Posts Tagged ‘Hamas’

Palestinians see Gaza peace dividend pass them by

January 16, 2018

GAZA (Reuters) – Life began to look up for Gaza’s Palestinians when reconciliation between its Hamas Islamist rulers and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority in October brought a drop in crippling prices.

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A Palestinian man carries food supplies at a United Nations food distribution center in Al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City January 15, 2018. Picture taken January 15, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Three months on, discount stickers still adorn goods from clothes to cars but few of the two million people in the enclave blockaded by Israel are buying.

Although Hamas handed administrative control to the Western-backed PA, which lifted tax surcharges Hamas had imposed on businesses, making room for the price cuts, the rival leaderships are still arguing.

The result is that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the PA, has not reversed a 30 percent wage cut he imposed in April on 60,000 civil servants who stayed on the PA’s payroll when the authority lost control of Gaza to Hamas in 2007.

Many of those employees are now mired in debt to banks for loans they took out to get by.

The salary reductions “deprived the Gaza market of $160 million in the past eight months”, said Maher al-Tabbaa, an official with the Chamber of Commerce.

For individuals, the consequences are stark. In a Gaza pharmacy this week, Umm Ahmed considered which medicines on the prescription she had been given for her son she could afford.

“Even in my dreams I never thought we would live through such misery,” she said as she chose two painkillers and left more expensive antibiotics in the drug store.

Tabbaa said any economic improvement in Gaza was largely dependent on Israel lifting the tight border restrictions it imposed after Hamas took power, a view that echoes World Bank reports over the years.

Israel cites security concerns for the measures, which include a naval blockade, an almost blanket ban on exports from the territory and restrictions on the import of items such as steel in case militants use them to make arms or fortifications.

Battling an Islamist insurgency in the Sinai desert that borders Gaza, Egypt, the main mediator of inter-Palestinian reconciliation, also invokes security considerations in keeping its border with the enclave largely closed.

INTERNATIONAL CONCERN

Many countries, concerned over deepening economic hardship in Gaza, have urged more open borders.

The World Bank said in September alleviating restrictions on the movement of goods and people would allow critical trade to rebuild infrastructure and economy, both hit hard by a seven-week war between Israel and Gaza militants in 2014.

Some 550 Gaza traders had permission to enter Israel as of December 2017, a drop of 85 percent since late 2015, according to a Palestinian committee that transfers entry requests to Israeli authorities.

Israel has said some permits were used to arrange smuggling of material, weapons or money to militants.

Image result for A Palestinian man shops at a supermarket in Gaza City January 15, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem, photos

A Palestinian man shops at a supermarket in Gaza City January 15, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The World Bank projected real GDP growth of 4.0 percent in Gaza for 2017, not enough to prevent a near stagnation in real per capita income and an increase in unemployment.

Tabbaa put current unemployment in Gaza at 46 percent.

WEAK SALES

“Metro” the second largest supermarket in Gaza, said sales had dropped to their lowest point since the business opened several years ago.

“People are only buying the very basic things, the most important of the important stuff,” Khalil al-Yazji, one of the owners, said. “We are unable to cover operating costs.”

The supermarket has dropped some staff and cut back on imports, fearing new stocks would only expire on the shelves.

In Gaza’s once bustling Old Market, spice store owner Mamdouh Zeineldeen said he might have to close his business.

“Markets are collapsing, just like reconciliation,” he said.

The effects of armed conflict and economic woes in Gaza are also evident at Kerem Shalom, the only commercial crossing between Israel and the territory.

Some 800 to 1,000 truckloads of goods for Gaza pass through Kerem Shalom every day, but Tabbaa said that number dropped to 400 in recent weeks after merchants cut imports due to weak consumer demand.

Tensions have also risen since President Donald Trump reversed decades of U.S. policy on Dec. 6 by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Sixteen Palestinian protesters have been killed in clashes with police and Gaza militants have launched 18 cross-border rockets or mortar bombs into Israel, which has responded with air strikes. The exchange of fire has largely avoided casualties, but two Palestinian gunmen were killed in one retaliatory strike. [nL8N1P433C]

Israel closed Kerem Shalom on Saturday, a day before it destroyed what it said was a Hamas attack tunnel running underneath the facility.

The crossing reopened on Tuesday but further easing looks unlikely.

Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are still divided over the fate of 40,000 to 50,000 employees hired by Hamas since its 2007 takeover of Gaza. Security is another key sticking point, with Hamas still running the police and internal security in Gaza after handing administrative control to the PA.

Peace talks between Israel and Abbas’s Palestinian Authority collapsed in 2014 and Palestinian unity was supposed to strengthen Abbas’s hand in his bid to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza.

But Israel has balked at the reconciliation efforts, saying it would not negotiate with a Palestinian government dependent on support by Hamas, a group that advocates its destruction.

Editing by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem and Philippa Fletcher

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Abbas’ Belligerent Speech Doesn’t Restore Confidence in the Palestinian Leadership

January 16, 2018

Despite the PA president’s declarations, some in the West Bank believe that they will remain on paper only and not much will really change. The personal rivalries that won’t go away will also apparently continue to be detrimental to the Palestinian struggle

Palestinian President Abbas speaks during the meeting of the Palestinian Central Council in the West Bank city of Ramallah January 14, 2018.
Palestinian President Abbas speaks during the meeting of the Palestinian Central Council in the West Bank city of Ramallah January 14, 2018. \ MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS
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M.T., from near Jenin, thinks the recent clashes with Israeli soldiers are mainly a message to the Palestinian Authority that young Palestinians are fed up. In a few months, he says, they will turn their anger on it.

