Hamas bereid grenzen van 1967 te accepteren – ‘pragmatische beslissing’

meshal

Fatah-leider president Mahmoud Abbas schudt de hand van Hamas-leider Khaled Meshal tijdens een ontmoeting in Kairo op woensdag.

Hamas wil zich meer richten op ongewapende demonstraties tegen Israël, omdat deze de “kracht van een tsunami” hebben, maar zweert geweld niet af.

Daarnaast is de beweging bereid om de oprichting van een Palestijnse staat te steunen met de grenzen uit 1967. Dat heeft Hamas-leider Khaled Meshal gezegd in een gesprek met persbureau AP. Hij was vandaag in Kairo voor besprekingen met Fatah-rivaal, president Mahmoud Abbas.

‘Hamas moet leren van Arabische Lente’

De twee kampen besloten in Egypte dat Hamas lid zal worden van de organisatie ter bevrijding van Palestina (PLO) en gezamenlijke verkiezingen zullen houden in 2012 in zowel Gaza als op de Westbank. Naar aanleiding van de gebeurtenissen in de Arabische wereld, grootschalige demonstraties die al vier regimes lieten vallen, wil Meshal dat Hamas hier lessen uit leert.

De Israëlische regering verwierp de uitlatingen van Meshal en wees op het feit dat Hamas herhaardelijk heeft opgeroepen tot de vernietiging van Israël. Jeruzalem gelooft daarom niet dat een mogelijke koerswijziging van Hamas zal leiden tot oplossing van het Midden-Oosten-conflict, schrijft de Israëlische krant Ha’aretz.

‘Palestijnse staat is groter dan Hamas’

Meshal gaf in Kairo al aan dat Hamas de gewapende strijd tegen Israël niet zal opgeven. “Zo lang als ons land bezet wordt, blijven we met alle middelen vechten om het terug te krijgen”, aldus de Hamas-topman. In het verleden beschouwde Hamas heel Israël als bezet gebied en een Palestijnse staat met de grenzen van 1967 een tussenstadium voor de vernietiging van Israël.

Meshal herhaalde deze standpunten niet tijdens het interview. Hij beriep zich op het nut van samenwerking met de Fatah-partij van Abbas en het gedeelde doel van een staat met de grenzen uit 1967. Meshal: “onze staat is groter dan onze partij”.

Volgens NRC-buitenlandredacteur Carolien Roelants is de bereidwilligheid van Hamas om de grenzen van 1967 te accepteren een “pragmatische” beslissing van de organisatie. Roelants:

“Je ziet dat Hamas in vergelijking met de afgelopen jaren steeds meer beweegt richting de acceptatie van de grenzen van 1967 en dus ook een twee staten-oplossing. Let wel, Meshal spreekt hier. Vergeet niet dat er ook anderen zijn die niet zo ver willen gaan als hun leider. Maar dit is wel een pragmatisering van de kant van Hamas.”

Eerder dit jaar liet de Israëlische premier Benjamin Netanyahu weten dat de grenzen van een Palestijnse staat op basis van de grenzen uit 1967 “onverdedigbaar” waren en dus onbespreekbaar. Hij deed eind september wel een handreiking aan de Palestijnen tijdens de Algemene Vergadering van de Verenigde Naties door te stellen dat Israël bereid was te onderhandelen, maar zonder voorwaarden. Abbas was ook bereid te onderhandelen, maar wilde de grenzen van 1967 als uitgangspunt. Met de aanvraag van de Palestijnen van een volledig VN-lidmaatschap verstevigde de impasse tussen de twee landen.

(www.nrc.nl / 29.12.2011)

A nightmare that lasted three weeks; memories of Gaza massacre

Rafat Abushaban

29 December 2011
Emergency workers run alongside burning debris

Israeli leaders threatened to wipe Gaza off of the map during the first hours of bombing.

Here comes that difficult time of year again: the anniversary of an event that changed the taste of life for Palestinians inside the Gaza Strip and throughout the world. It is three years since the Gaza massacre, or what Israel called Operation Cast Lead.

