Reports from Cairo that Hamas will join PLO [election planning/monitoring] commission

This is only a preliminary report… and is still Breaking News —

UPDATE: Nabil Shaath told journalists at a pre-Christmas in Bethlehem tonight [Thursday] that “I heard good news, basically, from Cairo … Hamas is willing to accept non-violence, basically, a long-term ‘hudna’, but they do not want us to talk about it very much … What these people in Gaza are really saying is that our right to armed struggle should not be abandoned, and we agree, but we choose not to exercise it”

The real question at stake in today’s meeting in Cairo was: will arrangements finally be made for Hamas to join the PLO, as previously agreed in Cairo in 2005 — and as suggested in a “reconciliation” agreement between Fatah and Hamas in late April, then encoded in a document signed in Cairo in early May?

Apparently, agreement on that has not yet been reached, but a small step has been taken to keep things moving — or to appear to keep things moving — in the right direction.

Today’s meeting of Palestinian political movements and “factions” in Cairo was chaired by Mahmoud Abbas, who is, simultaneously:
(1) Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO], recognized by the UN as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people;
(2) head of the largest Palestinian political movement Fatah, and
(3) … um … well … despite the fact that the mandate ran out either in January 2009 or January 2010, depending on one’s legal view … is still President of the Palestinian Authority set up by agreement under terms of the Oslo Accords [+ subsequent practice] between the PLO and Israel.

Last night, in Cairo, there was a previously-unannounced meeting of Abbas and Hamas’ Politburo Chief Khaled Meshaal.

Until now, the major obstacle to Hamas joining the PLO has been the objection of Fatah.

The problem existed even prior to the mid-June 2007 Hamas military rout [in Ramallah, it was called a “military coup”] of Fatah/PA Preventive Security Forces from Gaza, but that sealed the present division. PA President Mahmoud Abbas immediately responded to this “military coup” with his own “political coup”, dissolving a short-lived [3 months, to be precise] “National Unity” government [negotiated in Mecca by Saudi Arabia] — which was, like the two prior governments formed in the wake of the 2006 elections, led by Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas. Hamas reportedly feared an imminent American backed military attack led by Fatah’s Mohammed Dahlan [then a star, now in disgrace].

In the aftermath, Abbas then set up an “Emergency Government”, and named Salam Fayyad as PA Prime Minister. The U.S. and other major donors celebrated with a major “love-in”, praising Fayyad, the American-trained Security Services, and showering Ramallah with donor funding.

Apart from that major rift, the core issue of contention about Hamas joining the PLO: Hamas wanted to have a proportion of seats in the PLO’s Palestine National Council [PNC] similiar to the proportion it won in the 2006 Palestine Legislative Council [PLC] elections = over 60%.

For Fatah, furious that it lost a great deal of ground to Fatah in those 2006 elections, that was, and is, unthinkable.

The most Fatah could agree that Hamas deserves was about 25% maximum.

This is where the new elections come in. Not only has the term expired for the PA President + the PA’s PLC… Fatah is somehow hoping that Hamas will lose any new elections it participates in. This would have the felicitous effect of confirming the correctness of Fatah’s stand [which has prevented Hamas from joining the PLO so far, even if Hamas wanted to]: Fatah firmly believes that Hamas deserves less [preferably, much less] than a majority stake in the PNC.

Basically, the position still is: if Hamas joins the PLO, it will have be on Fatah’s terms, already explained by PLO Chairman [and Fatah leader] Abbas.

As Nabil Shaath said in his remarks to journalists in Bethlehem on Thursday night, if I understood him correctly: Hamas “has to go back to where it was in 2006, apologize to the Palestinian people [for the events of 2007], and abandon all pretense to representing the Palestinian people”…

Does anybody seriously think Hamas is going to apologize for what happened in 2007?

The incremental step announced so far in Cairo — Hamas joining a PLO committee on elections — appears to suggest that some progress in Palestinian reconciliation is being made. [After all, it is something demanded by most Palestinians].

At the same time, the step announced does not yet trespass over the limit suggested by the US, which has said that Hamas must not join any new Palestinian government until it has acceeded to all three conditions set by the Quartet [and by Israel]:
(1) recognition of Israel [Netanyahu has officially set the barrier even higher, at recognition of Israel as a Jewish state];
(2) an end to “terrorism”;
(3) acceptance of all prior PLO agreements and positions.

