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MUBARAK INVITES OLMERT TO CAIRO TO DISCUSS GAZA TRUCE OFFER Haaretz - January 8, 2009 Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has invited Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to Cairo to discuss the Egyptian-French proposal for a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip. Al-Hayat, the London-based Arab daily newspaper, reported that simultaneous efforts are being made to schedule a meeting between Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel and Egypt are expected to enter intensive negotiations in the coming days in an attempt to agree on a mechanism that will bring the fighting in the Gaza Strip to an end. As a preamble to these talks, Amos Gilad, the head of the Defense Ministry's diplomatic-military bureau, will travel to Cairo Thursday for talks with Egyptian officials on an arrangement for managing the Philadelphi corridor and the degree of Egyptian involvement in curtailing arms smuggling into the Strip. Meanwhile, the cabinet approved Wednesday a continuation of Operation Cast Lead, while simultaneously increasing the amount of humanitarian aid into Gaza. Israel's security cabinet on Wednesday postponed a vote on whether to expand the Gaza operation. Sources said the ministers discussed whether to implement the "third stage" of the operation launched on Dec. 27, but decided to defer the decision on whether to approve it to an undisclosed date. The United States is also involved in the discussions between Israel and Egypt on an agreement that would seek to end smuggling into the Strip. Arab sources have said that Israel and the U.S. are discussing possible security arrangements that could be used on the Philadelphi corridor, and in parallel Washington is discussing with Cairo how such arrangements may be implemented. Meanwhile, Egyptian officials are holding talks with Hamas on a new cease-fire agreement with Israel. All parties, according to the Arab sources, are trying to reach an agreement before Arab states raise proposals at the United Nations Security Council that will call on Israel to cease fire immediately. Notwithstanding a series of statements suggesting that there is agreement for a cease-fire, it appears that there are still significant differences between Israel and Egypt regarding the nature of the settlement. The main problem is the fact that Israel is preconditioning a cease-fire to a solution to the smuggling, while Egypt is asking for a cease-fire and the opening of the border crossings, before a resolution of the Hamas tunnels issue. Talks on a diplomatic agreement began at the very early stages of the operation in the Gaza Strip. The U.S. was first in holding talks with the Arab League, in order to produce a solution that Arab states would impose on Hamas. However, intense infighting in the League, primarily between Egypt and Saudi Arabia on one side and Syria on the other, foiled any progress. Following the initial American effort, the French launched an initiative for a 48-hour cease-fire. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner presented the proposal on humanitarian grounds, and talked with Defense Minister Ehud Barak on the matter. Israel rejected the proposal, fearing that it would undermine its offensive in the Strip if it acknowledged that a humanitarian crisis existed in Gaza. Anti-Hamas accords At this point Israel proposed to the U.S. and the European Union that a settlement be constructed from a series of accords "against Hamas" that would be imposed on the group by the international community. The U.S. began talks with Egypt on the matter, and a few days ago French President Nicolas Sarkozy also became involved. At this point Israel opted to avoid direct talks with Egypt, leaving the coordination to Washington and Paris. After a meeting with President Hosni Mubarak on Monday, Sarkozy traveled to Israel where he met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. "I understand the concern about the smuggling and agree that this is central to a solution," Sarkozy told Olmert. The French president said that in parallel to the military operation in the Strip, Israel should begin direct talks with Egypt on the smuggling issue. Sarkozy also promised that "if there is a need for Europe to establish an international ground force as well as a naval force in order to assist Egypt, everyone will be willing to assist." The French president added that the handling of the smuggling operations would be done on Egypt's side of the border. "If you [Israel] decide that the mechanism [against the smuggling] is a good one, declare a cease-fire unilaterally," Sarkozy told Olmert. "If Hamas responds, excellent. If not, keep on shooting." Sarkozy explained that at a later stage, when a cease-fire is