Waarnemers Syrië zien na één dag ‘niets beangstigends’

Een vrouw rouwt bij het dode lichaam van een familielid.

Terwijl het bewind in Syrië nog dagelijks slachtoffers maakt, toonde het hoofd van de waarnemersmissie van de Arabische Liga zich vandaag optimistisch over de situatie in het dictatoriaal geregeerde land.

‘Gisteren was het rustig en er waren geen gevechten. We hebben geen tanks gezien, maar we zagen wel gepantserde voertuigen’, zei de Sudanese generaal Mustafa Dabi vandaag.

Dabi verwees naar de situatie in Homs, die de waarnemers gisteren bezochten. De stad geldt als een van de bolwerken van het verzet tegen het regime van president Bashar al-Assad. In de afgelopen maanden stierven honderden inwoners van Homs door toedoen van het veiligheidsapparaat van Assad.

Oppositionele organisaties meldden dat tussen 16 en 42 mensen om het leven zijn gebracht in Syrië op dinsdag, de dag waarop de waarnemers van de Arabische Liga begonnen aan hun missie.

Dabi hield wel een slag om de arm. ‘Let op: dit was alleen de eerste dag en het vergt verder onderzoek. We hebben 20 mensen die hier voor een lange tijd zullen zijn’, aldus de leider van de waarnemersmissie. Hij stelde dat de omstandigheden in sommige delen van Homs ‘niet goed’ waren. Maar hij zei verder ‘niets beangstigends’ te hebben gezien.

Dinsdag gingen in Homs tienduizenden mensen de straat op om te betogen tegen het regime. De demonstranten probeerden op te rukken naar het centrum van de stad, maar werden bestookt met geweervuur en traangas. Tussen 6 en 17 mensen zouden zijn gedood.

Vredesplan
De waarnemers moeten toezien op de uitvoering van een vredesplan van de Arabische Liga. President Assad heeft beloofd militairen terug te trekken uit stadscentra en politieke gevangenen vrij te laten. Volgens de Verenigde Naties zijn in Syrië sinds maart al zeker 5000 mensen om het leven gebracht.

Mensenrechtenorganisaties en landen als de Verenigde Staten en Frankrijk staan kritisch tegenover de waarnemersmissie. Die zou mogelijk geen toegang krijgen tot plaatsen waar veel betogers zijn vermoord, of tot detentiecentra waar oppositieleden gevangen worden gehouden en gemarteld.

Het bewind in Syrië maakte woensdag bekend dat het 755 mensen heeft vrijgelaten die waren opgepakt bij protesten tegen Assad. Volgens de Verenigde Naties zijn meer dan 14.000 aanhangers van de oppositie opgepakt sinds het begin van de protesten in maart.

(www.ad.nl / 28.12.2011)

France Urges Restraint as Israeli Raids Cause Deaths in Gaza

Paris, December 28 (QNA) – France on Wednesday urged restraint in order to preserve the fragile truce between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza. Israeli raids have caused several victims in the past few days in Gaza as Israeli aircraft made fresh sorties against the Palestinian territory. There is speculation in the area that a new military offensive might be under preparation by Israel. The last offensive three years ago killed about 1400 mainly civilians, and destroyed much of the infrastructure of Gaza and damaged UN facilities there. “France calls for restraint in order to spare human lives, to preserve the safety of civilians and maintain the truce in Gaza,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.

(www.qnaol.net / 28.12.2011)

Egypt Islamist party says wants to boost tourism

CAIRO: The Muslim Brotherhood’s party, leading in a parliamentary election, wants to boost tourist numbers to Egypt and will not take steps that would harm the industry, a party official told a rally in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh.

The strong showing by Islamsists in Egypt’s staggered parliamentary poll has aroused fears among liberals and others in Egypt that it could lead to rules that would ban alcohol sales and outlaw mixed bathing in popular resorts.

Tourism is Egypt’s top foreign currency earner, accounting for more than a tenth of gross domestic product and employing an estimated one in eight of the workforce.

Essam El-Erian, deputy head of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), said accusations that Islamists rise to power would harm tourism were “rumors” circulated by remnants of the party of deposed President Hosni Mubarak to influence voters.

“No citizen who makes a living from this field should be concerned,” Erian said in statements carried by the party’s website while addressing voters in Sinai ahead of the third stage of the election in January.

He said the party wanted to draw in 20 million tourists a year to Egypt, compared to the more than 12 million that visited before the uprising against Mubarak and subsequent political upheaval sent tourists packing.

