Is Hamas accusing British journalist detained in Gaza of looking for captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit?

Freelance British Journalist Paul Martin — apparently a documentary filmmaker — was detained yesterday at a courthouse in Gaza City by Hamas authorities on “suspicion of breaking local/’Palestinian’ laws”, and Gaza’s Attorney General has now ordered him held for 15 days.  Martin is reportedly now in Gaza City’s central prison.  As the AP reports, this is “an unprecedented step against a foreign reporter since the Islamic militants seized control of Gaza in 2007”.

The AP report noted that “Hamas has prided itself in ending the lawlessness of vigilante gunmen, and has largely stayed clear of foreign journalists since seizing the territory in 2007. It wasn’t immediately clear whether Mr. Martin’s arrest signaled a change in policy. The Interior Ministry statement said foreigners are welcome in Gaza, but that ‘anyone who tries to violate the security of Gaza will be held accountable’.”

Ma’an News Agency reported this morning that the spokesman of what they editorially refer to as the “de facto Ministry of Interior” in Gaza, Ihab Al-Ghussein, “told Ma’an that an arrest warrant for Martin was issued following the confession of a defendant charged with collaborating with Israel. The defendant ‘has confessed against the British journalist and said he [Martin] violated Palestinian law and the security in Gaza’, Al-Ghussein said”.

However, as Ma’an noted, Martin was detained as he arrived to testify at the trial of the man whose accusations were then used as the basis for Martin’s arrest. Ma’an described the man as “a Palestinian fighter accused of collaborating with Israel, a journalist present at the courthouse in Gaza City told Ma’an”.

Ma’an reported that ” ‘This person [the Palestinian] was accused by the government of being a collaborator with the Israeli side. Our colleague [Martin] came as a witness to testify in favor of this guy’, the journalist said. Martin arrived in Gaza with evidence proving the accused man had fought against the Israeli military, the journalist added. ‘Suddenly, the court announced that the reporter said something that is against the law, and it jailed him for 15 days for investigation’, according to the journalist, who said Martin had interviewed the accused man during Israel’s assault on Gaza [n.b. – the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead], which began in late December 2008″.

Ma’an reported additionally that “Palestinian security sources told the German news agency DPA that Martin was accused of giving information to ‘hostile parties’. The British national was being held in Gaza’s central prison, although it was not clear if he had yet been charged with any crime, DPA reported”. This Ma’an report can be read in full here.

Then, there was a brief report from a Palestinian media source this morning saying that Martin has been accused of trying to locate IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit who has been held somewhere in Gaza since his capture in a cross-border raid in late June 2006, for which Israel has made numerous retailatory attacks, including destruction of the Gaza Power Plant a few days after Shalit’s capture. After Israel’s unprecedented three-week military operation against Gaza from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009, which was ended by two unilateral cease-fires (Israel’s and Hamas’), the Israeli Government has declared on several occasions that it will not lift the controlled closure of all border crossings into the Gaza Strip until Shalit is safely returned home.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has not been allowed to visit Shalit during his almost four-year captivity so far, but there were a one or two letters transferred in recent years between Shalit and his parents, and a more recent videotape showing Shalit alive and relatively at ease with his captors, exchanged through intermediaries who include former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

It was noted in a comment on Facebook last night that Martin has, in the past, reported for the BBC and for The Times of London [see these two reports dated November 2007 here and here].  The BBC has just reported that Martin has written for the two British news organizations.  Additional news reports indicate that Martin also contributed to the Daily Mail.

A representative of the British Consulate has visited Martin in jail, and the British Consulate in Jerusalem has expressed concern about the situation.

The Foreign Press Association in Israel has just released a statement calling for Martin’s release: “The Foreign Press Association is deeply concerned with the arrest of British filmmaker and journalist Paul Martin, in Gaza by Hamas authorities. We expect the Hamas as we do all parties, to respect the rights of every journalist on assignment to work without fear of being arrested. The Foreign Press Association hereby requests the Palestinian Authorities in Gaza to immediately release Paul Martin”.

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[An illustrative story: when I arrived in Gaza in mid-June 2007, as soon as the Israeli military authorities re-opened the Erez terminal used for human crossing in and out of Gaza, just after the Hamas rout of Fatah/Palestinian Authority Preventive Security forces in the Gaza Strip, I walked with my colleagues through the battered concrete corridors in the no-man’s land between Erez and the point where Israelis allow Gazans to approach Erez, which were still filled with miserable Palestinians desperate to get out, together with those who had just missed appointments for vital cancer treatment in Israeli medical institutions.  There was a stench of urine, people appeared desperate, and some more energetic and enterprising young men were tearing apart the physical infrastructure of the canopy and the adjacent toilets and other rooms, piece by piece and pipe by pipe.  When we finally got through that area of hell-on-earth, we arrived at an area where a few Gazan taxis were waiting.  The parking area was more empty than normal.  Suddenly, a white vehicle bristling with young men carreened into the parking area and approached us.  Some of the men in the car were wearing all-black chinos.  Others looked like Afghans or Pakistanis, with multiple layers of vests over long shirts over robes.  The driver, all in crisp black, recognized us as journalists and offered to show us fighters shooting off a rocket or two.  We politely declined.  Then the driver asked if we wanted to speak to Alan Johnston, the BBC correspondent who was by that time already in captivity by some groups not entirely controlled by Hamas.  The driver took out his mobile phone and thrust it in our direction:  “I just spoke to him half an hour ago”, he said.  We thanked him, but declined again.  There was a moment of tension.  Then, I asked where they got the nice white vehicle.  The driver and some of the passengers laughed.  “From Abu Mazen!” (Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the driver shouted in glee.  Then they all drove off and left us safely alone to proceed with our Palestinian “fixers”, who had arrived by that time, to take us into downtown Gaza City…]

