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The world focuses on Gaza

COMMENTARY | January 02, 2009

The overseas press: The No. 1 international story last week was Israeli bombardment of Gaza. Much of the overseas press is critical of Israel for the aerial barrage, but some put the blame on Hamas.

By Lauren Drablier

PARISIsrael’s air strikes in Gaza, now a week old, have drawn some harsh criticism in the international press and little support. There is concern that they are not in line with international law, that they may be a prelude to a full-scale military operation in Gaza, and, as the Jakarta Post put it, that they are an attempt appease the Israeli people as the coalition government faces a general election in February.” At the same time, there was also some sharp criticism of Hamas.

The International Herald Tribune quoted Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as calling the strikes only “the first of several stages,” suggesting that there may no be resolution in the new future. Also quoted by the IHT was Israeli Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit stating, "there is no room for a cease-fire."

The Economist (UK) takes a deeper look into the problems in Israel and Palestine, calling it “the dilemma that springs from a defiant refusal to compromise” in What can we do?

“All faith-inspired groups struggle to square the purity of dogmatism with dirtier realities. In the two decades since its founding as a local branch of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas has mostly shied away from choosing between the two. For years it could pose comfortably in opposition to Fatah, the secular party that long dominated Palestinian politics, and accuse it of abandoning national ideals in the false hope of securing peace with Israel.

“Hamas, by contrast, stuck to denying that it would ever recognise the Jewish state, give up the Palestinians’ title to all their ancestral land or relinquish their right to return from exile. Still, quietly and pragmatically, it did engage in indirect dealings with the enemy, agreeing to the odd ceasefire or prisoner exchange.

“Hamas won legislative elections in 2006 not because most Palestinians shared its dogma but largely because after a decade of peace-processing and five years of bloody intifada (uprising), they despaired of Fatah’s corruption and its hopes of coaxing Israel to an honourable settlement.

“Should the group accede to international demands that it accept Israel, renounce violence, adhere to the Palestinians’ previous peace deals, and so win a reprieve for Gaza’s hapless people? Or should Hamas hope that Palestinian suffering would prick the world’s conscience, rally a billion-plus fellow Muslims to their side, and so eventually force Israel to back down and, perhaps better yet, inspire Palestinians in the West Bank to overthrow Fatah?

“Increasing Israeli trade restrictions and Israel’s refusal to free any of its thousands of Hamas prisoners dimmed the distant light in Gaza’s tunnel. Meanwhile Fatah, in its stronghold on the West Bank, clamped down on Hamas, with dozens of arrests and the dismissal of some 400 Hamas-affiliated teachers. The last straw came in November when Israel killed six gunmen it said were digging tunnels to launch a raid on Israel, spurring Hamas to respond with a barrage of rockets.

“By the end of the official truce on December 19th, Hamas’s harder-liners again held sway. The ceasefire with Israel, they could argue, had brought no gains for Gaza.

“America’s elections augured potentially positive changes in the superpower’s strategy, while allies such as Iran, Syria and Hizbullah were busy raising the propaganda ante over Gaza’s suffering, pressing pro-Western Arabs to soften their stand against the Islamists. The launching of rockets resumed, triggering Israel’s long-planned, devastating response.

“So far, the bloodshed in Gaza has not much changed the equation. Hamas has lost massively in terms of physical assets but gained hugely in sympathy. The surge of impotent rage in Gaza over Israel’s violence will momentarily boost Hamas’s standing, but Gazans may then ask what brought them to this awful pass. The Islamists may win some meagre concessions when the dust settles and the blood is washed away: perhaps a loosening of Israel’s siege, an opening of Egypt’s border, a torrent of aid from appalled fellow Muslims, and maybe a modicum of international recognition. But unless the current furious street protests spark a region-wide revolution that scares the wits out of Israel and its friends, Hamas will still face the same painful old choice of how to come to terms with an immensely more powerful and equally determined enemy.”

The International Herald Tribune takes a look at responses from both sides in On fourth day of Gaza attacks, no end in sight:

“Israeli says its offensive, which began Saturday, is designed to neutralize the threat posed to southern Israel by Hamas rockets.

“At a meeting with President Shimon Peres, Olmert, said the air attacks that began on Saturday were "the first of several stages approved by the security cabinet," according to Peres's office.

“The military has created a two-mile war cordon along the Gaza border, with commanders saying that a ground force invasion was a distinct possibility but had not yet been decided upon.

“Hamas sought to cast its fighters as martyrs in a continuing battle against Israel, the lone resisters in a Palestinian community divided between Gaza, where Hamas rules, and the West Bank, which is governed by the rival Fatah organization.