If there is Hamas participation in a new Palestinian government prior to fulfilling those conditions, the U.S. has threatened a cut off of humanitarian funding to the PA…

Slowing down the arrival of day that decision may have to be taken, while keeping up the appearance of movement and progress towards reconciliation, is one of the main goals shared by the Fatah + Hamas, the two largest Palestinian movements participating in the current exercise.

Meanwhile, there will be a lot of gymnastically-contortionist statements involving circuitous positions of logic that will be advanced to explain all this…

Another take on the Palestinian reconciliation "summit": punishment looms, as it does for "UN bid" too

The Jerusalem Post reports today that it has been told that “Palestinian unity efforts stumble” after the reconciliation summit in Cairo on Friday.

But, while there may be outstanding differences between the two largest Palestinian political factions, the real delay may be an attempt to avoid various threatened punishments, until something changes…

Khaled Abu Toameh, Arab affairs correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, writes today, here, that he has been told “that differences between the two parties remained almost the same as they were before the summit. In addition to the ongoing dispute over the make-up of the proposed unity government, Fatah and Hamas have failed to solve their differences over the reconstruction of the security forces and the release of detainees in the West Bank and Gaza Strip being held by both sides. ‘The 45-minute meeting between President Abbas and Khaled Mashaal was not as successful as it is being portrayed’, a senior Fatah official in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post. ‘The most important thing was that the two leaders met and agreed to continue talking about reconciliation and unity. It will take a long time before we ever see real changes on the ground’.”

Punishment for Palestinian Unity

Well, that will be reassuring to American officials who have been worried that they might have to punish the Palestinians, if they actually achieve unity”, by withholding large sums of money that have been the opium of the people in Ramallah.

Jordan-based Palestinian Journalist Daoud Kuttab had earlier reported “rumors” following the flying visit to see Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the Ramallah presidential headquarters [the Muqata’a] by Jordan’s King Abdallah II on Monday, that there were rumors that Palestinian officials told the Jordanian delegation they would not accept security aid if the U.S. withheld other forms of aid.

Kuttab developed this into two articles: one an opinion piece for the Washington Post, published here, and the second was published by the Huffington Post, here.

[See below for more…]

Punishment if Salam Fayyad is replaced as PM {?}

In his Jerusalem Post article, Abu Toameh reported punishment-related issues were a priority matter in the discussion, writing that “a senior Fatah official” told him “that Hamas’s refusal to accept current PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as head of any future government remained a major obstacle to the implementation of the reconciliation deal … Abbas had initially considered dumping Fayyad in favor of the establishment of a unity government with Hamas. However, immense pressure from the US and some EU countries, as well as a strong warning from Jordan’s King Abdullah, who flew to Ramallah last week for emergency talks with Abbas, persuaded the PA president to hold on to Fayyad … [But] Abbas explained to Mashaal [in Cairo on Friday] that without Fayyad the Palestinians would be punished by the Americans and Europeans, the official said. ‘But this did not change Mashaal’s position. Hamas believes that in wake of the Arab Spring, Arab governments would compensate the Palestinians for any loss of Western financial aid’. On Saturday, Mahmoud Zahar, a top Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, reiterated his movement’s strong opposition to the appointment of Fayyad as prime minister of a unity government”.

Abu Toameh added that “Abbas also made it clear during the summit with Mashaal that he would not be able to incorporate Hamas militiamen in the PA security forces, another Fatah official said. The official quoted Abbas as saying that merging Hamas militiamen into the PA security forces would give Israel an excuse to launch attacks on these forces under the pretext of fighting terrorism. Abbas also expressed deep concern that Israel and Fatah would vehemently oppose any attempt to bring Hamas policemen to the West Bank, the official added”.

He also wrote in the JPost that “On the issue of ‘political detainees’ who are being held in PA and Hamas prisons in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the two parties continued over the weekend to blame each other for failing to release their supporters. Abbas and Mashaal have announced twice this year that they would end the arrests of Hamas and Fatah supporters. Despite the announcements, PA security forces continue to arrest Hamas supporters and activists in the West Bank. Hamas, on the other hand, has also been accused of cracking down on Fatah activists in the Gaza Strip by arresting them and preventing them from travelling outside the strip. PA officials denied on Saturday that the PA was holding people in detention for ‘political reasons’. They said all the Hamas detainees in West Bank prisons were being held for allegedly violating the law, but did not give further details … [n.b. Elections are supposed to be held around May 2012, according to a reconciliation agreement initialed in Cairo this past May. But…] According to Zahar, there is no way elections would be held while Hamas supporters remain in PA-run prisons”.

