George Bush's invasion of Iraq, which was supposed to touch off a democratic tide that would sweep across the Middle East, instead contributed to the election Hezbollah MPs in Lebaonon, a Hamas government in Gaza, and a growing extremism in Iran's government. Now, with Obama in office, the opposite may be beginning to take place. Writes the Guardian's Simon Tidsall reports:
Lebanon feels the Obama effect
... It would be fanciful to claim that Obama's bridge-building speech to the Muslim world in Cairo last week, attractive though it was, crucially influenced Lebanese voters. But the calmer, unconfrontational tone adopted by Washington on Middle East issues since George Bush trudged home to Texas appears to have struck a chord in a country that was teetering on the brink of sectarian civil war one year ago.
Pre-election visits by Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, and Joe Biden, the US vice-president, underscored the importance that Obama attached to the poll. Some resented these interventions as unwarranted interference. But many Lebanese, particularly the nearly 40% of the population that is Christian, seem to have approved of Washington's increased engagement; and to have heard its implicit message that a vote for Hezbollah and its allies would be a backwards step.
That refrain was underscored by exaggerated claims that Hezbollah and its Tehran backers, if further empowered, would turn Lebanon into a second Gaza. And if that was not enough, an eve-of-poll demarche by Boutros Sfeir, spiritual leader of the country's Maronite Christians, may have done the trick. He warned the country was in danger. It was clear from whom he believed the danger emanated.
By giving the nod to Saad Hariri and his 14 March bloc of Sunni Muslim, Druze and Christian parties, which won 71 parliamentary seats against 57 for the opposition, Lebanon has provided Obama with his first significant regional policy success. The result is a setback for Iran, which has sought enhanced influence via Hezbollah. And it confirmed Lebanon's 2005 rejection of Syria as the master manipulator of its affairs, confounding suggestions that Damascus was inching back.
Meanwhile, the results in Lebaonon could have the effect of bringing on the isolation of ... well ... Israel:
In contrast, the rightwing Israeli government of Binyamin Netanyahu may view the vote with ambivalence. The prospect of the non-ideological Hariri as Lebanon's prime minister, a likely though not yet certain outcome, must be welcome in Tel Aviv. But this dash to moderation robs Israel's favourite contemporary narrative – the inexorable, region-wide advance of an existentially threatening, nuclear armed Iran – of some of its power to alarm.
Meanwhile, in Europe, which has often exhibited a certain coolness toward the Israelis, stories like this one don't help:
Two Israeli officers have testified that troops in the West Bank beat, bound and blindfolded Palestinian civilians as young as 14. The damaging disclosures by two sergeants of the Kfir Brigade include descriptions of abuses they say they witnessed during a search-and-detain operation involving hundreds of troops in Hares village on 26 March. The testimonies have been seen by The Independent and are expected to add fuel to the controversy over recent remarks by Colonel Itai Virob, commander of Kfir Brigade, in which he said violence against detained Palestinians was justified in order to accomplish missions.
Both the soldiers, from the Harub battalion, highlighted the tight tying of the plastic hand restraints placed on detainees. "There are people who think you need to tighten the restraints all the way, until no drop of blood will pass from here to there," one soldier said. "It doesn't take much time until the hands turn blue. There were a lot of people that you know weren't feeling anything."
He said about 150 Palestinians, some as young as 14, were bound, blindfolded and detained at the village school during the operation, which lasted from 3am to 3pm. He was told it was aimed at preventing village youths throwing stones against nearby settler roads. It was clear many of the people detained had done nothing wrong, but they were held to gather intelligence, he said.
Hang on, does Dick Cheney work for the IDF???
Meanwhile, in yet another irony of international current affairs, it seems that a particular form of right wing extremism is making a comeback due to the economic crisis: fascism.
This is a significant moment – the fascists have come in from the cold
A few weeks ago I attended a think-tank lunch held to discuss whether the rise of the left was inevitable in the wake of the banking crisis. After some discussion, Dominic Grieve, the cerebral shadow Justice minister, intervened. "I don't worry about the hard left," he said. "It is the rise of the far right that scares me."
Pope Benedict XVI called for the establishment of an independent Palestinian homeland immediately after he arrived in Israel on Monday, a stance that could put him at odds with his hosts on a trip aimed at easing strains between the Vatican and Jews.
The pope also took on the delicate issue of the Holocaust, pledging to "honor the memory" of the 6 million Jewish victims of the Nazi genocide at the start of his five-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Benedict urged Israelis and Palestinians to "explore every possible avenue" to resolve their differences in remarks at the airport after he landed.
Wow. At the airport, no less. Read the text of the pope's remarks here.
Benjamin Netanyahu is in the final stages of putting together Israel's next government, which will be opposed to a two-state solution. Most importantly, the new prime minister and his Likud Party are firmly against a Palestinian state. The Labor Party, which will be part of the governing coalition and which has been identified with the two-state solution for the past two decades, did not insist that Likud support that policy as a condition for joining the government. Its leader, Ehud Barak, merely asked for and got a vague statement saying that Israel was committed to promoting regional peace. Avigdor Lieberman, who heads Yisrael Beiteinu, the other major party in the ruling coalition, is not likely to push to give the Palestinians a viable state of their own. His main concern is "transferring" the Palestinians out of Israel so that it can be an almost purely Jewish state.
So Israel will continue expanding its settlements in the West Bank. In fact, the Israeli press is reporting that Netanyahu and Lieberman agreed in their negotiations to form a government that Israel would build 3,000 housing units in an area between Jerusalem and Maale Adumim (a huge settlement bloc) known as E-1. Once that is accomplished, Israel will have effectively cut the West Bank in half, making it almost impossible to create a viable Palestinian state. This deal was supposed to be secret, because the United States is opposed to Israel building in the E-1 area.
The Palestinians, of course, will remain locked up in Gaza and a handful of enclaves on the West Bank. In essence, Netanyahu and his two key ministers -- Ehud Barak (Defense) and Avigdor Lieberman (Foreign Affairs) -- are committed to creating a Greater Israel, which will cover all of the territory that was once Mandate Palestine. ...
The author's conclusion is even more tragic:
The Obama administration will surely try to push Netanyahu to change his thinking about a two-state solution and work to give the Palestinians a real state of their own. The Israel lobby, however, will adamantly defend Israel's right to do whatever it wants in the Occupied Territories and make it impossible for the president to put significant pressure on Israel. Netanyahu, like all Israeli leaders, understands this basic fact of life. He knows that he will just have to say a few nice words about the "peace process" and blame the whole thing on the Palestinians, who he believes are a bunch of terrorists anyway, and he will be pretty much free to do whatever he wants in Gaza and the West Bank.
It seems clear to me and to many smart people I know that this story does not have a happy ending. Indeed, it looks like a disastrous ending. Greater Israel cannot be a democratic state, because there will soon be -- if there aren't already -- more Palestinians between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea than there are Israeli Jews. So, if you give each person one vote, Israel becomes Palestine. That is not going to happen anytime soon, if ever, which leaves two possible outcomes: apartheid and expelling the Palestinians -- and there are more than 5 million of them -- from Greater Israel. Talk about repulsive options. It is worth remembering that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said that if there is no two-state solution, Israel will end up in a South Africa-like situation and that will mean the end of the Jewish state. In effect, he is saying that Israel is turning itself into an apartheid state.
...I would appreciate it greatly if Israel's American backers would explain what I am missing here.