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The Israel Project, an organization based in Washington and Jerusalem which works to influence media coverage of this region, has helpfully put together a little press release of journalists kidnapped in the Gaza Strip.  Paul Martin, of course, has not been kidnapped, but rather arrested — and by Hamas.  The list compiled by The Israeli Project all dates from the period before Hamas was in charge in the Gaza Strip.  Still, it’s interesting, and here it is:

Journalists Kidnapped by Palestinian Militants in Gaza since Sept. 2004:

* March 12, 2007 – BBC correspondent Alan Johnston is kidnapped by a Gaza-based clan calling itself the Army of Islam. This group is thought to have ties to al-Qaeda. Johnston’s captors released a video on the Internet demanding that Britain release several Muslim prisoners including Islamist al-Qaeda cleric Abu Qatada.

* Jan. 7, 2007 – Jaime Razuri from Agence France-Presse is kidnapped and released almost a week later. The kidnappers were not identified.

* Oct. 23, 2006 – Emilio Morenatti, an Associated Press photographer, is kidnapped by unidentified Palestinian gunmen and released on the same day.

* Aug. 27, 2006 – Fox News correspondent Steve Centanni and New Zealand-born cameraman Olaf Wiig are held for two weeks by a previously unknown group identified as the Holy Jihad Brigades. They were released unharmed after being forced to convert to Islam.

* March 15, 2006 – Caroline Laurent, reporter for the French-language weekly ELLE; Alfred Yaghobzadeh, photographer for France’s Sipa Press; and Yong Tae-Young, a correspondent for South Korea’s KBS are kidnapped from the Al-Dira Hotel in Gaza. Palestinian Security Services claim the kidnappers are members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The journalists were released within 22 hours.

* Oct. 12, 2005 – Dion Nissenbaum and Adam Pletts of Knight Ridder News Service (now McClatchy Newspapers) are abducted by renegade members of the Fatah party. The journalists were freed later that day.

* Sept. 10, 2005 – Journalist Lorenzo Cremonesi of Corriere della Serra ( Italy ) is abducted in the town of Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip. He was released the same day.

* Aug.15, 2005 – Journalist Mohammad Ouathi, a French citizen of Algerian origin is kidnapped and released a week later. No group claimed responsibility.

* Jan. 8, 2005 – Ramon Lobo and Carmen Secanella, reporters for Spain’s El Pais, are kidnapped briefly by Palestinian militants in Gaza’s Khan Younes refugee camp.

* Sept. 27, 2004 – Riad Ali, producer for CNN is abducted at gunpoint and released the following day. Ali claims that the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades was behind his kidnapping but the militia has denied the allegations.

The above list, of journalists kidnapped in Gaza from September 2004 until March 2007, was prepared by The Israel Project.

Nabil Shaath: Israel must stop all settlement activities including in Jerusalem — without loopholes

The recent Fatah General Conference held in Bethlehem was very important, and the results were “good, but not excellent”, Shaath said. “You can’t get excellent results with a 20-year hiatus (from the last general conference)”. Shaath said “it was not really a coup d’etat … and not an indicator there was a revolt, but an indication of the need to rejeuvenate using the wisdom of the older members”. He noted that “probably the average age of the Central Committee members dropped from 63 to 57 — we’re talking about very experienced people”.

Shaath revealed that “there is a planned trip to Gaza soon of some of the new Fatah Central Committee members, including me — but as Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) said, [this should not be a one-time event, and] the Central Committee should be in and out of Gaza all the time”. This trip could even be before the end of Ramadan, Shaath said.

And, Shaath said, there will be a big Palestinian delegation at the UN General Assembly high-level debate in mid-September, and “we will be moving on all fronts, making efforts to get the American government, Europe, Russia, China, and Japan” to put pressure on Israel in order to bring about a “categorical stop to all Israeli settlement activities [in Palestinian land seized in 1967], including in Jerusalem” — and “without any loopholes”.

“We are not going to consider any limited settlement freeze, or any nuanced cessation, or any regional implementation — i.e., excluding Jerusalem”, Shaath said.

Shaath said that he was in complete agreement with the article by Akiva Eldar published in Haaretz today, in which Eldar wrote “If there is any truth in the reports that came out of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to Europe – that the United States agreed Israel can go on building in East Jerusalem – the headlines should have read ‘Obama has pulled out of the Middle East peace process’.”

Eldar also wrote that “During the negotiations with Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, the Palestinians agreed to exchange the territory of the settlements that are adjacent to the eastern side of the Green Line with territory on the western side of the line. On the other hand, the sensitive issue of sovereignty over the Old City of Jerusalem and the city’s holy sites, as well as the fate of a quarter-million Palestinians who were ‘annexed’ unilaterally into the State of Israel (as permanent residents) remains in dispute. The American position has been and remains that East Jerusalem is occupied territory whose future will be decided in negotiations between the two sides. Like the other countries of the world, and the UN Security Council, the United States has never recognized Israel’s decision to annex 64.4 square kilometers of the West Bank and join them to the 6.5 square kilometers that were part of Jerusalem’s administrative authority under Jordanian rule … We think that if we say ‘united Jerusalem, the capital of Israel’ frequently enough, the world will get used to the fact that this territory is ours (the semantics have led to a report on the Voice of Israel on the rise of Israeli exports to ‘Judea and Samaria’). It has not happened yet, and that is a good thing. Two U.S. presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, did not approve the resolution passed by Congress in 1995, declaring that ‘unified Jerusalem’ is the capital of Israel. They stated that moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem will undermine the chances for a permanent resolution to the conflict, and thus harm the national security of the United States. Unfortunately, both turned a blind eye to construction in the West Bank settlements and the Palestinian neighborhoods that Israel defines as ‘East Jerusalem’.”