I still vividly recall the first hours of this 22-day nightmare, when I was with my classmates at university, sitting a final exam paper. We were almost done with the paper when we heard the first explosion. It is somehow common to hear explosions in Gaza, so we kept still until two louder explosions occurred. It was then that we dropped our pens and looked throughout the clouds of smoke that were getting closer. Supervisors immediately called on us to evacuate the campus through safe routes.

Once we got to the street, it was a different world. There was smoke and ash everywhere and Israeli F16s and drones were filling the horizon. Ambulances and fire trucks were speeding up along the opposite road, civilian cars were going in all directions and people were running as if they had all just entered into a bad dream. No matter how hard you tried to look, there were neither policemen nor officials to help the terrified people running here and there. Up to that moment, we had no idea of what was going on. We just knew that something really bad had happened, and that we were not safe walking on the streets with the lack of of safety procedures and shelters.

However, I will never forget how some young people had the courage to act voluntarily in that crucial time on diverting the traffic and helping other people out, risking their own lives. Two hours later, it was all over the news channels. Approximately forty persons were killed in the first air strikes and Israeli officials were threatening to wipe Gaza off of the map.

Blackout

The bombs kept on falling and the death toll was increasing rapidly. My relatives had gathered at our house, believing that it was in a more secure area than theirs. We were continuously watching the news and had limited our movement outside the house to the extreme. Two days after that, a bomb fell on a main electricity line in our neighborhood, causing a blackout. The blackout remained until after the massacre was over.

By the third or fourth day there was a de facto curfew. Israeli jets were dropping loads of announcements for the people of Gaza to stay at their homes and to call the military about anybody shooting rockets on Israeli towns. The water supply was cut off and we and thousands of other households were isolated from the world. I will never forget how neighbors were so helpful in sharing their water supply with others.

The Saraya, a large security complex near our house, was a military base built during the British mandate of Palestine (1920-1948). This base was targeted during the massacre with heavy missiles until it was totally destroyed. As each missile fell, a window was broken or a door was jammed. We were alerted 24/7 and could barely sleep during the night that was always glowing due to the daily dose of white phosphorus.

Never safe

After the first two weeks, it was apparent that the Israelis had run out of targets as governmental, military and even international aid bases were completely or partially destroyed. Absurdly, the air strikes started targeting open land and already destroyed buildings, presumably just to terrify people. The rubble at the Saraya base was bombed for a third and fourth time.

Some of the blasts were so powerful that rocks and bricks flew for hundreds of meters, hitting all the houses close by. It was a shocking experience witnessing the huge explosions, while seeing and hearing the metal, bricks and wooden parts of your house falling apart all around you. Here I believe is the very basic rule of life in Gaza: the place that was thought to be safer than others is dangerous after all. You are never safe.

During the following days, a two-hour break in the curfew was announced. People rushed to secure their families’ basic needs. I could not forget the long rows of people awaiting their turn to collect some bread or to fill one small gasoline tank (which was the limit per person), but people were sharing their everyday needs with each other It is said that hardship brings people together. The need for unity and helping others was the prevailing feeling inside homes, between families and among neighbors in these harsh days.

After more than 22 days of continuous fear and terror, the operation was over. We lost 1,400 martyrs; thousands of people were wounded with white phosphorus and other state-of-the-art Israeli weapons. Electricity and sewage infrastructure, transportation systems and roads were severely damaged.

International solidarity

In the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead, the international empathy for the Palestinian cause rose and pro-Palestine movements across Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa became stronger than ever. Demands for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel grew louder.

Until today, a number of families that were left homeless by the massacre have not yet managed to find permanent housing. The infrastructure is still damaged and the reconstruction process is moving inefficiently and very slowly due to the banning of construction materials. In the meantime, the Israeli siege remains in place. As I wrote these lines at night, at least two Israeli strikes took place, killing at least one and injuring a dozen, some with serious wounds.