I just listened to part of Barack Obama's interview on Al Arabiya television tonight (on CNN). My one word reaction: wow. Never, at least not since Jimmy Carter, have I heard an American president speak of respecting the Arab world, and voice so thoughtfully, the hopes and aspirations of the Palestinian people. Obama made the point that members of his family are Muslim -- something he could never say during the campaign -- and he pledged to do all that he could to advance the interests of both Palestinian and Israeli children.
... or at least not since Jimmy Carter: an American president expressing sympathy for the Palestinians, and sorrow for the loss of Palestinian civilian lives. President Obama just did exactly that during his address regarding the selection of George Mitchell as Middle East envoy. Obama has called for an end to rocket fire into Israel, but also for an end to the "suffocating poverty" inflicted on the residents of Gaza. That, in and of itself, is the kind of sea change that comes from having a president who has had real, meaningful contact with the Muslim world, plus an international perspective that includes more than road trips to Mexico to score some blow. (Ahem)
Regarding the conflicts in Asia, he has said that there can be no lasting peace until we "expand the sphere of opportunity" to the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
It is enough to look at the pictures coming from Shifa Hospital to see how many burned, bleeding and dying children now lie there. History has seen innumerable brutal wars take countless lives.
But the horrifying proportion of this war, a third of the dead being children, has not been seen in recent memory.
God does not show mercy on the children at Gaza's nursery schools, and neither does the Israel Defense Forces. That's how it goes when war is waged in such a densely populated area with a population so blessed with children. About half of Gaza's residents are under 15.
No pilot or soldier went to war to kill children. Not one among them intended to kill children, but it also seems neither did they intend not to kill them. They went to war after the IDF had already killed 952 Palestinian children and adolescents since May 2000.
The public's shocking indifference to these figures is incomprehensible. A thousand propagandists and apologists cannot excuse this criminal killing. One can blame Hamas for the death of children, but no reasonable person in the world will buy these ludicrous, flawed propagandistic goods in light of the pictures and statistics coming from Gaza.
One can say Hamas hides among the civilian population, as if the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv is not located in the heart of a civilian population, as if there are places in Gaza that are not in the heart of a civilian population. One can also claim that Hamas uses children as human shields, as if in the past our own organizations fighting to establish a country did not recruit children.
A significant majority of the children killed in Gaza did not die because they were used as human shields or because they worked for Hamas. They were killed because the IDF bombed, shelled or fired at them, their families or their apartment buildings. That is why the blood of Gaza's children is on our hands, not on Hamas' hands, and we will never be able to escape that responsibility.
He ends with the point that when these children grow up, what they will carry with them is rage, not conciliation. How can peace possibly come of that?
This is what it's come to. The Israelis are now bombing the United Nations. From the Independent UK:
The UN refugee agency says its Gaza headquarters has been struck by Israeli artillery fire and the building is now ablaze.
Spokesman Chris Gunness says the building was hit by what was believed to be three white phosphorous shells. The weapons burn at extremely high temperatures and can set things on fire.
However, witnesses said a nearby building was struck, and the UN building remained intact. It was hard to verify the accounts because the entire area was covered in black smoke.
Gunness says the building had been used as a shelter for hundreds of people fleeing Israel's 20-day offensive in Gaza. It's not clear how many people were there at the time. He says three people were injured.
Meanwhile the Palestinian death toll has topped 1,000, including scores of civilians, which of course, leads to charges that war crimes are being committed (shelling schools was not a good start). And the accusations are coming from inside Israel:
Israel is under suspicion of committing war crimes and should halt the "clear and present danger to the lives and well-being of tens of thousands of civilians" in Gaza, nine of the country's main human rights organisations have declared.
The Israeli organisations have written to the government, armed forces chiefs and the attorney general, condemning the "unprecedented" harm to a civilian population now in "extreme humanitarian distress", the "wanton use of lethal force" and a series of what it says are "blatant violations of the laws of warfare".
These include the fact that, apart from the death toll, with border crossings closed residents are unable to escape the war zone and are living in "fear and terror". The organisations also cited the dire capacity problems of Gaza's hospital system and the failure to evacuate about 600 wounded and chronically ill patients; what they say is prevention by the army of rescue teams reaching isolated areas which have come under intensive attack; and the fact that, with sewage now flowing in many streets, more than half a million people are without clean water and 250,000 residents have been without electricity for 18 days. Another million residents are without power at any one time, the organisations said.
The agencies also said 12 medical personnel had been killed, and another 17 injured, and that there had been 15 separate attacks on medical facilities. Meanwhile, Israel was hitting civilian targets which it defined as military solely because they are defined as "symbols of power" in Hamas-controlled Gaza.
Several human rights representatives went out of their way to make clear they were just as vigorous in their condemnation of the killing and injuring of Israeli civilians in militant rocket and mortar attacks. But their letter says the harm inflicted on Gaza's 1.5 million civilian population is "disproportionate" and calls on the government to open corridors to allow residents to escape the fighting and rescue teams to reach the injured.
Asked about the large majority of Israelis the polls show as supporting the warfare in Gaza, the Israeli human rights lawyer Michael Sfard said: "We are witnessing a moral corrosion." Five years ago, when 15 bystanders were killed when a bomb was used to assassinate the Hamas militant leader Saleh Shehadeh, "there had been a very serious debate. Today we're doing it daily and and no one says a word. The [Israel Defence Forces] has stopped expressing regret".
Someone ought to ask the Israeli leadership, and the citizens of that country: what does it profit Israel to terrorize 1.5 million Palestinians and kill thousands? In the end, who will be left to even want to make peace? The Independent also offers these grim, and telling, statistics:
Gaza: The statistics so far
19 Number of days that the conflict has been going on.
2,360 Number of Israeli airstrikes so far.
1,013 Number of Palestinianskilled so far.
670 Number of casualties who are civilians.
225 Number of childcasualties.
69 Number ofwomen casualties.
4,700 Number of Palestinians wounded.
10 Number of Israelisoldiers killed.
4 Number of Israelis killed by friendly fire.
3 Number of Israeli civilians hit by rockets fired from Gaza.
The UK Foreign Office minister Lord Malloch-Brown says the British government "utterly" condemns the attack on the UN headquarters in Gaza. Fierce criticism also came from the French foreign ministry
The Shurouq tower block in Gaza City, which houses the offices of the Reuters news agency and several other organisations, is hit by an explosion, injuring a journalist for the Abu Dhabi television channel
Leaders of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council are to meet in Saudi Arabia to discuss the crisis. The Saudi monarch, King Abdullah, said the meeting was convened because of what he called Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people
A boat carrying medical supplies to Gaza is surrounded by Israeli warships in international waters off Lebanon's southern coast and forced to return to Cyprus, according to charity Free Gaza
Palestinian deaths in the Gaza Strip reach 1,028 according to Gaza medical sources. Nearly a third of the dead are said to be children
And this very important point:
Egypt and other key Arab players can do some coaxing and arm-twisting with Hamas, says BBC Arab affairs analyst Magdi Abdelhadi, but there is little pressure they can bring to bear upon Israel: only the US has that sort of influence.
JERUSALEM — Israel hoped that the war in Gaza would not only cripple Hamas, but eventually strengthen its secular rival, the Palestinian Authority, and even allow it to claw its way back into Gaza.
