"Am I therefore become your enemy,because I TELL YOU THE TRUTH...?"
(Galatians 4:16)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Hamas Threatens to Resume Suicide Attacks After Israeli Air Strike Kills Hundreds in Gaza

BLOODY DAY:Live Report From the Gaza Strip

Israel reinforces troops at border...

The Israel Defense Forces on early Sunday began mobilizing tanks and reinforcing ground troops near the Gaza border, in preparation for a possible ground incursion. Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Sky News that he would not rule out widening the offensive in the Gaza Strip to include a ground invasion. Barak on Saturday also said Israel "cannot really accept" a cease-fire with Hamas, rejecting calls by the United Nations and the European Union for a truce after Israel Air Force strikes killed at least 230 people in Gaza. "For us to be asked to have a cease-fire with Hamas is like asking you to have a cease-fire with Al-Qaida," Barak said in an interview with Fox News. "It's something we cannot really accept." Asked whether Israel would follow up the air strikes with a ground offensive, Barak said, "If boots on the ground will be needed, they will be there." "Our intention is to totally change the rules of the game," he said. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert earlier on Saturday said no country in the world would put up with the rocket and missile strikes Israel suffers from and that the time had come to react. Olmert's words came during a press conference he held hours after the Israel Defense Forces and the IAF carried out attacks in Gaza that Palestinian officials said left at least 230 dead and hundreds wounded."Israel has done all it could to preserve the cease-fire with Hamas, but our desire for quiet was met with terror," Olmert said. Olmert added that Israel "is not itching for a fight, but will not back down from one either." The Prime Minister also vowed to restore quiet to the lives of Israel's southern residents, adding that they "will not be abandoned." He also said that the IDF operations in Gaza would take time, and asked for patience. Leader of the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, Ismail Haniyeh, accused Israel on Saturday of a "massacre" of Palestinians, saying "Palestine has never witnessed an uglier massacre." Haniyeh's statement was broadcast by his Islamist group's Gaza-based television channel, Al-Aqsa. Earlier Saturday, Barak held a press conference on Saturday in which he said had no choice and that "the time has come to fight." Barak said the IDF and IAF attacks had destroyed "terrorism infrastructure" and hit more than 150 Hamas targets. He also said the current campaign would be widened and will continue for some time. Barak said Israel cannot stand by while rockets strike the communities of the western Negev and "won't let terror hurt our citizens or soldiers." Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Saturday addressed the ongoing IDF campaign in Gaza, saying, "Until now we have shown restraint. But today there is no other option than a military operation." Livni, speaking in English at a press conference, said Israel had no choice but to act to "protect our citizens from attack through a military response against the terror infrastructure in Gaza." Livni called the IDF operations an expression of Israel's "basic right to self-defense." The Foreign Minister laid blame for the bloodshed at the feet of Hamas, saying the group "cynically abuses its own civilian population and their suffering for propaganda purposes." Palestinians in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip fired at least 54 Qassam and Grad rockets into southern Israel on Saturday after the IDF campaign began. One of the rockets directly struck a home in the town of Netivot, leaving one Israel dead and four with moderate to serious injuries.

As in the days 0f Noah...

Israel-Hamas conflict could escalate

JERUSALEM-Israel's air attack on the Gaza Strip on Saturday could signal a return to a much higher level of violence in the conflict with Palestinian Islamist group Hamas after nine months of lower-level confrontations.The peace process with Israel, already in a coma in the last days of George W. Bush's presidency in the United States, could be killed off by renewed violence.Several factors point to the likelihood of violence worsening following a series of Palestinian rocket attacks since Hamas ended a ceasefire just over a week ago.
* Israel's Defence Ministry signalled it was ready to pursue and widen actions against Hamas in Gaza, including targeting the militant group's leaders, and made clear it was preparing for a potentially long campaign."We face a period that will be neither easy nor short, and will require determination and perseverance until the necessary change is achieved in the situation in the south," Defence Minister Ehud Barak said.
* Hamas quickly vowed revenge, ordering "all fighters to respond to the Israeli slaughter". It did not say what form this action would take but one fighter maddened by the sight of the mangled bodies of his comrades said suicide bombers would blow themselves up in Israeli restaurants, cafes and streets.Hamas leaders left the door open to a strong response, saying their movement was popular and deeply rooted. "All options are open to the Palestinian resistance to strike the Zionist enemy," a statement said. "One leader will be replaced by a hundred leaders."
* Islamist fighters fired a salvo of rockets into Israel, killing one Israeli. The mostly homemade, inaccurate rockets have caused few Israeli casualties in the past two months but militants could fire longer-range rockets which can reach the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon.
* Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who hopes to defeat right-wing hawks to become prime minister in an election in February, has said the rule of Hamas in Gaza must be ended because the Islamists will never make peace with Israel.
* The Israeli air attacks caused widespread anger in the Palestinian territories. Palestinian protesters in East Jerusalem, Ramallah and Hebron staged demonstrations and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack and called for "this aggression to stop immediately".
* The Gaza Strip is the bloodiest arena in a militarily lopsided conflict. Some military analysts see it as a proxy war between moderate Arab regimes such as Egypt and hardline states such as Iran and Syria, which back Hamas.
Saturday's end to six months of relative calm during an Egyptian-brokered truce propels the Islamists into the frontline of the Palestinian struggle.A longer battle could marginalise Abbas's Fatah movement and its Western and Arab peace backers.
As in the days of Noah...

Venezuela rejects Israel's attacks on Gaza

CARACAS, Venezuela-President Hugo Chavez says Venezuela condemns Israel for its attacks on Hamas-ruled Gaza.Israel bombed key security installations Saturday, leaving more than 200 Palestinians dead and more than 400 wounded. Palestinian officials say at least 15 civilians were among the dead.The Israeli army says Palestinian militants have fired 300 rockets and mortars at Israeli targets over the past week.But Chavez on Saturday called Israel's retaliation "criminal" and urged a "massive campaign of repudiation."He says the U.S. is the only government compliant with the attacks. U.S. National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe had criticized the Hamas attacks and said Israel was defending its people.
As in the days of Noah...

Israeli air strikes on Gaza

A year's intel gathering yields 'alpha hits'

A year of information-gathering by Military Intelligence and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) paved the way Saturday for Operation Cast Lead.At 11:30 a.m., more than 50 fighter jets and attack helicopters swept into Gazan airspace and dropped more than 100 bombs on 50 targets. The planes reported "alpha hits," IAF lingo for direct hits on the targets, which included Hamas bases, training camps, headquarters and offices.Thirty minutes later, a second wave of 60 jets and helicopters struck at 60 targets, including underground Kassam launchers-placed inside bunkers and missile silos - that had been fitted with timers. Their locations were discovered in an intensive intelligence operation. The goal: to strike at Hamas's ability to fire rockets into Israel.More than 170 targets were hit by IAF aircraft throughout the day. At least 230 Gazans were killed and over 780 were wounded, according to Palestinian sources. Officials said at least 15 civilians were among the dead.The IDF released a list of some of the targets hit: the Hamas headquarters and training camp in Tel Zatar; the "Palestinian Prisoner Tower" in Gaza City that was turned into a Hamas operations center and armory; the Hamas police academy, which was bombed during a graduation ceremony, killing 70-80 people; training camps in southern and central Gaza; the former office of Yasser Arafat in Gaza City that is now used by Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh; and the Izzadin Kassam Brigades headquarters in the northern Gaza Strip.Throughout the initial stages of the air operation, the IDF Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration transmitted messages to civilians in Gaza to stay away from Kassam launch sites and Hamas buildings and infrastructure.
AP contributed to this report

As in the days of Noah...

