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January 22, 2009

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Gaza Doctor: Hamas Exaggerated Gaza Death Toll - 600 Killed, Mostly Fighters, Not 1,300 - Yossi Bar (Maariv-Hebrew)
    The Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra Thursday quoted a doctor at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City saying that, despite Hamas and UN claims, most of those killed in Gaza were young men who were members of terror groups.
    "The number of deaths was between 500-600...most were young men between 17 and 23 who were recruited into the ranks of Hamas, which sent them to be slaughtered," he said.
    Journalist Lorenzo Cremonesi confirmed that only 600 people were killed, and not 1,300 as was widely reported, based on hospital visits and discussions with families of the victims.
    "It was strange that the non-governmental organizations, including Western ones, repeated the number without checking, but the truth will come to light in the end," said the doctor.
    "It's like what happened in Jenin in 2002," he said. "At the beginning they spoke of 500 dead; afterwards it was clear there were only 54 dead, at least 45 of them fighters."

Hamas Shot from Civilian Neighborhoods - Rod Nordland (Newsweek)
    Israel blames Hamas for using housing areas, hospitals, schools and mosques to launch attacks into Israel or against its soldiers, provoking defensive counter-fire that it says is responsible for most of the civilian casualties.
    Every one of the residents interviewed in eastern Jabaliya insisted that there had been no provocation from the area, no resistance fighters, and no rocket launchings.
    "There aren't any tunnels around here, we are not resistance," said Najah Abd Rabo. Yet not more than 20 feet away from Najah, there was just such a tunnel, which Israeli troops had unearthed. Right in the middle of the road, it had a convincingly camouflaged roof that matched the rest of the road.
    Talal Safadi, an official in the leftist Palestinian People's Party, said that Hamas fighters were firing from positions all around Al Quds Hospital in the Tal-al Hawa neighborhood of Gaza City.

Hamas Confirms Executing Fatah Collaborators - Khaled Abu Toameh (Jerusalem Post)
    PA Minister of Social Welfare Mahmoud Habbash accused Hamas on Wednesday of confiscating 63 trucks loaded with humanitarian aid while they were on their way to UNRWA in Gaza.
    He also said 19 Palestinians were murdered in cold blood by Hamas during and after Israel's Gaza operation, while more than 60 others were shot in the legs.
    See also Hamas Seeks "Collaborators" in Gaza - Nidal al-Mughrabi (Reuters)
    Ehab al-Ghsain, spokesman of the Hamas Interior Ministry, said Wednesday, "The internal security service was instructed to track collaborators and hit them hard....They arrested dozens of collaborators."

