Those of you who are a bit older than I am may want to watch my show from last New Year's Eve, New Year's Eve with Guy Lombardo. We used to watch that one for kicks, to see the old ladies in their fur coats waltzing in the Waldorf-Astoria. But the show I'm about to put on for you is one I actually remember watching, probably somewhere in southern Connecticut knowing where I hung out back then. This is from December 31, 1974 and I actually still own the album on which this song first appeared (it was given to me as a high school graduation gift six months earlier by a group of 10th graders; I'm still in touch with some of them). The year after this, I was in Times Square in the middle of a sleet storm. But this video brought back memories....
What are the US and Israel trying to do in Kurdistan?
Kurdistan is a region that holds an ethnic minority that stretches over parts of Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria. The Kurds regard themselves as allies of the US and Israel and fought against Saddam Hussein for years. But now, both the United States and Israel are choosing to support Islamist Turkey in its quest to snuff out the Kurdish attempt at statehood. And I have to wonder why.
This morning, The Moderate Voice reported that the United States has been providing 'moral and logistical support' to Turkey in its battle with the PKK, a Kurdish terror group:
Turkish hostilities against the Kurdish nation have reached a very serious stage. Over the past few weeks, Turkish warplanes have bombed the territory of southern Kurdistan, which according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, has resulted in the displacement of at least 18,000 people, along with deaths and injuries to many civilians. Thanks to the moral and logistical support of the United States, the Turkish attacks have been quite effective. The Kurds who have been displaced, wounded or killed are the very people who opened the Northern Front for the United States during the war against Saddam Hussein – and this just when the Turkish Parliament refused to allow America the use of its territory. That same parliament has given a mandate to the Turkish military to invade southern Kurdistan on the pretext of pursuing a terrorist organization.
The PKK is not the cause of the problem; it is the symptom of a lack of democracy, civil society, rule of law and the severe oppression of the Kurdish nation by the Turkish state. The suppression of Kurds in Turkey may constitute genocide. If not fully a genocide, what Turkey has committed against the Kurds can safely be called cultural genocide.
Nonetheless, the PKK is an important element of the Kurdish cause in the north. In the absence of democratic elections for northern Kurds to elect representatives to a regional government and parliament of their own, the PKK today is the most effective organization for asserting the Kurdish identity, which remains banned in Turkey despite the E.U. claims of Turkish domestic changes. Whether we like it or not, millions of Kurds in the north regard the PKK as their representatives. This reality must be accepted by Turkey, the U.S. and the E.U.
If Turkey, the U.S. and the E.U. are sincere about wanting to solve the “Turkish problem” and satisfy the “Kurdish quest,” they must have the courage to pursue granting the Kurdish nation the legal status and right to self determination it deserves. This is the same right that any European nation, such as the Scots, Wales, Basks and other have had. It’s nothing new and is in accord with the U.N. charter.
Over the weekend, al-AP reported that Israel is providing the Turkish military with unmanned aircraft that are being used to attack Iraqi Kurdistan, which is currently effectively functioning as an independent state in all-but-name.
Israeli defense contractors plan to deliver to Turkey within weeks 10 unmanned aircraft that will be used, among other things, in intelligence-gathering operations against Kurdish rebels, an Israeli official familiar with the deal said Thursday.
As part of the $190 million (€134 million) deal with the Turkish Air Force, signed several years ago, Israeli crews will provide training and technical support for the Heron systems, the official said. A malfunction in a camera system manufactured for the drones by a Turkish subcontractor has held up delivery, but the problems are expected to be worked out soon, he said.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the deal with the media. State-run Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. is lead contractor for the project, which also includes Israel's Elbit Systems Ltd. and Turkey's Aselsan.
The IAI wouldn't comment on whether Israeli crews would be involved in Turkish operations against the Kurds.
The Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, has battled for autonomy in southeastern Turkey for more than two decades, and uses strongholds in northern Iraq for cross-border raids. Tens of thousands of soldiers, rebels and civilians have been killed in the campaign.
Turkey considers the PKK a terrorist organization, as do the U.S. and European Union. The Turkish government's war against the rebels has been bolstered by U.S. intelligence that has been flowing to Turkey since U.S. President George W. Bush met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Nov. 5.
Over the weekend, I read a lengthy article by Michael Totten about Iraqi Kurdistan. I want to quote two passages. The first deals with the geopolitical reasons (as opposed to the moral reasons - he discusses those too) why the US and Israel should support an independent state of Kurdistan (please ignore his mentions of the 'Palestinians' as a 'people' deserving of a 'state' - I disagree with them completely).
It should be obvious by now why an American-guaranteed independent Kurdistan would benefit the Kurds of Iraq. But few Americans seem to realize that--after Kurdistan itself--no country would benefit more from this than the United States.
For starters, if the United States insists on cutting its losses in Iraq, it would be best to cut only its losses. And clearly, Kurdistan is not a loss. Indeed, it would be a waste and a disgrace if this eminently decent society is abandoned to war, terror, and mayhem. Certainly the Kurds would have to be crazy to trust, let alone work with, Americans ever again. Moreover, the complete and permanent liberation of Iraqi Kurdistan and its rehabilitation from mass grave to free state would surely be one of the great foreign policy successes in American history. It would rightly take its place alongside the democratic transformation of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, and the rescue of South Korea from the Stalinist starvation monarchy in Pyongyang. Losing Arab Iraq would be a partial loss, for sure. Yet no serious person says America unambiguously lost in Korea because only part of that country was saved.
Declaring partial victory isn’t just a matter of pride. Al-Qaida has set up shop in Iraq and hopes to defeat America there, just as the Mujahadeen drove Soviet troops from Afghanistan in the 1980s. The Mujahadeen’s defeat of the Soviets there has long been one of al-Qaida’s most effective ideological talking points and recruiting slogans, insisting (however wrongly) that the economic and military superpowers are in fact easily defeated facades. Osama Bin Laden insisted that America would be next, and millions of radical Muslims loved him for it. Many wished to help him and joined al-Qaida.
And for a time, particularly in the weeks and months following September 11, it might have looked as though they were right. But they have been in decline ever since, unable to top their murder of three thousand civilians in New York and Washington. If they drive the American military out of Iraq, however, they will surely have topped themselves. They will no longer be in decline; they will, rather, be at a whole new peak. Bin Laden’s old and dubious claim that America is “next” will look almost plausible, and he will have a new case in point when he says that America and the West are the “weak horse.” Now, a partial American victory in Iraq won’t stop al-Qaida from declaring its own partial victory. But a draw certainly beats a rout. If al-Qaida manages to build a statelet in the Sunni Arab portion of Iraq--the only part of the country it could take over, even in theory--that statelet will exist right on the border of Kurdistan. How much better it would be if American troops were just minutes, and not time zones, away. Without a doubt, no better strategic location exists for American forces to disrupt or destroy al-Qaida’s new base--or, for that matter, to undertake future operations, should the need arise, in Iran or Syria.
As if more reason were needed, the odds of American soldiers facing a Kurdish insurgency are vanishingly close to zero. A few hundred troops are based there already, and not a single shot has been fired at them. In fact, Iraqi Kurdistan is where American soldiers go to relax on the weekend, a place where they can briefly take off their body armor. Nearby Arab countries--even those with friendly governments—are scarcely as welcoming: Most Kuwaitis, for example, don’t mind hosting American troops, since it was America that liberated them from Saddam Hussein. But some Kuwaitis think it’s time for American troops to go home now that Baghdad has a new government. American troops in Saudi Arabia also protected that country from an Iraqi invasion after Saddam swallowed Kuwait, but Osama Bin Laden cites that very protection as one of the grievances that triggered al-Qaida’s formation. Moving American troops to friendly Kurdish soil and away from hostile Arab soil will help put this long-standing problem to bed. American bases won’t be needed in Saudi Arabia or Arab Iraq if they are re-located to Kurdistan.
