White House repeats call for 'durable' ceasefire in Gaza
The White House reiterated on Tuesday it wanted to see a "durable" ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, stopping short of endorsing a proposed humanitarian truce for Gaza.
"We are working to help bring about a durable ceasefire," spokeswoman Dana Perino told AFP when asked if President George W. Bush would be ready to back a humanitarian truce.
She said that "humanitarian aid has been flowing to the region, provided by Israel and the UN."
Perino spoke as France worked with Arab states on a draft UN resolution calling for an immediate end to the Israeli military offensive in Gaza as well as to rocket fire into Israel by Gaza-based militants.
The text would also urge the lifting of the Israeli siege of Gaza to allow humanitarian access to the beleaguered Palestinian population, protection of Palestinian civilians, a resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and a means to monitor the truce and protect civilians, diplomats said.
Perino struck a cautious tone over French President Nicolas Sarkozy's diplomatic effort to persuade Syria to push its ally Hamas to agree a truce.
"We have not found such talks with the Syrians to be constructive or useful," she said.
"If President Sarkozy is successful in getting Syria to stop supporting Hamas and Hezbollah, that would be good."
Sarkozy arrived in the Syrian capital Damascus earlier Tuesday as part of a Mideast tour trying to broker a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.
Syria is a key player in the region and is home to the self-exiled chief of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal.
Deadly Israeli raids on schools take Gaza toll to 660
Israeli tanks and troops blazed into towns across the Gaza Strip on Tuesday striking Hamas targets, but hits on three UN-run schools killed at least 48 people and sparked urgent new ceasefire calls.
While troops battled Islamist militants inside Gaza City in the heaviest fighting of the 11-day-old offensive to halt cross-border rocket attacks, Hamas made its deepest rocket strike yet into Israel.
As the Palestinian death toll surged above 660, Arab states pressed for a UN Security Council resolution condemning the onslaught, but Israel rejected ceasefire calls by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and other leaders.
"Europe must open its eyes," President Shimon Peres told an EU ministerial delegation.
"We are not in the business of public relations or improving our image. We are fighting against terror and we have every right to defend our citizens."
The United Nations demanded an investigation after tank and air assaults hit three schools run by its Palestinian relief agency, UNRWA.
At least 43 people sheltering at the Jabaliya refugee camp school in northern Gaza were killed, emergency services said. The UN confirmed at least 30 dead and 55 wounded after the shelling.
The Israeli military said a preliminary inquiry indicated that mortar rounds may have been fired from the Jabaliya school.
Earlier two people were killed when an artillery shell hit a school in the southern city of Khan Yunis. Three people also died in an air strike on another school in Gaza City's Shati refugee camp, medics said.
UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Palestinian territories Maxwell Gaylard said Israel had the GPS coordinates of all UN buildings in Gaza -- including schools.
"Neither homes nor UN shelters are safe" for civilians, he said in a statement and called for an investigation. "If international humanitarian law has been contravened, those responsible must be held accountable."
Heavy fighting raged in Gaza City and around nearby Deir al-Balah and Bureij. One air raid on Gaza City killed 12 people, including seven children, from the same family.
Tanks with helicopter gunship support rolled into Khan Yunis before dawn, to be met with return fire from Hamas and its allies, witnesses said.
Four Israeli soldiers were killed in two friendly fire incidents during overnight fighting, the army said. Five have now died since Saturday.
The military said another soldier was killed in a clash near Gaza City.
It also said that paratroopers shot at the belt of a suicide bomber running towards them to detonate his bomb.
About 35 Hamas rockets were fired over the border, one landing 45 kilometres (28 miles) inside Israel -- the deepest yet -- slightly wounding a baby, it said.
Three civilians and one soldier have been killed by rockets hitting Israel since the offensive began.
Protests against Israel have spiralled worldwide and the French president led new calls for a truce as he met Israeli leaders in Jerusalem on Monday.
But Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reaffirmed that there can be no ceasefire until "terrorist" rocket attacks and weapons smuggling into Gaza are ended.
Sarkozy went to Damascus and Beirut and later returned to Egypt to see President Hosni Mubarak, saying there was a "glimmer of hope" for ending the bloodshed. A Hamas delegation also arrived in Cairo.
Egypt brokered a six-month truce that ended on December 19. Hamas refused to renew the deal and started firing rockets, sparking the war.
Israel launched Operation Cast Lead on Hamas on December 27 with a massive air bombardment of Gaza, and sent in thousands of ground troops a week later.
Since then, 660 Palestinians have been killed, including about 200 children, with more than 2,950 wounded, Gaza medics say.
Egypt said on Tuesday the number of Palestinians who have died after being evacuated through the Rafah crossing rose to 11 when four more succumbed to their wounds.
Israel has denied there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, but the International Committee of the Red Cross stepped up pressure with a rare public statement.
"There is no doubt in my mind that we are dealing with a full-blown and major crisis in humanitarian terms. The situation for the people in Gaza is extreme and traumatic," said Pierre Kraehenbuehl, ICRC director of operations.
He said ICRC staff in Gaza described the past night as "the most frightening to date" in the territory, where there is no power or water and food rations are severely limited.
The UN Security Council was to meet again on Tuesday to weigh an Arab call for a ceasefire and to protect Palestinian civilians, diplomats said.
Washington has strongly backed Israel, with President George W. Bush saying any truce must ensure an end to militant rocket fire.
President-elect Barack Obama vowed to speak out about the conflict once he takes office, but insisted until then only Bush can speak for the US.
"After January 20 I am going to have plenty to say about the issue," Obama told reporters.
Al Qaeda Vows Revenge for Gaza
Ayman al-Zawahiri Vows to Avenge Deaths of Palestinians
By MADDY SAUER
Jan. 6, 2009
Osama bin Laden's top deputy in al Qaeda has released a new tape in which he threatens the United States and vows revenge for the deaths of Palestinians in Gaza.
"We will never stop until we avenge the death of all who are killed, injured, widowed and orphaned in Palestine and throughout the Islamic world," said Ayman al-Zawahiri in a new 10-minute audio recording released today on extreme Islamist Web forums.
The message is entitled "The Massacre in Gaza and the Siege of the Traitors".
Zawahiri refers directly to President-elect Barack Obama saying he has partnered with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whom Zawahiri labels as a traitor to Islam.
"What you are facing today is just occupation and settlement that is limited to one area or one country, but is part of a series in the Crusaders war against Islam," says Zawahiri. "These air strikes are a gift from Obama before he takes office, and from Hosni Mubarak, the traitor who is the primary partner in your siege and murder."
To the Palestinians he says: "Be strong and persist in the way of Jihad. The whole Muslim ummah is united with you."
He also vows to carry out al Qaeda's repeated threat that the United States will not live in peace until Palestine does.
"We are at work to carry out the promise of our fighting sheikh Osama Bin Laden (may Allah protect him) who promised that America will not live in peace in their dreams before we live in peace in Palestine, and until all the forces of the infidels leave the lands of Muhammed," Zawahiri says.
Dag. Now they got the damn Qaeda involved.
Venezuela Expels Israeli Ambassador
Chavez Fiercly Critical Of Gaza Conflict, Israel's "Barbarism"
(CBS/AP) Venezuela ordered the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador and some embassy staff on Tuesday to protest Israel's military offensive in the Gaza Strip.
The decision by President Hugo Chavez, a longtime critic of U.S. and Israeli policy, to kick out the diplomats appeared to be the strongest reaction yet to the Gaza offensive by any country with ties to Israel.
Venezuela's Foreign Ministry announced the move in a statement, saying it "has decided to expel the Israeli ambassador and part of the personnel of the Israeli embassy."
The Israeli offensive in Gaza has killed nearly 600 Palestinians in ground and air strikes. Israel launched the attacks Dec. 27 to stop Palestinian militants from firing rockets into southern Israel.
Venezuela's Foreign Ministry said its U.N. mission is joining with other countries in demanding the Security Council "apply urgent and necessary measures to stop this invasion."
Officials could not immediately be reached at the Israeli Embassy in Caracas, which had closed by the time of the announcement.
Chavez earlier condemned the Israelis carrying out the military campaign as "murderers" and urged Jews in Venezuela to take a stand against the Israeli government.
"Now I hope that the Venezuelan Jewish community speaks out against this barbarism. Do it. Don't you strongly reject all acts of persecution?" Chavez said.
"How far will this barbarism go?" he said in an appearance on state television. "The president of Israel should be taken before an international court together with the president of the United States, if the world had any conscience."
While many countries have protested Israel's offensive, none so far has expelled the ambassador.
Mauritania, which established relations with Israel in 1999, called home its ambassador from the Jewish state on Monday.
Jordan and Egypt, the other two Arab nations with relations with Israel, summoned their Israeli ambassadors to protest the Gaza attacks, but they have resisted popular calls to expel them.
Chavez has long been critical of the Israeli government's policies in the Middle East and has supported the Palestinians' stance in the conflict.
During Israel's 2006 conflict in Lebanon, Chavez withdrew his top envoy from Israel, calling the bombings there "a new Holocaust."
In spite of its criticisms of Israel, Chavez's government has insisted it is friendly toward Jewish people.
Chavez met with Jewish leaders in August, pledging to work against anti-Semitism despite strong differences on Mideast politics.
Chavez's condemnations of Israel's offensive have grown gradually more severe in recent days.
He called on Israelis to "stand up against" their government. As for those leading the offensive in Gaza, he said, "they are cowards - bombing innocent people. What great soldiers they are, how brave the soldiers of Israel are."
Protests against the offensive have been held in Venezuela and other Latin American countries in recent days.
In Argentina, which has the third-largest Jewish population outside Israel as well as a sizable population of Arab descent, hundreds of people marched to the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires to call for an end to the offensive.
Brazil's government says it is sending 14 tons of medicine and food to the Gaza Strip. And in Bolivia, about 100 Palestinians and Arabs marched to protest the violence.
Israeli leaders to debate "final" Gaza push
By Dan Williams
07 Jan 2009 07:05:24 GMT
JERUSALEM, Jan 7 (Reuters) - Israeli leaders will debate on Wednesday whether to order their armed forces to storm into the Gaza Strip's urban centres, the planned culmination of a nearly two-week-old offensive, political sources said.
Escalating from a week-long air assault, Israeli troops and tanks invaded the Hamas-ruled territory on Saturday, clashing with Palestinian guerrillas but not advancing beyond the outskirts of the city of Gaza or other densely populated areas.
Israel called the initial ground sweep the "second stage" of the operation, without saying what could follow. The opacity helped spur a frenzy of international mediation to secure a truce under which Hamas would stop cross-border rocket fire.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's security cabinet, due to convene on Wednesday, would discuss the third -- and final -- stage of the offensive, two senior political sources said, though the ministers may defer a vote on approving the plan.
"The plan is to enter the urban centres," said one source, declining to be named.
Postponing a final decision on the plan could allow Israel to keep its forces in readiness while maintaining leeway for any breakthrough in possible truce talks led by Egypt.
Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev declined to comment on Wednesday's meeting, saying: "We do not generally discuss the agendas of the security cabinet."
Military analysts believe Israeli forces would be severely challenged by combat in Gaza's congested casbahs and alleyways, where much of their air support would be irrelevant and where Palestinian gunmen would be able to mount hit-and-run ambushes.
Conquering Gaza could amount to a reoccupation of a territory the Jewish state captured from Egypt in a 1967 war and quit in 2005. Israeli leaders have said they do not want to reoccupy Gaza or, for now, to topple the Islamist Hamas group.
Seven Israeli soldiers have died in an offensive that has killed more than 640 Palestinians, at least a quarter of them civilians, medics said. Palestinian rockets, the stated reason for Israel's assault, have killed four Israeli civilians.
Israel said its troops had killed 130 guerrillas since Saturday, a figure that suggested the total Palestinian death toll since Dec. 27 might be close to 770 and that bodies could still be on the battlefield.
According to one Israeli source with knowledge of the security cabinet's discussions, the initial ground sweep was executed well but the military top brass was disappointed by what they saw as relatively little Palestinian resistance.
"The assumption was that our forces could draw out the enemy into open areas where they could be eliminated, but they didn't come out in the number we expected," the source said. "Taking the fight into the populated areas would be much tougher."
Hamas spokesman Abu Ubaida said in a speech on Monday: "We have prepared for you, Zionists, thousands of tough fighters who are waiting for you in every street, every alley and at every house, and they will meet you with iron and fire."
Kucinich: Israel may be using American weapons illegally
Responding to media reports that Israel had bombed a UN school serving as a refuge for Palestinian civilians, Congressman Dennis Kucinich is calling for a Congressional report on Israel's possibly illegal misuse of US weapons.
His letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice follows.
