After Gaza War, Palestinian Unity Gets a Big Boost

Hamas Pardons All Political Prisoners From Fatah

With the war over and the ceasefire in the Gaza Strip holding, Palestinian unity talks seem to be getting a big shot in the arm. Negotiations with Hamas, long stalled because of Israeli objections, seem more practical for Fatah, while Hamas is looking at major confidence-building measures.

The biggest of these came today, with Hamas announcing a blanket pardon for all Fatah detainees captured as political prisoners since the two sides violently split in 2006. The Gaza Interior Ministry says 22 detainees will be released because of the move.

The two sides split after Hamas won a landslide victory in the 2006 elections, and at the behest of Israel and the Bush Administration Fatah chose to ignore the elections and keep its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, in power. Eventually the split turned violent and left Hamas in control of Gaza with Fatah in the West Bank.

Israeli officials have long cited the split as a deal-breaker for negotiating a permanent peace deal and Palestinian statehood, but at the same time condemned the idea of Palestinian unity and insisting they could never negotiate if Hamas was part of the equation.

With the negotiated ceasefire in place, Israel is going to struggle to insist Hamas can’t be negotiated with, and the faction’s control of the strip, having survived another Israeli war, is even less in question than ever. Beyond that Fatah’s poor showing in its latest elections, which Hamas wasn’t even allowed to take part in, has put them in a precarious position and forced them to turn to their old rivals to try to reestablish a credible role in Palestinian leadership.

by Jason Ditz

500 Egyptian Activists Enter Gaza With Medical Supplies

Unlike Past Israeli Attacks, Gaza Blockade No Longer Complete

Though the Egyptian government’s change in policy toward Israel’s attack on the Gaza Strip has mostly been rhetorical, the obligation of an elected government to avoid angering its own population too much has made a meaningful change on the ground.

That’s because while Egypt’s government is mostly still just playing the role of facilitator for ceasefire negotiations, civilians are taking a more pro-active role, with some 500 of them marching into Gaza today with medical supplies for the tiny enclave’s overwhelmed hospitals.

This would have been unthinkable during the 2006 Israeli attack on Gaza, or the 2008 Israeli attack on Gaza, when the Mubarak regime was cheerfully cooperating with a total Israeli embargo on supplies.

Gaza’s hospitals have been poorly supplies for years, and were woefully unprepared for the massive number of casualties the war has brought. With Egyptian aid flowing, it is possible that the percentage of wounded civilians who survive will be much greater this time.

by Jason Ditz


Teacher, Children Among Slain as Gaza Toll Rises

The death toll of the Israeli war against the Gaza Strip continues to rise today, with Israeli officials promising a protracted offensive and patting themselves on the back for doing so. And while the war started with the assassination of a Hamas military leader, the more recent deaths suggest the strikes are having a big impact on Gaza’s civilian population.

Israeli violence has left 24 dead and 200 wounded in Gaza. A total of three Israelis have died from rocket-fire coming out of Gaza.

Marwan Abu El Qumsan, a teacher at a UN school, is among the victims, and the UN has had to close its schools because of the growing attacks. Children were also the victims of Israeli attacks, including the 11-month-old son of BBC editor Jihad Misharawi.

The exact split between fighters and civilians in the death toll is unclear, but it seems apparent that civilians are dying at a higher rate, and the massive numbers of wounded in attacks on residential areas seem dramatically skewed toward civilian bystanders.

Egypt’s prime minister, Hesham Kandil, visited Gaza to see the destruction and draw attention to the suffering on the Palestinian side, which is unfortunately underreported.

“No one can remain still and watch this tragedy unfold in this fashion,” Kandil said. “This is impossible. The whole world must intervene, and Israel must abide by the agreements and stop the aggression.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shrugged off complaints about the civilian toll, insisting there was no “moral symmetry” between Israeli air strikes killing civilians and Gaza rocket attacks doing so. Netanyahu added that he saw a photo of a bleeding Israeli baby and this proved there was no comparison. It was unclear if he saw the pictures of Misharawi’s slain infant son.

No End in Sight as Civilians Feel Impact of War

by Jason Ditz

Sudan’s Bashir vows “painful response” to alleged Israel bombing

KHARTOUM (Reuters) – President Omar Hassan al-Bashir promised on Thursday that Sudan would respond robustly to what he believes was an Israeli bombing of a Khartoum arms factory.

Bashir, in a speech from the Sudanese embassy in Saudi Arabia broadcast on Sudan’s Blue Nile TV, also said he was in “perfect health” after undergoing surgery in the Gulf kingdom.

Sudan last month accused Israel of carrying out an air strike on the Yarmouk weapons plant in the south of Khartoum, causing a blast that killed four people.

Israel has not commented. It has long accused Sudan of channeling weapons from Iran to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, a small Palestinian territory it has under blockade.

“Israel will remain the number one enemy, and we will not call them anything except the Zionist enemy,” Bashir said in his speech, shown in footage dated Thursday and his first appearance since undergoing surgery.

Bashir also lamented what he described as Israel’s superior, radar-evading aircraft technology, but ruled out normalizing relations with the Jewish state.

In a brief text message sent to mobile phones, state radio earlier quoted Bashir as saying he was in “perfect health” and that the response to Israel would be “painful”.

Bashir, who came to power in a bloodless 1989 coup, left hospital in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday after undergoing a “small, successful” operation, state media said.

Sudanese blogs and newspapers had begun to speculate about Bashir’s health because he has held fewer public rallies in the past few months. He underwent surgery on his vocal cords in Qatar in August, an official said last month.

In the televised speech, Bashir said his surgery and the related medical examinations had taken only 24 hours.

Over 23 years in power, Bashir has weathered multiple armed rebellions, years of U.S. trade sanctions, an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court, waves of student protests and the secession of oil-producing South Sudan last year.

He is known for his fiery speeches and for dancing and waving his walking stick at public events.

by Alexander Dziadosz

Israeli Cabinet Talks ‘Punishment’ Over Palestinian UN Recognition

With Sure Victory for Observer State, Israel Looks for Revenge

Palestine’s upgrade to UN “non-member observer state” status is virtually a foregone conclusion, with an overwhelming majority of the UN General Assembly expected to vote in favor and only a handful, led by the US and Israel, in opposition.

The question then is what Israel’s reaction will be, and the nation’s cabinet met today to discuss possible “punitive” measures to punish the Palestinians for getting the enhanced level of recognition on the international stage.

Exactly what the move will be remains unclear, and with Israel already not negotiating with the Palestinians and already expanding settlements, the number of options that will actually feel like “punishment” instead of just business as usual is limited.

The most likely proposal on that front is for Israel to freeze all Palestinian tax dollars, though Israel does this too on a semi-regular basis to express displeasure, and with the West Bank’s economy already on the brink of collapse a prolonged move to cut off funds to PA employees could be diplomatically difficult for Israel as well.

In the end the most likely new moves will also be the least impactful, imposing harsh new restrictions on Palestinian detainees who by and large aren’t involved in the PA to begin with and who have no say over their recognition anyhow. This has been a go-to activity for Israel’s government several times in the past, forcing Palestinians in prison to go to court to get access to things like paper and pencils.

by Jason Ditz

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