United we can overcome the hurdles and defeat the occupation.

Rafat Abushaban, 23, is a Palestinian activist living in Gaza. His blog iswww.zaitoontree.com.

(electronicintifada.net / 29.12.2011)

Updated: COLLECTION OF LINKS to show you Israel is NOT looking for peace but this:

A Greater Israel, like published by zionist terrorgroup: http://bit.ly/eXIG72 #Palestine

Aug 30, 2010, year ago, before peacetalks, Netanyahu vowed to make NO CONCESSIONS AT ALL:http://www.alarabiya.net/articles/2010/08/30/118062.html | #Zionism

And said before going into “peacetalks”: The “Eretz Israel” stretches from the Mediterranian Sea to the River Jordan.

Means, the greater israel incl the West Bank of #Palestine as well as #Gaza (and even more) Bibi said it: IL not big enough for jewish state

In an op-ed in New York Times, DannyDanon said the same: “Making the Land of Israel Whole”http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/19/opinion/19Danon.html | #Zionism

Recently Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin reiterated it by saying: The land of Israel is ours in its entirety“http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4116118,00.html | #Zionism

Oct 16, 2011: Ayalon: Settlement in Jerusalem not for discussion
http://occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com/2011/10/16/ayalon-settlement-in-jerusalem-not-for-discussion/

Leaders of Zionism spoke about an Endlösung and creation for a jewish Lebensraum at cost of #Palestinefor decades. http://www.palestineremembered.com/Acre/Famous-Zionist-Quotes/Story637.html

For the cause of the zionist Lebensraum, over 77 massacres have been committed: Here’s a list:http://t.co/FyEtxfD | #Palestine

#HumanRights, which supposed to be universal, are VIOLATED for 63 years for the so called “security” of Israel http://occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com/2011/02/01/janan-abdu-israel’s-human-rights-abuses-in-the-name-of-security-—-israeli-occupation-archive/

IOA has NO intentions to halt ethnic cleansing: Netanyahu: ‘We won’t renew settlement freeze to lure PA to talks’
http://t.co/TQz5bM00

Israel plans 1000’s more settlement units as legislators call for FULL ANNEXATION of the WEST BANK
http://occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com/2011/09/27/israel-plans-1100-more-settlement-units-as-legislators-call-for-full-annexation/

Occupation is planning to build one million housing units in ten years
http://occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com/2011/10/26/occupation-is-planning-to-build-1-000-000-housing-units-in-ten-years/

MK Danon intros bill to annex West Bank: “The tree that Abbas climbed up cld produce the fruit of the Zionist endeavor”
http://bit.ly/sZ57SF

Israeli cabinet may respond to UNESCO vote w/ ‘punitive’ settlement constructionhttp://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4142210,00.html

Israel’s Jerusalem municipality plans to build more than 50,000 (-update Dec 3, 2011: 85.000 units to be build before 2030) new homes in the city’s occupied eastern sector over two decades

– 23,628 homes have already been approved, 20,263 in East Jerusalem and 3,365 in the west.
– 13,824 are pending review, 12,819 in East Jerusalem and 1,005 in the west.
– 23,266 housing units are still in planning stages, 19,281 in the east and 3,985 in the west.
Of these, the municipality plans:
– 10,366 homes in northern East Jerusalem, including illegal Israeli settlement Pisgat Zeev and Palestinian town Beit Hanina.
– 5,239 homes in southern East Jerusalem, including Gilo settlement and Palestinian district Beit Safafa.
– 4,886 new units in central eastern Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan and Jerusalem’s Old City.
http://occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com/2011/11/07/report-israel-plans-50000-homes-in-east-jerusalem/

Besides this, Israel approved plans to ethnic cleanse 57.000 bedouin from #Palestinehttp://occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com/2011/10/11/btselem-civil-administration-plans-to-expel-tens-of-thousands-of-bedouins-from-area-c-videos/