Continue reading Another take on the Palestinian reconciliation "summit": punishment looms, as it does for "UN bid" too

Egypt to hold parliamentary elections on Monday; no date announced for Palestinian elections

The reconciliation “summit” between PLO Chairman + Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas [on the right in the photo below] and Hamas Politibureau chief Khaled Meshaal [on the left, beaming, beside Abbas] went ahead in Cairo on Thursday 24 November.

In an almost-surreal — though all too real — backdrop to this meeting, the widely-detested use of tear gas continued against groups of people identified as protestors around the country, as in Cairo, around the Ministry of Interior and Tahrir Square, the military er”}began the construction of a concrete Wall [“Security Barrider”] topped with coils of barbed wire to cordon off the demonstrators.  Some have vowed to mount the barriers on Friday, however…  And members of the currently-ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF] announced they would go ahead with the first phase of parliamentary elections that have been scheduled to begin on Monday 28 November.

In the Palestinian reconciliation summit, however, there were few concrete results announced — how could there be, with big economic sanctions ready to drop if there had been any announced agreement? — but it was packaged as a general overall success, the launch of a new era of cooperation.

Meshaal + Abbas meeting in Cairo on 24 November 2011

Photo provided by the Office of Khaled Meshaal and published in The Daily Star [Lebanon] here: Palestinian Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, left, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
are seen together during their meeting in Cairo.
(AP Photo/Office of Khaled Meshaal) EDITORIAL USE ONLY, NO SALES

An analysis of the outcome

The Associated Press reported, hours after the meeting, that “Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal talked for two hours in Cairo but did not reach agreement on touchy matters like the composition of an interim unity government and a date for elections. The meeting raised new questions about whether the rivals are serious about sharing power, or just going through the motions”. This report was published on the CBS news site, here. This is probably way too superficial, and simplistic.

The Daily Star published excerpts from an AFP interview with Meshaal afterwards. According to The Daily Star, Meshaal told AFP that “We believe in armed resistance but popular resistance is a programme which is common to all the factions … Every people has the right to fight against occupation in every way, with weapons or otherwise. But at the moment, we want to cooperate with the popular resistance”.

OK.

Reigning in the rocket fire from Gaza

According to the story in The Daily Star, “the two leaders approved a two-page document reiterating their commitment to the main elements of the original deal, which was signed in May, and hailed a new era of ‘partnership’ between their two factions. The document, a copy of which was seen by AFP, outlines an agreement to observe a truce in the West Bank and Gaza Strip along with ‘the adoption of popular resistance which is to be to be strengthened … This resistance will be increased and organised and there is to be an agreement on its style, on greater efficiency and the formation of a framework to direct it’, it said”.

This language seems to apply to Gaza as much as to the West Bank — though Popular Resistance is the strategy that evolved recently in the West Bank in opposition to The Wall and to expanded Israeli settlement activity, and was endorsed by Abbas in the lead-up to the Palestinian “UN bid”, filed on 23 September in New York, for full membership in the international organization.

At the end of October, UNESCO members voted in Paris to admit Palestine as a full member state — and Israel immediately imposed economic sanctions including withholding of the transfer of VAT + customs tax it collects for the Palestinian Authority under the 1994 Paris Protocol, part of the Oslo Accords. Though the US Congress also voted for sanctions, including a withholding of funding to UNESCO, the Obama Administration is trying to hold off on measures that would negatively impact the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinian firing of rockets from Gaza in response to every Israeli attack is claimed as a “natural response”, but the IDF Chief of Staff has recently said that he believes an major military operation may be required to stop this. Now, smaller armed groups claim credit for these sporadic actions, but the Israeli military + government say they hold Hamas ultimately responsible, because it is in control in the Gaza Strip.

Abbas has in the past called this sporadic projectile firing “stupid”, but hasn’t spoken out too much recently, at least publicly.

The Daily Star added that “Meshaal did not go into detail about the focus on popular resistance but said he had instructed the movement’s leadership in Gaza and Damascus, to ‘adopt a political line and one with the press that doesn’t upset the conciliatory spirit and that truly reflects the atmosphere of reconciliation … I asked them to take practical and positive measures to flesh out this agreement’.”   This report is posted here.

So, one effect of this meeting appears to be that the Hamas political leadership will be able to use the highly-valued doctrine of national unity to back up a decision to stop projectile firing by smaller separate militant groups.

Palestinian political prisoners

AP also reported that “In a show of good intentions, the two leaders decided that activists of the two movements would be released from detention, said Azzam al-Ahmed, an Abbas envoy”.  This was one of  the main demands of the Palestinian “youth” protesters,  and has been announced several times this year, before and after the reconciliation agreement initialled in May.

