In this hall, resonant with symbolism, Egypt's new president spoke

Egypt’s newly-elected President Mohammed Morsi addressed his country and the world this afternoon from the historic hall, or grand ballroom, of Cairo University:
Cairo University Hall where Egypt's new president spoke after taking oath of office on 30 June - photo by AP published by Haaretz

The choice of venue was resonant with symbolism: from this hall, newly-elected U.S. President Barak Obama made his speech to the Muslim world.

Egyptian Hany Rasmy [@hany2m] said in an answer to a question on Twitter that this hall was also a favorite of Egypt’s iconic first President, Gamal Abdel Nasser — the place where Abdel Nasser used to listen to the concerts [broadcast live on radio throughout Egypt and the Arab world] of the famed Egyptian singer Um Kalthoum.

Morsi began his speech by recalling his early studies at Cairo University, and his time later teaching there as well. He apologized to students for disrupting exams that had been scheduled at the university during the day, which will be held tonight instead.

In his speech, Morsi said more than once that “elected institutions will resume their roles and Egypt’s armed forces will go back to guard security and country’s borders”.

He also said that “Egypt respects all its treaties + international instruments”.

And he said: “Egypt stands beside Palestinian people + supports all their legitimate rights…and we will continue to work for Palestinian reconciliation … Egypt today supports Palestinian people [their freedom + self determination] + the Syrian people. Syrian bloodshed should be halted + stop”.

Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood for years, resigned from the party on the eve of his inauguration. He is the first Egyptian elected president when, as Cairo commentors noted, the results were not perfectly predictable in advance.

Morsi, running also as the candidate of the revolution that began with protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on 25 January 2011, beat Ahmad Shafiq, who had been close to the military regime of deposed President Husni Mubarak, sent out of office on 11 February 2011 after turning over the keys to the military and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF]. Mubarak has just been sentenced to life imprisonment for not preventing the killing of protestors during the revolution, and he was recently reported to be on life support after having a stroke.

What’s Happening in the Sinai?

It’s rather difficult to know what’s really happening in the Sinai.

On Friday, the eve of Egypt’s Presidential election run-off , two Grad/Katyusha missiles were fired into Israel’s Negev Desert north of Eilat. One landed near Mitzpe Ramon, while the other – not immediately discovered until the next day, probably in partly because of the slowdown of activities at the start of the Jewish Sabbath – landed further to the south, in the Arava Region, near the Uvda military base.
Ron Yishai, military analyst for Israel’s YNet, reported here that “the security establishment has ruled out the possibility that it was launched from Jordan”.

Though propaganda and spin are abundant after attacks in this area, reliable and verifiable information is hard to come by. A main reason is the strict control over information exercised by both Israel and Egypt officials after incidents possibly involving their forces there — regarded by as essential to contain the damage, keep relations on an even keel, and protect the peace treaty.

Continue reading “What’s Happening in the Sinai?”

Whose fault is it?

A colleague called me today as he was leaving Erez “terminal”, just coming out of Gaza after two days there.

The situation of the people who don’t have any electricity, or any fuel, is terrible, he said.

He asked, “Whose fault do you think it is”?

[He said he is leaning toward blaming Hamas…]

But, there is enough blame to go around…

Where to start?

The European Union was paying for the special industrial diesel fuel used to run the Gaza Power Plant once it was repaired in November 2006 [precision Israeli Air Force bombing took out each of the four generators/turbines, one by one, in late June 2006, in response to the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, and the EU paid for repairs that were done through Egypt].

The way it worked is important to understanding the situation: Gaza would tell the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah how much fuel it needed. Ramallah would order the fuel from an Israeli fuel company [Dor Alon] with whom Ramallah had concluded a contract. Fuel transfer facilities were constructed at Nahal Oz — Dor Alon paid for the installation on the Israeli side of the facility, and the PA paid for the installation on the Gaza side. Israeli tankers came one by one to offload their fuel cargoes into underground pipes which transferred the fuel into Gaza where it was loaded into Palestinian tanker trucks for delivery around the Gaza Strip.

VAT taxes paid on these fuel purchases by the PA were returned by Israel to the PA in Ramallah.

These arrangements continued after the Hamas rout of Fatah/Palestinian preventive security services in mid-June 2007.

(1) Because Hamas was in power there, Israel’s military was authorized to implement tightening sanctions against Gaza, starting in late October 2007. These military sanctions were designed to cut the fuel deliveries to Gaza by about 15% each month. Gaza’s Power Plant experienced shut-downs from January, due to Israeli-military-mandated cuts in fuel delivered to Gaza.

