Main news focus here — will Palestinians resume talks with Israel

The main focus in U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s visit to the Muqata’a Presidential Compound in Ramallah this afternoon was whether or not the Palestinians had agreed to resume post-Annapolis “core issue” and “final status” talks with Israel that have been disrupted since Israel’s ferocious assault on Gaza over the past week.

Rice was unusually accomodating to the Palestinians today. Probably her American delegation would call it a “hand-holding” visit to Ramallah. She did not stamp her feet, or insist.

“We look forward to the resumption of negotiations as soon as possible”, she said. “We understand fully the difficulty of the current moment…but we must keep our eye on what’s important — agreement on a Palestinian state by the end of the year”.

She reiterated, and reiterated. “We are very concerned about the recent violence”. “We reiterated our concern about the innocent victims”, and “we reiterated our concerns about the humanitarian situation.”

She said Israel must also be aware of the need to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. “We hope there will be a return of humanitarian convoys in Gaza, because we don’t want innocent people to suffer”.

“The rocket attacks need to stop, where innocent Israelis are also at risk. There needs to be an end to violence so people in both societies can lead a more normal life”.

She stressed that while Israel’s right to defend itself is understood, Israel “needs to be very cognizent of the effects of its operations on innocent people” — and she said that it is especially important that Israel “remembers that there are innocent people who have the bad fortune to live under Hamas control”.

Rice flew overnight to Brussels. She arrived from meetings in Egypt to Israel’s Ben Gurion airport by 12:20, and apparently went directly to Ramallah. Most of her meetings with the Israelis will be tomorrow. She apparently did see Israeli Prime Minister Olmert this evening, but a meeting that had been scheduled with Livni was postponed until tomorrow.

At a joint Rice-Abbas press conference in Ramallah after their meeting, nobody asked about the Vanity Fair article, which was highlighted yesterday on Angry Arab’s blog — though a colleague from Japan’s NHK television said Rice was asked about it at a press conference in Cairo this morning (but did not know what she answered).

The first (approved — from the Muqata’a press people) question was from an Palestinian reporter who asked: “Can you tell us where negotiations stand now, because nobody sees any results”? Rice said: “We’ve been very active the last several days”. She then said that the problems can be blamed on Hamas “starting with the illegal coup”. Even after the Vanity Fair article, it was Rice — and not Mahmoud Abbas — who was speaking about the “illegal coup”. Abbas said nothing.

Agence France Press reported that “Rice’s visit coincided with the publication of a Vanity Fair [magazine] article claiming that she and Bush covertly worked to oust Hamas after it won 2006 parliamentary elections, breaking the decades-long hold on power of Abbas’s Fatah party. Citing confidential documents, the magazine said the United States sought to arm a force led by Fatah loyalists to oust Hamas militants from power, but that the plan backfired. ‘Instead of driving its enemies out of power, the US-backed Fatah fighters inadvertently provoked Hamas to seize total control of Gaza’, it said”. This AFP story is published here.

Several of the minor characters in the Vanity Fair story here were in Rice’s entourage at the Muqata’a in Ramallah today – Elliot Abrams, along with David Welch, as well as Lt. General Dayton (in a suit) and Lt. Gen Fraser (in an Air Force uniform)…

This amazing Vanity Fair article said that the magazine “has obtained confidential documents, since corroborated by sources in the U.S. and Palestine, which lay bare a covert initiative, approved by Bush and implemented by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, to provoke a Palestinian civil war. The plan was for forces led by [Muhammad] Dahlan, and armed with new weapons supplied at America’s behest, to give Fatah the muscle it needed to remove the democratically elected Hamas-led government from power. (The State Department declined to comment.) … Instead of driving its enemies out of power, the U.S.-backed Fatah fighters inadvertently provoked Hamas to seize total control of Gaza. Some sources call the scheme ‘Iran-contra 2.0’, recalling that Abrams was convicted (and later pardoned) for withholding information from Congress during the original Iran-contra scandal under President Reagan”…

The Vanity Fair article also reports that “Some analysts argued that Hamas had a substantial moderate wing that could be strengthened if America coaxed it into the peace process. Notable Israelis—such as Ephraim Halevy, the former head of the Mossad intelligence agency—shared this view. But if America paused to consider giving Hamas the benefit of the doubt, the moment was “milliseconds long,” says a senior State Department official. ‘The administration spoke with one voice: “We have to squeeze these guys”. With Hamas’s election victory, the freedom agenda was dead’.”