Dear Dr. Rice:
I am writing concerning Israel's military offensive against Gaza, which began on December 27th. I support Israel's security and its right to exist in peace, without the fear of rocket attacks from Hamas. Moreover, I abhor the violence being visited upon the citizens of our firm ally. However, no nation is immune from the legal conditions placed on the receipt of U.S. military assistance.
I believe that with the current escalation of violence in Gaza, a legal threshold has been reached, warranting a Presidential examination and report to Congress. I hereby request an examination of Israel’s compliance with the provisions of the Arms Export Control Act of 1976 (AECA).
While neither the AECA nor the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (FAA) define “internal security” and “legitimate self-defense,” I believe that Israel’s most recent attacks neither further internal security nor do they constitute “legitimate” acts of self-defense. They do, however, “increase the possibility of an outbreak or escalation of conflict,” because they are a vastly disproportionate response to the provocation, and because the Palestinian population is suffering from those military attacks in numbers far exceeding Israeli losses in life and property.
Israel’s current military campaign in Gaza has inflicted a significant toll on Palestinian civilians and society. Israel’s recent aerial and ground offensive against Gaza has killed nearly 600 and injured over 2,500. The Associated Press reported: “children are paying the price... The United Nations has said the death toll includes 34 children... But the broad range of Israel's targets--police compounds, fire stations, homes of militants, Hamas-run mosques and university buildings--means most shelling is occurring in residential areas."
The extensive destruction of such civilian institutions violates Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the wanton destruction of property and collective punishment of a civilian population. There have also been reports of bombings of United Nations (UN) schools, despite the fact that Israeli Defense Forces were allegedly given coordinates of the facilities prior to the current escalation in violence.
The blockade that Israel has imposed on Gaza since 2006 has further exacerbated the extent of collateral damage, as hospitals and morgues have been unable to cope with the magnitude of deaths and injuries as a result of the current escalation in violence and hospitals lack proper supplies needed to treat the injured.
I believe that Israel’s use of defense articles provided by the U.S in the current Gaza military attacks may constitute a violation of the AECA. At a minimum, the conflict is sufficient to warrant an immediate report to Congress as required by 22 U.S.C. §2753. Please contact my office by close of business on January 7, 2009 with the date the report will be submitted.
Dennis J. Kucinich
Member of Congress
Israel to consider French-Egyptian ceasefire plan
Wednesday, 7 January 2009
Israeli President Shimon Peres has said his country will consider a plan put forward by France and Egypt in a bid to secure a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.
The move comes as Israel continues its bombardment of the densely populated Palestinian territory.
The onslaught triggered further international revulsion yesterday when Israeli tanks attacked a UN-controlled school that was being used as a shelter by civilians whom the Israelis had ordered to leave their homes.
At least 40 civilians were killed in the attack.
Israel claims Hamas militants were firing mortars from the school, but Hamas has denied the accusation.
The claims cannot be independently verified because Israel has banned foreign journalists from entering the Gaza Strip.
Meanwhile, Israel has agreed to open a "humanitarian corridor" today to allow aid to be delivered to the impoverished population of Gaza.
It has also reportedly agreed to halt all attacks for three hours to allow residents gain access to aid.
Israel conditionally welcomes cease-fire proposal
GAZA CITY, Gaza – Israel said Wednesday that it "welcomes" an Egyptian-French cease-fire proposal for Gaza as long as it halts militant rockets and weapons smuggling in a possible sign that the bloody 12-day offensive could be winding down. Hamas said it would only support a deal that included an opening of Gaza's borders.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in Paris that both Israel and the moderate Palestinian leadership in charge of the West Bank had accepted the truce proposal. And in Turkey, a diplomat said that country will be given the task of constructing an international force for Gaza.
However, Israel said it would support the proposal only if it halts "hostile fire" from Hamas in Gaza and includes measures to prevent the militant group from rearming, said government spokesman Mark Regev.
A Hamas official offered similar cautions.
"Israel is still widening and escalating its aggression and is not giving any positive signals in response to these efforts," Ghazi Hammad said.
What Most US Media Isn't Telling You
Four days ago, Israel invaded Gaza on the ground to compliment its aerial bombardment. The Palestinian death toll has reached 660. The official Israeli death toll is up to 5, of whom 4 were civilians. Attacks on civilians, no matter who they are, is criminal. Yet the US government, public relations officials, and mainstream media—unlike those of almost every other country in the world—continue to criminalize Palestinian violence while absolving Israel (the undisputed party in power) of almost any responsibility of its own. The official position seems clear: Israel can do as it likes until Hamas stops all violence.
The underlying assumption here is that Palestinians' human rights depend on the actions of their leaders. This is false. Palestinians do not have to earn the human rights inalienable to every person on Earth. Human rights are non-negotiable. Likewise, Israelis do not have to earn their human rights. Israeli state terror notwithstanding, it would be criminal to bombard the entire population of Israel (in which, as in Gaza, fighters live alongside their families in civilian areas) for the crimes of its government.
But this is exactly what Israel is doing in Gaza with US weapons before a seemingly impotent international community. Every day the carnage unfolds on CNN-International (different from CNN-US—the United States is the only country in the world with domestically customized international news coverage): a mother and her 4 kids killed instantly; a 7-year-old shot twice in the chest (I'm not sure how that happens accidentally, but does that even matter?); more than 40 policemen in training obliterated (even Israel does not claim the Palestinian police orchestrates rocket attacks); TV stations and places of worship successfully destroyed; a mortuary out of room for bodies.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, "sewage water is pouring into the streets in Beit Hanoun, following damage to the main pipeline between Beit Hanoun and the Beit Lahiya wastewater treatment plant." Save The Children reports that newborn baby Gazans are battling hypothermia due to power cuts and freezing winter winds.
Some of the worst news comes from the doctors. Can you imagine a hospital functioning without electricity? According to the mainstream British newspaper The Guardian, medics are working around the clock and running out of anesthesia. There is no more gauze so doctors are using cotton, which sticks to wounds. Nurses are forced to draw blood with the wrong sized syringes and without alcohol. The Guardian article was entitled, "The injured were lying there asking God to let them die." Many have gotten their last wish, dying as they wait in the emergency rooms.
Medical workers themselves have also been under fire, with at least 4 killed as they tried to reach victims. Ambulances are not safe, nor are the schools:
When I woke up yesterday a UN school had just been bombed, killing 3 of the civilians who had come to the school seeking shelter. Watching the news later in the evening, I learned the same UN school had been bombed again (twice in one day), killing 40 more. The British director of the school, having lost his usual calm, was irate and imploring the world to understand that nowhere in Gaza is safe anymore—there is nowhere left to go.
Yet reading the Washington Post and watching the nightly news you might believe that Israel's is in fact the most virtuous army in the world, going as far as sending text messages to and dropping leaflets in Palestinian areas explaining that unless civilians leave, they will be attacked. Reported alone, this might sound reasonable, but quickly becomes absurd if you know that Gazans have no place to go to! Nowhere inside the strip of land is safe and there is no way to leave it, since the borders are sealed.
The bombing and invasion have clearly heightened the threat against Gazans' lives, but they did not start it. For the 18 months preceding the invasion, the average Gazan could not reliably go to school, make a living, contact the outside world, divert their sewage, heat their homes, drink clean water, or eat. This was due to the enclosure summed up in the words of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights: "Gaza is a prison and Israel seems to have thrown away the key." This was the reality of Israel's "ceasefire."
The closure pushed Gaza's humanitarian crisis to a new low, with poverty reaching 80%. Any attempt to counter poverty was thwarted. Gaza students dependent on transportation could not reach their schools, and those accepted at foreign universities in America, Europe, and the West Bank were denied permits to leave. Without enough fuel, industrial businesses were either shut down or running below 20% capacity, resulting in the loss of tens of thousands of jobs. Contrary to Israeli court order, the Israeli army allowed just 15% of fuel needed for generators, wells, and transportation, resulting in garbage piled high in the streets while up to 15,000,000 gallons of raw or partially-treated sewage flowed into the sea every day. This was the reality of Israel's "ceasefire."
On November 4th and 5th, Israel broke the "ceasefire" by killing at least 6 Palestinians in Gaza, reported on CNN-International but unlikely by CNN-US. Of course, there was no ceasefire to begin with, since the main requirement on Israel was to sufficiently unseal Gaza's borders, a requirement that was consistently ignored. By the end of the "ceasefire," 262 had Gazans died due to lack of access to proper medical care during the blockade.
Hamas should be condemned for its attacks on civilians, but it is naïve to expect that they would renew a truce that Israel had never adhered to. Whether or not it would cease cross-border attacks in exchange for Israeli reciprocity—as Hamas continues to offer—is something we cannot know, since Israel has never given the offer a chance.
10 IDEAS for TAKING ACTION:
Analysis and sympathy have no value if they do not result in any action. There are enough action ideas below that every single person on this list has the power to do at least one, ideally many more.
1. Monitor and contact local media to inform others and counter misinformation. Write letters to the editor (usually 100-150 words) or op-eds (usually 600-800 words) for local newspapers. Also contact radio talk shows and television news departments, especially in response to biased coverage. You can find all local media at:
The US Campaign to End the Occupation compiled a fact sheet about US direct contributions to the war on Gaza, which you can use for facts:
2. Organize and join demonstrations in front of Israeli embassies or (if that's not doable) in front of the offices of elected officials or other visible place. Inform the media beforehand. Here is a list of the many demonstrations happening around the country (For example, St Louis, where I live, usually has one a month, but this month there are demonstrations every day):
3. Join local activist groups organizing local actions. If there aren't any, start your own. Now is an excellent time to rally support.
4. Initiate boycotts, divestments and sanctions to nonviolently pressure Israeli compliance with international law, as was effective in the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa. Now is an excellent time to rally support and begin a campaign. More info and resources at http://www.bdsmovement.net/
5. Send direct aid to Gaza through one of the following organizations:
6. Contact elected and other political leaders in your country to urge them to apply pressure to end the attacks. Find your representatives and their contact info at http://www.congress.org/congressorg/officials/congress
Call the Obama/Biden Transition Office at 202-540-3000, press 2 to speak to staff member. Tell them the U.S. needs a new Middle East policy, which holds Israel accountable to international law and UN resolutions and human rights. Tell them the U.S. should not support Israel with billions of dollars every year and should not be arming Israel with U.S. made weapons. Add your own suggestions. The time is right for President-elect Obama to hear from the peace community.
7. Sign petitions for Gaza, for example:
8. Put a Palestinian flag at your window. Wear a Palestinian head scarf (keffiya). Wear black arm bands (this helps start conversations with people).
9. Do a group fast for peace one day and hold it in a public place.
10. Inform others in your community with flyers, vigils, and conversations. At the very least, forward this on.
This list was based on a call from the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People and Friends of Sabeel.
Hamas Rejects Gaza Cease-Fire
France Says Israel Accepts Egyptian-French Plan, But Hamas Tells CBS News Deal Does Not Ensure Open Borders Or End Blockade
(CBS/AP) French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Wednesday that Israel had accepted an Egyptian-French cease-fire plan for the Gaza Strip, but Hamas officials in Syria told CBS News that they could not agree to the plan because it does not guarantee open border crossings or an end to a crippling blockade.
Nicolas Sarkozy said the Palestinian Authority, which has not had any control in the Strip for more than a year, also agreed to the plan that was offered up by the French and Egyptian foreign ministers at the United Nations Tuesday night.
Sarkozy said he "strongly welcomed the acceptance by Israel and the Palestinian Authority of the French-Egyptian plan presented yesterday by (Egyptian President Hosni) Mubarak."
However, Israel said it would support the proposal only if it halts "hostile fire" from Hamas in Gaza and includes measures to prevent the militant group from re-arming, said government spokesman Mark Regev.
Sarkozy's spokesman, Franck Louvrier, was also more cautious, saying the French president's statement was "a reaction to the fact that, according to contacts with different interlocutors, they would accept the plan introduced yesterday as a departure point for discussion, which would allow a renewal of dialogue."
In Syria, a spokesman for Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal told CBS News' George Baghdadi soon after Sarkozy's comments were made public that the militant group did not accept the terms of the Egyptian-French plan.
Spokesman Abu Omar said Hamas could only agree to a plan which guaranteed to end the economic blockade and to reopen the border crossings as soon as hostilities on both sides were halted; what he called a "complete package."
The Egyptian plan calls for Hamas to stop firing rockets and Israel to stop its military campaign simultaneously - which Hamas is amenable to - but it then states both sides should sit down to discuss further measures to be taken, such as the border crossings and the blockade.
Israel has no direct contacts with Hamas, but Mashaal indicated earlier Wednesday for the first time an apparent willingness to "contribute in reaching a solution to stop the aggression in Gaza."
For any plan to be implemented, Israel would likely demand an absolute guarantee from Hamas that all rocket attacks on southern Israel from the tiny Palestinian territory would stop, and the group would not be permitted to re-arm itself.