Israeli air strikes kill 200 in Gaza

Gaza mosque hit in Israeli air strikes

GAZA-Israel said it had bombed a mosque in Gaza City on Saturday because it was used for "terrorist activities."Palestinian medical workers said two Palestinians were killed in the attack, one of a series of Israeli air strikes on Gaza that killed 227 Palestinians in a 12-hour period.An Israeli military spokesman said Israel had sought to avoid attacking religious institutions but "anyone responsible for attacks (on Israel) will not find refuge in any facility."The spokesman said the mosque was situated in the city's Rimal district. He said Hamas rockets had struck Israeli houses of worship, and that one fired on Saturday had damaged a synagogue.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan)
As in the days of Noah...

Israel defends Gaza op to UN chief

In an urgent letter to the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the head of the UN Security council, Israeli UN Ambassador Gabriela Shalev on Saturday night defended Israel's decision to embark on a military operation in the Gaza Strip in order to put an end to rocket attacks on the South. "Israel is taking the necessary military action in order to protect its citizens from ongoing terrorist attacks originating from the Gaza Strip and carried out by Hamas and other terrorist organizations," Shalev said, adding that Hamas "holds the sole responsibility for the latest events."Israel,she continued, "has exhausted all means and efforts to reach and maintain quiet and to respect the state of calm… Israel's response is aimed solely against the terrorists and their infrastructures in the Gaza Strip. It is not intended against the civilian population. Israel is committed to prevent a humanitarian crisis."Shalev asserted that "No country would allow continuous rocketing of its civilian population without taking the necessary actions to stop it."World reaction to Israel's sudden, massive strike against terror infrastructure in the Gaza Strip ranged from immediate condemnation and a call to halt all attacks to cautious acknowledgement of Israel's right to defend its citizens. Some international powers spoke against Hamas's bombardment of communities in southern Israel since the cease-fire ended last week; others wrung their hands over the humanitarian suffering in the Strip.In a statement released Saturday, Ban called for an immediate halt to all violence in both Gaza and southern Israel."While recognizing Israel's security concerns regarding the continued firing of rockets from Gaza, Ban firmly reiterates Israel's obligation to uphold international humanitarian and human rights law and condemns excessive use of force leading to the killing and injuring of civilians. He condemns the ongoing rocket attacks by Palestinian militants and is deeply distressed that repeated calls on Hamas for these attacks to end have gone unheeded," the statement continued.Ban has reiterated his previous calls for humanitarian supplies to be allowed into Gaza to aid the distressed civilian population.Quartet Representative Tony Blair, speaking Saturday in response to events in Gaza, said: "The terrible events and tragic loss of life in Gaza require, in the immediate term, the introduction of a genuine calm in which the rocket attacks aimed at killing Israeli civilians and the Israeli attacks on Gaza cease so that the suffering of the people, which is severe, can be lifted."Then, as I have said many times before, we need to devise a new strategy for Gaza, which brings that territory back under the legitimate rule of the Palestinian Authority in a manner which ends their suffering and fully protects the security of Israel."President Nicholas Sarkozy of France, who holds the rotating European Union presidency, said he "firmly condemns the irresponsible provocations that have led to this situation, as well as the disproportionate use of force," according to an e-mailed statement.The EU itself has also urged an immediate halt to Israeli air strikes and Palestinian attacks in and around Gaza and the lifting of Israeli blockades in the area, saying in a statement that the 27-nation bloc "condemns the disproportionate use of force" from both sides. "There is no military solution in Gaza," the EU statement said, urging a lasting truce.The EU statement also urges the "reopening of all checkpoints and the immediate resumption of fuel and humanitarian aid deliveries."In Germany, the foreign minister condemned Hamas for abandoning the cease-fire with Israel and urged the group to "immediately and permanently stop the insufferable rocket attacks on Israel."British Prime Minister Gordon Brown expressed concern with the situation in Gaza and called on Palestinian factions to halt rocket attacks on Israel."I call on Gazan militants to cease all rocket attacks on Israel immediately. These attacks are designed to cause random destruction and to undermine the prospects of peace talks led by President [Mahmoud] Abbas.""I understand the Israeli government's sense of obligation to its population," Brown said. "Israel needs to meet its humanitarian obligations, act in a way to further the long-term vision of a two-state solution, and do everything in its power to avoid civilian casualties."Conservative Party leader David Cameron called the violence "horrific," but said that though he understood Israel's right to protect its citizens, both sides must show restraint. "In the end, the only progress will be political progress and a settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. That is what's desperately needed," he added.The Foreign Affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrat Party, Ed Davey, described the Israeli strikes in Gaza as "disproportionate and unacceptable."The Vatican's spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, told Vatican Radio on Saturday that Israel's offensive would be a "very serious blow" to Hamas but could also cause many innocent victims and damage peace prospects in the Holy Land.
Elie Leshem contributed to this report
As in the days of Noah...

REACTION-Israeli attacks on Gaza

Sudanese and Palestinians living in Sudan demonstrate against the Israeli air strikes in Gaza, outside the U.N. offices in Khartoum December 27, 2008.REUTERS/MOHAMED NURELDIN ABDALLAH(Sudan)
GAZA-Israeli war planes and combat helicopters pounded the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Saturday.Here are some of the key comments:
"The IDF will continue its operations against terror in accordance with constant status assessments by the IDF Chief of General Staff. This operation will be continued, expanded and intensified as much as required."
"We face a period that will be neither easy nor short, and will require determination and perseverance until the necessary change is achieved in the situation in the south."
"All fighters are ordered to respond to the Israeli slaughter."
The group will "teach the enemy a lesson they will never forget".
"President Abbas demands that the Israeli government stop this aggression immediately to spare our people its painful effects, and calls on the international community to intervene to stop the aggression."
"Hamas' continued rocket attacks into Israel must cease if the violence is to stop. Hamas must end its terrorist activities if it wishes to play a role in the future of the Palestinian people."The United States urges Israel to avoid civilian casualties as it targets Hamas in Gaza."
"We are very concerned at the events in Gaza. We call for an immediate ceasefire and urge everybody to exert maximum restraint."
"We are facing a continuing spectacle which has been carefully planned. So we have to expect that there will be many casualties. We face a major humanitarian catastrophe".
"Egypt condemns the Israeli military attacks.""Egypt will continue its contacts to prepare an atmosphere conducive to restoring the period of calm and achieving reconciliation between the Palestinian groups."
"Iran strongly condemns the Zionist regime's (Israel) wide-ranging attacks against the civilians in Gaza.""The raids agains innocent people are unforgiveable and unacceptable."
"Moscow deems it necessary to stop large scale military action against Gaza, which had already led to big casualties and suffering among civilian Palestinian population. At the same time we call on Hamas leadership to stop shelling Israeli territory."
"He (French President Nicolas Sarkozy) demands an immediate stop to the firing of rockets on Israel and to the Israeli bombings in Gaza and calls for all parties to use restraint."
"The only way to achieve lasting peace in Gaza is through peaceful means. Whilst we understand the Israeli government's obligation to protect its population we urge maximum restraint to avoid further civilian casualties""We also call on miltants in the Gaza Strip to immediately cease all rocket attacks on Israel."
As in the days of Noah...

