypt is beefing up security along its border with Gaza on Friday in the face of what Egyptian officials consider an "imminent" Israeli military operation within the Gaza Strip, fearing a breach of the integrity of their borders, Israel online Haaretz reports. Egyptian officials, in a statement to Israel radio, said that Egypt is still trying to prevent the escalation of a full military operation in the region. They also said in the statement that representatives of Egyptian intelligence have approached senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar in Gaza to present him with alternatives and potential solutions to avoid a full scale military conflict between Hamas and Israel. Overnight Thursday and early Friday morning, Hamas and other reistance based factions fired "dozens" of mortar shells into Southern Israel, damaging one building.

Egypt reinforces Gaza border security
Herb Keinon, Yaakov Katz, Staff And Ap, Jerusalem Post 12/26/2008
Egypt made preparations Friday for an expected IDF operation in Gaza by reinforcing security along its border with the Strip. Egyptian security forces are concerned that an IDF operation would lead to an attempt by Gazans to break through the Rafah border crossing, AFP reported. Meanwhile, although Israel stepped up its threatening rhetoric against them, Gaza terrorists intensified their attacks, firing at least 25 mortar shells at the South overnight Thursday and early Friday, one of which hit a building in the Eshkol region. No one was wounded in the attacks, but the building was damaged. Despite the mortar shell fire, Israel allowed humanitarian aid into Gaza on Friday morning.

Hamas: Ban Ki-moon remarks on Palestinian missiles biased
Palestinian Information Center 12/26/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- The Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, has strongly condemned on Friday the statements of Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general of the UN, in which he deprecated the Palestinian retaliation to Israel’s aggressions on the Palestinian people. Dr. Sami Abu Zuhri, the spokesman of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, described Ki-moon’s remarks as biased against the Palestinian people, and contradicting laws and conventions of the United Nation, which he represents. "We in Hamas strongly condemn the statements of Ban Ki-moon against Palestinian [retaliatory] missile attacks on Israeli occupation targets. Such statements makes him a partner in the Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people", underlined Abu Zuhri in press release he issued and a copy of which obtained by the PIC. He also questioned Ki-moon’s passive stand towards the scores of Palestinian citizens murdered by the. . .

Gaza group: We’ll abduct female soldier
Sharon Roffe-Ofir, YNetNews 12/26/2008
Popular Resistance Committees spokesman says group plans to kidnap female soldier should IDF enter Gaza, so that ’Gilad Shalit will be able to start family’; Gaza groups have more than 10,000 rockets, ’can drop martyrs from sky into Tel Aviv,’ he says - Palestinian threats:An Israeli invasion of Gaza would draw a harsh Palestinian response, including the kidnapping of more Israeli soldiers, a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees warned Friday. Specifically, the group would aim to kidnap a female soldier, the PRC’s Abu Abir told the Nazareth-based Arb al-Dahel. "The resistance movement is talking about the abduction of a female soldier, and we’re certain we’ll succeed," he said. "Then, Gilad Shalit will be able to start a family, and the negotiations will be for the release of the Shalit family. "

Lebanese Army defuses rockets pointed at Israel
Daily Star 12/27/2008
BEIRUT: UN and Lebanese military patrols along the Israeli border have been stepped up following the discovery of eight rockets connected to timers that were just hours from firing into Israel on Thursday. Lebanese soldiers on a routine patrol discovered the Katyusha and Grad rockets after being alerted by a farmer who had found them armed and pointing toward Israel in Hammoul, northeast of Naqoura, military officials told The Daily Star on Friday. If the rockets had been successfully fired, the attack could have represented a serious breach of the cease-fire agreement that ended the 2006 war. Israeli officials have reportedly warned that if the attack had not been thwarted, it would have caused "friction and fighting" on the Lebanese border. The UN peacekeeping force in South Lebanon, UNIFIL, dispatched a team to assist the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) in defusing the rockets,. . .

UN steps up Lebanon border patrols
Middle East Online 12/26/2008
BEIRUT - UN peacekeepers and Lebanese troops have stepped up patrols along the border with Israel after rockets were discovered aimed at Israel, a UN spokeswoman said on Friday. The UN Interim Force in Lebanon and the Lebanese army "have deployed additional troops and intensified patrols and security control of the area," said UNIFIL spokeswoman Yasmina Bouziane. UNIFIL commander Major General Claudio Graziano of Italy, is in contact with senior Lebanese and Israeli military officials, Bouziane added. On Thursday, security forces found eight Katyusha rockets in the coastal region between Naqura and Tair Harfa that were aimed at Israel, an army official said. The rockets were ready to fire, an officer said on Friday, adding that an investigation was underway and that the rockets had been dismantled. The area where the rockets were found is a stronghold of Hezbollah group. . .