But with each day, the authority, its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, and its leading party, Fatah, seem increasingly beleaguered and marginalized, even in the Palestinian cities of the West Bank, which they control. Protesters accuse Mr. Abbas of not doing enough to stop the carnage in Gaza — indeed, his own police officers have used clubs and tear gas against those same protesters.
The more bombs in Gaza, the more Hamas’s support seems to be growing at the expense of the Palestinian Authority, already considered corrupt and distant from average Palestinians.
“The Palestinian Authority is one of the main losers in this war,” said Ghassan Khatib, an independent Palestinian analyst in the West Bank city of Ramallah. “How can it make gains in a war in which it is one of the casualties?”
Israel is proposing, with the tacit agreement of Egypt and the United States, to place the Palestinian Authority at the heart of an ambitious program to rebuild Gaza, administering reconstruction aid and securing Gaza’s borders. But that plan is already drawing skepticism. Mr. Khatib, for example, called the idea of any Palestinian Authority role in postwar Gaza “silly” and “naïve.”
Perhaps more dispiriting to the ever fewer who believe that any overall settlement is possible now — with peace negotiations suspended and Palestinians divided between Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank — is that Israel itself does not really hold out high hopes for a larger postwar role for Fatah. Israel’s proposals seem dutiful, an acknowledgment of a stalemate that not even so ferocious an assault on Hamas can undo.
Israel is to keep up its offensive in the Gaza Strip despite a UN call for an immediate end to nearly two weeks of conflict involving Hamas militants.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the latest firing of rockets into Israel showed the resolution was "unworkable". Hamas has also dismissed the UN's call.
The Security Council resolution demanded a truce, access for aid workers and an end to arms smuggling.
Meanwhile, the UN said its main aid agency would resume operations in Gaza.
And there's this:
Earlier, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said an alleged failure of the Israeli military to help wounded civilians in Gaza - cited by the Red Cross - could constitute a war crime.
On Thursday, the International Committee of the Red Cross said its staff had found four weak and scared children beside their mothers' bodies in houses hit by shelling in the Zeitoun neighbourhood of Gaza City.
Ms Pillay told the BBC: "The incident the Red Cross describes is very troubling because it has all the elements of what constitutes a war crime.
Death ratio in the conflict so far? 770 Palestinians versus 14 Israelis.
The main humanitarian aid group for the United Nations in Gaza has suspended activities in the Palestinian territory, its chief spokesman said Thursday.
The move comes after a U.N. Relief and Works Agency truck driver was killed and two other people were wounded by an Israeli tank shell near the Erez Crossing, said Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for the U.N. agency in Gaza.
A spokeswoman for the Israeli military said it is not aware of the attack but said Hamas militants sometimes have targeted U.N. aid trucks to take food.
The U.N. relief agency will suspend activities until the Israeli military can guarantee the safety of its staff, said the agency's chief spokesman, Chris Gunness, in Jerusalem.
The U.N. agency provides food and relief supplies to about 80 percent of Gaza's 1.5 million people.
... then what is the point of having an "international community," or a United Nations, or an Arab League, for that matter. From the Washington Post (which also runs this photo essay):
JERUSALEM, Jan. 8 -- The International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday that it had found at least 15 bodies and several children -- emaciated but alive -- in a row of shattered houses in the Gaza Strip and accused the Israeli military of preventing ambulances from reaching the site for four days.
Red Cross officials said rescue crews had received specific reports of casualties in the houses and had been trying since Saturday to send ambulances to the area, located in Zaytoun, a neighborhood south of Gaza City. They said the Israeli military did not grant permission until Wednesday afternoon.
In an unusual public statement issued by its Geneva headquarters, the Red Cross called the episode "unacceptable" and said the Israeli military had "failed to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law to care for and evacuate the wounded."
When rescue workers from the Red Cross and the Palestinian Red Crescent arrived at the site, they found 12 corpses lying on mattresses in one home, along with four young children lying next to their dead mothers, the Red Cross said. The children were too weak to stand and were rushed to a hospital, the agency said.
A spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces declined to comment early Thursday on the specific allegations made by the Red Cross but said in a statement that the military "has demonstrated its willingness to abort operations to save civilian lives and to risk injury in order to assist innocent civilians."
"Any serious allegations made against the IDF's conduct will need to be investigated properly, once such a complaint is received formally," the statement added.
The Red Cross said its workers evacuated 18 wounded survivors from the houses in donkey carts. They said ambulances could not reach the site because of earthen barriers erected around the neighborhood by the Israeli military. Red Cross officials said that Israeli soldiers posted nearby tried to chase rescue workers away from the site but that the rescuers refused to leave.
"This is a shocking incident," Pierre Wettach, the Red Cross's head of delegation for Israel and the Palestinian territories, said in a statement. "The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded. Neither did they make it possible for us or the Palestine Red Crescent to assist the wounded."
The Geneva Conventions provide that parties to a conflict "at all times" should "without delay" take "all possible measures to search for and collect the wounded and sick, to protect them against pillage and ill-treatment, to ensure their adequate care, and to search for the dead and prevent their being despoiled." The conventions also say that wounded "shall not willfully be left without medical assistance and care."
Israel has accepted the broad outlines of the French-Egyptian ceasefire proposal, but they want all of the smuggling tunnels into Gaza closed. Coincidentally, since they have instituted a total blockade of Gaza and it's 1.5 million residents since 2007, the tunnels have been the strip's only source of food, besides humanitarian aid, according to the Post. Go figure.
Which is to say they issued a sternly worded statement of oblique outrage over the shelling of a United Nations school in Gaza. Take that, Hamas and Israel ... From the BBC:
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for an immediate end to fighting in the Gaza Strip during a meeting of the UN Security Council in New York.
Mr Ban criticised both Israel for its bombardment of Gaza and Hamas for firing rockets into Israel.
Well I'll be... With Mr. Bush punting on the issue, it's left to the French and Egyptians to try and force a peace deal:
France and Egypt announced an initiative to stop the fighting in Gaza late Tuesday, hours after Israeli mortar shells exploded near a U.N. school sheltering hundreds of people displaced by the onslaught on Hamas militants. At least 30 Palestinians died, staining streets with blood.
The Egyptian and French presidents didn't release details of their proposal, saying only that it involved an immediate cease-fire to permit humanitarian aid into Gaza and talks to settle the differences between Israel and the Islamic militants of Hamas who rule the small coastal territory.
They said they were awaiting a response from Israel.
Care to guess how Condi Rice responded?
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice weclomed the initiative, but cautioned that no agreement would succeed unless it halted Hamas rocket attacks on Israel and arms smuggling into Gaza.
Meanwhile President-in-waiting Obama had a little bit more to say on the topic than he has:
Earlier in the day, President-elect Barack Obama broke his silence on the crisis, saying that "the loss of civilian life in Gaza and in Israel is a source of deep concern for me." He declined to go further, reiterating his stance that the U.S. has only one president at a time.
Neither here nor there, I'd say, but at least it's something.
And what is Israel's explanation for shelling a clearly marked United Nation's elementary school, whose GPS coordinates they were given ... by the U.N.?
Israel's military said its shelling at the school — the deadliest single episode since Israeli ground forces invaded Gaza on Saturday after a week of air bombardment — was a response to mortar fire from within the school and said Hamas militants were using civilians as cover.
Two residents of the area who spoke with The Associated Press by telephone said they saw a small group of militants firing mortar rounds from a street near the school, where 350 people had gathered to get away from the shelling. They spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.
