Gaza slips towards civil war (& Shimon Peres elected Israeli president)

June 13, 2007

CONTENTS

1. Civil war in Gaza
2. Human Rights Watch accuses both Fatah and Hamas of “war crimes”
3. Rantissi targeted
4. UN workers killed
5. European Union resumes aid
6. President Shimon Peres



[Note by Tom Gross]

CIVIL WAR IN GAZA

Since Monday’s dispatch, titled “The Doctor was blindfolded, handcuffed, shot six times and then tossed into the street,” the international media have started reporting on the renewed savagery in Gaza, some days after it began.

However, most media are continuing to fail to report in anything like the detail they would were Israel involved.

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH ACCUSES BOTH FATAH AND HAMAS OF “WAR CRIMES”

Among the violence since Monday’s dispatch:

* Over 60 Palestinians have been reported killed in Gaza. The true numbers are likely to be much higher because access to medical workers and journalists is severely limited in many parts of Gaza.

* For the first time in several weeks, the fighting has spread to the West Bank: Fatah gunmen attacked a Hamas television studio in Ramallah and kidnapped a Hamas deputy cabinet minister from the city. Unidentified gunmen opened fire at a Hamas school in Ramallah. No one was injured. In the last hour Fatah kidnapped Hamas members in Nablus after a shootout.

* The New York-based group Human Rights Watch has accused both Fatah and Hamas of “war crimes,” following summary executions inside hospitals.

* Three Palestinians were shot dead in Beit Hanoun Hospital in northern Gaza. These include Fatah leader Jamal Abu al-Jedian who was shot 41 times in his hospital bed.

* At Gaza’s largest hospital, Shifa in Gaza City, combatants fired mortars, grenades and assault rifles.

* Executions, kneecappings and tossing handcuffed prisoners off tall apartment towers have continued.

* A gunbattle in the town of Khan Yunis led to fifteen children, attending a kindergarten in the line of fire, being taken to hospital.

RANTISSI TARGETED

* In a bloody battle, hundreds of Hamas gunmen, firing rockets and mortar shells, have captured Fatah’s national security headquarters in northern Gaza.

* Fatah fired rocket-propelled grenades at the house of Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, of Hamas.

* Hamas have fired mortar shells at the Gaza presidential office compound of Mahmoud Abbas, of Fatah. (Abbas himself is presently in the West Bank.)

* Fatah militants abducted and killed the nephew of Abdel Aziz Rantissi, the Hamas leader assassinated by Israel in April 2004.

* Hamas gunmen attacked the home of a Fatah security official with mortars and grenades, and not finding him at home, instead executed his 14-year-old son and three women inside.

* Fatah gunmen stormed the house of a Hamas lawmaker and burned it down.

* Hamas yesterday seized control of a Fatah munitions storeroom and seized two million bullets belonging to Fatah.

UN WORKERS KILLED

* Fierce battles have spread today to central Gaza, with Hamas trying to seize control of the coastal strip’s main north-south road and cut off Fatah’s supply lines.

* Hamas leaders issued a statement blaming the Gaza fighting on President Mahmoud Abbas, saying his security forces were “corrupt and riddled with criminals.”

* Abbas claimed the “madness” was being orchestrated by Hamas’ exiled leader, Khaled Meshal, who lives under the protection of the Assad regime in Damascus.

* Two Palestinians who worked for a UN agency in Gaza have been executed, a UN spokesman said.

* AP reports that both sides have been arming themselves by smuggling weapons through tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border, tunnels which westerners such as Rachel Corrie did so much to protect.

* Arab press commentators write today that no one will ever trust Hamas or Fatah again when they say they will abide by a ceasefire.

EUROPEAN UNION RESUMES AID

* Even though numerically less, Hamas appears to be winning. Fatah commanders have complained that they have no central command. Fatah’s strongman in Gaza, Mohammed Dahlan, has spent the last few weeks in Cairo for treatment of a knee injury. Other leading Fatah officials have fled to the West Bank.

* The U.S. State Department has advised journalists not to travel to Gaza and urged U.S. journalists there to leave. Sources tell me that despite this, several Western journalists had entered Gaza in recent days and are now in hiding, for fear of being kidnapped.

* Hamas’ website has accused Fatah of executing an Imam, Sheik Mohammed Al Rafati, in a mosque and say they will “burn” Fatah men in revenge.

* Many houses have been torched in western Gaza City.

* And in Lebanon, two Red Cross Workers were killed and a third wounded by Islamic militants at the Nahr Al-Barid Palestinian refugee camp.

* And most amazingly of all, in the midst of the fighting on Monday afternoon, the European Union announced it was resuming aid to the Hamas-controlled Palestinian ministry of finance (just in time for Hamas to stock up on weapons).

* Wondering how a whole generation of young men came to be so proficient with firearms? See this webpage prepared several years ago: Arafat’s Education System.

* This cartoon is over a year old, but it could represent the “two state solution” which will exist a few days from now.

***

PRESIDENT SHIMON PERES

In other news, just hours after writing about the world’s oldest hit pop band, The Zimmers, and their debut song, “My Generation,” 83-year-old Shimon Peres has been elected Israel’s new president.

He will assume office on July 15, just before he celebrates his 84th birthday, so he will be about to turn 91 when his seven-year term ends.

Peres is the elder statesman of Israeli politics and his wisdom and experience will be a welcome relief to Israelis, whose scandal-riven government is the most unpopular ever.

Peres, a former Israeli prime minister, defense minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner, was born in Belarus. His first cousin is the Hollywood screen goddess Lauren Bacall, whose original surname, like Peres’ original name, is Persky.

Peres has been at the forefront of Israeli politics for almost 50 years. He was a senior aide to Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, and was elected to parliament in 1959. Although the post of president is largely ceremonial, many Israelis are hoping Peres will play a role in ensuring better governance in Israel.

While Peres is highly thought of around the world, in Israel until now at any rate he has been considered a serial loser. This morning’s front page of Israel’s popular daily Ma’ariv was bordered by individual portraits of Peres detailing each one of his previous eight electoral defeats ranging back to the 1970s.

Another former Labor party prime minister, Ehud Barak, narrowly won the race to regain the leadership of the Labor Party yesterday, making it likely he will become Israel’s next defense minister in the government of Ehud Olmert. Barak had absented himself from politics after his term as prime minister, from 1999 to 2001, ended in failure.

-- Tom Gross


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.