Sleiman gets Sfeir and Franjieh into same room
Daily Star 12/27/2008
BEIRUT: Efforts to reconcile the Maronite Church and some of Lebanon’s Christian politicians gained momentum over the Christmas holiday as President Michel Sleiman sponsored a reconciliation meeting between Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir and Marada Movement leader Suleiman Franjieh. Thursday’s visit by Franjieh, a stalwart of the March 8 Forces, is expected to be followed by one by his ally, Free Patriotic Movement leader and MP Michel Aoun. Both Aoun and Franjieh have criticized the patriarch on several occasions for siding with the rival March 14 Forces. The last such criticism was made by Franjieh in response to Sfeir’s Christmas message on Tuesday. "When the patriarch adopts a neutral policy and becomes a father of all, we will be with him. . . but if he decides to follow the policies of one party against another, we will end up being at odds," Franjieh said after visiting Aoun earlier this week.

Syrian flag raised over new embassy in Beirut
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 12/27/2008
BEIRUT: The Syrian flag flew over Damascus’ first-ever embassy in Beirut on Friday, as final preparations were made for its official opening after warming ties ended years of tensions between the two neighbors. The work took a comic turn on Friday when an impostor showed up at the building in the Hamra business district, briefly causing a stir by claiming to be the new ambassador. Witnesses told AFP the flag was raised overnight as work continued to prepare the building for the opening before the end of the year. Two brass plaques bearing the inscription "Embassy of the Syrian Arab Republic" in Arabic and English were also put up outside the building, where the mission will operate on the first three floors. An official date for the inauguration has not yet been announced, but the leftist As-Safir Lebanese daily on Monday quoted Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem as saying this would happen "immediately after Christmas.

LEBANON: Christians Step Uneasily Closer to Syria
Mona Alami, Inter Press Service 12/27/2008
BEIRUT, Dec 26(IPS) - Christian Lebanese have been long-time foes of the Syrian regime, and their history is tainted with blood, mistrust and assassinations. This month, one of Lebanon’s’ leading Christian leaders, Gen. Michel Aoun, visited Syria, ending years of dissension between his party, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), and the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. In 1989, during Lebanon’s tumultuous civil war, Gen. Aoun, then the army chief, was hailed by many Lebanese and by most Christians for his courage. As bombs rained on Beirut -- the western part of which was occupied by Syrians -- the population applauded Aoun’s staunch stance, and supported him in his war of liberation against Syrian domination. Gen Aoun, who had been appointed in 1988 by then president Amine Gemayel as head of an interim cabinet, had vowed to free Lebanon.

US Homeland Security report stirs up fears of Hizbullah threat
The Daily Star, Daily Star 12/27/2008
BEIRUT: Hizbullah could, if provoked, support an attack on US soil in coming years, according to a wide-ranging US Homeland Security report. The five-year domestic security forecast noted that Hizbullah has no history of attacking the continental US or fomenting attacks within the US, but suggested that following a "triggering" event, the group could support such a strike. A separate 2008 US Interagency Intelligence Report had noted that Hizbullah has operatives working within the US, raising money through charities and other activities, which include, according to the Homeland Security assessment, acts of money laundering, smuggling, fraud and drug trafficking. However, despite its mention of Hizbullah, the year-end security assessment focused its evaluation primarily on the dangers of large-scale attacks by Al-Qaeda or ideologically-aligned individuals, border security and the threat of cyber-terrorism.

Intel report: Hizbullah may strike in US
Associated Press, YNetNews 12/25/2008
Homeland Security Threat Assessment for the years 2008-2013 says Hizbullah may foment terror attack in US if there is some kind of ’triggering’ event. ’The threat of terrorism and the threat of extremist ideologies have not abated," Chertoff says - The terrorism threat to the United States over the next five years will be driven by instability in the Middle East and Africa, persistent challenges to border security and increasing Internet savvy, says a new intelligence assessment obtained by The. Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attacks are considered the most dangerous threats that could be carried out against the US but those threats are also the most unlikely because it is so difficult for al-Qaeda and similar groups to acquire the materials needed to carry out such plots, according to the internal Homeland Security Threat Assessment for the years 2008-2013.