“Residents of Gaza pulled relatives from the rubble of prominent institutions leveled by waves of Israeli F-16 attacks, as hospitals struggled to keep up with the wounded and the dead and doctors scrambled for supplies. Hamas gunmen publicly shot suspected collaborators; families huddled around battery-powered radios, desperate for news.

“Despite the hostilities, around 100 trucks laden with emergency food and medical supplies donated by international bodies awaited permission to enter Gaza to deliver their cargo. At sea, an Israeli naval vessel collided with a small boat carrying Palestinian sympathizers and medical supplies, forcing it to divert to Lebanon.

“Israel sent in some 40 trucks of humanitarian relief, including blood from Jordan and medicine. Egypt opened its border with Gaza to some similar aid and to allow some of the wounded through.

“In the fourth-floor orthopedic section, a woman in her late 20s asked a militant to let her see Saleh Hajoj, her 32-year-old husband. She was turned away and left the hospital. Fifteen minutes later, Hajoj was carried out by young men pretending to transfer him to another ward. As he lay on the stretcher, he was shot in the left side of the head.

“Hajoj, like five others killed at the hospital this way in 24 hours, was accused of collaboration with Israel. He had been in the central prison awaiting trial by Hamas judges; when Israel destroyed the prison on Sunday he and the others were transferred to the hospital. But their trials were short-circuited.

“The Hamas television station was taken out by an Israeli missile on Monday and most local radio stations have closed out of fear of suffering the same fate.

China’s Xinhua reports that the Gulf Cooperation Council has “strongly condemned the Israeli aggression in Gaza:

GCC condemns Israeli attacks on Gaza

“The Gulf leaders condemned Tuesday the Israeli military operation on Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in the final statement of 29th summit of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

“The GCC leaders strongly condemns the Israeli aggression and it should shoulder the responsibility in pushing situation into such a dangerous level, said a final statement of the summit.

“The statement also called on the international community…to take immediate action to stop the Israeli attacks and to protect the Palestinian people.”

Ha’aretz reports that the Palestinian rockets are reaching deeper into Israel, in Gaza rocket reaches furthest point east, hitting Rahat area:

“Palestinians in the Gaza Strip launched a rocket on Tuesday that reached the vicinity of the Bedouin town of Rahat, Channel Two reported. The attack is the furthest point eastward which a Palestinian projectile has managed to reach.

“A total of 18 rockets fired from the Gaza Strip slammed into communities in southern Israel on Tuesday, causing some damage to hothouses in the Eshkol region.

“The attacks came after Palestinian rockets had killed three Israelis on Monday, and wounded nine more, one of them critically.

“The husband of one of three Israelis killed Monday in rocket attacks from Gaza said Tuesday that although strikes had been expected in Ashdod, more than 30 kilometers from Gaza, the family never thought that it would affect them in such a tragic manner.

"We are stunned, it came as a bolt from the blue," Herzl Sheetrit told Army Radio. "All the family is together and we can't digest what has happened. We are comforting one another."

“At least 80 rockets have were fired into Israel on Monday. Several of the rockets hit Ashkelon, while others struck Sderot and other rocket weary communities in the western Negev.”

Sudan Vision examines Umma National Party leader, Al-Sadig Al-Mahdi’s response to the attacks in Al-Mahdi Condemns Gaza Aggression, Lauds Jazeera TV:

Umma National Party leader Al-Sadig Al-Mahdi urged the international community to relieve Gaza Strip people, open the crossings and deliver necessary aid to the Palestinian nation, underlining that the ongoing assault on Gaza requires urgent humanitarian support.

“He added that they are now intending to announce an official call for halting the bloodbath in Gaza, commending the remarkable live footage performed by the Jazeera Satellite TV Channel which enhanced the huge mobilization that marked Sudan.

“Al-Mahdi hoped that the bloodshed in Gaza will lead to positive ramifications particularly the unity of the Palestinian people as well as the cementing of the Arab and Islamic nations’ stances.

“Almasri further announced that Palestinians are in dire need for global support along with the unification of Arab ranks for countering the heinous Israeli aggression.”

The Tehran Times takes a look at Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah and former Iranian president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s responses urging Palestinians and the Arab communities to “put aside their differences and defend the rights of Palestinians.” The article also examines various international responses in Israel fighting resistance of entire Palestinian nation: Nasrallah:

“Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah said on Monday that Israel’s latest war has targeted the resistance of the entire Palestinian nation.

“Nasrallah called on all Palestinian groups to unite against Israel.

“‘In Gaza, we are dealing with the fate of Palestine not the fate of Hamas. I urge all groups to put aside differences… and defend the rights of Palestinians.’

“He also urged Arab and Islamic countries to take measures to halt Israel’s inhumane crimes.