Majed Hamdan, an AP photographer, rushed to the scene shortly after the attacks. At the hospital, he said, many children were among the dead.
"I saw women and men — parents — slapping their faces in grief, screaming, some of them collapsed to the floor. They knew their children were dead," he said. "In the morgue, most of the killed appeared to be children. In the hospital, there wasn't enough space for the wounded."
He said there appeared to be marks on the pavement of five separate explosions in area of the school.
An Israeli defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to make the information public, said it appeared the military used 120-mm shells, among the largest mortar rounds.
...U.N. officials demanded an investigation of the shelling. The carnage, which included 55 wounded, added to a surging civilian toll and drew mounting international pressure for Israel to end the offensive against Hamas.
So ... you shell an elementary school where you know civilians are hiding ... so you can kill two low level militants who are firing rockets near by? That strikes me as grossly immoral at worst, and at best, as a blatant violation of the Geneva Conventions. Not that anyone will ever do anything about it... So far, Israel has shelled not one, but three United Nations schools, including a girls school where they claimed militants were hiding. There are other interpretations of who's hiding there:
Some 15,000 Palestinians have packed the U.N.'s 23 Gaza schools because their homes were destroyed or to flee the violence. The U.N. provided the Israeli military with GPS coordinates for all of them.
The three mortar shells that crashed down on the perimeter of the U.N. school struck at midafternoon, when many people in the densely populated camp were outside getting some fresh air, thinking an area around a school was safe.
Images recorded by a cameraman from AP Television News showed crowds fleeing the scene, pavements smeared with blood and battered bodies being carried off by medics and bystanders. A youth who limped away was helped along by several others. Sandals lay scattered on the pavement by a pock-marked wall.
"There's nowhere safe in Gaza. Everyone here is terrorized and traumatized," said John Ging, head of Gaza operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.
An Israeli military statement said it received intelligence that the dead at the girls school included Hamas operatives, among them members of a rocket-launching squad. It identified two of them as Imad Abu Askar and Hassan Abu Askar.
Two residents who spoke to an AP reporter by phone said the two brothers were known to be low-level Hamas militants. They said a group of militants — one of them said four — were firing mortar shells from near the school. An Israeli shell targeted the men, but missed and they fled, the witnesses said. Then another three shells landed nearby, exploding among civilians, they said, refusing to allow their names to be published because they feared for their safety.
A total of 71 Palestinians were killed Tuesday — with just two confirmed as militants, Gaza health officials said.
Palestinian health ministry officials put the death toll at 595, including 195 civilians, in the eleven days of constant bombardment. The Israeli death toll from rocket fire stands at 11, including three civilians. The Independent has a depressing take on the shelling, and lists the death toll in Gaza as topping 600 in what the paper has labeled a massacre.
On "This Week," George Stephanopoulos talked to Israeli President Shimon Perez, and didn't even bother to have a Palestinian spokesman on. He then went straight to Dick Durbin, who voiced the now familiar, bi-partisan U.S. political line fully supporting whatever it is that Israel is doing.
On Meet the Press, David Gregory framed his questions to war correspondent Richard Engel in terms that sound surprisingly similiar to the charges made by Israeli officials (that Hamas would only use a ceasefire to fortify its defenses):
MR. GREGORY: The fear...(technical difficulties)...that since the point of disengagement from Gaza three years ago that Hamas has been able to fortify its defenses, bring in weaponry. All of that could be brought to bear against Israeli forces. How are they responding on their side?
On CNN, Howard Kurtz repeatedly asked, "doesn't Israel have the right to protect its population?" and quizzed CNN's foreign correspondent on whether the media should have given more coverage to the non-lethal rocket attacks against Israel over the last several years, as opposed to whingeing about the civilian casualties in Gaza.
The death toll in Gaza stands at about 470 to 5, Palestinians to Israelis. Go figure.
NEW YORK (Commentary) Israel launched its much-anticipated invasion of Gaza on Saturday. For over a week, U.S. media had provided largely one-sided coverage of the conflict, with little editorializing or commentary arguing against broader Israeli actions.
Most notably, after more than eight days of Israeli bombing and Hamas rocket launching in Gaza, The New York Times had produced exactly one editorial, not a single commentary by any of its columnists, and only two op-eds (one already published elsewhere). The editorial, several days ago, did argue against the wisdom of a ground invasion - - but even though that invasion had become ever more likely all week the paper did not return to this subject.
Amazingly, the paper has kept that silence going in Sunday's paper, with no editorial or columnist comment on the Israeli invasion.
The invasion, to no one's surprise, did begin on Saturday -- so any further criticism will now come too late. As in the past, U.S. media coverage and commentary has overwhelmingly backed the Israeli actions (as it did in the Lebanon war in 2006, which turned into a fiasco).
Have I mentioned today that the U.N. is useless? The U.S. blocked the latest attempted resolution, and the remaining carping strikes me as a waste of breath.
UN General Assembly chief Miguel d'Escoto has criticized the Security Council for its inability to curb Israel's "monstrosity" in Gaza.
D'escoto criticized the UN Security Council for not showing enough tenacity in ending Gazans suffering in the wake of the weeklong Israeli offensive in the coastal strip.
"I think it's a monstrosity; there's no other way to name it," D'escoto said Saturday when asked about the Israeli incursion on Gaza.
The UN Security Council again failed to call for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip due to US intervention. The statement would have called on Israel to end its ground incursion into the region.
"Once again, the world is watching in dismay the dysfunctionality of the Security Council," D'escoto argued.
The two previous UN draft resolutions seeking an end to the violence in the region have been blocked by Washington. The United States has so far vetoed over 40 anti-Israel resolutions at the UN.
Tel Aviv has so far snubbed international calls for a cease-fire and began what it claims to be the "long-lasting" ground invasion of Gaza on Saturday night
In London, at least 10,000 people, many carrying Palestinian flags, marched past Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Downing Street residence to a rally in Trafalgar Square. Outside Downing Street, hundreds of protesters stopped and threw shoes at the gates that block entry to the narrow road.
Shoe-throwing has become a popular gesture of protest and contempt since an Iraqi journalist pelted U.S. President George W. Bush with a pair of brogues in Baghdad last month.
Police estimated the crowd in London at 10,000 to 12,000, but organizers said the number was much higher. The marchers included activist Bianca Jagger, ex-Eurythmics singer Annie Lennox and comedian Alexei Sayle
Other international developments:
Rallies also were held in other British cities - including Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow - and across Europe. Protests in Paris, Amsterdam, Rome and Berlin all drew thousands of people.
In Paris, police said 21,000 marched through the streets, shouting "We are all Palestinians" and "Israel assassin." Later, about 500 of the protesters turned violent, throwing objects at police, burning Israeli flags, overturning and torching cars, and vandalizing several shops, police said. Ten police officers were injured in the clashes and 20 protesters arrested, a Paris police spokeswoman said.
Angry protests continued for a second day in Turkey, where about 5,000 demonstrators shouted "killer Israel" in downtown Ankara.
In The Netherlands, thousands of people marched through Amsterdam, criticizing both the Israeli attacks and the Dutch government's failure to condemn them. One banner declared: "Anne Frank is turning in her grave. Oh Israel!"
More than 4,000 people demonstrated in Duesseldorf, Germany, and some 5,000 in Frankfurt. One group in Duesseldorf held up a doll representing a bleeding baby with the placard "Made in Israel."