UN blasts Israel over Gaza massacre

Hamas Condemns Gaza 'Massacre'

Khaled Meshaal called for Palestinians to wage a new intifada - or uprising - against Israel.In an interview on Al Jazeera television, he said:"We have called for a military intifada against the enemy. Resistance will continue through suicide missions."Dozens of people were killled when Israeli jets fired about 30 missiles into densely populated areas.Palestinian medics put the death toll at 225, many of them civilians, with hundreds more injured.Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert defended the action, saying the airstrikes came in response to repeated rocket attacks by Hamas on Israeli civilians, and warned that military operations in Gaza would "take time".Mr Olmert said: "It may take time, and each and every one of us must be patient so we can complete the mission."Israeli citizens ... it is possible that in the short term, the number of rockets will rise and they will reach farther than they have been accustomed."

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said: "The operation will go on and be intensified as long as necessary. It won't be easy and it won't be short. There is a time for calm and a time for fighting, and now the time has come to fight."Mr Barak, a former prime minister and head of the military, told Sky News he could not rule out the use of ground forces against militants in Gaza, which Israeli troops evacuated three years ago.The Israeli military said it had been targeting "terrorist infrastructure".Ismail Haniyeh, leader of the Hamas government of the Gaza Strip, said: "Palestine has never witnesses an uglier massacre."Hamas said the casualties included children walking home from school. Many Hamas compounds are built in residential areas.One police compound was hosting a graduation ceremony for new personnel when it was attacked.The dead include police chief Tawfiq Jabber, Hamas radio reported, while most of Hamas' police buildings have been destroyed.An IDF statement said: "Our aviation intervened massively against Hamas infrastructure in the Gaza Strip to stop the terrorist attacks of the past several weeks against Israeli civilian installations."Our operations will continue and will be expanded if necessary."A spokesman from the Israeli embassy in London told Sky News: "They have enough time to evacuate civilians from those places but they don't do it."They didn't do it on purpose because they want Israel to cause them civilian casualties."Hamas and other Palestinian factions have ordered their troops to avenge the attack.A statement from Islamic Jihad said: "All fighters are ordered to respond to the Israeli slaughter."The Palestinian chief negotiator Hanan Ashwari told Sky News: "There is tremendous public outrage - this is a massive cold-blooded act, it has to stop immediately."Hamas deputy chairman Mousa Abu Marzook told Sky: "We act against Israeli aggression. The Israelis hit some people and we react against them with rockets."The attacks follow the end of a six-month truce between the two sides.Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: "I call on Gazan militants to cease all rocket attacks on Israel immediately."These attacks are designed to cause random destruction and to undermine the prospects of peace talks led by President Abbas."I understand the Israeli government's sense of obligation to its population. Israel needs to meet its humanitarian obligations, act in a way to further the long-term vision of a two-state solution, and do everything in its power to avoid civilian casualties."Conservative foreign affairs spokesman William Hague said: "We deeply regret the loss of civilian life in Gaza today. We call on the Israeli government to show restraint."At the same time we call on Hamas to stop the rocket attacks which are an unacceptable threat to Israel's security, so that the ceasefire, which Hamas failed to renew, can be urgently restored."The United States did not call for the air strikes to stop but said caution was needed.A White House statement said: "Hamas must end its terrorist activities if it wishes to play a role in the future of the Palestinian people."The United States urges Israel to avoid civilian casualties as it targets Hamas in Gaza."In the West Bank city of Hebron Israeli soldiers fired tear gas and rubber bullets at stone-throwing demonstrators protesting against the airstrikes on Gaza.
As in the days of Noah...

Air strikes kill 225 in Gaza as Israel hits Hamas

Arab world condemns Israeli attack on Gaza

CAIRO, Egypt-The Arab world reacted with outrage at Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip on Saturday, launching scattered protests and calls for retaliation against Israel.The Arab League announced a gathering of foreign ministers Wednesday would focus on the attack, said the organization's chairman Amr Moussa.Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit extended his condolences to the Palestinians killed in the attacks and said Egypt, which brokered a six-month long truce between Hamas and Israel that expired a little over a week ago, has been trying to avoid such an escalation."Today everybody has to stand by the side of the Palestinian people and stop this blind military action," the foreign minister said.Egypt also came under attack by many in the Arab world for its role, along with Israel, in closing the Gaza Strip after the militant group Hamas came to power in June 2007. The closure is often seen as abetting Israel's siege of the crowded strip of land home to 1.5 million people.A few hundred protesters gathered in Cairo Saturday calling for an end to the strikes.In Lebanon, about 4,000 protesters marched through a refugee camp in the southern part of the country, condemning the attacks in general, and Egypt in particular."Hosni Mubarak, you agent of the Americans, you traitor!" they shouted. They also called on the militant group Hezbollah to attack Israel.Lebanon's Prime Minister Fuad Saniora described the Israeli attacks as a "criminal operation" and "new massacres to be added to its full record of massacres."The militant group Hezbollah in a statement Saturday called the attacks "a war crime and a genocide," and criticized what it described as the "shameful" Arab silence.The Libyan foreign ministry issued a statement calling on Arabs to take solid action in "responding to the Israeli brutality against Gaza," and urged the international community to stop Israel's attacks.Saudi Arabia, which has put forward a plan calling for a comprehensive peace between Israel and the Arab world, in a statement Saturday condemned the Israeli attacks. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who met with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah on Saturday in Riyadh, said the Saudi leader promised to call U.S. President George W. Bush and other leaders to ask them to push Israel to halt its operations.Hundreds of protesters in the Jordanian capital of Amman demonstrated, waving Hamas banners and condemning Israel's strikes. There were similar demonstrations in other Jordanian towns and Palestinian refugee camps.The Jordanian ruler, King Abdullah II, called for an immediate halt to "all military actions" in a statement. He also met Saturday with Abbas after the Palestinian returned from Saudi Arabia. In a statement, the two leaders called on the international community to pressure Israel to end its military operations.In Syria's al-Yarmouk camp, outside Damascus, hundreds of Palestinians also protested, vowing to continue fighting Israel."It's a Zionist holocaust, but it won't dissuade us from going on with our struggle to achieve our goals," said Ali Barakah, 42, one of the protesters.The Sudanese foreign ministry issued a statement calling for an end to the Israeli attacks that it described as "brutal raids" and saying Arab states should take a unified stand to protect the Palestinians.Even Turkey, with ties to Israel, expressed dismay as about 2,000 people protested in Istanbul, burning an Israeli flag.
Associated Press writers in Amman, Damascus, Beirut, Ankara, Tripoli, Riyadh and Khartoum contributed to this report.
By PAUL SCHEMM, Associated Press Writer
As in the days of Noah...