And, there’s more. The Vanity Fair article says: “At the end of 2006, Dayton promised an immediate package worth $86.4 million—money that, according to a U.S. document published by Reuters on January 5, 2007, would be used to ‘dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism and establish law and order in the West Bank and Gaza’. U.S. officials even told reporters the money would be transferred ‘in the coming days’. The cash never arrived. ‘Nothing was disbursed’, Dahlan says. ‘It was approved and it was in the news. But we received not a single penny’. Any notion that the money could be transferred quickly and easily had died on Capitol Hill, where the payment was blocked by the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. Its members feared that military aid to the Palestinians might end up being turned against Israel. Dahlan did not hesitate to voice his exasperation. ‘I spoke to Condoleezza Rice on several occasions’, he says. ‘I spoke to Dayton, to the consul general, to everyone in the administration I knew. They said, “You have a convincing argument”. We were sitting in Abbas’s office in Ramallah, and I explained the whole thing to Condi. And she said, “Yes, we have to make an effort to do this. There’s no other way”.’? At some of these meetings, Dahlan says, Assistant Secretary Welch and Deputy National-Security Adviser Abrams were also present”…

Just as they were present in Ramallah today.

Abbas, in the press conference, said: “We warned repeatedly that Israel must not insist on its security first (only)”, and added there must also be security in Gaza and the West Bank — “Security must be reciprocal for both sides, in the proper social and economic atmosphere. No one, under any pretext, can justify what the Israeli military did (in recent days) when 120 died, including many children and civilians. We need a comprehensive and reciprocal truce in Gaza and the West Bank, so that 2008 is (can be) the year of peace”. He continued: “We want to work on activating the Fourth Geneva Convention. Security is vital for both parties, and it can only be achieved through a political solution, not military power…”

Before all that, Abbas did say: “Our conviction is that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not through violence or counter-violence, but through negotiations with agreed terms of reference and the support of the international community. Peace and negotiations are our strategic option, and all the reference documents say that, in particular the Arab initiative” …

A Reuters correspondent in the travelling State Department press corps tried to press Abbas on what it would take to resume talks with Israel. The answer: “These talks are not a luxury, they are something very important”.

Meanwhile, on the humanitarian concerns that Rice keeps going on about — there must be a reason for that.

On Sunday, a very bad day in Gaza, froman email sent to inform journalists and editors, we learn that “The Gaza Strip Coordination and Liaison Administration today (Sunday), 2.3.08, coordinated the delivery – via the Sufa Crossing – into the Gaza Strip of 62 trucks, including three carrying medical supplies (bandages, water pumps, tourniquets, etc.), seven with World Food Program cooking oil, seven of sugar, nine of milk products, eight of fruit, two of water purification supplies and four of meat and fish products”. This list only explains what was in 40 of the 62 trucks mentioned. It is interesting to see that water pumps are specifically listed — they were previously banned along with all other spare parts — and that they are listed as being grouped among the medical supplies, which have been permissible … From that, we can assume that the situation regarding water pumps has reached the critical stage.

By the end of the day today, the day Condoleeza Rice arrives (Tuesday), the IDF spokesman announces that: “Approximately 160 trucks of humanitarian aid and supplies were transferred into the Gaza Strip today via the Kerem Shalom, Karni and Sufa Crossings. The assistance was organized with the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. The following is a list of the supplies.

Sufa Crossing:
– 12 trucks of medication and medical supplies (including one UNRWA truck)
– 9 trucks of meat, fish and frozen vegetables
– 8 trucks of fruit
– 7 trucks of flower[sic – I think this should be flour] , oil and sugar
– 5 trucks of dairy products
– 18 trucks of flower[sic – flour?], oil and humus donated by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

Kerem Shalom Crossing:
– 8 trucks of sugar
– 2 trucks of rice
– 4 trucks of oil
– 4 trucks of rice and oil
– 4 trucks of rice and sugar

Karni Crossing:
– 80 trucks of grains

Things must have been getting really bad…

Missiles for … medical equipment?

Here is a news item that leaves me almost at a loss for words — The Associated Press reported today that “A US government team is evaluating Nicaragua’s proposal to destroy hundreds of Soviet-made missiles in exchange for hospital equipment, authorities said on Tuesday. President Daniel Ortega met the leader of the US delegation, John Feeley, head of Central American affairs at the US State Department, shortly after the Pentagon team of US hospital administration specialists arrived Monday for a 10-day review of Nicaragua hospitals to see what medical equipment was needed. The US government has long pressured Nicaragua to destroy the shoulder-fired SAM-7 anti-aircraft missiles as part of a global effort to eliminate weapons that could fall into the hands of terrorists. Nicaragua has already destroyed about half its original stockpile of 2,000 missiles and it is offering to destroy 651 of the remaining 1,051 SAMs in exchange for ‘modern medical equipment and medications’, Ortega’s office said in a press statement”. This AP story was published in the Jerusalem Post here.

UNSC adopts third set of sanctions against Iran

Only Indonesia abstained when the UNSC voted a third set of sanctions against Iran. Libya, which earlier indicated its opposition, meekly fell in line, as did South Africa.

This is the third set of increasingly tightened UNSC sanctions calling on Iran to suspend its program to enrich uranium.

Like the earlier UNSC resolutions in this series aimed at Iran’s nuclear program — particularly its right to an indigenous enrichment capability — it was adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, and is binding.

It gives Iran another 90 days to suspend its enrichment program — which will have to be confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) — or further sanctions could be imposed.