Like the Egyptian military leadership,  the Palestinian leadership has claimed that the prisoners each side holds are held on charges of criminal activity, not their political beliefs…

AFP / Hamas Press Office

Left to right: Hamas’ Khalid Meshaal, PLO + Fatah head Mahmoud Abbas, reconciliation negotiator Azzam al-Ahmad of Fatah

The pending “UN bid”

Meanwhile, the Palestinian “UN bid” is still pending, and the Hamas leadership has not opposed it. There is no indication from the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, at least for now, of what decision they will make in light of a likely failure to get enough votes to pass n the UN Security Council, which would trigger a threatened U.S. veto.

Either way, the lack of support within the UN Security Council is a “come back later” decision.

Continue reading Egypt to hold parliamentary elections on Monday; no date announced for Palestinian elections

Mahmoud Abbas in Cairo; will Egypt postpone Monday's elections?

To my surprise, though perfectly according to plan, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas turned up in Cairo this morning to meet Field Marshall Tantawy, who as head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF] of Egypt was handed the country when Husni Mubarak was forced to step down last February.

Abbas meeting Tantawi - photo via PalTelegraph

Abbas meeting Tantawi – photo via PalTelegraph here – presumably taken today

Apparently, Abbas arrived in Egypt Tuesday night.  He had to have travelled via Jordan — he certainly didn’t fly from Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, and he didn’t drive through Gaza.

In the midst of chaos in [some, main] Egyptian streets, Abbas is supposed be on a four-day visit to Cairo, despite the chaos in the streets, and will meet Khaled Meshaal of Hamas tomorrow, after years of Egyptian negotiations to effect a “reconciliation” between Hamas and Fatah…

To go ahead with the reconciliation in the coming days, Abbas and Meshaal will have to ignore the sheer mayhem and brutality in the streets of Cairo and several other Egyptian cities, where vast quantities of what is reported to be an enhanced variety of tear gas has been mercilessly fired upon protesting citizens who are demanding a transition to civilian rule. and on uninvolved bystanders alike.

Egyptian military leaders are saying that “hidden forces” are behind the worst violence and the many civilian deaths — and not the military, which says it is responsible only for the tear gas…

One thing Abbas’ arrival in Cairo does mean is that Abbas was in Jordan on Tuesday, a day after receiving King Abdallah II in Ramallah on Monday.  [Did they meet again?]

King Abdallah’s “historical” visit was announced late on Sunday, and the whole thing is still a big mystery — more to come in a separate post.  The King flew by helicopter to Ramallah, and landed in the grounds of the Muqata’a Presidential palace.   When the King flew back to Amman, he met almost immediately with U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns — who himself had met Abbas on Sunday,  and then with Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu on Monday morning, perhaps just before Abdallah arrived in Ramallah…  And, there is no way that the Jordanian monarch could have flown across the West Bank without full Israeli approval.

The link between these events is: elections.

The proposed Fatah-Hamas reconciliation is supposed to involve agreement on new Palestinian elections — perhaps by next May — to overcome the split that followed the Hamas rout of Fatah/Palestinian Preventive Security Forces, which an infuriated Mahmoud Abbas called a “military coup”, just before carrying out his own retaliatory political coup by dissolving a very short-lived National Unity government headed by Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh.  Abbas then appointed Salam Fayyad as Prime Minister of an “Emergency Government” which has basically remained in power until today [despite permutations].

Now, Hamas is reportedly still opposed to Fayyad continuing as Prime Minister, after the reconciliation — and there has been speculation that a replacement may soon be named [the most recent speculation involved Dr. Mohammed Mustafa, Economic Adviser to Abbas + head of the, um, non-governmental Palestine Investment Fund]. A new Palestinian Authority/PLO government would be composed only of “technocrats” [meaning, no one associated with Hamas, which would mean the re-imposition of strong new financial and other sanctions — that is, unless Hamas meets the “Quartet conditions: recognition of Israel, or its “right to exist”; renunciation of violence, and allegience to all previous agreements made by the PLO.

A new technocratic government would be charged with overseeing a transition to new elections.

UPDATE: It was reported from Cairo on Thursday morning, just before the Abbas-Meshaal reconciliation talks began, that the naming of a new Prime Minister would not be on the immediate agenda…]

Since the violent Hamas-Fatah break-up in June 2007, Mahmoud Abbas has, insisted on a return to the status quo ante as a prerequisite for any reconciliation with Hamas, meaning that Hamas must know its place, and not rule as a rival regime in Gaza.