Business in Brief - Arabs: 70% higher chance of sub-minimum wage pay
Ha’aretz 12/26/2008
The number of workers earning less than minimum wage has grown by 35% in the last decade, the National Insurance Institute reported yesterday. Those most vulnerable to employers who violate the minimum wage laws are the youngest and oldest workers, new immigrants and foreign workers. In particular, those with the lowest levels of education and part-time workers are the most abused. Women are 30% more likely to be illegally underpaid, the NII’s research showed; while Arabs had a 70% higher chance of earing less than minimum wage than did Jews. The number of those not receiving at least minimum wage went from 10. 5% in 1997 to at least 14% in 2007. A third of those aged 18 to 24 did not reach minimum wage, and the figure was 17% for those 65 and over. (Ruth Sinai) Online classifieds site Yad2 (Second Hand) is launching a free auto Blue Book service on its site to rival Levy Yitzhak’s market leading - and paid - monthly listings.

Citrus farmers’ export woes lower local fruit prices
Amiram Cohen, Ha’aretz 12/26/2008
The drop in consumer demand in Europe has hit Israeli citrus growers hard. Revenues from citrus fruit exports have collapsed by a third this season compared to last year, down to only NIS 400 million, reported the Plants Production and Marketing Board. This will wipe out citrus farmers’ entire profit this year, said Tal Amit of the Plant Board. The causes are similar to those plaguing other export branches: the rise in the shekel and the drop in the dollar, euro and British pound in the last third of 2008 as well as the general economic slowdown. European supermarket chains are also running big sales - but at the expense of the producers and the exporters. What the drop in exports has done is lower citrus prices here in Israel as farmers have no choice but to dump the fruit on the local market.

The first tycoon to face the test: Benny Steimetz
Efrat Neuman and Sharon Shpurer, Ha’aretz 12/26/2008
Until recently, Benny Steinmetz was a major example of an Israeli who made it big on an international level, but also somebody known for his secrecy and daring. Everyone said he operated in exotic locales in a wide range of areas including real estate, mining, engineering, infrastructure, finance - but most of all in diamonds. But all of a sudden in the past few weeks this has seemed to blow up in his face: Like certain other businessmen, after avoiding publicity and the stock market for decades, in recent years he came to the markets and raised billions, and was forced to reveal quite a bit more than he might have wanted to. While his full financial health is not clear since much of his holdings are private, it is clear he has been hurt hard by the recent economic crisis.

Elie Wiesel charity vows to fight on despite being swindled in Madoff affair
Shlomo Shamir, Ha’aretz 12/27/2008
Elie Wiesel and his wife Marion decided to establish the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity after the feted Holocaust survivor was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. The foundation’s goals, as sketched out by Wiesel, attested to his past and his experience as a survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. As a man who claims that apathy on the part of countries and individuals was one of the factors that set in motion the Nazi apparatus of mass destruction, one of Wiesel’s top priorities was to combat the indifference towards suffering and distress that were a daily reality for those in regions of conflict. Well past his 80th birthday, Wiesel’s world turned dark last week. All the money which was raised for his foundation over the years courtesy of grants and contributions totaling $15. 2 million went down the drain overnight following the collapse of the investment fund managed by Bernard

Madoff scandal sews fundraiser fears, but others see opportunity for change
Raphael Ahren, Ha’aretz 12/26/2008
Professionals in the Jewish philanthropy world are divided over the fallout from the brewing Madoff scandal. While some fear Israel will bear the brunt of the dwindling pie of donations, others see an opportunity to revamp an inefficient fundraising system. About two weeks ago, the New Yorker businessman Bernard Madoff was arrested after having admitted that his investment firm was based on a so-called Ponzi scheme, losing about $50 billion. A number of charitable institutions supporting Jewish and Israeli causes were victims, not just investment firms. "The newspapers focus only on the names and numbers of those who lost money, but they are all miss one of the most important element of this crisis," said an Anglo fundraiser who works for some of Israel’s leading not-for-profit organizations but asked not to be identified.

Peres urges Obama to delay talks with Iran
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 12/27/2008
TOKYO: US President-elect Barack Obama should put aside plans to hold high-level talks with Iran until after the Islamic Republic’s elections, Israeli President Shimon Peres said in remarks published Friday. "I hope that it won’t be done before the elections [in Iran] because it may affect the results of the elections," Peres told Japan’s Kyodo News in an interview conducted in Occupied Jerusalem. Hard-line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is expected to seek another term in June 12 elections. Obama, who takes office on January 20, has said he wants to hold talks with Iran and end a 30-year standoff between the United States and Iran - which switched from close US ally to arch-foe after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. - AFP

UK criticises Ahmadinejad broadcast
Al Jazeera 12/27/2008
The UK government has said the decision by a British broadcaster to air a holiday message from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, could cause offence around the world. Ahmadinejad delivered Channel 4’s alternative message to the Commonwealth, a counterpoint to the broadcast by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, a Christmas Day tradition, which contains the monarch’s thoughts on the past year. The UK foreign office said on Friday that Ahmadinejad has made a series of anti-Semitic statements and could cause "offence and bemusement" not only in Britain but also abroad. In his message Ahmadinejad said the world’s troubles are rooted in a rejection of God and if Jesus Christ lived today he would stand up against bullying powers.

