Court bans activities of Hamas in Egypt

Reuters reports: An Egyptian court on Tuesday banned all Hamas activities in Egypt in another sign that the military-backed government aims to squeeze the Palestinian Islamist group that rules the neighboring Gaza Strip.

Hamas is an offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which the authorities have declared a terrorist group and which they have repressed systematically since the army ousted one of its leaders, Mohamed Mursi, from the presidency in July.

“The court has ordered the banning of Hamas’s work and activities in Egypt,” the judge, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.

During his year in power, Mursi gave red-carpet treatment to Hamas, angering many secular and liberal Egyptians who saw this as part of a creeping Islamist takeover following the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

The military-buttressed authorities now classify Hamas as a significant security risk, accusing it of supporting an Islamist insurgency that has spread quickly since Mursi’s fall, allegations the Palestinian group denies. [Continue reading...]

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Canada denies secretly giving Israeli assassin a new identity after he helped kill Hamas leader

n13-iconNational Post reports: A week after a Montreal businessman claimed Canada had provided a new identity and passport to an Israeli Mossad agent involved in the assassination of a Hamas leader in Dubai, the government denied the sensational story on Friday.

While Ottawa is usually reluctant to comment on national security matters, the allegation of Canadian involvement in the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was apparently considered so damaging it required a response.

“There is no truth to these allegations that the government of Canada provided support to protect those wanted in the 2010 death of a Hamas leader,” said a government official with knowledge of the case, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The charge that the government had secretly resettled a member of the hit squad that drugged and suffocated Mr. Al-Mabhouh in a five star hotel room was made last weekend by Arian Azarbar, an Iranian-Canadian businessman.

He told the Ottawa Sun he learned about it from a Passport Canada employee with whom he had an affair. The passport officer, a member of the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team, had been investigating Mr. Azarbar and has since been suspended. [Continue reading...]

A non-denial denial? It depends on whether the individual in question had been identified as one those “those wanted.”

The Montreal Gazette adds: [A] Montreal police detective was reportedly reassigned in January after allegations surfaced that he, too, leaked information to Azarbar. The businessman is identified in Montreal police documents of being a possible Iranian spy, according to Montreal media reports.

Azarbar said Tuesday he has known the police officer for years, but said he had nothing to do with the officer’s reassignment. He also categorically denied any involvement with his native Iran. He said he has lived in Montreal’s West Island community since the age of five.

“I’ve been to Iran once in my whole life for two weeks,” he said.

He said his troubles began when he received a government letter asking him to meet with federal agents.

There followed one or two initial meetings with Kennedy and a man he believes was from the Department of Foreign Affairs. He said they were most interested in learning about his business trips to Venezuela, where he sells housing construction products.

He said he also had spent time around Hugo Chavez, the country’s fiery socialist leader who died last year.

“Did I work for the Iranian government? No, never. Did I like Chavez? Absolutely. I thought he was one of the greatest men in the world.”

Azarbar blamed much of his situation on a federal customs official in Toronto. Azarbar believes the man was jealous of his relationship with Kennedy, who has been separated from her husband, he said.

“When he found out about my relationship with Trina, he went berserk. It’s him that made this whole story.”

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Leaving Gaza

FeatureAfter her final visit to Gaza before returning to London, The Guardian’s Middle East correspondent, Harriet Sherwood, writes: Hazem Balousha was uncharacteristically despondent when he greeted me recently at the end of my long walk through the open-air caged passageway that separates the modern hi-tech state of Israel from the tiny, impoverished, overcrowded Gaza Strip.

Hazem has been a colleague and a friend for three and a half years, a relationship built over more than 20 visits I’ve made to Gaza. He arranges interviews and provides translation; but most importantly he helps me understand the people, the politics and the daily struggle of life in Gaza. We have talked for hours in his car, over coffee, at his home. He has accompanied me to grim refugee camps and upmarket restaurants; to the tunnels in the south and farms in the north; to schools and hospitals; to bomb sites and food markets; to the odd wedding party and rather more funerals. In the face of Gaza’s pressure-cooker atmosphere and bleak prospects, he – like so many I’ve met here – has always been remarkably good-humoured.

