Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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December 29, 2004

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In-Depth Issue:

New PA Security Force to Deploy in Gaza - Khaled Abu Toameh (Jerusalem Post)
    The PA is preparing to deploy a special force in Gaza to fight local criminal gangs.
    The Joint Central Force is headed by Brigadier-General Mohammed al-Sakka, and is subordinate to the National Security Council headed by Prime Minister Qurei.
    "The force's main task is to enforce law and order and hunt down criminals and murderers," said a senior PA security official in Gaza City. "It will fight against murderers and rapists, not Hamas and Islamic Jihad," he emphasized.
    Al-Sakka said the new force consists of 1,000 security officers to be deployed in various parts of the Gaza Strip within the next few days.
    Its members have received special training in anti-riot tactics and combating crime over the past five months.
    "The members of the new force were carefully selected and are all ambitious young men....They will all wear black uniforms and use white vehicles. They will also receive relatively high salaries because of the risks they face."
    Earlier this week, thousands of Palestinians demonstrated in Gaza City to demand an end to security chaos, following the killing of Ashraf Zahra, an engineer affiliated with Hamas, who was killed by a stray bullet during a gun battle in Gaza City between rival clans.

New Hope of Syrian Minorities: Ripple Effect of Iraqi Politics - Katherine Zoepf (New York Times)
    In northeastern Syria, home to several ethnic minorities, the Iraqi election next month is evoking hope.
    "I believe democracy in Iraq must succeed," Vahan Kirakos, a Syrian of Armenian ethnicity, said. "Iraq is like the stone thrown into the pool."
    Minority activists in Syria say they may not form legal political parties or publish newspapers in minority languages. Syria's largest minority, the Kurds, numbering more than 150,000, are denied citizenship.
    In March, more than 3,000 Kurds in Qamishli near the Turkish border took part in antigovernment protests, which led to clashes with Syrian security forces and more than 25 deaths.
    In October, more than 2,000 Assyrian Christians in Hasakah City demonstrated following an episode in which two Christians were killed by Muslims who called them "Bush supporters" and "Christian dogs."
    "Kurds in Syria feel relieved when we see Kurds in Iraq getting their rights," said Taher Sfog, secretary general of Syria's illegal Kurdish Democratic National Party. "Democracy there will lead to a push in Syria, too."

Web Video Teaches Terrorists to Make Bomb Vest - Lisa Myers (MSNBC)
    Posted in a militant Islamic chat room, a stunningly detailed 26-minute video shows how to make a sophisticated suicide bomb vest that would be tough to detect, mostly from common off-the-shelf materials.
    Retired military intelligence officer Lt. Col. Rick Francona says the video, titled "The Explosive Belt for Martyrdom Operations," would be extremely valuable to any terrorist.
    Experts believe the video was made by a Palestinian group.
    In one demonstration, a would-be bomber is told where to stand in a bus for maximum carnage. "Notice that the shrapnel has greatly penetrated all of the seats," says an Arabic voice on the video.