in place, a solution would be found to the crossings - particularly the one in Rafah - and the incorporation of the Palestinian Authority in any solution. "If this is the framework and this is the order of things to come, I agree," Olmert replied. However, after Sarkozy visited Damascus and then Egypt once more for a meeting with Mubarak, it emerged that Cairo had a different view on the French proposal. At a press conference, Sarkozy and Mubarak presented things differently: * First, an immediate cease-fire, an opening of the crossings and a start to negotiations for a long term cease-fire. * Second, regional and international guarantees for the cease-fire, and "improvement of the security situation on the border" - i.e. curtailing the smuggling. * Third, talks for internal Palestinian reconciliation. Israel's response Israel's response focused on Egypt's willingness to discuss the question of the smuggling and an end to the terrorism originating in the Strip, but rejected any proposal for opening the crossings or resuming the internal Palestinian political dialogue. However, Israeli political sources say that they are dissatisfied by the difference in the Sarkozy version to Olmert and the one presented by Mubarak. It is also still unclear to Israel whether Cairo is interested in mediating between Israel and Hamas. Meanwhile, Razi Hamad, a spokesman for Hamas, said Wednesday that "there is a positive atmosphere for a cease-fire." In an interview to the Palestinian News Agency Ma'an, Hamad indicated that it would be possible to reach a cease-fire within a week. "The diplomatic efforts should be allowed to succeed," he said. Deputy chief of the Hamas politburo Musa Abu Marzouk said Wednesday that the organization is examining the cease-fire proposal being proposed by Egypt, France, Syria and Turkey. He rejected the possibility that Hamas would negotiate a permanent cease-fire with Israel so long as the occupation persisted. Another Hamas spokesman, Osama Hamdan, said that the group opposes the proposal of deploying an international force along the border between Gaza and Egypt. Meanwhile, the Netherlands and Denmark are officially offering to deploy troops to a European observer force that would potentially be sent to the Gaza-Sinai border. In a letter to the Czech presidency of the European Union Wednesday, the foreign ministers of the two countries stressed the importance of building Israel's confidence that Hamas will not acquire missiles, and called on the E.U. to offer supervision and control over the border with Sinai. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Wednesday evening during a meeting with European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana that "[Israel] is working to ensure that [Operation Cast Lead] creates a safer reality for the southern communities. We will not abandon this objective." Referring to the possibility of a cease-fire agreement with Hamas, Barak said that Israel "will examine it to make sure it leads to the creation of the desired reality. If it does not, the Israel Defense Forces will continue its operation in Gaza and possibly intensify it." Solana said Wednesday that the Union is ready to assist Egypt in preventing smuggling, but in an interview to Reuters he qualified that the assistance "will be mostly technological and not by the deployment of forces." OU S'ARRETERA L'OFFENSIVE ISRAELIENNE? Le Monde - 7 janvier 2009 by Robert Malley* Une guerre dont ne voulaient ni Israël ni le Hamas s'est métamorphosée en guerre que tous deux sont résolus à poursuivre. Le cessez-le-feu préexistant n'était pas parfait, loin s'en faut. Israël subissait des tirs de roquettes intermittents, tout en sachant que l'ennemi juré profitait de la trêve pour renforcer son arsenal. Le Hamas endurait un embargo économique sévère contrecarrant ses espoirs de gouverner Gaza. Un compromis logique était à portée de main : fin des attaques provenant de Gaza contre ouverture des points de passage entre Gaza, Israël et l'Egypte. Las, le défaut de contacts entre les deux acteurs, la méfiance réciproque et, surtout, l'absence d'un médiateur efficace ont concouru au résultat que l'on sait : un conflit de vaste envergure dont les deux parties espèrent tirer profit et dont les avantages leur semblent supérieurs au coût. Pour le Hamas, prolonger la trêve semblait avantageux, mais uniquement à condition de l'aménager. Le calme relatif lui a permis de consolider son emprise sur Gaza. Mais le siège n'a jamais été levé. Les dirigeants islamistes se trouvaient dans la situation inconfortable de justifier une pause qui n'améliorait en rien le quotidien des Gazaouis. Alors qu'approchait la date d'expiration de la trêve, les tirs de roquettes allèrent en s'accroissant, message on ne peut moins subtil que le Hamas emploierait la