Latest Post: Gaza Rockets - It's Fatah, not Hamas, Doing the Firing
6 p.m. The Hamas Government in Gaza said on Monday that it paid all employees with US dollars, despite the Israeli blockade.
5:10 p.m. Confirming reports from Egypt, the State Department spokesman has said units from the US Army Corps of Engineers are now in the area to prevent arms smuggling through tunnels into Gaza.
4:55 p.m. There is an alternative explanation for the "mess" of the talks in Paris. The French have signalled in recent weeks that they were ready to treat Hamas as a legitimate participant in the Israel-Palestine process, and Qatar sponsored the Arab "summit", which Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan ignored, that supported Hamas' case in Gaza.
So there is the possibility that France, Qatar, and George Mitchell have agreed, either in consultation with Mahmoud Abbas or overriding his objections, to set up an interlocutor with Hamas. That way the US would not have to risk the domestic turmoil over "recognising" Hamas but could communicate via a third party with the political party.
Then again, I may just be trying to impose coherence where there is none.
3:25 p.m. This is now a diplomatic mess. France 24 confirms that President Nicolas Sarkozy is seeing, in separate meetings, US envoy George Mitchell, Palestinian Authority/Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani. Who is leading the effort to come up with what deal is now beyond immediate comprehension.
But the real curiosity comes later in the article. Not only has Abbas blown off the Egyptian discussions with Hamas today; he does not intend to go anywhere near that process this week:
Abbas meanwhile will meet with National Assembly speaker Bernard Accoyer on Tuesday and with Kouchner before travelling to Strasbourg to address the European parliament on Wednesday. The president of the Palestinian Authority will travel to Britain, Turkey, Poland and Italy later this week to discuss reconstruction efforts in Gaza following the Israeli offensive.
1:30 p.m. It now appears that talks between Hamas and Fatah, and thus any chance of a unifed cease-fire proposal, have broken down. Hamas official Mohamad Nazal, speaking from Damascus, accused Abbas of siding with Israel in the invasion of Gaza and "seeking to return" on the back of an Israeli tank. Meanwhile, Hamas official Ayman Taha in Cairo said, "Our position is clear. Our demand is the rebuilding or reform of the PLO [Palestinian Liberation Organization], but if the other side insists on not reforming the PLO or rebuilding it, it is our right to look at other options."
All indications are now that Abbas has skipped out on Cairo talks to go to Paris for discussions with US envoy George Mitchell and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. He is effectively trying to rebuild the December 2008 alliance with US and European officials to isolate and possibly topple Hamas. Meanwhile, Hamas will press its case that it is the group seeking both a cease-fire and leadership of the Palestinian people.
11:50 a.m. Since Mahmoud Abbas was supposed to be in Egypt today discussing cease-fire arrangements, this announcement from the Associated Press comes as a surprise:
French President Nicolas Sarkozy was meeting Monday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the prime minister of Qatar in an attempt to forge a lasting halt to violence after Israel's recent offensive in the Gaza Strip. President Barack Obama's new Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, was meeting with Sarkozy's chief of staff and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.
10 a.m. An Israeli airstrike on a car in southern Gaza has killed one person and wounded three.
Morning update (6:40 a.m. GMT; 8:40 a.m. Israel/Palestine): Potentially important day in Cairo, where Hamas and Fatah delegations --- in separate, parallel talks --- are discussing cease-fire proposals with the Egyptians. While Hamas has been positive about an offer of a 12-month cease-fire to Israel, the discussions may founder over the isue of Palestinian "reconciliation". Palestinian Authority/Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas has been focusing on Hamas' rejection of the Palestine Liberation Organization and insisting that, in such a situation, he cannot with Hamas.