Posts Tagged ‘Isreali attack’

MIDEAST: Egypt Seen as Complicit in Gaza Assault

January 2, 2009

By Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa al-Omrani  | Inter Press Service

CAIRO, Dec 31 (IPS) – As the Palestinian death toll approaches 400, much of popular anger throughout the Arab world has been directed at Egypt — seen by many as complicit in the Israeli campaign.

“Israel would not have hit Gaza like this without a green light from Egypt,” Hamdi Hassan, MP for the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition movement, told IPS. “The Egyptian government allowed this assault on Gaza in hopes of finishing off Hamas.”

On Saturday (Dec. 27), Israel began a series of devastating air strikes on targets throughout the Gaza Strip, controlled since the summer of last year by Palestinian resistance faction Hamas. According to Israeli officials, the campaign — which has included hundreds of air strikes — comes in retaliation for rockets fired by Palestinian resistance factions.

More than 200 Palestinians were reportedly killed on the first day of the operation, making it the single most lethal day for Palestinians in the history of the 60-year-old conflict. Four Israelis, meanwhile, have reportedly been killed by Palestinian rocket fire since the air campaign began.

In the meantime, Israel has continued to amass tanks along its border with the Gaza Strip amid predictions of an imminent ground assault.

“What’s happening in Gaza represents an unprecedented crime against humanity,” said Hassan. “Enormous military power — featuring the latest U.S. weaponry — is being brought to bear against a poverty-stricken and largely defenceless population.”

Ever since Hamas wrested control of the strip from the U.S.-backed Palestinian Authority (PA) last year, Egypt — like Israel — has kept its border with the enclave tightly sealed. The border closures, in tandem with the neutralisation of the strip’s airports and maritime ports by Israel, has effectively cut the territory off from the rest of the world, and brought it to the brink of humanitarian disaster.

“The international community has condoned the siege of Gaza and allowed the Palestinians to be punished for democratically electing Hamas,” said Hassan, noting that the Islamist group swept the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections.

Egypt has said it cannot reopen the Rafah crossing, the sole transit point along Egypt’s 14 km border with the Gaza Strip, in the absence of PA officials and EU observers, as stipulated in a 2005 U.S.-sponsored trilateral agreement between Israel, the PA and the EU.

Critics, however, reject this argument, and say there is no legal justification for keeping the border permanently closed to people and goods.

“Egypt isn’t even a signatory to the agreement, which expired after one year and was never renewed,” said Hassan. “Those cooperating with Israel are simply using this outdated agreement as an excuse to keep Rafah sealed.”

Despite increasingly vocal demands — by both street protestors and opposition MPs — to open the border to aid convoys in the wake of the recent Israeli assaults, the Egyptian government has dragged its feet.

“For the first two days of the campaign, the authorities forbade all aid convoys from entering Gaza,” Magdi Hussein, secretary-general of Egypt’s Islamist-leaning Labour Party (officially frozen since 2000) told IPS. “On the third and fourth days, limited aid was allowed in — but this was only due to mounting popular pressure.”

In a televised address Dec. 30, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak defended Egypt’s position by again referring to the 2005 border agreement. “Egypt doesn’t want to sanctify the division (between the Hamas-run Gaza Strip and the PA-run West Bank) by opening the Rafah crossing in the absence of the PA and European observers,” he said.

For the last five days, Egypt has witnessed thousands-strong demonstrations at university campuses, mosques and professional syndicates. Amid an increasingly tight security presence, protestors have called for the permanent reopening of the Rafah border crossing and the severing of Egypt’s diplomatic relations with Israel.

“That protests are being staged all over Egypt — and will persist as long as the aggression continues — is an indication of the level of popular outrage,” said Hassan. “If the government doesn’t change its position and allow aid to flow freely into Gaza, the situation could become very dangerous.”

Demonstrators in several Arab capitals have vented their rage outside Egyptian embassies. Protestors have reportedly attacked Egyptian consular offices in Sudan and Yemen.