But not this time. As we waited for Hamas officials sporting black beards and bomber jackets to check my entry permit, I asked Hazem: “How’s it going?” He shrugged, and began to tell me about the many phone calls he’d had to make to find a replacement cooking gas canister recently, and how his small sons whine when the electricity cuts out for hours each day, depriving them of their favourite TV shows.

“This is what we have come to. We wake up in the night worrying about small things: cooking gas, the next power cut, how to find fuel for the car,” he said dejectedly. “We no longer care about the big things, the important things, the future – we just try to get through each day.”

The people of Gaza are reeling from a series of blows that have led some analysts to say that it is facing its worst crisis for more than six years, putting its 1.7 million inhabitants under intense material and psychological pressure. Israel’s continued blockade has been exacerbated by mounting hostility to Gaza’s Hamas government from the military regime in Cairo, which sees it as an extension of Egypt’s deposed Muslim Brotherhood. The Egyptians have virtually cut off access to and from Gaza, and as a result Hamas is facing crippling financial problems and a new political isolation.

Power cuts, fuel shortages, price rises, job losses, Israeli air strikes, untreated sewage in the streets and the sea, internal political repression, the near-impossibility of leaving, the lack of hope or horizon – these have chipped away at the resilience and fortitude of Gazans, crushing their spirit. [Continue reading...]

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Egypt’s military rulers plot to provoke uprising in Gaza

Reuters reports: After crushing the Muslim Brotherhood at home, Egypt’s military rulers plan to undermine the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which runs the neighboring Gaza Strip, senior Egyptian security officials told Reuters.

The aim, which the officials say could take years to pull off, includes working with Hamas’s political rivals Fatah and supporting popular anti-Hamas activities in Gaza, four security and diplomatic officials said.

Since it seized power in Egypt last summer, Egypt’s military has squeezed Gaza’s economy by destroying most of the 1,200 tunnels used to smuggle food, cars and weapons to the coastal enclave, which is under an Israeli blockade.

Now Cairo is becoming even more ambitious in its drive to eradicate what it says are militant organizations that threaten its national security.

Intelligence operatives, with help from Hamas’s political rivals and activists, plan to undermine the credibility of Hamas, which seized control of Gaza in 2007 after a brief civil war against the Fatah movement led by Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

According to the Egyptian officials, Hamas will face growing resistance by activists who will launch protests similar to those in Egypt that have led to the downfall of two presidents since the Arab Spring in 2011. Cairo plans to support such protests in an effort to cripple Hamas.

“Gaza is next,” said one senior security official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “We cannot get liberated from the terrorism of the Brotherhood in Egypt without ending it in Gaza, which lies on our borders.” [Continue reading...]

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Hamas and Iran rebuild ties three years after falling out over Syria

The Guardian reports: A rapprochement between Hamas and Tehran is under way almost three years after a breach over the Palestinian party’s refusal to back the Syrian government in the civil war, and amid its current political isolation following the demise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

The rebuilding of the relationship is likely to dismay Israel and the US, which had welcomed the weakened ties between Gaza’s rulers and their powerful political, financial and military sponsors.

“Relations between us are now almost back to how they were before [the crisis over Syria]. We believe we will soon be back at that point,” said Taher al-Nounou, an aide to Gaza’s prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh. Contacts between high-ranking officials from both sides had resumed, he said.

Khaled Meshaal, the head of Hamas’s political bureau, based in Qatar, has met Iranian representatives in Ankara and Doha in recent months, and may visit Tehran in the coming months.

According to Nounou, a delegation of Hamas officials based outside Gaza visited Tehran two months ago. Hamas leaders inside Gaza have been unable to leave the blockaded coastal strip since the military coup in Egypt last July.