57.000 #Palestine‘s People to be exiled and made refugee, and the world in #GLOBALSILENCE about this largest ethnic cleansing since #Nakba

A Report from B’Tselem: Civil Administration plans to expel tens of thousands of Bedouins from Area C – videos
http://wp.me/p16sn9-dGs

In 2005, an advisor to Shimon Peres already told US that Negev “development” plan meant “relocation” of 65,000 Bedouin citizens
http://t.co/eSAJSdY

Watch this video to understand what Israel means with “Relocation” (Some villages are demolished over 20 times)

VIDEO – Ethnic Cleansing Caught on Camera:
http://wp.me/p16sn9-fM2

On Dec 11, 2011 Wadi el-Na’am, an ‘unrecognized’ Bedouin village of 5,000 people, given 48-hour eviction notice today
https://twitter.com/#!/myaguarnieri/status/145867636469792768

An be sure to watch the video: The Unrecognized:
http://t.co/D9hqRBk

Likud MK: “Delete” Gaza neighborhood for each rocket fired ( Nov 10, 2011)
http://972mag.com/likud-mk-“delete”-one-gaza-neighborhood-for-each-rocket-fired-from-the-strip/27411/

Save yourself time, Forget all details. It is only about this : Ethnic Cleansing | http://bit.ly/hGaKwP | #Palestine

History Facts – Balfour’s apartheid legacy http://occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com/2011/11/05/balfour’s-apartheid-legacy-by-stuart-littlewood/

History Facts – RothSchild
http://www.iamthewitness.com/DarylBradfordSmith_Rothschild.htm

History Facts of Zionist Militia: Menachem Begin (Irgun Zvei Leumi)
http://occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com/2011/06/12/learn-about-the-history-of-zionist-militia-menachem-begin-irgun-zvei-leumi/

(www.twitlonger.com/show/em6o5g / 29.12.2011)

Israel prepares to transfer 70,000 Jerusalem Palestinians to West Bank i.d.’s

silwan protest
Silwan residents, now facing transfer to the West Bank, protest home evictions in 2009

This week Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat announced plans tostrip IDs from 70,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem , and transfer them to the West Bank civil administration. Though not a physical transfer, this stripping of IDs will mark the largest en masse stripping of citizenship rights, since 1967, the Palestinian naksa, or “setback.”  Palestinians who were forced into exile as refugees, or were traveling abroad in 1967 were stripped of their Palestinians IDdocuments.

The Palestinians from East Jerusalem neighborhoods such as Silwan, whose status will be revoked, are already geographically annexed to a “greater Jerusalem” by the security wall.  The route of the wall cuts Silwan from other Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem that are east of the wall, and west of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement.

Haaretz’s Nir Hassan reported on December 23, the stripping of Jerusalem IDs coincides with the opening of a massive new checkpoint in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat, and the re-emergence of construction on a settler road connecting Jerusalem to Ma’ale Adumim.  Finishing the construction, combined  with the new checkpoint, would all but cut the West Bank in half– and complete the physical annexation of East Jerusalem.

Hassan writes:

Put the pieces together, and you get a picture of Israel erecting, at enormous expense, a major system of roads and checkpoints that would allow for the total separation of Palestinians and Israelis while also enabling the construction of Mevasseret Adumim, a neighborhood that would connect Ma’aleh Adumim to Jerusalem.

E1MapEng
E1 plan. A Jerusalem settlement bloc which would bifurcate the West Bank (Map: Ir Amim)

Mevasseret Adumim, located in what is called EI, currently has, “roads, electricity lines, traffic circles and lots for development,” according to Hassan. The transfer of 70,000 Palestinians, the new checkpoint, and the road construction all indicate that though development of Mevasseret Adumim stopped in 2007, plans to construct this settlement (which will break territorial continuity in the West Bank ) are back.