Peres warns Obama against talks with current Iranian leadership
Jerusalem Post 12/26/2008
President Shimon Peres warned US President-elect Barack Obama against opening direct negotiations with the current Iranian government when he takes his seat at the White House. Speaking with Japanese news agency Kyodo on Friday, Peres rejected the notion that Israel would go to war with the Islamic Republic. Peres said he hoped the Obama administration would hold off on talks with senior Teheran officials at least until after "the [Iranian] elections, because it may affect the results of the elections. " Regarding a potential confrontation with the country, Peres told Kyodo that "Israel doesn’t intend to go to war, plain and simple. " Peres insisted that Russia too could not accept a nuclear-armed Iran, but added that it refused to relinquish diplomatic means of action. "[Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin told me, I think he told many people, Russia cannot live with an Iranian bomb.

Report: Peres urges Obama to delay talks with Iran
Haaretz Service and News Agencies, Ha’aretz 12/27/2008
President Shimon Peres reportedly told Japanese media on Thursday that it would be wise for U. S. president-elect Barack Obama to put off dialogue with Iran until after the Islamic Republic holds presidential elections slated for June 2009. "I hope that it won’t be done before the elections (in Iran) because it may affect the results of the elections," Peres told the Kyodo news agency. Domestic opponents of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are hopeful the stagnant economy that has been hampered by sagging oil prices will spur voters to oust him from office. The president also sought to allay concerns that Jerusalem was angling to launch a military campaign against Iran to slow its suspected plans to build nuclear weapons. "Israel doesn’t intend to go to war, plain and simple," Peres told Kyodo.

Iran is coming to grips with Barack Hussein Obama
Karim Sadjadpour, Daily Star 12/27/2008
Since its Islamist revolution of 1979, Iran’s hard-line leadership has relentlessly painted America as a racist, bloodthirsty power bent on oppressing Muslims worldwide. Nothing punctures this narrative more than the election of an African-American, Barack Obama, who supports dialogue with Iran and whose middle name - Hussein - is that of the central figure in Shiite Islam. While the Bush administration’s policies often served to unite Iran’s disparate political landscape against a common threat, an Obama presidency could accentuate the country’s deep internal divisions. Though intolerant conservatives are currently in firm control of Iran’s government, the moderates and reformists among the political elite - dormant but not dead - may be resuscitated by Obama’s victory. They were swept out of power by hard-liners who used the country’s jittery sense of security - accentuated by the. . .

Russia to supply missiles to Syria
Jerusalem Post 12/26/2008
Russia plans to supply air-defense missile systems valued at $250 million to seven countries including Syria, Libya and Venezuela, Vedomosti reported, citing an unidentified Russian Technologies Corp official. The Moscow-based newspaper reported that Russia had started fulfilling orders of 200 S-125 systems that were due to be delivered during the next three years. Russia will ship about 70 missile systems to Egypt, and will also supply Myanmar, Vietnam and Turkmenistan with the systems, the paper said. On Monday, US officials said that they wanted answers from Russia about whether it was selling advanced surface-to-air missiles to Iran. A senior military intelligence official said that while Moscow has sent out conflicting responses to reports on sales of long-range S-300 missiles, the United States believes they are occurring.

Report: Russia selling missiles to Syria, Egypt
AFP, YNetNews 12/26/2008
Business daily reports Russia begins to fulfill $250 million weapons deal to deliver surface-to-air missiles seven countries including Syria, Egypt, Libya and Venezuela - Russia has begun to fulfil a 250-million-dollar contract to deliver surface-to-air missiles to seven countries including Libya, Syria and Venezuela, the Vedomosti business daily reported Friday. Russia will also deliver the S-125 Pechora-2M missile batteries to Egypt, Myanmar, Vietnam and Turkmenistan under the contract, the newspaper said, citing a source in the state-owned Russian Technologies corporation. Contacted by , a spokeswoman for the company declined to comment. Russian Technologies includes arms exporter Rosoboronexport among its holdings. The paper did not say which parties had signed the contract. The Pechora-2M - known as the SA-3A Goa in NATO parlance - is an upgraded version. . .

