Wednesday 31 December 2008

Arab FMs Meet in Cairo Five Days after Israeli Gaza Op

Arab Foreign Ministers met in Cairo to discuss the situation in Gaza, five days after the deadliest Zionist offensive against Palestinians that claimed the lives of more than 390 people and injured at least 1750 others.

The "divided" Arabs, who are still undecided whether the 390 Gaza martyrs who have fallen since the beginning of the aggression "deserve" an urgent Arab summit, finally decided on Wednesday to "break" their "deadly" silence.

Thus, the Arab FMs held their "emergency" meeting and sought a common Arab position towards the Zionist massacres committed against Palestinians in the strip.

Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa addressed the Arab FMs at the opening session, calling for the adoption of a strong Arab stance against the aggression. Mussa said Israeli raids were the result of the absence of an Arab stance and a split in Palestinian ranks.

The Arab League chief called for an immediate meeting of rival Palestinian factions. "We call on our Palestinian brothers to hold an immediate reconciliation meeting," Mussa said. "Gaza is paying the price of upheaval in Israel as a result of upcoming parliamentary elections," he stressed.

However, Mussa said that the resistance should not be responsible for "exploiting the blood of the Palestinians for political ends." He claimed that resisting occupiers is a legitimate right, but individual or mass "suicide" is unacceptable and every act should be well studied.

Mussa urged at the same time Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to ask the United Nations Security Council to stop the Israeli aggression on Gaza and said that all Arab countries were supporting him. "We should keep the UN Security Council non-aligned toward Gaza crisis," he concluded.

For his part, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal urged Palestinian factions to unify and form a national unity government. "The division among the Palestinian people will help Israel to achieve victories," he said.

Following the opening session, the foreign ministers held a closed door meeting away from the media.

393 Martyrs, 1995 Injured as Israeli Op Enters 5th Day

Over 393 Palestinians martyrs and more than 1995 injured as the Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip enters its fifth day and most of the Arab leaders along with the international community are adopting “Hear-no, See-no, Speak-no” policy.

At a time the Israeli occupation army says that it has finished preparing for a ground operation in the Gaza Strip, however, it will not begin such an incursion until it receives the go-ahead from the Israeli government, which is still discussing whether it should first agree to a 48-hour cease-fire intended to prevent further escalation as the Israeli officials seem to be split over such decision.

Meanwhile, Hamas armed military wing, Ezz-eddine al-Qassam brigades confirmed Tuesday that the continuation of the Israeli aggression would be faced by widening the range of the Resistance’s missiles on the Israeli settlements.

In a fresh Israeli raid, two Palestinians were killed in Khan Younis, southern the Strip and at least one was injured.

Early Wednesday, Israeli aircraft pounded what the army said “smuggling tunnels” under the Gaza-Egypt border, setting off a huge explosion in a fuel tunnel, witnesses said, as other aircraft hit Hamas positions in Gaza City. No casualties were reported. The military said government buildings were hit, including an office of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

A Palestinian medic has joined the procession of martyrs and two others wounded when an Israeli missile struck next to their ambulance during a clash east of Gaza City, Palestinians said. On Tuesday, at least 30 Palestinians - including two sisters aged 5 and 12 - were killed in Israeli occupation attacks on Gaza.

More than 390 Palestinians, including 45 children, have been killed and over 1950 injured by Israeli forces since Operation Cast Lead began on Saturday, according to Palestinian sources.

The Israel Air Force continued its intensive search for rocket launchers on Tuesday. "We haven't finished the work yet," Israeli army Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi told Israeli President Shimon Peres on Tuesday.

Israel bombed dozens of smuggling tunnels in Rafah Tuesday night, the second such attack in two days. The attack came after Israel advised the Egyptian army to move its soldiers away from the border so they wouldn't get hurt in the bombing. Aside from the tunnels, the number of targets attacked by the air force decreased on Tuesday.

Israeli warplanes bombed the Hamas government complex in Tel al-Hawa, in the Gaza City area, knocking down the seven-story buildings housing Hamas' foreign, finance and labor ministries early Tuesday. In a separate attack, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's office was bombed a second time.