Israeli Assault on Hamas Kills More Than 200

Israeli assault on Hamas kills more than 200

Palestinians stand on the rubble of a building used by the security forces of Hamas at the site of an Israeli missile strike at the security headquarters in Gaza City, Saturday, Dec. 27, 2008. Israeli warplanes retaliating for rocket fire from the Gaza Strip pounded dozens of security compounds across the Hamas-ruled territory in unprecedented waves of air strikes Saturday, killing more than 200 people and wounding nearly 400 in the single bloodiest day of fighting in years. (AP Photo/Thaer Al-Hasani)
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip-Israeli warplanes rained more than 100 tons of bombs on security sites in Hamas-ruled Gaza Saturday and early Sunday, killing at least 230 people in one of the Mideast conflict's bloodiest assaults in decades. The government said the open-ended campaign was aimed at stopping rocket attacks that have traumatized southern Israel.Most of the casualties were security forces, but Palestinian officials said at least 15 civilians were among the dead. More than 400 people were also wounded.The unprecedented assault sparked protests and condemnations throughout the Arab world, and many of Israel's Western allies urged restraint, though the U.S. blamed Hamas for the fighting.But there was no end in sight. The first round of strikes began around noon Saturday followed by successive waves of attacks that continued into the early hours Sunday.Israel warned it might go after Hamas' leaders, and militants kept pelting Israel with rockets - killing at least one Israeli and wounding six.Hundreds of Israeli infantry and armored corps troops headed for the Gaza border in preparation for a possible ground invasion, military officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity under army guidelines.Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said late Saturday that the goal was "to bring about a fundamental improvement in the security situation." He added, "It could take some time."The Israeli airstrikes caused widespread panic and confusion, and black plumes of smoke billowed above the territory, ruled by the Islamic militant Hamas for the past 18 months. Some of the Israeli missiles struck in densely populated areas as students were leaving school, and women rushed into the streets frantically looking for their children."My son is gone, my son is gone," wailed Said Masri, a 57-year-old shopkeeper, as he sat in the middle of a Gaza City street, slapping his face and covering his head with dust from a bombed-out security compound nearby. He said he had sent his 9-year-old son out to purchase cigarettes minutes before the airstrikes began and could not find him. "May I burn like the cigarettes, may Israel burn," Masri moaned.Militants often operate against Israel from civilian areas.Late Saturday, thousands of Gazans received Arabic-language cell-phone messages from the Israeli military, urging them to leave homes where militants might have stashed weapons.The offensive began eight days after a six-month truce between Israel and the militants expired. The Israeli army says Palestinian militants have fired some 300 rockets and mortars at Israeli targets over the past week, and 10 times that number over the past year."There is a time for calm and there is a time for fighting, and now is the time for fighting," said Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, vowing to expand the operation if necessary.In Gaza City's main security compound, bodies of more than a dozen uniformed Hamas police lay on the ground. Civilians rushed wounded people in cars and vans to hospitals because there weren't enough ambulances to transport all the dead and wounded."There are heads without bodies...There's blood in the corridors. People are weeping, women are crying, doctors are shouting,"said nurse Ahmed Abdel Salaam from Shifa Hospital, Gaza's main treatment center.Military officials said aircraft released more than 100 tons of bombs in the first nine hours of fighting, focusing initially on militant training camps, rocket-manufacturing facilities and weapons warehouses that had been identified in advance.A second wave was directed at squads who fired about 180 rockets and mortars at Israeli border communities. Palestinians said Israeli bombs destroyed a mosque early Sunday. The military called it a "base for terrorist activities."Another target early Sunday was the Al Aqsa TV station used by Hamas. Its studio building was destroyed, but the station remained on the air with a mobile unit. Palestinians counted about 20 airstrikes in the first hours of Sunday.Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Hamas' political leaders could soon be targeted."Hamas is a terrorist organization and nobody is immune," she declared. The campaign was launched six weeks before national elections. Livni and Barak hope to succeed Ehud Olmert as prime minister, and the outgoing government has faced pressure to take tough action.Gaza's political leaders, who have been targeted in the past, went into hiding earlier this week. In a speech broadcast on local Gaza television, Hamas' prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, declared his movement would not be cowed."We are stronger, and more determined, and have more will, and we will hold onto our rights even more than before," Haniyeh said. It was not clear where he spoke.In Damascus, Syria, Hamas' top leader, Khaled Mashaal, called on Palestinians to rekindle their fight against Israel. "This is the time for a third uprising," he said.Israel withdrew its troops and settlers in 2005 after crushing the second Palestinian uprising, but it has maintained control over the territory's border crossings. Despite the overwhelming show of force, it was not clear the offensive would halt the rocket fire. Past operations have never achieved that goal.Late Saturday, Gaza health official Dr. Moaiya Hassanain said 230 Palestinians were killed and more than 400 were wounded.The lone fatality in Israel was in the town of Netivot, where a rocket killed an Israeli man. Six other people were wounded, rescue services said.Netivot only recently become a target, and dozens of stunned residents, some weeping, gathered at the house that took the deadly rocket hit. A hole gaped in one of the walls, which was pocked with shrapnel marks."We need to finish this once and for all and strike back hard," said next-door neighbor Avraham Chen-Chatam, 57.Streets were nearly empty in Sderot, the Israeli border town pummeled hardest by rockets. But dozens of people congregated on a hilltop to watch the Israeli aerial attacks.The TV images of dead and wounded Gazans inflamed Arab public opinion, and protests erupted in Arab Israeli villages, the West Bank and elsewhere in the Arab world. The campaign embarrassed moderate Arab regimes that have encouraged Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking and weakened Hamas' rival, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has ruled only the West Bank since Hamas violently seized control of Gaza in June 2007.Abbas condemned the attacks, but fearing violence could spiral out of control, his forces also broke up protests in the West Bank.The offensive also risked opening new fronts, including unrest that could destabilize the West Bank and ignite possible rocket attacks by Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas on northern Israel.Britain, the EU, the Vatican, the U.N. secretary-general and special Mideast envoy Tony Blair all called for an immediate restoration of calm. The Arab League scheduled an emergency meeting Wednesday to discuss the situation.But the U.S., Israel's closest ally, blamed Hamas. "These people are nothing but thugs, so Israel is going to defend its people against terrorists like Hamas that indiscriminately kill their own people," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.
AP correspondent Aron Heller contributed to this report from Netivot, Israel. Amy Teibel reported from Jerusalem.
As in the days of Noah...

Friday, December 26, 2008

Pakistani bloggers remember Benazir Bhutto

Web users in Pakistan are paying tribute online to Benazir Bhutto who was murdered one year ago. For most of them she is iconic in their aspirations for a more democratic regime....

Russia braced for unrest; Moscow continues rouble devaluations...