About 300 of the more than 670 Palestinians killed in the Israeli operation by Wednesday were civilians, according to Palestinian and U.N. figures. Of those killed, at least 130 were children age 16 and under, said the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights, which tracks casualties.
Under intense pressure from the international community and non-profit aid organizations, Israel said earlier Wednesday it would stop its aerial and ground assault on Hamas targets for three-hour periods each day. The Israeli military was in the middle of its first three-hour cessation of fire when news broke about the government apparently accepting the French-Egyptian plan.
Artillery fire resumed later Wednesday.
The brief cease-fire windows were meant to allow for the distribution of humanitarian aid to the roughly 1.5 million besieged residents of the Gaza Strip, but Israel warned it would resume attacks if it detected an imminent threat from Hamas rockets.
Trucks full of food, water, medical supplies and fuel started moving after waiting for weeks on Israel's side of the Gaza border. The Israeli government says it should be safe for them to travel on a designated route, reports CBS News correspondent Richard Roth.
However, just getting aid into Gaza won't solve the huge humanitarian problems. Roads are bombed and blocked, reports Roth and it's still a battle zone full of hazards for people delivering the aid and the people who need it.
John Ging, head of Gaza operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, welcomed the short window as, "the first step," but said it was not a solution.
"It will be three hours out of 24 hours," Ging told the British Broadcasting Corp., "We will be able to do what we can do in three hours."
"A million people have no electricity ... Everybody is short of food," he added.
Even as Israel weighed its options over Tuesday night, it moved ahead with its attempts to forcefully stomp out militant rocket fire in Gaza.
Israel said it struck 40 Hamas targets in the cover of night. Gaza officials said one morning airstrike killed four people, and heavy gunfire bellowed in a neighborhood east of Gaza City.
Only five of the 75 Palestinians killed Tuesday were confirmed militants, and the United Nations called for an investigation into the growing civilian casualties after Israeli shelling killed 42 people at a school being operated as a shelter by a U.N. refugee agency.
That agency said Wednesday it was certain that Hamas militants were not using its school to attack Israeli troops. Israel has said militants fired mortar shells at its troops from outside the school, drawing return fire.
Christopher Guinness of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency said Wednesday, "UNWRA is 99.9 percent certain there were no militants or military activity in its school."
That does not necessarily contradict Israel's claim that the militants were operating close by. Guinness said the agency wants an impartial investigation of witnesses, Israeli military photographs or any other evidence.
Palestinians who witnessed the attack near the school have reported seeing militants flee the scene, into the civilian population, after the first of about five shells hit.
The rising civilian death toll in Israel's campaign in Gaza highlights the pitfalls of Israel's powerful army using lethal force against often invisible Hamas guerrillas taking cover among civilians.
The images of maimed or bloodied Palestinian civilians, including children, was likely to heighten international pressure on Israel to abort the offensive before it has obtained its main objective - hitting Hamas hard so it will halt rocket fire on Israeli border towns.
In Israel's campaign against Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas in 1996, errant Israeli artillery shells killed 91 Lebanese civilians at a U.N. base near the village of Qana, turning initial international support for the operation into harsh criticism. In 2006, Israeli shells killed 18 Palestinians in the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun.
Israel approves tougher war on Hamas
GAZA CITY (AFP) – Israel on Wednesday approved an even tougher war on Hamas, warning residents to flee southern Gaza ahead of planned bombardments of cross-border tunnels, as the Palestinian death toll passed 700.
After a brief lull to allow Gaza's beleaguered population to hunt for food and fuel, Defence Minister Ehud Barak was given the green light by the security cabinet to order a deeper offensive into Gaza towns as part of the campaign to halt Hamas cross-border rocket attacks.
But Barak has also decided to send an envoy to Cairo on Thursday to get details on an Egyptian ceasefire plan, which secured widespread international backing amid mounting concern about the scale of the civilian casualties.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he hoped the talks would "lead to conditions which will allow" the end of the Israeli offensive which began on December 27 and has so far killed 702 Palestinians and wounded 3,100, Gaza medics say.
Olmert chaired the security cabinet meeting in Jerusalem which "approved continuing the ground offensive, including a third stage that would broaden it by pushing deeper into populated areas," a senior defence official said.
The final decision will be left with Barak, the official added.
Israeli shelling and air attacks around Gaza City were halted for three hours as a humanitarian gesture. Hamas also halted rocket attacks.
People and cars quickly filled the streets of Gaza City and long queues formed outside bakeries which soon ran out of bread. Aid groups sent dozens of truckloads of food and fuel across the border during the truce.
But the fighting equally quickly resumed, inflicting new deaths. A man and his three sons and a nephew were killed in one attack at the Jabaliya refugee camp, according to Gaza medics.
Israel also warned thousands of people in the Rafah zone on the Egyptian border to leave their houses or face air strikes.
"You have until 8:00am (0600 GMT)" on Thursday, said leaflets which were dropped by the Israeli military.
The area around Rafah is criss-crossed by what the Israeli army estimates to be some 300 tunnels and what local residents have told AFP is 500 subterranean passages from Gaza into Egypt.
The tunnels are used to smuggle supplies and arms into Gaza, an impoverished enclave that Israel has virtually locked down since Hamas seized power in June 2007.
Putting a halt to the smuggling is a key element of the ceasefire plan proposed by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
The proposal calls for an "immediate ceasefire," Israeli-Palestinian talks in Egypt on securing Gaza's borders, reopening border crossings and possible Palestinian reconciliation talks under Egyptian mediation.
Egypt has asked the International Committee of the Red Cross to open a humanitarian corridor from its border with Gaza for aid and evacuating the wounded, the foreign ministry in Cairo said.
The Hamas leadership announced it was studying the plan and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas was set to go to Cairo for talks.
The United States signalled it was open to the idea of a ceasefire but the White House said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was clarifying details of the Egyptian plan.
Russia's top Middle East envoy met exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Damascus on Wednesday. A Russian foreign ministry statement said Meshaal declared himself ready to take part in a "political-diplomatic solution" but that "the imposition of capitulatory conditions by Israel was unacceptable."
The Israeli government has faced mounting international criticism over its offensive, its deadliest ever in Gaza.
Cardinal Renato Martino, the Vatican's justice and peace minister, was quoted by the online Italian daily Il Sussidiario as saying Gaza had been turned into a "big concentration camp" by two weeks of Israeli bombardments.
Israel responded by saying the comments were "based on Hamas propaganda."
Hundreds of Hamas rockets fired into Israel over the past 12 days have killed four people and wounded dozens. Six Israeli soldiers have also been killed in combat.
Israel was also slammed by the United Nations which expressed outrage and demanded an independent investigation after military strikes on three UN-run schools in Gaza on Tuesday killed 48 people.
Forty-three people were killed in the deadliest strike at Jabaliya. The army said its investigation found militants had fired at Israeli forces from inside the school and Hamas militants were among those killed.
The United Nations denied this.
"Following an initial investigation, we are 99.9 percent sure that there were no militants or militant activities in the school and the school compound," Christopher Gunness, spokesman for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, told AFP.
Vatican official: Gaza is now a 'concentration camp'
Published: Wednesday January 7, 2009
THE Gaza Strip has been turned into a "concentration camp" by two weeks of Israeli bombardments, said a senior Vatican official.
Cardinal Renato Martino, the Vatican's justice and peace minister, was quoted by the online Italian daily Il Sussidiario.
"Let's look at the conditions in Gaza: these increasingly resemble a big concentration camp," said Cardinal Martino.
Cardinal Martino said it was in neither parties interest to carry on fighting and urged both to show more willingness to hold peace talks.
"If they can't come to an agreement, then someone else should do it (for them). The world cannot sit back and watch without doing anything.
"We Christians are not the only ones to call this land 'holy', Jews and Muslims do so too. The fact that this land is the scene of bloodshed seems a great tragedy," he added.
Israel's offensive on Gaza has killed almost 700 Palestinians, including 220 children, and injured 3000 since December 27, according to Gaza medics.
Aid agencies have declared a total humanitarian crisis in Gaza, owing to the ailing stocks of basic food, water and medical supplies.
In response Israel said the comments were "based on Hamas propaganda".
"Making remarks that seem to be based on Hamas propaganda while ignoring its numerous crimes ... does not bring the people closer to truth and peace," foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP.
Attack on Israel from Lebanon threatens 2nd front
By IBRAHIM BARZAK and STEVE WEIZMAN – 4 hours ago
JERUSALEM (AP) — Lebanese militants fired rockets into northern Israel early Thursday, threatening to open a new front for the Jewish state as it pushed forward with its offensive in the Gaza Strip.
Two people were lightly injured, and the rockets on Israel's north raised the specter of renewed hostilities with Hezbollah, just 2 1/2 years after Israel battled the guerrilla group to a 34-day stalemate. Hezbollah started the 2006 war as Israel was battling Palestinian militants in Gaza.
Lebanon's government, wary of conflict, quickly condemned the rocket fire and said it was trying to determine who was behind the attack. Israel fired mortar shells into southern Lebanon in response.
In new Gaza fighting, Israel killed at five people, including four militants, raising the death toll from its 13-day offensive to nearly 700, according to Palestinian medical officials. With roughly half the dead believed to be civilians, international efforts to broker a cease-fire have been gaining steam.
Later Thursday, Israel said it would halt military action for three hours to allow Gaza residents to stock up on supplies. The lull would enable humanitarian groups to do their work, and Israel would send aid and fuel into the territory, said Israeli military official Peter Lerner.
One of the Lebanese rockets went through the roof of a retirement home in Nahariya, about five miles from the border, and exploded in the kitchen as some 25 residents were eating breakfast in the adjacent dining hall. One resident suffered a broken leg, another bruises, apparently from slipping on the floor after emergency sprinklers came on.
"The rocket entered through the roof, hurling the water heaters into the air. It went through bedrooms upstairs and then into the kitchen. There was a serious blast," said Henry Carmelli, the home's manager.
About three hours later, air-raid sirens went off again. Residents in two northern towns reported explosions of incoming rockets, though some reports suggested there had been a false alarm. Police said they were searching for the fallen projectiles.
Israel has repeatedly said it was prepared for a possible attack on the north since it launched its bruising campaign against Hamas militants in Gaza on Dec. 27. Israel has mobilized thousands of reserve troops for such a scenario, and leaders have warned Hezbollah of dire consequences if it enters the fighting.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the rocket attacks. Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora condemned both the attacks and Israel's retaliatory fire, saying the attackers were trying to undermine stability.
Hezbollah, which did not comment, has said it does not want to draw Lebanon into a new war. Small Palestinian groups, who have rocketed Israel twice since the end of the 2006 war, have recently threatened to open a new front against Israel if the fighting in Gaza continued.
An Israeli Cabinet minister, Meir Sheetrit, suggested that Lebanese splinter groups, not Hezbollah, were responsible. He said the government had no interest in renewing hostilities.
"Even though we have the ability to respond with great force, the response needs to be carefully considered and responsible," Sheetrit told Army Radio. "We don't need to play into their hands."
Shortly after the first rockets fell around the town of Nahariya, five miles south of the Lebanese border, Lebanese TV stations reported Israeli mortar fire on open areas in southern Lebanon. The Israeli military confirmed it carried out "pinpoint fire" in response without elaborating.
Israeli defense commentators said they expected the incident to be a one-time show of solidarity with the Palestinians, not a declaration of war. Still, police said public bomb shelters throughout the north were opened.
Earlier, Palestinians reported some two dozen airstrikes around Gaza City before dawn. One militant was killed and 10 wounded.
An airstrike in northern Gaza killed three members of a rocket-launching cell, Palestinian medical officials said. The attack took place about 150 yards from a hospital and wounded 12 bystanders. The Israeli army has repeatedly said militants use civilian areas for cover.
Also, there were clashes between Israeli armored forces and Hamas militants in southern Gaza.
Israel had resumed its Gaza offensive Wednesday after a three-hour lull to allow in humanitarian aid, bombing heavily around suspected smuggling tunnels near the border with Egypt after Hamas responded with a rocket barrage. Israeli planes destroyed at least 16 empty houses.
The tunnels are Hamas' lifeline, used to bring in arms, money and basic goods. Israel says local homes are used to conceal the tunnels.
Israeli warplanes bombed the border area after leaflets were dropped warning residents to leave. More than 5,000 people fled to two U.N. schools turned into temporary shelters.
Despite the heavy fighting, strides appeared to be made on the diplomatic front with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice saying the U.S. supported a deal being brokered by France and Egypt.
While the U.N. Security Council failed to reach agreement on a cease-fire resolution, Egypt's U.N. Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz said representatives of Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority agreed to meet separately with Egyptian officials in Cairo.
Senior envoy Amos Gilad arrived in Egypt Thursday morning.