(2) About four years later [at the end of 2010 and beginning of 2011], there was a switch of responsibilities that was never fully explained, in which the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority took over from the EU the payment for the fuel, in exchange for the EU paying for salaries and pensions… There soon arose disputes over payments. Ramallah said that Gaza was not remitting enough in payments for electric bills, so they cut down on the fuel they ordered and paid for. More shut-downs in Gaza’s Power Plant ensued. VAT

(3) Gaza decided to stop going along with this arrangement, and its dependency on Ramallah’s good will, and turned instead to taking fuel for the Gaza Power Plant smuggled in via the tunnels under the border with Rafah. At around the same time, a clever tweak — invented by Gaza Power Plant Engineer Dirar Abu Sisi [later kidapped in Ukraine, where he was trying to emigrate with his Ukranian wife and their children, and brought to Israel, where he is still in jail] — allowed the Gaza Power Plant to use normal diesel fuel to operate. There were considerable cost savings. Taxes for the import of fuel went to Hamas.

(4) Israel gradually closes all cargo transport into Gaza via all crossings except Kerem Shalom — where Israeli customs officials operate. This move was opposed by the PA. Israel delayed the move, but eventually did it.

(5) Egypt, under pressure, decides to reduce the fuel transfers through the tunnels.

(6) Hamas hopes to persuade Egypt to deliver fuel through Rafah crossing — preferably via tankers crossing into Gaza — though there is no provision for cargo transfer via Rafah in the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access. Israel prefers fuel to come from Egypt via Kerem Shalom. There are negotiations and talks and more talks. Gaza’s Power Plant shuts down three times in recent weeks due to fuel shortage — including after an exceptional one-time transfer last Friday of 450,000 liters of fuel bought from Israel and paid by the PA. This quantity of fuel lasted for just over a day, and the Gaza Power Plant shut down again on Sunday.

During these talks and negotiations, it was reported here that “The [Gaza] cabinet also blamed the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, saying it has instructed the European Union to stop funding the power station in Gaza for political reasons. The Gaza government said it had turned to Egypt to relieve the current fuel crisis and thanked Cairo for its efforts, adding that it was also in contact with Qatar, Algeria and Turkey to ease shortages”.

An equivalent or greater amount of energy was put into mutual recriminations. Haaretz reported on 20 March here that Iran paid Hamas to block a reconciliation deal between Fatah and Hamas [which might have eased the fuel crisis]:

    Hamas spokesman Ahmed Assaf said: “We have information that Iran paid tens of millions of dollars to Zahar and Haniyeh in their visits to Iran”. [He was referring to Hamas leaders Mahmoud Zahar who visited Tehran last week and Ismail Haniyeh who was there in February. Assaf was responding to a comment by Zahar that Palestinian political reconciliation “is in the freezer now”, despite a unity deal signed last month.
    “Reconciliation is in the freezer because Zahar was the one who put it there and he got the price from Iran,” Assaf told Reuters. “Zahar, Haniyeh and Hamas’s Gaza leadership were paid by Iran to freeze reconciliation.”
    Hamas rejected the charges. “The Fatah government did not implement any of their obligations (under the unity deal) and they prefer American money to nationalist agreements,” spokesman Taher al-Nono said.

    “Iran has an interest in the division continuing. Iran realizes the importance of the Palestinian cause from the religious, political and geographic status and, therefore, it wants to control it,” Assaf said.
    If unity was restored and the Palestine Liberation Organization or any legitimate leadership ruled Gaza, Iran would lose its influence, he said.

(7) Emergency talks and negotiations ensue on Monday. On Tuesday, there is an announcement in Cairo of a deal with Egypt, made by the Gaza head of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Energy Authority. But, this deal involves the transfer of Egyptian gas through Rafah to Gaza [not fuel]. This deal is reported by Ma’an News Agency, here.

Here are comments I Tweeted [@marianhouk] yesterday on this announced deal:

27 Mar @Marianhouk
Gaza Power Plant, constructed to run either on indust. diesel or gas, will now be converted to use gas [provided initially by Egypt].

27 Mar @Marianhouk
The World Bank recommended in 2007 that the Gaza Power Plant switching to using gas as fuel, ultimately cheaper then indust. diesel

27 Mar @Marianhouk
Gas will come from Egypt [initially] by terms of agreement signed today in Cairo by Gaza rep of PA Energy Authority – http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=471644

27 Mar @Marianhouk
How fast can this happen? “technicians in Gaza will prepare to install a 30-km pipeline from Rafah to the power plant in Gaza City” via Maan

27 Mar @Marianhouk
Gas cld come to Gaza Power Plant from Palestinian Gaza Marine undersea gas fields in Med, if reconciliation [or if offshore island built]

27 Mar @Marianhouk
“Egy technicians have been instructed 2 conduct geograph surveys 2 find best route for pipelines 2 transport gas from Sheikh Zweid 2 Rafah”

27 Mar @Marianhouk
Gaza rep of PA Energy Authority in Ramallah in Cairo: “the new agreement will increase the plant’s capacity from 40 to 180 Megawatts”. When?