Eldar said in his article that during Benjamin Netanyahu’s previous tenure as Prime Minister, “In July 1997 he decided to stop construction at a Jewish site in the heart of the neighborhood Ras al-Amud, and to evacuate the families who moved in … The head of the Shin Bet security service at the time, Ami Ayalon, warned the prime minister in a report that Jewish construction in the neighborhood would stir riots in the territories. Since the current Palestinian leadership has renounced violence, it is possible that an American acquiescence to the continued Jewish penetration into Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem will pass peacefully. However, a substantive change of such magnitude in the U.S. position regarding a national/religious issue that is so explosive would cause the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, among other efforts, to crash and burn … We must hope that the news that Obama has backtracked on East Jerusalem is merely the wishful thinking of opponents to a compromise that come from the western part of the city”. This Akiva Eldar article can be viewed in full on the Haaretz website here.

[However, settlement expansion is continuing in Ras al-Amud today. The former police station — which has now been moved to the E-1 area at the beginning of the year, despite Israeli assurances to former U.S. Secretary of State lin mid-2008 that the move was in the far distant future — has been prepared for demolition, with the windows and doors removed, a Palestinian resident of the area said. And there is evidence of preparation to expand the “Maale Zeitim” settlement housing. “Then, the two areas will be joined”, this man said — and his house would be surrounded. “I am now convinced that the Israelis see no future with Palestinians in this land”. ]

Shaath, in his remarks to members of the Foreign Press Association (FPA) at a briefing today at the Grand Park Hotel in Ramallah, said that “Abu Mazen is ready for these negotiations and is not putting precondition, but he is calling on the Israeli government to avoid “a repetition of its shameful way, as [former Prime Minister Ehud Barak] did in 1999, when he renegotiated agreements previously made by Netanyahu then he did the same thing concerning Syria first in Shepardstown and then in Geneva, and then also to the Palestinians at Camp David”.

No, Shaath said, what should be done is either you finish up previous business and go on to a new stage, or any efforts will be “as fruitless as everything since Camp David”, and there would be another nine years without any progress or results.

However, Shaath said, Netanyahu’s current offer “to restart negotiations ‘without preconditions’ is a horrible thing, because it means starting anew again” — which he said the Palestinians were unwilling to do.

The election of Barack Obama to replace George W. Bush has brought “hope for a fresh re-start to the peace process”, Shaath said,

“We want Obama to come with a clear sentence repeating what is in the Road Map and in the Annapolis Declaration: ‘there should be absolutely no settlement activity, including natural growth, and this does not allow continuing what is already under construction’,” Shaath said.

But, he said, “to bank on the fact that violence has been defeated is very stupid”.

The Mitchell report blamed Israeli settlement activity and the resulting violence, for the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000, Shaath said, and “it’s ridiculous to go on with talks now … while the land is vanishing every day”.

Shaath said that “We would [only] accept a temporary freeze if it is related to the signing and implementation of a peace agreement that would mean an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 border with some minor negotiated swaps”.

“This is the policy of the new Fatah Central Committee, of the new Executive Committee of the PLO, it is in the political program agreed at the Fatah Conference in Bethlehem, and this is the policy of the entire Palestinian people”, Shaath told the journalists.

However, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said at the regular meeting of the Israeli government on Sunday, as reported in the cabinet communique, that “On the diplomatic issue, my meeting with [former Senator] Mitchell, contrary to the rumors, stories and reports that I am not responsible for, but I am responsible for what I am telling you now, there are no agreements or decisions; there is an attempt to bridge between the two goals that we would like to hold to and maintain simultaneously: The first is to launch a peace process, a diplomatic process
between us and the Palestinians that will – of course – also include the Arab countries. The second as to do with our desire to see to the minimal existential needs of the settler public. As to this, there are all sorts of attempts to reach an understanding and reduce gaps but we are not there yet.”

Israeli Supreme Court: "international journalists must have access to Gaza"

The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) allowed the foreign press access to Gaza via the Erez crossing starting last Friday — perhaps in anticipation of a ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court that was handed down today. (The Erez crossing was then closed for the Jewish Shabat on Friday at 2 pm until Sunday at 8 am.)

Or, maybe it was the Israeli Government Press Office that finally lifted its objection …

The whole thing is a little peculiar: if Gaza really is a separate entity, and entirely separate from Israel, as Israeli government policy claims, then the press corps should have been able to enter Gaza freely. But, as many if not most international law experts believe that Gaza is still under Israeli control, and still occupied, then the press should not have been banned, either…

The Foreign Press Association petitioned the Court after access was denied for all but a few days since 4 November.

Tonight, the FPA informed its members that “Today the Israeli Supreme Court endorsed the FPA position that international journalists must have access to the Gaza strip. Below is the key sentence in the court’s ruling today, severely limiting the State’s ability to close the Erez Crossing to foreign media. Our lawyers believe this ruling creates an important precedent for the future. ‘In view of the clarifications given (to the Court) and the statement made by the State, we, the Court, see no reason for an injunction and we hereby instruct that the arrangement announced by the State (status quo ante of November 4th 2008) will be upheld unless the security situation changes drastically in a way the the Erez crossing has to be closed completely for security reasons, and we (the Supreme Court) assume that this will happen only in dire circumstances of concrete danger.”

