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Entries in Gaza (40)


Today's Ultimate Palestine Solution: Build a Tunnel

Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak, campaigning for Prime Minister, has offered a novel solution for Palestinian unity: build a 48-kilometre (30-mile) tunnel connecting Beit Hanoun in Gaza to Dura in the West Bank: "The preferred way to do it would be to dig a tunnel that would be under Israeli sovereignty, but under totally free and unobstructed use by Palestinians."

There may a couple of hitches with the proposal. Barak estimated the tunnel "would cost $2 to $3 billion, but did not say who would foot the bill, nor did he say under what conditions it would be built".

It is not reported whether Barak noted the irony of proposing the region's longest tunnel at the same time that his military forces were demolishing much smaller models in southern Gaza.

The Latest from Israel-Gaza-Palestine (2 February): The Wanderings of Mahmoud Abbas

Latest Post: Today's Ultimate Palestine Solution - Build a Tunnel
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.

Gaza Rocket Update: It's Fatah, Not Hamas, Doing the Firing

Keep a close eye on this twist in the Israel-Gaza story. I missed it until it was pointed out by a reader, and I think few in the media have noticed. On Sunday several rockets and 10 mortars were fired into southern Israel from Gaza, and Israel responded by hitting a Hamas police headquarters and tunnels in southern Gaza.

Which might seem a logical response, except it wasn't Hamas launching the rockets and mortars:

The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the military wing of the Fatah faction led by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, told Al Jazeera that it carried out the attacks....Israel, however, holds Hamas responsible for all rocket fire coming from Gaza.

This might explain why Israeli Minister of Defence Ehud Barak, in contrast to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's initial declaration of a "disproportionate response" to the rockets and mortars, stressed last night that there would not be a renewed Israeli invasion of Gaza.

The Latest on Israel-Gaza-Palestine (1 February)

Latest Post: "Israel Needs to Invade the Hague"

10:55 p.m. A total of six Israeli airstrikes, one on a Hamas police headquarters and five on tunnels, now reported.

9:30 p.m. Reuters now reports three Israeli airstrikes, one in central Gaza and two on tunnels near Rafah.

9:04 p.m. Israeli aircraft have attacked a target, reported a Hamas security headquarters, in the central Gaza strip. No casualties reported. Witnesses say the area was evacuated after Israeli forces telephoned warnings.

8:55 p.m. Reuters has further detail and analysis of the visit of a Hamas delegation, including political director Khaled Meshaal, to Iran (see 5 p.m.). CNN is reporting the praise of Meshaal for Tehran's support.

7:42 p.m. Tomorrow's discussions in Cairo, with Egypt moving between Hamas and Palestinian Authority/Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, could be interesting but far from productive. Hamas is talking up the idea of a 12-month cease-fire proposal to be presented to Tel Aviv; indeed, a spokesman for Gaza prime Minister Ismail Haniya has indicated that the plan has already been submitted to Israel for its response: events are "moving in a positive direction".

Hamas' initiative can be read not only as a manoeuvre with the Israelis but also an attempt to assert leadership of the Palestinian movement. That is why Abbas, rather than emphasise the cease-fire proposal, responded today with an attack on Hamas. Talks were impossible with them, he said, because they had rejected the Palestinian Liberation Organization: "They... have taken risks with the blood of Palestinians, with their fate, and dreams and aspirations for an independent Palestinian

7:40 p.m. GMT: A series of mortars --- 10 according to the BBC --- have landed in southern Israel, along with the rockets we reported earlier today.

7:30 p.m. GMT: Some more details on the Iran front, this time with attention to the evolving Turkish-Iranian relationship. Iran’s Speaker of the Parliament Ali Larijani called Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and thanked him on behalf of Iran’s people and Parliament. The former Speaker of the Parliament Gulan Ali Haddad Adil also thanked Erdogan in the Parliament and ended his speech with “long live Erdogan” in Turkish.

Ayatollah Nasir Mekarim Sirazi stated that PM Erdogan prevented a new war and contributed to the peace process: “If the ones who are responsible from Nobel Prize have fairness and courage, they will give it to Erdogan.” He added that Erdogan’s stance gave power and morale to the Palestinian resistance. (entry by Ali Yenidunya)

5 p.m. GMT: This will put the cat amongst the pigeons, both in diplomacy and in public reactions. Hamas political director Khaled Meshaal has met Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini in Tehran, giving a detailed account of "victory" over Israel in the Gaza conflict. Meshaal saw Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad later in the day.

2:20 p.m. GMT: We've covered the Israeli battle with Turkey, or at least Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for the dominant position on the Israel-Palestine issue.

The contest continues today, with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni pushing Ankara to take a tough stance on both Hamas and Iran: "Despite the street demonstrations, despite the difficult images from Gaza ... Hamas is everyone's problem. And most countries in the region, in the Middle East, have understood this more than the Turks." Other countries should "understand that Iran is everyone's problem".

1:05 p.m. GMT: Al Arabiya reports, from Palestinian sources, that Hamas will agree to a one-year cease-fire on Monday, when a delegation visits Cairo. According to the sources, "Palestinian Authority forces [would} manage the crossing,...the Hamas Government would be able to send inspectors there and the two sides would cooperate and coordinate their activities".

The opening of the crossings would not be linked to the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held in Gaza since 2006, although his case would be mentioned in the announcement.

10:40 a.m. GMT: Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has vowed a "disproportionate response" after four rockets were fired into southern Israel this morning.

10 a.m. GMT: Peter Beaumont in The Observer:

Gaza's 1.5 million people are facing a food crisis as a result of the destruction of great areas of farmland during the Israeli invasion.

According to the World Food Programme, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation and Palestinian officials, between 35% and 60% of the agriculture industry has been wrecked by the three-week Israeli attack, which followed two years of economic siege.

8 a.m. GMT: Three Qassam rockets have landed in the western Negev in Israel this morning.

Morning Update (7:25 a.m. GMT; 9:25 a.m. Israel/Palestine): The tour of US envoy George Mitchell continues, relatively quietly. He was in Jordan on Saturday and arrived in Saudi Arabia late last night, where he met Foreign Prince Saud al-Faisal and will speak with King Abdullah.Yesterday Abdullah called for Palestinian unity, “The competition between them is a big mistake. It will do them more harm than that done by Zionism. I appeal to them again to stand united in order to strengthen their cause."

No significant signs so far of what Mitchell will take back to Washington, although it is clear that Washington needs --- both for the Israel-Palestine process and for wider regional issues --- to establish a secure footing with the Saudis.

Papers in the Arab world are buzzing with the story, after Syrian leader Bashir al-Assad's meetings with US delegations this week, that Damascus wants "better ties" with Washington.

Diplomatic Suggestion of the Day: "Israel Needs to Invade The Hague"

The Jerusalem Post features a sensible post-Gaza suggestion from Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the director of the Shurat Hadin - Israel Law Center:

The Knesset [Israeli Parliament] must immediately legislate a far-reaching law prohibiting any agency, court or citizen from cooperating or passing information to any war crimes tribunal. It should block access to foreign investigators, including UN special rapporteurs. The government should be empowered to utilize all necessary force to resist any effort to arrest IDF officers accused of war crimes anywhere in the world.

Foreign countries should be made to understand we mean business.
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