violence pour forcer Israël à ouvrir les points de passage. La riposte israélienne aura étonné les militants du Hamas par sa synchronisation et son intensité. Mais le fait lui-même n'était guère surprenant. Il était attendu. Car le Hamas compte engranger les bénéfices politiques de ses lourdes pertes matérielles. La victoire, telle qu'il la conçoit, consiste à résister à l'assaut de son adversaire. Déjà, il peut se prévaloir d'être la première force palestinienne organisée à résister à une attaque israélienne sur le territoire national ; pour un mouvement qui se nourrit de l'image du martyre et du courage, c'est là pain bénit. Son prestige, à l'intérieur comme dans le monde arabo-musulman - mis à mal par la férocité de sa prise de pouvoir à Gaza -, en sortira grandi. A l'opposé, celui de ses rivaux palestiniens -, le président Mahmoud Abbas, l'Autorité palestinienne basée à Ramallah et le Fatah - sera endommagé. Une invasion terrestre était également anticipée et, parmi certains militants du Hamas, souhaitée. Des combats en milieu urbain, estiment-ils à tort ou à raison, joueraient à leur avantage. Israël aussi voyait le cessez-le-feu d'un relatif bon oeil, bien qu'avec de multiples et compréhensibles appréhensions. Le Hamas accumulait des roquettes à plus longue portée ; le caporal Shalit, enlevé en 2006, demeurait en captivité ; et les attaques provenant de Gaza continuaient de façon sporadique. Tout ça, Israël pouvait le supporter. Pas l'escalade qui a immédiatement précédé et suivi la fin de la trêve. Dès lors, même les plus rétifs à l'idée d'une vaste opération militaire s'y sont rangés. Si une invasion n'était pas inévitable, une fois la guerre lancée elle devenait quasiment inexorable ; d'une part, la victoire militaire ne pouvait être obtenue par des bombardements aériens et, de l'autre, et contrairement au cas libanais, elle semble au moins concevable par voie terrestre. Dépourvu de profondeur stratégique et sans possibilité de se réarmer, le Hamas est autrement plus vulnérable que ne l'était son homologue libanais. Mais après ? Où s'arrêtera Israël ? Si l'objectif est de neutraliser toute capacité militaire du Hamas, de le mettre à genoux, de l'empêcher de crier victoire et lui dénier toute légitimité, les forces armées israéliennes devront vraisemblablement pénétrer au coeur de milieux urbains. Qui gouvernera par la suite Gaza ? Quelle force autre que les islamistes y jouira de la moindre crédibilité ? Certes pas l'Autorité palestinienne, dont l'image souffre chaque jour davantage. Anéantir la force militaire du Hamas, peut-être. Mais détruire sa profonde présence sociale et politique relève de l'illusion. Si cette guerre doit se conclure avant que l'opération israélienne ne se transforme en aventure à l'envergure incertaine, aux conséquences aléatoires et au coût humain, hélas, trop connu, il n'y a guère d'alternative à une intervention internationale forte et urgente. Des Etats-Unis, malheureusement, il n'y a pas grand-chose à attendre, du moins avant l'investiture de Barack Obama. Reste l'Europe, et en particulier la France, qui, avec le président Sarkozy, fait montre d'un activisme nouveau et bienvenu. Les contours d'une résolution crédible sont connus : arrêt immédiat des hostilités suivi d'un cessez-le-feu durable ; de l'envoi d'une force multinationale chargée d'en vérifier le respect ; de mesures à la frontière égyptienne pour juguler la contrebande ; et de l'ouverture de Gaza à l'Egypte et à Israël sous un mécanisme incluant les pays frontaliers, l'Union européenne, l'Autorité palestinienne et le Hamas. Certains ne manqueront de soulever des critiques. Ordonner une trêve immédiate, dit-on, ne ferait qu'entretenir les éléments qui ont abouti à la crise. Soit. Le cessez-le-feu éventuel devra satisfaire les besoins israéliens en termes de sécurité et palestiniens concernant la levée du siège. Mais attendre que tout cela soit accepté présenterait d'énormes risques : en pertes humaines ; en dommages politiques (radicalisation de la région ; discrédit des forces dites "modérées", comme Mahmoud Abbas, ou du prétendu processus de paix) ; ou en nouveau cataclysme à Gaza ou en Israël. D'autres dénonceront le fait de reconnaître au Hamas un rôle à Gaza. Mais c'est simplement se plier aux réalités politiques. Les habitants de Gaza et du Sud israélien ne connaîtront pas de calme véritable tant que le monde refusera de traiter avec le mouvement islamiste et tant que le mouvement islamiste ignorera ses obligations internationales. En échange de l'arrêt des attaques provenant de Gaza et d'un régime sécuritaire renforcé, la communauté internationale devra reconnaître au Hamas le droit d'y exercer son pouvoir, en son sein comme à ses frontières. L'histoire de ces deux dernières années à Gaza est celle d'une banqueroute collective et sans