And one thing is certain: The United States military needs bases it can use without walking into the minefield of regional politics. If radical regimes like those in Syria and Iran are more emboldened than ever in the wake of recent American setbacks, new bases in Kurdistan may prove their worth very quickly.
The second passage I want to quote is why the Iraqi Kurds are unwilling or unable to get rid of the PKK:
Fifteen million Kurds live in eastern Turkey, and the separatist war between the government and the PKK has raged there, at varying degrees of intensity, for decades. In the all but impassable mountains on Iraq’s northeastern border with Turkey, the PKK has dug in its heels. Its guerillas launch hit-and-run-attacks against soldiers--and sometimes civilians--in Turkey, then retreat into their Iraqi valleys and caves. The Turkish military shells the redoubt from its side of the border, crosses the frontier in hot pursuit of the terrorists, and threatens to launch a major invasion if the Kurdistan regional government won’t militarily shove the PKK back into Turkey.
Why won’t the Kurds of Iraq evict the PKK? Why do they give Turkey an excuse to invade? Colonel Mudhafer was tired of that question. He impatiently unscrolled a map when I met with him in his office. “That’s where we lived when we fought against Saddam Hussein. We chose that place for a reason. It was impossible for Saddam to flush us out there, and it’s impossible for us to flush out the PKK now.”
If only it were that simple. The Kurdistan regional government could work with the Turks to prevent this from exploding into a larger, international struggle. But the Kurds are torn. Kurds in every country have a terrible history of fractious, internecine war. After Saddam was ejected from Iraqi Kurdistan, and before he was removed from power in Baghdad, Iraq’s Kurds fought a pointless civil war over resources and power. The results were devastating, but at least they learned an important lesson from the experience: When surrounded by enemies, don’t go fighting each other.
As their inaction in dealing with the PKK shows, however, the Kurds may have learned that lesson too well. Like both Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank, the PKK arguably harms Kurds and their interests far more than their enemies do: It brings increasingly destructive reprisals down on their heads and makes a diplomatic solution to their problems all but impossible. [This is true and I am not suggesting that anyone should be supporting the PKK. But as you will see if you continue reading, the Turkish opposition to a Kurdish state has nothing to do with the PKK. CiJ]
“Fighting is not a solution,” one Kurd told me. Nor do the Iraqi Kurds want to fight, he continued, because the reason for the PKK’s terrorist activity is that the Kurdish people in Turkey don’t have rights.
Now, apologists for Palestinian terror say much the same thing. The analysis is partly persuasive, though, because it isn’t entirely wrong. Kurds in Turkey really do have legitimate grievances, just as stateless Palestinians do. But those grievances can’t be addressed by exploding bombs in Tel Aviv and Istanbul. ['Stateless Palestinians' don't have a separate ethnic identity. Kurds do. And unlike the Kurds, the 'Palestinians' have been offered a state and turned it down several times because what the 'Palestinians' really want is not their own state, but to destroy the Jewish state. CiJ]
Iraq’s Kurds know better, but they are locked in a holding pattern. They are pulled in one direction by their political morality, and in another by ethnic solidarity. They’ll need help if they are to avoid an all-out war with Ankara.
And make no mistake: The Turks may say their problem is the PKK, but they have also threatened to launch a full-scale invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan should the people there dare to declare independence. After all, Turkey fears a Turkish Kurdish unraveling of its own—not to mention an emboldened PKK—should an independent Kurdish state exist anywhere.
Certainly these are legitimate fears, not to be dismissed. But they don’t change the fact that nations inconvenient to Turkey have a right to exist. The United Nations can’t--or won’t--act as an honest broker between the two sides: It’s too weak and uninterested. But the United States can. Indeed, Americans are the only people in the world who consider both Turkey and Kurdistan allies. The Turkish-American alliance is strained, to be sure, but it is still an alliance. American soldiers could flush out Iraq’s PKK terrorists on the condition that Turkey’s relationship with its Kurdish minority is properly liberalized. And they should.
I don't understand why the US and Israel both seem to be so unequivocally on the side of Islamist Turkey. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me.
By the way, Totten's article is worth taking the time to read and it's available online (I read it in hard copy). While I disagree with his comparisons of the Kurds with the 'Palestinians,' I cannot understand why the United States and Israel are abandoning their most loyal ally in the Middle East.
In a shameless move today, the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee released a 150-page report that blames the IDF for the failures in last summer's war. The Committee was heckled by reservists, and the only member who apparently stood up for the report was Tzachi Hanegbi, who continues to shame his 82-year old mother by acting like a cheap, valueless politician. Even current Defense Minister Ehud Barak admitted that the government was responsible for the war's conduct.
"They all went home, the only one who's left is the prime minister," another reservist said, referring to the fact that both former defense minister Amir Peretz and former IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz had to resign following the war, while Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has remained in office despite continuous calls for his resignation from opposition MKs and plunging numbers in popularity polls.
Following the reservists' outbreak, Hanegbi's predecessor at the FADC, Likud MK Yuval Steinitz, said "in the clearest manner possible, and when I say this I think I speak for the entire opposition: The things written in this report, and the conclusions of the Winograd report, demand not only that the defense minister leave office, but also that the prime minister resign, and I am hoping this will be the result of the final report of Winograd."
"The general tone of the report is that the time was right despite problems in military readiness, including international support and the relative weakness of our enemy [Hizbullah]... this was a missed opportunity, and this is the sharpest criticism [made in the report]... and it reflects on both the military and the political establishment," Steinitz added.
The Likud MK also said that "the failure, that the Syrian army was preparing and for a whole week not a single tank was positioned in the Golan Heights, was a strategic failure no less than the loss of our deterrent power."
Former Mossad chief and current Labor MK Dani Yatom sided with the reservists, saying "the report is flawed in that it doesn't tackle the political echelon, and those who say the report is missing [important conclusions] are right."
"One cannot criticize decisions and the decision making process independently from analyzing the [military's] interfacing with the political echelon... in order to be a prime minister during a time of war, one has to know to ask the right questions," Yatom added.
Yatom said the decision to embark on a ground operation in the last two days of the war was "wrong... because such a mission cannot be accomplished in two days... 33 soldiers died in those two days and it did not achieve anything, not even amended the UN decision [UN resolution 1701, which brought about the ceasefire on August 14 2006]."
But Olmert has no intention of taking responsibility for his own actions, let alone resigning. It will take tens of thousands of Israelis in the street to even have a chance of convincing him otherwise. And so far that hasn't happened.
I'm just one little blogger trying to do my fair share....
For $7.4 billion, dialogue with Hamas and 'new elections'
'Moderate' 'Palestinian' President Mahmoud AbbasAbu Mazen has chosen dialogue with Hamas and 'new elections' in a bid to avoid a civil warfighting terrorism among his 'Palestinian people.' It remains to be seen whether this will have any effect on western plans to shower the 'Palestinians' with $7.4 billion in international assistance.
