Hamas reacts to potential Egyptian attack

Adnan Abu Amer writes: Hamas never imagined that it would be classified as a terrorist movement by an Arab country — a classification that has dangerous political, media and perhaps military repercussions.

However, Egypt’s Court of Urgent Matters declared Hamas a terrorist organization on Feb. 28 against the backdrop of the proven movement’s implication in armed operations that claimed the lives of Egyptian officers and soldiers in Sinai Peninsula, after its members seeped through the tunnels into Egypt.

Why is this decision dangerous? Egypt is considered the only leeway for Gaza where Hamas is in control. Egypt’s classification of Hamas as a terrorist organization implies that all efforts are being made to cut off its arms supplies and funding by all means necessary. Moreover, whoever cooperates with Hamas is considered a criminal by law, according to a statement on March 4 by Egypt’s Minister of Justice Mahfouz Saber. The law stipulates seizing Hamas properties, arresting all its affiliated members and confiscating their funds and locations. [Continue reading…]

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Gaza’s plight grows worse

The Washington Post reports: In almost every way, the Gaza Strip is much worse off now than before last summer’s war between Israel and Hamas. Scenes of misery are one of the few things in abundance in the battered coastal enclave.

Reconstruction of the tens of thousands homes damaged and destroyed in the hostilities has barely begun, almost six months after the cease-fire. At current rates, it will take decades to rebuild what was destroyed.

The economy is in deep recession; pledges of billions in aid have not been honored; and the Islamist movement Hamas, which controls the enclave, refuses to loosen its grip and is preparing again for war.

Diplomats, aid workers and residents warn of a looming humanitarian crisis and escalation of violence.

“After every war, we say it cannot get worse, but I will say this time is the worst ever,” said Omar Shaban, a respected Gaza economist. “There is no sign of life. Trade. Import. Export. Reconstruction. Aid? Dead. I’m not exaggerating when I tell my friends abroad: Gaza could collapse, maybe soon.” [Continue reading…]

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Israeli center-left Zionist Camp leader accuses Netanyahu of not hitting Hamas hard enough

Ynet: Zionist Camp leader Isaac Herzog – currently the main contender to replace Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel’s prime minister – took aim at the hawkish leader’s security policy, blasting him for being weak on Hamas, the terror group ruling Gaza with which Israel locked horns in a 50-day war over the summer.

“For years Hamas has been tunneling under our communities near the Gaza border. And what did you do? You waited, stalled and hesitated,” Herzog said in a new video.

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Gaza suffers in growing isolation

Zvi Bar’el reports: “What do they give us here? Three pitas and a little food; it’s not enough even for a small child,” Alaa Kullab complained to the Palestinian news agency Safa. He said his eight-person family, which has been living in a school in Rafah ever since this summer’s war in the Gaza Strip, received only five beds.

“We have no heaters, and we’re forbidden to use hotplates,” added Kullab, who began a hunger strike along with another resident of the school a few days ago.

More than 20,000 of the 450,000 people displaced by the war still live in schools or other shelters arranged by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. Last month, UNRWA announced that it would no longer pay displaced families’ rent or fund reconstruction of their houses, because it was out of money, having received only $135 million of the $725 million it needs.

“People come to our offices crying and threatening, but we have no way to help them,” an UNRWA employee told Haaretz. “Children are freezing cold, they suffer from malnutrition and even the little food they get is unsuitable.”

Next week, cleaning workers at Gaza’s hospitals are expected to strike again, since the Palestinian government hasn’t produced the back pay it promised to persuade them to end the last 16-day strike. Some 45,000 government employees in Gaza have yet to receive their January salaries, and they may get only 60 percent, as they did last month, because Israel has frozen tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority. The PA says the transfers amount to over half the costs of these salaries.

In October, a donor conference netted pledges of $5.4 billion for Gaza’s reconstruction, but only about 2 percent of this amount has arrived. Both the reconstruction and the reopening of the border crossings, especially with Egypt, depend on implementing a reconciliation deal between Fatah and Hamas, but due to disputes between the rival organizations, this still has not happened. [Continue reading…]

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Threat of violence silences Palestinian journalists

Asmaa al-Ghoul writes: How loud is the voice you hear when you sit down to write a press report? How small is the prison cell you imagine yourself ending up in once you publish your article? The man you imagine pointing a gun at your head, is he wearing a mask? These are thoughts that lead one to delete the most important and powerful piece of information from an article. Some thoughts even lead you to delete the article entirely.