The FJP says that, by its estimation, its candidates and smaller parties in its alliance have secured almost 50 percent of the seats up for grabs in the staggered election race that runs till January.

Clear breakdown of seats contested so far and the overall picture for the 498 elected seats in the assembly will not be known definitively until the final round of voting in January. Seats will be allocated by a mixture of party lists and individual candidates.

Erian said laws regarding alcohol would not be changed and the party would not support legislation that might harm the industry. Alcohol is sold at hotels across Egypt and can also be bought at specialized shops and some licensed restaurants.

But he hinted the Brotherhood would seek to curb some aspects of public consumption, but only based on existing laws.

“The current law has punishments in this regard (to alcohol). We won’t add to it nor modify it but drinking alcohol won’t be in the streets,” he said, without giving details.

Under Egyptian law, anyone caught drunk in a public place can be imprisoned for up to six months, but the law is only sporadically enforced.

Erian suggested there was broad agreement among Egypt’s political forces to keep, without modification, the first four articles of the constitution, including the one saying “the principles of Islamic law are the principle source of legislation”.

Liberals, whose parties trail Islamists in the election, have voiced concerns that an Islamist dominated parliament may seek to push more Islamic content into a new constitution.

The new parliament’s prime task will be to pick a 100-strong constituent assembly to draw up the new constitution.

(www.thedailynewsegypt.com / 28.12.2011)

Peace on ice: Palestinians fix sights on global activism


With peace talks in the doldrums, the Palestinians have fixed their sights on global activism and unity between their rival factions in order to advance their cause.

“We are in a ‘hudna’ (truce) until January 26,” senior Palestinian official Nabil Shaath told reporters at a recent briefing.

“But this political ceasefire will end on January 26,” he said, referring to a deadline set by the international peacemaking Quartet, giving the parties 90 days to submit comprehensive proposals on territory and security.

“If on the 26th Israel does not come up with a freeze of the settlements and talks based on the 1967 borders, we will continue our international drive,” said Shaath, a senior figure in president Mahmud Abbas’ ruling Fatah movement.

Palestinian negotiators say they have laid out their proposals and suggestions in response to the Quartet’s proposition and they accuse Israel of failing to reciprocate.

But Israel is reluctant to show its hand except in the framework of direct negotiations, which they say the Palestinians are “boycotting.”

“The Quartet has called for the resumption of direct peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. In the framework of those direct talks, the Quartet has specific ideas on how to move forward,” said Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Israel has accepted the route laid out by Quartet, it is the Palestinian side that refuses to meet with Israel in face-to-face negotiations,” he said.

The Quartet’s latest attempt to resuscitate talks was announced on September 23, just hours after the Palestinians submitted a formal request for full state membership at the United Nations.

Both sides welcomed the loosely worded proposal, but with completely different interpretations, prompting each camp to blame the other for the failure to resume talks.

But the Palestinians have low expectations of the Quartet, which groups top diplomats from the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, which they see as dominated by Washington.

And they also have little faith in its envoy Tony Blair, who has been accused by Shaath of sometimes talking “like an Israeli diplomat.”

“It’s not a Quartet, it’s a ‘one-tet’,” joked Husam Zomlot, Fatah’s international affairs adviser, slamming Washington’s “total monopoly” on the peace process.

“If we don’t snatch it (back) now, the two-state solution is dead,” he said.

“Israel is so keen on sustaining the status quo, in keeping things as they are. For too long, for 20 years, Israel has maintained the status quo.

“This not going anywhere,” he said, referring to peace talks which began in Madrid in 1991 and which led to the Oslo Accords two years later, but which since then, have done little to end the conflict.

It is an assessment shared by many in the Palestinian leadership. “We see the process, but not peace,” say officials at Abbas’s Muqataa presidential headquarters in Ramallah.

“Only the first five years were genuine, until the death of (Prime Minister Yitzhak) Rabin” who was shot dead by a Jewish extremist in 1995, says Shaath.

“Since then, the peace process is dead — there has not been any progress. The settlements never stopped, the grabbing of land never stopped,” he said.

“While negotiating, Israel has deepened the colonisation of the land,” Shaath said.

Negotiator Mohammed Shtayeh agrees. “We have been taken nowhere,” he said earlier this month. “The political negotiation has been used to maintain the status quo.”

With peace negotiations deadlocked for more than a year and a keen desire to break the status quo, the Palestinians are doing whatever they can to push for implementation of a two-state solution to the conflict, Shaath said.