The Israeli Navy also took part in the operation, with navy ships attacking targets along the Gaza coast.

Hamas' military wing vowed that if Israel attempted to bring its troops into the Strip, the children of Gaza would soon be collecting the occupation soldiers' body parts.

There are no IV units, no syringes, and every square meter is used for treating the injured, but the medical staff at Gaza City's Shifa Hospital, which has been working nonstop since the Israeli occupation army operation was launched, has no plans to give up.

"This is a catastrophic situation. All the corridors, operating rooms and trauma rooms are filled with injured people, but we won't let anyone die without a battle," the hospital's manager, Dr. Hassan Khaled, said on Tuesday afternoon.

Despite the feeling of helplessness, Shifa's manager reported that all the doctors and nurses are willing to help. "The alternative is being Israel's slave, and that will never happen," Dr. khaled said.

"You, the Israelis, are the strongest people in the world. Bombing houses, universities and police stations is insane," said Khaled.

"You're fooling yourselves when you say Hamas is a big threat to Israel. Hamas is only a representative of the Palestinian people. These strikes will never oppress Hamas. You are asking us to forget we are humans and to forget we have a right to live. We won't give up, no matter how many people are injured."

Khaled concluded, "In the past day, 22 children and nine women arrived in the hospital and died of their wounds. Some 150 children and 73 women were injured, and all this only in the last 24 hours."

Sayyed Nasrallah: Palestinian Resistance Will Triumph

Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah reiterated on Wednesday that the Israeli deadliest offensive against Gaza launched since Saturday was identical to what had taken place in Lebanon during the July 2006 war and expected that the Palestinian Resistance would achieve victory and Zionist entity would be defeated once again. His eminence stressed that the Palestinian Resistance was still tenacious and solid, pointing out that its base wasn't affect by the massacres committed until now.

Sayyed Nasrallah was speaking through a large screen as he marked the fourth night of Ashoura at the Sayyed Shouhadaa complex in Beirut's southern suburb (Dahiyeh).

His eminence pointed that there was more than one aspect in the offensive against Gaza, noting that the air raids against Palestinians, the martyrs who have fallen, the destruction which is taking place were not the whole picture. Sayyed Nasrallah praised the Palestinian Resistance for its steadfastness and firmness, the Gaza people for their sense of responsibility and support for the Resistance.

The Resistance leader noted that the Palestinian Resistance was benefiting from the July 2006 war better than the Israelis, noting that the lessons are making Israelis appear even weaker. His eminence remarked that the Israelis didn't have any "declared goal" for the war they are launching on Gaza. "In Lebanon, they announced very high goals since the first day but they failed to achieve anyone of them," Sayyed Nasrallah pointed out, noting that for these reasons, they seem really perplexed in Gaza. "They didn't even say that they seek to tumble the Hamas government or put an end to the Resistance status," his eminence said. "They don't even dare to say that they aim at preventing resistance factions of launching rockets," his eminence noted, mocking at the "rubber title" of "changing the situation in the ground."

"Israelis doubt their own ability to achieve the goals and this is complete failure," Sayyed Nasrallah stressed, noting that the Palestinian Resistance seems, in contrast, committed to victory. His eminence expected that the Resistance would triumph at the end given that time was not in Israel's interest, recalling that air raids could not settle the battle.

Sayyed Nasrallah uncovered an international plot to impose a humiliating settlement on Palestinians, saying that Hamas was the only obstacle for such a conspiracy. "They are preparing for an international conference to be attended by Americans, Israelis, Europeans and the so-called moderate Arabs in order to end the conflict and impose a humiliating settlement on Palestinians," his eminence asserted.

However, Sayyed Nasrallah expressed belief that the Palestinian Resistance was strong and would achieve victory just like Resistance in Lebanon did in August 2006 "when the Israeli PM announced victory only four days after launching war." His eminence said that the Palestinian Resistance actually absorbed the first blow and its base wasn't affected by it. "This Gaza, although deemed weak, is putting today 208 settlements and 635 thousands Israelis in the danger zone," his eminence said.