The latest casualties brought the total Palestinian death toll during Israel's assault to 692 — including some 350 civilians, among them 130 children - according to Palestinian health officials, and drove home the complexities of finding a diplomatic solution for Israel's Gaza invasion. Ten Israelis have been killed, including three civilians, since the offensive began.
In Turkey, a Mideast diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly said that country would be asked to put together an international force that could help keep the peace. And diplomats in New York worked on a U.N. Security Council statement backing the cease-fire initiative but failed to reach agreement on action to end the violence.
For Israel to accept a proposed cease-fire deal, "there has to be a total and complete cessation of all hostile fire from Gaza into Israel, and ... we have to see an arms embargo on Hamas that will receive international support," said government spokesman Mark Regev.
For its part, Hamas said it would not accept a truce deal unless it includes an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza — something Israel says it is not willing to do. Israel and Egypt have maintained a stiff economic embargo on Gaza since the Hamas takeover.
The Palestinian Authority controls the West Bank while Hamas rules Gaza — two territories on opposite sides of Israel that are supposed to make up a future Palestinian state. Hamas took control of Gaza from forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in June 2007.
Growing international outrage over the human toll of Israel's offensive, which includes 3,000 Palestinians wounded — could work against continued fighting. So could President Bush's departure from office this month and a Feb. 10 election in Israel.
But Israel has a big interest in inflicting as much damage as possible on Hamas, both to stop militant rocket fire on southern Israeli towns and to diminish the group's ability to play a spoiler role in peace talks with Palestinian moderates.
The Israeli Cabinet formally decided on Wednesday to push ahead with the offensive while at the same time pursuing the cease-fire.
The military has called up thousands of reserve troops that it could use to expand the Gaza offensive. Defense officials said the troops could be ready for action by Friday.
In Geneva, the international Red Cross said it found four small children alive next to their mothers' bodies in the rubble of a Gaza home hit by Israeli shelling. The neutral aid group says a total of 15 dead were recovered from two houses in the Zaytun neighborhood of Gaza City on Wednesday.
A Red Cross spokesman said rescuers had been refused permission by Israeli forces to reach the site for four days. It said the delay in allowing rescue services access was "unacceptable."
Lebanon criticises rocket attack into Israel
Thu Jan 8, 2009 11:35am GMT
BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Lebanese government criticised a rocket attack from south Lebanon into Israel on Thursday, saying it was a violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution that halted a 2006 war between Hezbollah and the Jewish state.
Information Minister Tareq Mitri said he did not believe the political and military group Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran, was behind the attack.
"Hezbollah assured the Lebanese government that it remains engaged in preserving the stability in Lebanon and respects Security Council resolution 1701," the head of Mitri's office, Toufic Yannieh, quoted the minister as saying.
That implied no involvement by Hezbollah, he said. Hezbollah did not immediately comment in public. There were no claims of responsibility for the attack, to which Israel responded with a salvo of artillery shells into south Lebanon.
Prime Minister Fouad Siniora asked the Lebanese authorities to step up measures and their cooperation with U.N. peacekeepers in south Lebanon to "prevent a repeat of these acts," a statement issued from his office said.
At least three rockets were fired from Lebanon, exploding in northern Israel and wounding two people in an attack seen as linked to Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip.
"Prime Minister Siniora regards what happened in the south as a violation of the international resolution 1701 and something he does not accept and rejects," the statement said.
Siniora called for an investigation into the rocket attack and also condemned the Israeli artillery salvo.
U.N. Security Council resolution 1701 halted the 34-day war between the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah and Israel. Under the resolution, the Lebanese army deployed in the south of the country together with thousands of additional U.N. peacekeepers.
Hundreds of thousands rally in Syria to protest Gaza attack
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians swarmed downtown Damascus Thursday in a government-orchestrated rally to protest Israel's military offensive against the Gaza Strip.
It was the biggest protest ever in the Syrian capital since Israel launched an air and ground offensive on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip Dec. 27. The protest was called by Syria's labor unions.
Syria's official news agency SANA and the state-run Syrian Television estimated the number of protesters in downtown Damascus at roughly one million. But independent estimates put it at hundreds of thousands.
Demonstrators in downtown Damascus carried pictures of Syria's president and the leader of Lebanon's militant Hezbollah, both of whom support Hamas.
The crowd, waving Syrian and Palestinian flags, also yelled protests against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for refusing to open the Rafah border crossing with Gaza. Many in the Arab world have criticized Egypt for this, perceiving it as abetting Israel.
"Oh Mubarak, listen, listen, the Arab people will not kneel down," the protesters shouted.
Before the huge demonstration dispersed, an estimated few hundred of the protesters, marched to the Egyptian Embassy. The protesters, standing about 110 yards (100 meters) from the embassy, were prevented by Syrian riot police, carrying batons and protective shields, from reaching the building.
The protesters in downtown Damascus also trampled on an Israeli flag before burning it.
Some of the banners they carried read, "The Gazans' blood will not be shed in vain," and "Your blood is pure, Oh Gaza's people ... and the blood of Arab leaders stinks."
Mayadah Nashawati, a 50-year-old housewife, who was at the protest said: "Israel is committing a genocide at a time when the entire world is regretfully watching."
She said the Rafah crossing, which connects the Gaza Strip's 1.4 million residents with Egypt, must reopen to "salvage the Gazans from the holocaust."
Ahmed al-Hamid, a 17-year-old student, also urged Mubarak to open the Rafah crossing. "The Arabs must break their silence on the injustice that has befallen the Palestinian people," he said.
Israel has said that it started its campaign in order to stop Hamas rocket fire. More than 700 Palestinians have been killed since the offensive began.
Meanwhile, an Egyptian foreign ministry official lashed out Thursday at Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the militant group Hezbollah, for remarks Nasrallah made against Egypt in his latest speech. The official, who did not want to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue, said so far the militant leader has given "nothing to Gaza but some ringing speeches."
Lebanon minister says Hezbollah not behind attack
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon's Information Minister Tareq Mitri said Thursday he did not believe Hezbollah was behind a rocket attack on Israel from southern Lebanon, according to an aide.
"Hezbollah assured the Lebanese government that it remains engaged in preserving the stability in Lebanon and respects Security Council resolution 1701," the head of Mitri's office, Toufic Yannieh, quoted the minister as saying.
Mitri said this implied Hezbollah was not involved in the rocket attack, Yannieh added.
Resolution 1701 ended a 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas in 2006.
UN truck comes under deadly fire in Gaza
By IBRAHIM BARZAK and STEVE WEIZMAN, Associated Press Writers
Thursday, January 8, 2009
(01-08) 13:19 PST JERUSALEM, Israel (AP) -- The U.N. suspended aid shipments in the Gaza Strip on Thursday and the Red Cross restricted its convoys after their trucks came under Israeli fire. The threat of a wider conflict arose when militants in Lebanon fired two rockets into northern Israel.
One rocket crashed into a retirement home, but there were no serious injuries. Israel responded with mortar shells.
The driver of the U.N. truck died immediately; another worker in the truck died later of his wounds. The truck, which came under fire in northern Gaza, was marked with the U.N. flag and insignia.
During a three-hour pause in the fighting to allow in food and fuel and let medics collect the dead, nearly three dozen bodies were found beneath the rubble of bombed out buildings in Gaza City.
Many of the dead were in the same neighborhood where the international Red Cross said rescuers discovered young children too weak to stand who had stayed by their dead mothers. The aid group accused Israel of an "unacceptable" delay in allowing workers to reach the area.
Relations between Israel and humanitarian organizations have grown increasingly tense as civilian casualties have mounted.
The United Nations demanded an inquiry this week after Israeli shells killed nearly 40 Palestinians near a U.N. school filled with Gazans. Israel said militants had launched an attack from the area, then ran into a crowd of civilians for cover.
The 13-day Israeli offensive has killed about 750 Palestinians, according to Palestinian hospital officials and human rights workers. Two Israeli soldiers were killed in combat Thursday, raising the number of soldiers killed in Gaza to eight since the assault began Dec. 27. Four Israelis, including one soldier, also have been killed by rockets fired at Israeli cities.
"We've been coordinating with them (Israeli forces) and yet our staff continue to be hit and killed," said a U.N. spokesman, Chris Gunness, announcing the suspension. The U.N. is the largest aid provider in Gaza.
Israeli police, meanwhile, said militants in the Gaza Strip fired 24 rockets into Israel on Thursday, injuring four people, one of them seriously. Militants fired larger numbers of rockets in the early days of the conflict.
The Israeli assault is intended to halt years of Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel. But with roughly half the Palestinian dead believed to be civilians, international efforts to broker a cease-fire have been gaining steam.
Israeli envoys traveled to Egypt on Thursday to discuss the proposal being brokered by France and Egypt.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said any time lost will play into the hands of those who want war.
"The weapons must go quiet, the escalation must stop, Israel must obtain security guarantees and leave Gaza," he said in Paris.
The U.N. provides food aid to around 750,000 Gaza residents — about half of Gaza's population — and runs dozens of schools and clinics throughout the territory. They have some 9,000 local staffers in Gaza as well as a small team of international staffers.
Elena Mancusi Materi, UNRWA's spokeswoman in Geneva, said the suspension concerned all truck movement in Gaza.
"If someone comes to one of our food distribution centers, we will give that person food," she said. "If people come to our clinics with injuries, we will treat them."
For a second straight day, Israel suspended its Gaza military operation for three hours to allow in humanitarian supplies. Shortly before the pause took effect, the U.N. said one of its aid trucks came under fire from a gunner on an Israeli tank, killing the driver.
U.N. spokesman Adnan Abu Hasna said the U.N. coordinated the delivery in northern Gaza with Israel, and the vehicle was marked with a U.N. flag and insignia. The Israeli army said it was investigating.
Hasna said the truck driver died immediately and another man in the truck died later of his wounds. A third man was also injured.
In Geneva, the international Red Cross said it would restrict its aid operations to Gaza City for at least one day after one of its convoys came under Israeli fire at the Netzarim crossing during the pause in fighting Thursday. One driver was lightly injured.
Dr. Moaiya Hassanain of the Palestinian Health Ministry said 35 bodies were discovered Thursday during the three-hour lull in several areas around Gaza City that have seen fierce fighting between Israeli troops and Hamas militants.
He said it was unclear how many militants were killed because the remains were in poor condition, but that women and children were among the dead. Hassanain said 746 Palestinians have died in the Israeli offensive.
Many of the dead found Thursday were in Gaza City's Zeitoun neighborhood, where the international Red Cross said it found four small children alive next to their mothers' bodies in the rubble of a home hit by Israeli shelling. The aid group says 15 dead were recovered from two houses in Zeitoun on Wednesday.
A Red Cross spokesman says rescuers had been refused permission by Israeli forces to reach the site for four days. It said the delay was "unacceptable."
The Red Cross statement was a rare public criticism from the aid group, which normally conducts confidential negotiations with warring parties.
The Israeli military said in a statement that Hamas militants used Palestinian civilians as human shields, and that Israeli forces work closely with aid groups to help civilians in Gaza.
In other Gaza violence, Israel attacks killed at least 24 Palestinians Thursday, including the U.N. driver, according to Hassanain.
The rockets from Lebanon raised the specter of renewed hostilities on Israel's northern frontier, 2 1/2 years after Israel battled the Hezbollah guerrilla group to a 34-day stalemate. War broke out between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006 as Israel battled Palestinian militants in Gaza, on Israel's southern borders.
No group claimed responsibility. Lebanon's government condemned the attack, and Hezbollah — which is now part of Lebanon's government — denied any responsibility for the rocket fire, which lightly injured two Israelis at a retirement home.
"The rocket entered through the roof, hurling the water heaters into the air. It went through bedrooms upstairs and then into the kitchen," said Henry Carmelli, the home's manager.
Israel has repeatedly said it was prepared for a possible attack on the north since it launched its campaign against Hamas militants in Gaza. Israel has mobilized thousands of reserve troops for such a scenario, and leaders have warned Hezbollah of dire consequences if it enters the fighting.
"We are prepared and will respond as necessary," Defense Minister Ehud Barak said.
The Israeli offensive has reduced Palestinian rocket fire, but not stopped it. Several barrages were reported Thursday, including one strike that damaged a school and sports center in the southern city of Ashkelon, police said. Both buildings were empty.
For Israel to accept a proposed cease-fire deal, "there has to be a total and complete cessation of all hostile fire from Gaza into Israel, and ... we have to see an arms embargo on Hamas that will receive international support," said government spokesman Mark Regev.
Hamas said it would not accept a truce deal unless it includes an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza — something Israel says it is not willing to do. Israel and Egypt have maintained a stiff economic embargo on Gaza since the Hamas takeover in June 2007.
The Palestinian Authority controls the West Bank while Hamas rules Gaza — territories on opposite sides of Israel that are supposed to make up a future Palestinian state.