“We have no alternative but to go to the UN,” he said. “It is the only alternative. All the other options are extending the conflict forever.”

A return to violence was not an option.

“We Palestinians will never let that happen again because we paid the price in blood. We are not going to allow violence to come back.”

The other top priority was to ensure the establishment of unity between the rival Palestinian national factions under the umbrella of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

One of the toughest challenges is bridging the years-long divide between Fatah and Hamas, the Islamist movement which rules Gaza and which could soon join the PLO — the body which is internationally recognised as the only legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

“The train for reconciliation has left the station,” Shtayeh said.

“It’s a bit slow but it will happen. The reconciliation is serious.”

(www.australiansforpalestine.net / 28.12.2011)

IDF soldiers ordered to shoot at Gaza rescuers, note says

Handwritten Hebrew note found in Gaza home may prove troops told to shoot at Palestinian, Red Cross rescuers.

GAZA STRIP – “Rules of Engagement: Open fire also upon rescue,” was handwritten in Hebrew on a sheet of paper found in one of the Palestinian homes the Israel Defense Forces took over during Operation Cast Lead. A reservist officer who did not take part in the Gaza offensive believes that the note is part of orders a low-level commander wrote before giving his soldiers their daily briefing.

One of the main themes in news reports during the Gaza operation, and which appears in many testimonies, is that IDF soldiers shot at Palestinian and Red Cross rescuers, making it impossible to evacuate the wounded and dead. As a result, an unknown number of Palestinians bled to death as others cowered in their homes for days without medical treatment, waiting to be rescued.

The bodies of the dead lay outside the homes or on roadsides for days, sometimes as long as two weeks. Haaretz has reported a number of such cases, some of them as they happened. The document found in the house provides written proof that IDF commanders ordered their troops to shoot at rescuers.

The sheet of paper entitled “Situational Assessment” was found by a field researcher of The Palestinian Center for Human Rights in the home of Sami Dardone’s family in Jabal al-Rayes, east of Jabalya. The extended Dardone family lives in about 40 homes in this neighborhood, built on a hilltop. Some of the homes were taken over by the army to house troops during the offensive and to serve as sniping positions, or for shooting in general.

Most of the homes were seriously damaged when the IDF directly bombed them or other targets nearby at the start of the ground operation. This was also the reason the homes’ residents fled on January 4. When the residents returned to the neighborhood at the end of the offensive on January 18, they found that the IDF had completely destroyed some of the homes, in addition to those that had been damaged by shelling and others that were wrecked when soldiers broke in through the walls. Sometimes the soldiers needed explosives to break in.

A military source told Haaretz that “the document that was found is not an official document signed by a particular commander, and as such the IDF cannot comment on fragments of sentences that were jotted down on a piece of paper, and asks that this not be interpreted as directives and instructions that were issued by commanders.”

‘Situational assessment’

According to the reservist officer who did not participate in Operation Cast Lead and who received a copy of the document via fax, the “Situational Assessment” was written by a platoon commander, or at the highest level a company commander. The reservist says the author of the “Situational Assessment” was making notes to brief his soldiers based on a briefing that low-ranking commanders receive from senior officers.

The date on the sheet is “16.1.08,” clearly an error because it should read one year later. It comments on political and military events that occurred in mid-January 2009. It’s possible to conclude that the author is discussing the possibility of a cease-fire, which was being discussed publicly by Israeli officials at that time.

“The next 24 hours are important; there is a likelihood they [Hamas] will not accept the agreement,” the author writes. He also mentions the “Interior Minister.” The reference is probably to Hamas Interior Minister Said al-Sayam, who was killed on January 15 when the IDF bombed his home. Four members of his family and five members of a neighbor’s family were killed. Among the dead were four children.

The commander’s notes toward the top of the sheet are largely a short political briefing – for example, “the local leadership wants [a cease-fire], the external [Hamas leadership] is out of touch” – and an assessment of the enemy’s intentions – “the enemy would like to achieve a kidnapping [of soldiers], the destruction of homes.”

“Rules of Engagement” is written in the lower half of the sheet, along with one other category: – “Operational Routine.”

The following is written: “Rules of Engagement: Fire also upon rescue. Not on women and children. Beyond the tantcher – incrimination.”

“Tantcher” is what the IDF calls Salah al-Din – the route that runs the length of the Gaza Strip. The home of the Dardone family is east of the route, so it is possible to assume these are instructions on shooting at anyone crossing the route to the east into areas held by the IDF.