By the terms of a previous reconciliation — the Cairo 2005 agreement — Hamas was supposed to be integrated into the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization], in which Mahmoud Abbas has been Chairman of the Executive Committee since the death of Yasser Arafat in a hospital in Paris in November 2004.

[Abbas, like Arafat before him, has consolidated his hold on all three reins of Palestinian political power.  Abbas is also the head, by acclamation, of Fatah, which is the largest Palestinian political movement.   And he is the elected head of the Palestinian Authority, established by agreement bween the PLO + Israel under the Oslo Accords, which Hamas opposes — but Abbas’ term of office expired either in January 2009 or in January 2010, depending on which legalistic argument one backs. So, when there are new reports of Abbas resigning, the question has to be asked: from what, exactly?  The PLO, Fatah, or just the PA? In any case, Abbas has also said, previously, that he will remain in office until there are new elections.]

Hamas agreed to join the PLO — but has argued that it should have a percentage of seats in the PLO’s Palestine National Council [PNC] that would be proportional to the number of seats it won in 2006 elections for the PA’s Legislative Council [PLC] — in other words, over 60 percent.

Fatah was outraged — and Fatah officials maintained in recent years that they would never agree to Hamas having anything more than 25% of seats in the PNC.

The mandate for the 2006 PLO has also expired, without ever having many meetings, both because Israel arrested so many Hamas-affiliated parliamentarians that a quorum could not be met, but also because of the huge rift between Hamas and Fatah…

And Abbas has ruled by Presidential decree — which some fastidious Palestinian libertarians have quietly criticized.

Meanwhile, Abbas has cancelled Palestinian presidential and parliamentary elections that he called for 24 January 2010, and he has also twice scheduled, and cancelled, local or municipality elections.

One of the major demands of the Palestinian “youth demonstrations”, whicht began in honor of the January 25 movement that filled Cairo’s Tahrir Square in Egypt [until Mubarak resigned in February], was an end to the Fatah-Hamas split.

Another of the demands was to hold elections — for the first time, ever — among Palestinians everywhere [and not just in the West Bank + Gaza] for the PLO’s National Council.

The reconciliation agreement signed in Cairo in May, and today’s follow-up “summit” [more than 6 months later] between Abbas + Meshall in Cairo was initially viewed as a response to the Palestinian “youth demonstrations” and to the “Arab Spring” developments in the region.  [One reason the reconciliation summit was delayed was to protect, or insulate, the “UN bid” from reprisals — which have since been imposed anyway, after the UNESCO vote to admit Palestine as a full member state nearly one month ago...]

In other, separate developments, Egyptians were supposed to begin voting on Monday 28 November in the first round of their new Parliamentary elections… though the preparations process has been rather back-room and secretive.

And tonight, Egypt’s Interior Minister called for a postponement due to the situation in the country.

UPDATE: On Thursday, a group of Egyptian political parties also called for a postponement of elections.

But, in reaction to the terrible violence over the last couple of days, the call in Tahrir Square has been, again: “Irhal” —  Go.  Just go.  Get out.

There is not a unified position on cancelling elections now.

So now, here are a few thoughts: is it just possible that a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation in Cairo tomorrow might have enough overwhelming popular appeal and regional magic to distract, and stop the bloodshed in Egypt?

By the same time tomorrow night, after all the violence and suffering and human loss in this region, will everything seem better [and not worse]?

Reality check: The U.S. is lobbying strongly against any reconciliation Palestinian government, which would mean a move toward new Palestinian elections [the visit of Burns to the region on Sunday + Monday was reportedly about that, and about the “UN bid” that Mahmoud Abbas filed in New York on 23 September for full UN membership]. At stake is another full-scale imposition of economic sanctions that will have a devastating impact on the situation in the West Bank, despite defiant Palestinian statements.

There is, of course, a major contradiction, at least in democracies, between supporting elections [as U.S. President George W. Bush did, prior to the 2006 Palestinian elections in which Hamas won a majority of seats in the PLC, dismissing some worry about the lack of Fatah popularity, and the possibility of Hamas gains], and then imposing sanctions because of who wins.

But, the U.S. is still calling for Egyptian elections.

Mark Toner, a U.S. State Dept spox, did so in an exchange with journalists at the daily briefing in Washington:

    “QUESTION: And you remain confident that this election will go on on time?

    MR. TONER: We continue to believe that it can go on, yeah.

    QUESTION: Are you still —

    QUESTION: (Inaudible) boycott the vote given the amount of violence and their distrust of the military?