A late 2014 study by the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms found that 80% of Palestinian journalists in the West Bank and Gaza practice self-censorship of their writing.

Journalist Ghazi Bani Odeh, who conducted the survey, “The Official Media and Freedom of Expression,” told Al-Monitor that attacks and harassment, and thus fear of them, are the main causes leading journalists to censor themselves. [Continue reading…]

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Egypt court bans Hamas’ armed wing, designates as ‘terrorist organisation’

Middle East Eye: Palestinian faction Hamas on Saturday slammed a decision by an Egyptian court to designate its military arm, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, a “terrorist organisation”.

“This is a dangerous decision that only serves the best interests of Israel,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told the Anadolu Agency.

He described the court verdict as “politically motivated”, reiterating that his movement does not interfere in Egypt’s internal affairs.

Earlier on Saturday, an Egyptian court declared the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades a “terrorist organization”.

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Hamas condemns Charlie Hebdo attack

AFP reports: Palestinian Islamist group Hamas condemned Saturday the killing of 12 people in a shooting attack this week on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo’s offices by two French Islamists.

A statement in French said Hamas “condemns the attack against Charlie Hebdo magazine and insists on the fact that differences of opinion and thought cannot justify murder.”

It also rejected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments, in which he compared the Paris attack to Hamas firing rockets from the Gaza Strip at civilians in Israel.

“Hamas condemns the desperate attempts by… Netanyahu to make a connection between our movement and the resistance of our people on the one hand and global terrorism on the other,” it said.

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Now I understand how and why the Palestinians lost Palestine

Ghazi Hamad, deputy foreign minister of Hamas, recently wrote an op-ed in Arabic appearing on Arabic websites and which has now been translated into English and published with his permission by the Times of Israel: I was very hesitant before I wrote this “harsh” title. I erased it time after time and rewrote it. But every time I reread the article, the title jumps to my mind and drags me towards it.

The title hit me while I was attending a meeting of some political powers. I was listening to them talk for more than three hours and it seemed futile, lost, insipid.

It was not the first meeting I left feeling aggravated. I had previously taken part in discussions, be it bilateral between Hamas and Fatah or “national” dialogue that brings everyone together. I attended tens of conferences, seminars and workshops for “brainstorming.” But this time a profound sadness overcame me and feelings began to consume me. What are they saying? What are they doing? What time are they wasting? What world are they living in? Suddenly, a thought popped into my mind, unbidden: Now do you understand why Palestine is lost?

It was dangerous, frightening and scary. I no longer have any doubt that these sterile seminars and workshops that were repeated a thousand times, were nothing but blabbering, rumination of the past and fleeing from facing the facts.

I recalled many of these summits, agreements and understandings that have been signed since 1993 until the Shati Agreement in 2014… they passed in a moment and disappeared.

It seemed to me that we had lost dozens of years in haggling, disagreements and differences over texts that did not bring us anything but more resentment and fragmented, failed solutions. And because of the devolvement of these issues, I look at where we have arrived after a twenty year political process of failure and searching for success on paper, and I look at the state of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in terms of its weakness and attenuation, and I look at the political and societal division and how our divisions have sharpened until it became an indispensable tradition?

What calamity did the Palestinians create by themselves for themselves?

We have always held the Arab regimes responsible for the loss of Palestine, which is an indisputable matter, and have equally faulted the Western regimes for their collusion and unlimited support for Israel… But what is our share in bearing responsibility? [Continue reading…]

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Hamas leader Mashaal endorses Turkish leaders in surprise speech

Hurriyet Daily News reports: Khaled Mashaal, the head of Hamas’ political bureau, has made a surprise appearance at an event of Turkey’s ruling party, endorsing the Turkish leaders and voicing his hope to “liberate Palestine and Jerusalem” together with them in the future.

“A strong Turkey means a strong Palestine … Inshallah, God is with us and with you on the road to victory,” Mashaal said in his address to the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) annual congress in the Konya province on Dec. 27.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, whose hometown is Konya, personally presented Mashaal to the audience. “Konya, the city of heroes! You give birth to your leaders,” Mashaal said, congratulating the Turkish people “for having Davutoğlu and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.”

Mashaal’s brief speech was interrupted by slogans including “God is great” and “Down with Israel” several times by AKP supporters in the sports hall who waved Turkish and Palestinian flags. [Continue reading…]

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Hamas said concerned by Egypt-Qatar thaw

The Times of Israel reports: Hamas fears its ties with Qatar will be hindered by the reported reconciliation efforts between Doha and Egypt, London-based Arab paper Rai al-Youm reported Saturday, according to Israel Radio.