27 Mar @Marianhouk
However, vulnerability of Sinai pipelines will be an issue in new decision signed today to supply Egyptian gas to fuel Gaza Power Plant…

Alaa, Egyptian blogger, is [provisionally] freed today

A child is born…

And his father, Alaa, a prisoner of conscience in Egypt, has today been released from detention [while investigations continue]…

Alaa is freed - photo via his sister Mona Seif @Monasosh - 25 Dec 2011

The Egyptian blogger, Alaa [Abd El Fattah], has been jailed for weeks [54 days, as it happens] by the Egyptian Supreme Council of Armed Forces [SCAF], for refusing to appear before a military court and in connection with accusations about his role in protests against the military government.

Alaa has now just reportedly been freed today, just weeks after his son, Khaled, was born [within hours of a court appearance by Alaa’s heavily pregnant wife, Manal, to plead for Alaa’s freedom].

Alaa and Manal named their son Khaled after Khaled al-Said [see our earlier posts, here], an Egyptian blogger whose beating to death by Egyptian policemen in Alexandria in June 2010 eventually mobilized the big protest in Tahrir Square on #25Jan this year]…

[For further information on the Khaled Said story, our earlier posts are here, here, and here.]

UPDATE: Tonight, Alaa Tweeted: “watching my wife feed my son for the first time, bliss”

Continue reading “Alaa, Egyptian blogger, is [provisionally] freed today”

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”

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”

The Rafah Crossing + the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access

Egypt formally reopened the Rafah crossing today.

Journalists on the scene report that the numbers of Palestinians crossing were fewer than anticipated — apparently partly because of suspicions based on long experience that things might not work out as expected, and partly because of a shortage of money among many in Gaza.

It was one of the top stories on the international agenda today.

The Egyptian decision to reopen the Rafah Crossing appears to be unilateral – though carried out after considerable behind-the-scenes consultations.

By all indications negotiations are still continuing.

Israeli and Palestinian analysts suggest that the Egyptian move appears to be a reward to Hamas in exchange for the essential concessions and compromise that allowed agreement on reconciliation between it and Fatah, the two largest Palestinian movements who have been feuding as each controls a different part of the occupied Palestinian territory.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said in Washington last week with surprising equanimity that the American government was confident that Egypt could handle the security situation at Rafah…

The earlier regime at the Rafah crossing was established in the wake of Israel’s unilateral 2005 “disengagement” from Gaza.

The 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access which technically prevailed at the Rafah border crossing between Rafah and Egypt until today was negotiated over several months with considerable difficulty, and was only be brought to conclusion after the personal intervention of then-U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in an all-night marathon session, on her birthday, 15 November.   It was intended to govern Israel’s immediate relationship to Gaza – which Israel argued was no longer occupied.

Within ten days, the EU managed to put together and deploy the EUBAM border-monitoring mission, and a liaison Office was set up, where EU observers worked together with Israeli and Palestinian Authority personnel.

In addition, Israeli security officials monitored the situation at Rafah in real time by live transmission of video surveillance, and by on-line computer transmissions of all the ID card numbers of the people who were crossing in either direction, Berger said.

One aspect of the Agreement that was constantly violated was the provision that “the passages will operate continuously”.

But, as it happened, the Agreement on Movement and Access was barely implemented, and for a very limited time only.

If Israel told the EUBAM observers to stay home, for example, for security reasons, the Rafah crossing would have to be closed.

The EU Representative to the Palestinian Authority, Christian Berger, explained in an interview in his office in East Jerusalem yesterday that it was originally supposed to cover both people and goods: “the original Agreement of 2005 foresaw that exports could take place right away, and if I remember one truck or two trucks were actually exported in December 2005 to Cairo. If I’m not mistaken, it was children’s toys. And then, nothing much happened. Imports were a different story: imports from the beginning had to come via Kerem Shalom [the Agreement did forsee capacity-building for handling imports direct at Rafah, after a period of one year] … However, during the period of one year, it was foreseen that with the help of the European Union but also with the help of the Israeli customs officials, Palestinian officials would be trained so they could [eventually] handle the imports themselves directly from Egypt. And at the end of that one-year period, an assessment would have been done, to find out whether the capacity was there for handling the imports. There was also a reference in the agreement for cars to be checked – traffic of private cars. Both things never happened – not at all, no. So, imports didn’t happen, and the training didn’t happen, and also the training and the capacity-building for cars didn’t happen”.

Continue reading “The Rafah Crossing + the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access”