“Demonstrations around Egyptian embassies abroad show that the Arab and Muslim people across the region recognise Egypt’s complicity with Israel in keeping the border closed without legal justification,” said Hassan.

Suspicions of Egyptian complicity with Israel against Hamas are not limited to the border issue. Many also suspect a degree of Egyptian-Israeli coordination in advance of the air campaign — an impression reinforced by the fact that Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was in Cairo, where she met with Mubarak and Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, less than 48 hours before the assaults began.

At a joint press conference with Aboul-Gheit in Cairo Dec. 25, Livni vowed to retaliate against Palestinian rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. “This is something that has to be stopped,” she said of the relatively ineffectual rocket salvoes. “And this is what we’re going to do.”

While Aboul-Gheit used the occasion to publicly urge restraint by both sides, many independent commentators believe that, while in Cairo, Livni received a tacit go-ahead from Egyptian officials for the campaign.

“It was at the Livni-Mubarak talks that Egypt gave Israel the green light to strike Gaza,” said Hassan. Contentiously, he went on to point to statements by Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum that Hamas had received false assurances from Egypt, immediately following the Cairo talks, that an Israeli attack on the strip was not imminent.

On Sunday (Dec. 28), a presidential spokesman strongly denied Barhoum’s claims. “No Egyptian official sent any assurances to Hamas in this regard,” he was quoted as saying in the state press.

Misgivings about possible Egyptian connivance with Israel against Hamas have not been limited to opposition figures and political commentators. On the campaign’s third day, thousands of demonstrators in Cairo chanted: “Oh, Mubarak, what do you say? Why was Livni here anyway?” (END/2008)

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Israelis Get Truth About Gaza Attack

December 30, 2008

by Ira Chernus

If you get your news from the American mass media, you know that there’s a nice simple explanation for the massive Israeli attack on Gaza. That explanation comes straight from the Israeli government, via the White House: Hamas, the group that controls Gaza, is responsible for all the violence. “These people are nothing but thugs,” a White House spokesman said. “Israel is going to defend its people against terrorists like Hamas.” End of story. As usual, Israel is depicted as the innocent victim of an evil it did nothing to provoke.But if you read Israel’s most respected newspaper, Ha’aretz, you find out that things are rather more complicated. (All the quotes below come from Jewish journalists writing in recent editions of Ha’aretz.)

You know the reality of Gaza today: “The tremendous population density in the Gaza Strip does not allow a ‘surgical operation’ over an extended period that would minimize damage to civilian populations.” “There are many corpses and wounded, every moment another casualty is added to the list of the dead, and there is no more room in the morgue. . A mother whose three school-age children were killed, and are piled one on top of top of the other in the morgue, screams and then cries, screams again and then is silent.”

And you know that some Israelis are outraged: “Israel’s violent responses, even if there is justification for them, exceed all proportion and cross every red line of humaneness, morality, international law and wisdom.”

The justification Israel offers is the increased firing of rockets from Gaza. But Israelis can read that Hamas is responding to Israeli provocation. “Six months ago Israel asked and received a cease-fire from Hamas. It unilaterally violated it.” “On November 4, an Israeli operation sparked a new round of dangerous, if controlled, violence,” “when it unnecessarily bombed a tunnel.”

About the same time, Israel cut off transport of food, medical supplies, and electricity to Gaza. “Food insecurity in Gaza currently runs at 56 percent and is deteriorating rapidly, 42 percent of the Strip’s population is unemployed and 76 percent is receiving humanitarian assistance (all UN figures).” “A million and a half human beings . live in the conditions of a giant jail.” “Why should Gazan citizens tolerate such a long and severe siege for so long?”