Syrian blogger lives precarious life as exile in Lebanon
Daily Star 12/27/2008
BEIRUT: Only 26 years old, Syrian human rights activist Mohammad al-Abdullah has already been imprisoned twice, beaten, and forced into hiding in neighboring Lebanon. Jail has unfortunately become a defining feature of the Abdullah family, which has been all but splintered by the repeated arrests of its male members because of their calls for political reform in Syria. When Abdullah’s father Ali was jailed in 2005, the son formed the Committee for Families of Political Prisoners in Syria, only to be himself marched off to a cell two days after the launch. His father received a presidential pardon six months later, along with 190 other political prisoners. Ali, who has been banned from traveling since 1996, was re-arrested in 2006 and then in December 2007 with 11 other members of the Damascus Declaration, which calls for "democratic and radical change" in Syria.

13 dead as Al-Qaeda springs key figures from Iraqi prison
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 12/27/2008
RAMADI, Iraq: A local Al-Qaeda chief escaped in a pre-dawn breakout from an Iraqi police station on Friday, triggering a wild shootout that left 13 militants and policemen dead. Imad Ahmed Farhan, who police say has admitted to killing at least 100 people, is on the run with two other "emirs" or local leaders of Al-Qaeda who broke out of their cells in a police station in the western city of Ramadi. "During an exchange of fire between prisoners trying to escape and police officers in the station, six policemen and seven prisoners were killed," provincial police chief Tareq al-Dulaimi said. The three prisoners managed to flee but one was recaptured, Dulaimi said, adding that another four policemen were wounded in the shootout that occurred at 2 a. m. (2300 GMT Thursday) at Forsan police station in the center of Ramadi.

13 killed in Iraqi police shootout with prisoners
Middle East Online 12/26/2008
RAMADI, Iraq - Six Iraqi policemen and seven militants were killed on Friday when the militants attempted a pre-dawn breakout from a police station in the western city of Ramadi, police said. "During an exchange of fire between prisoners trying to escape and police officers in the station, six policemen and seven prisoners were killed," provincial police chief Tareq al-Dulaimi said. Three prisoners managed to escape and one was re-arrested, Dulaimi said, adding that another four policemen were wounded in the shootout that occurred at 2 am (2300 GMT Thursday) at Forsan police station in the centre of Ramadi. Ramadi police have imposed a curfew in the city following the incident, an interior ministry source said, adding that three fugitive militants were local Al-Qaeda chiefs. The ministry source said that a prisoner wanting to go to the toilet was escorted from his cell. . .

Deaths in Iraq police station clash
Al Jazeera 12/26/2008
At least 13 people have been killed in a shootout between prisoners and policemen at a police station in Iraq. Seven suspected al-Qaeda fighters and six policemen were killed at the al-Fursan police station in Ramadi on Friday, Tariq al-Dulaimi, the police commander for Anbar province, said. "During an exchange of fire between prisoners trying to escape and police officers in the station, six policemen and seven prisoners were killed," al-Dulaimi said. Three fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq group, which is linked to al-Qaeda, fled captivity with one later re-arrested. Al-Dulaimi said that police were going from house to house with photos of the fugitives on Friday morning. "The people of this city will help us bring them back to justice," he said.

Friends no longer
Seif Nasrawi, Al-Ahram Weekly 12/25/2008
Ahead of provincial elections, Iraq’s ruling Shia coalition appears on the verge of fragmenting. - It all started with a report last week in The New York Times that quoted security sources in Baghdad as saying at least 35 officers from the Iraqi Interior Ministry had been arrested on suspicion of plotting against Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki. The leading US paper said the officers who made the arrests were from a special counter-terrorism unit directly answerable to Al-Maliki. Some of those arrested, reported the paper, allegedly have links to Al-Awda, a façade group of members of the former ruling Baath Party. Among those who have ended up in jail are four generals, including the chief of the Traffic Police Department and several of his top officers. News of the plot caused a mixture of outrage, suspicion and confusion in Baghdad, but thanks to the power of the web and live broadcasts

NY Times Magazine honors Israeli dog poop DNA bank initiative
Kobi Ben-Simhon, Ha’aretz 12/26/2008
A Petah Tikva municipal initiative designed to combat public dog defecation by collecting DNA samples from the city’s canines has earned recognition from The New York Times Magazine as one of the most noteworthy ideas of 2008. Launched three years ago, the program was the brainchild of Petah Tikva Mayor Yitzhak Ochayon. Its implementation and success in recent months has attracted significant international attention to the project. "I have had enough of this horrible phenomenon of dog poop littering all the streets of the city," Ochayon said. "It drove me crazy even though I assigned five inspectors with motorcycles to the problem and every day they chased after dog owners. We did not manage to minimize this awful situation. ""So I came up with the idea of using DNA tests for dogs. . . "

’World Orgasm Day’ orgy for peace canceled due to threats
Haaretz Service, Ha’aretz 12/27/2008
The alien-centered religion of the Raelians (named after leader Rael) had planned a special event to mark World Orgasm Day - a mass orgy for peace in Tel Aviv. However, the event, scheduled to coincide with the Winter Solstice on December 21, was canceled after organizers received multiple threats. Raelian spokesperson in Israel, Kobi Drori, said that the orgy would welcome all orientations, as long as participants were over 18, popular culture blogger Perez Hilton reported Friday. The orgy - intended to "try and bring world peace through mass orgasm, this by experiencing consensual sex and natural, uninterrupted pleasure" - was to be the first of events to take place in Tel Aviv. In January, a conference on sexuality and masturbation will feature experts and writers in the field.


