Saturday 2 February 2008

Gaza loser

As the Jerusalem Post puts it:

The Palestinian Authority leadership was surprised to see President Hosni Mubarak invite Hamas for talks on the crisis. Moreover, Abbas was reported to have been outraged upon learning that his sworn enemy, Khaled Mashaal, had been invited to Riyadh for talks with senior Saudi government officials.

Abbas's main fear is that Hamas is now trying to translate the latest border crisis into political gain. For him, the fact that Hamas leaders like Mahmoud Zahar and Khaled Mashaal are being welcomed into two of the most important Arab capitals is tantamount to recognition of Hamas's violent takeover of Gaza.

In Cairo this week, Abbas used strong words to condemn Hamas, depicting its leaders as a "junta" that had staged a bloody coup against a legitimate government.

Abbas wants to restore his exclusive control not only over the Rafah border crossing, but over the entire Gaza Strip.

Hamas's response has thus far been along the lines of "over our dead bodies."

Indeed, there is almost no reason why Hamas should soften its position. On the contrary, Hamas, in the wake of the sense of victory prevalent among its leaders in the past week, feels that it is moving in the right direction.

Hamas's declared aim over the past seven months has been to end its isolation and break the blockade imposed on the Strip, including the closure of the border with Egypt.

Friday 1 February 2008

Oh no you don't...

Looks like those pesky Palestinians won't do the decent thing and get back into their Gaza prison.

The Israeli Ynet website reports that attempts to re-seal border have failed again:

Early Friday, Egyptian troops poured cement and laid down metal spikes around various breaches to try to choke off the flow of vehicles through gaps in the 12-kilometer-long (7-mile-long) border. They also sent dozens of riot police to the area.

Shortly after, Hamas gunmen dragged away metal spikes that had been placed at the main breach. Egyptian soldiers, who have been avoiding confrontation with Hamas, removed the remaining obstacles there.

Witnesses also reported that a Hamas bulldozer shoved aside spikes at a gap about 100 meters (110 yards) to the east.

Over 600 Hamas supporters rallied at the border to demand it remain open. One banner read: "Egypt and Palestine are one people, not two." A protester shouted, "Keep the border open."

Some of the protesters jumped over metal barriers into Egypt, raising Hamas flags on the Egyptian side. Dozens of Egyptian border guards watched the scene, but did not intervene.

Revolt with an Egyptian accent

The AP news agency noticed a change in language following the fall of the Gaza wall:

A trip to Egypt has become a status symbol, and many Gazans have picked up Egyptian slang to prove they were there.

«When people speak Egyptian (Arabic), they want to give an impression that they are now cultured. It also gives an impression that they've traveled to Egypt and met with Egyptians,» said linguist Asad Abu Shark from Azhar University in Gaza City.

Five days in Egypt was enough for Gazan Taysir Muammar, 37, who loudly joked with his friends in a broken Egyptian dialect, replacing the Palestinian «j» with a hard Egyptian «g».

Gazans have picked up new phrases across the border, like the filler word «bitaa,» loosely translated as «stuff» which until now was not common in Gaza, or the Egyptian greeting «ezayak» instead of «kifhalak».

Hmmm... I wonder if Egyptian security forces are picking up an Israeli accent.

Gaza—New reality

Al-Ahram on the new realities along Egypt's border with Gaza:

After close to nine days of unchecked inundation of close to 700,000 of the 1.5 million inhabitants of Gaza into the border city of Rafah and its immediate neighbour Arish, quiet is again in place. And within the next 48 to 72 hours, Egyptian officials predict, the whole border would have been cordoned off again.

However, what is unlikely to be in place again is the full siege that Israel has aimed—against little if any world protest—to squeeze Gaza through.

While American and Israeli officials have been demanding that Egypt seals its borders and leave Gaza to its fate, Egyptian officials say it has become impossible to maintain this policy.

"The Israelis and Americans can say all they want. But they know that Egypt has to act upon its interests," said an Egyptian official who asked for anonymity. And, he explained, it is certainly not in the interest of Egypt to ignore the fact that if the Rafah crossing point was to be completely sealed off again under continued Israeli siege another breach will occur.

"It will be a matter of time before the Palestinians break into Rafah again. This is a scenario we dread so much. We would rather work to secure a prompt and internationally accepted mechanism for the operation of the Rafah crossing point."

Thursday 31 January 2008

Amnesty slams Winograd

Amnesty International has a thing or two to say about the Winograd Committee report:

The report was "deeply flawed" and did not probe government policies and military strategies that did not discriminate between Hezbollah fighters and Lebanese civilians, Amnesty said.

Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa programme director, Malcolm Smart, said the study was "another missed opportunity to address the policies and decisions behind the grave violations of international humanitarian law—including war crimes—committed by Israeli forces".

"The indiscriminate killings of many Lebanese civilians not involved in the hostilities and the deliberate and wanton destruction of civilian properties and infrastructure on a massive scale were given no more than token consideration by the commission."