Another senior Hamas official, Bassem Naim, confirmed the renewed contacts between his organisation and Tehran. “Ties had never been conclusively severed, but recently there have been a number of meetings that brought new blood back into our relationship with Iran,” he said. [Continue reading...]

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Human tragedy unfolds as Gaza runs on empty

The Telegraph reports: The horrific scars disfigure Mona Abu Mraleel’s otherwise strikingly beautiful face. Swathes of bandages cover the injuries the 17-year-old sustained to her arms and legs in a blaze from which she narrowly escaped with her life.

Still racked by pain from burns to 40 per cent of her body, she goes to hospital on a daily basis to have her dressings changed. Specialist doctors are preparing to carry out a delicate skin graft operation in the coming days.

Yet the hospital on which her recovery depends is woefully ill-fitted to the task – riddled by equipment failures, power cuts and shortages in a mounting crisis that doctors fear is leading to a “health catastrophe”.

Mona lives in Gaza, the impoverished Palestinian coastal enclave where chronic fuel shortages have led to electricity cuts of up to 18 hours a day and reduced ordinary life and public services to a standstill.

She is just one of many Gazans suffering in a rapidly worsening economic climate that this week prompted the British Foreign Office minister, Hugh Robertson, to demand urgent action to restore an adequate fuel supply to the territory. [Continue reading...]

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Sewage floods streets in Gaza’s power crisis

The New York Times reports: Raw sewage has flooded streets in a southern Gaza City neighborhood in recent days, threatening a health disaster, after a shortage of electricity and cheap diesel fuel from Egypt led the Hamas government to shut down Gaza’s lone power plant, causing a pump station to flood.

Three more sewage stations in Gaza City and 10 others elsewhere in the Gaza Strip are close to overflowing, sanitation officials here said, and 3.5 million cubic feet of raw sewage is seeping into the Mediterranean Sea daily. The sanitation department may soon no longer be able to pump drinking water to Gaza homes.

“Any day that passes without a solution has disastrous effects,” Farid Ashour, director of sanitation at the Gaza Coastal Municipalities Water Utility, said Tuesday in an interview. “We haven’t faced a situation as dangerous as this time.”

The sewage crisis is the most acute of an array of problems since the Islamist Hamas movement that governs Gaza shut down the power plant on Nov. 1. Four months earlier Egypt’s new military-backed government closed the smuggling tunnels that were used to transport around one million liters (about 260,000 gallons) of diesel here each day.

Hamas has refused to import Israeli diesel because of taxes imposed by the Palestinian Authority.

Having gotten used to years of scheduled blackouts, generally eight hours without electricity two of every three days, Gaza’s 1.7 million residents are now facing daily power failures of 12 or even 18 hours. [Continue reading...]

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Gaza has rarely felt more isolated

The Economist: In the vanguard of the Islamist surge across the region a few years ago, Gaza’s Islamists now feel like the last men standing. Trapped between the Mediterranean sea and the walls of two hostile neighbours, Egypt and Israel, they wonder how long they, too, can survive. “It’s hopeless,” cries a senior man from Hamas, the Palestinians’ Islamist movement. “We tried democracy and we failed. We tried to reach out to the Israelis, accepting two states, and failed. We tried the armed struggle, and we paid the price.”

In olden times a crossroads between Africa and Asia, the tiny enclave of Gaza has rarely felt more isolated. Egypt’s generals, who took power last summer, have destroyed 90% of the tunnels through which Gaza got its fuel, shrouding the place in darkness. Mothers wake at midnight when the electricity briefly flickers on, to flush toilets and iron clothes. Lifts in high-rise buildings do not work. Sewage flows untreated. Farmers, unable to irrigate their fields, face ruin. “I should never have tried it,” says the owner of a hotel that opened last summer, overlooking Gaza’s picturesque port. Paying for his generators costs him more than he earns in a night.