Danny Seaman, the Director of Israel’s Government Press Office (part of the Prime Minister’s Office) — and no stuffed shirt — then reportedly told the Jerusalem Post that the international press were a bunch of “spoiled crybabies” who hadn’t actually tried very hard to get into Gaza. But, he really should be asked to explain exactly where and how he thought more-intrepid journalists could have entered the Gaza Strip, which has been practically hermetically sealed by the IDF since Israel’s unilateral “disengagement” in 2005.

Danny Seaman made no secret of the fact that he didn’t think the journalists should be in Gaza while the IDF was there.

UPDATE: At a decent hour on Monday (after writing this late into the night on Sunday and overnight), I put in a phone call to Danny Seaman, and he explained the following:
1.) There was a slight misinterpretation from the Hebrew, and what he actually said was that the journalists were “whiners”, and not “spoiled crybabies”. As to where and how journalists could have gotten in to Gaza, he cited the case of the Italian journalist working for Corriere della Sera (Lorenzo Cremonesi, see our earlier post here) and said that the press could have “made the effort” to get in through Rafah. As to the fact that not every journalist had the budget or the ability to leave to see if it might be possible to get into Gaza through Rafah, Danny Seaman said “that’s not our problem”. It was not clear that it would be possible, and it did take some persuasion, as Dion Nissenbaum has recounted, and as we have mentioned in our earlier post here. Other journalists, like CNN’s Ben Wedeman, also with a big organization behind him, also had to spend a lot of time, and money, to secure the ability to get in.
By the way, once Israel did open Erez to international journalists, the IDF said that only journalists who had entered through Erez could leave and come back to Israel through Erez, so all these guys who went in through the Egyptian Sinai will have to go back out the same way, which is more time-consuming and expensive. It also may or may not be more dangerous, depending on the day, the hour, and the minute — but that is not the issue.
2.) Danny Seaman said that what has happened in the past few days shows that the policy of keeping the “foreign press” out of Gaza was right to begin with — and, he said, he had been warned that the international press would be “settling scores” with Israel once they did get inside Gaza. “Now, hundreds of journalists are inside Gaza and all trying to compete to find stories of atrocities from different Palestinians, without verifying … without the context (Hamas’ behavior and firing from among civilians, for example), without getting the Israeli version, and without an Israeli response”. He said that some are even reporting what are “blood libels” against Israel, and exhibiting “horrible behavior” — and cited some reporting that IDF tanks deliberately ran over Palestinian children, which I have not seen or heard. He said that “Israel is an open democratic society with extreme criticism when necessary”, so that if anybody had deliberately run over Palestinian children, this would have made it into the media.
I observed that it has not been very productive to try to get the Israeli version or the Israeli response — any request to the IDF for comment gets either one of two responses: either “we have not received any formal complaint about that incident”, or “that is the subject of an internal investigation and we cannot comment”. But Danny Seaman said that “Israel hides nothing — there never has been a documented case where Israel deliberately and knowingly lied to the media”. He returned to his accusation that the press has been reporting the Palestinian accusations “at face value, without reporting how Hamas conducts itself, giving the deliberate impression of brutal Israeli actions without context”. He said that homes have been used to store weapons, and according to “evidence from the people we apprehended (during the military operation in Gaza), they were ordered to fire from civilian areas”. I noted that we haven’t seen any of this evidence. And, he said, “last week when we fired at the building housing Ramattan Television, a woman reporter from Al-Arabiyya had just said on the air that militants were firing from nearby — and at that moment the press building became a legitimate target. But there is no follow through from the media”, he complained. But, experts on international humanitarian law might disagree on whether or not the press building was, indeed, a legitimate military target, even if militants were firing from “nearby”…

An interesting report published in Haaretz a few days ago said that “On January 11, the army announced it had lifted its objection to the entry of journalists”.

But it was not until 23 January that general access was granted.

The Haaretz report also said that “The prohibition on the entry of foreign journalists into the Gaza Strip, which ended on Sunday, came from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office, according to official documents obtained by Haaretz. According to the document, the Defense Ministry and the IDF had removed their objections to the entry of foreign journalists into Gaza more than a week ago, meaning the Prime Minister’s Office had been the sole entity barring them from the Strip … In the correspondence, Attorney Eran Yosef, director of the legal department within the defense establishment’s legal advisor’s office, wrote to the Prime Minister’s Office that, ‘The Defense Minister’s military secretary told us that the prime minister has ordered that foreign journalists be prevented from entering the Strip. I was told [by officials from the PMO] that there is public relations interest for not letting journalists in, though this was not a compelling enough reason to restriction in place‘, he said. The letter was composed following a petition which the Foreign Press Association filed with the High Court of Justice, asking the court to order the state to let foreign reporters into Gaza” … This article is posted here.

Continue reading “Israeli Supreme Court: "international journalists must have access to Gaza"”

Journalists enter Gaza from Israel on Friday

Foreign journalists entered Gaza for the first time in many weeks without restrictions — at least, there were no restrictions either on their numbers, or where they go inside Gaza.

The international press core based in Israel had fought for this right for months. They wrote to the authorities. They petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court. They appealed the Government’s maneuvers to keep the press out of Gaza. They asked questions about the ban in press conferences from Sderot to Washington. They wrote about it. And, when the borders were open, many were there.
Continue reading “Journalists enter Gaza from Israel on Friday”

Israel allows first "pool" of journalists inside Gaza

The Israeli government and its military allowed the first “pool” of journalists inside Gaza today — six from the list put together from the Foreign Press Association (FPA) in Israel, and two from a list compiled by Danny Seaman, Director of the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO), which is part of the Prime Minister’s Office.

Correspondents for The New York Times, Fox News, and The Daily Telegraph were among the first 8 journalists to get in. They were not processed through the main Erez terminal until nearly the end of the day.