A summary of the resolution’s provisions in a UN Press Release says that “The Council welcomed the agreement between Iran and IAEA to resolve all outstanding issues concerning Iran’s nuclear programme, and progress made in that regard, as set out in the Director General’s report of 22 February 2008 (GOV/2008/4). In that context, it stressed the willingness of China, France, Germany, Russian Federation, United Kingdom and United States to enhance diplomatic efforts to promote resumption of dialogue with Iran, with a view to seeking long-term solution of the issue that would allow for wider cooperation and, inter alia, the start of direct talks. The Council would suspend the sanctions if and for so long as Iran would suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development, as verified by IAEA, but warned that, in the event Iran did not comply with relevant Council resolutions, it would decide on the adoption of further appropriate measures under Article 41 of Chapter VII”. This press release is available here.

The Associated Press summed up the package that was easily adopted today: “For the first time, the resolution bans trade with Iran in goods which have both civilian and military uses … The measures include freezing the assets of about a dozen companies and a dozen individuals with links to Iran’s nuclear or ballistic missile programs. It would require countries to ‘exercise vigilance’ and report the travel or transit of those individuals. It would also impose a travel ban on several individuals linked to Iran’s nuclear effort. For the first time, the resolution would ban trade with Iran in goods which have both civilian and military uses. It would introduce financial monitoring on two banks with suspected links to proliferation activities, Bank Melli and Bank Saderat. It also calls on all countries ‘to exercise vigilance’ in entering into new trade commitments with Iran, and authorizes inspections of shipments to and from Iran by sea and air that are suspected of carrying prohibited goods”.

AP also reported that “Diplomats credited French President Nicolas Sarkozy for helping sway the Libyans and South Africans. The French leader visited South Africa last week”. This AP report is published here.

"Pitched Battles" in Gaza – or shooting fish in a barrel

Israel’s YNet news website is reporting this morning that “The IDF reported some 70 fatalities in Gaza over the weekend, but the Palestinians are numbering them at 56 – either way, this was the highest number of casualties recorded over such a short period of time since Operation Defensive Shield in 2002”.

YNet addes that “Medical sources in Gaza reported Sunday that some 200 people were injured over the weekend, in the heavy fire exchanges between IDF forces and Hamas, resulting in the Strip’s hospitals arriving at the brink of collapse. ‘The situation in very hard. I have a new intensive-care patient coming in every half-an-hour’, Dr. Khalil Nahal, of the Intensive Care Unit in Shifa Hospital, Gaza Strip’s main medical facility”.

Other reports in the Israeli media suggest that this is just a “managed escalation”, and not the “big one” – the major ground invasion that has been discussed for weeks.

Speculation about this has been encouraged by Israeli government officials, in particular Defense Minister (former Prime Minister) Ehud Barak, who says that a major IDF ground offensive is “inevitable”, and now is “getting closer”.

The YNet story about the effect of the “managed escalation” on Gaza’s hospitals is very telling: “the medical staff is having trouble coping with the numerous patients coming in. ‘Normally, I have 11 beds in the ICU, in its full capacity’, said Dr. Nahal. ‘Now I have 95 beds in three locations in the hospital. We only have four more ICU beds available right now’ … Dr. Nahal believes most of the casualties were wounded in IAF raids, with only a few getting hit by IDF ground troops’ fire. ‘Most patients presented with bombing-related injuries, usually associated with aerial strikes; but some did present with gunshot wounds’, he explained. Should the fighting continue as it has over the weekend, said Dr. Nahal, Shifa may soon arrive on to the brink of collapse. ‘There is a shortage in beds, in drugs, in resuscitation devises, in needles, medical supplies and blood’. The Gaza blockade, he added, makes it impossible to transport those seriously wounded for treatment in Israel. ‘We called on Gazans to donate blood and many have come to do so, but we have no way to transport (critical) patients to Israel – the crossings have been closed since Wednesday’. Physicians for Human Rights published a statement denouncing harming innocent civilians on the Strip and called on both sides to make proper medical treatment available to the wounded. ‘The great number of civilians under threat is horrifying and the leaders of both sides must lay down their arms and begin negotiations’, said the statement. ‘During wartime it is imperative that health and medical facilities be allowed to remain in full working order in order to deal with the wounded’.” This YNet article is posted here .