In Berlin, more than 7,000 people braved freezing temperatures for a march along the capital's Unter den Linden boulevard.
Another 2,500 demonstrated in Salzburg, Austria, while scores protested peacefully in Madrid outside the Spanish Foreign Ministry.
Hundreds more marched in the Swedish cities of Malmo and Uppsala, while in Oslo, Norway demonstrators marched from the parliament to the Israeli Embassy, calling on Israel to "let Gaza live."
In Athens, Greece - the scene of violent demonstrations by anarchist youths over the past month - a few of the 5,000 protesters threw stones and petrol bombs at police outside the Israeli Embassy. Riot police retaliated with tear gas and stun grenades.
In Cyprus, demonstrators pelted riot police with rocks, sticks, shoes and oranges near the Israeli Embassy in Nicosia. A peaceful protest by about 2,000 people turned violent when some protesters tried to break through a line of police blocking the road leading to the embassy. The demonstrators eventually dispersed.
UNITED NATIONS, Dec. 31 (Xinhua) -- The UN Security Council convened a meeting on Wednesday to discuss the ongoing conflict in Gaza, with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and representatives of various countries calling for an immediate and permanent ceasefire between Israelis and Palestinians.
"There must be an immediate ceasefire that is fully respected by all parties," Ban said at the meeting.
"This must create new conditions on the ground that ensure at last that crossings into Gaza will be reopened; that rocket attacks and weapons smuggling will end; and that we will pursue political dialogue, and only political dialogue, to reunite Gaza with the West Bank; and that the root cause of this suffering, the absence of Israeli-Palestinian peace, is ended.
"Even as this crisis rages, let us never forget the underlying issue: there must be an end to occupation, an end to conflict, and the creation of a Palestinian State," he said. "Let us not lose sight of our goal -- two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the region.
"The conflict must end, and it must end once and for all," Ban said.
Meanwhile, you've got to wonder where the Arab League has gone to. All we have so far is a statement from Gaza's immediate neighbor:
The Egyptian ambassador, in his letter to the Council president, said the Arab countries want the Security Council "to adopt an enforceable and binding resolution that would ensure an immediate ceasefire, cessation of the Israeli military aggression, lifting of the blockade, and the provision of international protection to the Palestinian people."
George Bush today blamed the continuing violence in Gaza on Hamas terrorism and offered no criticism of Israel in his first comments since Israeli air strikes began a week ago.
The US president condemned Hamas's campaign of rocket attacks on Israel as an "act of terror" and said no peace deal would be acceptable unless the flow of smuggled weapons to terrorist groups was monitored and stopped.
"This recent outburst of violence was instigated by Hamas, a Palestinian terrorist group supported by Iran and Syria that calls for Israel's destruction," he said.
Bush said Hamas ended the latest ceasefire on 19 December and "soon unleashed a barrage of rockets and mortars that deliberately targeted innocent Israelis, an act of terror that is opposed by the legitimate leader of the Palestinian people, President [Mahmoud] Abbas".
I wouldn't expect much from the useless U.N., or the equally useless Quartet. The U.S. position is far too unilateral for anything to come of so-called "diplomacy." Meanwhile, the human tragedy mounts in Gaza, where the only way out for the civilian population is the sea. More than 460 Palestinians have died so far (plus 4 Israelis -- a kill ratio of 100 to 1,) including a dozen civilians, six chldren among them, who were killed leaving a bombed mosque.
It's hard to come by in the media. Glenn Greenwald reads TNR's Marty Peretz and politicians on both sides of the aisle the riot act. The most egregious examples:
... any minimally decent human being -- even those who view the world through the most blindingly pro-Israeli lens possible, the ones who justify anything and everything Israel does, and who discuss these events with a bottomless emphasis on the primitive (though dangerous) rockets lobbed by Hamas into Southern Israel but without even mentioning the ongoing four-decades brutal occupation or the recent, grotesquely inhumane blockade of Gaza -- would find the slaughter of scores of innocent Palestinians to be a horrible and deeply lamentable event.
But not The New Republic's Marty Peretz. Here is his uniquely despicable view of the events of the last couple of days:
So at 11:30 on Saturday morning, according to both the Jerusalem Post and Ha'aretz, as well as the New York Times, 50 fighter jets and attack helicopters demolished some 40 to 50 sites in just about three minutes, maybe five. Message: do not fuck with the Jews.
"Do not fuck with the Jews." And what of the several hundred Palestinian dead -- including numerous children -- and many hundreds more seriously wounded?
Israeli intelligence reported 225 people dead, mostly Hamas military leaders with some functionaries, besides, and perhaps 400 wounded. The Palestinians announced 300 dead, probably as a reflex in order to begin their whining about disproportionate Israeli acts of war. And 600 wounded.
Objections to the Israeli attack are just "whining." Those are the words of a psychopath.
Indeed. I cancelled my "New Republic" subscription years ago, along with a letter stating my outrage at the magazine's cavalier treatment of the Palestinian people, whom the magazine generally describes in Likudnik terms, as "cockroaches." American policy toward Israel is shamefully one-sided. I'm not exactly optimistic that that will change much going forward, given the attacks Obama was subjected to during the campaign regarding his Israel bona fides. But there is always hope. The Democrats should listen to Jimmy Carter and Zbigniew Brzezinski once in a while. It's time for Ameican foreign policy to reflect a decent respect for the humanity of both sides, including the millions of Palestinian refugees who are, after all, under decades of occupation and the denial not just of their humanity, but currently, of food, water and medicine.
UPDATE: From the moderate Jewish American community, angst over Peretz's thugism, and anxiety over the Gaza war. And the pro-peace organization J Street sounds off.
Thousands of demonstrators are expected to converge on central London tomorrow to demand a ceasefire in Gaza amid growing international anger over Israel's week-long bombardment.
The singer Annie Lennox, the former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, comedian Alexei Sayle, Palestinian solidarity groups, Muslim organisations, the Stop the War Coalition and several MPs are among those backing the midday march from Embankment to Trafalgar Square.
Since Israeli air strikes started there have been daily protests outside the Israeli embassy in Kensington, west London, where large numbers have forced the closure of nearby streets. A rally was held outside the Egyptian embassy in Mayfair /today to call for the opening of the Gaza-Egypt border, allowing the delivery of more humanitarian supplies.
Other supporters of /tommorrow's mass protest include the former model Bianca Jagger, Tony Benn, the musician Brian Eno, Respect Party MP George Galloway, Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather, Labour MP Jermy Corbyn and the socialist activist Tariq Ali.
Speaking at a press conference ahead of the rally, Jagger appealed to the US president-elect, Barack Obama, to "ask for the immediate cessation of the bombardment of the civilian population in the Gaza Strip."
Ken Livingstone condemned the "Israeli kill ratio of 100 to one" as "obscene". The UK government's response so far had been completely inadequate, he said. "The only time a British government was even-handed [in the Middle East] was Edward Heath in 1973 ... when he refused to let arms shipments through to Israel." ...
With the exception of the Americans, who continue to pursue a lopsided, "whatever Israel wants" policy in the region, the world is speaking loudly. More than 400 Palestinians have died, thus far. It's time for Israel to stop.