A reservist soldier who did not participate in Cast Lead says that to the best of his knowledge “incrimination” refers to the process of identifying whether a person approaching is a terrorist.

The reservist officer who did not take part in the Gaza operation spoke with reservists who said “incriminating” was a shoot-to-kill order, contrary to “suspect procedure,” in which shots are fired in the air and then at the legs.

The IDF spokesman said in response that “IDF forces were given unequivocal instructions not to fire at those identified as not being involved in the fighting, and to assist as much as possible injured Palestinians under battle conditions.”

The reservist officer told Haaretz that “according to the details mentioned in the paper it appears the author was a low-ranking officer who dealt with the affairs of about 30 soldiers – like organizing their platoon equipment and oiling their weapons.”

He says the author might have taken part in an earlier briefing by more senior officers and took notes for his political and military briefing. That is where he received his instructions on the rules of engagement.

“The rules of engagement are not something the platoon or company commander makes up,” the reservist officer said.

According to the graffiti left in the Dardone homes, and based on what is known about the IDF’s deployment in the Strip, the unit involved was part of the Golani Brigade.

The last portion of the document is entitled “Operational Routine – Fighting Timeline,” and includes things such as guard duty, responsibility for platoon equipment and briefings. Under “Operational Routine” a note is included whose title can be translated as “Shitting of Houses.”

The reservist officer and soldier with whom Haaretz spoke said they were not aware of that term.

Many of the homes the IDF troops took over were left in particularly unsanitary conditions; the residents of Sami Dardone’s home found their clothes in piles with obvious signs of human feces.

Sealed bags

Haaretz asked the IDF spokesman whether “Shitting of Houses” refers to “an intentional action of turning the homes into latrines, or whether the commander wanted to talk to his soldiers about the fact that they had turned their living space into latrines.”

A reservist soldier who took part in Cast Lead told the reservist officer that “going to the toilet was part of the briefing, and perhaps ‘Shitting of Houses’ is a reference in the briefing to where to pile up the sealed bags the IDF provides the soldiers for relieving themselves.”

The IDF spokesman said that “soldiers who were in the homes were instructed to relieve themselves in areas where it did not endanger their lives, mostly inside the house, and which allowed them to carry out their operational activities in the best possible way, and for as long as it would be necessary.”

The other side of the “Situational Assessment” sheet shows that it was written on a letter sent to the troops by a child. “To the Golani soldiers, good luck in the war,” the letter reads in the hand of a young child. In the middle of the page there is a drawing of an armed soldier. “Love, the S. family.”

(www.haaretz.com / article from 22.03.09 / 28.12.2011)

PAPPE: Confronting intimidation, working for justice in Palestine 29Dec11



Demonstration in commemoration of the killing of Mustafa Tamimi, Nabi Salih, West Bank (16 December 2011).

by Ilan Pappe  –  The Electronic Intifada  –  27 December 2011

If we had a wish list for 2012 as Palestinians and friends of Palestine, one of the top items ought to be our hope that we can translate the dramatic shift in recent years in world public opinion into political action against Israeli policies on the ground.

We know why this has not yet materialized: the political, intellectual and cultural elites of the West cower whenever they even contemplate acting according to their own consciences as well as the wishes of their societies.

This last year was particularly illuminating for me in that respect. I encountered that timidity at every station in the many trips I took for the cause I believe in. And these personal experiences were accentuated by the more general examples of how governments and institutions caved in under intimidation from Israel and pro-Zionist Jewish organizations.

A catalogue of complicity

Of course there were US President Barack Obama’s pandering appearances in front of AIPAC, the Israeli lobby, and his administration’s continued silence and inaction in face of Israel’s colonization of the West Bank, siege and killings in Gaza, ethnic cleansing of the Bedouins in the Naqab and new legislation discriminating against Palestinians in Israel.

The complicity continued with the shameful retreat of Judge Richard Goldstone from his rather tame report on the Gaza massacre — which began three years ago today. And then there was the decision of European governments, especiallyGreece, to disallow campaigns of human aid and solidarity from reaching Gaza by sea.

On the margins of all of this were prosecutions in France against activists calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions(BDS) and a few u-turns by some groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Europe caving in under pressure and retracting an earlier decision to cede connections with Israel.

Learning firsthand how pro-Israel intimidation works

In recent years, I have learned firsthand how intimidation of this kind works. In November 2009 the mayor of Munich was scared to death by a Zionist lobby group and cancelled my lecture there. More recently, the Austrian foreign ministry withdrew its funding for an event in which I participated, and finally it was my own university, the University of Exeter, once a haven of security in my eyes, becoming frigid when a bunch of Zionist hooligans claimed I was a fabricator and a self-hating Jew.