Much of the mess is of Hamas’s own making. Carried away by the Arab awakening, its politburo abandoned its old patrons in Syria and Iran and rushed to embrace the Islamists who had taken power in Egypt. But the fall of its president, Muhammad Morsi, has left Hamas friendless. It has been kept out of the current negotiations, under America’s aegis, between Palestine and Israel. The only time the world seems to notice Gaza is when violence erupts. Gazans say they have dropped off the map. [Continue reading...]

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Israeli commanders praise Hamas for maintaining ceasefire

The Washington Post reports: Just a year ago, Israel and the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers fought a lopsided eight-day war in the skies that the United Nations said left more than 160 Palestinians and six Israelis dead.

The period since last November’s cease-fire, though, has been the calmest between the two sides in more than a decade.

Israeli military commanders, although still wary of armed factions in Gaza, offer unexpected praise for Hamas, the Islamist militant and political organization that governs the enclave. Not only have Hamas and its armed military wing shown restraint, the Israeli commanders say, but they also have demonstrated that they can rein in the more radical factions, such as Islamic Jihad, that operate alongside them.

“Hamas was able to prove to us that it can control rocket fire from Gaza,” said Brig. Gen. Mickey Edelstein, commander of the Israeli military’s Gaza division. “This is an achievement.” [Continue reading...]

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Yorkshire-educated woman becomes first female Hamas spokesperson

The Guardian reports: A woman who spent part of her school years in the UK is to become a public face of the Hamas government in Gaza following her appointment as its first female spokesperson.

Isra al-Modallal, 23, began her new job this week, and is brushing up on human rights law and other issues she will be expected to speak about. She plans to launch Twitter and Facebook campaigns in the near future to promote Hamas and its policies.

Modallal’s English has a detectable Yorkshire accent from the three years she attended school in Bradford while her father was at university. “I have good memories. It was a good part of my life,” she told the Guardian.

Since completing her degree in media studies at the Islamic university in Gaza, which is closely associated with Hamas, Modallal has worked as a journalist and television presenter. She accepted the offer of a job as the government’s international media spokesperson after “thinking about it for a while”.

She is not a member of Hamas. “I don’t belong to any [political] faction. I’m just Palestinian,” she said.

Modallal said she would concentrate on human rights and humanitarian issues. “Most people in the world recognise that Palestinians are humans too so the world will understand our message as refugees and people who live under siege,” she said.

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With Gulf support, Palestinian strongman attempts to reclaim power

Paul Mutter wrotes: Youth organizer turned leg-breaker, charity worker turned embezzler, and nationalist propagandist turned bargaining chip for foreign aid donors.

All three of these descriptions fit just one person: Mohammad Dahlan.

As we enter another round of “did they resign or didn’t they?” for the Palestinian negotiating team led by Saeb Erekat, for sheer chutzpah, this has to take the cake: Daoud Kattab reports that Dahlan, formerly Fatah’s enforcer-in-chief in Gaza (emphasis on “former” – more on that below) may yet return to the fold of the party that he was expelled from in 2010.

Reportedly, his reintegration into Fatah is being accomplished by the promise of Emirati foreign assistance to the PNA: Dahlan’s exile saw him take up an advisory position to the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan, and this is his vehicle for returning to political life in the Territories, not unlike how American aid was his vehicle for the abortive 2007 operation to disarm Hamas before it could consolidate military control over the strip.

Absent from this account of Dahlan’s coming in from the cold, though, is one important detail about Dahlan’s career, perhaps the most important one. In the institutionalization of internal Palestinian political violence, Dahlan has a strong claim to be first among equals for his actions in Gaza after Oslo. But he is the former enforcer-in-chief in Gaza precisely because his attempt to force a confrontation with Hamas after it won the 2006 elections there backfired. Even though his efforts were backed by the US, Fatah’s paramilitaries and party officials were unable to implement their plan properly, and Hamas took the initiative, meting out violence to Fatah and the Palestinian Authority’s Preventive Security Service (PSS) equal to that inflicted upon their own cadres by Dahlan’s forces. [Continue reading...]