According to the report, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, who has been hosted by Qatar since leaving war-torn Syria in 2012, has reached out to Qatari leaders to receive clarifications on the matter, and has been assured that the amended ties with Cairo would not affect Doha’s relations with Hamas. [Continue reading…]

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EU court takes Hamas off terrorist organisations list

BBC News reports: A top court of the European Union has annulled the bloc’s decision to keep the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas on a list of terrorist groups.

The decision had been based not on an examination of Hamas’ actions, but on “factual imputations derived from the press and the internet”, judges found.

The court said the move was technical and was not a reassessment of Hamas’ classification as a terrorist group.

It said a funding freeze on the group would continue for the time being. [Continue reading…]

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Abbas backs Egypt crackdown on Gaza tunnels

AFP reports: Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said he supported Egypt’s crackdown on tunnels linking the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip to the Sinai Peninsula and any other action the country took to protect itself from militants, according to a media report Thursday.

“We have supported all the precautionary measures taken by the Egyptian authorities to close the tunnels and stop the trafficking of arms and the passage of people between Gaza and the Sinai,” Abbas said in an interview with Egyptian magazine Al-Ahram Al-Arabi due to be published on Saturday, extracts of which were published by MENA news agency.

“We will continue to support any measure protecting Egypt from danger,” Abbas was quoted as saying. [Continue reading…]

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Palestine minister’s autopsy results disputed

Al Jazeera reports: A Palestinian official has said that the autopsy on Ziad Abu Ein’s body proves that Israel’s actions led to the death of a Palestinian minister, while Israel disagrees with the findings of the same autopsy.

Abu Ein died on Wednesday shortly after an Israeli border policeman shoved and grabbed him by the throat during a protest in the occupied West Bank.

Thousands of Palestinians attended his funeral in Ramallah on Thursday. Israel has beefed up its security forces in the West Bank as fresh protests were expected over the minister’s death.

The head of the Palestinian civil affairs, Hussein Al Sheikh, told a Palestinian radio that the autopsy, which was carried out overnight, showed Abu Ein died because of a beating by Israeli soldiers and inhaling large amounts of tear gas, adding that Israelis delayed his transfer to the hospital.

He also said the Israeli forensic expert, who was present at the postmortem, agreed to the findings of the autopsy.

However, the Israeli side rejected agreeing to the findings.

“Israeli officials said that heart attack was the reason why the minister died, adding that it might have been brought on when was he grabbed in the neck by an Israeli soldier,” Al Jazeera’s Imtiaz Tyab, reporting from West Jerusalem, said. [Continue reading…]

Human Rights Watch: Multiple witnesses have described how a senior Palestinian official who died on December 10, 2014 had been assaulted by at least three Israeli border police. The witnesses all stated that the official, Ziad Abu Ein, 55, had not used any force against the Israeli forces, and that the security forces were suppressing a peaceful demonstration against Israel’s unlawful West Bank settlements. The evidence of the witnesses all suggested that Abu Ein could not reasonably have been seen to pose any threat to the security forces, meaning the assaults on him were unlawful.

The border police had blocked Abu Ein, the Palestinian Authority minister responsible for dealing with Israeli settlements and the separation barrier in the West Bank, and a group of about 120 other people from reaching an area near Turmus Ayya, a Palestinian town north of Ramallah, where they planned to plant olive trees. Four witnesses said that the protest was peaceful, accounts that video recordings and photographs of the confrontation by news media and protest participants corroborated.

“Israeli forces marked Human Rights Day by assaulting Palestinians peacefully attempting to plant olive trees, including a senior official who posed no physical threat and then died,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Israel’s allies should demand accountability for the assault, and for an end to the illegal settlement land-grabs that Abu Ein was protesting.”

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Why is Israel preventing human rights experts from entering Gaza?

Amira Hass reports: Israel prevented experts from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch from entering the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge, and it still is preventing them. As a result, no independent professionals (for example, a certain retired British military officer) have been able to check in real time the army’s claims and versions; for example, about weapons caches or firing near or from inside UN buildings.

If the Israel Defense Forces and its legal advisers were so sure they were adhering to international law, why were they scared to let these experts enter Gaza – alongside the many journalists who were allowed in?