équivoque : du Hamas, qui a raté l'occasion d'agir en tant qu'acteur politique responsable ; d'Israël, qui s'en est tenu à une politique chimérique visant à isoler et affaiblir le mouvement islamiste et qui aura produit précisément le contraire ; de la direction de l'Autorité palestinienne, qui a refusé d'accepter le triomphe électoral de son rival, a tenté de l'effacer pour finalement agir comme représentant d'une faction du peuple contre une autre ; et enfin de la communauté internationale, qui a exigé que le Hamas se transforme en parti politique sans l'y inciter et qui n'a que tardivement découvert les vertus de l'unité palestinienne, après des années passées à la contrecarrer. Dialoguer prudemment avec le Hamas, lui reconnaître un rôle à Gaza et aux points de passage : cela constituera peut-être une "victoire" pour le mouvement islamiste, quelles que soient les destructions et pertes encourues. Mais c'est la conséquence d'un embargo irréfléchi qui n'aurait jamais dû être. Et puis, si cela devait aider à en terminer avec les tirs de roquettes et permettre aux Israéliens de vivre plus normalement, cela constituerait également une importante victoire pour Israël - et, plus encore, pour les civils des deux côtés qui sont seuls à payer la facture. *Robert Malley est directeur du programme Moyen-Orient de l'International Crisis Group, ancien conseiller du président Clinton pour les affaires israélo-arabes. ROCKETS FIRED FROM LEBABON INTO NORTHERN ISRAEL The New York Times - January 8, 2009 Jerusalem - Israel’s conflict with Hamas in Gaza threatened to broaden on Thursday as at least three rockets were fired into the north of Israel from Lebanon. The rockets, presumably launched in support of Hamas, could presage the opening of a second front. The Israeli Army, in a brief statement, said it “responded with fire against the source of the rockets,” which landed near the town of Nahariya. Two Israelis were slightly wounded, the police said. So far there has been no claim of responsibility. A spokeswoman for the militant group Hezbollah, which triggered a war with Israel in 2006 by firing rockets into northern Israel from Lebanon, was investigating. “We are still looking for information about it,” she said. Prime Minister Fuad Saniora immediately condemned the attack. In 2006, after the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier just outside Gaza, a large Israeli operation there was overshadowed by Israeli’s massive response to an attack in the north by Hezbollah, which turned into what is known as the Second Lebanon War. On Wednesday, Israel had said that it would send senior officials to talk with Egypt about halting the conflict in Gaza, but there were no immediate signs of a diplomatic breakthrough, and fighting between Israel and Hamas militants continued after a three-hour lull for humanitarian aid to be distributed. International pressure for a negotiated cease-fire intensified after Israeli shells killed some 40 people at a United Nations school in Gaza on Tuesday. Israel said Hamas militants had fired mortar shells from the school compound prior to Israel’s shelling. Israel suspended its military operations in Gaza for three hours on Wednesday to allow humanitarian aid and fuel for power generation to reach Gazans, who used the afternoon break to shop. But fighting resumed soon afterward. In the evening, the Israeli Army dropped leaflets warning the citizens of Rafah, next to the border with Egypt, to leave their homes. Israel has been bombing the tunnel networks through which arms and consumer goods are smuggled from Egypt into Gaza. The rockets from Lebanon fell in residential areas. Shimon Koren, head of the northern district police, instructed residents of Nahariya and Kabri to enter bomb shelters and he instructed residents in nearby localities to open their shelters. School was cancelled in Nahariya and nearby Shlomi. The Israeli government said it welcomed the efforts of France and Egypt to work out a durable cease-fire. It said it would end its assault if Hamas stopped firing rockets into Israel and ended the smuggling of weapons from Egypt. It said that if a durable cease-fire took hold, it would reopen border crossings into Gaza for goods and people. But Israeli and Hamas officials both denied an assertion by the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, that a cease-fire had been agreed upon. “There is an agreement on general principles, that Hamas should stop rocket fire and mustn’t rearm,” a senior Israeli official said Wednesday evening. “But that’s like agreeing that motherhood is a good thing. We have to transform those agreed principles into working procedures on the ground, and that’s barely begun.” The government spokesman, Mark Regev, said that “the challenge now is to get the details to match the