Every year since I moved there, Zionist organizations in the UK and the US have asked the university to investigate my work and were brushed aside. This year a similar appeal was taken, momentarily one should say, seriously. One hopes this was just a temporary lapse; but you never know with an academic institution (bravery is not one of their hallmarks).

Standing up to pressure

But there were examples of courage — local and global — as well: the student union of the University of Surrey under heavy pressure to cancel my talk did not give in and allowed the event to take place.

The Episcopal Bishops Committee on Israel/Palestine in Seattle faced the wrath of many of the city’s synagogues and the Israeli Consul General in San Francisco, Akiva Tor, for arranging an event with me in September 2011 in Seattle’s Town Hall, but bravely brushed aside this campaign of intimidation. The usual charges of “anti-Semitism” did not work there — they never do where people refuse to be intimidated.

The outgoing year was also the one in which Turkey imposed military and diplomatic sanctions on Israel in response to the latter’s refusal to take responsibility for the attack on the Mavi Marmara. Turkey’s action was in marked contrast to the European and international habit of sufficing with toothless statements at best, and never imposing a real price on Israel for its actions.

Do not cave in to intimidation

I do not wish to underestimate the task ahead of us. Only recently did we learn how much money is channeled to this machinery of intimidation whose sole purpose is to silence criticism on Israel. Last year, the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs — leading pro-Israel lobby groups — allocated $6 million to be spent over three years to fight BDS campaigns and smear the Palestine solidarity movement. This is not the only such initiative under way.

But are these forces as powerful as they seem to be in the eyes of very respectable institutions such as universities, community centers, churches, media outlets and, of course, politicians?

What you learn is that once you cower, you become prey to continued and relentless bashing until you sing the Israeli national anthem. If once you do not cave in, you discover that as time goes by, the ability of Zionist lobbies of intimidation around the world to affect you gradually diminishes.

Reducing the influence of the United States

Undoubtedly the centers of power that fuel this culture of intimidation lie to a great extent in the United States, which brings me to the second item on my 2012 wish list: an end to the American dominance in the affairs of Israelis and Palestinians. I know this influence cannot be easily curbed.

But the issue of timidity and intimidation belong to an American sphere of activity where things can, and should be, different. There will be no peace process or even Pax Americana in Palestine if the Palestinians, under whatever leadership, would agree to allow Washington to play such a central role. It is not as if US policy-makers can threaten the Palestinians that without their involvement there will be no peace process.

In fact history has proved that there was no peace process — in the sense of a genuine movement toward the restoration of Palestinian rights — precisely because of American involvement. Outside mediation may be necessary for the cause of reconciliation in Palestine. But does it have to be American?

If elite politics are needed — along with other forces and movements — to facilitate a change on the ground, such a role should come from other places in the world and not just from the United States.

One would hope that the recent rapprochement between Hamas and Fatah — and the new attempt to base the issue of Palestinian representation on a wider and more just basis — will lead to a clear Palestinian position that would expose the fallacy that peace can only be achieved with the Americans as its brokers.

Dwarfing the US role will disarm American Zionist bodies and those who emulate them in Europe and Israel of their power of intimidation.

Letting the other America play a role

This will also enable the other America, that of the civil society, the Occupy Wall Street movement, the progressive campuses, the courageous churches, African-Americans marginalized by mainstream politics, Native Americans and millions of other decent Americans who never fell captive to elite propaganda about Israel and Palestine, to take a far more central role in “American involvement” in Palestine.

That would benefit America as much as it will benefit justice and peace in Palestine. But this long road to redeeming all of us who want to see justice begins by asking academics, journalists and politicians in the West to show a modicum of steadfastness and courage in the face of those who want to intimidate us. Their bark is far fiercer than their bite.

(www.australiansforpalestine.net / 28.12.2011)

Israel approves 130 new settler homes in East Jerusalem

Laborers work on a construction site in the Jewish settlement of Gilo in occupied East Jerusalem on Dec. 22, 2011.
JERUSALEM (Ma’an) — Israeli authorities on Wednesday approved 130 new settler homes in occupied East Jerusalem.

Jerusalem municipality gave the go ahead to build three 12-story tower blocks in Gilo settlement, city councilor Pepe Alalu told AFP.

The council also approved plans to build tourism centers in Silwan.