His opinion is particularly interesting because in his early 20’s, he joined the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, for which he was sentenced to three years in an Israeli prison. He regrets having joined Fatah‘s armed wing. He remains a Fatah member, but he has no faith in its leadership, which is also the PA’s leadership. Its internal rivalries weary him. He repeatedly used the word “corrupt.” All the leaders “have houses in Amman. If everything collapses here, they’ll have somewhere to flee,” he said.

Then he said something contradictory, later confirming with a smile that he recognized the contradiction. “I wish the Israeli occupation would return.” And a few minutes later, “All the foreign rulers in Palestine ultimately left. So will the Zionist regime. I don’t mean the Jews; they were here and will remain.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas‘ speech to PLO’s Central Council didn’t restore M.T.s faith in his leadership or its ability and desire to adopt new political tactics. It’s reasonable to assume this was true of most Palestinians, including Fatah supporters.

The London-based Al-Hayat newspaper reported a fierce argument, at the PLO Executive Committee meeting that preceded the council meeting, between Omar Shehadeh of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Abbas, who stormed out in anger. Shehadeh asked why Abbas didn’t convene the committee immediately after President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and said the PFLP plans to hold Abbas to account for failing to carry out the resolutions of the last Central Council meeting. Shehadeh was quoted in Al-Hayat as asking, “Who’s responsible, the Executive Committee or the president?”

Shehadeh represents a withered organization living mainly on past glories, but many would identify with his question.

The praises of Abbas sung on Radio Palestine Monday were a reminder that he has the first and last word in Fatah and the PLO. But in interviews with the Watan news agency Monday, several prominent non-Fatah delegates stressed that Central Council decisions must be implemented.

Even those who didn’t so explicitly were referring to the decisions adopted at its March 2015 meeting, above all the decision to end security coordination with Israel. Abbas objected to this and refused to implement it. And there’s good reason to think the Central Council’s latest decisions, whatever they end up being, will prove similarly empty.

The council is expected to once again decide to halt security coordination, ask the International Criminal Court to investigate Israel over settlement construction and call for international sanctions on Israel. It’s also expected to urge the Executive Committee to suspend recognition of Israel. The original recommendation was to suspend recognition until Israel recognizes the State of Palestine, but that phrase was removed under Arab states’ pressure. Merely saying “suspend” leaves the decision to Abbas.

Abbas’ speech was depicted as heralding a new, difficult era in the national struggle. At such a time, public faith in the leadership is especially important, as is the ability to criticize, exchange opinions and overcome personal rivalries.

The ill wind of personal rivalry that weakened the Palestinian struggle in the past also hovers over this new, fateful stage, while lack of faith in the leadership and its abilities is stronger than ever before. No forceful speech will change that.

Israel Can Blame Hamas All It Wants – It Won’t Keep Gaza From Descending Into Collapse

January 16, 2018

Israeli defense officials are pinning the South’s security woes on Hamas- but will the international community care for their excuses when the Strip finally collapses?

By Amos Harel Jan 16, 2018 9:13 AM
Haaretz

A Palestinian woman stands outside her house in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip.

A Palestinian woman stands outside her house in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. Braheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman were both asked about Monday’s report in Haaretz regarding warnings by senior defense officials that Gaza’s infrastructure and economy were on the verge of collapse. In response, Netanyahu, during his visit to India, and Lieberman, at a meeting of his Knesset faction, made remarkably similar comments.

The two made three basic claims: That Hamas, by stubbornly insisting on building up its military force, bears primary responsibility for Gaza’s distress; to change the circumstances and allow Gazans to live in conditions that are more than just “keeping their heads above water,” as Lieberman put it, there must be a resolution of the issue of the missing Israelis and bodies of soldiers still held in the Strip; and in the long term, the only thing that will extract Gaza from its situation will be demilitarization in exchange for rehabilitation.

In general the question of the missing is being raised more frequently and is being given a higher priority in the statements of Israeli leaders. Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the coordinator of government activities in the territories, said last week at the Globes conference that the approval of large infrastructure projects in Gaza is conditioned on resolving the issue of the missing civilians and soldiers.

Netanyahu and Lieberman both stressed Hamas’ responsibility for the situation, arguing that the organization, like Iran, which is supporting it financially, prefers to divert every spare dollar to improving its terror capabilities over improving the economy and living conditions of the people. This diagnosis, although correct, only reflects the gap between the current situation and Israel’s preferred solution – rehabilitating the Strip in exchange for Hamas giving up its weapons.

In practice, Israel didn’t really try to realize that objective in the cease-fire agreement it reached at the end of Operation Protective Edge three-and-a-half years ago, and since then nothing has been done to advance this issue at all. Israel, for obvious reasons, is leveraging the exposure of the most recent tunnel Hamas dug into Israeli and Egyptian territory at Kerem Shalom.