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  • U.S. Gives $20 Million to Interim Palestinian Leadership
    The U.S. gave $20 million in cash aid to the interim Palestinian leadership Tuesday to help finance economic reform and next month's presidential election, the U.S. Embassy announced in Tel Aviv. The aid reflects "our confidence in the direction of the PA's reform program, and our expectation that reform will continue to be implemented energetically," said William Burns, assistant secretary of state for the Mideast. (New York Times)
  • Abbas Vows Peace Push
    Emergent Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas drew cheers at an election rally Tuesday by vowing to follow in Arafat's footsteps while stressing he would seek a state via peace talks with Israel. Abbas has repeated Arafat's stand that Palestinians will settle for no less than a state in all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip with east Jerusalem as its capital and the "right of return" of refugees to what is now Israel. "Our positions are the positions of Arafat," said Abbas. "We want an authority based on institutions and the rule of law. We have chosen negotiations and peace as the path to achieve our rights." People in the crowd shouted slogans for democratic reform rather than chants about "martyrs marching to Jerusalem." (Reuters)
  • U.S. Accuses Syria of Helping Insurgents - Barry Schweid
    The Bush administration accused Syria on Tuesday of helping insurgents in Iraq by giving haven to elements of the deposed Saddam Hussein regime. "It is a problem that we think Syria needs to act to stop," State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said Tuesday. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is likely to discuss the U.S. complaint when he stops in Damascus on a trip to the region. (AP/Washington Post)
  • Israel to Ship Emergency Aid to Sri Lanka
    An Israeli air force plane laden with emergency aid was set to leave for disaster-struck Sri Lanka, the Israeli military said, after plans for a larger delegation were scrapped. The plane will carry humanitarian supplies including tents, generators, blankets, and medicine. (AFP/Daily News-Sri Lanka)
        See also IDF Humanitarian and Medical Delegation Leaving for Sri Lanka (Israel Defense Forces); Israeli Rescue Personnel to Assist Victims in Southeast Asia (IsraAID)
        See also India Refuses Foreign Aid to Fight Disaster
    India has declined offers of foreign aid, because the government feels it can manage the relief and rescue operations on its own. From Russia to Israel as well as international organizations, offers for help to battle the tsunami disaster have been pouring in. (Times of India)
        See also Vatican Raps Israel for Denying Help to Sri Lanka
    The Vatican newspaper has denounced what it called a decision by the IDF to deny emergency help to disaster victims in Sri Lanka. Calling for "a radical and dramatic change of perspective" among people "too often preoccupied with making war," L'Osservatore Romano singled out Israeli military leaders for declining a request for emergency medical help.
        Contrary to the Vatican report, an Israeli plane carrying 80 tons of food and medical supplies worth $100,000 was set to depart for Sri Lanka Wednesday. At the request of the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry, a team of some 150 Israeli medical and security personnel aborted their planned trip to the island Tuesday. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also L'Osservatore Raps Israel for Declining Disaster Relief (Catholic World News)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Two Israelis Reported Killed, Concern for Others in Southern Thailand - Herb Keinon
    The Thai government reports that two Israelis are among the foreign nationals known to have died in Thailand in the tsunami disaster. Foreign Ministry officials said Tuesday there was grave concern for the lives of as many as 15 Israelis in southern Thailand, based on eyewitness accounts who spotted them being swept away by tidal waves that battered the islands of Phuket and Ko Phi Phi on Sunday. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Israelis Injured in Thailand to be Airlifted Home - Amiran Barkat
    There are 33 Israelis in Thai hospitals, of whom four are in critical condition. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said Tuesday that as soon as their medical condition permits it, the injured Israelis will be airlifted back to Israel. The Foreign Ministry expressed concern Tuesday that the bodies of Israeli victims would be buried in mass graves before they had been positively identified, preventing them from being flown back to Israel for a Jewish burial. (Ha'aretz)
  • Tsunami Brings Together Israelis and Palestinians in Thailand
    Yossi and Inbar Gross were spending their honeymoon in the Thai resort of Phuket when the area was overwhelmed by a wall of water. "We and this Palestinian couple jumped on the roof of this Ford van," Yossi Gross told Army Radio. "Below us was a raging river, a sea that washed up into the city and dragged everything along with it. Everything was wrecked." Gross said they stayed with the Palestinian couple from eastern Jerusalem on the van's roof for more than four hours before they were able to climb down. Later, the Palestinians gave them money and assistance that enabled them to get to Bangkok and board a flight for Israel, Gross said. (AP/Ha'aretz)
  • Hamas Men Survive Drone Missile Attack - Gideon Alon and Aluf Benn
    An Israel Air Force drone fired a missile at a car carrying two Hamas militants near Khan Yunis in Gaza Tuesday, according to Palestinian witnesses. The militants, who escaped unharmed, were apparently on their way to fire either mortar shells or rockets at Gush Katif. The militants' car and rocket launcher were damaged in the strike, Israel Radio reported. Also Tuesday, 10 Palestinians were injured by an Israeli tank shell in Khan Yunis. The tank had returned fire after a Kassam rocket struck Neve Dekalim in Gush Katif. (Ha'aretz)
  • Palestinians Wound Two Soldiers in Ambush - Yaakov Katz
    Shots were fired Wednesday at an IDF jeep escorting Israeli vehicles near Baka a-Sharkiya, near the West Bank city of Tulkarm and close to the border with Israel. Police said that two soldiers were lightly wounded in the attack (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Human Rights: Watching the Watchers - Gerald M. Steinberg
    In October 2004, Kenneth Roth, the head of Human Rights Watch in New York, flew to Jerusalem for a day to publicize a 135-page report entitled "Razing Rafah" - a scathing condemnation of the Israeli government's policies along the border between Gaza and Egypt. The issue is how to balance the core human right - the right to life in the face of a terrorist onslaught - with the rights of noncombatant Palestinians. But this is not a problem that concerns HRW, whose officials exploit the rhetoric of universal human rights to promote narrow political and ideological preferences.
        In the past four years, despite terror attacks that clearly violate any common-sense concept of basic human rights, HRW's reports and press releases have focused - by a ratio of over six to one - on allegations against Israel. Roth has claimed a "two-to-one" ratio - which, even if true, would be morally unjustified. The writer is editor of NGO Monitor and director of the Program on Conflict Management at Bar-Ilan University. (Jerusalem Post)
  • The Trojan Horse of Wahhabism - Stephen Schwartz
    The Dutch Moroccan who murdered van Gogh attended a mosque purchased in 1999 with a 1.5 million euro loan from the Saudi charity Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, which has since been designated by the U.S. and Saudi governments as an organization providing financial, material, and logistical support to al-Qaeda. Besides the Netherlands, Al Haramain formerly had offices in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Albania, which have since been closed. An employee of the Tirana office was implicated in the murder of a senior official of Albania's moderate Muslim community.
        What makes a Wahhabi mosque so dangerous? First, Wahhabi preaching and teaching is fundamentalist, indoctrinating young and old in hatred, contempt, and distrust of Jews, Christians, and non-Wahhabi Muslims. Second, it will propagandize in favor of violence in Iraq, Israel, and Chechnya. Wahhabi mosques serve as centers for the collection of money and dissemination of extremist literature, including the "Saudi edition of Qur'an," a revised version of the Islamic scripture with insertions and distortions that make it an extremist document. (Tech Central Station)
  • Observations:

    Are All Politics Local? A Look at Palestinian Municipal Elections Results
    - David Makovsky (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)

    • The West Bank municipal balloting on Dec. 23 was the first round of local voting since 1976. The results: a Fatah victory but Hamas gains.
    • Arafat refused to hold municipal elections as called for in the Oslo process, viewing them as a means of diluting his authority, stripping him of the ability to use municipal positions as an outlet for cronyism.
    • According to the Palestinian Higher Commission for Local Elections, there was a turnout of 81% among the 144,000 Palestinians eligible to vote, 49% of whom were women. Of the 306 people elected, women defeated men 25 times, and won an additional 21 safe seats in a quota system to widen the representation of women, a total of 46 women elected to office.
    • Candidates were listed on the ballot as individuals, their affiliations not identified. Local clans remained important power brokers in local decisions.
    • Hamas's appeal is particularly strong when the issues at play are local, since Hamas has developed a reputation for providing local social services.
    • Generally, Fatah has been gaining ground relative to Hamas. In recent polls, support for Fatah rose to 40%, while support for Hamas was less than half that.

      The writer is a senior fellow and director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

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