Tapis Volant

Power, poverty and riots

The a United Nations has produced a difinitve account of the politics behind the riots in the south Beirut.

"Villages in Shia-majority south Lebanon and the eastern Bekaa Valley regularly have their electricity cut after 6pm, but in recent months cut-offs were extended to Beirut. Though nearly all neighbourhoods suffer power cuts, the southern suburbs are worst hit, with few families able to afford to run generators on increasingly expensive diesel. Parts of central Beirut on the other hand enjoy 20 hours of electricity a day."

"In its latest National Human Development report the UN Development Programme (UNDP) highlighted growing disparities in Lebanon.

"While general literacy has decreased nationwide, in the Bekaa it has increased; in 1995-2005 Beirut received 16 percent of total public investment spending, despite having only 8 percent of households categorised as in need of basic services. By comparison, in the Shia town of Nabatiyeh in south Lebanon, where 11 percent of households struggle, the state spent just 1 percent."

Picture: Striking taxi drivers in Jnah, southern Beirut, stop a colleague trying to pick up passengers. Drivers were protesting rising fuel prices. © Hugh Macleod/IRIN

Beirut—eternal city

Beirut Metropolitan Area photographed by an Expedition 16 crewmember on the International Space Station.

Nasa's geo-facts:
Beirut is located along the southeastern shoreline of the Mediterranean Sea.

The metropolitan area is built on a small peninsula composed mainly of sedimentary rock deposited over the past 100 million years or so. The growth of the city eastwards is bounded by foothills of the more mountainous interior of Lebanon (sparsely settled greenish brown region visible at upper right).

While this sedimentary platform is stable, Lebanon is located along a major transform fault zone, or region where the African and Arabian tectonic plates are moving laterally in relation to (and against) each other. This active tectonism creates an earthquake hazard for the country.

The Roum Fault, one of the fault strands that is part of the transform boundary, is located directly to the south of the Beirut metropolitan area. Other distinctive features visible in this image include the Rafic Hariri Airport at lower right, the city sports arena at center, and several areas of green and open space (such a large golf course at center).

Visible in the image are several plumes of sediment along the coastline—the most striking of which are located near the airport. The general lack of vegetation in the airport may promote higher degrees of soil transport by surface water runoff or wind.

My note:
Just north (NW and NE) of the airport are the poor suburbs that where heavily bombed in the summer of 2006. The density of the housing there show the massive disparities of wealth and poverty.

It's official—Israel lost the war

Israel lost in its war on Lebanon during the summer of 2006, according to the Winograd Committee.

Highlights of the report:

The committee stated that the war was a "major missed opportunity.

"Israel embarked on a prolonged war that it initiated, which ended without a clear Israeli victory.

"A paramilitary organization withstood the strongest army in the Middle East for weeks.

"Hezbollah rocket fire on the Israeli home front continued throughout the war, and the IDF failed to provide an effective response. Daily life was disrupted, residents left their homes and entered bomb shelters.

"These results have far-reaching consequences for us and our enemy.

"The final, large-scale ground operation launched in the final 60 hours of the war "did not achieve any military objectives nor did it fulfill its potential.

"The ground operation did not reduce the Katyusha fire nor did it achieve significant accomplishments, and its role in accelerating or improving the political settlement is unclear. Also unclear is how it affected the Lebanese government and Hezbollah regarding the cease-fire.

"The manner in which the ground operation was conducted raises the most difficult of questions.

"The decision in principle of the security cabinet on August 9 to approve the IDF's recommendation for a ground offensive, subject to the diplomatic time-table, was a practically essential decision. It provided Israel with necessary diplomatic flexibility.

"The decision to actually launch the ground operation was within the framework of decision-makers' political and professional judgment based on the information they had available. The objectives of the military push were legitimate and were not confined solely to accelerating or improving a political settlement.

"There was no failure in the decision itself, despite the limited accomplishments and painful price.

"We are persuaded that both the prime minister and the defense minister operated out of a strong and honest assessment and understanding of what, to them, was seen as necessary for Israel's interests.

The panel "found grave faults and failings in the decision-making process and the preparatory work both in the political and military levels and the interaction between them.

"We found grave faults and failings in the senior military command echelon, particularly in the ground forces, the quality of preparedness and readiness of the forces, and of the execution of orders.

"We found grave faults and failings both in the political and military echelons in the lack of thinking and strategic planning. And we found grave faults and failings in everything concerning the defense of the civilian population and the challenges presented by the blows it suffered.

"Though it was a war of our own initiative and waged in a defined territory, Israel did not use its military power wisely or effectively.

'Israel went to war without discussing alternatives, objectives.

"The failures began long before the Second Lebanon War. Ambitious goals were chosen for the war, after which Israel was left with only two main alternatives—the first was a short, severe strike [on Hezbollah], the second was to fundamentally alter the reality in southern Lebanon through a wide-scale ground operation.