Russia is bracing for further unrest as the rouble on Friday slid to a new low against the euro after a succession of moves to devalue its currency.A cut on Friday extended six weeks of devaluations by Russia’s central bank designed to offset the impact of the global economic crisis and falling oil prices as the country’s main export commodity approached its lowest level since 2004.Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader, warned Russia faced “unprecedentedly difficult and dangerous circumstances” and could be “heading into a black hole”. “It is not clear what the fate of our rouble will be or if society has sufficient financial and moral resources,” he said.After the depreciation, which was the eighth so far this month, the rouble declined as much as 1.2 per cent to Rbs29.06 versus the dollar on Friday, a four year low. The rouble has now lost nearly 20 per cent of its value against the US currency since August.Analysts at Barclays Capital said the best case scenario would see Russian policymakers, facing the mounting evidence of a recession, allowing a one-off depreciation of 10 per cent or more.The rouble’s slide comes as the government faces scrutiny over its policies. A demonstration earlier this month in the far eastern city of Vladivostok marked the first major challenge to the Kremlin since the onset of the global financial crisis.Mikhail Sukhodolsky, a deputy interior minister, warned on Christmas Eve that there could be further protests. “The situation may be exacerbated by a growth in frustration of workers over the non-payment of wages or those threatened with dismissal,” he said.His remarks coincided with criticism of the Kremlin’s rough handling of the protests in Vladivostok. Moscow-based Omon riot police detained about 61 people in the protests against car import duties designed to prop up domestic car producers, but making foreign vehicles prohibitively expensive for ordinary Russians. Mikhail Kasyanov, the former prime minister who now leads the liberal People’s Democratic Union opposition movement, said that an unspoken social contract between the government and the people, swapping political freedoms for prosperity and consumer goods, had broken down. “It was a deal,” he told the FT in an interview this week. “But it has fallen apart and that is why people are appearing on the streets. The process has started . . . Things could spin out of control when people wake up and realise their neighbours have lost their jobs and they are at risk of losing theirs.” He added that “the authorities had reacted “cynically and in a very nervous manner for nothing,” against a peaceful demonstration.Boris Gryzlov, the pro-Kremlin speaker of parliament, on Friday accused the opposition of provoking the demonstration.Moscow, which has pledged $200bn to mitigate the effects of the economic downturn, late on Thursday published a list of 295 strategic enterprises entitled to preferential government support.Amid suspicions that the money will not be distributed transparently, the government said the list published on its website was not complete and did not guarantee financial support for those on it.
By Isabel Gorst in Moscow and Anuj Gangahar in New York
As in the days of Noah...

Gaza braced for Israeli offensive

Iran to send aid ship...

Iran's Red Crescent is sending a shipment of aid to the Gaza Strip in the face of a blockade of the Hamas-ruled territory by Islamic republic's archfoe Israel, the state broadcaster reported on Friday."Despite the Zionist regime's opposition... this consignment will leave Bandar Abbas for Palestine on Saturday and will arrive in 12 days," a provincial Red Crescent director, Ahmad Navvab, was quoted as saying."The cargo contains over 2,000 tonnes of food, medicine and appliances and it will be accompanied by 12 Iranian doctors and relief workers," he said.Earlier this month, the Red Crescent said it aimed to send a 1,000-tonne shipment of grain, sugar, oil and medicine to the aid-dependent land, which has been subject to Israeli blockades and repeated raids since the Islamists of Hamas seized power in June 2007.Violence in and around Gaza has flared since a six-month ceasefire ended on December 19 and there is widespread speculation Israeli forces are gearing up for large scale military action in the coastal strip.Israel responded to violence that erupted around Gaza in early November by tightening its blockade of the territory and blocking deliveries of humanitarian aid and other basic supplies.Tehran is a staunch supporter of Hamas but rejects allegations it is supplying arms to the movement, saying it only provides moral backing.Iran does not recognise the Jewish state and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly called for Israel to be wiped off the map and called the Jewish Holocaust a "myth."

As in the days of Noah...

Gaza rocket misfires, 2 dead

Palestinian rocket kills 2 Gaza girls...

GAZA-A rocket apparently fired by Palestinians on Friday struck a house in the Gaza Strip, killing two Palestinian sisters aged five and 13, Palestinian medics said.Hamas police said they were investigating the cause of the blast in Beit Lahiya village in northern Gaza, which medics said seemed to be due to a rocket aimed at Israel that had misfired.Gaza militants frequently fire rockets at Israel from the same area.The incident came amid rising tensions with Israel, with officials threatening stepped-up military action against Gaza militants to stop rocket shootings from the coastal territory.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan)
As in the days of Noah....

Thousands mourn in Pakistan a year after Bhutto's killing

GARHI KHUDA BAKHSH, Pakistan-Tens of thousands of supporters of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto streamed into her home town on Saturday to mark the first anniversary of her assassination.Bhutto, 54, was killed in a gun and bomb attack in the city of Rawalpindi as she emerged from an election rally just over two months after she had returned from years of self-exile.In February, the two-time prime minister's Pakistan People's Party rode a wave of sympathy to win an election and it now heads a coalition government. Her widower, Asif Ali Zardari, has become president.Zardari, in a statement marking the anniversary, said the attack on his wife was an attack on the viability of state and aimed at undermining efforts to build democratic structures and to fighting militancy. "The tyrants and the killers have killed her but they shall never be able to kill her ideas that drove and inspired a generation to lofty aims," Zardari said.The anniversary of the killing that shocked the country and sparked days of violence by her supporters, comes as Pakistan faces yet another crisis.Tension has been rising with India over last month's militant attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai, raising fears of conflict between the nuclear-armed neighbors.A year after her murder, many questions remain unanswered. Investigations by Pakistan's previous government, British police and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency accused an al Qaeda-linked militant of killing Bhutto, a staunch supporter of the U.S.-led campaign against Islamist militancy.But many of Bhutto's supporters have expressed dissatisfaction over those investigations.
By Asim Tanveer
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Pakistan troop reports bad news for terror fight

WASHINGTON – Pakistan's reported decision to relocate thousands of troops away from the Afghanistan border toward India threatens the critical U.S. foreign policy aim of relying on the south Asian ally's military in the global battle against terrorism.President-elect Barack Obama 's campaign promise to turn around the stalemated war in Afghanistan could be the first casualty of Pakistan's latest moves, and the frustrated American effort to decimate al-Qaida may be the second.Pakistan's sudden military shift catches two administrations in mid-transition, presenting Obama with a dangerous spike in tension that his predecessor has been unable to prevent.As President George W. Bush found out, the United States can't wage either fight alone and can't always persuade even well-meaning allies to set aside their own agendas and domestic politics.To win in Afghanistan rather than merely hold ground, the United States and its allies must find a way to seal off the militants' redoubts across the forbidding mountainous border with Pakistan. The U.S. can't do that without Pakistan's help, and Pakistani and Afghan militants know it.Bush administration officials have been shuttling to New Delhi and Islamabad for weeks following the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, pleading with both sides not to let well-founded suspicions that the attacks originated in Pakistan become an excuse for new conflict. India and Pakistan have fought three wars, and enmity against the other has been an organizing principle for leaders of each nuclear-armed country.If Pakistan yanks fighting forces away from what the U.S. considers the good war against terrorism in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, it will bear out U.S. fears of a ripple effect and show how easily militants can exploit the old rivalry."We hope that both sides will avoid taking steps that will unnecessarily raise tensions during these already tense times," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Friday...
AP Military Writer Anne Gearan covers U.S. national security affairs.
Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor, Pamela Hess and Sebastian Abbot contributed to this report.
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US urging calm over possible Pakistan troop moves