Congress To Give "Staunch And Unwavering Support" To Israel
The US Congress is set to offer staunch and unwavering support for Israel as the Gaza conflict rages, recognizing its "inalienable right" to defend itself from attacks by Hamas.
Democratic and Republican leaders united to introduce a resolution backing Israel in the US Senate and a similar measure will soon be pending in the House of Representatives with both expected to pass by large majorities.
"When we pass this resolution, the United States Senate will strengthen our historic bond with the state of Israel by reaffirming Israel's inalienable right to defend against attacks from Gaza, as well as our support for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process," said Senate Majority leader Harry Reid.
"Hamas must stop the rocket fire from Gaza into Israel -- that is the stated objective of the Israelis.
"I acknowledge and appreciate the calls by some for a ceasefire.
"Certainly we must encourage a peaceful resolution of the conflict, but we must be certain that any cease-fire is sustainable, durable, and enforceable."
Republican leader Mitch McConnell also placed blame for the start of Israel's war on Hamas on the Islamist group, after the death toll rose to 760 as dozens more bodies were discovered in Gaza.
"This resolution in support of the state of Israel has strong bipartisan support," McConnell said.
"Hamas is a terrorist organization, it clearly started this current conflict by launching rockets on the civilian sites in Israel," he said.
"The Israelis are responding exactly the same way we would if rockets were being launched into the United States from Canada or Mexico," he said.
The resolution calls on Hamas to end the rocket and mortar attacks against Israel, and says any ceasefire reached in the conflict must be "durable, enforceable and sustainable."
It calls for the lives of innocent civilians to be protected and says senators support a strong and secure Israel living in peace with an independent Palestinian state.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House would take up a corresponding resolution on Friday.
250 foreigners flee Gaza fighting
About 250 foreigners on Thursday took the risky ride from Gaza City to safety across the border, but hundreds are believed still left inside the war-stricken territory, diplomats said.
Some of those trapped, like Spaniard Maria Velasco, have made three attempts to get to the border but say they have been forced back by the fighting between Israel and Hamas or by bureaucratic obstacles.
The International Committee of the Red Cross organised the convoy of six buses that took 48 Canadians along with citizens of Austria, Norway, the Philippines, Romania and Sweden, officials said.
"It was risky," said Palestinian-Canadian Marwan Diad who was on holiday with his family when he became trapped in the war. "Nowhere is safe in Gaza."
At the Erez border crossing with Israel, the foreigners were greeted by diplomats from their countries and most were then escorted away to be taken onwards to Jordan where they were to board flights home.
Nasreen Elmadhoon, another Canadian Palestinian who had returned to Gaza to see her cancer-stricken father, blamed both sides for the conflict. "Everywhere people are being killed, people dying," she said.
"I was supposed to leave on January 1, but I was stuck there, just hearing the bombs, in the house, doing nothing. I am happy because I'm out, but I am worried about my family."
Her seven year-old son, Fawiz, said: "I hate bombs, I was scared. I tried to not hear them. At night, my mum was sleeping. I was the only one awake. There are so many bombs, almost to our house... it didn't come, but it was very close."
Israel allowed a first group of more than 200 foreigners to leave Hamas-controlled Gaza -- where medical workers say more than 760 people have been killed -- on January 2, the day before it sent in thousands of troops to back up a week of air raids.
Several attempts since then to evacuate foreigners have been cancelled because of fighting too close to the route they were meant to take.
Diplomats in Jerusalem estimate there are another 400 foreigners of 22 nationalities left in Gaza. Most are Palestinians with dual nationality or are married to Palestinians.
A Swedish diplomat said the consulate general in Jerusalem had been unable to contact two people on a list of 14 Swedish passport-holders still in Gaza.
"The others we have managed to stay in contact with, though even the mobile phone network is becoming very difficult now."
Maria Velasco, married to a Palestinian doctor, has tried three times to leave Gaza and told AFP by telephone from her home in the besieged southern town of Khan Yunis that she was now desperate.
She had hoped to leave with the others on Thursday but the Spanish consulate had not been able to get authorisation.
Spanish diplomatic sources blamed "circumstances beyond our control" and said the consulate general still hoped to get Velasco, her husband and two-year-old son out as soon as possible.
Velasco said she hoped to make a new attempt to leave on Friday, but was worried as "nowhere is safe."
She criticised what she called a "lack of coordination" by the Spanish government, Israel and the United Nations which had prevented them from being evacuated on Thursday.
She said she has been asking the Spanish consulate to get her out for more than a month.
'Pro-Israel' TV ads from group tied to Hagee, Abramoff
Published: Thursday January 8, 2009
A graphic television advertisement pleading for aid to Israel, which has recently run during Countdown with Keith Olbermann and other cable shows, is the product of a group with close ties to neoconservatives, the right-wing evangelical community and former associates of Jack Abramoff.
The ad follows the standard pattern of most conservative fundraising appeals -- after first creating a sense of panic, it then assures viewers they can help by sending money. It begins with a female voice intoning, over what appears to be stock footage of wounded Israelis, "This nightmare is very real, a daily horror happening now for those living in Israel near Palestinian Gaza."
Yechiel Eckstein, identified as founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, next appears on screen to assert, "Right now, there are thousands of missiles prepared to be launched. The storm is coming. ... They seek to drive us into the sea."
The female voice then returns to plead, over a tollfree number, "Israel and its beleaguered people need our support now. ... Your call can save the life of an innocent man, woman, or child. ... The difference between life and death for Israel and its people is in our hands."
The group behind the ad, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, is no stranger to controversy. For example, it has been criticized by Israeli newspaper Haaretz for painting an unrealistically bleak picture of life in Israel in order to encourage donations.
However, IFCJ has enjoyed strong support from such right-wing religious stalwarts as Pat Robertson, the late Jerry Falwell, and Pastor John Hagee
When Falwell died in 2007, Eckstein called him "a true friend of Israel and the Jewish people, and a man that I was honored to call a personal friend."
Two years ago, IFCJ bestowed its highest honor on Pastor Hagee. Eckstein stated on that occasion, "More and more Christians are understanding their Jewish roots and the Biblical perspective that calls them to stand with Israel. That didn’t just happen. Committed leaders like John Hagee have led the way, and for that, we are grateful."
Hagee's endorsement last year of Senator John McCain created an uproar when it was revealed that he had described Hitler as doing "God's work" by forcing the Jews to return to Israel and supported a permanent Israeli occupation of all Palestinian lands.
At that time, Eckstein refused to distance himself from Hagee, stating merely, "The Jewish community should accept his support but make known its opposition to those dimensions it finds offensive, including Hagee’s reported attacks on other faiths and his opposition to a two-state solution."
IFCJ's supporters also include two close associates of convicted felon Jack Abramoff -- Rabbi Daniel Lapin and Ralph Reed.
Lapin's Toward Tradition was used by Abramoff as a front group to raise donations for George W. Bush's re-election campaign. It also accepted $50,000 from two Abramoff clients to hire former Tom DeLay aide Tony Ruby's wife, in an arrangement that Abramoff's own plea agreement described as a bribe.
Ralph Reed was closely associated with Abramoff for many years, and his Century Strategies worked directly for Abramoff on Indian gaming issues in 1999-2002. Reed's firm also worked for IFCJ, and he and Eckstein co-founded a group called Stand For Israel in 2002.
According to Media Transparency, " Eckstein ... has raised millions of dollars from conservative Christian evangelicals for his organization's various projects. ... However, on the road to raising tens of millions of dollars, it appears that he has diverted a fair portion of the money to a half dozen media relations, direct mail and telemarketing companies, including Century Strategies, run by Ralph Reed."
A blogger known as "Mrs. Panstreppon," who frequently posts on Abramoff-related topics at Talking Points Memo, remarked tartly of this relationship, "Right Wing Ralph is still leveraging his credentials as a card-carrying member of the 'Christian' right to line his bank account. After helping Jack Abramoff stick it to the Indians big time, Ralphie baby went on to make a few more bucks by pretending to 'care' about the Jews in Israel. ... Ralph Reed and Rabbi Eckstein forgot to mention that most of the funding for the 'Stand Up For Israel' campaign was going to go in Ralph Reed’s pocket."
Panstreppon went on to note certain questionable payments listed in IFCJ's tax filings for 2002-04 and concluded, "If I thought Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein was a crook, I'd guess that the 'Stand Up For Israel' project was created to prepay and disguise illegal 2004 Republican campaign expenses. But I don't know if Rabbi Eckstein is a crook."
Obama camp 'prepared to talk to Hamas'
Incoming administration will abandon Bush's isolation of Islamist group to initiate low-level diplomacy, say transition sources
Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington
The incoming Obama administration is prepared to abandon George Bush's ^doctrine of isolating Hamas by establishing a channel to the Islamist organisation, sources close to the transition team say.
The move to open contacts with Hamas, which could be initiated through the US intelligence services, would represent a definitive break with the Bush ^presidency's ostracising of the group. The state department has designated Hamas a terrorist organisation, and in 2006 ^Congress passed a law banning US financial aid to the group.
The Guardian has spoken to three ^people with knowledge of the discussions in the Obama camp. There is no talk of Obama approving direct diplomatic negotiations with Hamas early on, but he is being urged by advisers to initiate low-level or clandestine approaches, and there is growing recognition in Washington that the policy of ostracising Hamas is counter-productive. A tested course would be to start ^contacts through Hamas and the US intelligence services, similar to the secret process through which the US engaged with the PLO in the 1970s. Israel did not become aware of the contacts until much later.
A draft was agreed last night at the UN, calling for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire between Hamas and Israeli forces in Gaza, the head of the Arab League said. Amr Moussa said Arab countries want the security council to vote on the resolution. It was supported by the US, Israel's closest ally, and Arab countries with ties to Hamas.
Richard Haass, a diplomat under both Bush presidents who was named by a number of news organisations this week as Obama's choice for Middle East envoy, supports low-level contacts with Hamas provided there is a ceasefire in place and a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation emerges.
Another potential contender for a ^foreign policy role in the Obama administration suggested that the president-elect would not be bound by the Bush doctrine of isolating Hamas.
"This is going to be an administration that is committed to negotiating with ^critical parties on critical issues," the source said.
There are a number of options that would avoid a politically toxic scenario for Obama of seeming to give legitimacy to Hamas.
"Secret envoys, multilateral six-party talk-like approaches. The total isolation of Hamas that we promulgated under Bush is going to end," said Steve Clemons, the director of the American Strategy ^Programme at the New America ^Foundation. "You could do something through the Europeans. You could invent a structure that is multilateral. It is going to be hard for the neocons to swallow," he said. "I think it is going to happen.
But one Middle East expert close to the transition team said: "It is highly unlikely that they will be public about it."
The two weeks since Israel began its military campaign against Gaza have heightened anticipation about how Obama intends to deal with the Middle East. He adopted a strongly pro-Israel position during the election campaign, as did his erstwhile opponent and choice for secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. But it is widely thought Obama would adopt a more even-handed approach once he is president.
His main priority now, in the remaining days before his inauguration, is to ensure the crisis does not rob him of the chance to set his own foreign policy agenda, rather than merely react to events.
"We will be perceived to be weak and feckless if we are perceived to be on the margins, unable to persuade the Israelis, unable to work with the international community to end this," said Aaron David Miller, a former state department adviser on the Middle East.
"Unless he is prepared to adopt a policy that is tougher, fairer and smarter than both of his predecessors you might as well hang a closed-for-the-season sign on any chance of America playing an effective role in defusing the current crisis or the broader crisis," he said.
Obama has defined himself in part by his willingness to talk to America's enemies. But the president-elect would be wary of being seen to give legitimacy to Hamas as a consequence of the war in Gaza.
Bruce Hoffman, a ^counterterrorism expert at George^town University's school of foreign ^service, said it was unlikely that Obama would move to initiate contacts with Hamas unless the radical faction in Damascus was crippled by the conflict in Gaza. "This would really be dependent on Hamas's military wing having suffered a real, almost decisive, drubbing."
Even with such caveats, there is ^growing agreement, among Republicans as well as Democrats, on the need to engage Hamas to achieve a sustainable peace in the Middle East – even among Obama's close advisers. In an article published on Wednesday on the website Foreign Affairs, but apparently written before the fighting in Gaza, Haass, who is president of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote: "If the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas continues to hold and a Hamas-PA reconciliation emerges, the Obama administration should deal with the joint Palestinian leadership and authorise low-level contact between US officials and Hamas in Gaza." The article was written with Martin Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel and an adviser to Hillary Clinton.
Obama has said repeatedly that ^restoring America's image in the world would rank among the top priorities of his administration, and there has been widespread praise for his choice of Clinton as secretary of state and Jim Jones, the former Marine Corps commandant, as his national security adviser.