As word of the mounting death toll (375 Palestinians, 4 Israelis) and Gaza humanitarian crisis spread worldwide, news that a ship carrying medical supplies for Palestinians in Gaza, called the Dignity, was set to arrive spread around the Web. I remember hearing about the ship for the first time yesterday. Well this morning, CNN's Carl Penhaul, who was aboard the ship (as was former U.S. Congresswoman from Georgia, Cynthia McKinney...) confirmed accounts by the ship's captain that they were, in his estimation, deliberately rammed by an Israeli military vessel that observed the ship for nearly an hour, and which Penhaul said must have seen it because the Dignity had "full lights on."
Penhall reported that the Dignity's captain was not contacted by the Israeli ship until after the boat was rammed, and began taking on water. The ship re-routed to Lebanon, after the Captain was told in no uncertain terms that the Israeli ship would open fire if the Dignity continued. Penhall reported that the Israeli military on board the warship accused the Dignity of "being involved in terror operations." Scary stuff, and possibly a violation of maritime law. From the Guardian:
Activists trying to bring aid to Gaza today claimed their boat had been rammed by Israeli gunboats in a "criminal attack" in international waters.
The Free Gaza Movement said its vessel, the Dignity, was intercepted by several Israeli vessels as it was heading to the Gaza Strip, which has been under Israeli aerial bombardment since Saturday.
One gunboat rammed the Dignity on the port bow side, causing heavy damage, although no one was hurt, the group said.
"[The Dignity] is taking on water and appears to have engine problems," the movement said on its website. "When attacked, the Dignity was clearly in international waters, 90 miles off the coast of Gaza.
"The gunboats also fired their machine guns into the water in an attempt to stop the mercy ship from getting to Gaza.
The Guardian also reports that Israeli officials are characterizing the ramming accidental:
An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, Yigal Palmor, told Reuters there had been no shooting, although two ships made "physical contact".
Palmor said the boat had failed to respond to Israeli naval radio contact and an Israeli vessel "clashed with the ship". He said nobody was hurt and the Israeli ship escorted the aid boat back to Cypriot territorial waters.
Israel declared the coastal territory a closed military zone after it launched air attacks on Hamas targets in Gaza on Saturday in response to Hamas firing rockets into Israel. Israel said the Free Gaza movement boat would not be permitted to dock in the Gaza Strip.
In a radio message, the Israelis accused the Gibraltar-registered Dignity of being involved in terrorist activity, the ship's captain said. The Dignity was carrying 16 passengers, including physicians from Britain, Germany and Cyprus and several human rights activists, including former U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney.
The patrol boat rammed the Dignity after pursuing the vessel for about 30 minutes before the collision. Crew members said they believe the Dignity was intentionally struck, which Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor called "absurd."
Meanwhile, from Xinhua (a Chinese daily,) comes an account of the ship's arrival in Tyre, and a very different explanation of the ramming, which officially is being called "accidental"...
BEIRUT, Dec. 30 (Xinhua) -- The "Free Gaza" ship, "Dignity", rammed by an Israeli patrol vessel on waters near Gaza early Tuesday, arrived at Tyre port in south Lebanon in the afternoon, al-Jazeera TV reported.
The ship reaching the Lebanese water was escorted with a Lebanese navy boat and boats of the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
... Lebanese President Michel Suleiman gave orders to the Lebanese navy to escort the boat loaded with supplies to Gaza Strip, after it was rammed by Israeli gunboats.
... Sixteen people including rights activists, doctors and Journalists, along with a crew from al-Jazeera TV boarded the ship at Larnaca port in Cyprus late afternoon Monday, from where they made "Symbolic" attempt to cross the border into Gaza.
An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman appeared on al-Jazeera saying that its navy prevented the ship because it is full of Journalists and it is "an act of provocation and propaganda."
"This is a propaganda message which we refuse," the spokesman said.
So who was on board the ship (besides Penhall?) From a site called "Ten Percent," dateline yesterday:
The Dignity has left Cyprus & should arrive in Gaza tomorrow around 10am (local). Check the website for updates, www.freegaza.org Israel has declared Gaza a ‘closed military zone’, making sure no one can witness the atrocities. Our boat is going to challenge that closure.
The passenger list is below and includes Cynthia McKinney, a journalist from CNN and three physicians who will stay in Gaza to assist the overworked doctors there. We will also be sending out the list of medicines on board.
(UK) Denis Healey, Captain Captain of the Dignity, Denis has been involved with boats for 45 years, beginning with small fishing boats in Portsmouth. He learned to sail while atschool and has been part of the sea ever since. He’s a certified yachtmaster and has also worked on heavy marine equipment from yachts to large dredgers. This is his fourth trip to Gaza.
(Greece) Giorgios Klontzas, Relief Captain Cpt. Klontzas is an experienced sailor and human rights activist. This will be his fourth trip to Gaza.
(Greece) Nikolas Bolos, First Mate Nikolas is a chemical engineer and human rights activist. He has served as a crewmember on several Free Gaza voyages, including the first one in August.
(Jordan) Othman Abu Falah Othman is a senior producer with Al-Jazeera Television. He will remain in Gaza to report on the ongoing military onslaught.
(USA) Cynthia McKinney Cynthia is a former U.S. Congresswoman from Georgia, and the 2008 Green Party presidential candidate. She is traveling to Gaza to assess the ongoing conflict.
(Australia) Renee Bowyer Renee is a schoolteacher and human rights activist. She will remain in Gaza to do human rights monitoring and reporting.
(Ireland) Caoimhe Butterly Caoimhe is a reknowned human rights activist and Gaza Coordinator for the Free Gaza Movement. She will be remaining in Gaza to do human rights monitoring, assist with relief efforts, and work on project development with Free Gaza.
(Cyprus) Ekaterini Christodulou Ekaterini is a well-known and respected freelance journalist in Cyprus. She is traveling to Gaza to report on the conflict.
(Sudan) Sami El-Haj Sami is a former detainee at Guantanamo Bay, and head of the human rights section at Al-Jazeera Television. He will remain in Gaza to report on the ongoing military onslaught.
(UK) Dr. David Halpin Dr. Halpin is an experienced orthopaedic surgeon, medical professor, and ship’s captain. He has organized humanitarian relief efforts in Gaza on several occasions with the Dove and Dolphin. He is traveling to Gaza to volunteer in hospitals and clinics.
(Germany) Dr. Mohamed Issa Dr. Issa is a pediatric surgeon from Germany. He is traveling to Gaza to volunteer in hospitals and clinics.
(Cyprus) Dr. Elena Theoharous, MP Dr. Theoharous is a surgeon and a Member of the Cypriot Parliament. She is traveling to Gaza to assess the ongoing conflict, assist with humanitarian relief efforts, and volunteer in hospitals.
(UK/Tunisia) Fathi Jaouadi Fathi is a television producer and human rights activist. He will remain in Gaza to do human rights monitoring and reporting.
(Cyprus) Martha Paisi Martha is a senior research fellow and experienced human rights activist. She is traveling to Gaza to do human rights work and to assist with humanitarian relief efforts.
(UK) Karl Penhaul Karl Penhaul is a video correspondent for CNN, based out of Bogotá, Colombia. Appointed to this position in February 2004, he covers breaking news around the world utilizing CNN’s new laptop-based ‘Digital Newsgathering’ system. He is traveling to Gaza to report on the ongoing conflict.
(Iraq) Thaer Shaker Thaer is a cameraman with Al-Jazeera television. He will remain in Gaza to report on the ongoing military onslaught.
One wonders whether the Israeli government and security forces would have had access to the same information about what appears to be a very public, very high profile operation, and why, if they did, they would invite the public relations nightmare of possibly sinking a ship full of journalists, schoolteachers and human rights activists.