"There is no way for any party here to be an alternative to the other, and there is no room for terms like coup or military takeover, but only for dialogue, dialogue, dialogue," Abbas said, referring to Hamas' violent rout of his Fatah forces and takeover of the Gaza Strip in June.
Speaking to a crowd in the West Bank at a rally marking the 43rd anniversary of Fatah, Abbas called for "a new page, writing in its lines a credible agreement based on partnership, on life, on our homeland and our struggle to liberate it."
Abbas expelled Hamas from government after its victory in Gaza and set up a Western-backed government in the West Bank that is seeking peace with Israel.
In his speech on Monday, Abbas maintained his position that Hamas must restore power in Gaza to an elected government. But he urged reconciliation and called for new elections in an effort to end the suffering the Palestinian people have endured as a result of the takeover.
Israel, citing security concerns, sealed its border with Gaza after Hamas wrested power, letting in only humanitarian aid. Ensuing shortages have deepened poverty and unemployment in the already impoverished territory.
"I renew my offer for early elections here, as a way out of the hell that was imposed on us," Abbas said Monday.
Hamas has said it would be open to early elections if they were part of a reconciliation between the sides. It has also said it was ready for unconditional talks.
What 'hell' was imposed on them? Hamas winning the 'free elections' in January 2006? Hamas pulling off a military coup against Fatah in Gaza in June? Fatah absconding with billions of dollars in international aid and using it to line its leaders bank accounts? Fatah and Hamas continuing to fight the 1948 war by refusing to accept Israel's existence as a Jewish state in secured and recognized boundaries?
The Palestinians arrived by bus at 11 temporary camps outside the Mediterranean coastal city of El-Arish on Sunday but refused to occupy them, protesting Egypt's attempts to have them return to Gaza through the Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom border crossing.
As they rampaged the camps Monday, the pilgrims shouted angry slogans against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his government for not allowing them to cross into Gaza through Rafah, where Israel has no control.
A large number of riot police responded by surrounding the pilgrims and securing the area, as firefighters attempted to put out the blaze. Several Palestinian women fainted from the fire's heavy black smoke and were taken to El-Arish hospital.
The pilgrims include at least 10 well-known figures from the radical Islamic group Hamas - including Khalil al-Haya, a leader of the group - who fear Israel will arrest them if they cross through Kerem Shalom.
Israel, in turn, fears that if the pilgrims are allowed to return to Gaza through Rafah Hamas terrorists might get through and sympathizers could smuggle cash to Hamas in Gaza.
This is becoming downright entertaining. DEBKA adds:
Another 1,000 Palestinians, Hamas and other terrorist chiefs, are still aboard the Red Sea ferry that brought them from Aqaba for the third day. A Hamas spokesman warned that continued prevention of their entry through Rafah will trigger “an explosion.”
But give them a statereichlet and they'll stop all this nonsense.
Al-Aqsa calls for assassinating 'collaborator' Fayad
Fatah's 'armed wing,' the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, has called for the assassination of suit-and-tie-clad 'Palestinian' Prime Minister Salam Fayad as a 'collaborator.'
This was the first time the group has openly called for Fayad's assassination. In the past, the group distributed leaflets strongly condemning Fayad and calling for his dismissal.
Fayad has been under heavy criticism from some Fatah leaders and activists, who accuse him of denying them public funds and plotting to undermine Fatah's grip on power. Other Fatah leaders have also accused Fayad of seeking to consolidate his power with the hope of replacing Mahmoud Abbas as PA president.
The threat was made in a leaflet distributed by the Aksa Martyrs Brigades in the Gaza Strip. Some Fatah officials in Ramallah sought to distance themselves from the threat, claiming that the leaflet had been forged. They even went as far as accusing Hamas of being behind it.
"The command of the Aksa Martyrs Brigades in the Gaza Strip calls on all its elements and striking forces in the West Bank to immediately eliminate the so-called Salaam Fayad," the leaflet said. It claimed that Fayad's Ramallah-based government was working for Israel and the US.
Calling on Abbas to fire the Fayad government, the leaflet criticized Fayad for cutting off the salaries of many Fatah supporters in the Gaza Strip. It also attacked him for allowing the PA security forces in Bethlehem to hand over to Israel three Israelis who had entered the city on Saturday.
I guess they wanted the Israelis murdered instead. As to the 'salaries,' that may be the funniest charge of all given that Fayad has been paying Hamas' 'salaries' in the Gaza Strip with US and EU money.
"We call on all our members and the policemen in the West Bank not to obey orders from the Fayad government, because it's serving an American agenda and helping Israel eliminate the Aksa Martyrs Brigades," the group continued. It also called to fire PA Interior Minister Abdel Razzak al-Yahya for announcing that the Aksa Martyrs Brigades in the West Bank had been dismantled.
And this is how the 'Palestinians' are going to fight terror?
The 'interministerial' committee that is determining whether to loosen the criteria for releasing 'Palestinian' terrorists met yesterday with IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi (pictured, lower right) and GSS (General Security Service or Shabak - Sheirut Bitachon Klali - in Hebrew) Chief Yuval Diskin (pictured, top left). Ashkenazi is in favor of loosening the criteria to permit the release of terrorists who were involved in attacks in which (by God's grace) there was no loss of life, while Diskin is opposed to changing the criteria or allowing any release of terrorists at all. This is from the JPost:
The recommendations being considered now include allowing the release of terrorists involved in attacks that wounded but did not kill anyone, and allowing the release of those involved in a cell that did carry out attacks if they themselves were not directly involved in murder.
Was Ahlam Tamimi 'directly involved in murder'? I would argue that she was, but who knows what the government has in mind. Haaretz adds:
In a special meeting with cabinet ministers and security officials, Diskin lashed out against Ofer Dekel, Israel's chief negotiator for securing the release of abducted soldiers, claiming Dekel backed criteria that were too lenient.
"Diskin wanted to keep the criteria as they are because when they [the Palestinian prisoners] get out of jail, he'll have to deal with them," a government source said. "On the other side, Dekel is interested in reaching a deal and believes criteria should be eased."
During the meeting, Dekel's stance was apparently backed by IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, the source said. An attempt by Vice Premier Haim Ramon to broker a compromise between the two camps failed and the meeting was adjourned without reaching an agreement.
In addition to Diskin, Dekel, Ashkenazi and Ramon, participants at the meeting included Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Cabinet Minister Ami Ayalon, Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann and Public Security Minister Avi Dichter. Another meeting is scheduled to take place over the next few days.
The Shin Bet said it "regretted that some camps with vested interests wanted to cause bad blood between the sides. The Shin Bet's stance will be presented at a closed forum and not to the media."
Here's what I believe is going on. We have more than enough proof that when terrorists 'without blood on their hands' under the current criteria are released from prison, they return to terrorism with deadly results. Loosening the criteria is only likely to make matters worse. Diskin recognizes that and knows that capturing terrorists is not an easy task. And Diskin's job is to represent and protect the country's civilians.
Ashkenazi, on the other hand, is likely under a lot of pressure from the Shalit family (especially, since they know Gilad Shalit is alive and who is holding him) and from the Goldwasser and Regev families. The IDF has an ethos of not leaving soldiers behind in enemy territory. We may have the only army in the world that - some would argue foolhardily - risks soldiers' lives to retrieve other soldiers dead bodies. Dekel is telling Ashkenazi that there is no way to strike a deal for Shalit without releasing terrorists, and because of that Ashkenazi is trying to find a way to please everyone. The government is weak and is not willing to tell the Shalit family to stand down, especially because it went to war in both Gaza and Lebanon with the ostensible goal of bringing Shalit, Goldwasser and Regev back in the first place. Over 100 soldiers lost their lives as a result. And while the IDF's job is to protect the country, part of Ashkenazi's job is to look out for his soldiers' interests.