He is expected to demonstrate that commitment to charting a new foreign policy within days when he is expected to name a roster of envoys to take charge of key foreign policy areas: Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, India-Pakistan, and North Korea.
Obama has frustrated and confused those who had been looking for a more evenhanded approach to the Israeli-^Palestinian conflict by his refusal to make any substantive comment on Israel's ^military campaign on Gaza, nearly two weeks on.
He said on Wednesday: "We cannot be sending a message to the world that there are two different administrations conducting foreign policy.
"Until I take office, it would be ^imprudent of me to start sending out ^signals that somehow we are running ^foreign policy when I am not legally authorised to do so."
That's a clever story to put out there. He's willing to talk to Hamas, which would be a good thing, but oh yeah... um... he can't say anything until he's sworn in.
US army engineers helping detect Gaza tunnels: Pentagon
The US Army Corps of Engineers has been helping the Egyptian government detect tunnels used to move weapons and other contraband into Gaza, the Pentagon said Thursday.
A small number of US civilians with the Corps have been providing technical advice to the Egyptians over a period of months, said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary.
"There has been a concerted effort for some time by the Egyptians to go after some of these tunnels -- detect them, block them, eliminate them -- and I think the Army Corps of Engineers has provided some technical advice on how to do so," Morrell said.
The Army Corps of Engineers role was providing "strictly technical advice," he said.
Morrell said no US civilians were working near the border with Gaza currently because of the violence arising from an Israeli ground offensive.
Border tunnels were targeted by Israeli aircraft from the outset of the conflict.
The Pentagon press secretary said they were suspected of being used to smuggle in rockets that Hamas has used to attack Israel.
US abstains from UN vote on Gaza cease-fire
By EDITH M. LEDERER – 5 hours ago
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United States says it supports a U.N. resolution that calls for a cease-fire in Gaza but abstained from the Security Council vote because it is awaiting the outcome of Egyptian-mediated talks with Hamas and Israel.
Thursday's 14-0 vote came on the 13th day of an Israeli air and ground offensive against the Islamic group Hamas which rules Gaza and has been launching rockets and mortars into southern Israel for years. It followed three days of intense negotiations between ministers from key Arab nations and the council's veto-wielding Western powers — the U.S., Britain and France.
The text of the resolution was hammered out by the United States, Israel's chief ally, and by Arab nations that have ties to Hamas and the Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories. It calls for "an immediate, durable and fully respected cease-fire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza." While the call is tantamount to a demand on the parties, Israel's troops won't be required to pull out of Gaza until there is a durable cease-fire.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States "fully supports" the resolution but abstained because it "thought it important to see the outcomes of the Egyptian mediation," referring to an Egyptian-French initiative aimed at achieving a cease-fire.
The U.S. decision not to block the resolution has provided the Security Council with "a road map for a sustainable, durable peace in Gaza," she said.
"I believe that it is those efforts that will ultimately help to lead to a durable cease-fire ... but to a sustainable peace in Gaza, and we must all support the Egyptian efforts," Rice said.
Israel and Hamas were not parties to the vote and it will now be up to them to stop the fighting.
"We are all very conscious that peace is made on the ground while resolutions are written in the United Nations," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki told reporters he was "not happy" and had expected all 15 council members to vote for resolution. He said Palestinians are concerned that Israel will delay a cease-fire for several days and expand its attack to new targets in Gaza.
Israel "must immediately implement this resolution," Malki said. "The moment that they do so, I believe that Hamas will do the same."
Malki is a member of moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' government, whose authority extends only to the West Bank after rival Hamas violently took over Gaza in June 2007.
Israeli U.N. Ambassador Gabriela Shalev did not comment directly on the call for an immediate cease-fire, saying the international community must focus its attention on the cessation of "Hamas terrorist activity and make clear that a terrorist organization can never be a legitimate leadership."
"The past eight years have taught us that an arrangement must be fully respected and secured, including the total cessation of rocket fire and smuggling, in order to be durable and to allow the possibility of lasting peace," Shalev said.
With Palestinian civilian casualties mounting, the Arabs were under intense pressure to get a resolution — and several diplomats said they wanted it before Friday prayers at mosques in the region.
As of early Friday, about 760 Palestinians, at least a quarter civilians, had been killed along with 13 Israelis.
The resolution calls on U.N. member states "to intensify efforts to provide arrangements and guarantees in Gaza in order to sustain a durable cease-fire and calm, including to prevent illicit trafficking in arms and ammunition and to ensure the sustained re-opening" of border crossings.
This is a weaker statement than Israel sought, and the U.S. would have liked. There is also no mention in the resolution of an "international observer force" proposed by the Arabs — and the word "Hamas" was dropped during the negotiations.
The resolution "condemns all violence and hostilities directed against civilians," calls for "unimpeded" humanitarian access to Gaza, and welcomes the initiative to open "humanitarian corridors." It urges international efforts to provide humanitarian aid and rebuild Gaza's economy.
Shortly before the final day of U.N. negotiations began, Israeli envoys went to Cairo and held talks with Egyptian officials on an initiative by the presidents of Egypt and France that calls for a temporary truce. Hamas militants have yet to commit to coming to Cairo for talks and said they have major reservations about the plan.
Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit told the Security Council his government was "totally satisfied" with the resolution and would "spare no effort" in dealing with the parties to restore calm and revive the peace process.
A joint statement issued by Palestinian groups based in Syria's capital Thursday rejected the Egyptian-French initiative, saying it would undermine Gazans' resistance and give Israel "a free hand" to continue aggression.
Hamas is normally a member of the coalition, but it wasn't clear if it signed the statement. Hamas officials in Syria were not available for comment.
Israel's government said Wednesday that it viewed the Egyptian-French proposal positively but stopped short of acceptance.
The Egyptian-French initiative aims to achieve a "lasting halt" to the fighting and a pullout of Israeli troops along with a cessation of militant rocket fire into Israel and arms smuggling to Hamas, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier said.
Olmert rejects 'unworkable' UN Gaza truce resolution
By Barak Ravid and Shlomo Shamir, Haaretz Correspondents and News Agencies
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert rejected a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza as "unworkable" and, noting Palestinians fired rockets at Israel on Friday, said the army would go on defending Israelis.
In Israel's first official response to the resolution, Olmert's office said Israel "has never agreed to let an external body decide its right to protect the security of its citizens."
The military "will continue acting to protect Israeli citizens and will carry out the missions it was given," the statement read.
"The firing of rockets this morning only goes to show that the UN decision is unworkable and will not be adhered to by the murderous Palestinian organizations," he said in a statement.
Hours after the Security Council passed Resolution 1860 calling for an immediate cease-fire in Israel's offensive in Gaza, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Friday that Israel would continue to act only in its interests and according to its own security needs.
"Israel has acted, is acting and will act only according to its considerations, the security needs of its citizens and its right to self-defense," a statement said. It made no direct reference to how Israel would treat the call for a ceasefire.
Livni, along with Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, convened in session on Friday to discusss the Security Council resolution calling for an immediate cessation of violence and their next moves in the conflict.
The UN resolution, drafted by Western powers, "stresses the urgency of and calls for an immediate, durable and fully respected cease-fire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza."
It also called for arrangements in Gaza to prevent arms smuggling to Palestinian militants and reopen border crossings, and for "unimpeded provision" and distribution of aid in Gaza, where more than 750 Palestinians, many of them civilians, have been killed.
The resolution was passed by a majority vote of 14-0. The United States abstained, saying it was interested in looking at alternative drafts, but voiced support for the objectives of the resolution.
Iran bans activists from fighting Israel
Iran's top leader banned hardline Iranian volunteers on Thursday from leaving the country to carry out suicide bombings against Israel, but he warned that Iran would not spare any effort to assist Hamas in other ways.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's ban sought to tone down calls by allies of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to toughen Iran's stand against Israel. But they also exposed hidden rifts between the supreme leader and the president five months before elections in which Ahmadinejad, whose popularity has been waning, is seeking a second term.
Hardline Iranian student groups had asked the government to authorize volunteers to go carry out suicide bombings in Israel in support of Hamas.
The students began signing up volunteers after Khamenei issued a religious decree on Dec. 28 saying anyone killed while defending Palestinians in Gaza against Israeli attacks would be considered a martyr.
But a week later, Khamenei's comments sharply contrasted his religious order.
"I thank the pious and devoted youth who have asked to go to Gaza ... but it must be noted that our hands are tight in this arena," Khamenei said on state television. He did not elaborate about what efforts Iran would take to help Hamas in other ways.
The student groups claim that more than 70,000 people throughout Iran have registered as volunteer suicide bombers since Israel launched Operation Cast Lead.
Khamenei also criticized the United Nations and European powers for their failure to condemn the Gaza operation, saying Israeli attacks wouldn't stop Palestinian resistance.
"Even if the enemy (Israel), God forbids, kills all Hamas and Palestinian combatants ... such crimes won't resolve the issue. Undoubtedly, Palestine will stand up stronger and will ultimately achieve victory," he said.
Iranian political analyst Saeed Leilaz said hardline student groups, provoked by Ahmadinejad, were getting out of control and Khamenei intervened to end any possible political manipulation of students by the president.
Criticism of Ahmadinejad has been increasing in the wake of rising inflation and the belief by some conservatives and reformists that his anti-Western rhetoric has done more harm than good for the country.
"Ahmadinejad has used the Gaza fighting as an opportunity to further radicalize the political situation in Iran for two reasons: to provoke tensions in order to cause a hike in oil prices and improve his chances of re-election in the presidential vote in June. But the top leader doesn't support a further radicalization of Iran," he said.
Oil prices have plummeted from a high near $150 in July last year to around $35 - severely straining the Iranian economy and undermining Ahmadinejad's ability to pursue his economic agenda. In recent days, oil prices has been increasing, reaching about $43 a barrel on Wednesday.
Khamenei has strongly supported Ahmadinejad since his election in 2005, but the two don't necessarily agree on all issues. Khamenei, who stands above factional politics but generally supports hardliners over reformists, reversed a decision by Ahmadinejad last year and ordered him to implement a law supplying natural gas to remote villages during a dispute with the parliament.
Leilaz said it was clear that Iran won't allow suicide bombers to cross its border and fight Israel and Ahmadinejad simply sought to manipulate the issue for his own political agenda.
In the past week, Ahmadinejad allies have been encouraging hardline students to gather in various cities. Mahdi Kalhor, Ahmadinejad's press adviser, sought to further inflame hardline protests last week when he urged the students take measures beyond street demonstrations.
"We have to be a pioneer nation (in assisting Hamas) ... why should we not be in Gaza today?" Kalhor asked a hardline student gathering on Sunday.
The same day, Ahmadinejad's brother was ordered to address the same students to calm them down.
Davoud Ahmadinejad told the gathering an hour later that it was not possible to send any volunteers to Gaza, according to the semiofficial Fars news agency.
On Dec. 30, dozens of hardline students broke into the British Embassy residence in Teheran, accusing Britain of supporting IAF raids on Gaza.
Israel presses on with Gaza strikes despite UN resolution
Published: Friday January 9, 2009
GAZA CITY (AFP) - Israel battered Gaza with bombs and shells on Friday, vowing its offensive on Hamas would go on despite an order by the UN Security Council to stop the assault that has killed hundreds of civilians.
"Israel has never agreed for any outside influence to decide on its right to defend its citizens," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said, according to a statement from his office.
"The IDF (Israel Defence Forces) will continue to operate in order to defend the citizens of Israel and will carry out the task it was given for the operation," said the statement, which was released as the Israeli security cabinet met to debate how to proceed with the two-week-old campaign.
"This morning's rocket fire against the citizens in the south only proves that the UN resolution is not practical and will not be respected by the Palestinian terror organisations," Olmert said.
A Hamas official in Beirut, Raafat Morra, said his group was also rejecting the UN resolution, because "it is not in the best interest of the Palestinian people."
Israel staged more than 50 air strikes in Gaza which Palestinian emergency services said killed 12 civilians, taking the death toll since the campaign began to almost 800.
Hamas and its allies fired more than 15 rockets into southern Israel, injuring one person, the military said. At least four Grad rockets hit Beersheva, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Gaza.
Pressure on the two sides increased with the UN Security Council resolution which demanded an "immediate, durable" ceasefire leading to the "full withdrawal" of Israeli forces from Gaza.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas called the UN move an "important step," but stressed that applying it was key.
"The credibility of the international community is at stake," his spokesman quoted him as saying. "We need words to be translated into deeds."
Israel has been strongly criticised by UN agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other aid groups. The text called for "the unimpeded provision and distribution throughout Gaza of humanitarian assistance, including of food, fuel and medical treatment."