UPDATE: The Jerusalem Post is reporting Sunday afternoon that Egypt has opened its border to receive up to 200 wounded Gazans for treatment in hospitals in the Sinai:
“Egypt opened its only crossing with the Gaza Strip to receive wounded Palestinians on Sunday, a day after 54 people were killed in IDF operations against terrorists firing rockets from the territory, said a medical official.Egypt sent 27 ambulances to the Rafah crossing to transfer 150-200 wounded Palestinians to hospi.tals in the Sinai Peninsula and other cities on the mainland, said Emad Kharboush, a medical official at el-Arish hospital near the Israeli border … Sunday was the first time Egypt has agreed to open the crossing since Hamas blew up part of the border wall on Jan. 23, letting hundreds of thousands of Palestinians cross over”. The full JPost article can be read here

Israel's Gaza policy combines military attacks with sanctions

Despite evidence over the past two decades that sanctions can harm a civilian population even more than the leadership which is the ostensible target — and in contradiction to its own arguments that sanctions are a more merciful instrument of pressure than all-out war — the Israeli military has continued in recent weeks to tighten sanctions against the Gaza Strip, while at the same time escalating its military actions.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said several times in recent months that his country was engaged in a real war with Gaza – an appreciation that is shared by residents of the Gaza Strip in recent days.

What is happening now, Israeli analysts say, is a “measured escalation”.

Sanctions were officially imposed against the entire Palestinian Authority (PA) in early 2006 after Hamas’ victory in Palestinian Legislative Council elections. Hamas’ rout of Fatah security forces there in mid-June 2007 was the justification for a nearly-complete Israeli closure and the application of even more sanctions against Gaza — while sanctions were subsequently rapidly lifted from the Ramallah-based PA leadership.

Then, as firing of “projectiles” from Gaza onto Israeli territory continued, the Israeli Cabinet issued a declaration on 19 September determining that Hamas-run Gaza was “hostile territory”, or an “enemy entity”.

The Cabinet decided to continue “military and counter-terrorist operations against the terrorist Organizations”. At the same time, it also decided “to restrict the passage of various goods to the Gaza Strip and reduce the supply of fuel and electricity”, and to tighten restrictions on the movement of people to and from the Gaza Strip.

In late January, the Israeli Supreme Court (High Court of Justice) denied petitions submitted by a group of ten Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups to block military-ordered electricity cuts against Gaza. The Court had earlier declined, during the course of hearings, to intervene in the military-ordered fuel cuts.

The human rights groups had argued that the sanctions would target civilians, and would punish individuals for acts that they did not personally commit. They said that these sanctions amounted to collective punishment, which is illegal under international law.

But, they lost.

Israel supplies all of Gaza’s fuel, and more than half of Gaza’s electricity. Only Israeli-supplied water is unaffected.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said in an interview after U.S. President George Bush’s meeting with President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah January that “Abu Mazen said that the humanitarian needs of the population in Gaza — including fuel, electricity, water, food and medical supplies — should not be touched, and Bush seemed to agree.”

Erekat added that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had also pledged, twice, not to touch these vital supplies — the first time on 25 June at a meeting in Sharm El-Sheikh, and the second time in early January.

Israel’s military now makes all decisions about which persons – and which goods – can officially pass into or out of the Gaza Strip.

Only ten essential supplies are now being permitted into Gaza: cooking oil, salt, rice, sugar, wheat, dairy products, frozen vegetables, frozen meat, medical equipment and medicine.

Other essential items like cement or pipes or water are prohibited because the Israeli military says they can have a dual use – such as fortifying underground bunkers or concealed missile launchers, or making rockets.

Spare parts are also banned, and Gaza’s vital infrastructure is crumbling — threatening to throw the entire precarious situation into chaos at any moment.

It is an unprecedented regime of control and neglect, with no apparent mechanism of appeal.


In its 27 January ruling, Israel’s Supreme Court adopted the government’s argument that Gaza is no longer occupied, following the 2005 unilateral Israeli “disengagement”, which removed 8,000 settlers and the Israeli Defense Forces protecting them, from Gaza.

The official claim that Gaza is no longer occupied is widely believed in Israel, though in few other places in the world.

International law experts say that Israel’s continued control of Gaza’s air and maritime space is sufficient to confirm that the occupation continues, without even entering into a debate over whether the Israel military maintains “effective control” inside the Gaza Strip.

The Court’s only concern was that there should be no humanitarian crisis, and the panel of judges who heard the case said they were satisfied with assurances given by the military that it would comply with Israeli law – and those aspects of international law that apply to Israel – and would continue to transfer “the necessary amounts of fuel and electricity for the essential humanitarian needs of the civilian population in the Strip”.

The state attorney, representing the military, told the court that “there is nothing to obligate them to allow the transfer of non-essential good or goods in quantities that exceed that which is needed to meet basic humanitarian needs”.

The Court noted, in its ruling, that “The security apparatus conducts a weekly evaluation of the situation that relies, in part, on communication with Palestinian bodies active in the areas of electricity and healthcare, as well as on communication with international organizations.”

But, Sari Bashi, director of the Israeli human rights group Gisha, which has taken a leading role in the effort to get the Israeli Supreme Court to block these sanctions, says, all these cuts “are completely illegal”.

The Court’s ruling at the end of January was a deep disappointment but not a surprise to the human rights petitioners, some of whom said that the Court has a history of taking the side of government policy.