WASHINGTON-U.S. officials watched with growing concern Friday as reports suggested Pakistan was massing troops to the India border. Such a move raises double-barreled worries:A possible confrontation between two nuclear powers and a shift by the Pakistani military away from battling the Taliban along its western Afghan edge."We hope that both sides will avoid taking steps that will unnecessarily raise tensions during these already tense times," said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe.U.S. military leaders have been urging both India and Pakistan to exercise restraint in the wake of the deadly Mumbai attacks that many believe originated with Pakistan-based militants.On Friday, U.S. intelligence and military officials were still trying to determine if the reported troop movements were true, and, if so, what Pakistan's intent may be. And they cautioned that the reports may be exaggerated, aimed more at delivering a message than dispatching forces.Officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.U.S. defense leaders have been worried about a new flare-up between Pakistan and India ever since the coordinated terror attacks in India's financial capital of Mumbai last month that killed 164 people.India has demanded that Pakistan arrest the perpetrators behind the Mumbai attacks. It says they are members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant group widely believed created by Pakistani intelligence in the 1980s and used to fight Indian-rule in the disputed Kashmir region.Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, was in Pakistan twice this month, and as many as seven times in the past year. In recent meetings with senior Pakistani leaders he has urged restraint and encouraged both sides to find ways to work together.One senior military official said Friday that the U.S. is monitoring the issue, but still could not confirm assertions from Pakistani intelligence officials that some 20,000 troops were on the move, heading to the Indian border.A key concern for U.S. officials is that some of those troops may have been stationed along the volatile Afghan border, and were being diverted to the Indian side.Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Mullen, who have both been in the region in recent weeks, have expressed the hope that Pakistan would stay focused on fighting militants in its mountainous northwestern Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA.Insurgents there have proved increasingly troublesome, launching attacks into Afghanistan, disrupting supply routes for the Afghan, U.S. and coalition militaries, and providing training and hiding places for the Taliban, al-Qaida and others. It also has long been suspected that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden has been hiding there.Senior defense officials said the U.S. is watching the situation very closely since officials would prefer that the Pakistanis remain focused on battling insurgents within their own country, including along the border.U.S. Military leaders in Afghanistan earlier this month said they had seen no indications that Pakistan was shifting its focus away from the Afghan border.There was also no indication Friday that either Gates or Mullen had reached out to their counterparts in Pakistan since these latest reports had surfaced.Johndroe added that, "We continue to be in close contact with both countries to urge closer cooperation in investigating the Mumbai attacks and in fighting terrorism generally."
Associated Press Writer Deb Riechmann contributed to this report.
By LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press Writer
As in the days of Noah...

Pakistan Moves Troops Toward Indian Border

Pakistan has started to redeploy thousands of troops to the Indian border from the tribal areas near Afghanistan, intelligence officials said Friday, raising tensions triggered by the Mumbai terror attacks....

Pakistan redeploying troops to Indian border

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan-Pakistan began moving thousands of troops from the Afghan border toward India, officials and witnesses said Friday, raising tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors and possibly undermining the U.S.-backed campaign against al-Qaida and the Taliban.The country also announced that it was canceling all military leave in the aftermath of last month's terror attack on the Indian financial capital of Mumbai.India has blamed Pakistani militants for the terrifying three-day siege; Pakistan has demanded that India back this up with better evidence. Pakistan's latest moves were seen as a warning that it would retaliate if India launches air or missile strikes against militant targets on Pakistani soil-rather than as an indication that a fourth war was imminent between the two countries.The United States has been trying to ease the burgeoning crisis while also pressing Pakistan to crack down on militants Washington says were likely responsible for the Mumbai attack. The siege left 164 people dead after gunmen targeted 10 sites including two five-star hotels and a Jewish center.On Friday, U.S. intelligence and military officials were trying to determine if the reported troop movements were true and-if so-what Pakistan's intent might be.They cautioned that the reports may be exaggerated, aimed more at delivering a message than dispatching forces. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.Any significant troop movement would likely dash President-elect Barack Obama's strategy of having Pakistan concentrate on the threat emanating from the lawless tribal regions close to Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders are believed hiding out.Obama said nothing publicly about the Pakistan situation Friday."This is a serious blow to the war on terror in the sense that the whole focus is now shifting toward the eastern border," said Talat Masood, a former general and military analyst. "It will give more leeway to the militants and increased space to operate."Two Pakistani intelligence officials said Friday that elements of the army's 14th Infantry Division were being redeployed from the militant hotspot of Waziristan to the towns of Kasur and Sialkot, close to the Indian border.The military began the troop movement Thursday and plans to shift a total of 20,000 soldiers-about one-fifth of the deployment in the tribal areas, they said without providing a timeframe.The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.An Associated Press reporter in the Dera Ismail Khan district and a witness thirty miles away in Bhakkar, a district bordering Waziristan, saw long lines of military vehicles carrying hundreds of soldiers and equipment away from the Afghan border toward India."It was a big, big convoy," said Mushtaq Bokhari, a resident of Bhakkar district in Punjab province close to the border with Pakistan's North West Frontier Province. "It took about three hours to pass through our city."However, a senior Pakistani security official denied that the troops were being deployed to the Indian border.He said a "limited number" of soldiers were being shifted from areas "where they were not engaged in any operations on the western border or from areas which were snowbound."He declined further comment and asked that his name not be used, also citing the sensitivity of the situation. Pakistan and India have fought three wars since their independence from Britain in 1947, two over Kashmir, a majority Muslim region in the Himalayas claimed by both countries.They came close to a fourth after suspected Pakistani militants attacked India's parliament in 2001. Both countries deployed hundreds of thousands of troops to the disputed Kashmir region, but tensions cooled after intensive U.S. diplomacy....
Associated Press reporters Sebastian Abbot, Asif Shahzad and Zarar Khan in Islamabad, Sam Dolnick in New Delhi and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.
By CHRIS BRUMMITT, Associated Press Writer
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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Rights group calls for steps to curb abuse of housemaids in Lebanon

Beirut: An Ethiopian housemaid lies bandaged in a government hospital after falling from a 12th floor balcony. She says her Lebanese employer pushed her off."Madam asked me to hang the clothes. Then she came and pushed me from behind," the 25-year-old woman said. Too frightened to let her name be published, she said her employer had frequently threatened and abused her."Madam would tell me, 'I will spill hot oil on you', so I hid the oil. She would take a knife and threaten to kill me. She would beat me with shoes, pull my hair to the floor," the injured woman said, her face still bruised a month later.According to the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), nearly every week one of an estimated 200,000 migrant domestic workers in Lebanon dies. Suicide, falling while trying to escape their employer and untreated illness are the main causes of death.The employers are rarely prosecuted.HRW says maids in Lebanon, as elsewhere in Asia, are vulnerable to beatings, rape and even murder for lack of national laws to protect them from abusive employers.
Like fixtures
Live-in housemaids are like fixtures for well-off Lebanese families for years. They often do everything from heavy housework to nannying and helping with children's homework.Many get no days off, work for up to 18 hours and are locked indoors. Others leave the house only to shop or walk a dog. Employers, who routinely confiscate their passports to deter them from running away, promise to pay maids $150 (Dh550.5) to $250 a month depending on their nationalities. But many employers don't pay as agreed. Some verbally and physically abuse their workers.
They often deduct the first three month's wages to pay a fee to the agencies that import the maids."We've definitely seen a lot of cases where the employer would beat, slap [a worker] when she makes a 'mistake' - that could be breaking a plate, badly ironing a shirt or burning some food on the stove," added HRW senior researcher Nadim Houry.When domestic workers get into distress, they may ask their embassies to help, but staff are often overwhelmed. The Sri Lankan embassy, for example, has two people to handle some 80,000 Sri Lankan workers in Lebanon.
The issues are laid bare in a recent documentary, Maid in Lebanon II: Voices from Home, directed by Carol Mansour in coordination with the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The 40-minute film, narrated by a Lebanese woman awaiting the arrival of a maid from the Philippines, provides information about the rights and obligations of employers and workers, the full costs of hiring maids and how they should be treated."It's so obvious that there is a problem here," Mansour said at her office in Beirut's Hamra district. The ILO and other groups have helped set up a committee at the Labour Ministry to try to improve conditions for domestic workers.One proposal is to approve a standard contract stipulating the rights and obligations of employers and workers, and to add specific legal provisions to guarantee workers' rights.
Abdullah Razzouk, the head of the committee, said he expected the contract to be approved and the draft law sent to parliament "in the immediate future", provisionally in early 2009.Indrani, a 27-year-old Sri Lankan, lived for 18 months in a shelter run by the Christian charity group Caritas after running away from an abusive employer."I was paid the first year and a half. But then I wasn't paid for the next eight years. When I asked for money, Madam would swear at me, break glasses against the wall. She spoke to me like a donkey," she said recently at the shelter in Beirut. "I was only given some bread and rice to eat. Fruit was forbidden. I woke up at 9am and slept at 4:30 or 5 am. I was not allowed to speak to my parents. They thought I had died," she said, tears welling up.Indrani has since returned home.

