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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Palestinians Flood Egypt.

Palestinians have poured into the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing through holes blown by explosions along the border wall between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.

The scenes came on the sixth day of a blockade of Gaza, imposed by Israel and backed by Egypt, in response to a spike in rocket attacks on Israeli border towns.

Later Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, said Israel would not ease its grip on Gaza.

"We will continue to strike at the leaders of terror in the Gaza Strip, even at the cost of the quality of life of its residents," he said.

"We will not prevent food for children, medication for those who need it and fuel for the instutitions that are involved in the saving of human lives.

"But there is no justification," he said, "to demand that we allow residents of the Gaza Strip to live a normal life at a time when from their streets rockets arnd shells are fired into Sderot and other communities in the south."

Mass break out

Before dawn on Wednesday, Palestinian fighters set off at least 15 explosions on the wall running through Rafah separating the two territories, Hamas security forces said.

The security forces later closed most holes, but left two open to allow the flow of human traffic.

Amr El-Kahky, Al Jazeera's correspondent, reporting from the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing, said that Egyptian security forces did not take any action over the entry of Palestinians.

Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, later said he had ordered his troops to allow Palestinians to cross into Egypt because they were starving.

"I told them to let them come in and eat and buy food and then return them later as long as they were not carrying weapons," he said.

No confrontation

El-Kahky said: "Those crossing over have thanked Egypt for not confronting them. Many have bought with them containers for much needed fuel.

"They have also been told by the Hamas leadership in Gaza that they should respect Egyptian security forces, get what they need, and return to Gaza."

Al Jazeera correspondent Samir Omar said all shops in Rafah were open on Wednesday morning to enable Palestinians to buy food and medicines.

Omar said quoting witnesses that some Palestinians came only to stock up on basic necessities, but others might stay back in Rafah for some time to meet their relatives stranded in the Egyptian city of Arish.

On foot, in cars or riding donkey carts, the Palestinians went on a massive shopping spree, buying cigarettes, plastic bottles of fuel, and other items that have become scarce and expensive.

Israel expressed concern that fighters and weapons might be entering Gaza amid the chaos, and said responsibility for restoring order lay with Egypt.

Terminal stormed

The previous day, dozens of Hamas protesters had stormed the Rafah crossing, demanding that the terminal be opened to ease the blockade imposed on the territory by Israel.

Several protesters were wounded as Egyptian police opened fire in the air and used batons and water cannons to push them back.

Palestinians had complained that Gaza was under siege from both Israel and neighbouring Arabs.

Um Ahmad, a Palestinian woman demonstrating at the Rafah crossing, told Al Jazeera: "The Arabs should be united with us and not against us.

"This is an appeal to all the Arabs. They should help us lift the blockade, they should stand with us."

Talks to continue

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, said on Tuesday that he would not pull out of peace talks with Israel because of the Gaza situation.

"Halting contacts with Israel is useless," he said in his first comment since the latest round of Israel-Hamas fighting erupted last week.

Gaza power

Israel normally supplies 60 per cent of the electricity for Gaza's 1.5 million inhabitants

Gaza needs around 240 megawatt of electricity, but normally receives only about 200 megawatts, with 8 per cent from Egypt

Israel is the only source of industrial fuel for Gaza's power station

Israel stopped supplying industrial fuel supplies to Gaza on January 19

The EU pays Israel around $10m per month for Gaza's industrial fuel

"On the contrary, we should intensify our contacts and our meetings to stop the suffering of our people."

Abbas also renewed his criticism of rocket fire against Israel from Gaza.

He said: "It is not the people who fire these rockets. We have condemned these futile launchings in the past and we continue to do so. They must stop."

For her part, Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, said on Tuesday that US officials had spoken to their Israeli counterparts "about the importance of not allowing a humanitarian crisis to unfold".

Israeli officials were receptive, she said.

Rice blames Hamas for the situation in Gaza.

Arye Mekel, a spokesman for Israel's foreign ministry, pledged that the humanitarian shipments would go on.

"We will continue [on Wednesday] and the coming days to deliver more aid to Gaza until all promised supplies get across," he said.

Fuel supplies

On the ground, two lorries carrying cooking gas and three with diesel for generators passed through Israel's Nahal Oz border crossing, east of Gaza City, early on Tuesday.

Palestinian rockets

Palestinian rockets are crude homemade weapons fired by Hamas and other fighters from Gaza into Israel, with a maximum range of 10km

The rockets have killed 10 Israelis since 2005, while more than 700 Palestinians have died in Israeli raids over the same period

Rocket attacks have increased sharply since April 2006

Between 2,500-3,000 residents, out of 23,000, have fled Sderot because of the near-daily attacks

The main impact of the rockets is psychological torment

It marked the first time supplies had entered Gaza since late on Thursday, when Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, ordered the territory sealed off in response to rocket fire.