General Shmuel Zakai, former commander of Israel’s troops in Gaza, says: “We could have eased the siege over the Gaza Strip, in such a way that the Palestinians, Hamas, would understand that holding their fire served their interests. But when you create a tahadiyeh [cease-fire], and the economic pressure on the Strip continues, it’s obvious that Hamas will try to reach an improved tahadiyeh, and that their way to achieve this, is resumed Qassam [rocket] fire. . You cannot just land blows, leave the Palestinians in Gaza in the economic distress they’re in, and expect that Hamas will just sit around and do nothing.”

Nevertheless, just a few days before the attack, “Palestinian sources said they do not believe Hamas plans to launch a massive rocket strike on Israel unless the IDF begins offensive operations in the Strip.” Israel claims it wants peace, yet it “did not exhaust the diplomatic processes before embarking on another dreadful campaign of killing and ruin.” And “no military operation has ever advanced dialogue with the Palestinians.”

In fact military force is self-defeating, because “no Palestinian will consent to having his people and his homeland destroyed in this way.” “Hamas will not be weakened due to the Gaza war; to the contrary.” If predictions of a strengthened Hamas prove wrong, the other possibility is obvious: “A siege designed to depose Hamas rule . risks triggering a social collapse that would have devastating consequences for all concerned. . An Israeli military escalation would likely accelerate the splintering of Hamas’ leadership and the emergence of more radical alternatives.”

One way or another, more rockets are sure to fall on Israel. Of course that might be one goal of the attack. Israeli leaders may be trying to avoid dialogue. More intense fighting would let them claim they have no one to negotiate with, especially if Gaza breaks down in chaos. Israeli leaders may also have an eye on Palestinian elections coming up soon. They want to persuade the Palestinians to support the more conciliatory Fatah party by destroying Hamas, or at least showing what happens to its supporters.

But “working toward long-term goals that would completely change the landscape in the region, like toppling Hamas from power in Gaza, is liable to turn out to be a wild fantasy.” “Israel must understand that Hamas rule in Gaza is a fact, and it is with that government that we must reach a situation of calm. . We can’t impose regimes on the Palestinians.” The idea “that a military operation would suffice in toppling an entrenched regime and thus replace it with another one friendlier to us is no more than lunacy.”

Why would Israeli leaders pursue such a dangerous fantasy? When Ha’aretz journalists want to explain it, they (like all other Israeli journalists) focus most on politics — not Palestinian, but Israeli. Israel, too, will hold elections in just a few weeks. “Israelis are being treated to a predictable dose of political posturing and chest-thumping.”

The polls show the hawkish Likud party ahead, partly because “Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to topple the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip if elected prime minister. . Under his leadership, Israel would move from a policy of absorbing blows to a policy of being on the offensive.”

Perhaps that’s why the current (soon to retire) prime minister, Ehud Olmert, launched this week’s offensive, cheered on by his party’s candidate to replace him, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. She’s now talking tough, too. “‘The state of Israel, and a government under me, will make it a strategic objective to topple the Hamas regime in Gaza,’ Livni told members of her centrist Kadima party.” “We cannot allow Gaza to remain under Hamas control.” “Vice Premier Haim Ramon also said . that Hamas must be removed from power.”

“Ramon, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz and others harshly criticized Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s handling of the situation” — because Barak, a former prime minister, is also running to regain that post, trying to resurrect his once-powerful Labor party. “The beginning of the raid in Gaza bears the wily and deceptive fingerprint of Barak. . It may deliver him and his party from the humiliating defeat the polls are predicting.” “If Hamas is beaten and Israel receives some peace under favorable terms, Labor and Barak may gain force.”

Politicians of every party want to prove that they are “not a bunch of wimps.” So they’ve staked their future on the same goal: one way or another, topple the democratically-elected government of Gaza.

But Israel is also a democracy. The politicians are catering to public opinion: “This war was preceded by a frighteningly uniform public dialogue in which only one voice was heard — that which called for striking, destroying, starving and killing.” “The hysterical reaction by the public as a whole and politicians in particular stems mainly from the fact that the country is in an election period. And when elections are in the offing people speak from the gut rather than the brain. . They’re suddenly strutting their macho stuff.”

