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...]
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...]
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...]
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.
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...]
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.
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.
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.
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...]
AFP reports: The newly re-elected chief of Hamas, Khalid Mashaal, pledged on Thursday to work to end a rift with his West Bank rival, President Mahmoud Abbas.
Mashaal, speaking at a pro-Palestinian conference in Cairo, “affirmed his movement’s solicitude for ending the division with its negative effects,” the Safa news agency quoted his as saying.
But he hinted that Hamas would not renounce its opposition to Israel’s existence nor its use of violence, conditions for Israel and the United States to accept it as a partner in a Palestinian government.
“The (Israeli) occupation exploits the division and placed hurdles before a reconciliation (with Fatah),” he said. Hamas would work for unity “but that does not mean abandoning fixed positions.”
Mashaal’s reelection was confirmed on Tuesday, drawing a cautious welcome from his Fatah rivals.
Meanwhile, AFP also reported: Hamas on Friday urged the United Nations to reconsider its suspension of food aid for Palestinian refugees, imposed after protesters stormed a UN depot.
The UN Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, stopped food deliveries after dozens of Gazans forced their way into the field office on Thursday, demanding reinstatement of a monthly cash allowance to poor families which was halted from April 1 due to budget cuts.
“This is an unjustified step from UNRWA,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.
“There is a right of peaceful protest for Palestinian refugees,” he said, adding: “We call on UNRWA to reevaluate its position and not to overreact to residents’ protest.”
AFP reports: Hamas re-elected its veteran exiled leader Khaled Meshaal in Cairo on Monday, said an official of the Palestinian Islamist movement that rules Gaza.
“The leaders of Hamas chose Meshaal,” the high-ranking official told AFP via telephone from the Egyptian capital, requesting anonymity.
Hamas officials said earlier that the movement’s governing shura council was poised to renew Meshaal’s leadership for another four years, with one describing his re-election as “widely known”.
Prior to Monday’s vote, however, there had been speculation that the exiled leader would be forced aside by the movement’s powerful leaders in the Gaza Strip, which it has controlled since 2007.
Meshaal himself had said last year that he would not seek a new term.
But developments in the Middle East since the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 “pushed Hamas to choose Meshaal… who has given the movement a national face… and has good relations in the Arab world,” one Hamas official said Monday.
Al Monitor: Following US mediation, personally led by President Barack Obama during his visit to the region, Israel and Turkey have finally renormalized their diplomatic relations.
This new Israeli-Turkish agreement brought to mind the Israeli attack on the Freedom Flotilla, where nine Turkish activists on board were killed on May 31, 2010. This attack was what pushed Israel to ease its blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Hamas welcomed Israel’s apology, in the hope that Turkey would continue with its pressure to further ease the blockade.
The head of Hamas’ foreign relations department, Bassem Naim, said in an interview with Al-Monitor, that “this apology represents a major milestone in the history of the Israeli-Arab conflict in the region, since it is the first time Israel has offered an apology of this kind.
“Israel’s crimes against humanity can no longer be overlooked in light of the emergence of a powerful and respectable state such as Turkey, whose new diplomacy is based on solid ground,” he added.
Turkey had imposed three conditions on Israel as a prerequisite to exchanging ambassadors and normalizing relations between the countries. First, Israel must offer an apology, compensate the victims’ families and lift the blockade on the Gaza Strip.
It should be noted that Israel has maintained economic constraints on the Gaza Strip by shutting the commercial crossing of Karam Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom), after militants in Gaza recently fired rockets at Israeli towns. Israel has also restricted fishing areas in the Mediterranean, violating the stipulations of the Oslo Accords in this regard. Additionally, movement through the Erez crossing has been limited.
According to Naim, Israel will try to evade Turkey’s condition of lifting the blockade on Gaza by misleading the public and Turkey, claiming that it has [already] been allowing goods to enter the area freely.
Efraim Halevy writes: he recent news out of the Middle East has been grim. But, if there’s an atmosphere of pessimism in the international press, that’s because the real story hasn’t been earning any attention—intentionally so. We can all read about Hamas’s daily maligning of Israel, and its promises to put an end to Jewish sovereignty in the Holy Land, just as we can read about Israeli officials continuing to demand that Hamas recognize the right of Israel (including Jerusalem) to exist, knowing full well that no devout Muslim has ever done so, or can ever do so. The past month has also seen hunger strikes by prominent Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, which have incited widespread demonstrations in Palestinian territories.
What hasn’t earned much attention are the successive rounds of negotiations between Israeli army officers and other security officials and their Egyptian counterparts, mostly in Cairo, parallel to those that the Egyptians have been conducting with Hamas personnel. These “non-negotiations” between Israel and Hamas might be critical in finding a durable solution for their conflict.
But both sides prefer to keep the talks quiet. Hamas and Israel each appreciate the advantages of maintaining a diplomatic fiction while they pursue their real interests. Each side can thus publicly maintain its ideological purity, biding its time as it ascertains the intentions of the other. The ultimate effect may be to lay the groundwork for a pragmatic, and unprecedented, system of coexistence. This may not be the classic “peace process,” but it is may prove a fateful process, nonetheless. [Continue reading...]