It could very well be that every word in the IDF spokesman’s recent statement on the decision to investigate “exceptional incidents that occurred during Operation Protective Edge” is truthful. But these words – true or not – are just a veneer covering the problematic layers of Protective Edge and all Israeli military operations against the Palestinians.

The IDF, its lawyers and its commanders hold a monopoly on information from Israeli theaters of war because of the IDF’s technological superiority. So they also hold a monopoly on concealing information, telling untruths and dismissing the findings of Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups – and of course on ignoring Hamas’ claims. [Continue reading…]

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Judge Hamas on the measures it takes for its people

Ahmed Yousef, senior political adviser to the former Hamas prime minister of Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, writes: It really doesn’t matter what political party you belong to in Palestine because every single one has first to deal with Israeli occupation, settlements, theft and expropriation before it can begin to campaign about public policy on jobs, healthcare and the economy. Despite this stark reality, the question I have faced most frequently since returning to Gaza in 2006 is this: does the Hamas charter, which contains passages deemed offensive to Jewish people, truly represent the movement’s vision and political goals? Diplomats, journalists, academics, parliamentarians and politicians from numerous nations have empathised with Palestinians; yet they all seem to struggle with this document.

The question is understandable given how frequently much of the foreign media refers to it. The reality, however, is that one would be hard pressed to find any member of Hamas who is fully versed in the content of the charter – a treatise that was actually never universally endorsed by the movement. Earnest students of Palestine should consider the context. This was a text written in the early days of the first intifada. Our youth rebelling against the Israeli occupiers needed a rallying cry – a written expression of their resolve. The charter was designed to be that inspirational document and it was never intended to be the governing instrument, the guiding principle or the political vision of the movement. [Continue reading…]

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Palestinian rift reopens as Abbas blames Hamas for bombings

Reuters reports: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday accused his Islamist Hamas rivals of carrying out a series of bombings against officials loyal to him in Gaza last week, in a move sure to harm already floundering unity efforts.

A series of small explosions targeted the homes and vehicles of officials from Abbas’s Fatah movement on Friday, causing minor damage but no injuries.

A bomb also demolished a stage erected to commemorate the 10th anniversary of former president and Fatah leader Yasser Arafat’s death, leading to the event being canceled.

“Who committed this crime? The leadership of the Hamas movement did, and it’s responsible!” Abbas roared to applause at a Fatah rally for Arafat in Ramallah, his seat of government in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. [Continue reading…]

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Hamas announces ‘popular army’ after al-Aqsa clash

AFP reports: Hamas announced the creation of a “popular army” in the Gaza Strip on Friday, saying it was ready for any future conflict with Israel, particularly over the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound.

At a ceremony at the Jabaliya refugee camp in the north of the devastated Palestinian territory, a spokesman for the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades — the military arm of the Islamist Hamas movement — said 2,500 recruits would form “the first section of the popular army for the liberation of al-Aqsa and of Palestine”.

Mohammed Abu Askar, a Hamas official, said those older than 20 could sign up “to be prepared for any confrontation” with Israel.

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Palestinian Authority forces take control of Gaza crossings as donors pledge millions for reconstruction

Ma’an reports: The Palestinian Authority is set to assume responsibility for the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings in Gaza on Sunday, Deputy Prime Minister Muhammad Mustafa said.

Mustafa, who is also head of a reconstruction committee for Gaza, told Ma’an Friday that the PA will take charge of building materials entering Gaza and the movement of Palestinians between Gaza and the West Bank.

Representatives in the health, agriculture, housing and civil affairs ministries will be in charge of monitoring materials for their respective sector.

The Associated Press reports: Qatar pledged $1 billion Sunday toward the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip after this year’s devastating Israel-Hamas war, once again using its vast wealth to reinforce its role as a regional player as Gulf Arab rival the United Arab Emirates promised $200 million.

The pledges followed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry earlier announcing immediate American assistance of $212 million, though Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said Gaza needs $4 billion to rebuild.

Human Rights Watch says: Donor countries at the October 12, 2014 conference on assistance to Palestine should press Israel to lift sweeping, unjustified restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of the Gaza Strip, Human Rights Watch said today. The United Nations Security Council should reinforce previous resolutions ignored by Israel calling for the removal of unjustified restrictions.

Blanket Israeli restrictions unconnected or disproportionate to security considerations unnecessarily harm people’s access to food, water, education, and other fundamental rights in Gaza. Israel’s unwillingness to lift such restrictions will seriously hinder a sustainable recovery after a seven-year blockade and the July-August fighting that damaged much of Gaza, Human Rights Watch said.

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