principles.” There were early signs that a formal diplomatic negotiation could begin after 12 days of fighting. Egypt’s chief of intelligence, Omar Suleiman, is expected to serve as a go-between for Israel and Hamas. Two Israeli officials — a senior aide to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Shalom Turgeman, and a senior defense official, Amos Gilad — are expected to go to Egypt on Thursday to begin discussions, Israeli officials said. The United States has been involved behind the scenes, senior Israeli and French officials said, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice “constantly on the phone” with Mr. Olmert, according to one Israeli official. In Washington, the White House spokeswoman, Dana M. Perino, said of talks about a cease-fire: “As I understand, the Israelis are open to the concept, but they want to learn more about the details; so do we.” At the United Nations, several Arab delegates said Wednesday night that they thought they now had enough votes to approve a Security Council resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire. That would likely put the United States and other Western powers, which oppose a binding resolution, in the awkward position of having to veto a cease-fire. A senior French official in Paris said that Mr. Sarkozy’s earlier comment about an agreement on a cease-fire was misunderstood: “The plan is not a cease-fire; the plan is a road map toward a cease-fire.” One crucial aspect of any deal is how to prevent new smuggling tunnels from being built under Egypt’s border with Gaza. The senior Israeli official raised the possibility of reaching “tacit agreements” with Hamas to end rocket fire, while also persuading Egypt to allow American and perhaps European army engineers to help seal its border with Gaza above and below ground. Hamas is insisting that any new arrangement include the reopening of border crossings for trade with Israel and the reopening of the Rafah crossing into Egypt for people. President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt has said that a 2005 agreement on the Rafah crossing, reached with Israel and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, must be respected. That agreement called for a Palestinian Authority presence at the crossing, supervision by European Union monitors and Israeli video surveillance of who entered and left. Hamas wants to control the crossing itself and is not eager to cooperate with Fatah, its -rival. In Washington, President-elect Barack Obama said Wednesday that upon taking office he would “engage immediately” in the Middle East crisis and that he was “deeply concerned” about the loss of life on both sides. “I am doing everything that we have to do to make sure that the day I take office we are prepared to engage immediately in trying to deal with the situation there,” he said at a news conference. “Not only the short-term situation but building a process whereby we can achieve a more lasting peace in the region.” In Gaza, John Ging, the director of Gazan operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, visited the school in the Jabaliya refugee camp where Israeli shells fell Tuesday. He denied that Hamas militants had fired mortar shells from within the school compound and called for an international investigation into the attack, which he said had killed 40 people. Israeli officials said they were continuing to investigate, but reiterated that Hamas had been using the school as a base. Mr. Gilad, the defense official, told Israeli Army radio: “This school served as a base for Hamas men whose identity we know. They fired from inside the school compound, and the army fired back at the source. The time was after school hours, and this school is an example of the cynical and cruel use Hamas does with civilian facilities.” Casualty figures are hard to verify, but officials at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City and the Gazan Ministry of Health said 683 Palestinians had died since the conflict began Dec. 27, including 218 children and 90 women. They said 3,085 had been wounded. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza said 130 children age 16 or under had died. The United Nations estimated a few days ago that a quarter of the dead were civilians. But Palestinian residents and Israeli officials say that Hamas is tending its own wounded in separate medical centers, not in public hospitals, and that it is difficult to know the number of dead Hamas fighters, many of whom were not wearing uniforms. Israel says it has killed at least 130 Hamas fighters. Ten Israelis have been killed during the offensive, including three civilians. Most of the seven dead Israeli soldiers were killed in so-called friendly fire.

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