“‘The Egyptian people should take to the streets in their millions to force the regime to open the border checkpoints,’ Nasrallah told the Egyptian people.

“Egypt is being severely criticized for closing the Rafah border checkpoint and thus helping Israel tighten the grip on the coastal strip.

“‘The Americans and the Zionists want to impose their conditions on the Palestinians, on Lebanon, and on Syria,’ Nasrallah asserted.

“I have asked the brothers in the resistance in the south specifically to be present, on alert, and cautious because we are facing a criminal enemy and we don’t know the magnitude of the conspiracies,” Nasrallah added.

“Islamic countries’ officials share a heavy responsibility to defend the oppressed Muslim people of Gaza,” he (Former Iranian president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani) noted.

“Rafsanjani said every effort should be made to prevent more Israeli aggression against the Palestinians, adding that Israel is shameless and can perpetrate any kind of criminal act.

“Rafsanjani lamented the fact that the Palestinians have not received enough support, saying the humanitarian assistance from Muslim countries in comparison with the Western powers’ full support for Israel is far too little.

“However, Muslim countries will one day team up to support the Palestinians, he predicted.

“Israel has blocked all the roads to Gaza. Egypt has also closed its borders with Gaza and refuses to open them despite harsh criticism from Islamic countries.

“Demonstrators marched through the Swedish capital Stockholm to protest against the air attacks on Gaza. The demonstrators waved banners and shouted “Close the embassy,” “Gaza solidarity,” and “Israel, murderer” and set fire to an Israeli flag with a swastika painted on it.

“South Africa summoned the Israeli ambassador to express its “grave concern” at “the brutal assault” on Gaza, an official statement said.

“Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, also offered medical assistance, and joined Afghanistan, Malaysia, Pakistan, and other Muslim nations in condemning Israel.

“Algeria sent 61 tons of food and medicine to Gaza on Monday and three cargo planes are to leave for Cairo on Tuesday with more than 60 tons of food, medicine and medical equipment, Minister for National Solidarity Djamel Ould Abbes said.

“Jordan’s King Abdullah II urged the U.S. president to help end Israel’s air blitz, the palace said.

“Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called on his Israeli counterpart Tipzi Livni to ‘urgently halt’ the military action.

“Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang said in a statement, ‘The Chinese side is shocked and seriously concerned over the current military operations in Gaza that have caused a large number of deaths and injuries.’

In Indonesians rally for Gaza, Al Jazeera highlights the strong support for the Palestinian cause worldwide by focusing on the strong Islamic support in the world’s most populous Muslim country:

“More than 1,000 people have rallied in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, to voice their opposition to Israel's assault on the Gaza Strip.

“The protest coincided with a condemnation of the raids by Indonesia's president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

“On Monday an Indonesian Muslim group announced plans to recruit as many as 1,000 volunteers to fight in Gaza in response to the Israeli air raids.

“Ahmad Soebri Lubis, the secretary-general of the The Islamic Defenders' Front (FPI), said the group would start recruiting volunteer fighters in the next few days, and would send them for training at camps in Indonesia to prepare them for the ‘battleground’.

“However Bahtiar Effendy, professor of Political Science at the Islamic State University in Jakarta, told Al Jazeera that the FPI's aims are largely symbolic.

Canada’s Gazette focuses on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s response to the attacks in Germany’s Merkel blames Hamas for Gaza violence:

“German Chancellor Angela Merkel blames Hamas for the escalation of violence in Gaza because of the firing of rockets into Israel and the abandonment of its ceasefire, her spokesman said Monday.

“‘Hamas unilaterally broke the agreement for a ceasefire, there has been a continuous firing of . . . rockets at Israeli settlements and Israeli territory, and without question - and this was stressed by the chancellor - Israel has the legitimate right to defend its own people and territory,’ spokesman Thomas Steg said.

“‘As a result it is completely clear that in this situation Hamas is called upon to permanently stop the firing of rockets so that Israeli military operations can be ended quickly.’”

In UAE Federal National Council condemns Israeli aggression on Gaza, the United Arab Emirates Gulf News also focuses on the Arab community’s response to the attacks:

“The UAE Federal National Council (FNC) condemned the continued Israeli air strikes on Gaza Strip, which started on Saturday.

“Al Ghurair called on the international community to take immediate action to stop the Israeli aggression, provide protection for Palestinians and put an end to their suffering.

“He said FNC supports the position of the UAE government on the situation in Gaza as well as its calls to Arab states to hold an emergency meeting for Arab foreign ministers to eventually take a unified Arab stand to put an end to this aggression.”

The International Herald Tribune reports that the only possibility for a truce is if Israel opens the borders of Gaza in Hamas says no truce without open borders:

“A Hamas spokesman says that the Islamic militant group conditions a cease-fire on an opening of Gaza's borders.