In an excerpt from the Supreme Court ruling translated from Hebrew by Gisha, the judges wrote: “Under the current circumstances, the primary obligations borne by the State of Israel with regards to the residents of the Gaza Strip are derived from the state of armed conflict that prevails between it and the Hamas organization which controls the Gaza Strip; its obligations also stem from the degree of control that the State of Israel has over the border crossings between it and the Gaza Strip; and also from the situation that was created between the State of Israel and the Gaza Strip territory due to years of Israeli military control in the area, as a result of which the Gaza Strip is at this time almost totally dependent on Israel for its supply of electricity”.

According to Bashi, ´This is an unprecedented decision authorizing collective punishment in its most blatant form. The Court’s ruling relies on unsubstantiated declarations by the military and ignores the indisputable and well-documented evidence of harm to civilians caused by the fuel and electricity cuts…”

And, Bashi has said, we find the Court’s factual inquiry to be flawed.

Gisha has argued that Gaza is not an “enemy state” — but rather it is an “occupied territory”.

Bashi has said that “It is not allowed to cut civilian access to electricity, to deprive people of water or hospitals of fuel – not even a little bit”. “What’s happening in Gaza is very, very bad”.

In a lengthy interview with the Jerusalem Post interview after the Court’s decision, Sari Bashi explained that “Israel is saying that Gaza may not receive fuel and electricity from anywhere else in the world, and restricting what is received through its borders. The European Union is buying 100% of the industrial diesel fuel for Gaza’s power plant. This is a humanitarian donation project. But, if the EU were to bring canisters of industrial diesel on a ship and try to dock it in Gaza, Israel’s navy would sink the ship. If the EU were to fly it in by plane, the Israeli air force would shoot down the plane. Israel requires the EU to bring the industrial diesel through the Nahal Oz border crossing. This is not trade. This is a blockade in which Israel decides the terms under which people may bring humanitarian goods through the blockade. This is unprecedented. Furthermore, between Israel and Gaza there are specific obligations. Gaza is occupied territory under international law. This means that Israel owes positive obligations to actively facilitate the provision of humanitarian services and the functioning of normal life in Gaza. The reason for this is control. Israel controls the funding of public services in Gaza, through its control of the tax moneys collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. These are the tax moneys that pay public servants in Gaza. Israel also controls the Palestinian population registry, determining who is a resident of Gaza, who may live there, who may enter. And Israel controls Gaza’s borders: land, air and sea. That control creates responsibility”.

Speaking with Al-Bayan last week, Bashi, a lawyer who participated in arguing this case before the Supreme Court, said the ruling “ignores the law – it doesn’t even try to address the legitimate legal questions we raised”.

In fact, she said, “the Court did not rule, but instead it just accepted the military claim it
Could make these cuts without causing any humanitarian damage”. But, Bashi said, the concept of a “humanitarian minimum has no basis in law”.

“I would even go so far as to say that we are more than disappointed, we believe the decision is illegitimate”, Bashi stated, “because once a court stops applying legal standards, it loses its authority”.

She said that the Court was “politically not prepared to intervene, in addition to staying silent on the law. It was under a lot of political pressure from the Justice Ministry which suggested that the Court would be responsible for Israeli casualties if it blocked the sanctions and thereby increased the likelihood of a ground invasion”.

“We are now pursuing other avenues, such as our advocacy efforts to highlight the responsibility of the international community”, Bashi said.

And, she added, “We’re in a constant process of raising issues and concerns with the military. We’re not in a rush to sue”.

Bashi also noted that “even among Israeli military officials, there is a recognition that the harsh restrictions that have been imposed on Gaza are not advancing any legitimate military goals – and they’re also illegal”.

Gisha Legal Adviser Kenneth Mann said after the last hearing that the judges appeared to believe that if there are no physical injuries and casualties, there was no humanitarian crisis. “Gazans sitting in the cold and the dark for 12 hours or more at a time is not a humanitarian crisis for them”, he said.

The final Supreme Court hearing in Jerusalem was conducted almost as if the dramatic events at the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt had not happened.

Bashi said afterwards that “We let the judges know that the state violated the request” for the appearance at the hearing of two Gaza professionals who are co-petitioners in the case, and who could have explained the technical details concerning the Gaza power plant and Gaza´s electricity-distributing company.

Dr. Rafiq Maliha, project manager of the Gaza Power Plant, and Engineer Nedal Toman, project manager of GEDCO, were informed that they would be given permits to participate in the Supreme Court hearing that Sunday. The two Palestinians arrived at the Erez terminal at 7 am. But, they said, they were not actually given the permits and allowed to leave until the court session started at 10 am.

Despite their best efforts, and a frantic taxi ride from the Gaza border to the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, the two professional experts were only able to arrive at the Supreme Court building about 20 minutes after the hearing was concluded by the judges, who decided not to wait for their arrival.

Toman has explained in several sworn affidavits presented to the Court that it is impossible to redirect electricity in Gaza. But, during the hearing, the state attorney told the Court – without the benefit of Toman´s presence for any questioning on this precise point – that some unnamed “Palestinians” had told the military the exact opposite.