On Monday the Israel Defense Forces conducted a tour of the crossing for foreign ambassadors and representatives of international organizations, during which it stressed the utter irresponsibility exhibited by Hamas in digging a tunnel under the crossing through which the entire supply of goods to Gaza depends, adjacent to the pipelines through which fuel is streamed to the Strip. Even if Hamas wasn’t planning to blow up the tunnel or use it to commit an attack in the near term, it was a frighteningly dangerous move against which Israel had the right to defend itself.

But Israel’s arguments against Hamas, and the continued investment in building the anti-tunnel barrier and in locating additional tunnels, cannot offset the discussion of the humanitarian disaster looming in Gaza. The answers by Netanyahu and Lieberman will not be accepted by the international community if sewage floods the refugee camps and neighborhoods this winter and if epidemics rage there, as the professionals in the defense establishment fear. Even less dramatic infrastructure problems, like additional disruptions to the electricity supply, could have bad consequences.

Infectious diseases will not stop at the Erez Crossing and no technology will identify and eliminate them before they cross at Keren Shalom and affect Israelis. Under those circumstance, the question of whether Hamas will resume using its weapons against Israel will be the least of our problems. Israel could be called on to deal with much greater and more urgent challenges, like how to prevent outbreaks of disease in the Negev, whether Israel can stand aside as the hospitals in Gaza collapse or its water system breaks down, and what should be done if masses of Palestinians press against the border fence and beg for Israeli assistance during a humanitarian crisis of a scope we’ve never dealt with before.

Amos Harel
read more: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.835170

Israel reopens Gaza crossing after Hamas tunnel destroyed

January 16, 2018

 

HAMAS_TUNNEL REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
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JERUSALEM: The Israeli military says it has reopened a key border crossing with the Gaza Strip after destroying a tunnel built under it by the Hamas militant group.
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Tuesday’s opening restores Gaza’s main point of entry of humanitarian aid.
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Israel temporarily closed the Kerem Shalom border crossing after it demolished the 1.5-kilometer (1-mile) long tunnel that ran past Israeli military posts as well as gas and fuel pipelines. Israeli jets struck part of the tunnel and a new set of sophisticated “tools” destroyed the rest. The Israeli military says it likely thwarted an imminent attack on Israelis.
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Israel has placed a high priority on halting the tunnel threat since Hamas infiltrated Israel during the 2014 war.
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It was the third such tunnel Israel has destroyed over the past two months.

Netanyahu Blasts Abbas Speech: He Revealed Truth About Conflict and Did Israel a Service

January 15, 2018

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during the meeting of the Palestinian Central Council in the West Bank city of Ramallah January 14, 2018. (Reuters)

Speaking to reporters while visiting India, Netanyahu says he supports economic relief for Gaza; on Iran, the prime minister warns West: Last chance to fix nuclear deal

By Noa Landau (New Delhi) 15.01.2018 16:30 Updated: 5:51 PM
Haaretz

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks back after inspecting a guard of honor during a ceremonial reception at the Presidential Palace in the Indian capital New Delhi on January 15, 2018

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks back after inspecting a guard of honor during a ceremonial reception at the Presidential Palace in the Indian capital New Delhi on January 15, 2018 PRAKASH SINGH/AFP
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NEW DELHI — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s comments that Israel killed the Oslo accords by saying that his remarks did Israel a service. Netanyahu, speaking to Israeli journalists in his entourage during his visit to India, also said that he supports economic relief for the Gaza Strip.

However, Netanyahu added that the main problem in the enclave was “the failure of Gaza itself to take care of the basic infrastructure that people need, such as electricity, water and housing. That’s our problem. When they talk about collapse, that’s the infrastructure they mean. It is an absurd situation that the State of Israel has to handle the most basic needs of life, which are neglected by the Hamas government.”

Netanyahu’s comments follow the publication of a report in Haaretz Monday that quoted army officials as saying that the Strip is on the brink of economic collapse.

The prime minister also warned the West that it was the last chance to fix the nuclear deal with Iran.

Regarding the escalation on the border with Gaza, he said that Israel’s actions are guided by its security interests, and that Israel holds Hamas responsible for every attack. “The Israel Defense Forces does not bomb sand dunes,” he added.

Netanyahu looked tired. Aside from the hectic schedule of the official visit, he has taken part in a number of nighttime votes and debates in recent weeks. He also had to contend with negative reports about his son Yair, who was supposed to come on the trip but ultimately remained in Jerusalem.  At the start of the meeting with reporters, the premier asked for coffee, blaming jet lag.

‘What we have been saying all along’

Reacting to Abbas’ speech Sunday night, Netanyahu said that the Palestinian prime minister had exposed “what we have been saying all along, that the roots of the conflict are opposition to a Jewish state within any borders it might have. Not only the way he spoke but the things he said help us show the truth,” Netanyahu said. “I think this serves our political goals more than anything else.”

>> Abbas declares Oslo Accords dead: ‘Trump’s peace plan is a slap, we’ll slap back’ <<

Israel can now fairly make the “elementary, logical demand” that the Palestinian leader change his position, or there will be no peace, Netanyahu said. Abbas did truth a service, and Israeli diplomacy too, the prime minister added – possibly because the Palestinian president is worried that the Americans will come out with a new initiative, and would prefer that they were replaced in their role as mediators.