Obviously, I believe that Diskin is right - you don't place hundreds more people at risk to get back one or two or three soldiers (two of whom are likely dead). But the government is willing to do just about anything to strike a deal.
And has anyone questioned why Olmert gave away all of our terrorists who didn't have 'blood on their hands' as 'goodwill gestures' without getting anything for them - which is how we got to this position in the first place?
The 1,166 Palestinians who left Nuweiba Sunday boarded 29 buses headed for El-Arish, some 250 kilometers (155 miles) north of the Sinai port city and less than 25 kilometers (15 miles) west of Rafah, the security official said.
A total of 3,060 Palestinians have arrived in Nuweiba on two ferries, and authorities plan to send a second batch of buses to transport those who remain, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
Hamas representatives had indicated Saturday that some 1,900 pilgrims were stuck in Nuweiba, but this figure apparently only included those on the first ferry.
Egypt's attempts to force the pilgrims to use the Keren Shalom crossing, reportedly under Israeli pressure, have outraged Hamas supporters in Gaza, who staged large-scale protests on Saturday.
Al-Jazeera television aired interviews with the pilgrims before they left Jordan in which they showed a paper Egypt allegedly asked them to sign saying they would to return to Gaza through Keren Shalom.
The leader of Egypt's largest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, called on the Egyptian authorities Sunday "to exercise their historical duty" to the Palestinians and let them return to Gaza using the Rafah crossing.
Egypt has set up 11 temporary camps in El-Arish to house the pilgrims until authorities come up with a solution to the current crisis, security officials said.
This 'arrangement' for dealing with the returning 'Palestinians' was apparently agreed between Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak during their meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh last week.
The number of passengers proved greater than estimated when they disembarked at Nuweiba, on the Sinai shore of the Gulf of Aqaba Sunday, 30 Dec. After being herded together they were bussed to a detention center in the northern Sinai town of El Arish.
The Hamas group, carrying app. $150 million collected during the Mecca hajj, had held the two Aqaba-Nuweiba ferries hostage under threaten to scuttle them. They rejected Egypt’s demand to first sign undertakings to enter Gaza through one of the crossings controlled by Israel and submit to searches.
A 62-year old Palestinian female passenger, Shafiqa Bahisi, died under the strain. Saturday, as Egypt stood firm, Hamas gathered tens of thousands of supporters from around the Gaza Strip to ram the Rafah gateway to Egyptian Sinai, while Cairo beefed up its security units at the terminal.
The official said that the bags could not be confused with bona fide EU aid for a number of reasons, including that the EU does not export sugar as part of aid to the Palestinians, and that food assistance to the PA - funneled through UNRWA or the World Food program - clearly carries the 12-star symbol of the EU and the name of the European Commission on the bags.
"If this was an attempt to misuse the name of the EU or European Commission it would be an isolated criminal act and we condemn it," the official said. "But this criminal act cannot put into question the efforts by the EU to provide aid that is vital for the most vulnerable Palestinians. We condemn any abuse of any humanitarian aid for non humanitarian purposes, and those who commit such acts do so to the detriment of the Palestinians."
I'd like to believe the Europeans, but frankly they have a dismal record of seeking to supply the 'Palestinians' with whatever the 'Palestinians' want and of failing to comply with Israeli instructions. If the 'most vulnerable Palestinians' are more interested in obtaining explosive material than food, maybe that ought to cause the Europeans to reconsider how, when and why they provide them with 'humanitarian aid.'
There is no doubt in my mind that the Europeans will continue to function as they have in the past, with total disregard for the lives and safety of Israelis, and that because of our own government's unwillingness to confront them, we Israelis will continue to suffer the consequences.
May the European Union rot in the Islamist hell they are creating for themselves.
If I believed in anyone other than God, I would have to say that the 'Boston sports gods' really love me. When the Sox won the World Series back in October, I got to blog a piece that proved that the Red Sox are the Israelis of baseball. Just two months later (to the day), I get to show you all (via Steve Leibowitz) why the 16-0 New England Patriots are Israel's football team (and why you should root for them to win the Super Bowl, of course!).
Even after making aliya in 1974, I remained a loyal Giants fan. There was no cable TV then, and for many years I would have friends sent over video tapes of Giants games and send them to Israel, so that I could see the game. Thanks to the generosity of close friend and Big Blue Travel owner Barry Liben, I was flown to New York about once year, for a 25 year period, to see at least one Giants game every season. Some of the games were "road games" where Big Blue arranged for tickets for hundreds of NY fans who painted their faces blue and rooted on the team even when the Giants were on the road. Its safe to say that I was the only Israeli immigrant to enjoy such a perk. My bond to the Giants remained intact, even though I live in Jerusalem.
In recent years, the New England Patriots have also come into my life. Thanks to the unending generosity of Patriots owner Robert Kraft and his wife Myra, American Football has turned into one of the fastest growing sports in the country. [I want to stop there and add something. Whenever the Krafts come to Israel, they sponsor a get-together for all the Bostonians who are here on youth programs. That's what the kids tell me. I envy them. No one did that for us when I was in yeshiva here. CiJ] Kraft Family Stadium in Jerusalem is home to over 1,000 football players in four leagues.
Youth programs are now operating all over the country and even a new tackle football league has gotten off the ground.
Kraft Family Stadium was constructed in 1999. The Krafts gave another donation in 2005 to re-dedicate the facility with state of the art Fieldturf. Robert Kraft spoke at the re-dedication in Hebrew, and told the audience that "before building the field in Jerusalem, the Patriots had never won a Super Bowl. Since building the field we have three championships."
He then looked toward the heavens and said, "This could not have been by chance."
Later in the speech Kraft spoke of his father, and how he would be proud of the football accomplishment, but would be most proud that the Kraft family owns Carmel Containers in Caesaria, employing some 600 Israeli workers.
This past Israeli Independence Day, the Krafts and the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston brought the Israeli men and women's teams flag football teams to the Patriots home at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Before winning our respective games against US teams, our players toured the facility, visiting the players' locker rooms and the Patriots' trophy room, which houses the three Lombardi trophies for Super Bowl championships.
The players were somewhat overwhelmed. The Foxborough experience gave us a memorable attachment to the Patriots.
So herein lies the dilemma. What of previous loyalties?
They earned the right to be this country's team. A few years ago Kraft brought the Lombardi Trophy to Israel and held it up to a large crowd, the Israeli football community that was present at Kraft Family Stadium. That was the first time the coveted trophy had ever left North America. A year later, the Krafts thrilled the local footballers by bringing Superbowl MVP quarterback Tom Brady to the country.
The Kraft family is deeply invested developing football in Israel. Thanks to their friendship and commitment, there are thousands of Patriot fans in Israel. The Patriots have earned the right to be known as Israel's team in the NFL.
I was a Patriots season ticket holder in high school. I gave the ticket (yes, I had one ticket) up when I went off to New York for college. At the time, the Patriots had stingy ownership that was so cheap that they once told the players not to pull down the sheets on their beds so they wouldn't be charged for hotel rooms. They were playing a late afternoon game for the AFL championship and they arrived the morning of the game. They lost.