    MR. TONER: Again, as Field Marshal Tantawi said yesterday, this is – he provided a path that talked about these elections, talked about a newly appointed civilian government, as well as a full transition to – or presidential elections by next summer. And this is the way that Egyptians can create the kind of democracy for which they’re protesting in Tahrir Square. It’s extremely important that they exercise their right to vote … He [Tantawi] did pledge to appoint a new cabinet and to hold presidential elections, as I talked – as I said, and proceed with parliamentary elections as planned. We believe that’s important. We also believe that it’s important that the SCAF ensure that free and fair elections proceed expeditiously, and that their security of these elections is ensured, and that – in an environment that’s free from any intimidation, and that

    this newly appointed civilian government be able to exercise real executive power immediately … What’s important, as I said, is that these elections be seen by the Egyptian people as credible and transparent. That’s the responsibility of the SCAF, to create that kind of atmosphere and that kind of environment, so that they’re – that these elections can be taken seriously by the Egyptian people, and again, building towards eventual presidential elections, a new constitution, et cetera, that will result in a true democracy for Egypt … And so we’re engaged with the Egyptian authorities. Again, our goal here is to provide whatever support we can so that credible, transparent elections can take place. But ultimately, this is something that the

    Egyptian people need to see done”.

The briefing transcript can be read in full here.

But, what about the Palestinian people?

Protests continue in Egypt, massive tear gas use reported

Protests — and casualties, including deaths — have continued in Egypt today, as a decision was awaited from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces on demands for an immediate transition to civilian rule.

Egyptian riot police are reportedly responsible for the worst violence, but .

A “million man” march was called for 4pm to protest police and military brutality against the demonstrators. At least 100,000 people were reported in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi was expected to speak at about the same time.

But, he began a meeting with Egyptian political parties…

His remarks were finally aired on Egyptian State TV three hours later, after 7pm.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, Tantawi maintained that the Armed Forces “never killed a single Egyptian”, and he insisted that the Armed Forces are the main protectors of the people. But, he added, “the ability of the Ministry of Interior is improving”…

He said that although they never took a political position, and had no political ambitions, and treated all political parties equally, the Armed Forces had an important role to play, because the “interim situation is not safe … and the Egyptian economy is receding. The Armed Forces would therefore continue to maintain the state and ensure security while “we know that differences are there, and different positions”.

He said that he [“I”] had decided to accept the resignation of the present Prime Minister and his cabinet — but had asked them to stay on in their posts until a new government could be formed…

Tantawi observed that “the closer we come to elections, the more tensions are increasing — this we cannot understand”.

Only “at the end of this process will we hand over power to an elected civilian authority”, Tantawi said in his televised address.

A first round of parliamentary elections is due to be held in less than a week — on November 28, and Tantawi said that this schedule would be maintained.

Continue reading Protests continue in Egypt, massive tear gas use reported

Bloody hell at Tahrir Square in Cairo + other news

Bloody hell broke out at Tahrir Square this weekend.

There have been so many deaths and injuries — including a shocking number of protesters injured by rubber bullets in eyes, many of whom have reportedly lost their eyes as a result — that the figures are unreliable, and the tallies by various volunteers and news organizations keep mounting. One observer Tweeted that the soldiers/police were blinded themselves by the fast quantities of strong tear gas that was shot around, and as a result they fired wildly [hitting so many protesters exactly in the eyes???]. A group of three Egyptian men — one photojournalist [Ahmed Fatah, in the middle/background], + 2 well-known activists [Malek Mostafa and on the left, Ahmad Hararah] — with almost identical injuries are shown in this photo here.

At a certain point, the Muslim Brotherhood turned out. Then left. A few politicians showed up, then left.

A new terminology had to be learned: who are the ULTRAs? [It seems they are the almost-mythical “football fans” who have been on both sides of this revolution, but who now appear to be against the present military rule and therefore now on the side of the Tahrir activists…]

The situation is still evolving, three days later.

UPDATE: Al-Jazeera Arabic reported Monday night that the entire Egyptian Cabinet tendered its resignation — but the Supreme Military Council has not yet accepted the resignation.

Continue reading Bloody hell at Tahrir Square in Cairo + other news

The day of the big prisoner swap [ok, yes, it's an "egregious" term]

23:55 pm: A Tweet from Turkish journalist @MahirZeynalov says that 11, not 10, Palestinian released prisoners has arrived in Ankara: “11 released Palestinian prisoners make sajdah right after they leave the plane in Ankara’s airport. Palestinian Amb. to Turkey met them”. UPDATE: The additional person appears to be a woman — perhaps the one [or one of the ones, but I think it was in the end only one] who refused to be sent to Gaza this morning, and Egypt reportedly agreed to take her. [If so, it must be Mariam al-Tarabeen, or Tarabini...] But, perhaps Egypt agreed to take her to the Cairo airport, on the condition that Turkey would be the ultimate destination, or receiving country.