The Court decided to allow itself to be convinced by the state and military assurances that it is not Israel’s intention to cause humanitarian damage in Gaza.

Any damage that results would therefore be accidental and unintended – and thus within the realm of legality.


Since 7 February, the electricity that Israel’s Electric Company sells to Gaza, and supplies through three of ten direct-feed lines at various points across the Israel-Gaza border, has been gradually reduced, by military order, though the use of recently-installed “load regulators” that apparently can be operated like dimmer switches.

The military informed the court late last year that it would continue reducing the electricity on these lines at periodic intervals, until there is a stop to attacks from Gaza on Israeli territory.

But, so far, Gisha’s Sari Bashi said the military has confirmed that there has been only one reduction on one electricity line from Israel to Gaza so far – a 5% reduction on a line that supplies 14 MW. The military has written to her that restriction on supply of electricity from additional lines is to be done subject to an evaluation of the situation and evaluation of the effectiveness of the reduction. Such decision has not yet been made.”

The Palestinian Authority has a contract to buy 120 MW of electricity daily from the Israel Electric Company, but in recent months – even before the cuts were authorized — the supply was often somewhat less. In statements to the Court, the military has admitted factual errors, mistakes and “local error” which resulted in cuts of directly-supplied Israeli electricity despite the Courts previous request to hold off until it reached a decision. There have also been recent “technical problems” on some of the lines.

The Court in its ruling said “we found it hard to get information on this issue from the state’s representatives”.

The Israel Electric Company is paid by the Israeli Ministry of Finance from withheld Palestinian funds — taxes and customs duties collected under the terms of the Oslo Accords by Israel on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, but retained, ostensibly due to Hamas’ 2006 electoral victory, and only sporadically released to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.

Gaza’s own electricity-generating power plant was destroyed in an Israeli air raid in anger in late June 2006, after IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit was captured near the Kerem Shalom crossing (where the borders of Israel, Gaza, and Egypt meet).

Before the Israeli air attack, the Gaza power plant generated some 89-90 MW of electricity per day. It has been designed to be able to produce 140 MW.

Gaza’s current electrical demand is for some 240 MW per day.

It took months of reconstruction work — and negotiation with various parts of the Israeli government — to get in the materials needed, and there was a partial restoration of the Gaza power plant’s functioning in November 2006.

Since then, the power plant has been running on industrial diesel fuel which is ordered by the Palestinian Authority, and delivered by the private Israeli company Dor Alon. The fuel — costing some $10 million per month before the military-ordered cuts on 28 October — has been paid for by the European Union’s Temporary International Mechanism (TIM), because of the financial restrictions imposed after Hamas’ electoral victory. (The TIM has just been replaced by a new mechanism considered more suitable for the present circumstances).

Despite all these efforts, only half of the plant’s pre-strike capacity was restored. After reconstruction, it only got up to 65 MW per day, running two turbines at full loads — before the military-ordered fuel sanctions kicked in on 28 October.

Then, because the plant was allowed to receive only 2.2 million liters of fuel per week – not quite enough to run two turbines at full loads, it dipped into its reserves to continue operating at this level for a while, until the fuel reserves were depleted in early January.

Since then, Gaza’s power plant runs just on what it received daily. It is now operating two turbines at partial loads, and generating only between 45-55 MW of electricity per day – though it is now ready to add a repaired third turbine that could help produce 80 MW per day, if enough fuel were available (each turbine requires 160,000 liters of industrial diesel fuel per day, or 1.12 million liters per week, to operate at full loads.)

In January, the military nevertheless informed the Court that it believes 2.2 million liters of industrial diesel fuel per week is enough for Gaza´s power plant.

Now, without replenishment of the power plant’s fuel reserves – which has not been permitted — a shortfall on any one day could mean that the power plant would again have to shut down, as it did on 20 January for two days, after the IDF stopped fuel deliveries for a couple of days because of fierce fighting around the Nahal Oz crossing where fuel is transferred from Israel to the Gaza Stop.

Fighting in the last four days of February again caused another near-shutdown, because
fuel supplies were not being delivered to Gaza. One of the two turbines would have had to shut down on Friday, but according to the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO), Nahal Oz was opened for fuel that day, and 400,000 liters were delivered to Gaza from Israel. Some areas of central Gaza regularly experience power cuts of approximately 8 to 12 hours a day now, but a turbine shutdown could cause cuts of as much as 20 hours a day, UNSCO said.

These fuel cuts have exacerbated an already-existing shortfall in electricity in the Gaza trip, which is now being compounded by the electricity cuts.

As a result of the rolling electricity black-outs and brown-outs — and the lack of ordinary diesel fuel to operate back-up and stand-by generators — Gaza’s water utilities are emptying 40 million liters of raw sewage a day directly into the Mediterranean Sea, in an effort to avoid catastrophic flooding that could endanger human lives in the densely-populated Gaza.

Egypt currently supplies 17 MW of electricity through one direct feed line from Rafah in the Sinai to the Rafah District in Gaza.