That all changed when Bob Kraft took over the team. Kraft has the same sense of responsibility to Patriots fans that he has to the State of Israel and to the Jewish community both here and in my home town of Boston. He has a true sense of community and of giving back to his fan base. There isn't a better owner in professional sports. He deserves all the success he has. And more.
Go Pats! New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft gestures to fans before the Patriots' NFL football game against the New York Giants at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., on Saturday, Dec. 29, 2007. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
The weekly Carnival of the Insanities is up with a special New Year's edition. For all the zaniest things going on during the long New Year's weekend (for most of the world anyway - today's a work day here in Israel) make sure to go to Dr. Sanity and check it out.
Haveil Havalim # 147 is up and I guess that means that Soccer Dad's little one slept through the night last night (lucky for Soccer Dad and Soccer Mom). For the best in the Jewish blogosphere this week check it out here.
Osama Bin Laden released a new tape yesterday, and although most of it was directed at al-Qaeda's forces in Iraq, some of it threatened Israel:
Bin Laden's comments offered an unusually direct attack on Israel, stepping up al-Qaida's attempts to use the Israeli-Arab conflict to rally supporters. Israel has warned of growing al-Qaida activity in Palestinian territory, though terror network is not believed to have taken a strong role there so far.
"We intend to liberate Palestine, the whole of Palestine from the (Jordan) river to the sea," he said, threatening "blood for blood, destruction for destruction."
"We will not recognize even one inch for Jews in the land of Palestine as other Muslim leaders have," bin Laden said.
But give the 'Palestinians' a statereichlet in Judea and Samaria and Gaza and all the world's problems will be solved.
New England Patriots wide receiver Randy Moss (81) catches a 65-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tom Brady during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the New York Giants at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., on Saturday, Dec. 29, 2007. Brady broke the single-season record with his 50th touchdown pass and Moss broke the single season-record with his 23rd touchdown reception on the play. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens).
Fatah members participated in Friday's terror attack
I'm sure you'll all be shocked - just shocked - to hear that the 'good' terrorists from Fatah participated in Friday's terror murder of Ahikam Amihai and Yehuda Rubin HY"D.
Some of the gunmen who participated in Friday's shooting attack near Hebron belong to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction, Fatah activists in the West Bank confirmed over the weekend.
They said the attack was carried out jointly by Fatah and Islamic Jihad members.
The involvement of Fatah members in the attack is seen as a serious embarrassment for Abbas and the PA, whose representatives were quick to denounce the perpetrators, pledging to crack down on all armed groups in the West Bank.
The attack shows that several armed Fatah groups continue to operate in the West Bank despite statements by top PA officials to the effect that most of these groups had been dismantled.
So much for suit-and-tie clad Prime Minister Salam Fayad 'apologizing' for Friday's attack.
The JPost's Khaled Abu Toameh lists the excuses presented by the 'Palestinian Authority.' But the bottom line is that you can't fight terror with words, and the 'Palestinian Authority' - going back to the days of Yasser Arafat - is not willing to risk a civil war among the 'Palestinians' to fight terror.
Although many members of Fatah's armed wing, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, have in recent months handed over their weapons to the PA security forces in return for jobs and salaries, dozens of Fatah gunmen are still refusing to follow suit.
Hoping to get better jobs and salaries, these gunmen have set up small militias in various parts of the West Bank.
Others have refused to surrender their weapons for ideological reasons, preferring to join forces with Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
One of these Fatah militias is called Fursan al-Layil (Horsemen of the Night), which is active in the old city of Nablus. Other Fatah gunmen are operating under the auspices of other militias called the Yasser Arafat Groups and the Martyr Ayman Judeh Groups, which took credit for Friday's attack.
On Saturday, the IDF arrested a number of Fatah activists belonging to the Yasser Arafat Groups in Hebron on suspicion of involvement in the killing of the two IDF soldiers on Friday.
Among those arrested was the leader of the group in Hebron, Ahmed Abu Sittah, also known as Abu Suleiman.
One of the gunmen killed in the attack, Basel al-Natsheh, was also known in Hebron as a Fatah activist, although his father, Nabil, is a Hamas member who is serving time in an Israeli prison.
Six other members of the al-Natsheh clan, brothers Naim, Firas and Hazem and brothers Nu'man, Abdullah and Shadi, were also arrested by the IDF. They, too, are said to be members of the Yasser Arafat Groups in Hebron.
Oh and for those who thought the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades no longer exist...
Shortly after PA Interior Minister Abdel Razzak al-Yahya announced Saturday that the Aksa Martyrs Brigades had ceased to exist, the group responded by distributing thousands of leaflets throughout the West Bank scoffing at the claim and vowing to continue the armed struggle against Israel.
Fayad claims PA arrested suspects in Friday's terror attack
Suit-and-tie clad 'Palestinian' Prime Minister Salam Fayad claimed this evening that the 'Palestinian police' have arrested an unspecified number of suspects in Friday's terror murder of off-duty IDF soldiers Ahikam Amihai and Yehuda Rubin HY"D (pictued, top left).
Fayad expressed condolences for the victims of the terror attack, Pvt. Ahikam Amihai, 20, and Sgt. David Rubin, 21, and said the PA had handed over to Israeli authorities the dead men's weapons, which their Palestinian attackers took.
"We have suspects in custody already," he said, sharing a podium with President Shimon Peres at an economic conference in Herzliya on Saturday night. "We are cooperating and coordinating with the Israeli security services, weapons have already been returned to Israeli security in connection with this particular incident," said Fayad, but did not offer specific details about the suspects held. The IDF was unable to confirm either part of his statement as of Saturday night.
I don't believe it and neither does the IDF. On Friday night, the IDF raided a Hebron hospital, arresting two wounded suspects:
Palestinians said that overnight Friday, hours after the attack, IDF troops raided a local Hebron hospital and detained two Palestinians believed to have been wounded by Amihai and Rubin during the attack. An additional five Hebron residents were also detained under suspicion of involvement.
The 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals said Friday that the judge in the case had failed to require the parents of 17-year-old David Boim to properly show a link between the boy's death and the fundraising activities of the charities.
Because of that error, it sent the case back for a possible new trial.
On remand, the Boims will have to demonstrate an adequate causal link between the death of David Boim and the actions of HLF, Salah, and AMS. This will require evidence that the conduct of each defendant, be it direct involvement with or support of Hamas’s terrorist activities or indirect support of Hamas or its affiliates, helped bring about the terrorist attack that ended David Boim’s life. A defendant’s conduct need not have been the sole or predominant cause of the attack; on the contrary, consistent with the intent of Congress that liability for terrorism extend the full length of the causal chain, even conduct that indirectly facilitated Hamas’s terrorist activities might render a defendant liable for the death of David Boim. But the plaintiffs must be able to produce some evidence permitting a jury to find that the activities of HLF, Salah, and AMS contributed to the fatal attack on David Boim and were therefore a cause in fact of his death. Absent such proof, those appellants will be entitled to judgment in their favor.
Back to the article:
Nathan Lewin, an attorney for the parents, Stanley and Joyce Boim, said an appeal to the US Supreme Court, the top court in the country, is possible.
"This court of appeals decision is wrong, very wrong," Lewin said. "It amounts to encouragement of financial contributions to terrorist organizations."
All the defendants denied financing terrorism.
In the 2004 trial, a federal court jury had set damages at $52 million. A US magistrate tripled the amount in accord with US anti-terrorism law. It was the first in which jurors awarded damages from US-based charities accused of bankrolling Hamas, Boim attorney Nathan Lewin said at the time.