“Politicians and the public at large have been enthralled by a new prospect: that of a wide-scale military operation in the Gaza Strip. Such a prospect answers all their heart’s secret wishes. . The public’s imaginations are let loose as they chant a battle-cry.” “Speeches have a tendency to identify goals that are by nature unreachable: phrases like ‘destroying the Hamas government’ (which is actually likely to be strengthened).”

With so many Israelis pointing out how self-defeating this attack on Gaza is, why would a majority of Israeli voters still push their leaders to more military action?

One theory looks to an inflated self-image: “Israel is striking at the Palestinians to ‘teach them a lesson.’ That is a basic assumption that has accompanied the Zionist enterprise since its inception: We are the representatives of progress and enlightenment, sophisticated rationality and morality, while the Arabs are a primitive, violent rabble, ignorant children who must be educated and taught wisdom — via, of course, the carrot-and-stick method, just as the drover does with his donkey.”

But there’s an opposite theory: The failed war in Lebanon two years ago deflated Israelis’ self-image, and now they are out to inflate it again. “The pictures of blood and fire are designed to show Israelis, Arabs and the entire world that the neighborhood bully’s strength has yet to wane. When the bully is on a rampage, nobody can stop him.” “Israel goaded its enemies to provoke it because [the enemies] ceased believing that Israel would agree to pay the price of using force.”

Eventually, though, “after the politicians flex their muscles, the analysts blow smoke and the citizens of Israel have their ‘honor restored,’ a new exit from Gaza must be sought.” “Most dangerous of all is the cliche that there is no one to talk to. That has never been true. There are even ways to talk with Hamas.”

“Hamas would have — and still would — accept a bargain . [to] halt the fire in exchange for easing of the many ways in which Israeli policies have kept a choke hold on the economy of the Strip.” “Hamas leader, Mahmoud Zahar, has said that his Palestinian militant group is willing to renew the recently ended truce in Gaza with Israel.”

“Hamas has clear conditions for its extension: The opening of the border crossings for goods and cessation of IDF attacks in Gaza, as outlined in the original agreement. Later, Hamas wants the cease-fire to be extended to the West Bank. Israel, for its part, is justifiably demanding a real calm in Gaza; that no Qassam or mortar shell be fired by either Hamas, Islamic Jihad or any other group. Essentially, Israel is telling Hamas it is willing to recognize its control of Gaza on the condition that it assumes responsibility for the security of the territory, like Hezbollah controls southern Lebanon. It is likely that this will be the outcome of a wide-scale operation in the Gaza Strip.”

“In a short time, after the parade of corpses and wounded ends, we will arrive at a fresh cease-fire, as occurred after Lebanon, exactly like the one that could have been forged without this superfluous war.” “Why, then, not forgo the war and agree to these conditions now?”

Ira Chernus, a Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, is the author of American Nonviolence: The History of an Idea. Having written extensively on Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and George W. Bush, he is now writing a book tentatively titled “Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Origins of the National Insecurity State.” He can be contacted at chernus@colorado.edu.

Israel vows to continue war on Gaza

December 30, 2008
Al Jazeera, Dec 30, 2008

Hundreds of people have been killed and many wounded in four days of air raids [AFP]

Israel has warned that the onslaught in the Gaza Strip could last for “weeks” as the fourth consecutive day of aerial attacks targeted several Hamas government buildings.

Around 350 people have been killed, many of them civilians, and local hospitals have warned they are unable to cope with any more casualties.

Palestinian medical workers said at least 10 people had died in the latest raids on Tuesday, with security guards and civilians among those killed.

But Israel said there would be no let up until the threat of Palestinian rockets attacks from the Gaza Strip had been removed.

“There is no room for a ceasefire,” Meir Sheetrit, Israel’s interior minister, said.

“The government is determined to remove the threat of [rocket] fire on the south.

“Therefore the Israeli army must not stop the operation before breaking the will of Palestinians, of Hamas, to continue to fire at Israel.”