“But there is nobody else,” Netanyahu said: Abbas’ efforts to get them removed from that role won’t work. “For too long, the Palestinian Authority has been pampered by the international community, which didn’t dare tell them the truth – not about Jerusalem and not about recognizing Israel. That has changed. I think Abu Mazen [Abbas] was reacting to that. This is the first time somebody’s told him the truth to his face.”

‘Last chance to fix the Iran deal’

At the meeting with reporters during the second day of Netanyahu’s visit to India, he reviewed the trip so far and took questions. The prime minister began his remarks by underscoring the “vast importance” that the visit has for security.

Asked about reports that he’s trying to persuade India to reinstate a canceled sale of antitank missiles from the Israeli company Rafael, which was worth half a billion dollars, the prime minister said, “we’re working on it.” On security issues, Netanyahu said that he and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had discussed the Iranian threat.

“We have spent many hours together and much of that conversation focused on Iran, the danger it poses and the aspiration for hegemony over the Muslim world and Muslims everywhere,” Netanyahu said.

Asked about the future of the Iran nuclear agreement, given U.S. President Donald Trump’s latest statement that he will quit the deal unless it is “fixed,” Netanyahu said, “I think it’s the West’s last opportunity to fix the agreement.”

The Prime Minister’s Office later clarified that he meant to say “it looks like the last opportunity.”

Netanyahu said he has counseled European leaders to take Trump’s words seriously. “Some thought he would never retreat from this agreement. I told them I suggest they treat [him] with respect and seriousness. After what he said on Friday, I think people are starting to get it, perhaps belatedly, that this is how it is.”

Referring to his conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron, Netanyahu said, “He told me, ‘I agree on the ballistic missiles, the terrorism, Iran’s aggression. But I don’t agree with you about the agreement.’ I told him, if we don’t change it, the agreement will double Iran’s aggression in the region and its ability to threaten France with missiles. They will achieve a nuclear arsenal. If the agreement isn’t changed, that’s what will be.”

“That is why Trump’s position is correct,” Netanyahu said, adding that he’s been preaching to that effect for some time. “He told me that he understand the superpowers have an opportunity here, I think the last one, to fix the agreement. I think the president is deadly serious that if the agreement isn’t changed, he will make the inescapable decision. The main thing is to make changes that prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear arsenal without hindrance. I think this is the Western countries’ last chance to fix the agreement.”

‘Tehran to Kfar Sava’

Speaking about an Iranian land corridor, Netanyahu said that nobody can stop a truck from driving from Tehran to Damascus. “My policy is to stop trucks driving from Tehran to Kfar Sava,” he said.

“That doesn’t mean we’re allowing Iran to establish itself militarily in Syria,” Netanyahu continued. “They want to bring planes there, they want to bring army forces, warships and submarines. We are preventing this in practice. What’s preventing it is Israel – only Israel,” he said, adding that Iran needs to understand that if it wants to advance its ground, air and naval forces into Israel’s back yard, it will be met with opposition. “The decision whether to escalate is in the hands of the Iranians,” the prime minister said.

Asked about ties between Iran and countries like India and China, with which Netanyahu is trying to improve ties, he answered gingerly, “We have an interest in maintaining excellent relations with India and China as well. I understand the sensitivities and we are discussing that. too. Our improvement of ties is not designed against any specific country.”

Annexing the West Bank?

Netanyahu also fielded a question about the Likud Central Committee’s resolution to annex the West Bank to Israel, noting that the committee could resolve whatever it liked, and the government would also do so.

The prime minister then said, “I support wisdom and responsibility and firmness regarding our central interests,” which he said include protecting Israel’s security and settlements, as well as maneuvering vis-à-vis the international community.

Asked whether the illegal outpost of Havat Gilad would be legalized after a terror attack nearby killed 35-year-old Rabbi Raziel Shevach, he said that this option was under consideration. He noted that in the meantime, the outpost has been connected up to water and electricity.

He then asked to share something personal with the reporters: a moment from the red-carpet reception, with the Indian honor guard present. “I thought how I was representing a people that was shattered to pieces 70, 75 years ago, and now I am being received here as its prime minister, with the respect given to a nation among the nations, and more,” Netanyahu said. “It moved me very much. I think that historically, the moment reflected the Jewish people’s return to the world stage, in many ways.”

The city of New Delhi alone has three times the whole population of Israel, Netanyahu said, and “India contains a considerable proportion of the people who live on Earth. India is a world power and Modi is trying to advance it, to become even more powerful. He is going out of his way to demonstrate his friendship toward Israel and the personal friendship between us.”

Netanyahu said that this is partly due to Israel’s might – economic, technological, in security and in intelligence – but also contains a dimension of personal relations.

A number of economic agreements have been signed during this visit, Netanyahu said, and he anticipates more agreements on security and business in the months to come.

No passage to India

The biggest obstacle that the Israeli delegation would like to resolve involves red tape on imports to India. Until a comprehensive solution, such as a free trade agreement, can be found, Israel has given India a list of products it wants to be exempt from customs – chiefly, food.

The topic of upgrading direct aviation links also arose, as did the use of Israeli agricultural technology in India, which hasn’t yet adopted all the advanced technologies, Netanyahu said carefully. “When I was the ambassador to the UN, we had no relations with India,” he added. “There was structural hostility. In recent years we have changed that from top to bottom. There has been unprecedented blossoming since the moment I met Modi and we decided to upgrade relations.”