(mondoweiss.net / 29.12.2011)

Gaza and Israel: Unlikely trade partners

KEREM SHALOM CROSSING, Israel—Each day, dozens of trucks move food, consumer products and industrial materials into the Gaza Strip at this heavily fortified crossing, in an odd arrangement that has turned Israel into a key supplier to a territory governed by its bitter enemy Hamas.

Despite frequent fighting along this volatile border, business at the Kerem Shalom crossing has picked up greatly over the past year and a half, though it remains a fraction of historical standards. Israel says it plans a further expansion here by mid-2012.

The activity here shows how the fates of Gaza and Israel remain intertwined, six years after Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from the seaside strip.

Kerem Shalom — the sole cargo passage into Gaza — is an economic lifeline for the territory’s impoverished 1.6 million people, providing the vast majority of consumer goods.

For Israel, it is a key tool in maintaining a tense truce that has largely held up since a devastating Israeli military offensive in Gaza three years ago. With clashes regularly taking place along the volatile border, critics also accuse Israel of using commerce to control and even punish the area.

Kamil Abu Rukun, the senior Israeli Defense Ministry official who oversees all of the country’s border crossings with the Palestinians, rejected such notions. He said the development of the cargo terminal is a shared Israeli and Palestinian interest, and that security concerns are the main factor limiting trade.

“These people have been connected to us for many years, with economic and business ties,” he said. “For humane and humanitarian reasons, we think we must let them get what they need.”

Increased prosperity in Gaza could also reduce militant activity, he said. “I believe that people who can make a decent living think about making a living and not about other things,” he said.

This thinking represents a dramatic, if reluctant, turnabout by Israel, which along with Egypt clamped a tight blockade on Gaza after Hamas overran the area in June 2007. The blockade was meant to weaken Hamas, but didn’t.

While the embargo crippled parts of Gaza’s economy, Hamas deepened its control, in part by smuggling goods and weapons through hundreds of tunnels under the border with Egypt that continue to thrive.

Israel changed its policy toward Gaza after a deadly June 2010 raid on an international flotilla trying to bust the blockade. Under heavy criticism, Israel lifted all restrictions on consumer goods, though it kept a ban on materials like cement and metals that it says could be used by Hamas to build fortifications or aid attacks on Israel.

In the meantime, Israel has closed three other cargo crossings into Gaza and consolidated all operations at the expanded Kerem Shalom facility.

Today, about 4,500 truckloads of goods go into Gaza each month. That’s higher than 2,500 truckloads before the flotilla raid, according to military and U.N. figures, but well below 2005 levels averaging 10,400 truckloads at all crossings each month. Truckloads out of Gaza are minimal; Israel says that’s because it has to do even more stringent checks on outgoing traffic to prevent explosives from slipping into Israel.

Abu Rukun said that new equipment and technology will boost the flow of goods into Gaza by about 50 percent from current levels by mid-2012. He also expects exports to begin flowing more freely out of Gaza at that time.

Israeli officials say they are working on ways to boost the flow of construction materials into Gaza, and considering allowing exports to Israel and the West Bank. In the meantime, the tunnels are feverishly bringing in building materials for private use.

Hamas officials say they welcome the prospect of increased trade, but they note trade remains a fraction of what it used to be, and suspect Israel has ulterior motives.

The consolidation of operations through one crossing allows Israel to “tighten the siege on the Gaza Strip any time it wants,” said Fawzi Barhoum, a senior Hamas official.

The lone crossing between Egypt and Gaza does not handle cargo.

Israeli officials say all limitations on trade are purely the result of security concerns.

These concerns are evident in the unconventional arrangement at Kerem Shalom, a sprawling maze of courtyards surrounded by huge concrete slabs. Israeli security men are on the premises, and there is no direct contact between Israeli and Palestinian officials.

The crates of cargo — anything from fruits and vegetables to refrigerators, construction materials and fuel — are inspected on the Israeli side, then placed on “sterile” trucks that are never allowed out of the crossing.

Palestinian drivers from Gaza with special security clearance then drive the trucks 500 yards (meters) to the Gaza border, where the goods are transferred to Palestinian trucks. All trade is ostensibly between private parties, though all trucks pass Hamas security and customs checks on the other side of the border.