Q&A: Israel Bars Credible Observers from Gaza
Thalif Deen Interviews U.n. Human Rights Expert Richard Falk, Inter Press Service 12/27/2008
      UNITED NATIONS, Dec 26(IPS) - The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay last week lambasted the Israeli government for detaining and expelling a human rights expert, Richard Falk, who was on a U.N.-mandated assignment to probe the human rights situation in the occupied territories.
     "It is difficult to assess Israel’s motives for barring my entry to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, but it certainly seems to fit with a pattern of minimising to the extent possible, reporting on the realities of the occupation, especially in Gaza," Falk told IPS.
     Falk, whose official title is U.N. Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, is a Professor of International Law who has served in several U.S. academic institutions, including Princeton, Ohio State and the University of California.
     The detention and expulsion were "unprecedented and regrettable," Pillay said, complaining that Falk was not only separated from two U.N. staffers accompanying him but was also held incommunicado for more than 20 hours at the Ben Gurion airport last week and denied the use of his U.N.-issued cell phone.

Bush’s farewell gift

Nicola Nasser, Al-Ahram Weekly 12/25/2008
      UN Resolution 1850 pushes Palestinian unity further from reach than ever
     The body of UN Security Council Resolution 1850 avoids any meaningful mention of a two-state solution or the creation of a Palestinian state with the exception of a feeble reference late in the text -- added almost as an afterthought -- to "preparation for statehood". While the preamble does mention Resolution 1514, issued five years ago, and notes that "lasting peace can only be based on an enduring commitment to mutual recognition, freedom from violence, incitement, and terror, and the two-state solution, building upon previous agreements and obligations," and even notes "the importance of the Arab peace initiative of 2002" the seven articles of the resolution, adopted on 16 December, focus on committing all parties to continuing an endless peace process.
     The outgoing US president "personally" sponsored Resolution 1850, which on the surface was intended to placate Palestinian negotiators before Bush’s meeting with President Mahmoud Abbas on 19 December. Bush has failed to fulfil his twice-made promise to usher in a Palestinian state, once by the end of 2005 and the second time by the end of this year. The resolution was intended to ensure Palestinian negotiators remain committed to the "Annapolis process" in which Bush’s failure to produce positive results is no less dismal than his failure to fulfil his promises to the Palestinian president by means of securing a UN rubber stamp on the process. The UN’s backing of the Annapolis process is supposed to preempt any attempt to wriggle out of it on the part of a new Israeli government. According to recent opinion polls, the most likely victor will be Likud leader Benyamin Netanyahu, who has made no secret of his opposition to the Annapolis process and vision. But as its record amply demonstrates Israel has never respected UN resolutions, confident that regardless how grossly it abuses them it will enjoy the backing of Washington.

Cartooning for peace

Georges Bahgory, Al-Ahram Weekly 12/25/2008
      In Paris, Georges Bahgory teams up with 14 cartoonists for a dose of politics and sharp wit.
     Like a frond from a palm tree in my village, Bahgora, I was bound to meet other fronds, fronds that came from other parts of the world. Together we recreated one palm tree, a palm tree of universal dimensions.
     There are fifteen of us: Plantu from France, No-Rio from Japan, Vladdo from Colombia, Kroll from Belgium, Xia Lichuan from China, Patrick from Switzerland, Zlatkovsky from Russia, Ali Dilem from Algeria, Ramize from Turkey, Georgio Forattini from Italy, Danziger from America, Khalil Abu Arafeh from Palestine, Baha Boukhari from Egypt and Michel Kichka from Israel.
     We are all reincarnations of that great artist, Honore Daurmier, the French cartoonist whose drawings took France by storm in the 19th century. We challenged Israel in the cartoon battle. We sneaked into enemy land undetected, and we had the protection of Kofi Annan to boot. We wanted our drawings to reach the children of Ramallah. We wanted the detainees in Israeli prisons to bear witness as well.
     Our pens and brushes are ready. Plantu is swift with the left hand, drawing as fast as he thinks. Norio makes it look easy, working at the speed of light. Forattini offers a political analysis of the aggressor and the victim. Ramize gives her critique a sensual touch. Abu Arafeh is unwavering in his defence of Palestinian right. I keep the pen down, twirling it on the page, forming one long curly line.