Israel's defence Minister, Ehud Barak, warned yesterday that his country was engaged in "a war to the bitter end" with Hamas as a third day of fierce bombing brought the estimated Gaza death toll to 320. Two Israelis were killed in retaliatory rocket barrages last night as Hamas struck deep inside Israeli territory.
Mr Barak's declaration to the Knesset – the Israeli parliament – came as Israel continued its comprehensive bombardment of Hamas targets after overnight aerial attacks that devastated large parts of the Interior Ministry and the Islamic University.
Meanwhile, the usual international tiff is on over who is at fault, with the Bush administration blaming Hamas, and European leaders criticizing Israel:
Amid signs of increased international restiveness about the Palestinian death toll, Mr Barak insisted that "we have nothing against Gaza residents" but added: "We are engaged in an all-out war against Hamas and its proxies. This operation will expand and deepen as much as needed."
As Israel launched a further 20 air attacks and declared Israeli communities to the border area a "closed military zone" for the first time, Gaza militants continued to fire more than 70 rockets and mortars at southern Israel. One killed an Israeli in Ashdod – 18 miles away from Gaza – for the first time. Another Israeli was killed in the border kibbutz of Nahal Oz. After the earlier death of an Israeli Arab construction worker in a rocket attack in Ashkelon, the total of Israeli deaths since the Israeli bombardment began on Saturday is now four.
As the international outcry mounted over the scale of the Israeli crackdown, the Prime Minister's spokesman issued a robust statement, saying Gordon Brown had been "appalled" by the continuing violence in Gaza. The Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, spoke of the "unacceptable" loss of human life. European foreign ministers scheduled an emergency meeting in Paris today.
But as President George Bush continued to blame Hamas for the worst violence in Gaza in living memory, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, criticised Israel's "excessive" force and urged the international community to do more. "I think regional and international partners have not done enough. They should do more," Mr Ban said, in a rare departure from the diplomatic norm. "They should use all possible means to end the violence and encourage political dialogue, emphasising peaceful ways of resolving differences."
... Moussa Abu Marzouk, the Damascus-based deputy head of Hamas's political bureau, ruled out a truce in current conditions. He said: "We are going to defend ourselves, defend our people and defend our land." He laid down as conditions for a ceasefire: "Stop all kinds of aggression, open all (crossings), stop all the violence against the people in the West Bank."
In Israel, there's a bit of sneering at what many assume will be condemnation of their side, and a free ride for the Palestinians:
Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular are by nature experts at displays of suffering; the only thing they do all their lives is demonstrate their distress. This time, in the past week, they outdid themselves. The production was truly perfect and succeeded in deceiving the entire world: the way they turned out the lights at one precise moment and sent the children to cry bitterly in front of the cameras, the way they organized long lines for bread and water - miraculous timing and orchestration.
... Gaza's unemployment rate is unknown. Perhaps 60 percent and perhaps 80 percent, what difference does it make, 20 percent more or less. When there is no demand and no money to purchase things, it's better that there is no supply and nothing to buy. There is no envy at least. If the welfare agencies are supporting 900,000 needy people, let them support another 100,000 or 200,000 - the difference means nothing to them.
The Gaza Strip is therefore the perfect place for punishment measures - these steps don't make things better or worse, they only make you tougher, like everything that kills gradually rather than immediately. Gaza is a dream laboratory for experiments on human beings, to discover the precise point when a dependent person transfers from one situation to another - when does he keep up the struggle and when does he stop and become acclimated? Or when is the horse's breaking point - when does it only continue to lose weight and when does it flop and breathe its last?
In this spirit we also have to understand the prime minister's words at a meeting of the Kadima Knesset faction two days ago. He doesn't care, he said, if the kerosene runs out in Gaza, and as far as he is concerned, let them walk. Ehud Olmert did not intend to sound cruel, he only wanted to sound determined.
Meanwhile The Washington Note has a bit of badly needed context from Mustafa Barghouthi, Secretary General of the Palestinian National Initiative:
Palestine's Guernica and the Myths of Israeli Victimhood
The Israeli campaign of 'death from above' began around 11 am, on Saturday morning, the 27th of December, and stretched straight through the night into this morning. The massacre continues Sunday as I write these words.
The bloodiest single day in Palestine since the War of 1967 is far from over following on Israel's promised that this is 'only the beginning' of their campaign of state terror. At least 290 people have been murdered thus far, but the body count continues to rise at a dramatic pace as more mutilated bodies are pulled from the rubble, previous victims succumb to their wounds and new casualties are created by the minute.
What has and is occurring is nothing short of a war crime, yet the Israeli public relations machine is in full-swing, churning out lies by the minute.
Once and for all it is time to expose the myths that they have created.
1. Israelis have claimed to have ended the occupation of the Gaza Strip in 2005.
While Israel has indeed removed the settlements from the tiny coastal Strip, they have in no way ended the occupation. They remained in control of the borders, the airspace and the waterways of Gaza, and have carried out frequent raids and targeted assassinations since the disengagement.
Furthermore, since 2006 Israel has imposed a comprehensive siege on the Strip. For over two years, Gazans have lived on the edge of starvation and without the most basic necessities of human life, such as cooking or heating oil and basic medications. This siege has already caused a humanitarian catastrophe which has only been exacerbated by the dramatic increase in Israeli military aggression. ...
The clamour for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza is growing in intensity even as Israel's determination to press home its attack on Hamas grows more dogged. The unfolding result of this fatal divergence is both an escalating humanitarian disaster and a diplomatic debacle for the "international community" that tasked itself with bringing peace to Israel-Palestine.
The formidable capacity of Israel's leaders for ignoring international opinion is nothing new. But if they calculated, before launching the Gaza operation, that they would face only limited external opposition, they have been proven largely correct. The past few days have exposed just how little leverage foreign governments and organisations are able, or are willing, to bring to bear.
As always, the US wields the most clout. But as with Israel's ill-fated 2006 invasion of Lebanon, the Bush administration is sitting on its hands. US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, whose endless shuttle diplomacy this year is now confirmed in its utter futility, did not even mention Israel's military assault in her first official statement on the situation.
Rice's exact words were: "The US strongly condemns the repeated rocket and mortar attacks against Israel and holds Hamas responsible for breaking the ceasefire and for the renewal of violence in Gaza. The ceasefire should be restored immediately. The US calls on all concerned to address the urgent humanitarian needs of the innocent people of Gaza."
Barack Obama's aides, in explaining the US president-elect's silence, are meanwhile sticking to their mantra that the US only has one president at a time. But as the carnage and the outrage mount, this hands-off stance begins to look less like tact and more like a sign of a man who, confronted by a raw conflict that has defeated many more experienced statesmen before him, lacks new ideas.
WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration plans to sign its first nuclear-cooperation agreement with a Middle Eastern nation within the next few weeks, according to a senior U.S. official, raising concerns among congressional critics who say the deal could fuel nuclear proliferation in the region.
The proposed deal with the United Arab Emirates has attracted attention because the U.A.E.'s largest trading partner is Iran. The U.A.E. has served in the past as a transshipment point for technology with military applications headed to Iran.
The move could place President-elect Barack Obama in a political tight spot with a Middle East ally by forcing him to decide whether to push Congress to ratify the agreement. He hasn't taken an official position on the deal. An Obama spokesman declined to comment. The Bush administration has championed the nuclear agreement with the U.A.E. as a model for promoting peaceful nuclear energy while guarding against weapons proliferation.