The process at Kerem Shalom is inefficient, slowed by the security checks. Situated at the meeting place of the Israeli, Egyptian and Gazan borders, the crossing has frequently been closed because of attacks by Palestinian militants. In April 2008, multiple assaults included a twin car bombing that wounded 13 soldiers.

“There is no simple solution to a complex problem, and these problems are very complex,” Israeli Defense Ministry director Udi Shani told The Associated Press.

Critics, however, say Israel could be doing much more to boost traffic. They suggest that politics, not just security, are driving the decision making.

Sari Bashi, director of Gisha, an Israeli advocacy group critical of the blockade, said Israel has systematically worked to depress the Gaza economy and punish Hamas.

She said traffic into Gaza remains just 40 percent of what it was before the Hamas takeover, and exports are just 1 percent. Construction materials, badly needed to rebuild destruction from the Israeli military offensive, are restricted to projects coordinated by the U.N. and other international bodies.

In addition, exports are prohibited from going to traditional markets in Israel and the West Bank, and instead, items must be shipped to Europe, where demand is low. This has further divided Gaza and the West Bank, territories where the Palestinians hope to establish an independent state alongside Israel.

“It’s a political decision that is devastating for the health and well-being of Palestinian society, and it destroys the possibility of a two-state solution,” Bashi said

(www.boston.com / 29.12.2011)

Syrian forces kill 25 protesters, monitors reach cities

BEIRUT |(Reuters) – Syrian security forces shot dead 25 people on Thursday, including in cities being visited by Arab League monitors to check whether President Bashar al-Assad is keeping a pledge to end a crackdown on popular unrest.

The Arab League hopes its deal with Assad can stop nine months of bloodshed. More than 5,000 people have been killed, by a United Nations count, provoking international sanctions against Damascus and stoking fears of civil war.

Anti-Assad activists have said the monitoring mission is too small and easily restricted by state security escorts that many protesters are afraid to approach. There have also been questions about the chief of mission, a Sudanese general whose government has defied an international war crimes tribunal over bloodshed in Darfur.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Assad’s security forces opened fire on protests in cities around the country, wounding around 100 people. Six died in Hama, a major hotbed of unrest, around the time monitors were entering the city for a first look.

The British-based Observatory said security forces fired at a street rally in Douma, a Damascus suburb, killing four people. Enraged residents launched a civil disobedience campaign and thousands reportedly flooded the main square for a sit-in.

“The activists have called for complete civil disobedience. The roads have been blocked, stores are shut down and the city is paralyzed,” said Rami Abdelrahman, head of the British-based Observatory.

LACK OF FAITH

Monitors aim to check conditions in the turbulent cities of Deraa, Hama and Idlib, which lie along a 450-km (280-mile) arc from the south to the north of Syria.

But anti-Assad activists in all three cities said they have yet to see the monitors.

At its midpoint is Homs, where the Arab League mission had a controversial start when its Sudanese chief, General Mustafa al-Dabi, reported seeing “nothing frightening” in an initial tour.

The general said his team still needed more time to judge conditions, but Syria’s foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdesi said his comments reflect the “true story of the Syrian crisis.”

The Arab mission is the first notable international involvement in Syria’s crisis. The uprising against 41 years of rule by the Assad family was inspired by other Arab popular revolts that have overthrown three dictators this year.

In Hama, activists said protesters went out into the streets

to await the Arab League delegation as security forces deployed heavily in the area.

“People really hope to reach (the monitors). We do not have much access to the team. The people stopped believing anything or anyone now. Only God can help us now,” said Abu Hisham, an opposition activist in Hama.

In a video uploaded on Thursday, activists filming snipers lurking on rooftops appeared to come under fire and then turned their camera to show protesters carrying away a wounded man, a trail of blood dripping behind him.

It was impossible to verify the footage or reports on the ground. Most foreign journalists are banned from the country.

