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Entries in Hamas (40)


Israel-Gaza: How to Cover a Mass Killing with "Balance"

Morning Update (7:30 a.m. GMT; 2:30 a.m. Israel/Palestine): The New York Times has a lengthy article on the mass killing in El Atatra, in which 16 civilians allegedly died amidst fighting that killed four soldiers.

The article is a careful study in how to maintain balance in an unbalanced situation:

The war in El Atatra tells the story of Israel’s three-week offensive in Gaza, with each side giving a very different version. Palestinians here describe Israeli military actions as a massacre, and Israelis attribute civilian casualties to a Hamas policy of hiding behind its people. In El Atatra, neither version appears entirely true, based on 50 interviews with villagers and four Israeli commanders.

So what is the middle ground between these versions?

The dozen or so civilian deaths seem like the painful but inevitable outcome of a modern army bringing war to an urban space. And while Hamas fighters had placed explosives in a kitchen, on doorways and in a mosque, they did not seem to be forcing civilians to act as shields.

All right, so Hamas is cleared of the most serious charge of hiding behind civilians, while Israel gets a reduced civilian death toll and the let-off that "S*** Happens" in modern warfare. But hold on, go back to the top of the article:

The phosphorus smoke bomb punched through the roof in exactly the spot where much of the family had taken refuge — the upstairs hall away from the windows. The bomb, which international weapons experts identified as phosphorus by its fragments, was intended to mask troop movements outside. Instead it breathed its storm of fire and smoke into Sabah Abu Halima’s hallway, releasing flaming chemicals that clung to her husband, baby girl and three other small children, burning them to death.

That would be not just phosphorous then but "white phosphorous", the use of which in built-up areas with civilians is illegal under international law. Reporters Ethan Bronner and Sabrina Tavernise, for all the admirable detail in their article, never directly mention this. Instead, they pass the buck:

The question of how Israel handled civilians in this war has become a matter of keen controversy. Human rights groups are crisscrossing Gaza, documenting what they believe will form the basis for war crimes proceedings aimed at demonstrating that Israel used disproportionate force.

Israeli officers said they took special care not to harm civilians.

Balance? Journalistic objectivity, yes. Offering evidence but then hiding its significance, no.

Elsewhere Bronner and Tavernise depict graphically the shooting of unarmed civilians trying to surrender and the dead lying uncollected for 11 days as dogs ate their remains. And, in their understated way, they offer a chilling forecast of the consequences from the El Atatra mass killing, which will not occur in an international court but in further conflict:

Matar’s mother, Nabila Abu Halima, said she had been shot through the arm when she tried to move toward her son. Her left arm bears a round scar. Her son came back to her in pieces, his body crushed under tank treads....

“We used to tell fighters not to fire from here,” said Nabila Abu Halima, looking over a field through her open window. “Now I’ll invite them to do it from my house.”


The Latest from Israel-Gaza-Palestine (3 February)

6 p.m. Line up for the Inter-Arab Showdown. Nine foreign ministers from Arab states, meeting in Abu Dhabi, have put their support behind Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. No support given that all nine --- Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Yemen and the Palestinian Authority --- have been on the anti-Hamas side of the fence during the Gaza conflict.

The question now is how Turkey, Syria, Iran and others who gave support to Hamas during the Israeli invasion react.

4 p.m. Repeating a pattern from Sunday, Israel has responded to the rocket fired from Gaza this morning with attacks on the tunnels around Rafah.

3 p.m. Nothing stunning in first reports on US envoy George Mitchell's press conference after his return from the Middle East: he plans to have a "regular and sustained presence in the region" and will return this month. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she will work with Israelis and Palestinians for a "viable Palestinian state" but added the ritual three conditions, adopted by the US-EU-Russia-UN Quartet, for Hamas participation: "Hamas knows the conditions ... They must renounce violence, they must recognize Israel, they must agree to abide by prior agreements."

1 p.m. Hamas officials continue to hold out the prospect of a cease-fire proposal being put to Israel by Thursday. Gaza Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmed Youssef said last night that, while he had not heard from the Hamas delegation in Cairo, "We are heading toward a right direction, toward a cease-fire."

12:30 p.m. With little happening on the diplomatic front, the most significant development is in Abu Dhabi, where foreign ministers from nine Arab countries are meeting. No news, however, on any outcomes regarding Palestine.

Morning Update (7 a.m. GMT; 9 a.m. Israel/Palestine): Because of the effective division of the diplomatic process yesterday, with part of it going on in Cairo and part moved to Paris, we're in a curious next-to-silence this morning. No news on either discussion has made it into the press, which has contributed to amnesia by failing to recognise the significance of Mahmoud Abbas' diversion from Egypt to France (and his continued European walk-about this week).

Israel will now be occupied with the elections scheduled for 10 February. Hamas will be content to shore up its diplomatic position in the region and its support in Gaza. And (barring our scenario that the Paris talks were considering an "intermediary" to set up a channel between the US Government and Hamas) others in Washington, Europe, and the West Bank are scrambling for a new policy to limit the Hamas threat.

A Grad rocket fired from Gaza landed near Ashkelon in Israel this morning. It was the longest-range rocket launched since the ceasefire on 18 January.

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.
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