UNSG BAN makes second visit to post-war Gaza

UNSG BAN Ki-Moon entered the Gaza strip this morning (Sunday) — despite firing of at least four rockets from Gaza on Saturday to Israeli perimeter communities.

Such firing usually brings Israeli reprisals — but that will have to wait until BAN leaves the Gaza Strip. [UPDATE: SMS Israel is reporting that Palestinian sources say the IDF fired “tank shells” at southern Gaza — while BAN is in northern Gaza…]

BAN made a stop in the northern Gaza neighborhood of Ezbat Abed Rabbo (Abed Rabbo farms) in Jabaliya, which was one of the worst-hit areas during the IDF Operation Cast Lead (27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009). Almost every house was destroyed, and a whole area of small businesses as well — one by one by one.

With the Israeli ban on construction materials still in place — ostensibly because Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is still being held somewhere in Gaza since being seized in a cross-border raid in late June 2006 — there has been virtually no reconstruction. Families are still living in tents beside the rubble of their former homes.

Supplies of electricity and cooking gas are still unreliable and intermittant. Millions of liter of raw or partially-treated sewage from the densely-populated Gaza Strip, where 1.5 million people are trapped, has been pouring directly into the Mediterranean Sea. The current travels north — but this has apparently not bothered Israeli beach-goers so much that they have pressed for an end to the sanctions that the Israeli government ordered tightened after the mid-June 2007 Hamas rout of Palestinian/Fatah Preventive Security forces in Gaza.

Since September 2007, the Israeli Ministry of Defense has been in charge of these sanctions — which are directly administered by the Coordinator of [Israeli] Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT). The Israeli Supreme Court was asked by a coalition of Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups to prohibit the military from carrying out what they say is “collective punishment” of the entire population of Gaza. But the High Court of Justice instead allowed the Israeli Military to proceed, on the sole condition that it would not allow a “humanitarian crisis” to develop.

BAN has reportedly just said in Gaza that this continued blockade or seige is “unacceptable”.

BAN, and the Quartet of Middle East negotiators of which he is part, have repeated their calls this week for an end to rocket and missile and mortar firing from Gaza, and for Gilad Shalit’s safe return home.

Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar is reported to have said this morning that Fatah and “factions” are responsible for the continued projectile firing from Gaza — which he said Hamas wanted to stop. Zahar apparently told al-A3alam TV that the shelling “diverts the focus from the occupation crimes”.

Update on UK journalist detained by Hamas in Gaza

It has gone largely quiet.

Paul Martin, freelance British journalist and documentary filmmaker, who is now in Gaza’s central jail after being detained in a Gaza City courthouse, has apparently been able to speak to a lawyer. According to AP, Martin had just begin testifying in the Gaza courtroom when he was ordered detained.

Here are some excerpts from the AP story as published in the Jerusalem Post today:

“Documentary filmmaker Paul Martin was detained Sunday at a Gaza military tribunal where he was to testify on behalf of a local man accused of collaborating with Israel, said Hamas Interior Ministry spokesman Ehab Ghussein. He had just begun to speak when the prosecutor ordered police to arrest him, saying the Briton was wanted in the case, according to Ehab Jaber, the attorney for the Gaza man accused of collaborating. ‘The policeman put the handcuffs on him, and took him out of the court to prison. They were rough with him’, said Jaber, who witnessed the scene … Gaza’s Foreign Ministry said it ‘wishes to reassure all journalists working in the region that the Palestinian government guarantees their freedom to work in the Gaza Strip without interference’. [n.b. – This is not very reassuring at all…] Ahmed Youssef, a ministry official, said that Martin ‘is being detained for clear security reasons, and it is nothing to do with his job as a journalist or (him being) a Westerner’. The chain of events began Sunday when Martin went to the military court to speak on behalf of Mohammed Abu Muailik, who is being accused of collaborating with Israel, said Jaber, Abu Muailik’s defense attorney. The attorney said Martin had been working on a documentary about Abu Muailik, who has been in detention since June. A spokesman for a Gaza militant group, the Abu Rish Brigades, said Abu Muailik is a former member … Jaber would not discuss details of Abu Muailik’s past, but said his client works in computer maintenance and has a business relationship with an Israeli partner.
Asked about confessions that might have implicated Martin, Jaber said: ‘These confessions … came under psychological and physical pressure. Anyone who was under such torture would say the same. We have evidence that he is not a collaborator’ …
Iyad Alami, a lawyer for the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza, met with Martin for half an hour on Monday. Martin was in good condition, Alami said, adding that he wanted to learn more about the case before deciding whether his group would represent he journalist. He would not share any more details on the meeting. The rights group’s director, Raji Sourani, said earlier Monday that he was asked by Martin to represent him”. This AP story can be read in full here.

Reports from Palestinian sources on Monday suggested that Martin had been, at some point, interested in trying to find out something about IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, who was captured in a cross-border raid in late June 2006, and has been held somewhere in Gaza since then. The ICRC has never been allowed to meet Shalit, though a recent video was sent to his family showing that he was alive and reasonably well, considering the circumstances. There were also reports that Israeli commanders were trying to locate and bring out Shalit during the IDF’s 22-day military operation against the Gaza Strip from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009. Israeli government officials have said several times since then that they will maintain a strict closure on all crossings into Gaza, and will only allow the passage of the most basic humanitarian goods, until Shalit is released.