There are said to be some 650 journalists who have signed up to go into Gaza.

The FPA says it will continue to fight for full access for foreign journalists.

A few journalists managed to enter Gaza from Rafah two days ago — including CNN’s Ben Wedeman, NPR’s Eric Westervelt, a crew from BBC and possibly a few others — after a lot of persuasion with the Egyptian Authorities.

It is not yet clear what kind of facilities — or shelter — these journalists will be able to find for themselves in the badly-damaged Gaza Strip, where tightened sanctions that have been in place for over a year might soon become even more restrictive. One of the major hotels frequented by journalists in the past was reportedly hit during an Israeli air strike. The journalists who got in through the Rafah crossing are reportedly staying in “houses”.
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How to tell this story: Gazan doctor who works in Israeli hospital stricken by grief after three daughters killed by IDF tank, Israeli woman tries to block his words to the press

This has been a developing story — and it develops in shocking and disturbing ways.

Last week, there were reports that a doctor who lives in Gaza but who works in an Israeli hospital lost three of his daughters and a niece in an IDF tank shelling of his house. He said that his house, however, was well-know to the IDF and other Israeli authorities …

The doctor, who speaks perfect Hebrew, has been giving regular updates over the phone to Israeli TV and to other Israeli media, as it turns out. He was about to give another on-air report when his house was attacked, out of the blue (at least for him and his family), and his daughers and niece killed. He described what happened in an outpouring of grief, shrieking on the phone. This has been broadcast.
Continue reading “How to tell this story: Gazan doctor who works in Israeli hospital stricken by grief after three daughters killed by IDF tank, Israeli woman tries to block his words to the press”

What did these two EMBEDs produce from their day with the IDF inside Gaza?

These are the two reports prepared for the New York Times and for the Wall Street Journal by journalists who agreed to be embedded with the IDF to enter the Gaza Strip — from where foreign journalists have been barred for most of the last three and a half months, and from where Israeli journalists have been prohibited from entering for over two years.

The Foreign Press Association (FPA) in Israel continues to pursue its appeal to Israel’s Supreme Court for immediate and unconditional entry. It had accepted, as an interim arrangement, to form small “pools” to go in, but the Israeli Ministry of Defense said that the start of Operation Cast Lead — a full-fledged war — changed the basis of the whole arrangement that had been reached with the Supreme Court.

UPDATE: The FPA informed its members on Saturday 17 January that “another urgent appeal to the Supreme Court on the issue of opening Gaza to foreign journalists is in the works. Our lawyers are arguing that the state is in contempt of court by failing to abide by the court-ordered arrangement for access to Gaza for journalists”.

HERE ARE THE TWO REPORTS PRODUCED BY EMBEDS ETHAN BRONNER (NEW YORK TIMES) AND CHARLES LEVINSON (WALL STREET JOURNAL)
Continue reading “What did these two EMBEDs produce from their day with the IDF inside Gaza?”

A really bad EMBED report for members of the Foreign Press Association

Here — word for word — is a really dismal “pool report” from two Foreign Press Association members who agreed to enter Gaza “embedded” with the Israeli military. According to this report, they spoke only to the Israeli military.

“embargoed until 8 pm

Pool report by Charles Levinson WSJ and Ethan Bronner NYT

Continue reading “A really bad EMBED report for members of the Foreign Press Association”

IDF bombs UNRWA compound in Gaza City while UNSG BAN is in Israel + journalists offices are attacked

The IDF has bombed the main, large, UNRWA compound in Gaza City today — while UN SG BAN Ki-Moon is in Israel trying to do something to stop the military operation.

And, at least one hospital in Gaza City was hit — putting the lives of over 100 patients at risk — as the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) met top Israeli officials.

The Israeli attacks began on 27 December, first from the air and then from the sea. A ground operation began on 3 January, and it moved into a new phase today, as IDF forces entered at least three main population areas.

The AP has reported that “The UN chief says he has expressed ‘strong protest and outrage’ to Israel over the shelling of a United Nations compound in Gaza City. Ban Ki-moon is demanding an investigation into Thursday’s shelling. He says Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has told him it was a ‘grave mistake’.”

UPDATE: It was subsequently reported that Barak told BAN the IDF was merely returning fire that had come from the UNRWA building. The JPost said Thursday afternoon that in a meeting earlier in the day at the Defense Ministry in downtown Tel Aviv (it’s called the Kiriya), Barak told BAN and ICRC President Jacob Kellenberger that “IDF soldiers would continue to return fire in self-defense” … while at the same time facilitating “all necessary humanitarian work of the UN”, and continuing “to prevent harm to civilians to the best of its ability”.

The AP added that “The compound has been serving as a shelter for hundreds of people fleeing Israel’s devastating offensive in Gaza. UN spokesman Chris Gunness says at least three people were wounded.
The entire area is engulfed in smoke and it’s not clear whether anyone is still inside the compound. The compound includes the headquarters of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees [UNRWA], a school and other offices. Gunness says large amounts of aid supplies, as well as fuel trucks, could soon be destroyed”. This AP report can be read in full here.

UNSG BAN met various Israeli officials today, and so did the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Jacob Kellenberger. The German Foreign Minister is around, and the Spanish Foreign Minister was here a day or two ago. Diplomats are tripping over each other to express their “shock” and perhaps even more — but it’s not really having a big impact here.

At a briefing in Ashkelon yesterday, IDF Major Avital Liebowitz told journalists that Phase III of the IDF Operation Cast Lead was not underway yet. But maybe were we in Phase 2.75? Intuition told me that the timing of the briefing was probably significant, and something was about to change. Asked after the briefing about Phase III, Israel Air Force Brigadier General (Reserve) Relik Shapir was very reluctant to deny an imminent development — like many senior military men, he apparently did not want to say an outright lie. When? Tonight?, I asked. He just smiled, mutely, and bobbed his head.