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  • Obama's First Call Is to Abbas - Tom Baldwin
    President Obama placed the Middle East at the forefront of his first hours in office Wednesday. In a flurry of telephone calls from the Oval Office, he vowed to engage immediately in pursuit of a permanent Arab-Israeli settlement. Obama told Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas that their conversation was his first with a foreign statesman since taking office. Obama also spoke to President Mubarak of Egypt, Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, and King Abdullah of Jordan. (Times-UK)
        See also Obama Stresses Commitment to Stop Hamas Arms Smuggling - Eric Fingerhut
    President Barack Obama told Ehud Olmert and three other Middle East leaders he is determined to stop Hamas from smuggling arms. A White House statement said that Obama "emphasized his determination to work to help consolidate the cease-fire by establishing an effective anti-smuggling regime to prevent Hamas from rearming, and facilitating in partnership with the Palestinian Authority a major reconstruction effort for Palestinians in Gaza."  (JTA)
        See also Egypt: No Foreign Navies in Egyptian Waters to Combat Smuggling
    Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Wednesday his country will not allow foreign naval forces to operate in its territorial waters to prevent weapons smuggling to Gaza. (AP/International Herald Tribune)
  • Palestinians Mend Smuggling Tunnels - Nidal al-Mughrabi
    Hundreds of Palestinians came to Gaza's border with Egypt Thursday to repair smuggling tunnels bombed by Israel. Residents along the border said shipments had already been moving through several dozen tunnels. Israel has threatened new military action to prevent Hamas from replenishing the rocket arsenal it used to strike southern Israeli towns. (Reuters)
        See also Hamas Arms Smuggling Never Stopped During IDF Operation in Gaza - Anshel Pfeffer and Barak Ravid
    Some tunnels running under the border between Egypt and Gaza remained in operation even during the fighting. Contrary to media reports, the Israeli air force apparently did not use powerful bunker-busting bombs to destroy the tunnels. (Ha'aretz)
        See also Smugglers Get Tunnels Back in Operation - Volkhard Windfuhr and Bernhard Zand
    It's clean-up time in southern Gaza as the operators of the tunnels used to smuggle goods and weapons in from Egypt have come to assess the damage caused by the Israeli bombardment. Mohammed is coming up a 26-meter tunnel shaft. "Everything's okay," he reports. "A lot of sand has gotten in, it'll take us a while to shovel it all out. But I managed to get across to the other side. Our friends in Egypt send their regards." (Der Spiegel-Germany)
  • Obama Greeted with Hatred and Quiet Hope in Iran - Bill Neely
    In Tehran, thousands chanted "Death to Obama," dragging his portrait through the streets and then setting fire to it alongside a picture of George Bush. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei's Special Representative, Hossein Shariatmadari, said: "Obama's is the hand of Satan in a new sleeve." "Obama won't make any big change in American policy towards Iran," he told me. At the same time, watching the inauguration on illegal satellite television receivers were Iranians who yearn for a thaw in relations with the West. (Telegraph-UK)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Israel to EU: Gaza Crisis Won't End Until Captured Israeli Soldier Is Returned - Roni Sofer
    The crisis in Gaza will not be resolved so long as (kidnapped IDF soldier) Gilad Shalit remains in Hamas' hands, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Wednesday in Brussels. The EU foreign ministers met in Brussels to declare their intention to contribute units, vessels, and technological means in order to curb weapon transfers from Iran to Hamas. (Ynet News)
  • UNRWA Schools in Gaza Infiltrated by Palestinian Terrorists - Jonathan D. Halevi
    Recent years have seen the gradual takeover of UNRWA educational and welfare institutions in Gaza by Palestinian terrorist organizations, led by Hamas. Just six months after Hamas' general election victory, it won a clear victory in the UNRWA workers committee elections held on 14 June 2006. Suhil el-Hindi, head of the teachers sector at UNRWA schools, operates openly as Hamas' representative. He controls the curriculum in UNRWA schools, the employment of teachers in those schools, and the summer camps.
        Hamas Interior Minister Said Sayyam, responsible for Hamas terror operations, who was targeted in the recent Gaza war, was a teacher at UNRWA schools for 23 years. Following the Hamas takeover of Gaza in June 2007, parents of students in UNRWA schools wrote to the head of UNRWA charging that scores of teachers at the schools belonged to the Al-Aqsa Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, and requested an urgent investigation. In another example, Awad el-Kik, the principal of an UNRWA school in Rafiah, was also head of weapons and rocket manufacturing for Islamic Jihad in Gaza until he was targeted on 30 April 2008.
        It seems very likely that contributions by Western nations to UNRWA pay the salaries of Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists who are educating the next generation of Palestinians in jihad against Israel and all non-Muslims. Western nations should demand that terror group activists be removed from UN institutions as a condition of continued funding. Lt. Col. (res.) Jonathan Dahoah-Halevi is a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and co-founder of the Orient Research Group Ltd. (Ynet-Hebrew)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Obama Must Choose Which Palestinians to Support - Steven Erlanger
    With the rule of Hamas in Gaza apparently unchallenged and its popularity growing in the West Bank, the new Obama administration faces an immediate policy choice: support a Palestinian unity government, as Egypt and PA leader Mahmoud Abbas want, or continue to isolate Hamas and concentrate on building up the West Bank as a political alternative to radical Islam. The issue is urgent because of the international effort to rebuild Gaza while trying to avoid letting Hamas take credit for the reconstruction, as Hizbullah did in southern Lebanon after the 2006 war. The choice goes to the heart of what Obama can accomplish when the Palestinian side remains violently divided. (New York Times)
  • Egypt Dominance as Mideast Mediator in Doubt - Cynthia Johnston
    Egypt's failure to achieve a negotiated truce in Gaza leaves a question mark over Cairo's future as a preferred Arab mediator. Egypt has long been treated as an indispensable go-between with Israel and Palestinian factions, but Israel ended its military operation in Gaza unilaterally despite Egyptian efforts for a mediated truce.
        That came on the heels of a disappointing round of intra-Palestinian talks that failed to reconcile bickering Palestinian groups last year. In addition, it remains unlikely that Egypt will take strong steps on the smuggling tunnels - in part to avoid alienating Sinai Bedouin whose livelihoods depend on illicit trade with Gaza. (Reuters)
  • Welcome to the New Middle East - Martin Regg Cohn
    As vital as it is to engage the Palestinians, it is no less crucial to enlist the Israelis in a confidence-building process. I covered the Israeli disengagements from the territories in the mid-1990s. Back then, Hamas was disavowing the Oslo Peace Process as a sellout and sabotaging it with suicide bombers. In my interviews with the top Hamas leadership - Mahmoud Zahar, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, and Sheikh Ahmad Yassin - there was never talk of two-state solutions or one-state solutions. Rather, their solution was to send the Jews back where they came from.
        If the Israelis have taken a hard line now against Hamas, scores of suicide bombings and thousands of missiles later, it is because Hamas responded to the withdrawal from Gaza with an unprovoked assault. Hamas still refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist (no mere bargaining tactic). And it remains a vexing interlocutor for other Arab partners - notably the Palestinian Authority, the Saudis and Egyptians. (Toronto Star)
  • Observations:

    Israel's Role as an Asset for the West - Jonathan Spyer (Jerusalem Post)

    • As the smoke clears from the latest round of fighting in Gaza, the perception in the Arab world is that Israel was victorious and that Hamas and its allies suffered a significant setback. It is precisely the extent of destruction wrought by Israel in Gaza, along with the very minor losses suffered by the Israeli side, which make the Hamas claims of having achieved anything at all - let alone victory - ring hollow.
    • This time around, the "resistance" model did not seem to work. The rockets did not succeed in creating a sense of siege in Israel's south, but rather declined in number as the operation proceeded. Ground operations were undertaken in the heart of Gaza - successfully, and with few losses.
    • Israel acts as the blunt instrument - physically resisting anti-Western forces and thus denting their charisma. This then creates a space whereby pro-Western Arab states can make the case that opposition to the West and to Israel is a road to nowhere. This is precisely the way that radical Arab nationalism was broken in the 1960s, which made possible the eventual achievement of peace between Egypt and Israel. It is in this way that Israel plays a crucial role as an ally and asset for the West.
    • The radical Islamist ideology promoted by Iran is likely ultimately to be broken in a similar way.

      The writer is a senior researcher at the Global Research in International Affairs Center, IDC, Herzliya.

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