"The manner in which the original decision to go to war was made, without discussing the alternatives, and the manner in which Israel embarked on the war prior to determining which of the alternatives it had chosen, or an exit strategy - these were severe failures that impacted the entire war, which were contributed to by both the political and the military echelon.

"The indecisiveness continued into the war itself. There was no proper discussion or decision on the war's objectives for several weeks.

"There was also a serious delay in preparing for a wide-scale ground operation, reducing Israel's options."

"The result was that Israel did not make do with maximizing immediate military achievements, but rather was dragged into a ground offensive only after a cease-fire [decision] made it impossible to effectively fulfill its potential. Both top military and political leaders are responsible for this."

Haaretz notes that:

The first, partial Winograd report was released in April 2007 found that Israeli premier Ehud Olmert and the government had displayed poor decision-making skills and lack of judgment.

"The decision to respond [to the cross-border attack] with an immediate, intensive military strike was not based on a detailed, comprehensive and authorized military plan..." and that "The primary responsibility for these serious failings rests with the Prime Minister, the [then] minister of defense [Amir Peretz] and the (outgoing) Chief of Staff."

Hezbollah MP Hussein Haj Hassan said: "In reality, we have to tell the Israeli public at the end—with or without the Winograd Report—that Hezbollah won the battles against the strongest army in the region in July 2006."

Who can disagree with that.

Tuesday 29 January 2008

And the cage closes again

Witnesses to shootings?

Al-Manar, Hizbollah's TV station, has produced witnesses who say they saw snipers on rooftops of buildings in Ain el-Rumaini, a Christian suburb overlooking the Shia neighbourhood of Mar Mekhayel, on the night of the electricity riots.

The witnesses claim that "as Lebanese army deployed in the area a group of some 20 Lebanese Forces members took to the streets of the Snoubra and Galerie Zaatar neighbourhoods holding their rifles and machine guns.

Al-Manar alleges that "the witnesses added that the members of the Lebanese Forces group distinguished themselves by wearing black sweaters with the word 'Dangerous' written on them.

"The commander of the group then deployed his men on rooftops "to repel the demonstrators with fire if they advance towards Ain el-Rumaini".

"Not one demonstrator advanced towards this area, according to Chiyah mayor Edmond Garios. He was refuting pro-government media reports that demonstrators stormed into the Christian area and tossed a hand grenade injuring seven people."

Monday 28 January 2008

Day of mourning

Friends carry the coffin of one of the protesters killed by either the army or right-wing Lebanese Forces (the situation remains confused).

According to reports passed on to Sursock the first demonstrator was killed by a sniper firing out of Ain Rumaini, a Christian area in south Beirut. He was an Amal Movement official attempting to police a demonstration against electricity shortages. Others then came out to protest against his death and were killed when they were confronted by Lebanese troops. The army blames "gunmen in civilian clothing".

I will update as soon as it becomes clear.

Sunday 27 January 2008

Lebanese army fire on protesters

AP reports:
"At least seven people, including five political activists, were killed on Sunday when street protests over power cuts descended into violence in the mainly Shiite southern suburbs of the Lebanese capital.

Some reports say nine have been killed.

"Violence swept the mainly Shiite southern suburbs of Beirut.

"Youths wielding sticks and iron bars went on the rampage, pelting cars with stones and setting some on fire while the army was out in force in a bid to prevent the riots from spreading to nearby Sunni and Christian districts."

These protests have become common, not only in the southern suburbs, but across the capital. The continuing power blackouts is driving growing anger at the state of the country under the boot of the US backed M14 coalition. Following the national strike last Thursday the government ordered the army to crush any "riot" (or protest).

Tonight it looks like the soldiers got stuck in.

The protests seem to have spread to the airport road.

The BBC reports, "sporadic gunfire was heard as the fighting spread and Beirut's airport road was temporarily blocked by tyres."

According to Ya Lubnan rioting spread to:
- Gallerie Semaan area in east Beirut
- Mar Elias neighborhood in Beirut
- Ain el-Rommaneh, a Christian suburb in East Beirut
- Sidon Road
- Beirut Airport road
- Nabatiyeh in south Lebanon
- Sidon-Tyre main road in the south

Facts on the ground

South Africa's Mail & Guardian has produced one of the better reports on events in Gaza.

"What seemed on Wednesday to be a huge, but perhaps brief, phenomenon dampened by the attempt by Egyptian riot police who moved later in the week to try to reseal the border, by this weekend was taking on the impression of a seismic and unstoppable reordering of the facts of the Middle East."

Meanwhile Egypt midfielder Mohamed Aboutrika (picture above) lifted his strip to reveal a T-shirt with the slogan 'Sympathy with Gaza' as he celebrated scoring in the 3-0 win over Sudan. Aboutrika has given a warning by the Confederation of African Football after displaying a slogan at the Africa Cup of Nations in Ghana.

Nice one—ya basha!