Gaza City was plunged into darkness after its only power plant was shut down on Sunday, as fuel supplies dried up under the Israeli blockade.

But with Israel allowing limited supply, electricity was back in most of Gaza City by Tuesday afternoon.

Israeli tankers brought in 700,000 litres of fuel, enough to provide electricity to Gaza City for two days.

The Israeli defence ministry ruled late on Tuesday that 250,000 litres of diesel fuel could be transferred into Gaza daily.

However, the crossings would remain closed to other goods and people until further notice.

Israel has maintained all along that Hamas created an artificial crisis.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Israeli Strike Kills Gaza Civilians

At least six Palestinians, including three from the same family, have been killed in Israeli attacks in Gaza and the West Bank.

Hamas responded to Wednesday's deaths by launching more than three dozen rockets into Israeli territory and demanding an end to peace talks.

The killings came as George Bush, the US president, expressed optimism that peace would come to the region as he wrapped up his Middle East tour.

They also came a day after 18 other Palestinians were killed, in an attack Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, termed a "massacre" against his people.

'Unintentionally hit'

As Palestinians held a general strike over Tuesday's killings, an aircraft missile aimed at fighters from the Palestinian armed group, Islamic Jihad, in Gaza City hit the wrong car and killed a 13-year-old boy, his father and an uncle.

Medics said the bodies were so mutilated that it was hard to identify them.

Major Avital Leibovich, an Israeli military spokeswoman, said the civilians' car destroyed in the earlier attack had been "unintentionally hit".

Israeli officials said another vehicle had been the intended target of the attack.

Islamic Jihad said that one of its cars was hit in the attack, but that its fighters had escaped.

A second Israeli air strike on a car killed two Palestinians in the central Gaza Strip, the ruling Palestinian faction, Hamas, said. A third raid, soon after, left no casualties.

Al Jazeera's Jacky Rowland, reporting from Gaza, said residents were constantly looking up in the sky, fearful of more attacks.

West Bank firefight

In the West Bank town of Qabatiya, near the city of Jenin, Israeli forces killed Walid al-Ubaidi, the leader of Islamic Jihad's al-Quds Brigades, in a gunfight and wounded and arrested two other fighters.

An Israeli army spokesman said al-Ubaidi was killed during an exchange of fire with troops who came to arrest him.

The al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of the Islamic Jihad group, confirmed his death.

Gaza was at a standstill on Wednesday as Palestinians held a general strike in mourning for 18 people killed in an Israeli raid the day before, the enclave's bloodiest day since Hamas seized control of the territory in June last year.

Palestinian unity

In a rare show of unity, both Hamas and the Fatah faction led by Abbas declared three days of mourning for those killed in Tuesday's raids, ordering the closure of government offices, businesses, shops and schools.

"The strike shows that we and Gaza are one people in the face of Israeli massacres," said Majdi Maraqa, a shop owner in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Abbas had on Tuesday described the killings as "a massacre" and "a slaughter against the Palestinian people".

"Our people cannot keep silent over these massacres. These massacres cannot bring peace," he had said.

Abbas said the Gaza operation on Tuesday, had severely damaged the peace efforts relaunched by Bush in the US city of Annapolis less than two months ago.

Tuesday's attack also killed Hussam al-Zahar, the son of Mahmoud al-Zahar, a Hamas leader and the foreign minister in the unity government that Abbas sacked when Hams took over Gaza.

That killing prompted the first official contact between Abbas and Hamas since June.

A Hamas spokesman said Abbas called al-Zahar to offer his condolences.

He said the "conversation was very friendly and the two leaders spoke at length about the current political situation and they both stressed the unity of the Palestinian people regardless of the differences".

Bush blamed

Hamas said it was Bush's presence in the region that was spurring the violence.

Khaled Meshaal, the group's exiled political chief, said he held Bush and Israel accountable for the deaths of the Palestinians killed during Israel's raids on the Gaza Strip.

"We would like to tell George Bush that this is the real terrorism. Arabs and Muslims are not the terrorists," Meshaal said at a press conference in the Syrian capital, Damascus, on Wednesday.

He said: "An Israeli official said that Bush gave Olmert the green light to launch a full scale military incursion on Gaza.

"Therefore I hold the American administration responsible for what happened yesterday in Gaza. Bush is a man of war and crime, not peace and security."

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Israel ends West Bank incursion

Israeli troops have pulled out of the West Bank city of Nablus after detaining about 20 Palestinians during a three-day incursion, according to the Israeli army.

Earlier on Saturday, the 70,000 residents of the city centre had been placed under curfew, saying it was to protect civilians living in the area where the arrests were made.

The Israeli army said that the operation was aimed at "terrorist infrastructure" and that troops found a "weapons cache with rocket manufacturing materials, explosive substances and military equipment".

Palestinian medics said about 40 people were wounded by rubber bullets during the incursion.