Noa Landau
read more: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.835078

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Gaza: Economy, Infrastructure on Verge of Collapse, Israeli Security Officials Say — Do Palestinian Leaders Purposefully Neglect The People and Then Blame Israel?

January 15, 2018

Officials are worried about possible consequences of continued military pressure on the Strip, as deteriorating conditions raise the risk of an uncontrollable flare-up

By Amos Harel Jan 15, 2018 8:43 AM

Haaretz
Palestinian children walk in a street on a rainy day in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip January 6, 2018.

Palestinian children walk in a street on a rainy day in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip January 6, 2018. IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/REUTERS

Senior defense officials one meets these days – not only members of the Government Coordinator of Activities in the Territories unit, but officers in uniform, and to some extent even the Shin Bet security service – are voicing surprisingly similar opinions about the situation in the Gaza Strip. The economy in the Strip is on the verge of total collapse, “like from zero to below zero,” as one official put it, and so is civilian infrastructure.

Hamas’ weak position, both economically and politically, makes it easier for Israel to take the necessary steps to destroy its tunnel project. As reported Saturday, Israel demolished a fourth tunnel in the Gaza Strip in less than three months (and in one incident a Hamas man was injured in Lebanon in an explosion by entities unknown). But politicians in Israel are acting as if military pressure can continue on the Strip, ignoring the worsening economic situation, and that has experts worried. In the long term, continually deteriorating infrastructure brings the risk of an uncontrollable blow-up in the Strip.

About two weeks ago, Haaretz reported that the number of trucks passing through the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Gaza has been cut in half due to the decline in purchasing power of Gaza’s people. The latest statistics say the number of trucks is down a third, to between just 300 to 400 trucks a day.

 

About 95 percent of Gaza’s water is undrinkable. Hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of sewage flow into the Mediterranean daily, reaching Israel’s shores as well. There’s a bit more electricity available now – up to six or seven hours a day, thanks to a decision by the Palestinian Authority to go back to funding some of the power, which is purchased from Israel. Experts warn of the outbreak of infectious diseases.

Unemployment in the Gaza Strip is inching toward 50 percent and is even higher among young people. The more than two million people now living in Gaza are trapped between the harsh Hamas regime and the almost total impossibility of leaving the Strip because of the closed crossings into Israel and Egypt.

When Israel began building its anti-tunnel barrier almost a year ago, concerns were raised that Hamas might try to mount an attack through a tunnel on the Gazan border before this strategic asset, into which Hamas has sunk hundreds of millions of shekels over the past 10 years, is taken away from them.

Meanwhile, that hasn’t happened, although the bulldozers are advancing. At the same time, as reported, four tunnels have been destroyed in three months on account of intelligence and technology.

Hamas, poorer and more isolated than in the past, is in a trap. It depends on Egypt and fears angering the generals in Cairo. But it seems that the explanation for its policy of restraint is also connected to the election of Yahya Sinwar as the organization’s leader in Gaza. Sinwar controls the Strip both politically and militarily. His predecessor, Ismail Haniyeh, who is above him in the hierarchy, is a resident of Gaza, unlike Haniyeh’s predecessor, Khaled Meshal, who urged a hard line from his comfortable location in Qatar. Haniyeh and Sinwar are meanwhile taking a relatively moderate stance.

Israel is considering changes in civilian policy toward the Gaza Strip. But Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz has been unable even to advance a serious discussion on a plan for an artificial island off the Gazan coast, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman oppose. Discussion of other proposals, like bringing in thousands of laborers from the Strip to work in Israeli border communities (which involves a security risk), have dragged on for months.

The summer 2014 war in Gaza broke out for a combination of reasons. Israel increased its punitive measures against Hamas in the West Bank after three teenagers from Gush Etzion were abducted; it turned out later they’d been killed. Hamas’ economic difficulties increased due to a clash with the PA, which stopped paying salaries to government workers in the Strip. The final spark came from Kerem Shalom, when Israel suspected that Hamas was about to launch a terror attack through a tunnel.

This time, there are no clear signs that Hamas has had enough. Israel could continue touting its tactical successes, without deciding what it wants to happen in Gaza. But as in the north, the adversary’s relative restraint might mislead the Israeli leadership into a war that it says it does not want.

Amos Harel
read more: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.834947

Palestinians meet to respond to Trump’s ‘slap of the century’