Fourteen of the 15 council members voted in favour. The United States, Israel's main ally, abstained but refrained from vetoing the resolution agreed after lengthy negotiations between Arab and Western foreign ministers.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States had wanted to see what happened to a peace initiative by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak who has invited Israel and the Palestinians to Cairo for talks on truce conditions.
Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defence Minister Ehud Barak, political rivals in the ruling coalition, held a special meeting before starting a security cabinet with other top ministers and military leaders.
The three key ministers are divided over how to continue Operation Cast Lead.
Olmert is reported to be in favour of pursuing the military offensive, while Labour leader Barak wants a ceasefire. Livni has spoken out against any ceasefire with Hamas because this would give implicit recognition of the Islamist movement which Israel and most Western nations have on their terrorist lists.
Israel launched its war against Hamas on December 27 aiming to end rocket attacks in southern Israel and the smuggling of weapons into Gaza from Egypt. Palestinian medics say at least 785 people have been killed since then.
Ten Israeli soldiers and three civilians have been killed in combat or rocket attacks into Israel over the same time. Hamas has demanded the end of Israel's blockade of Gaza, imposed after the Islamist group pledged to Israel's destruction seized power there in June 2007.
The ICRC said it is restricting Gaza operations to the territory's main city after a vehicle was hit, apparently by Israeli forces, a spokeswoman said.
"We had an incident when one of our trucks travelling at the front of a convoy of 13 ambulances delivering medical assistance to south Gaza was shot at," ICRC spokeswoman Anne Sophie Bonefeld told AFP. She said one person was wounded.
"We very much believe it was the IDF (Israeli military)" and the ICRC was temporarily limiting operations to Gaza City to review security arrangements.
There has been mounting criticism of the civilian death toll from Israel's offensive. The main UN Palestinian relief agency, UNRWA, suspended operations in the enclave on Thursday after a UN convoy was hit by two Israeli tank shells, killing a truck driver.
Hamas criticised the decision by the agency, which distributes food to about half of Gaza's 1.5 million people as well as running schools and other centres.
The ICRC has accused Israel of failing to help the wounded after rescuers found four small children clinging to their dead mothers.
Israel has said it was investigating the incidents but has repeatedly insisted Hamas is to blame for civilian deaths because the Islamist fighters operate from densely populated areas.
Thousands of Israeli security forces were deployed in east Jerusalem on Friday after Hamas called for a "day of wrath" over the Gaza offensive following similar protests last week.
The army also sealed off the West Bank for 48 hours, with movement in and out of the territory prohibited except for emergencies and special cases.
Gaza children found with mothers' corpses
PARIS: The International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday it had discovered "shocking" scenes — including small children next to their mothers' corpses — when its representatives gained access for the first time to parts of Gaza battered by Israeli shelling. It accused Israel of failing to meet obligations to care for the wounded in areas of combat.
In response, the Israeli military did not comment directly on the allegation. In a statement, it accused Hamas, its foe in Gaza, of deliberately using "Palestinian civilians as human shields" and said the Israeli Army "works in close cooperation with international aid organizations during the fighting so that civilians can be provided with assistance."
The Israeli military "in no way intentionally targets civilians and has demonstrated its willingness to abort operations to save civilian lives and to risk injury in order to assist innocent civilians," the statement said, promising that "any serious allegation" would "need to be investigated properly, once such a complaint is received formally, within the constraints of the current military operation."
In an unusually blunt criticism, the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross said it had been seeking access to shell-damaged areas in Zeitoun in the east of Gaza City since Saturday but the Israeli authorities granted permission only on Wednesday — the first day that Israel allowed a three-hour lull in the attacks on Gaza on humanitarian grounds.
The statement said a team of four Palestine Red Crescent ambulances accompanied by Red Cross representatives made its way to Zeitoun Wednesday where it "found four small children next to their dead mothers in one of the houses. They were too weak to stand up on their own. One man was also found alive, too weak to stand up. In all, there were at least 12 corpses lying on mattresses."
In another house, the statement said, the rescue team "found 15 other survivors of this attack including several wounded. In yet another house, they found an additional three corpses. Israeli soldiers posted at a military position some 80 meters away from this house ordered the rescue team to leave the area which they refused to do. There were several other positions of the Israeli Defense Forces nearby as well as two tanks."
Because of berms built by Israeli forces, the ambulances could not enter the area so "the children and the wounded had to be taken to the ambulances on a donkey cart," the statement said.
The statement quoted Pierre Wettach, an International Red Cross representative for Israel and the Palestinian areas, as calling the incident "shocking."
"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," he was quoted as saying.
The statement said the international Red Cross "believes that in this instance the Israeli military failed to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law to care for and evacuate the wounded. It considers the delay in allowing rescue services access unacceptable."
Ron Paul: Gaza crisis is blowback for past US interventions
Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) spoke on Friday in opposition to a non-binding House resolution (pdf) expressing "strong support for Israel" in its invasion of Gaza and decrying Hamas as a terrorist organization that has put "hundreds of thousands of Israelis in danger."
"I rise in opposition to this resolution, not because I am taking sides and picking who the bad guys are and who the good guys are." Paul stated. "I'm looking at this more from the angle of being a United States citizen, an American, and I think resolutions like this really do us great harm."
"The weapons being used to kill so many Palestinians are American weapons, and American funds, essentially, are being used for this," continued Paul. "There's a political liability, which I think is something that we fail to look at, because too often there's so much blowback from our intervention in areas that we shouldn't be involved in."
Paul pointed out that if Hamas now has too much power, it is the fault of past actions by Israel and the United States. "We first, indirectly and directly through Israel, help establish Hamas," he noted, "then we have an election [in Gaza], then Hamas becomes dominant -- so we have to kill them. It just doesn't make sense."
"There's a lot of reasons why we should oppose this resolution," Paul concluded emphatically. "It is not in the interests of the United States. It's not in the interests of Israel, either."
Paul's statement was consistent with his past positions. Last March, he was the sole member of Congress to vote against a one-sided condemnation of Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli civilians.
Paul stated on that occasion, "I believe it is appalling that Palestinians are firing rockets that harm innocent Israelis, just as I believe it is appalling that Israel fires missiles into Palestinian areas where children and other non-combatants are killed and injured. Unfortunately, legislation such as this is more likely to perpetuate violence in the Middle East than contribute to its abatement. ... I strongly believe that we must cease making proclamations involving conflicts that have nothing to do with the United States. We incur the wrath of those who feel slighted while doing very little to slow or stop the violence."
This video is from C-SPAN, broadcast Jan. 9, 2009.
Video At Source
Rice says it is 'hard' for Israel to spare civilians in Gaza
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday "it's hard" for Israeli troops to shield civilians in Gaza because the area is so densely populated and Hamas uses people as human shields.
"It is very difficult in circumstances like Gaza, which is a very densely populated area," Rice told reporters when asked if Israel is living up to its humanitarian obligations during its two-week military offensive in Gaza.
"I might note it's also an area in which Hamas participates in activities like human shields, using buildings that are not designated as military buildings to hide their fighters. So it's hard," Rice said.
Rice has returned to Washington from New York where the United States abstained in a vote Thursday for a UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire and an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.
"I was encouraged that Prime Minister (Ehud) Olmert, after an extensive conversation we had, agreed to open a new humanitarian corridor," Rice said.
"We're going to continue to pass the Israelis information about what we're hearing about the humanitarian situation on the ground," she said, adding that the United States will continue to support efforts by humanitarian groups.
Earlier, White House spokesman Scott Stanzel blamed Hamas for the suffering in Gaza.
"It is a humanitarian crisis. It's a war zone. And war zones are very difficult," Stanzel said.
"We have expressed our deep concerns about the situation with innocent lives being lost," he said. "But, again, this is a problem, unfortunately, that was brought on by Hamas.
Stanzel said Hamas refused to extend a ceasefire and "began lobbing more and more rockets into Israel. And that is a situation that the Israeli government, nor any government would stand for."
He said the United States was "very concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza."
"Israel has indicated that they too are concerned and they are taking every step that they can to prevent the loss of innocent life," he said.
But, he said, the situation "will not improve until Hamas stops lobbing rockets into Israel."
Rice repeated the reasons for the US abstention at the United Nations on Thursday.
"The US abstention was principally because we believe it would have been useful to have a little bit more time for the Mubarak initiative to mature," she said.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak invited Israel and the Palestinians to Cairo for talks on conditions of a truce, on securing Gaza borders, reopening of its crossings and lifting the Israeli blockade on the Palestinian enclave.
Washington has called for a "durable" ceasefire that prevents Hamas from resuming rocket fire on Israel.
"Knowing better the terms of the durability is very critical, and we're working to support the Mubarak initiative, including offering to do whatever we can to help with the smuggling and the illegal arms trafficking," Rice said.
But she said she had no plans to actually travel to Egypt.
"We also ... had reservations that no-one would think that there was any equivalence being drawn here between Israel and Hamas," which is "a terrorist organization" and not a state, Rice said.
UN Commissioner: investigate Israel for war crimes
Israel leaflets Gaza, promises fighting will intensify
Stephen C. Webster
Published: Saturday January 10, 2009
Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, wants an investigation into what she believes to be war crimes committed by Israeli forces.
She specifically highlighted a recent incident in which Israel attacked a civilian safe house in Gaza, killing more than 30 people.
Her stinging words arrived just one evening before Israel began dropping leaflets on Gaza Saturday, each warning of a coming escalation.
The UN Office for the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs reported that 110 Palestinians, all in a single extended family, were "herded" into the house and told not to leave by Israeli soldiers. Less than 24 hours later, the house was attacked.
“Those who survived and were able walked two kilometers to Salah Ed Din road before being transported to the hospital in civilian vehicles," reads the UN report. "Three children, the youngest of whom was five months old, died upon arrival at the hospital.”
Pillay said the attack bore "all the elements of war crimes," according to a published report.
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, four infants, clinging to the corpses of what was believed to be their parents, were discovered after the attack. The children went undiscovered for over 48 hours, despite Israeli solders being mere yards away.
Pillay, from S. Africa, is a former judge with the International Criminal Court.
Israel denies the incident altogether. The UN report cites specific testimony, though does not identify the origin.
The announcement by the UN commissioner comes on the heels of Red Cross criticism. The aid agency said Israel has failed at helping injured civilians, a key rule of war.
Israel said its military "works in close cooperation with international aid organizations during the fighting so that civilians can be provided with assistance."
"I am concerned with violations of international law," Pillay told Reuters. "Incidents such as this must be investigated because they display elements of what could constitute war crimes."
During the first week of January, the Red Cross criticized Israel for hampering ambulance services to embattled Palestinian civilians.
"The situation is extremely dangerous and the coordination of ambulance services is very complex because of the incessant attacks and military operations," ICRC spokeswoman Dorothea Krimitsas said in Geneva.
"Wounded people have died while waiting for Palestinian Red Crescent ambulances," she added.
Pakistani ambassador Zamir Akram echoed Pillay's sentiment, in a speech delivered on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
"In their totality these constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity," he declared.
Bush call halted US voting for ceasefire
By David Usborne in New York
Saturday January 10 2009
Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, was forced to step back from voting in favour of the Gaza ceasefire resolution at the UN Security Council after orders from Washington, diplomatic sources said yesterday.
The US abstention on the resolution vote early yesterday, which clearly weakened its impact, was the final twist in a tumultuous three-day marathon of negotiations in New York.
When three of the world's top diplomats -- Ms Rice, David Miliband, Britain's foreign secretary, and his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner -- descended on New York on Tuesday to take action there was plenty of reason to believe that their efforts would end in tears. Most alarming was the prospect of a vote on a ceasefire text tabled by Libya. The US was threatening to veto it.
But by Thursday morning, the US had had a surprising change of heart. It could back a resolution, if the British drafted one, which Mr Miliband and his diplomatic crew duly did.
When finally every last hurdle was cleared and the members of the Security Council were headed to their chamber for the vote, there was a mood of celebration in the building.
But before the vote was due, word began to circulate that America was not going to vote in favour after all. The change of heart came about with a phone call from George Bush to Ms Rice in which he said don't veto the resolution but don't vote for it either.
London riots over Israel's Gaza campaign
Riots in Paris too as Europe in arms over Israeli campaign
A London protest against the Israeli military campaign in Gaza turned violent Saturday night as police charged demonstrators outside the gates of Israel's embassy.
It was one of the largest of many, many demonstrations across Europe on Saturday.
One police officer was knocked unconscious and two were injured in the fray, according to The London Paper. An estimated 300 police in riot gear charged protesters as the crowd chanted "free, free Palestine," hurling hundreds of shoes over a police barrier in front of the embassy.
Tensions continued to rise as the crowd found more objects to hurl -- signs, eggs, red paint, barriers, rocks, etc. -- until police began efforts to disperse the demonstrators.
Protesters smashed and destroyed a Starbucks, and the Daily Mail reported that others tried to set police vehicles on fire.