"These are essential defensive measures being taken against an ever-growing terrorist infrastructure, one which continuously plans and perpetrates attacks against Israelis," David Baker, Israeli government spokesman, said.

Security crackdown

Dozens of Israeli army jeeps entered the town on Thursday, where the Palestinian Authority has recently deployed hundreds of security force personnel as part of a security crackdown.

Although it supports the Palestinian security plan, Israel has neverthless said it reserves the right to launch its own operations inside Palestinian towns and villages.

"This was one of the most aggressive raids"

Massoud Kalboneh, Nablus resident
As Israeli troops pulled out of Nablus on Saturday, tear gas and concussion grenade canisters littered the streets of the Old City, where dozens of shops had been forced open using explosives or cutting gear.

Food supplies dwindled as the operation continued because shopkeepers were unable able to get into the city to replenish stocks. The Palestinian Red Crescent had to distribute food to people confined by the curfew.

Massoud Kalboneh, a 35-year-old construction worker, told the Associated Press news agency that soldiers had roughed up his five-year-old nephew thinking he was trying to escape after he dived under a bed.

"This was one of the most aggressive raids" Nablus has known, he said.

After the raid ended, Jamal Muheisin, the city's governor, was jeered by residents of the Old City angered by the authorities failure to prevent the incursion despite mounting its own operations against Palestinian armed groups.

'Israel in control'

Ohood Yaish, a 52-year old social worker who was been trapped at home by the curfew, said she was surprised by the Israeli raid after the increased deployment of Palestinian security forces in Nablus.

"Israel is the one in control, it is the one that decides and it has decided that we should stay at home all this time," she said.

Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, said he had called off a trip to Egypt to attend to the situation in Nablus.

"The current Israeli operation aims to heat up the atmosphere before Bush's visit," he told al-Najah Radio. "They are trying to sabotage the Palestinian Authority's successes in the city."

Bush will arrive in Israel on January 9 before meeting Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, and Fayyd in Ramallah the following day.

Iraqi soldiers shoot US troops

Two American soldiers have been deliberately shot dead by a colleague in an Iraqi unit, the US and Iraqy militaries have announced.

The two soldiers were on a joint US-Iraq patrol in Mosul in northern Iraq when they were killed last week.

It is the first time such a killing has been confirmed by the two forces.

"Two US soldiers killed during a combined Iraqi army and coalition operation in Nineveh province on December 26 were allegedly shot by an Iraqi soldier," the US military said in a statement on Saturday.

Three other US soldiers and a civilian interpreter were wounded in the incident.

The team had been setting up a combat outpost.

"The Iraqi soldier who allegedly opened fire fled the scene but was identified by other Iraqi army personnel and was then apprehended" the military statement said.

Two soldiers arrested

Two Iraqi army soldiers are now being held in connection with the incident.

The US military said it was not clear why the Iraqi soldier had opened fire, but two Iraqi generals told the Reuters news agency that the attacker had links to Sunni Arab fighters.

The patrol "was attacked by gunmen and the soldier abused the situation and killed the two soldiers. The soldier was an insurgent infiltrator," Brigadier-General Mutaa al-Khazraji, commander of the Iraqi army's second division, said.

Brigadier-General Noor al-Din Hussein, commander of the Iraqi Army's fourth Brigade, second division, said that the Iraqi soldier had been in the army for only one year and was an Arab from the Jubouri tribe.

"There is some penetration [by insurgents] and we want to purify the Iraqi army. Our soldiers are good and doing well. This is the first time something like this has happened," he said.

In June 2004, two US soldiers were killed by Iraqi civil defence officers patrolling with them. The Iraqi civil defence corps was created after the US invasion in 2003 and was the forerunner of today's Iraqi army.

Internet video

The deaths come as a new video of the Baghdad sniper, also known as Juba, was posted on the internet.

The video appeared at the end of December and, like the first two films, is a compilation of footage showing US soldiers being shot dead by the sniper.

Juba is said to be from the Islamic Army in Iraq but he never appears in the videos.

The commentary says it aims to tell "the truth to the American people" about their military losses in Iraq.

Juba, a nom de guerre, first appeared on the internet in 2005 in a poor quality film. With his own internet site at, Juba is one of the most successful media outlets of those fighting against the US-led forces in Iraq.

Small arms casualties

According to a tally by the independent website, 338 US soldiers have been killed since the beginning of the war by "small arms fire" - eight per cent of total US casualties.

At least 48 of them were shot by snipers.

General Kevin Bergner, a US military spokesman, said that sniping "has been a threat to the security environment here for quite some time".

"It is one we deal with on a recurring, routine basis.

"It is one that we have periodically seen in greater numbers at times, and obviously in those circumstances we target our operations accordingly to counter that threat."

Meanwhile a spate of roadside bombs on Saturday in Iraq's Diyala province killed seven people, according to Iraqi officials.