As in the days of Noah....

3,000 Santas take out procession in Damascus

Damascus: Three thousand Santa Clauses marched through Aleppo Street in the heart of the Syrian capital, beating drums and singing, celebrating Christmas Eve on a rainy night.Despite the Damascus chill, the residents of Damascus were seemingly thrilled at celebrating Christmas, gathering on both sides of the street to watch the procession, while entire families gathered on balconies to wave to the Santas.At the Mar Elias Church, a large exhibition was held at a cave, mirroring the one in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, welcoming 5,000 visitors in the days preceding Christmas Day."All Syrians celebrate Christmas," said Syria's Grand Mufti Ahmad Hassoun, known for his untiring efforts to promote inter-faith dialogue in the Muslim world.He told Gulf News,"There are no differences in Syria between Muslims and Christians; just like all Christians share our celebrations in the Eid Al Adha and Eid Al Fitr. We celebrate humanity, manifested by God through Moses, Jesus and Mohammad."Speaking to the Italian daily La Republica shortly before Christmas, First Lady Asma Al Assad echoed these words, saying: "We Syrians are a single body. Our history did not start yesterday: it is a history that is thousands of years old; St Paul and the Umayad mosque are part of who I am as a human being."Civil society activist and entrepreneur Abdulsalam Haykal refuses to use the word "co-existence," in describing Christian-Muslim harmony in Syria. In a recent letter to US President-elect Barack Obama, sent via former President Jimmy Carter on his latest trip to Damascus, Haykal wrote: "[Syrians] are not the product of today, or of the turbulent 20th century. We are a blend of cultures that have - for centuries - triumphed over their different ethnic or religious identities to form one nation."
By Sami Moubayed, Correspondent
As in the days of Noah....

UAE urges Obama to support Arab initiative to secure stability in Mideast

(Occupied Jerusalem)*: The UAE and the Palestinian National Authority on Wednesday reiterated their adherence to the Arab peace initiative as a means to achieve stability and security in the region."We believe the Arab peace initiative is the key to security, stability and development in our region," Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Foreign Minister, said. He was speaking at a press conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, during Christmas celebrations. Shaikh Abdullah called on US President-elect Barack Obama to embrace the initiative, which was also adopted by Islamic countries in a conference in Tehran. There are 57 Islamic countries that are willing to normalise their ties with Israel if it is seriously looking for peace and accepts the Arab initiative.Speaking to Abbas, Shaikh Abdullah said:"With the Palestinian people's determination and with the support of your Arab brethren, I believe that we are closer than anytime before in convincing the international community and the Israeli people about the importance of the peace initiative."
Backing for Abbas
Shaikh Abdullah pointed out that the Israeli occupation stands as an obstacle to peace efforts. "This is my first visit by land to Palestine where I saw many border crossings and illegal colonies," he said.Shaikh Abdullah added that the initiative will be introduced after the coming Israeli elections to make it clear to the Israeli people that most Arabs and Muslims believe in the setting up of a Palestinian state on the 1967 border and the regaining of all the Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese occupied territories.Shaikh Abdullah praised the policies of Abbas and reaffirmed the UAE's support for him to continue leading the Palestinian people. Abbas welcomed Shaikh Abdullah and paid tribute to the UAE leadership and people for their ongoing support for the Palestinian people in their struggle to regain their national rights.
PS:(*)Note that the source of this post is Gulf News....
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Saudi court rejects plea to annul 8-year-old girl's marriage to 58-year-old man

The divorce plea was filed in August by the girl's divorced mother with a court at Unayzah, 220 kilometres (135 miles) north of Riyadh just after the marriage contract was signed by the father and the groom."She doesn't know yet that she has been married," the lawyer said then of the girl who was about to begin her fourth year at primary school. Relatives who did not wish to be named told AFP that the marriage had not yet been consummated, and that the girl continued to live with her mother. They said that the father had set a verbal condition by which the marriage is not consummated for another 10 years, when the girl turns 18. The father had agreed to marry off his daughter for an advance dowry of 30,000 riyals ($8,000), as he was apparently facing financial problems, they said.The father was in court and he remained adamant in favour of the marriage, they added.The mother's said he was going to appeal the verdict at the court of cassation, the supreme court in the ultraconservative kingdom which applies Islamic Sharia law in its courts.Arranged marriages involving pre-adolescents are occasionally reported in the Arabian Peninsula, including in Saudi Arabia where the strict conservative Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam holds sway and polygamy is common.In Yemen in April, another girl aged eight was granted a divorce after her unemployed father forced her to marry a man of 28. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/saudiarabia/3884696/Saudi-court-rejects-plea-to-annul-8-year-old-girls-marriage-to-58-year-old-man.html
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ISLAMIC CRAZE WATCH:"Islam's Conquest Of Rome Not Necessarily By The Sword"':Iraqi Cleric

Aired on Baghdad TV (Iraq) -October 31, 2008 - 00:00:57 : Iraqi Cleric Sheik Hareth Al-'Ubeidi:"Islam's Conquest of Rome Will Not Necessarily Be by the Sword"....

INDIA:"Soldier among Three Pakistanis Planning Suicide Attack"

Jammu: Jammu and Kashmir Police have averted a major terror strike with the arrest of three Jaish-e-Mohammad fidayeen (suicide bombers). All the three terrorists belong to Pakistan and one of them, Gulam Fareed, is a serving Pakistani Army soldier. Fareed joined the infantry battalion of the Pakistan Army as a sepoy in 2001.Fareed joined the 10 AK Regiment of Pakistani Army in 2001 and his belt number is 4319148.He was selected from the Pakistani Army by Jaish to carry out terror strike in India and police claim say he is still serving in the Army. Director General of Police, Jammu, Kuldeep Khoda confirmed that the three terrorists arrested were planning an attack in Jammu to disrupt the ongoing Assembly polls."Questioning has revealed that all three of them had come from Pakistan. They all belong to Jaish-e-Mohammad outfit and they had been deputed here to launch fidayeen attack. One of them revealed that he had been trained to take a loaded vehicle to a target which would be subsequently identified and exploded,” said Khoda.All the fidayeen were reportedly trained by Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Maulana Masood Azhar's younger brother Mufti Abdul Rauf.Police also say a Jaish camp in Karachi has been operating under the patronage of Pakistani Army just outside the Cantonment in the cty.They were in Rawalpindi with Mufti Abdul Rauf and from there the three terrorists went to Karachi from where they took a flight to Dhaka.They infiltrated into India through West Bengal and then took a train from Kolkata and reached Jammu. They checked into a hotel near the railway station from there they moved to hotel in Jammu city to carry out their plans.The guide for the terrorists was to come from Kashmir but he could not reach as the roads have been blocked due to heavy snowfall. The local terrorists were to give ammunition and specify a target for the attack.Police sources say that four more terrorists are reported to have infiltrated with the three arrested terrorists.The arrests come just two days after the Jammu police arrested four suspected terrorists including the commander of Harkat-ul-Jehadi-Islami at the Jammu railway station on Sunday.The final phase of elections is on December 24 in which 21 Assembly constituencies will vote.