The Daily Mail also published a striking series of photos from the protest.
London police told BBC that just 20,000 people were involved in the protest, but BBC estimated 50,000. The London Paper gave a figure twice that, claiming over 100,000 joined the demonstration.
"We want the British government to take a much stronger position," said Lindsey German, an organizer with protest group 'Stop the War,' in a BBC report. "There would have been outrage from governments around the world if this had happened anywhere else - the condemnation has been at best half-hearted."
"The British government and European Union have the economic leverage to stop this carnage," said Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London, in a prepared statement. "They must take decisive action to force Israel to end the slaughter."
Protests ripple across Europe
About 30,000 people marched through Paris, the interior ministry said, and more than 90,000 joined protests in more than 120 towns and cities elsewhere in France.
In the capital, thousands of French men and women of Arab origin carrying Palestinian banners joined forces with left-wing militants amid cries of "Allahu Akbar" (God is Greater) and "Israel murderer."
Protesters smashed a bus shelter and a telephone box in central Paris, and bottles were later thrown at riot police and shop windows smashed.
Police fired teargas after mobs overturned motor scooters and set them on fire.
A march in the southern city of Nice descended into violence. Seven police were hurt and 11 rioters arrested as youths broke off from a 2,500-strong crowd of protesters and smashed shop windows.
Demonstrations took place on the streets of other European cities including Athens, Berlin, Budapest, Oslo, Sarajevo and Stockholm.
In Sarajevo, peace activist Svetlana Broz told a 1,000-strong pro-Palestinian demonstration that the city knew better than others "what happens when the world remains silent at a time when innocent civilians suffer", referring to the bloody siege of the city in the 1992-95 war in the former Yugoslavia.
Police in Oslo fired teargas after a small group among a crowd of 2,000 pelted them with stones, and up to 5,000 demonstrators gathered outside the Israeli embassy in Stockholm to call for an end to the military campaign.
More than 6,000 people gathered for a peaceful rally in Berlin, with similar shows of support for the Palestinians in Munich and Cologne.
In western Germany, some 10,000 people, largely from the ethnic Turkish community, protested in Duisburg. Police briefly intervened when demonstrators threw snowballs at a window bearing two Israeli flags.
Innsbruck in western Austria staged a peaceful protest of 3,500 people waving banners saying "Stop Israeli terror" and 7,000 protestors turned out in Bern, Switzerland.
In Athens, more than 2,000 people took part in a protest staged by left-wing groups and thousands demonstrated in Milan and Turin.
A rally is planned in Madrid on Sunday, while a pro-Israeli demonstration is scheduled to take place in London.
The following video of violent anti-Israel protests in London was uploaded to YouTube on Jan. 10.
Videos At Source
Israel to step up assault on Hamas
Leaflets warn Palestinians not to be 'close to terrorists' as hawks push to extend operations into city streets in phase three
Chris McGreal in Jerusalem
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 10 January 2009 21.15 GMT
The Israeli military appeared to be preparing for a major new ground assault against Gaza City and other towns tonight after dropping leaflets warning residents it was about to "escalate" its offensive against Hamas.
The tens of thousands of leaflets, dropped on parts of Gaza City, the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya and the south of the territory, warned residents: "The Israeli Defence Force will soon escalate its operations against tunnels, weapons warehouses, terrorist infrastructure and terrorists all over the Gaza Strip. To keep yourself and your families safe, you are ordered not to be close to terrorists, weapons warehouses and the places where the terrorists operate."
Israeli troops were seen on the outskirts of Gaza City as the military kept up its bombardment by air, sea and land for the 15th day. At least eight Palestinians were killed by an Israeli tank shell in Jabaliya refugee camp, north of Gaza City.
The Palestinian death toll rose above 820, including about 235 children and young people. Four Israelis have been killed by Hamas rockets since the assault on Gaza began and nine soldiers have died in the fighting.
But it was not clear whether the Israeli cabinet has given final approval to moving to "phase three" of the military assault, amid divisions among ministers over fears that fighting inside urban areas could lead to a sharp escalation in Israeli casualties.
The prime minister, Ehud Olmert, is reported to be in favour of pressing ahead with the assault because the goal of ending Hamas rocket fire has not been achieved. Hamas fired at least 15 rockets into Israel yesterday, hitting the town of Ashkelon, about 12 miles north of the Gaza Strip.
The defence minister, Ehud Barak, is also reluctant to pull back without having forced Hamas into an agreement. Support for his Labour party has risen dramatically ahead of next month's general election because of Barak's handling of the conflict, but it could slump again if there are a significant number of Israeli casualties or the army pulls out without having stopped Hamas rockets. But others in the cabinet say enough has been done to force Hamas into a ceasefire on Israel's terms and that the dangers of urban fighting are too great.
Elements of the military and intelligence services have been pressing for the escalation, believing that the assault can remove Hamas from power in Gaza.
Rafi Eitan, a member of Israel's security cabinet, said on Israel radio yesterday that, despite international efforts to engineer a ceasefire, the government will press on with the assault on Gaza until the threat of Hamas rocket attacks is removed. "Israel is determined to deal with this matter until its positive conclusion, so that there is no terrorism in Gaza against Israel," he said.
Some military analysts believe Hamas has largely avoided direct combat in order to hold its forces in reserve to fight in Gaza City, where the IDF will be more vulnerable than on the open ground it has so far occupied.
Phase three is one step short of a full reoccupation of the enclave, a move the government has consistently said it will not take. But an escalation will reinforce the growing belief among Palestinians that the assault is intended to topple Hamas. Israeli forces have in effect brought an end to the Hamas administration, with its leadership driven underground and much of the infrastructure of government destroyed.
The Israeli government is counting on Hamas being so weakened that it will agree to a ceasefire on almost any terms, including disarming and sharing power with the Palestinian Authority. It would also be expected to drop its demand for an end to the economic blockade of Gaza as a condition for a ceasefire.
But military and political analysts say that Hamas can block the Israeli strategy simply by refusing to agree to a ceasefire, no matter how bad things get. The military would then be stuck inside a potentially anarchic Gaza Strip, attempting to stop Hamas rockets, every one of which fired into Israel would amount to a victory for the Islamist group.
Hamas remained defiant today in the face of a European diplomatic initiative to deploy international monitors inside the Gaza Strip to verify any ceasefire agreement. The Hamas political leader, Khaled Mashaal, who is in exile in Syria, rejected the proposal and said that his organisation would not agree to any arrangement that infringed on its "right of resistance against Israeli occupation".
Mohammed Nazzal, a Hamas official, told al-Jazeera television: "We cannot accept international forces in the Gaza Strip, because the presence of international forces would be for the protection of the Israelis, and not the protection of the Palestinian people."
Mashaal's statement came shortly after the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, called on Hamas to agree to a ceasefire.
In a further blow to diplomatic attempts to end the conflict, Egypt ruled out deployment of foreign troops on its side of the border with Gaza. "There will be no international troops of any kind on the Egyptian side," the Egyptian foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, told a news conference.
U.S. seeks ship to move arms to Israel
By Stefano Ambrogi
LONDON (Reuters) - The U.S. is seeking to hire a merchant ship to deliver hundreds of tons of arms to Israel from Greece later this month, tender documents seen by Reuters show.
The U.S. Navy's Military Sealift Command (MSC) said the ship was to carry 325 standard 20-foot containers of what is listed as "ammunition" on two separate journeys from the Greek port of Astakos to the Israeli port of Ashdod in mid-to-late January.
A "hazardous material" designation on the manifest mentions explosive substances and detonators, but no other details were given.
"Shipping 3,000-odd tons of ammunition in one go is a lot," one broker said, on condition of anonymity.
"This (kind of request) is pretty rare and we haven't seen much of it quoted in the market over the years," he added.
The U.S. Defense Department, contacted by Reuters on Friday in Washington, had no immediate comment.
The MSC transports amour and military supplies for the U.S. armed forces aboard its own fleet, but regularly hires merchant ships if logistics so require.
The request for the ship was made on December 31, with the first leg of the charter to arrive no later than January 25 and the second at the end of the month.
The tender for the vessel follows the hiring of a commercial ship to carry a much larger consignment of ordnance in December from the United States to Israel ahead of air strikes in the Gaza Strip.
A German shipping firm which won that tender confirmed the order when contacted by Reuters but declined to comment further.
Shipping brokers in London who have specialized in moving arms for the British and U.S. military in the past said such ship charters to Israel were rare.
Israel is one of America's closest allies and both nations regularly sell arms to each other.
A senior military analyst in London who declined to be named said that, because of the timing, the shipments could be "irregular" and linked to the Gaza offensive.
The ship hired by the MSC in December was for a much larger cargo of arms, tender documents showed.
That stipulated a ship to be chartered for 42 days capable of carrying 989 standard 20-foot containers from Sunny Point, North Carolina to Ashdod.
The tender document said the vessel had to be capable of "carrying 5.8 million pounds (2.6 million kg) of net explosive weight," which specialist brokers said was a very large quantity.
The ship was requested early last month to load on December 15.
In September, the U.S. Congress approved the sale of 1,000 bunker-buster missiles to Israel. The GPS-guided GBU-39 is said to be one of the most accurate bombs in the world.
The Jerusalem Post, citing defense officials, reported last week that a first shipment of the missiles had arrived in early December and they were used in penetrating Hamas's underground rocket launcher sites.
Protest about the Mideast crisis appears to be peaceful
Deborah Gage, Chronicle Staff Writer
Saturday, January 10, 2009
(01-10) 14:28 PST SAN FRANCISCO -- A few thousand protesters of all ages rallied in San Francisco's Civic Center, then marched down Market Street in San Francisco today to protest Israel's bombing of Gaza.
At the rally there was a group of 300 to 400 pro-Israel demonstrators, who stood across from the pro-Palestinian group, but did not join the march down Market Street.
Chanting "Free, free Palestine" and "Stop killing children," the pro-Palestine group carried banners, waved pictured of bloodied children and carried white helium balloons representing Palestinians killed in Gaza.
San Francisco police, holding riot helmets, lined the marchers' route and rode motorcycles ahead of the protest, but so far the protest has been peaceful.
Protest organizers from a group called answercoalition.org, clad in neon yellow vests, held hands to form a chain keeping the marchers together along the protest route.
"We're trying to keep the peace for everyone," said Mabil Fara, who was preventing pro-Gaza demonstrators from approaching pro-Israel counter-protesters before the march began.
Separated by police tape, protesters from both sides stood along Polk Street near City Hall, waving flags and shouting slogans at each other.
Mike Harris, of a group called Stand With Us/San Francisco Voice for Israel, said the pro-Israel demonstrators would not march "to ensure their safety."
He said the group's purpose was to show that Israel has a right to exist.
Grace Shalhoub, whose family lives in Lebanon, said she came to the protest because "after 9/11, I feel this is my responsibility and duty" to be involved in Middle Eastern politics.
Thousands descend on White House to protest Gaza war
Published: Saturday January 10, 2009
WASHINGTON (AFP) - Several thousand protesters -- 10,000 according to organizers -- descended on the White House Saturday in support of Palestinians in Gaza, on the heels of other protests across major world capitals.
The protests came as Israel vowed to escalate its war in Gaza that has left 825 Palestinians dead so far, as troops battled fighters from the Islamist movement Hamas into a third week in defiance of a United Nations truce call.
"There are many young people. We feel it's one of the most important demonstrations for Palestine ever in the US," said Eugene Puryear, a coordinator of the protest, which was organized by the ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) coalition.
Thousands of people gathered from about 1:00 pm (1800 GMT) in Lafayette Park, across from the White House, chanting "free Palestine" as others spoke from a podium.
Protesters waived Palestinian flags, wore keffiyeh -- a traditional Palestinian headdress -- and waived signs, some of which read "stop the Gaza holocaust" and "Free Palestine, let Gaza live."
They then led a march passing in front of the headquarters of The Washington Post newspaper to protest "its hard pro-Israeli line," Puryear said, before heading to the offices of military contractor Lockheed Martin.
"I came because there are innocent children dying daily in Palestine. The American people need to know the truth," said 13-year-old Razan Ali, a Palestinian-American who bused in from New York.
A dozen buses filled with protesters came from New Jersey and another seven buses drove in from New York.
Yasmina Farej, a 54-year-old who came from Brooklyn dressed in conservative Muslim garb, said she was motivated to join the protest because of "the war in Gaza; they bomb the innocent children."
Demonstrators against the Israeli offensive also rallied in major cities in Canada and across Europe.
Some 123,000 protesters marched through Paris and many other cities in France, home to Europe's largest Muslim population, the French interior ministry said.
In Lebanon tens of thousands of people took part in a protest organized by the Shiite militia Hezbollah in the southern town of Nabatiyeh, a stronghold of the group, which fought a brutal 34-day war with Israel in the summer of 2006.