21:15 pm: At least one of the Palestinian prisoners released today, a woman who is now in Gaza, was on the hunger strike that began on 27 September — Wafa al-Bis was hospitalized in Gaza tonight, according to a report by WAFA picked up and posted here. It seems that she was one of the women prisoners who initially refused to be released into Gaza, if I correctly understood earlier Tweet by @dimaeleiwa.

19:05 pm: Just realized, listening to replay of Noam Shalit’s remarks to public in Mitzpe Hila, he said his son Gilad suffers from lack of sunlight [that was kind of obvious today], from after-effects of shrapnel wounds [how did he get these shrapnel wounds?] , and from isolation — including because he did not speak the language and could not communicate with OTHER PRISONERS. What OTHER PRISONERS was Gilad Shalit held with?

18:15 pm:: Live event in Gaza, address by Hamas’ Ismail Haniyah shouting angrily — apparently in answer to criticism that Hamas has benefitted — by saying that all factions were consulted and involved, Palestinians are one people. Al Jazeera [+ some other TV channels] break away from Haniyeh speech just after he says Chris Bandak, a Palestinian Christian [from Bethlehem] who had been serving three [3] life sentences “is now here with us”. Al Jazeera International goes directly to public remarks being made in Mitzpe Hila in northern Israel by Noam Shalit, Gilad’s father, who mentioned that his son still suffers from shrapnel injuries [shrapnel? Couldn’t have been from the operation when he was captured, could it? Was it, instead, from IDF’s Operation Cast Lead? — there were reports he had been injured] and from having been in near-total isolation…

16:30 pm: IDF says Gilad Shalit has completed medical exams and will fly to family home in Mizpe Hila soon. Arrived after 17h00 — holding up well, greeted by crowd waving lots of large Israeli flags. Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister said that 10 released Palestinian prisoners are being flown from Cairo to Turkey — for 5-year stay! UPDATE: Palestinian TV reports on night news that the Turkish FM had a phone conversation today with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Continue reading The day of the big prisoner swap [ok, yes, it's an "egregious" term]

Israeli Defense Minister Barak Expresses Regret over Egyptian military deaths on Thursday in Eilat-areaattacks

Acknowledging the significance and importance of the moment, after a chaotic day of ambushes, fighting and hot pursuit in the area of Eilat on Thursday — and some 48 hours of subsequent reprisal attacks on Gaza — Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Saturday that “Israel regrets the deaths of the three Egyptian policemen during the attack on the Israel-Egypt border”.

At least three Egyptian military personnel — Egyptian officials are more consistently now mentioning five — were reportedly killed by IDF soldiers in pursuit, apparently, of people they assumed were among the attackers.

Funerals of Egyptian military or police killed on 18 August in attacks near Eilat - Photo by AFP, published on Israel's YNet website

Haaretz said that “IDF soldiers fired across the Israel-Egypt border as they intercepted the terrorist cell behind the attacks near Eilat”.

According to the report in Haaretz, published here, “Barak ordered the IDF to investigate the incident after which a joint investigation will be conducted with the Egyptian military to determine the circumstances of the incident”.

Barak reportedly “expressed appreciation for the ‘discretion and responsibility’ shown by Egypt”.

Continue reading Israeli Defense Minister Barak Expresses Regret over Egyptian military deaths on Thursday in Eilat-areaattacks

Confusion

After attacks on a bus and a car and later on another target a bit north of the Israeli southern city of Eilat along the border between the Israeli Negev and the Egyptian Sinai on Thursday, there is incomprehension at subsequent Israeli air strikes on Gaza.

The Israeli attacks on Gaza, hundreds of kilometers to the north, were in retaliation for attacks by unknown persons apparently wearing Egyptian military uniforms.

The New York Times reported from Cairo and Israel that “The attacks [n.b. – which in its later stages looked more like a battle in Eilat] on Thursday began about midday when gunmen opened fire on an Israeli passenger bus carrying soldiers and civilians from the southern city of Beersheba to Eilat. The Israeli military said other attackers fired on a second bus and on two civilian vehicles at another point on the road, which runs along the Egyptian border, and detonated a roadside bomb near Israeli soldiers who were on their way to the scene of the initial attack … The attacks unfolded over several hours, with the second of the soldiers being shot to death at nightfall. Television images from the scene showed shattered windows and bullet holes in the first bus. The second bus, which was empty except for the driver, was a burned-out shell. Military officials said it appeared that a suicide bomber had detonated explosives alongside it”. It total, 8 Israelis were killed [1 soldier, and 1 police sniper], and some 30 were wounded. This report is published here.