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Israeli strikes kill 4 militants in Gaza

The New York Times reports: Israeli military strikes killed four Palestinian militants from the military wing of Hamas, the Islamic group that controls Gaza, late Thursday and early Friday after five Israeli soldiers were wounded in an explosion near the Israel-Gaza border.

It was the deadliest confrontation in the area since November 2012, when an Israeli offensive set off eight days of fierce cross-border fighting, which ended with a fragile, Egyptian-brokered cease-fire.

The episode began late Thursday when Israeli soldiers from an elite engineering unit were on a mission to destroy part of a mile-long tunnel running beneath the border from Gaza into Israel. The military discovered the tunnel last month and said it could have been used for an attack against Israeli soldiers or civilians.

The Israeli forces were apparently working on both sides of the border. The military said in a statement that during the operation, Hamas detonated an explosive device that wounded five soldiers and that soldiers fired back in response. Gaza security officials and witnesses said one militant had been killed and several injured when the Israeli forces fired a tank shell at a group of Hamas gunmen. [Continue reading...]

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Hamas rejects Palestinian negotiations with Israel based on U.S. ‘blackmail’

Ma’an News Agency reports: Prime minister of the Hamas-run government in the Gaza Strip Ismail Haniyeh on Saturday called on Palestinians to oppose any new negotiations with Israel, arguing that they “jeopardize the Palestinian issue and the Palestinian people’s rights.”

“These negotiations mark the violation of the Palestinian national consensus as negotiations are carried out as a result of US pressure and blackmail,” he said, urging Palestinians to protect Jerusalem and never abandon any Palestinian right, especially the right of return of refugees.

Haniyeh made the comments during a speech delivered in Gaza City on the second anniversary of the prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel which saw 1,027 Palestinian prisoners freed in a deal for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

In order to ensure the protection of Palestinian rights, “negotiations must stop and the Oslo approach must be ignored. Political forces must together find a new national strategy adopting diverse visions and means,” he continued.

“To confront any dangers or possible compromises emerging from negotiations,” added Haniyeh, “Palestinian factions and dignitaries should get together and build a Palestinian national strategy.”

This strategy, Haniyeh said, must include all possible options including armed resistance and popular resistance in addition to political and diplomatic means including academic and diplomatic divestment using all regional and international platforms.

Haniyeh also reiterated that his movement remained committed to reconciliation with the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority on the basis of the agreements reached through Cairo dialogue.

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Assad expresses respect for the West and contempt for Arabs and Hamas

The Lebanese Al-Akhbar English interviewed Bashar al-Assad:

Assad is bitter. “Not one Arab official has contacted us with a plan for mediation or for an Arab solution,” he says. The Arabs, he says, were always only an echo of their Western “masters,” if not worse.

The Syrian president adds that the West, despite all its flaws, “Always dealt with us more honorably than some Arabs.” Kofi Annan was honest and resigned, he remarks, while his Arab aides were not.

The conversation moves to Hamas when the president is asked about the reports regarding Meshaal’s visit to Tehran, and whether Damascus, specifically the presidential palace, would be his next stop. But Assad is keen on clarifying everything in this regard, ending all equivocation.

First, Assad says that the Muslim Brotherhood, for 80 years, has been known for its opportunism and betrayal, but stresses that Damascus did not treat Hamas in the beginning as being part of the international Islamist organization. “The Europeans would come to us and ask what Hamas was doing here, and we would say that it was a resistance movement,” the Syrian president says, adding that only that capacity made Syria welcome and sponsor Hamas.

Assad says, “When the crisis began, [Hamas officials] claimed that they gave us advice. This is a lie. Who are they to give Syria advice? Then they said that we asked for their help, which is also not true. What business do they have in internal Syrian affairs?”