Another video dated from Thursday showed a crowd of protesters in Hama watching plumes of black smoke rising from buildings nearby as heavy gunfire shook the area.

Hama has a haunting resonance for Syrians opposed to Assad. His late father ordered a massacre of up to 30,000 people there in 1982 to put down an Islamist insurrection.

COMMUNICATIONS DIFFICULT

A source in the Arab League mission’s operations centre in Cairo said earlier on Thursday there had been a problem with communications but the monitors’ schedule was holding up.

“We have contacted our teams … Today’s plan will not be changed and the only problem we faced today was the bad phone network, which made our communication with the monitors harder. It took more time to reach them and determine their locations.”

The Syrian foreign ministry spokesman said Arab monitors were getting “all the facilities they need” to assess the crisis.

Activists in Idlib said they had tried to reach out to the delegation with little luck.

“We got five numbers but the reaction we got from those people made us feel they were pro-regime. However, three monitors have contacted us to say they plan to visit us secretly, in private,” said an activist named Munahal. “They can’t bring their team, that means the security would come too.”

Unless it can establish its credibility by proving it has unobstructed access to all areas and is able to hear uncensored accounts, the Arab League mission may not be able to satisfy all sides that it can make an objective assessment of the crisis.

Syria says it is fighting Islamist militants steered from abroad who have killed over 2,000 of his security force.

“WHERE WERE THEY?”

In Homs, Syria’s third-largest city and epicenter of anti-Assad ferment, protesters were already fed up with the monitors, who they said seemed unsympathetic and hard to find.

“This mission is a big lie. They say they were in Khalidiya neighborhood. I haven’t seen them,” said Tamir, shouting by telephone over protester chants of “down with the regime.”

“We’ve been here at the protest. Where were they?”

Some 150 monitors in all are expected to enter Syria by the end of the week. But activists say Syrian government or security officials escorting monitors can intimidate residents who want to testify about the violence.

They also say there are not enough monitors to see the full scope of unrest in a large country of 23 million people.

An international peace mission in Kosovo in the late 1990s deployed 2,000 observers in a territory of two million people, one-seventeenth the size of Syria.

The head of the leading opposition group, the Syrian National Council, told reporters in Cairo he blamed Assad’s government for the monitors’ restrictive conditions.

“So far the Syrian regime has not changed its style of lies and tricks,” Burhan Ghalioun said.

If the Arab mission fails, the U.S. State Department said, other international means will be explored to stop the killing.

Russia and China have blocked action by the U.N. Security Council and Western powers have no appetite for military action like that which helped rebels toppled Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, given Syria’s position in a web of Middle East conflicts.

(www.reuters.com / 29.12.2011)

Settlers ‘attack school children’ in Hebron

HEBRON (Ma’an) — Israeli settlers on Thursday attacked schoolchildren in Hebron city center, witnesses said.

Locals told Ma’an settlers tried to stab Mustafa al-Qadi, a sixth-grade pupil at Qartaba primary school, and hit his friend who tried to defend him.

Witnesses said Israeli soldiers watched the incident but did not intervene.

The director of the Hebron office of the education ministry condemned

Director of the Education ministry’s office in Hebron Nisreen Amr condemned settlers’ racist attacks and called for international protection for students and teachers in the city.

Around 800 Jewish settlers live in Hebron’s city center, guarded by Israeli troops.

(www.maannews.net / 29.12.2011)

US sells $30bn in F-15 jets to Saudi Arabi

A F-15 performs during MAKS-2011 in Moscow 16 August 2011

The sale of the F-15s is part of a 2010 deal voted on by the US Congress

The United States has confirmed the sale of nearly $30bn (£19.5bn) of fighter jets to Saudi Arabia.

The US will send 84 Boeing F-15 jets to its key Middle Eastern ally, and upgrade 70 existing Saudi F-15s.

The agreement is part of a $60bn arms deal covering 10-15 years, approved by the US Congress last year.