“The spokesman, Mushir Masri, spoke Tuesday after Israeli officials unexpectedly floated the idea of a truce. Israel's security Cabinet is to discuss a proposal tomorrow to suspend Israel's offensive to give Hamas an opening to halt rocket fire. If the truce fails, Israel would launch a ground offensive.

Masri says an end to the fighting is not enough. He says that if Israel halts ‘the aggression and the blockade, then Hamas will study these suggestions.’

In an editorial entitled An unjust war, Indonesia’s Jakarta Post also looks at the implications of international law:


“Whatever pretext Israel has cited for launching massive air strikes on the Palestinian-controlled Gaza strip over the weekend, the high casualty figure among civilians makes this military action totally unacceptable.

“Whatever chance there was for peace has now been virtually wiped out.

“Just how much "collateral damage" -- the military phrase for civilian casualties caught in cross fires -- is regarded as acceptable by Israel remains unclear. But to anyone with a sense of human decency, the figure is reprehensible, and the military action must be condemned in the harshest terms. It has made this Israel's unjust war.

“The Israeli military and government must have known the unintended consequences of their decision, which they claimed was grounded on the constant barrage of rocket attacks by Hamas against Israeli civilian targets across the Gaza border.

“It is looking more likely that the decision to go for a full-scale military operation in Gaza was calculated to appease the Israeli people as the coalition government faces a general election in February.

“But in the process, Israel has virtually forfeited whatever chance there was for peace. Israel cannot wash its hands that easily and lay the blame squarely on the Hamas faction for the deaths of hundreds of Palestinians over the weekend.

“The U.S.'s Middle East peace initiative held in Annapolis early this year (a process of which Indonesia is also a part) is now as good as dead, thus killing the one positive legacy that outgoing President George W. Bush had hoped to leave behind.

“Once the international community gets past the condemnations (of Israel or Hamas), it should use its force to persuade both sides to cease and desist, and return to the negotiating table as soon as possible. This is going to be a tall order given the high emotions running among both Israelis and Palestinians. But the alternative will be worse.”

In Injustice of Israel's heavy hand, The Australian believes the Israeli attacks will fuel the cause of Islamic radicalism and calls them a grave mistake:

“Israel’s response to rocket attacks by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip - one of the world's most densely populated and squalid places - can only fuel the cause of Islamic radicalism in the Arab and Muslim worlds.

“Israel could not have chosen a more inappropriate time to attack than the period between Christmas and New Year, when the world's attention is focused on messages of peace and goodwill, and when the US presidency is in a transitional mode.

“The Hamas leadership has vowed not to surrender and has called for a third intifada (Palestinian uprising) against Israel, while the Arab and Muslim world has rallied in support of the Palestinian cause.

“What Israeli leaders do not want to acknowledge is that the issue is not Hamas or the PLO, but the demand of the Palestinian people for justice, freedom and independence.

“The branding of Hamas as a terrorist group has been a strategic mistake on the part of Israel and some of its international backers, especially the now widely discredited Bush administration.”

In Britain has a duty to Arabs the UK’s Guardian believes that Britain needs to rethink its position towards Israel:

“Thanks to its (Israel’s) ruthless air strikes and economic blockade of Gaza, Hamas is stronger today than it was last week. Friday sermons across the Muslim world this week will see the worst condemnation of Israel, rightful support for the bealeagured Palestinian peoples – and a boost to the popularity of Hamas by default.

“Regardless of political condemnations, the crude reality is that Israel has just helped create a new generation of suicide bombers, prepared to stop at nothing.  Israel though, through its recent actions, has just provided the fire that will now re-ignite this poisoned gas.”

“I am no friend of Hamas, or Islamist movements. I've spoken out in support of Israel's right to exist, beside a strong Palestinian state, in gatherings and places where it has brought me significant harm. But Israel's cold, politically timed killing of more than 300 Palestinians makes me, and millions more, rethink our attitude towards Israel.

“Hamas is an irresponsible, senile and fanatical organisation that repeatedly puts its people at risk, but Israel's calculated killing and attempts at deception cannot be overlooked. How can the children of Holocaust survivors become such brutal killers? And during the Sabbath?

“An attack on Gaza is being seen as an attack on the Arab people as a whole: from Yemen to Morocco, Arab anger and sense of powerlessness is palpable. How much more can the Arabs take?

“As a country, we have a moral duty to right our historical wrongs. We helped create Israel. We must now help create a Palestine. Our political class can, and should, exert pressure on Washington to rein in Israel to help Palestine emerge.

“Britain cannot solve the Arab-Israeli conflict. But it can, and must, pressure the next US administration to be fair and even-handed in the Middle East.”

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