"Because of resistance and steadfastness, because of rejecting compromises or surrender, the Gaza strip is already triumphing and Israel witnessing defeat," Sayyed Nasrallah declared, calling on everyone to believe on the Palestinian Resistance and back it through all possible means. His eminence renewed his calls to the Arab regimes to support Gaza and the Egyptian government to open crossings for Palestinians.

Sayyed Nasrallah recalled that a majority of Lebanese has assumed responsibility and fought against occupation until throwing it out. "This national sense of responsibility allowed the Resistance to persist and develop since 1985," renewing commitment to the Resistance choice. "It's not that we want to have a Resistance and weapons, but it's our responsibility to commit to the Resistance," his eminence said, recalling that Lebanese had to choices "whether we live with honor and dignity or with degradation, and if we choose the dignity, then we have responsibilities to assume."

Sayyed Nasrallah has started his speech by focusing on the principle of "responsibility" in general. Sayyed Nasrallah pointed that responsibility wasn't limited to a specific geographic surrounding or dimension. His eminence stressed that whenever the human being is given a mind, freedom, choice and will, this means that he's responsible and he has to assume this responsibility.

His eminence emphasized that responsibility should include everything that surrounds us, noting that everyone should assume his responsibilities towards others but also towards the environment, trees, water, nature, and even animals. Noting that the youth generation was a generation of responsibility, Sayyed Nasrallah stressed that the highest level that produces a sense of responsibility within the human being was the spiritual and religious factor.

Sayyed Nasrallah tackled the issue of "greenhouse effect," noting that it constitutes nowadays one of the toughest challenges within the international community. His eminence pointed to a role for the US administration or the "greatest Satan" in this field, stressing that the US crimes are not limited to invading Iraq and Afghanistan but extend to the environmental cause. "The US is, until today, refusing to engage into any agreement that would restrict the Greenhouse effect due to the American greediness and avarice," his eminence said. "No matter how many millions of people are killed, the important thing for the American Administration is that US companies continue manufacturing and earn ill-gotten gains," Sayyed Nasrallah added, warning that such gains would lead one day to cause the biggest catastrophe and greatest Divine punition as to the American administration.

Obama's Gaza silence condemned

Hundreds have been killed after days of Israeli bombardment of Gaza [AFP]

Despite growing pressure on Barack Obama to speak out on the crisis in Gaza, the US president-elect has remained silent on the issue.

Obama, holidaying in Hawaii, has made no public remarks on Israel's unrelenting military assault on the Palestinian territory, which has left more than 380 people there dead.

The former Illinois senator spoke out after last month's attacks in Mumbai and has made detailed statements on the US economic crisis.

But some fear that the US president-elect's reluctance to speak out on the Gaza raids could be sending its own message.

"Silence sounds like complicity," Mark Perry, the Washington Director of the Conflicts Forum group, told Al Jazeera.

"Obama has said that Israel has the right to defend itself from rocket attacks but my question to him is 'does he believe that Palestinians also have the right of self-defence?'"

Support for Israel

Israel says the operation is necessary to prevent Palestinian rocket attacks on the south of the country.

And Obama repeatedly spoke out in support for Israel during his election campaign, describing the country as one of the US' greatest allies and has vowed to ensure its security.

He caused anger in the Arab world when he told a pro-Israel lobby group in June that Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel.

He also visited Sderot, the Israeli town close to Gaza regularly targeted by Palestinian rocket fire, in July, to show his support for residents.

Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, has cited comments Obama made during that visit in his own justification for launching the assault.

"Obama said that if rockets were being fired at his home while his two daughters were sleeping, he would do everything he could to prevent it," Barak was reported as saying on Monday.

Obama's aides have repeatedly said he is monitoring the situation and continues to receive intelligence briefings but that he is not yet US president.

But George Bush, the current US leader, has also remained silent on Israel's attacks although the White House has offered its support to Israel.