The military hardware deal comes at a time when Washington is working to counter the influence of the Saudis’ bitter regional rival, Iran.

The sale was formally announced on Thursday from Hawaii, where President Barack Obama is on holiday.

‘Strong message’

In Honolulu, White House deputy spokesman Josh Earnest said the deal would support more than 50,000 American jobs at a time of high unemployment.

Continue reading the main story

Analysis

image of Paul AdamsPaul AdamsBBC News, Washington

The US and Saudi Arabia have long been close military partners, and this is part of a much larger, multi-year package first announced more than a year ago.

But the timing of this “pre-announcement” is hardly accidental, and represents a robust reminder of American support for a key regional ally, just as Iran is warning that it could disrupt traffic through the Strait of Hormuz if Washington imposes sanctions on Tehran’s oil exports.

America’s principal allies in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and Israel, all view Iran as the principal threat to regional stability.

In addition to selling Riyadh as much as $60bn of military equipment, Washington is also moving ahead with plans to supply Iraq with nearly $11bn of arms and training. Iran’s western flank, already bristling with weaponry, is being steadily bolstered.

Few in Washington, including Israel’s supporters, seriously object to arming Saudi Arabia, but the Iraq deal has its critics. There are doubts about the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s commitment to democracy, and fears that Washington may in fact be arming, rather than creating a bulwark against, Iran.

In Washington, senior state department official Andrew Shapiro said it would send “a strong message to countries in the region that the United States is committed to stability in the Gulf and broader Middle East”.

“It will enhance Saudi Arabia’s ability to deter and defend against external threats to its sovereignty,” he added.

As well as the F-15s, the larger $60bn package includes Apache attack helicopters, Black Hawk helicopters, and a range of missiles, bombs and delivery systems.

The plan initially raised concerns from pro-Israeli members of Congress, but US officials reassured them that Israel’s regional military edge would not be undercut by the sale.

The announcement comes in a week when Tehran said it might close the Strait of Hormuz if the country was hit by more sanctions, prompting the US to warn it would not tolerate any disruption of the vital oil route.

Tensions between the Saudis and the Iranians were heightened after the US accused Tehran of plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington earlier this year.

Saudi Arabia, as well as being a main plank of American policy in the Middle East, is also vital to US energy security, ranking as the third-largest source of its oil imports.

(www.bbc.co.uk / 29.12.2011)

Israeli airstrike destroys Gaza training base, no injuries

Palestinians survey a Hamas compound damaged in an Israeli air strike in the northern Gaza Strip November 14, 2011.

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — Israeli war planes bombed central and northern Gaza Strip early Thursday, with no injuries reported.

Israeli forces struck a training site of Islamic Jihad armed wing the Al-Quds Brigades in Al-Zahra district of central Gaza, flattening the compound and damaging nearby houses.

Another airstrike hit a location in the northern Gaza Strip.

A statement from the Israeli army said it hit a “terror activity site” and “terror tunnels.”

“The targeting of these sites was in response to the firing of rockets at Israel on Wednesday,” the statement said.

Rockets fired by Gaza militant groups have hit southern Israel in recent days, without causing injuries or damage.

An Israeli airstrike on the Gaza Strip on Tuesday killed one person and wounded ten others, as the coastal enclave commemorated the third anniversary of Israel’s large-scale ground invasion of the coastal strip.

On Wednesday, an Israeli tank fired an artillery shell which landed in an open area in the north Gaza, without causing damage or injuries.

Israel launched an unprecedented three week war on the Gaza Strip on Dec. 27, 2008 which killed nearly 1,400 Palestinians were killed in the military assault, including over 300 children. The majority of those killed were civilians and over 5,000 people were wounded.

Hamas vowed on Tuesday that it would not be intimidated by Israel’s threats to launch a new invasion, as Israel’s army chief called Operation Cast Lead an “excellent” operation and said any repeat attack must be “swift and painful.”

(www.maannews.net / 29.12.2011)