Later, the president of the World Federation of Muslim Scholars, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, made his insulting statements about Syria. Assad says, “Yes, we demanded that they take a stance. A while later, they came and said that they spoke with Qaradawi. We said that those who want to take a political stance should do so publicly. What value does a stance have if taken in closed rooms?”

Estrangement between Hamas and the Syrian regime ensued. Assad holds that Hamas ultimately decided to abandon resistance and to fully merge with the Muslim Brotherhood. He adds, “This was not the first time they had betrayed us. It happened before in 2007 and 2009. Their history is one of treachery and betrayal.” Assad then wished “someone would persuade them to return to being a resistance movement,” but says that he doubts this will happen. “Hamas has sided against Syria from day one. They have made their choice,” he adds.

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Hamas wants bigger regional role

The Associated Press reports: Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal has set an ambitious agenda for his new term, seeking to transform his Islamic militant movement that rules Gaza into a widely recognized political force, but without making concessions toward Israel needed for international acceptance.

Re-elected last week, Mashaal will try to deepen ties with regional powers Qatar, Turkey and Egypt, which have already given money or political support to Gaza and could be conduits to the U.S. and Europe, several leading Hamas figures said.

Mashaal will also push for a power-sharing deal with his Western-backed Palestinian rival, President Mahmoud Abbas.

Mashaal “wants Hamas to be a recognized and legitimate player,” said Jordan-based analyst Mouin Rabbani, who frequently meets with Palestinian politicians, including Hamas members.

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Ghazi Hamad: Hamas agrees to accept state within ’67 borders

Al-Monitor: Dr. Ghazi Hamad, deputy foreign minister in the Hamas government, is thought to be one of the people spearheading the movement’s pragmatic wing. Two years ago, the secret channel of communication he maintained with Dr. Gershon Baskin led to a breakthrough in the protracted negotiations over the release of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, in exchange for the release of over 1,000 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. There can be no doubt that the results of these negotiations earned Hamad a position of honor within the Hamas movement and, more broadly, among the Palestinian public.

Hamad is considered to be very close to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, whom he once served as spokesman, and to the chief of Hamas’ political bureau, Khaled Meshaal, the movement’s newly reelected leader.

In an exclusive interview with Al-Monitor, Hamad analyzes the next steps that his movement will take, now that Khaled Meshaal has been reelected to head its reconstituted political bureau, and following the change within the movement’s bureau .

Al Monitor: Does Meshaal’s election signify a change in Hamas’ attitudes?

Hamad: First of all, we must remember that these were democratic elections, and as such, they are a credit to the movement. Elections for Hamas’ other institutions ended a year ago, and that was the last time that the Hamas movement expressed confidence in its leaders and their proposal to institute changes to Hamas’ policy. This included reconciliation with Fatah, among other things.

Al Monitor: When you talk about new policy, do you mean an end to the armed struggle and a transition to what Meshaal calls a “popular uprising”?

Hamad: As leader of the movement, Khaled Meshaal agreed to shift to a popular uprising. All of that began during the reconciliation talks. It emerged from a comprehensive vision of the movement’s future and the type of leadership that the Palestinian people need. And yet, though Meshaal is prepared to make a tactical shift to a popular uprising, armed struggle remains a legitimate right as long as the Occupation continues. At the same time, there is an extensive political and diplomatic program which we must advocate and work toward, and that includes joining the official institutions of the PLO. Those are our objectives, and that is our new approach.

Al Monitor: Does that include agreement to go back to the 1967 borders?

Hamad: Hamas has stated that it is prepared to accept a state within the 1967 borders.

Al Monitor: A two-state solution?

Hamad: We do not say “two states.” We agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, within the 1967 borders, and that this would include a solution to the refugee problem. What I can tell you is that all factions in the movement agree to this and are prepared to accept it. [Continue reading...]

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