Arabs pessimistic

Many Arabs were cautiously optimistic about Obama's election victory in November, in the belief that a fresh face in the White House would be better than Bush, who invaded Iraq and gave strong support to Israel.

But his choice of a foreign policy team, especially Hillary Clinton as US secretary of state and Rahm Emanuel as his White House chief-of-staff, have raised doubts that much will change.

But some see his see his silence as symptomatic of caution over his own position and the power of the Israel lobby.

"He wants to be cautious and I think he will remain cautious because the Arab-Israeli conflict is not one of his priorities," Hassan Nafaa, an Egyptian political scientist and secretary-general of the Arab Thought Forum in Amman, told Reuters.

"Obama's position is very precarious. The Jewish lobby warned against his election, so he has chosen to remain silent (on Gaza)," added Hilal Khashan, a professor of political science at the American University of Beirut.

Protests demand change

However many in the US have called on Obama to speak out personally on events in Gaza.

Protesters gathered at Obama's transition office in Washington DC on Monday, and outside his holiday residence in Hawaii on Tuesday, to demand he do more.

"The Obama administration is working hand in glove with the Bush administration and...there is no reason that they can't work together to get something done," Mike Reitz, a federal government worker, told Al Jazeera at the transition office protest.

At another protest against Israel's actions in Gaza outside the White House on Tuesday, some were sceptical about Barack Obama's commitment to Middle East peace-making.

"Is this the change that you were talking about?," said Reza Aboosaiedi, a computer specialist from Iran.

"If this is the change, you have a very, very deep problem, because if you add them up with the other economic problems and other problems in America, having this kind of problem in the Middle East, I don't think he can manage it."

But others at the protest still saw some hope that the former Illinois senator could make a difference.

"I would like to think that he would be more active than Bush in trying to push an agenda to bring Israel and Palestine together to have peace talks, but I don't know," said Bob Malone, a lawyer.

"But I'm an optimist, so I hope so."

Iran urges Arabs to act on Gaza

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, has told the Arab League it should take action "quickly" to end the Israeli attacks on Gaza.

Speaking on Wednesday as Arab ministers met in Cairo, Ahmadinejad warned that setting up committees and making speeches would not be an adequate response to the offensive that has killed nearly 400 Palestinians.

"If the Arab League does not want to do anything today, when does it want to act?" he told a rally in Zahedan in southeast Iran, the Reuters news agency reported.

Ahmadinejad did not suggest what action Arab leaders should take.

"Aren't these oppressed Palestinians Arabs? So, when should the capacity of the Arab League be used? The Arab League should act quickly," he said.

He said that simply setting up committees or making speeches would only allow Israel to continue its actions.

The Iranian leader also criticised the United Nations' response to the assault on Gaza.

"To which nations does this UN belong? This security council is for the security of which part of the world?" he said.

Unity urged

At the opening of the Cairo meeting, Amr Moussa, general secretary of the Arab League, called for an immediate meeting of rival Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Fatah.

However, expectations were extremely low that the summit would achieve a major breakthrough in the crisis.

Nisreen Al Shamayleh, reporting from Cairo for Al Jazeera, said that despite widespread protests across the Arab world it was unlikely that the league would agree a concrete response.

"We have seen strong reaction from the Arab street and strong condemnation of the Israeli attacks and Arab inaction and silence," she said.

"Many people believe it shouldn't have taken 390 Palestinian casualties and 2,000 Palestinian injuries for the Arab ministers to get together."

She said the outcome of the meeting could echo the league's emergency summit on the war in Lebanon in 2006, which failed to lead to a concrete response.

Jordan's Prince El Hassan Bin Talal told Al Jazeera he believed that action from league members was "overdue" and that more demonstrations would be held across the Arab world in protest against Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip

"I think the need for the organisation of an Islamic conference position is long overdue and one of an Arab League position is also overdue," he said.

Meanwhile, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, arrived in Syria at the start of his of a diplomatic tour of the region.

Rula Amin, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Damascus, said: "It is pretty ironic that more than 22 countries are meeting and expectations are very low that they will do anything to help and now all hopes are pinned on the Turkish prime minister."