Fakhri Abu Diab, head of the Silwan Committee for defending Palestinians’ land and homes, told Reuters TV the tourism centers were an attempt to change the demographic reality of the Palestinian neighborhood.

“First of all, this project is a settlement and the organization that is working on it is a settler organization, which was created to take over the (Palestinian) citizens’ houses and to change the geographical and demographical reality of the city.

“Secondly, this project which was planned under the umbrella of tourism, does not serve the residents here but it serves the organizations of the settlers and the occupation,” he said.

On Nov. 1, the Israeli government decided to ramp up construction of Jewish-only homes in East Jerusalem after the UN cultural heritage agency UNESCO voted to admit Palestine.

The US, UN, EU and Russia — members of the Middle East Quartet — have repeatedly urged Israel to stop building settlements, which are illegal under international law.

On Dec. 20, representatives of Britain, France, Germany and Portugal said Israeli settlement activity was undermining attempts to restart stalled peace talks with the Palestinians.

“One of the themes that emerged was the severely damaging effect that increased settlement construction and settler violence is having on the ground and on the prospects of a return to negotiations,” the four European Union members of the UN Security Council said in a joint statement.

The last round of peace talks collapsed in September 2010 over Israel’s refusal to extend a partial freeze on building, and the PLO says it will not renew negotiations while Israel is building Jewish-only homes on occupied land.

Over 500,000 Israelis live in settlements on occupied Palestinian land, including around 200,000 in East Jerusalem.

(www.maannews.net / 28.12.2011)

Israel ‘will launch significant Gaza offensive sooner or later’

Israel Defence Forces chief of staff speaks on third anniversary of start of a major three-week Gaza assault

Benny Gantz said there would be 'no escape from conducting a significant operation'

Benny Gantz said there would be ‘no escape from conducting a significant operation’.

A new Israeli military offensive against Gaza will be launched “sooner or later” and will be “swift and painful”, Israel‘s most senior military officer has warned.

Benny Gantz, the chief of staff of the Israel Defence Forces, was speaking on the third anniversary of the start of a major three-week assault on Gaza during which around 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.

That offensive was “an excellent operation that achieved deterrence for Israel vis-a-vis Hamas”, Gantz told Army Radio on Tuesday. He added there were signs that the deterrent effect was wearing thin.

“Sooner or later, there will be no escape from conducting a significant operation,” he said. “The IDF knows how to operate in a determined, decisive and offensive manner against terrorists in the Gaza Strip.”

Within hours of Gantz’s comments, the Israeli military launched two airstrikes on targets in Gaza, killing one person and injuring around 10, according to local reports.

A spokesman for the IDF said direct hits on two “terrorist squads with global jihad associations” had been confirmed. According to security officials quoted by Israel Radio, one of the targets was a cell en route to Sinai with the intention of launching an attack on Israel from Egypt.

Since the end of the Gaza war in January 2009, Hamas has attempted to enforce a ceasefire among militant groups, although sporadic rocket fire has continued. Israel holds Hamas, as the de facto government, responsible for all rocket fire emanating from Gaza.

There have been suggestions in recent weeks that Hamas is ready to distance itself further from attacks on Israel as part of its reconciliation process with its rival faction Fatah.

“They have accepted popular [non-violent] resistance,” senior Fatah official Mohammed Shtayyer said, adding that Hamas would stop “these fireworks” being launched.

However, Hamas officials have also said they reserve the right to self-defence and the prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, pledged to continue “resistance” at a public rally this month.

Gantz’s comments were meant “to keep [Hamas] on their toes”, according to the Israeli analyst Yossi Alpher, who said: “He’s letting us know that another operation is possible and it would be successful.”

Alpher identified two constraining factors – moves towards Fatah-Hamas reconciliation “which may change the political nature of the Gaza regime”, and Egypt. “In the past, we could assume that if we launched an operation in Gaza, [former president Hosni] Mubarak would be largely sympathetic. That’s not necessarily the case now,” he said.

Hamas’s message was not unequivocal or comprehensive, he said, adding: “The question is, are we witnessing an evolutionary process in which Hamas follows the lead of Islamists in Egypt and Tunisia away from violence and into politics? My sense is we are, but it’s a slow process.”

Shlomo Brom, of the Institute for National Strategic Studies, said a new offensive on Gaza could be pre-empted by political developments, including the opening of a covert dialogue between Israel and Hamas.

“The developments of Hamas’s position taking into account the effects of the Arab spring could open different possibilities,” he said.

(www.guardian.co.uk / 28.12.2011)