But, all reports indicate a major new IDF push into Gaza City is occurring as of this morning (Thursday), the 20th day of Operation Cast Lead, and panicked civilians are running in terror in every direction — that is, if they are able to run.

AP wrote that “Thousands of Gaza City residents fled their homes on Thursday morning as ground forces made their deepest foray yet into a crowded residential area, on Day 20 of its offensive on the Hamas-ruled coastal territory. Israeli troops backed by helicopter gunships, tanks and heavy guns thrust further into the city than ever before to seek out Hamas fighters, executing the army’s most relentless shelling of the Gaza Strip in nearly three weeks of fighting … Much of the fighting was centred in the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood, where some residents fled on foot while others remained in the precarious shelter of their homes as a night-time attack stretched into the morning. Tanks and bulldozers rolled into a neighborhood park, apparently seizing it as a kind of command center, witnesses said. Masked gunmen ran toward the areas under fire carrying bags containing unidentified objects. Residents were seen fleeing their homes in pajamas, some wheeling elderly parents in wheelechairs. Others were stopping journalists’ armored cars or ambulances pleading for someone to take them to safety. Israeli forces have encircled the city of 500,000 people for days. Tanks have made forays towards the center to test the resistance of Hamas and other militant groups but have balked at launching all-out urban warfare in Gaza City, where Hamas militants are more familiar with the lay of the land and Israeli casualties would be liable to spiral. Israel Air Force planes struck some 70 targets overnight, including weapons positions, rocket squads and a mosque in southern Gaza that it said served as an arsenal, the military said”. This AP report is published in Haaretz and can be read in full here.

The report also said that “The Al-Quds hospital in Gaza City was engulfed with flames after apparently being hit by Israel Defense Forces fire, as Israeli ground troops pentrated the city on Thursday”.

A message from SMS Israel reported a few minutes ago that part of Gaza City’s main hospital, Ash-Shifa, is up in flames. [AS OF THIS EVENING; THIS HAS NOT BEEN CONFIRMED.…] This has not been confirmed, but if it is, this development would be catastrophic for health care in what is today the main battlefield.

Agence France Presse (AFP) reported that there are also tank thrusts in Khan Yunis, to the south, and “pitched battles” in Jabaliya, in the northern part of the Gaza Strip, which is about 25 miles long and about 6 miles wide. And, AFP, some families ran to Gaza City’s hospitals — before the more recently-reported strikes — to seek some sort of shelter: ” ‘I brought the children to the hospital because they were scared at home, but here they are even more terrified’, 40-year-old Hossein said as he huddled with his wife and five children at a hospital in Gaza City where they took shelter shortly after dawn. ‘We can’t take this any longer. Look at my children, they’re trembling’, he said as explosions ripped through the air like thunderclaps and Israeli troops and Hamas fighters clashes less than 300 metres (yards) away”. This report can be read in full here .

Reuters reported that “A senior Western diplomat said Israel appeared to be trying to make last-minute gains on the ground before a truce could be imposed. ‘It’s a classic Israeli strategy’, the diplomat said.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in broadcast remarks that Israel’s armed forces would ‘fight up to the last minute’.” This report is posted here .

And, in the afternoon on Thursday, the Jerusalem Post’s well-connected in the Defense Ministry correspondent Yaakov Katz reported that “IAF planes attacked five armed Palestinians in Gaza overnight Wednesday, who turned out to be the personal bodyguards of senior Hamas official Mahmoud Al-Zahar, the IDF announced Thursday. The five men were allegedly guarding Zahar’s house in southern Gaza City and were all killed, according to reports”. This report can be read in full here.

Zahar is one of the most senior and most important Hamas leaders.

Exactly a year ago today — on 15 January 2008 — Zahar’s second son was killed during a surprise IDF attack on a group of what turned out to be Hamas fighters, and this sparked a sustained increase in reprisal firing from Gaza.

In September 2003, Zahar’s home was hit by a direct IAF air strike, and he lost his first son. In the same strike, a daughter was injured, and Zahar’s wife was paralyzed after suffering a spinal injury.

The Zahar family house — rebuilt in the same spot as the first home that was destroyed by the direct airstrike — is large, and well known. This journalist visited the home, with a number of other reporters, just after the mid-June 2007 Hamas take-over from Fatah security forces in the Gaza Strip.
Zahar opened the front gate to the home himself, to receive our group.

SMS Israel has just reported that the IDF has now surrounded the house of Mahmoud Zahar — and that the IDF is operating in the middle of Gaza City. [AS OF THIS EVENING; THIS HAS NOT BEEN CONFIRMED.…]

UPDATE: In a later message, SMS Israel reported that another Hamas leader, Saeed Siyam, has reportedly killed in an air force strike — and that other Hamas leaders may also be dead.
LATER UPDATE: Israeli sources later reported that Saeed Siyam’s brother, Ayad Siyam, and Salah Abu Shrakh, the head of the Hamas general security service, were also killed in the air strike.] Ma’an News Agency added that Saeed Siyam’s son was also killed, as were two others, in the attack.

Though it was reported at the beginning of Operation Cast Lead that the entire Hamas senior leadership had gone into hiding, this may have been untrue.