Egypt cannot offer an immediate solution to Gaza’s electricity problem – it cannot increase the amount of electricity it provides at the moment, as the line capacity is full.

However, according to Dr. Omar Kittaneh, head of the Palestinian Energy Authority in Ramallah, Egypt has agreed to build new lines with a capacity to carry up to 300 MW of electricity. “We’re expecting the line to be in operation at the beginning of 2009″, he said.

This could theoretically be enough to supply all the electricity needs of the Gaza Strip — though, Dr. Kittaneh noted carefully, “there are no commitments yet about the amount of electricity that will be supplied, only about the line capacity”.

Tenders will be issued soon, he indicated, and the cost for the new lines will be paid by a $32 million dollar grant from the Islamic Development Bank in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

These lines will not be simple feeder lines, which send electricity in only one direction, Dr. Kittaneh explained. They will be two-way lines capable of transmitting electricity in either direction over interconnected grids, interconnectivity is the modern policy choice being made by every country in the world now, Dr. Kittaneh added.

A connection from the West Bank to the Jordanian grid has also been approved, Dr. Kittaneh indicated.  It was reportedly inaugurated last week.

At a meeting of Arab League Ministers of Electricity last March — soon after the formation of the “National Unity” Palestinian Authority Government following Saudi mediation between Fatah and Hamas — this decision was approved by all seven countries who are part of an interlinked grid of seven regional electric authorities (Egypt , Jordan, Syria, Lebanon , Libya , Iraq and Turkey).

The Palestinian Authority recently presented a five-year Master Plan for reviving the Palestinian infrastructure and economy to a post-Annapolis meeting of donors in Paris in December, and it included a request for some $200 million to develop the electricity sector, Dr. Kittaneh indicated.

Converting the Gaza Power Plant operation from diesel fuel to natural gas would save a lot of money – over $45 million dollars per year at its present reduced level of operation, and almost double that amount if it were to operate at full capacity.

Gaza’s own offshore natural gas discoveries were supposed to help fuel the Power Plant – but negotiations concerning exploitation and marketing of this gas have been complicated, and they have recently been put on hold. That gas would not be available before 2011 at the earliest, in a best-case scenario.

Earlier this year, the World Bank suggested that the Palestinians might consider buying gas from Egypt meanwhile to operate the Power Plant more economically – a pipeline could be in place by 2009 — pending development of Gaza’s own offshore gas.

Last week, liquid natural gas from Egypt began flowing to Israel in a 100-km (63-mile) undersea pipeline from El Arish to Ashkelon, as part of a long-term bilateral deal between the Israeli-Egyptian consortium East Mediterranean Gas (composed of Egyptian General Petrol Corporation and Israeli businessman Yossi Meiman’s Merhav company) and Israel Electric Company.

That pipeline apparently runs through about 10 miles off shore though the area demarcated as the Palestinian maritime space off Gaza.

It was reported, around the time the Egypt-Israel agreement shaped up in 2005, that a part of the Egyptian gas going to Israel could be also piped to the Gaza Power Plant, which was originally designed to operate on gas, and could be converted back at a reasonable cost relatively quickly.

If order can be restored to the current chaotic situation in Gaza, this scenario could be dusted off.

Gaza’s dependence on Israel would be lessened, to everyone’s satisfaction.

And, the gas that could be diverted to Gaza’s power plant in the near term might be “repaid” once the offshore gas deposits in the Gaza Marine wells within Palestinian maritime space are developed.

At least 57 killed since Wednesday in Gaza

“57 people have died since clashes between Israel and extremists affiliated with Gaza’s ruling Hamas movement spiked Wednesday. At least 24 were civilians”, according to a report by the Associated Press. Dozens — probably running into the hundreds — have been wounded.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in Ramallah (who is at logger-heads with Hamas), has called for the UN Security Council to act on this escalation. On Friday, a statement was issued by his office in his name, calling on Israel to stop its strikes on Gaza, and calling on Palestinians to stop giving Israel a pretext to strike.

Hamas (whether you regard it as “extremist” — a value-laden word that should usually not included in carefully-edited news reports — or not) is not the only movement involved in the fighting, of course. The continuous firing of “projectiles” from Gaza into Israel is incomprehensible, however — and it, too, is a war crime.

One Hamas spokesman explained recently that the shooting of Qassams is to try to achieve a balance of fear.

Another possibility is that the Palestinian firing is aimed at bringing the situation to a head.

Rockets (at least 36 so far) are raining down on the Western Negev, and a house and another building were hit in the coastal city of Ashkelon, causing injuries to two people there, Haaretz reported early Saturday afternoon. Minutes later, the Jerusalem Post reported that three people were injured in Ashkelon, two of them children.

AP said that a year-old child’s death, just before midnight, might have been due to one of the Palestinian “projectiles” falling short of its target and landing instead in Gaza.