The couple, who had moved to Jerusalem in 1985, filed the suit under a federal law permitting American victims of terrorism overseas to seek damages against organizations that raise funds for terrorists in the US.
The alleged Hamas fundraiser cited in the suit, Salah, was convicted of obstruction of justice for lying under oath on a questionnaire stemming from the Boims' lawsuit. The jury, however, acquitted Salah of taking part in a racketeering conspiracy aimed at bankrolling Hamas. He was sentenced in July to 21 months in federal prison.
Back in October 2006, the New York Times reported that contributions to Muslim charities had fallen drastically due to law enforcement efforts. In October 2007, the Holy Land Foundation criminal trial in Dallas ended in a mistrial amid accusations of jurors being threatened to vote against conviction, and that mistrial combined with this decision can only help the terrorists' fundraising efforts. At Counterterrorism, Andrew Cochran believes that the 7th circuit has set an impossibly high standard of proof:
FBI Agent Lara Burns’ testimony continued Wednesday morning, as prosecutors introduced bank records to expose close financial ties between the Holy Land Foundation (HLF) and HAMAS leader Musa Abu Marzook, (in the news today for denouncing a planned September peace conference between Israelis and Palestinians) as well as the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP) , United Association for Studies and Research (UASR), and Infocom - all U.S.- based who acted on behalf of HAMAS.
Payments by Marzook to HLF started in 1988 and ended in 1992, a year when Marzook transferred two $100,000 payments to HLF within ten days. Agent Burns testified before the jury that during this time, Marzook was not employed.
Lead prosecutor Jim Jacks introduced evidence showing that Marzook also transferred over a one million dollars to UASR, IAP and Infocom, as well as tens of thousands to the defendants Mohammad El Mezain, Shukri Abu Baker, Ghassan Elashi during this same period.
HLF itself also paid almost $250,000 to IAP between 1989 and 2001, and over $400,000 to Infocom between 1990 and 2001...
Bank records also showed that in a two month period in 1988, HLF transferred over $250,000 to the bank account of Khairy Al Ahga, a Hamas financier in Saudi Arabia.
Those transfers and others were insufficient, according to the Seventh Circuit. Instead, a more direct causal link between the defendants and the murders must be shown, which, in my opinion, is neither possible to establish by a preponderance of the evidence, nor the intent of the Congress. Applying this standard would make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for terrorism victims to receive compensation from those whose funds made a particular attack possible.
Let's hope that the Supreme Court accepts this case and reverses the Court of Appeals. Otherwise, the terrorists at Hamas and other Islamic organizations are going to have a much easier time raising money.
The JNF has turned down the application of a 34-year old Orthodox Jewish woman who had applied to serve as an assistant to JNF spokeswoman Sarit Haddad because the woman is an observant Jew who would not work on the Sabbath.
The applicant, known in the case as "Liron" (a pseudonym), was sent by an agency to interview for a job as an assistant to spokeswoman Orit Hadad, but was turned down flat because she would not work on Saturday. "She immediately told me that she was sorry but could not hire me," said the Orthodox Jewess in an interview with Yediot Achronot.
The JNF spokeswoman explained that she had asked the manpower agency from the beginning to send her someone who could work on Shabbat (the Sabbath).
"The JNF spokesperson's office is extremely busy, especially on Saturdays, because we often organize weekend nature trips," she said. "I have another assistant who works only during the week and so I especially need help on the weekends."
The 34-year-old "Liron" said she could not believe "this happened in a government institution that strives to represent the Jewish people."
The JNF spokeswoman, however, seemed unconcerned. "I really don't see what the fuss is about," she commented.
And for those of you wondering how this could happen in the State of Israel, don't. There actually is a legal framework for employing people on the Sabbath in positions where it's 'necessary.' But the JNF isn't part of that framework:
The law does not support Hadad's action – nor does it support the agency's practice of employing Jews to work on Shabbat.
The "Work Hours and Rest Law" requires a special permit for employers to hire Jews to work on Shabbat. The JNF never applied for, nor did it ever receive a permit, according to Yediot Achronot, which reported that "such a permit was never issued for any spokesperson or assistant spokesperson in any Israeli government institution."
DEBKA has some more details about what's aboard those ferries that are sitting off the coast of Nuweiba in the Sinai (and to think I once slept on that beach!). Apparently not all of the passengers are 'Palestinians' returning from Mecca. And there's lots and lots of cash:
According to DEBKAfile’s military sources, Hamas leaders have been trying to smuggle suitcases packed with the equivalent of $150 m in Jordanian and Egyptian currency into Gaza since the end of the Mecca pilgrimage last Friday.
To disembark, Egypt demanded that each sign a pledge to enter Gaza through the Nitzana or Kerem Shalom crossings. These border posts are under joint Egyptian-Israeli control. Israeli customs is authorized to search incoming travelers and impound smuggled and terror-related items. Our intelligence sources report that several Hamas operatives aboard The Princess are high on Israel’s wanted terrorist list.
This is the first time since the war on Islamist terror began that a jihadist group took two public passenger ferries hostage.
Egyptian naval and commando forces massed at Nuweiba, rushed there from Sharm el-Sheikh further down the Sinai coast, where president Hosni Mubarak will be hosting French president Nicolas Sarkozy. Grimly determined not to let the hundreds of Hamas operatives transit Sinai with their war funds, Egyptian forces set up a large tent camp to take them into custody if they tried to disembark
Of the $150 m in Hamas suitcases, around $50 m was donated by Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his secret rendezvous with Hamas leaders during the hajj on Wed. Dec. 19; the rest was collected by Hamas’ parent, the Muslim Brotherhood and handed over under cover of the pilgrimage. Our sources disclose that Brotherhood branches worldwide launched a secret fundraising drive on behalf of Hamas last September under the slogan: “Contribute to save Hamas rule in Gaza.”
If delivered, the money is enough to keep Hamas’ military operations going for another three to four months, including missile and other attacks.
Saudi authorities permitted the cash to be brought into the kingdom and handed to Hamas leaders. Egypt allowed Hamas leaders to leave the Gaza Strip for the hajj.
Cairo’s new resolve is the outcome of Mubarak’s talks with visiting Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak last week and their decision to join forces to combat the war activities mounted from Gaza by Hamas and its allies.
DEBKAfile’s sources reveal that the Gulf of Aqaba standoff began on the night of Wednesday, Dec. 26, when the Hamas delegation to Mecca arrived in Aqaba to catch the ferry to Nuweiba. Egyptian authorities warned Jordan that they would not be allowed to disembark. After giving the group 48 hours to cut a deal with Cairo, Jordan finally decided to get rid of this disruptive element. They boarded the ferry without a deal.
A special kind of 'aid' from the EU: Potassium nitrate
I can't wait to hear how this happened. The IDF announced today that packages of 'sugar' provided by the EU for the 'Palestinians' in Judea and Samaria contained potassium nitrate. Potassium nitrate is used in making explosives and is a 'banned substance' in Judea, Samaria and Gaza.
The IDF and Shin Bet uncovered 6.5 tons of potassium nitrate hidden in sacks that were disguised as aid from the European Union, the army announced on Saturday.
Security forces discovered the stash in the cargo of a Palestinian truck at a West Bank checkpoint earlier in December. According to the IDF, the material, hidden in sugar sacks, was planned to be used by terrorists in the Gaza Strip.