At least 20 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israeli areas around the beseiged coastal strip — areas where I was driving around yesterday (near Ofakim, Netivot, Sderot — where the ICRC chief Jacob Kellenberger visited earlier in the day), after getting lost while taking back roads without my map, driving down to Ashkelon after attending a earlier press conference in Jerusalem, then passing around Bethlehem to the south rather than getting tied up in traffic (after general alarms were sounded in error) to get to the more northern entrance to the larger and smoother but much more crowded main Jerusalem-Tel Aviv road. It was beautiful yesterday — though there were also rockets fired there earlier in the day, and a few helicopters patrolled slowly overhead, and more police vans than usual were out on the otherwise empty roads. It was warm, and sunny, under a blue sky with sheer veils of white clouds spread out over the horizon. There were groves of orange trees, with ripe oranges hanging amid dark green foliage ready for picking, and well-tended and glistening-green fields interspersed with areas of plowed brown earth ready for planting. At a major road at the outskirts of Ashkelon, suddenly, the highway is decorated with double white-and-blue Israeli flags flying on the lampposts. Many police vans were patrolling in Ashkelon, too, and many of them -On – as well as many private cars — had smaller Israeli flags waving from their radio antennas.

UPDATE: Injuries were reported at the end of the day on Thursday following a Katyusha or Grad missile attack that hit the Israeli city of Beer Sheva, in the Negev desert.

On the other side of what looks, visually, like a rather open border, the attacks are being pursued without let-up. Over 1,000 Palestinians are reported dead since the IDF attacks began on 27 December, and over 5,000 wounded.

The Foreign Press Association (FPA) has just issued a most urgent protest, saying it is “alarmed to learn of the heavy firepower currently being employed by Israeli forces against the building in Gaza City that houses the Reuters news agency and other international media outlets. Initial reports are that these attacks have caused injury and damage. We also note that IDF bullets entered the windows of the offices of the Associated Press in a different part of the city today. We call on the military to halt this fire immediately. These are buildings housing journalists working for international news agencies and must not be targeted. We note that these buildings are well known landmarks in Gaza and that the IDF has been clearly notified of their location on several occasions“.

UPDATE: In an urgent notice to members, the FPA states that it “rejects and condemns the IDF policy of controlling the news coverage of the events in Gaza . By preventing the entry of foreign journalists into Gaza and bombing buildings housing offices of international media – contrary to IDF assurances that these media buildings would be safe – the IDF is severely violating basic principles of respect for press freedom. As a result of these unconscionable breaches, the FPA calls on all its members not to broadcast or print stills and videos the IDF provides as a substitute to independent reporting – until such time the IDF issues a formal apology for the attacks on the media buildings and offers assurances that no such event will occur in the future”.

The FPA is pursuing an appeal to Israel’s Supreme Court for immediate access to foreign journalists to cover the on-going military operation.

By late afternoon in Jerusalem on Thursday, the FPA informed its members that “the FPA lawyers despatched a letter to the State Attorney’s office and the Defense Ministry lawyers demanding immediate implementation of the agreement reached under the auspices of the Israeli Supreme Court to let the foreign media into Gaza via Erez”. The FPA added that it “rejects out of hand accusations by government spokespeople to the effect that Hamas is controlling all the visual images coming out of Gaza. This accusation is totally untrue, totally outrageous and the sort of thinking on the Israeli side that puts all our journalists at severe risk”.

Israeli human rights groups who launched an appeal against the “Clear and Present Danger” facing Palestinian civilians in Gaza while the IDF pursues its attacks say that the Israeli High Court of Justice will convene in about two hours (at 16h30 in Jerusalem) to consider the situation. GISHA director Sari Bashi said in a message overnight that “Israel’ s Supreme Court will hold a second hearing in two urgent petitions brought by human rights groups in Israel. The petitions demand: 1.) That the military refrain from attacking medical teams in Gaza and permit the wounded to be evacuated to hospitals 2.) That the Defense Minister supply fuel and electricity to run Gaza ‘ s hospitals, water wells, and sewage pumps, and permit technicians to fix the crumbling infrastructure. The Court ordered the hearing after receiving a written update from the State on January 13, claiming that the State was doing enough to protect the civilian population in Gaza. The human rights groups argue that Israel is failing to fulfill its obligations under international law to protect Gaza’ s 1.5 million civilians – and that the factual presentation made by the State is incomplete, to say the least. They cite as an example the State’ s court filing from January 13, 2009 in which it informed the court that it allowed a small quantity of spare parts for the electricity grid to enter Gaza on January 9 – which is true. But the state neglected to mention that on January 13 – it bombed the warehouse where those parts were stored, destroying most of them.”

The Jerusalem Post is reporting today that the Israel Medical Association (IMA) chairman Dr. Yoram Blachar, who is also president of the World Medical Association (WMA), has expressed deep concern about the situation in Gaza — and he is now working to establish an international field hospital inside Gaza to treat the ill and wounded. The JPost article noted that the IMA “suggested to Health Ministry Director-General Prof. Avi Yisraeli that Israel allow the erection of a field facility on the border with Gaza to care for the wounded and seriously ill. The ministry agreed.” This report can be read in its entirety here.

Israeli journalist Gideon Levy — who has a powerful voice, but not one that is echoed in the majority of the Israeli population – wrote in Haaretz today: “God does not show mercy on the children at Gaza’s nursery schools, and neither does the Israel Defense Forces. That’s how it goes when war is waged in such a densely populated area with a population so blessed with children. About half of Gaza’s residents are under 15. No pilot or soldier went to war to kill children. Not one among them intended to kill children, but it also seems neither did they intend not to kill them. They went to war after the IDF had already killed 952 Palestinian children and adolescents since May 2000. The public’s shocking indifference to these figures is incomprehensible. A thousand propagandists and apologists cannot excuse this criminal killing. One can blame Hamas for the death of children, but no reasonable person in the world will buy these ludicrous, flawed propagandistic goods in light of the pictures and statistics coming from Gaza. One can say Hamas hides among the civilian population, as if the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv is not located in the heart of a civilian population, as if there are places in Gaza that are not in the heart of a civilian population. One can also claim that Hamas uses children as human shields, as if in the past our own organizations fighting to establish a country did not recruit children. A significant majority of the children killed in Gaza did not die because they were used as human shields or because they worked for Hamas. They were killed because the IDF bombed, shelled or fired at them, their families or their apartment buildings. That is why the blood of Gaza’s children is on our hands, not on Hamas’ hands, and we will never be able to escape that responsibility”. This article can be read in full here.

