Poll: Most Israelis back direct talks with Hamas on Shalit
Sixty-four percent of Israelis say the government must hold direct talks with the Hamas government in Gaza toward a cease-fire and the release of captive soldier Gilad Shalit. Less than one-third (28 percent) still opposes such talks.
The figures were obtained in a Haaretz-Dialog poll conducted Tuesday under the supervision of Professor Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University. According to the findings, Israelis are fed up with seven years of Qassam rockets falling on Sderot and the communities near Gaza, as well as the fact that Shalit has been held captive for more than a year and a half.
An increasing number of public figures, including senior officers in the Israel Defense Forces’ reserves, have expressed similar positions on talks with Hamas. It now appears that this opinion is gaining traction in the wider public, which until recently vehemently rejected such negotiations. The survey also showed that Likud voters are much more moderate than their Knesset representatives. About half (48 percent) support talks with Hamas.
Obama’s Ohio grilling
Obama on whether there should be negotiations with Hamas:
The answer is no. The answer is no and the distinction would be that Hamas is represented in the Palestinian legislature, or it was before the current rift, but they’re not the head of state. They are not a recognized government. So I think there is a distinction to be drawn there and a legitimate distinction to be drawn. Now again, going back to my experiences in Israel and the discussions I’ve had with security officials there, I think that there are communications between the Israeli government and Hamas that may be two or three degrees removed, but people know what Hamas is thinking and what’s going on, and the point is that with respect to Hamas, you can’t have a conversation with somebody who doesn’t think you should be on the other side of the table. At the point where they recognize Israel and its right to exist, at the point where they recognize that they are not going to be able to shove their worldview down the throats of others but are going to have to sit down and negotiate without resort to violence, then I think that will be a different circumstance. That’s not the circumstance that we’re in right now.
IDF kills 18 Palestinians in Gaza, W. Bank, including 5 children
Israeli security forces struck a range of targets in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Thursday, killing a total of 18 Palestinians, including five children. Meanwhile, militants in Gaza continued to fire rockets at southern Israel, striking as far north as Ashkelon.
The deaths come a day after IDF troops killed 12 Palestinians and an Israeli was killed in a Qassam rocket strike on a college in Sderot. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed that Israel’s response to the deadly barrage of Qassam rockets would be particularly harsh.
After nightfall Thursday, two Palestinians were killed in an Israel Air Force missile strike on a truck in Gaza City, near Shifa Hospital.
Early Thursday evening, an IAF helicopter attacked a police roadblock near the Gaza City home of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, in which Palestinian officials said one person was killed and four others were wounded.
Ahmadinejad under fire for ‘coarse slogans’ after Israel attack
A top Iranian cleric on Wednesday made a rare criticism of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s verbal attacks on Israel, saying a foreign policy of “coarse slogans” was not in the national interest.
Hassan Rowhani, a former top nuclear negotiator who still holds several influential positions, said Iran needed to show more flexibility and desire for dialogue in its dealings with the international community.
“Does foreign policy mean expressing coarse slogans and grandstanding?” Rowhani asked in a speech to a foreign policy conference in Tehran.
“This is not a foreign policy. We need to find an accommodating way to decrease the threats and assure the interests of the country.”
Sunni forces losing patience with U.S.
U.S.-backed Sunni volunteer forces, which have played a vital role in reducing violence in Iraq, are increasingly frustrated with the American military and the Iraqi government over what they see as a lack of recognition of their growing political clout and insufficient U.S. support.
Since Feb. 8, thousands of fighters in restive Diyala province have left their posts in order to pressure the government and its American backers to replace the province’s Shiite police chief. On Wednesday, their leaders warned that they would disband completely if their demands were not met. In Babil province, south of Baghdad, fighters have refused to man their checkpoints after U.S. soldiers killed several comrades in mid-February in circumstances that remain in dispute.
Some force leaders and ground commanders also reject a U.S.-initiated plan that they say offers too few Sunni fighters the opportunity to join Iraq’s army and police, and warn that low salaries and late payments are pushing experienced members to quit.
Islamists’ loss in Pakistan isn’t a U.S. win
To many Pakistanis, the armed confrontation with Islamic radicals remains “America’s war,” one whose cost in blood has been borne by Pakistani troops with little perceived benefit to this country.
Pakistan’s role in President Bush’s “war on terrorism” was a significant factor in a separate outpouring of voter fury last week against President Pervez Musharraf, who is seen as far too willing to do the military bidding of the United States.
“Not wanting the Islamists to be in charge of governmental affairs is not the same thing as supporting a U.S.-backed war against the militants, not at all,” said Khalid Aziz, a former provincial chief secretary who is now a Peshawar-based analyst.
Washington reaches to Muslim rebels
United States ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney has crossed the line between her government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country’s largest armed Muslim rebel group which Washington had earlier considered including on its list of foreign terrorist groups along with the alleged al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group.
Uniformed Moro rebels toting M-16 rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers welcomed Kenney and several high-ranking American officials on February 19 to an unannounced visit to the rebel group’s main Darapanan camp in Mindanao’s Shariff Kabunsuan province.
Kenney attended a closed-door meeting with MILF chieftain Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and other senior rebel members, which the US official later characterized as “a private visit”. Although Washington had previously sent government representatives to meet with MILF rebels, Kenney was the first US ambassador to meet the rebels for face-to-face talks.