Unscripted: Green Zone Theater and the Shoe Drama

Ramzy Baroud, Palestine Chronicle 12/25/2008
      ’Al-Zaidi was overpowered, then dragged away by Iraqi security.’
     The plot, so unexpectedly, thickened in Iraq on a Sunday like no other. The two main actors - US President George W. Bush, and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki -- took to the stage to perform another well-rehearsed press conference. The scripts were ever so predictable: Bush to tout the ’progress’ achieved in Iraq, while al-Maliki to express gratitude for the freedom bestowed on his country. Both men were to caution from overstated optimism, and to forewarn of the great challenges that are yet to come. The two partners were to shake hands, smile and walk away. Things, however, didn’t go according to plan on Sunday, December 14.
     A surprise appearance by till then little-known Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi provided a most unpredictable conclusion to the public performance regularly held in Baghdad’s Green Zone theater. Every joint press conference of US and Iraqi officials has, for years, concluded, more or less according to plan. Since the toppling of President Saddam Hussein’s statue in 2003, in a well orchestrated - Shakespearean even - series of events, until that fateful Sunday, few have dared to violate the carefully prepared, monotonous media appearances, which often end with a handshake, unconvincing smiles, and the mutter of disgruntled journalists for failing to land a last minute question.

Fatah postpones convention

Khaled Amayreh, Al-Ahram Weekly 12/25/2008
      With no achievements in the peace process, Fatah’s high leadership decides against gathering the movement.
     With the "peace process" going nowhere, and beset by chronic internal divisions, Fatah has once again postponed convening its long-overdue Sixth Congress. The last time Fatah held its general congress was in Algiers nearly 20 years ago.
     Fatah leaders, including Palestinian Authority President (PA) Mahmoud Abbas, had been vowing ad nauseam to hold the convention before the end of 2008. However, Fatah’s inability to put its house in order and the lingering showdown with Hamas, which is in control of the Gaza Strip, have made the holding of a successful congress virtually impossible.
     There are numerous reasons and factors contributing to the latest postponement of the Fatah convention. The top Fatah leadership in Ramallah, let alone the movement’s overall leadership, is itself far from united. The two top Fatah leaders, Abbas and Ahmed Qurei, have not been on speaking terms for sometime due to "differences" over the peace process with Israel. This week, there were reports that Abbas was trying to sack Qurei as chief Palestinian negotiator with Israel.

Still at odds

Dina Ezzat, Al-Ahram Weekly 12/25/2008
      Possible scenarios for future Egypt-Syria relations
     Egyptian officials are not short on criticism of Syria’s regional behaviour. On the contrary, Syria, as far as Egypt’s foreign and national security policies are concerned, is not being helpful on a wide range of issues, including Iran, Iraq and Palestine.
     Particularly subject to criticism in Cairo is the Syrian (mis)handling of Egyptian- Syrian tensions. "They are not helping at all. They are causing more damage and are blocking any chances, no matter how remote, for an end to the long phase of tension," commented one Egyptian official on condition of anonymity.
     Cairo is especially disturbed by a demonstration of a few hundred Syrians that took place in front of the Egyptian Embassy in Damascus and where harsh anti- Egypt slogans were chanted portraying Egypt deliberately shrugging the humanitarian crisis in Gaza borne by the Israeli siege by refusing to unilaterally open the Rafah Crossing that links Gaza to Sinai.

The waiting game

Bassel Oudat, Damascus, Al-Ahram Weekly 12/25/2008
      Syria is looking forward to Obama taking the reins of US power, hopeful he will end its isolation.
     Syrian-US relations plummeted over the past five years into depths unseen since 1967. Differences ensued over the US military invasion of Iraq in 2003, which Syria -- sitting on the UN Security Council at the time -- strongly opposed. Following the occupation of Iraq, Syria cooperated with the US in fighting terror. It prevented volunteers from Arab and foreign countries from using its territories to reach Iraq, arresting some and deporting others. It exchanged security information with the US and pledged to tighten its borders with Iraq even more. But this wasn’t enough. Washington continued to accuse Syria of sponsoring terror and facilitating the passage of "terrorists" into Iraq.
     In summer 2004, Syria helped obtain a three-year extension for Lebanese President Emile Lahoud. The move divided Lebanon and alienated the Americans. Relations hit rock bottom when Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri was assassinated in February 2005. Acting under pressure from France and the US, Syria pulled out of Lebanon within months, ending 29 years of military presence in that country. With Paris and Washington insisting that Damascus had a hand in Al-Hariri’s murder, the UN Security Council ordered an investigation into the case. Washington pulled its ambassador to Syria out and called for a change in Syria’s "conduct".