Time magazine reported that “Israel shut down all roads into Eilat and sent hundreds of troops on a manhunt. Officials said seven attackers were killed, three inside Israel and four in Egypt — two by Israeli forces in hot pursuit, and two by actual Egyptian soldiers, according to reports. An Israeli military official said the hunt would continue. ‘This kind of operations requires more than seven people’, he said”. The Time article said that “What headlines described as a terrorist attack in the desert just north of the Israeli resort city of Eilat was in fact a sustained assault, a complex military attack that included missiles, mortars, improvised explosive devices, small arms and, on the bodies of two of the seven assailants killed, explosive vests”. Time’s article is published here.

The initial attack took place near an Egyptian military encampment. It was reported on Friday that between three and five [or, now six?] Egyptian soldiers were killed by the IDF as they were in hot pursuit of the attackers. Egypt made a formal protest on Friday.

[This brings the number of those killed in and near Eilat on Thursday to 8 Israelis, 6 Egyptian soldiers, and 7 attackers — whoever they turn out to be — for a total of 21 dead in these attacks. And, at least ten Palestinians were then killed in retaliatory Israeli attacks on Gaza so far, making a total of 31 in the past 36 hours or so. Casualties in Gaza are mounting by the hour now. On Friday evening, the Qassam brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, called off the truce it proclaimed with Israel on 18 January 2009, at the end of the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead …]

Continue reading Confusion

Amira Hass describes experience on Dignity

Speaking from Ramallah on a radio interview with the Democracy Now radio program, Amira Hass gave one of the few accounts publicly available about what happened during the Israeli Navy’s interception and commandeering of the yacht, Dignity, that was tring to sail to Gaza.

NOTE: Amira Hass usually refuses to give interviews.
UPDATE: Her own account has been published by Haaretz, in English, on Sunday 24 July here — in which she describes “discomfort as an act of political rebellion”. And, she wrote in her article, about “the contradiction of which everyone was aware: The means (a sea voyage to protest the siege of Gaza ) had turned into the end itself. The adventure had become the goal. And this boat would sail!” Countering the accusations of “lying”, made by the IDF chief spokesman himself, partly to justify the commandeering of the yacht, Amira Hass wrote in Haaretz that “The official destination was Alexandria. The idea was to refuel there and then to continue to Gaza. That plan was abandoned out of a desire not to become involved in the sensitive political entanglements in Egypt”…

Amira Hass’ interview was aired by Democracy Now on Thursday 21 July, a day after 15 of the others on board were apparently deported [including the jounalists???].  The transcript of her remarks is posted here.

She told Democracy Now:
Some 60 miles away from Gaza, we got the signal from an Israeli warship asking where we were heading to. One of the—one on board said, “To Gaza.” Then they said, “It’s illegal. It’s not allowed.”  The person—it’s Professor Vangelis Pissias, the Greek—tried to explain that this is a mission of peace and solidarity. There are no arms, no cargo, just wishing to reach Gaza.  And they were replied again by, “No, this is not legal, or not allowed.”  Immediately then, all communication was jammed.  We could not call anymore. We could not get calls anymore. The internet did not work.

And soon after, we saw four commando boats, very quick, very fast boats, approaching us. Masked men were aiming their rifles at us. They were, of course, in uniforms, IDF uniforms.  They were aiming all sorts of guns that I don’t even know how to name them. There were two cannon—two of them had—each of them had a cannon, a water cannon.  Then, three more were added to the four.  They distanced a bit, then returned.

At around 2:00, they approached, started to use the water cannon, and shouted something. One of on board, Dror Feiler, who is an Israeli, shouted back in Hebrew. Another activist, Claude Léostic of France, said, “This is—we are on the way to Gaza. This is international water. You have no right to impound us.”  And yet, they managed to enter on board.

It was not violent as the former flotillas or the boats that were in past years, when they attacked people physically.  But the very act, of course, is violent, the very act of—imagine 10 vessels, three warships and seven gunboats, attacking this small bucket.  We looked like a bucket rocking in the sea.  This was very violent.  But physically, we were spared what—the fate that was the one of the Mavi Marmara

Continue reading Amira Hass describes experience on Dignity