IDF reserve units reportedly being sent into Gaza on Sunday nite – Phase III

“…[A]nother effort is needed, and determination, in order to change the security reality in the South and to bring security to the citizens,” Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said at the start of the regular weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday … Defense Minister Ehud Barak also addressed the cabinet, telling them that the IDF was continuing to operate in order to prevent smuggling through the Philadelphi route along the Gaza-Egypt border … Palestinian sources told Haaretz that Cairo demanded Saturday morning that the militant group respond to its cease-fire proposal within 48 hours …” This report can be read in full in Haaretz here.

The Prime Minister’s spokesperson, Mark Regev, will be the latest in a series of senior Israeli officials to hold a press conference for the visiting international in Ashkelon on Monday morning, just about the same time as when the 48-hour Egyptian deadline to Hamas will expire …

[But] So far, the IDF has not allowed any members of the Foreign Press Association (FPA) into Gaza, despite the continuing case in the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the Ramallah-based Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) warned Saturday that “damage caused by Israeli bombs could cause a massive, deadly, wastewater tsunami in the northern Gaza Strip. The PWA raised the specter of a catastrophic sewage flood in the Gaza Strip town of Umm Nasser, where massive cesspits overflowed their banks, inundating an entire town and killing six people and displacing 2,000 others. The PWA is now saying that the 4 million cubic meters of sewage stored in the cesspools could overflow again, threatening 15,000 people and large swaths of farmland, According to the Authority, water, sanitation, and electricity infrastructure in Gaza have all been shelled by invading Israeli forces. In the town of Beit Hanoun, in northern Gaza, a 16-inch pipeline broke, causing wastewater to flood in the streets”. This report, published by Ma’an News Agency, can be read in full here.

Just a few hours later, Gaza’s Water Authority announced it s now “unable to provide homes in the Strip with water as a result of the ongoing Israeli destruction and violence in the area. The department said in a statement Sunday that service has been near totally disabled, meaning fresh water can no longer be pumped into Gaza homes, leaving residents to haul or pump salty water from nearby wells if available. The department appealed all national and international Human Rights associations for urgent assistance to rehabilitate water lines and pumping equipment so services can come back online”. This report, also by Ma’an News Agency can be read in full here.

And the Jerusalem Post is reporting that “The IDF has destroyed nearly all Hamas government facilities, including the Prime Minister’s Office, Interior Ministry and police headquarters. This has created a sense of anarchy, leading Hamas earlier this week to impose curfews on Fatah neighborhoods, out of fear that Fatah will try to take over. In addition, Hamas has ordered some of its remaining policemen to stand at street corners and direct traffic, if only to create a sense that it is still in charge. ‘All of the [Hamas] offices and databases are gone, one top security official asserted this week. ‘When this is all over, no civil servant will have an office to sit in’.” This JPost story can be read in full here.

Haaretz, meanwhile, is reporting that “A preliminary investigation into the fatal shooting by the Israel Defense Forces into a United Nations building in northern Gaza on Tuesday reveals the Israeli troops firing on the building missed their targets by some 30 meters … The probe, which was conducted by the Paratrooper Brigade whose troops were responsible for the area, found that the army’s location system to pinpoint launch sites indicated that militants had launched a Qassam rocket into Israel from within a yard adjacent to the courtyard of the UN building … The troops had intended to launch a smart missile to take out the Palestinian launch team but a technical malfunction made this impossible, according to the probe. The commanders of the force instead decided to fire on the Qassam team with mortar shells equipped with a Global Positioning System for accurate fire. However, the GPS element has an error margin of 30 meters and one of the three rounds fired by the paratrooper force slammed into the building owned by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, or UNRWA. Two of the rounds hit the yard used to launch rockets into Israel, killing two members of Hamas’ military wing who probably belonged to the squad that fired the rockets. Nonetheless, in discussing the incident with Haaretz, some IDF officers say the force should have refrained from using mortar rounds and relied instead on more accurate fire. Military sources said the UNRWA building was marked on the maps of forces operating in the area”. The full story can be viewed here.

And, a Reuters report published on the Haaretz website says that “Two Egyptian children and two [Egyptian] police officers were wounded by shrapnel from Israel Air Force bombs near a crossing point at Egypt’s border with the Gaza Strip on Sunday, security sources said … Earlier Sunday, witnesses said that Israel Air Force warplanes have been flying over Egyptian territory during their bombing runs along the border between Gaza and Egypt. The witnesses, who have spent many hours close to the Rafah crossing point between Egypt and Gaza, said they had seen the Israeli planes fly over on several occasions, often at such low altitude that it was clear they were over Egyptian territory. Israeli planes have been bombing on the Gaza side of the border, within a few hundreds of meters of Egypt, targeting tunnels which Israel says the Islamist movement Hamas uses for smuggling weapons into Gaza. The three witnesses said they wanted to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the matter.” This report can be read in full here.

At the same time, SMS Israel is reporting that 45 Israelis have been treated for “hysteria” today from continuing rocket and other “projectile” fire from Gaza, while 45 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed today from Israeli Air Force (IAF) and IDF attacks.