"Potassium Nitrate is a banned substance in the Gaza Strip and the Judea and Samaria region due to its use by terrorists for the manufacturing of explosives and Kassam rockets," the IDF spokesperson wrote in a statement.
"This is another example of how the terror organizations exploit the humanitarian aid that is delivered to the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip with Israel's approval," the statement read.
Was the EU in on this? Or did the 'Palestinians' somehow do it themselves?
'Our friends the Egyptians may finally be starting to understand that they cannot support terror with one hand and collect American aid with the other.
After letting senior Hamas terror operatives travel to Iran and Lebanon for training while allowing Muslim pilgrims to leave the Gaza Strip for the hajj in Mecca, the Egyptians are now holding the returning 'Palestinians' on ferries in the Red Sea outside the Sinai port of Nuweiba, trying to force them to agree to return to Gaza via the Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom crossing. It goes without saying that if they return via Kerem Shalom the terrorists will be arrested, and because of that the 'Palestinians' want to return via Rafah.
Hamas said there were a total of 1,900 pilgrims who had been waiting since Friday in the Red Sea.
The Palestinians were refusing to accept food or medicines until they received permission to use Rafah and some even threatened to set the ferries on fire. [That would be a neat trick. Set the ferries on fire with themselves on them? Let them do it. CiJ]
Israel filed a complaint with Cairo after Egypt allowed the Palestinians to pass through Rafah on their way to Mecca and after Defense Minister Ehud Barak's recent visit to Egypt, Israeli officials said the Egyptians agreed to have the pilgrims use Kerem Shalom Crossing on there way back to Gaza.
IDF intelligence estimates released on December 5 indicated that up to a couple of dozen Hamas terrorists were among the so-called pilgrims Egypt allowed out of the Gaza Strip. In recent years, hundreds of Hamas terrorists have traveled abroad to Iran and Lebanon for military training, and officials said it was possible that these terrorists would do the same.
The IDF also fears that if the pilgrims are allowed to return to Gaza through Rafah they might smuggle millions of dollars to Hamas. [Why would anyone think they would do that? CiJ]
Senior Palestinian officials dismissed Israel's concerns, saying the Egyptians could search the pilgrims for smuggled cash.
"Israelis raise trivial issues and complicate things to cover up criticism over continued construction of settlements," said Mohammed Sobeih, the Arab League's undersecretary general.
The standoff angered Hamas, who said Egypt has a responsibility to bring the pilgrims back to Gaza as quickly as possible.
Some 5,000 people waving Palestinian and Hamas flags gathered on the Gaza side of the border with Egypt on Saturday and demanded the pilgrims be allowed to enter.
"We won't accept any excuse for preventing the pilgrims from returning," read a banner carried by one of the protesters.
Egyptian riot police arrived and mounted a machine gun on a building overlooking the corridor separating Egypt from Gaza. Hamas security positioned themselves between the protesters and the border gate.
In Gaza late Friday, angry Hamas loyalists fired their guns in the air and lobbed sound bombs in protest of Egypt's actions. The rioting was quickly quelled by Hamas security.
Hamas government spokesman Taher Nunu said Saturday that 1,900 pilgrims are caught in limbo at sea and urged Egypt "to urgently end their plight."
"We in the government and the people refuse to use (the Israeli) crossing. The pilgrims have the right to return the same way they exited," he said.
Hamas lawmaker Yehia Moussa said Egypt has a moral obligation to bring the pilgrims back home.
"We demand an immediate end to the situation before we get to popular reactions with undesired consequences," he said.
Moussa said it was not a threat, but "the public has the right to protest and revolt against the closure."
I'd love to see the Egyptians actually open fire. Don't hold your breath waiting for it to happen.
Friday afternoon there was a report that two people had been shot "south of Mount Hebron." Tonight, it turns out that two off-duty IDF soldiers from the Jewish town of Kiryat Arba were shot and murdered by 'Palestinian' terrorists while hiking just outside of town. A woman who was with them - also from Kiryat Arba - escaped unharmed. The two soldiers, both members of elite IDF units, managed to kill one of the terrorists before succumbing to their wounds. 'Moderate' Fatah's 'armed wing' - the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades - has taken responsibility for the attack, as has Islamic Jihad, which claims that the other three members of the terrorist cell have gone into hiding. The two soldiers were Private Ahikam Amihai (20) and Sergeant David Rubin (21) HY"D.
I missed the occasion but it turns out that I broke the 5000 post mark with my first post this morning. This one is number 5005. The second anniversary of my blog is next Friday. You can all do the math.
Overnight, the IDF shot and killed one of Ahmad QureiAbu Ala's bodyguards. Abu Ala (pictured, top left), a former 'Palestinian' Prime Minister and now their chief negotiator, is scheduled to meet with US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice next week. Israel Radio has been reporting all day that no one knows yet whether that meeting will be affected. The bodyguard was shot when he pulled a gun on the soldiers when they were trying to arrest him. It seems that the bodyguard, one Muatassem a-Shariff, was a weapons dealer and supplied weapons to Fatah's 'militant youth' division - the Tanzim.
When this story first broke this morning, Israel Radio was saying that there was a real danger because a-Shariff accompanied Abu Ala to Olmert's residence and other sensitive locations wearing his bodyguard hat. Subsequently, they backed off, saying that a-Shariff had been barred from entering Israel and did not attend any meetings between Abu Ala and Israeli politicians.
On Thursday, Qurei, known also as Abu Ala, head of the Palestinian negotiation team, participated in talks held in Jerusalem in which Prime Minister Olmert and PA President Mahmoud Abbas met for their first meeting since last month's Annapolis conference.
Palestinian sources reported that IDF troops operating south of Ramallah in the town of Bituniya shot and killed Muatassem a-Shariff, a Fatah operative and a Presidential Guard member. Eye witnesses said a-Shariff was shot while after opening fire while trying to escape IDF troops who came to his house in order to arrest him.
The military said this was not the first instance that officials in the Palestinian Authority security forces were involved in terrorist activity.
According to the IDF, Shariff was involved in weapons smuggling, including selling weapons to Fatah's Tanzim, whose leader Marwan Barghouti is jailed in Israel.
A Palestinian official strongly condemned the killing, saying Israel "proved once again that it does not want stability in the West Bank."
Bituniya is about a five-minute drive from my house. The real question here is why Israel isn't vetting Fatah's 'security personnel' if Fatah won't do so themselves. Obviously, the IDF (and presumably the General Security Service and the border police) knew about this guy. Was the issue raised with Abu Mazen and Abu Ala? If not, why not and what will it take to get similar issues raised and dealt with in the future?
"I saw her as someone who could have served as a bridgehead to relations with that part of the Muslim world with whom our ties are naturally limited," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told The Jerusalem Post.
He said the assassination was a "great tragedy," and that he received the news "with deep sadness."
Upon her return to Pakistan two months ago, Bhutto had stopped in London and, through a mutual acquaintance, relayed a message that she would "in the future like to strengthen the ties between Israel and Pakistan," Olmert said.
President Shimon Peres said he was shocked by Bhutto's killing.
"Benazir Bhutto was a brave woman, who did not hide her opinions, did not know fear and served her people with courage and rare capability," he said in statement.
"I had the chance to meet her on several occasions, in which she expressed interest in Israel and said that she hoped to visit upon returning to power," Peres said. "Benazir was a charismatic leader and a fighter for peace in her country and across the world."
Ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman recalled a meeting he had with Bhutto just prior to her return to Pakistan. "My wife and I had an intimate dinner with her and her husband," he said. "We spent over three hours with them. She was an incredibly impressive person, one of the most impressive in terms of her intellect, charm and charisma that I've ever met."
Gillerman said Bhutto was interested in normalizing relations with Israel. "She was interested in me relaying that information to Washington and the US, which I did," he said. "We were in touch since that meeting by e-mail several times and she expressed concern about her personal safety."
Gillerman said Bhutto had spoken about her fears of Pakistan falling into the hands of Islamic extremists. "She shared with us her plans to return Pakistan to democracy," he said. "She was very well aware of the problems facing her; she knew she was endangering her life by returning. I think she met with us to share with Israel, and through Israel, both her plans, fears and dreams."
I don't doubt that Bhutto may have been interested in strengthening ties with Israel, but I find it hard to believe that the Islamic radicals in Pakistan would ever have permitted her to do so. Now, we won't find out.
Debbie Schlussel has a completely different take on Bhutto from Bhutto's niece, Fatima Bhutto, who claims that Benazir had her father - Benazir's younger brother - killed.
This is the Middle East. Politicians get murdered for their political views here.
When I was a junior in college, there was a student on my floor who was the son of one of a general who served one of Pakistan's Prime Ministers (I don't recall whether it was Bhutto's father or Zia al-Haq - al-Haq came to power around that time). One night the dorm counselor (who was Asian-American) opened this general's son's door and discovered that the kid had Nazi paraphernalia all over his wall. Since it was Columbia, he stayed and graduated.
Pakistan is a rough place. All those madrassas don't help.
I have askedtwice whether Israeli Prime Minister Ehud K. Olmert agreed to a construction freeze in Jerusalem (or at least in the parts of Jerusalem that were not within Israel's borders between 1949-67). This morning, the truth comes out. OlmertCondi Rice's lap dog has agreed to a freeze.
As a result of the United States government's demands upon the government of Israel, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has ordered a halt to all construction in Judea, Samaria and parts of Jerusalem. So reports Army Radio (Galei Tzahal).
At issue are several projects, including a new tender for 307 housing units in Har Homa, in Jerusalem's southeast corner, as well as a new project in northern Jerusalem near the old Atarot airport. Both are located on land liberated during the Six Day War, over 41 years ago.
Olmert's office responded to the Army Radio report by saying that no decision had been made regarding a construction freeze and that Israel is obligated to act in accordance with the Road Map. The Road Map stipulates, in addition to a halt to Israeli settlement activity, the PA must "declare an unequivocal end to violence and terrorism and undertake visible efforts on the ground to arrest, disrupt, and restrain individuals and groups conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere." The claim that the PA must stop terrorism has been used by Israeli negotiators in the past.
Now, however, even though terrorism has continued nearly unabated - including not only by Hamas and Islamic Jihad but also by Abbas-led Fatah - Israel has now agreed to stop all Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria, as well as in many of the outlying neighborhoods of its capital city.
The Army Radio report noted that Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni had tried to explain at last month's Annapolis conference that Har Homa should not be included in the construction ban, as it is an integral part of Jerusalem. However, the Americans and the PA did not accept this stance, and Olmert therefore decided to fall in line with the Bush Administration.
But the Federal Military-Technical Cooperation Service denied the claim in a brief statement.
"The question of deliveries of S-300 systems to Iran, which has now arisen in the mass media, is not currently taking place, is not being considered and is not being discussed at this time with the Iranian side," said the agency, known by its Russian initials, FSVTS.
They also condemned Benazir Bhutto's assassination, which is kind of hypocritical given that Iran was vehemently opposed to what the Post describes as Bhutto's interest in thawing Pakistan's relations with Israel.
Israel Radio reported that Russia really was going to sell S-300's to Iran, but once the Iranian Defense Minister spilled the beans, they were forced to back off by the US and the Europeans. That sounds plausible to me.
Ma'an: Israel to release 200 terrorists for Shalit
The 'Palestinian' news agency Ma'an is reporting that Israel has agreed to release 200 terrorists in exchange for kidnapped IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit. The terrorists included are behind some of the most heinous terror attacks committed in Israel, and if this report is correct and Israel goes through with the 'exchange' the result will - God forbid - be a massive increase in terror attacks.
According to Ma'an one hundred terrorists will be released when Shalit is handed over to the Egyptians and one hundred more when Shalit is released to Israel - a two-stage set up we have heard before.
Reuters and the London-based Arabic daily Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper meanwhile reported that European diplomats have spoken with a Hamas official who is in charge of Shalit's case, who said, "Israel reached consent that Shalit's file can not be addressed militarily."
The same official also told Ma'an's source, "Israel eventually complied with most Hamas' demands despite the fact that they knew the prisoners' swap would strengthen Hamas."
Amongst the prisoners nominated to be freed is Abdullah Al-Barghouthi, who was responsible for designing the explosive devices which were detonated in Israeli café's in Jerusalem years ago killing 66 Israelis. [I believe this refers to a number of terror attacks together, but likely includes Cafe Hillel where Dr. David and Nava Appelbaum HY"D were murdered in September 2003, as well as Cafe Moment, across from the Prime Minister's residence, where a suicide bomber blew himself up on a Saturday night in March 2002 murdering eleven Israelis. CiJ]
The deal also includes Hasan Salamah who sent Palestinian combatants to blow themselves up in two Israeli buses in Jerusalem killing 46 Israelis. [This likely refers to the two number 18 buses blown up on consecutive Sunday mornings in 1996 in Jerusalem, murdering forty-five Israelis. Those cost Shimon Peres the 1996 election against Binyamin Netanyahu. CiJ]
Nael Barghouthi, who sent the Palestinians who blew themselves up in a hotel in Natanya in 2002 killing 20 Israelis is also nominee for being released in the deal [The Seder night massacre. CiJ].
The swap also includes Fatah's strongman Marwan Barghouthi, the founder of Al-Aqsa Brigades who is serving 5 life sentences, and Ahmad Saadat, the Secretary General of the PFLP, whom Israel accuses of being behind the killing of late Israeli tourist minister Rahvam Zeivi.
The deal also includes Muhammad Sharaka who was in charge of the Hamas group that abducted and killed two Israeli soldiers in 1989.
The names of those prisoners believed to be included in the prisoner exchange were published in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth last Sunday [If so, only in the Hebrew version as far as I know. CiJ].
In addition to these senior terrorists resuming their activities and God forbid murdering more Israelis, getting them in exchange for Shalit will only encourage the 'Palestinians' to kidnap more soldiers and even civilians. This is just plain stupid.
On Hamas' sick Jihadi television program, child 'star' Saraa Barhoum (the host of Tomorrow's Pioneers) sings to celebrate Hamas' 'victory' in Gaza. This show was broadcast on December 20, last Thursday.
I am an Orthodox Jew - some would even call me 'ultra-Orthodox.' Born in Boston, I was a corporate and securities attorney in New York City for seven years before making aliya to Israel in 1991 (I don't look it but I really am that old :-). I have been happily married to the same woman for thirty-one years, and we have eight children (bli ayin hara) ranging in age from 8 to 29 years and five grandchildren. Our eldest daughter and eldest son are married! Before I started blogging I was a heavy contributor on a number of email lists and ran an email list called the Matzav from 2000-2004. You can contact me at: IsraelMatzav at gmail dot com