Four Israeli citizens have been killed by missiles fired from Palestinian positions since the offensive began on Saturday.

Military preparations

The Israeli army has been massing infantry and armoured forces along the border amid increasing fears that a ground invasion is planned.

In depth

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Reaction: Raids take toll on Gaza

Gaza strikes a challenge for Obama

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US backs Israeli air raids

Hospitals in Gaza struggle to cope

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Matan Vilnai, Israel’s deputy defence minister, said the military “has made preparations for some long weeks of action”.

On Monday, areas of the border were declared “closed military zones” and thousands of reservists have been called up by the Israeli military.

Al Jazeera’s Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from Gaza City, said that there was little the residents of the strip could do to prepare for any possible ground assault.”In a city that is so densely-populated, a ground offensive would mean urban warfare, street-to-street fighting … leaving many Palestinians in the crossfire,” he said.

“Unlike other conflict zones where there is the possibility to flee the war zone, Gaza itself has become the war zone. There is nowhere for the population to go, they are in the middle of all these attacks.”

Ban Ki-Moon, the UN secretary-general, has added his voice to calls for an end to the violence.

Speaking at UN headquarters in New York on Monday, he said both sides should end the fighting and said regional powers should do more to help resolve the crisis.

“All this must stop,” Ban told a press conference.

“Both Israel and Hamas must halt their acts of violence and take all necessary measures to avoid civilian casualties. A ceasefire must be declared immediately. They must also curb their inflammatory rhetoric.”

Hamas blamed

Speaking to Al Jazeera, the Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, said the Israeli offensive was aimed at Hamas and not the Palestinian people, urging civilians to leave for safer places away from places close to Hamas infrastructure.

“We tried to avoid this. You know that Israel accepted the truce that was initiated by the Egyptians in order to create peace and quiet. We adopted the truce. What we got in return? We got in return daily attacks, we got in return smuggling of weapons to Gaza Strip with long-range [capabilities],” she said.

Support for Israel came from the US, with the White House saying Hamas must halt cross-border rocket fire.

“In order for the violence to stop, Hamas must stop firing rockets into Israel and agree to respect a sustainable and durable ceasefire,” Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman said.

President Bush Winks at Israel’s Slaughter in Gaza, While Obama and Clinton Are Silent

December 28, 2008

Israel recklessly bombed Gaza on Saturday, killing at least 205 Palestinians and wounding at least 350 more, according to Palestinian health officials.

This wholly disproportionate response to Hamas’s immoral but largely ineffective rocket attacks on Israel is guaranteed to further enflame the Middle East.

Not lost on anyone there will be the Bush Administration’s winking at Israel’s attacks.

White Houses spokesman Gordon Johndroe laid all the blame on Hamas.

“Hamas’s continued rocket attacks into Israel must cease if the violence is to stop,” Johndroe said.

Then even as he gave a perfunctory nod toward safeguarding civilians, he showed no displeasure with Israel going after Hamas: “The United States urges Israel to avoid civilian casualties as it targets Hamas in Gaza,” Johndroe said.

Meanwhile, President-elect Barack Obama and Secretary of State-to-be Hillary Clinton were shamefully silent in the first hours after the attack.

Bush’s reaction, and the non-reaction by Obama and Clinton, underscores the point that Hanan Ashrawi made on Saturday. “Israel has gotten used to not being held accountable and to being a country that is above the law,” said the Palestinian legislator and human rights activist. She called the bombings a “massacre.”

With Washington condoning Israel’s assault, the violence may only get worse.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said, “The operation will be deeper and expanded as much as necessary. . . . It won’t be short, and it won’t be easy.”

A Hamas spokesperson vowed revenge and said Hamas “will continue the resistance until the last drop of blood.”

This cycle of violence will get bloodier and bloodier unless and until Washington finally prevails on Israel to make a just settlement with the Palestinians.

Bush did not have the inclination to do so. Neither, it appears, does Obama.


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