AFP reported Saturday that 32 people were killed in northern Gaza alone overnight Friday to Saturday, and at least 75 injured. “The urban battlefields were littered with debris as frightened residents hid inside their homes and imams read out Koranic verses over loudspeakers from inside mosques, witnesses said”.The AP report continued: “The Israeli military, which sent troops, tanks and aircraft to target Gaza rocket squads, said it only attacks rocket-launching operations, but said militants sometimes operate within civilian areas. On Saturday, it said troops identified 15 hits in its operations against rocket squads and militants laying explosive devices against Israeli targets. Fierce fighting erupted Saturday near the northern town of Jebaliya, pitting Israeli troops backed by tanks and attack aircraft against Palestinian militants launching crude rockets and mortars. Among those killed were at least nine militants, but also at least eight civilians, including a 17-year-old girl and her 16-year-old brother, a 45-year-old man and his 20-year-old son and two sisters thought to be in their early 20s. The sisters and another civilian were killed by tank shells that struck two houses in separate attacks, Palestinian officials said. Rescue teams evacuated a 7-month-old boy from one of the houses, unharmed. The Israeli military said it would look into reports of tank shells hitting houses. Tareq Dardouna, a resident of the Jebaliya area, told The Associated Press that a relative was killed outside his home in the crossfire that began raging at 3 a.m. ‘His body is still on the ground’, Dardouna said in a phone interview from his home, where he was tending to four wounded people. Ambulances tried to come, but they came under fire. … We are in a real war’. The Israeli military said five soldiers were wounded in the clashes”… This AP report is posted here.

The AFP report said that “The chief of Israel’s left-wing Meretz party, Yossi Beilin, said Hamas had offered a truce around Gaza over the past two weeks but the overtures had been rejected by the Israeli leadership, which brands the movement a terror group. The latest deaths brought to 6,222 the total number of people killed in Israeli-Palestinian violence since 2000, most of them Palestinians, according to an AFP count. At least 261 people have been killed, mostly Gaza militants, since Israel and the Palestinians relaunched formal peace talks at a US conference in November, according to an AFP count”. This AFP report is posted here.

UN reports 102 peacekeepers "stranded" in Eritrea's Temporary Security Zone

The UN spokesperson told journalists at Friday’s daily noon briefing that “On Eritrea, the regrouping of UN peacekeepers ahead of a temporary relocation out of Eritrea was again obstructed by Eritrean soldiers today in Senafe. The latest obstruction has left 102 peacekeepers stranded inside the Temporary Security Zone and 21 vehicles sent to collect them unable to do so. Another 13 peacekeepers and eight UN vehicles were earlier today also stopped by Eritrean soldiers at the same checkpoint in Senafe. Azouz Ennifar, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Ethiopia and Eritrea, was assured in a telephone conversation with Eritrean officials today that there were no explicit instructions from the Eritrean Government to prevent UN peacekeepers from relocating. Despite the obstructions, the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea says that only two UN camps remain to be vacated, with UN military headquarters near the town of Barentu now expected to be vacated by this Sunday. Meanwhile, all military observers have now been accounted for, with 104 relocated to Asmara and another 11 awaiting further instructions in the port town of Assab”. The more-or-less complete transcript of Friday’s UN noon briefing is here.

On Thursday, the UN told journalists at the daily noon briefing that “regrouping continues for UN peacekeepers in Asmara, with noted progress in the relocation from 33 deployment sites in the Temporary Security Zone to Asmara and Assab. That’s according to the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea, which adds that, to date, 788 out of a total of 1,115 military personnel have regrouped in Asmara while 112 have gathered in Assab. The Mission continues to encounter obstructions at the Senafe checkpoint where Eritrean soldiers are turning back some UN convoys. In the past 24 hours, seven UN posts inside the Temporary Security Zone were vacated and taken over by Eritrean militia, police and army personnel”. Thursday’s more-or-less complete transcript is posted

Russia chairs UN Security Council in March

Russian Federation Ambassador Vitaly Churkin of the Russian Federation will assume the Council’s rotating presidency for the month of March, the UN Spokesperson told journalists on Friday.

This is interesting.

A vote that the U.S., Britain and France wanted to have either on Friday or on Saturday (in other words, before the Russian presidency in the Security Council) has been again postponed. The Associated Press reported that the sponsors were trying “to get more support for the resolution”. This AP report is published here . The reports about needing more support for the draft resolution refer to four non-permanent members of the Security Council who have concerns(reportedly South Africa, Libya, Indonesia and Vietnam).  So far, only Libya has indicated it might actually vote against the resolution.

. Even if all of them voted no, the resolution could still be expected to pass, because it would only need the assent of 9 out of the SC’s 15 members — including all five of the Permanent Members of course (U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France).

In addition, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors will start meeting in Vienna on Monday — the meeting should last about a week — and one of the big items on the agenda will be the latest IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program.

Perhaps diplomats are hoping that the IAEA Board of Governors will take a position on Iran’s compliance with its requests before the matter is formally put to the UN Security Council …