But wait, there's more!
In recent months, the U.A.E. signed agreements with two American engineering companies -- Thorium Power Ltd. of Virginia and CH2M Hill of Colorado -- to oversee the development of its nuclear-power program. The U.A.E. has also hired a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, William Travers, to help run the U.A.E.'s nuclear regulatory body.
"This is a real counterexample to what Iran is doing," said the senior U.S. official Thursday. "We're seeking commitments from nations within the Middle East that they're going to rely on the markets for nuclear fuel."
The Bush administration also is working on nuclear-cooperation agreements with the governments of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Bahrain. The pacts require Washington to share nuclear fuels, technologies and know-how on the condition that the countries commit to abiding by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and IAEA safeguards.
So let me get this straight... Iran is not allowed to develop nuclear reactors for its energy needs, but the U.A.E., whom most Americans didn't trust to run our ports, can? And not only that ... they're going to do so with American help and technology? And this helps reduce the threat of nuclear proliferation, and the possibility that the very wealthy Emirates will also develop weapons on the side, to counter Iran, how? Or maybe ... just maybe ... the Bushies WANT the Sunni Arabs to develop a bomb, the better to win an arms race in the Persian Gulf...
Condoleezza Rice used to be a Democrat. She even aided Gary Hart back in the day, though you're unlikely to get her to admit it today... but with her current boss fading into the dustbin of history, and likely taking her reputation down the chute with him, Condi appears to be going for one final kick -- she's talking to former presidents Clinton and Carter, and to her friend, Madeleine Albright, whose lefty dad taught Condi in Denver, to try and scrounge up the deal for Palestinian statehood that eluded the former presidents, the hardline Israelis, and the late Yasser Arafat.
And you know what? As much of a disappointment as Dr. Rice has been for this country -- her stewardship as National Security Advisor was abysmal, and she has been a lackluster secretary of state -- not to mention her failure to give her boss, the president, good, forceful advice on how to deal with Russia, about which she is supposedly and expert ... despite all of that, I'm rooting for her. Not for her sake, and defnitely not for the Bushies ... but for the people of Palestine and Israel alike, their respective governments notwithstanding.
Let's hope that for once, Condi gets one right.
Related: here's a good backgrounder on the conflict, including a discussion of the little known real roadblock to peace between the Palestinians and Israelis: water.
Update: Of the countries that changed for the worse last year, three were in Africa: Somalia, Equatorial Guinea (surprise, surprise) and Niger. But lebanon changed for the worst -- down nearly 12 percent from the index last year. And among those that got better, there were some that were more or less expected -- Bosnia and Indonesia have made significant strides, and Liberia, with its new, female president, Ms. Johnson Sirleaf, appears to be on an up-trend. But surprisingly, "me dad's" country, the DRC, also took a turn for the better. Well, I guess when things can't get much worse...
The second bombing of a sacred Shiite Mosque in Samarra in 15 months has only escalated the mayhem in that country. The reprisals have been swift and brutal in that ongoing civil war.
In this country, the Democrats have sent the president a letter telling him what he should already know: that the surge has failed -- more to the point, the war itself is a rank failure, with no realistic chance of turning around.
Meanwhile, there are two other wars raging in the Middle East, in Lebanon, where the Fouad Siniora government recently battled Islamic militias in a Palestinian refugee camp, and tensions are high after the murder of an anti-Syrian MP, and in Gaza, where an all out civil war is underway, with President Mahmoud Abbas moving to dissolve the Palestinian government yesterday.
The multi-headed hydra of violence reaching across the region will be the subject of an emergency Arab League meeting tomorrow. The instability is frightening, and worse, it's providing an opportunity for the warmongering neocons to try and push for even more war, against Iran, which is now inexplicably being accused of arming their sworn enemies, the Taliban.
What's needed in the Middle East is credible diplomacy on the part of the United States, which is impossible as long as this country can't bring itself to deal even-handedly with the parties there.
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Hamas fighters have seized Fatah's senior field commanders in the Gaza Strip, a spokesman for the Islamic group announced Friday, while Egyptian police said nearly 100 Fatah officials had crossed into Egypt.
The spokesman, Abu Obeideh, said the group's men arrested the commanders of the National Security organization and the elite Presidential Guard, along with a senior Fatah spokesman, a lawmaker and six other officials.
The men were being interrogated by Hamas, Obeideh said on Hamas TV.
Meanwhile, 97 senior members of Fatah's security and administrative apparatus arrived in the Egyptian port of El-Arish hours after fighters from the militant Hamas group took control of Gaza, an Egyptian security official in El-Arish said.
The retreating Fatah members, who fled aboard a fishing boat, were transferred to camps affiliated to Egypt's security forces, a police official in Cairo confirmed.
Meanwhile, the BBC is reporting that Hamas is now in "full control" of the Gaza strip.
Today, speaking to strangely and very obviously NOT applauding troops at Fort Irwin, California, President Bush said something about Iraq and the war on terror that I guess I should consider important, since he's the president, but, hey, there you go ... it's George W. Bush talking ... c'mon...
Meanwhile, over at the House of Representatives, the Armed Services Committee declares that there really is no "global war on terror" ... duh... oh, and the "long war...?" That's history, too.
And while Dubya is boring the props troops, Mother heads over to Syria with a small Congressional delegation, and extracts something out of Bashar al Assad that Condi Rice can only dream of: DIPLOMACY!
And as if to shine a humongous spotlight on the primacy of talk over warmongering, Britain talks its way out of the nascent Royal Naval "detainee" crisis, producing this happy, and rather stylish, in a strictly Iranian sense ... photo:
Mr. Ahmadinejad even got in a dramatic flourish, pinning a medal on the Revolutionary Guard general who orchestrated the capture, and then announcing that he was releasing the 15 "as a little Easter-time gift to the British people." Then, the Brits were marched out in their new, comfy Iran suits and even got a personal greeting from His Persian Shortness, as they appeared, thanking their former captors, on Iranian TV. Huzaa!! Oh, and check out this Ahmadinejad gem:
"I'm asking Mr Blair to not put these 15 personnel on trial because they admitted they came to Iranian territorial water," he added, referring to taped "confessions" made by the British sailors and marines.
Riiight... Oh, and the U.S. released this guy...
Release Seen Tied To Iran Crisis
An Iranian "diplomat" detained by U.S. forces in Iraq was freed in an apparent effort to help secure the release of 15 British sailors captured by Iran. While Britain has repeatedly asserted it won't negotiate with Tehran, diplomatic sources said the crisis appears likely to be resolved soon. "The next 48 hours will be fairly critical," U.K. PM Tony Blair said, offering no details. [Source: Investor's Business Daily, April 3, 2007]
Now that's what I call coincidental!
So Iran managed to turn around a sure loser of an issue into a relative win -- giving Britain back its sailors and Marines, and snatching away the neocon's cassis belli.
And last but not least, remember that charming little Baghdad market where our friend Baghdad John took a lil' stroll the other day, along with 100 of his closest military friends, their Blackhawk helicopters and helicopter gunships? Well ... it was bombed yesterday, killing 14 school children and adults. Guess they didn't have THEIR flack jackets and security phalanx. So having put U.S. military personnel in danger, not to mention himself, by insisting on his ridiculous stunt, it appears McCain also endangered Iraqis. Yep, that's presidential material...