January 15, 2018

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during the meeting of the Palestinian Central Council in the West Bank city of Ramallah January 14, 2018. (Reuters)
RAMALLAH, Palestinian territories: Palestinian leaders met Monday to plan a response to what they see as US President Donald Trump’s attack on their long bid for statehood, after Mahmud Abbas denounced White House peace efforts as the “slap of the century.”
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The rare meeting of the Palestinian Central Council — a high-ranking arm of the Palestine Liberation Organization — was called after Trump’s controversial December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
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Palestinians want the annexed eastern sector of the city as the capital of their future state and president Abbas has said Trump’s stance means the US can no longer be the mediator in peace talks with Israel.
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The US president has sought to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, with talks stalled since 2014.
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Speaking Sunday evening at the opening of the council, which brings together Palestinians from multiple political parties, Abbas told delegates: “We said ‘no’ to Trump, ‘we will not accept your project.’“
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“The deal of the century is the slap of the century and we will not accept it,” the 82-year-old leader added, referring to Trump’s pledge to reach the “ultimate deal.”
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He instead called for an internationally mediated peace process.
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Israel is unlikely to accept any other mediator than the United States, accusing United Nations bodies of systematic bias against it.
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The delegates began meeting Monday morning, with talks expected to end in the evening with a joint statement.
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The last meeting of the PCC in 2015 called for the ending of security coordination with Israel, but its decisions were non-binding and it was never implemented.
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The Palestinians’ relations with the US leadership have deteriorated rapidly since Trump’s election.
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He came to power promising to lead the most pro-Israel administration in history, but also to pursue a peace deal.
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His envoys, including senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, had been shuttling between the two sides in search of common ground.
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But Trump also infuriated the Palestinians by refusing to commit to the idea of an independent Palestinian state and recently threatened to cut hundreds of millions of dollars of US aid.
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The Jerusalem announcement prompted the Palestinians to freeze ties with the administration, and Abbas is expected to shun Vice President Mike Pence when he visits the region next week.
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On Sunday night, Abbas attacked the US ambassadors to Israel and the United Nations, David Friedman and Nikki Haley, calling them a “disgrace.”
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Both Trump appointees have been strong supporters of Israel, with Friedman having backed Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
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An indignant Abbas also said that Trump had accused them of refusing peace negotiations.
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“May God demolish your house. When did we refuse?” he said, using a common Arabic curse.
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Israeli media focused heavily on the phrase on Monday, while Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the statement showed Abbas was “losing his wits and giving up negotiations.”
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In a speech during a state visit to India, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not mention Abbas’s comments.
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Abbas said all options were on the table for responding to Trump’s Jerusalem declaration, but did not specifically mention suspending recognition of Israel or ending security coordination with the Jewish state — both policies mooted in the days before the council.
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He did, however, say the Oslo accords that led to the creation of his Palestinian Authority and envisioned a final resolution to the conflict were in effect finished.
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“I am saying that Oslo, there is no Oslo. Israel ended Oslo,” he said, referring to persistent Israeli settlement building and other issues seen as eroding the possibility of a two-state solution to the conflict.
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Hamas, the Islamist party that rules Gaza, is not taking part in the council — arguing it should have been held abroad to avoid Israeli pressure.
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In a statement Monday the party said Abbas’s speech “did not meet the ambitions of our people.”
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“The central council must end Oslo and stop security coordination and withdraw the recognition (of Israel).”
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Hamas Approaches Endgame in Gaza as Israel Sharpens Its Tunnel-elimination Prowess

January 14, 2018

Either way, Israel will keep building an anti-tunnel barrier along the Gaza border while looking for and destroying passages that have already been dug

By Amos Harel Jan 14, 2018 4:27 PM
Haaretz

An Israeli jeep drives near where Israeli forces said they had destroyed an attack tunnel from Gaza, December 10, 2017.

An Israeli jeep drives near where Israeli forces said they had destroyed an attack tunnel from Gaza, December 10, 2017. Amir Cohen
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The destruction of the Hamas tunnel on the Gaza border Saturday night supports the conclusion that Israel has found a defense against the threat of attack tunnels under the Strip. Even if the defense isn’t perfect, it’s pretty effective. The tunnel that was identified and blown up over the weekend near the Kerem Shalom crossing, near where Egypt, Israel and Gaza meet, is reportedly the fourth to be found by Israel since October.

The latest tunnel demolition worsens Hamas’ dilemma on how it should act as Israel gradually deprives it of one of its main offensive assets. The finding of the latest tunnel isn’t directly related to the barrier that Israel has been putting up along the Gaza border. Saturday’s tunnel was found in an area where work on the barrier hasn’t yet begun.

But the combination of technology, intelligence and operational means, along with the planned completion of most of the security barrier by year-end, show that the clock is ticking for Hamas and Islamic Jihad. (The first tunnel destroyed belonged to the smaller Islamic Jihad.) As Hamas leaders’ would view them, the tunnels are a strategic project in which hundreds of millions of shekels have been invested over nearly a decade, involving thousands of laborers and fighters. And now all this may be going down the drain.

 

At this point, Hamas hasn’t responded clearly to Israel’s steps. Also, Hamas members haven’t been directly involved in the firing of rockets from Gaza at the Negev, some of which have been launched by Salafi groups and some by Islamic Jihad.

Hamas’ decision not to respond to the destruction of the tunnels also apparently reflects the trap the organization finds itself in. It’s having a hard time seeing to the economic needs of the 2 million Gazans, it has a poor relationship with Egypt, and implementation of the Hamas-Palestinian Authority reconciliation agreement is sputtering.

This time the embarrassment is even greater because Israel has announced that some of the latest tunnel was under Egyptian territory.

And the consequences for Hamas are greater than usual. Not only has the group’s planned offensive activity under the border and under the Kerem Shalom crossing — the main goods crossing into the Strip no less, along with pipelines supplying natural gas and diesel — been uncovered. This time the tunnel reflects an intrusion into the sovereignty of Egypt, which Hamas is greatly dependent on in its efforts to improve conditions in Gaza.

One can assume that the Israeli army is also prepared for a possible attack by a Palestinian group through a tunnel before other tunnels are discovered and destroyed.