The Wisdom of Edwin Montagu

Gilad Atzmon, Palestine Think Tank 12/26/2008
      The following is a Memorandum written by Edwin Montagu commenting on the Balfour declaration. It was submitted to the  British Cabinet on 23 August 1917. 
     Though Montagu speaks wisdom in each sentence, his suggestions were ignored. Montagu probably failed to realise that the Balfour declaration was a token the British had to pay in order to pull America into the war.  
     In his remarkable book The Pity Of It All, Amos Elon  (Penguin 2004) provides a very interesting historical insight into the subject. Seemingly, within the eve of the first war, some very powerful Jewish German lobbies were operating in America. Prominent German American Jews protested against America joining England and France. In a statement to the New York Times on 22 November 1914, Jacob H Schiff, head of Khun, Loeb - at the time the second largest private bank in the US - charged the British and French with attempting to destroy Germany for reasons of trade (Elon, 253). Needless to say. the East European Jews who emigrated to the USA evading Anti-Semitic Czarist Russia regarded the German army as a liberator. At large, American Jewry was pro-German.
     The British Government took these developments rather seriously. At the time the British Ambassador to the United States suspected a 'Jewish conspiracy in America'. The 1917 Balfour Declaration was largely an attempt to divert the anti-English feelings amongst World Jewry in general and widespread among American Jews in particular. According to Montagu, the declaration is itself largely anti-Semitic.

In confidence: a half-hour with Syria’s Bashar Assad

David Ignatius, Daily Star 12/27/2008
      Syrian President Bashar Assad says he doesn’t want to send a message to Barack Obama, exactly, but to express a three-part hope for the incoming administration’s Middle East policy:
     First, he hopes Obama won’t start "another war anywhere in the world, especially not in the Middle East." And he trusts that the doctrine of "pre-emptive war" will end when George W. Bush leaves office.
     Second, Assad said, "We would like to see this new administration sincerely involved in the peace process." He hopes Obama will back Syria’s indirect negotiations with Israel, and he urges the new administration to pursue "the Lebanese track and the Palestinian track, as well."
     Asked if he would mind if the Syrian track went first (a sequence that has worried some Syrians who prefer the ideological purity of following the Palestinians), Assad answered: "Of course not..."

Ahmadinajad’s Christmas Message

Stuart Littlewood, Middle East Online 12/26/2008
      Israel’s stooges in the UK wasted no time orchestrating a tidal wave of protest against Channel 4 TV’s showing of a Christmas message by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinajad.
     The MP Philip Davies, a Friend of Israel, said that the address was "completely unacceptable on every level" but didn’t explain why. "His previous comments don’t strike me as being in tune with what most people feel at Christmas time. He is an offensive man and the last person you would want to use for a Christmas message." Speak for yourself, Mr Davies.
     Israel’s Ambassador Ron Prosor complained that Ahmadinjad’s government "leads Christ’s followers to the gallows." Channel 4’s decision to broadcast the message was a “sick and twisted irony” and a "scandal and a national embarrassment" because the Iranian President "denies the Holocaust, advocates the destruction of the sovereign State of Israel, funds and encourages terrorism, executes children and hangs gay people.

Palestinian Counseling Center in Beit Hanina, images of violence and their effects

Susan Galleymore, Jerusalem, December 2005, Palestine Think Tank 12/1/2005
      The Palestinian Counseling Center is located in Beit Hanina, East Jerusalem. I didn’t have a map of the area but I had a cell phone and the goodwill of the female passengers on the bus.
     PCC Counselor Siham Rashid advised me to look for The Garden of Eden. Since I’d forgotten whether she’d said it was an actual garden, an archeological site, or something else, I carefully pronounced the Arabic words and looked questioningly at fellow bus passengers. At first they were puzzled, then dumbfounded. Finally someone connected my halting Arabic with the name of a local grocery store – The Garden of Eden - and I hopped off the bus and phoned Siham. She kindly met me on the street and guided me to the Center.
     PCC is funded by many international donor organizations…excluding USAID. Siham explained that PCC turns down funds from USAID as its mission is incompatible with PCC’s work and goals. USAID has a reputation for creating dependencies between funds and recipient organizations’ missions; a group that receives USAID funding can find itself financially dependent and pressured to align organizational strategies with those of USAID’s. Siham added that USAID’s donations too frequently include military equipment such as Apache helicopters. She asked how could a group such as PCC accept funds from an organization that also donates weaponry and military equipment that is used against Palestinians with deadly results?
     Siham’s full interview will be available in the book, Long Time Passing: Speaking about War and Terror. Meanwhile, a summary follows...