Regarding the latest tunnel, Hamas claimed that the air force had bombed a “civilian” tunnel that had been used for smuggling goods, rather than a Hamas tunnel. In Israel, officials insisted that the tunnel had been dug with the help of Hamas’ elite Nukhba unit, and that the tunnel had a branch under the border crossing — evidence of plans for a terror attack inside Israel.

Israel’s excavations toward the Egyptian border may uncover plans to smuggle weapons from Sinai into Gaza or to get terrorists out of Gaza — if necessary to have them reinforce an attack on the Kerem Shalom crossing from the Egyptian side of the border. For years the Palestinian groups have viewed the crossings as legitimate and even desirable targets for terror attacks, despite the possible negative effects for Gazans. There is also a history of suicide bombings and the use of tunnels against the Erez, Karni and Kerem Shalom crossings between Gaza and Israel dating back a decade.

The stepped-up pace of Israeli army activity regarding Gaza is evidence of the efforts to deal with the tunnels, efforts that are far from over. In any event, Israel’s priorities in Gaza are clear. The main effort is building a barrier along the border to counter the tunnels, while looking for and destroying tunnels that have already been dug.

In addition to concerns about a humanitarian disaster in Gaza, dealing with the tunnels is another constraint in Israel’s considerations over whether to get into another large confrontation with Hamas in Gaza. Depriving Hamas of the offensive weapon of the tunnels is such a priority that Israel’s leaders are willing to show relative restraint over rocket fire from Gaza, as long as there are no casualties on the Israeli side.

This also comes against the backdrop, according to foreign reports, of Israeli operations against Iran and Hezbollah in Syria. In the north, this effort involves going right to the edge, with a relatively high risk of an outbreak of hostilities. Israel must therefore be cautious in calculating its moves so it can keep chalking up successes and avoid a conflagration on both fronts.

Amos Harel
read more: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.834843

US is leading the way in challenging Iran

January 14, 2018

Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg | 

US President Donald Trump has given the Iran nuclear deal a “last chance” and for the final time waived sanctions related to its nuclear program. If the agreement’s “disastrous flaws” are not fixed within 120 days, Trump says the US will withdraw from the deal.

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In particular, the US insists on immediate inspections at all Iran’s nuclear sites, and it wants the curbs on Iran’s nuclear program — which expire after 10 years under the deal — made permanent. Trump has also asked Congress to modify US law on the nuclear deal to include clear automatic triggers that enable the US to re-impose nuclear-related sanctions if Iran violates the deal.

A man looks at Iranian-made missiles at Defense Museum in Tehran on Sept. 23, 2015. (Reuters)

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Iran is, of course, desperate to save the deal without any changes. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has frequently said the deal was “not renegotiable.” The reason for Iran’s attachment to the deal is that it has reaped great benefits from it, without significant sacrifices. It was able to maintain its nuclear program, end its isolation and receive billions of dollars from previously frozen assets.

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European foreign ministers will meet in Brussels next week to discuss the Trump ultimatum. While voicing serious concerns about Iran’s non-nuclear activities, Europeans would rather have the deal stick without amendments. Unlike US businesses, which have not benefited significantly from the deal, Europeans have been falling all over each other trying to secure trade and investment deals with Iran, made possible by the end of nuclear-related sanctions.

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Foreign Minister Javad Zarif

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Regional players, including the Gulf Cooperation Council, support the US position. At their summit in Kuwait last month, GCC leaders applauded the GCC-US strategic partnership and announced that they were keen to work with the Trump administration to counter Iran’s “aggressive and expansionary” policies in the region. They denounced those destabilizing policies “in their nuclear dimensions and ballistic missile program.” They emphasized the need to “prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon,” stop its ballistic missile program and counter its activities aimed at destabilizing the region and endangering its peace. They reserved their harshest criticism for Iran’s support for terrorist groups, including Hezbollah, the Houthis in Yemen and other sectarian militias.

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While there is no consensus on the nuclear deal, all parties agree Tehran has to be held accountable on issues such as its ballistic missile program, its support for terrorism and its destabilizing activities in the region.

Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg

While there is no consensus now on the nuclear deal, all actors — including Europeans — agree that Iran has to be held accountable on non-nuclear issues, including its ballistic missile program, its support for terrorism and its destabilizing activities in the region. The recent protests in Iran have prompted additional concerns about human rights and the regime’s stability and long-term survival.

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As GCC states have done before, Trump stressed the need to tie together Iran’s ballistic missile program, its support for terrorism and the nuclear issue, making any missile testing by Iran subject to “severe sanctions.” Similarly, the US administration has taken strong action against Iranian officials who are believed to support terrorism.

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At the same time as the US was approving the waiver on nuclear-related sanctions, it also announced sanctions against 14 Iranian individuals and organizations, including the head of the judiciary, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani.

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In another blow to the malign activities of Iran and its regional proxies, the US Department of Justice has set up the Hezbollah Financing and Narcoterrorism Team of federal prosecutors to investigate drug trafficking and money laundering believed to be carried out by the terrorist group and Iranian proxy.

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the new team would examine cases stemming from Project Cassandra, a Drug Enforcement Administration task force that targeted Hezbollah’s money laundering and drug trafficking in the United States. The Justice Department “will leave no stone unturned in order to eliminate threats to our citizens from terrorist organizations and to stem the tide of the devastating drug crisis,” he said.

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Unlike previous investigations of Hezbollah, the new probe is politically sensitive because there are accusations, yet to be proven, that the Obama administration sought to downplay the issue as it tried to conclude the nuclear deal. “While I am hopeful that there were no barriers constructed by the last administration to allowing DEA agents to fully bring all appropriate cases under Project Cassandra, this is a significant issue for the protection of Americans,” Sessions said.

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Previous investigations of Hezbollah activities in the US and elsewhere have led to numerous convictions of its operatives for narcotics trafficking, terrorism, organized crime and money laundering, as well as assassinations and other acts of terrorism.

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Washington’s push to counter Iran’s malign activities appears to be the most serious to date — and the most comprehensive, as it covers the nuclear program, ballistic missiles program, support for terrorism, narcoterrorism and money laundering. America’s allies are gradually joining the fight on one or more of these fronts.

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•  Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg is a columnist for Arab News. Email: aluwaisheg@gmail.com.
Twitter: @abuhamad1

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http://www.arabnews.com/node/1225551

No More Two-state Solution? In Dramatic Meeting, Palestinians Set to Announce New Strategy

January 14, 2018

Palestinian factions to gather in Ramallah to determine how to press ahead in wake of Trump’s Jerusalem declaration

By Jack Khoury Jan 14, 2018 2:40 PM
Haaretz

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Paris, December 22, 2017

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Paris, December 22, 2017 Francois Mori/AP
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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to indicate what course the Palestinians will take – a continuation of the diplomatic process or demanding the implementation a one-state solution – during a dramatic meeting slated to take place in Ramallah on Sunday, Palestinian officials told Haaretz.

The meeting of the Palestinian Central Council is convening against the backdrop of U.S. President Donald Trump’s December 6 announcement declaring Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel and the unprecedented rift this caused between the Palestinian Authority and Washington.

Sunday’s meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah — seat of the Palestinian Authority government — will be held with representatives from most Palestinian factions but two important organizations, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, announced that they will not attend, even though they were invited.

Hamas spokesman Fauzi Barhum criticized the decision to convene the gathering in Ramallah, saying that it should have been held in a different country to ensure the participation of senior representatives from all the factions.

Despite Hamas and Islamic Jihad shunning the meeting, Salim Zanoun, chairman of the Fatah Central Committee, said over the weekend that at least 90 of the 114 representatives of the council will attend the meeting, and they are expected to approve recommendations and suggestions that are raised.

Haaretz has learned that in discussions that were held over the weekend both by the Fatah Central Committee and by the PLO’s Executive Committee, a slew of suggestions is being considered; among them is the idea of nixing the Oslo Accords and the security coordination on the grounds that Israel has breached all agreements so the Palestinians are not committed to continue and uphold the accords.

Other elements in Fatah and in the PLO are leaning toward the option of continuing international efforts, especially through the United Nations, the European Union, China and Russia in order to advance international recognition of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders.

According to Fatah officials, the next Palestinian move would be to implement their demand to make the conflict an international issue and demand that the UN set up a team to resolve it. The United States could potentially be a member of such a team, the officials said, but it cannot be the exclusive mediator of the political process.

Haaretz has also learned that over the past several days, European and Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia have been applying pressure on the PA and on Abbas in particular not to take game-changing steps and to enable action on the international and diplomatic fronts.

Abbas is expected to make the opening speech of the meeting on Sunday evening. Palestinian officials who were involved in inside talks over the past several days told Haaretz that Abbas is expected to determine whether the Palestinian leadership will be changing course and strategy on Israel.

They say Abbas is slated to decide whether he will demand the implementation the one-state solution or still adhere to the diplomatic process, but not under the auspices of the White House.

The officials said that at the end of the day, regardless of decisions and recommendations at the meeting, every future move will depend on the will of Abbas and where the PLO’s Executive Committee steers the Palestinians.

Senior officials in the PLO have said that among the recommendations to be introduced at the meeting is the freezing of Palestinian recognition of Israel as long as Israel refuses to acknowledge a Palestinian state along the ‘67 borders.

Another suggestion would be asking the UN Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state along the ‘67 borders as well as define PA lands as a country under occupation. Yet another suggestion was to turn to the International Court of Law in order to start legal proceedings against Israel.

The Palestinian Central Council is an advisory body that meets when it is impossible to convene a parley of the Palestinian National Council (the legislative body of the Palestine Liberation Organization) and is supposed to provide the PLO’s executive committee, which is the highest-ranking Palestinian executive body, with recommendations relating to policy.

The meeting will draw to a close on Monday evening.

A senior member of the PLO’s Executive Committee told Haaretz that despite the dramatic atmosphere Abbas’ associates are trying to create, there is no expectation for game-changing moves.

A senior member of Islamic Jihad, Khader Adnan, said that the participation in the meeting was redundant because its results are known in advance and because he thought Abbas had no intention of breaking entirely with Israel and abandoning the Oslo Accords and their consequences.

Hamas stated that if Abbas really wanted to promote the Palestinian interest he would have to announce the cancellation of the Oslo Accords and the security coordination with Israel as well as change his entire strategy when it comes to the PA’s relationship with the Jewish state.

Jack Khoury
read more: https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/palestinians/.premium-1.834713