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SHARIA'A LAW WATCH:Taliban threaten to kill Pakistani schoolgirls:Officials

ISLAMABAD:Taliban extremists in Pakistan's troubled northwest Swat valley have banned girls from attending school, threatening to kill any female students, officials said Thursday. The threat was delivered this week by local Taliban commander Shah Durran in an address carried on an illegally-run radio station in the area, local officials told AFP. "You have until January 15 to stop sending your girls to schools. If you do not pay any heed to this warning, we will kill such girls," one official quoted the commander as saying. "We also warn schools not to enrol any female students; otherwise, their buildings will be blown up." The mountainous Swat valley was until last year a popular tourist destination featuring Pakistan's only ski resort. But the region has been turned into a battleground since radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah, who has links to Pakistan's Taliban movement, launched a violent campaign for the introduction of Islamic Sharia law in the valley. Durran said local Taliban leaders were determined not to allow girls to attend school, saying: "We want to enforce the true Sharia in the area-for this, we are fighting and laying down our lives." Swat residents said Taliban fighters had already destroyed scores of government-run schools, leading some to set up private schools in their homes to educate girls. An official at the Pakistani education ministry said there are about 1,580 schools registered in Swat-once known for its top-flight schools. But the official, Naeem Khan, said:"Already Taliban militants have destroyed 252 schools, mainly those where girls and boys were studying together." Education has suffered badly in Swat as a result of the ongoing fighting between Taliban-linked militants and security forces, with only a handful of schools still open in the region's main city Mingora, Khan said. The government had reached a deal with the rebels in May to gradually pull out troops and introduce an Islamic justice system in exchange for an end to rebel attacks, but the violence eventually resumed.
PS:SHARIA'A LAW equals DESTRUCTION of private and public property and what it is most important it robs a person of its dignity and--eventually--of its LIFE....These retrograds have to be stopped...I truly feel for the people living in Swat...
As in the days of Noah...

Festivus pole goes up in Illinois Capitol, gripes begin

SPRINGFIELD-In the world of the TV sitcom “Seinfeld,” Festivus is a goofy, high-tension Christmas substitute dreamt up by George Costanza’s angry dad. Revelers gathered around an aluminum pole and couldn’t leave until someone pinned the head of the household to the floor. Festivus is still good for a laugh among “Seinfeld” loyalists, even 11 years after the episode was first broadcast.Funny, but nobody’s laughing much about the Festivus pole that popped up under the dome of the Illinois Capitol this week.Not the people who set up the nearby nativity scene.“I think it’s a mockery,” said Dan Zanoza, chairman of the Springfield Nativity Scene Committee.Not the atheists who set up their own Capitol display.“If the state’s going to create a forum for religion at this time of year, which we do not approve of, this is what’s going to happen,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor of the Freedom from Religion Foundation.Even the 18-year-old who created the pole isn’t laughing much. State workers, he gripes, set it up too far out of the way for anyone to see.“I’m halfway thinking about complaining about the location,” Michael Tennenhouse said.Festivus was, after all, a holiday built around the airing of grievances.“I got a lot of problems with you people!” Frank Costanza told family and others gathered for his odd, uncomfortable holiday. “And now you’re gonna’ hear about it!”
Atheists’ gripes over nativity
Illinois’ Festivus tale opened with the atheists’ gripes over Zanoza’s nativity.The Freedom from Religion Foundation won permission to put up a sign after the nativity went up early this month.“There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell,” the sign reads. “There is only our natural world.”The Madison, Wis.-based group has set up similar displays around the nation, including one in Olympia, Wash., that caught the attention of Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly and led to protests by his viewers.“It doesn’t make sense to have a public forum for religion in December in a state capitol,” Gaylor said. “It just clutters everything up.”The chatter about the issue gave Tennenhouse the idea. The high school senior and member of the American Civil Liberties Union is home in Springfield for a break from his Lake Forest boarding school.His parents reluctantly contributed the aluminum handle from their swimming pool skimmer, and Tennenhouse and his 13-year-old bother, Matt, applied for a permit to put up a Festivus pole in the Capitol.The state, much to Tennenhouse’s surprise, didn’t turn him down.Nathan Maddox, senior legal adviser with the Illinois Secretary of State’s office, says the state couldn’t legally deny Tennenhouse’s right to free expression.So, on Tuesday, up went the pole, along with a printed poster that included an e-mail address, friendsforfestivus@gmail.com, and a message that reads, in part:“Although Festivus is traditionally celebrated Dec. 23, the people of Illinois have had to begin ‘Grievance Airing’ early this year. Hopefully we can conclude Festivus before February.”Tennenhouse’s message is part political, he says, noting the reference to the corruption charges facing Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. And it’s a little ideological-the teenager says the Capitol is no place for religious symbols.But something else was at work in Tennenhouse’s plan: boredom.“I’m here for three weeks and I really don’t have much else to do.”Zanoza wishes Tennenhouse had found something-just about anything-else to do.“I give more credence to the atheists’ sign,” said the 55-year-old Zanoza, who lives in Lincoln. “At least they represent a position, a belief, or a lack of belief.”Gaylor doesn’t mind the Festivus pole, as long as Illinois insists on allowing holiday symbols into the statehouse. But she counts her blessings that she lives in Madison-Wisconsin’s capital.“The nice thing here is we do not have a nativity,” she said.Tennenhouse and his brother went to the Illinois statehouse Tuesday, just to gauge the response to their blue aluminum pole. There wasn’t much, he said, because it’s tucked away in a corner of the rotunda where few people are likely to see it.Maybe that’s OK, he says. Even a little humorous.“Ours is kind of ridiculous,” he admits. “I think it’s kind of funny that it got up there.”

On the Web:
Friends for Festivus,
By David Mercer--Associated Press
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Germans Save Egyptian Ship From Somali Pirates

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia-A German military helicopter chased away pirates on Thursday who were trying to board an Egyptian ship off the coast of Somalia. One of the ship's crew was shot in the attack.The bulk carrier with 31 crew was passing through the Gulf of Aden on its way to Asia when gun-toting pirates in a speedboat began pursuing it, said Noel Choong of the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center.A passing ship alerted the Kuala Lumpur-based bureau, which asked a multinational naval coalition force in the area to help, said Choong.In response, the German navy frigate Karlsruhe dispatched a helicopter, a military spokesman said on condition of anonymity, citing policy.The pirates fled as the chopper reached the vessel, according to a statement from the German military, but not before shooting and injuring one the ship's crew.A second helicopter, carrying a medical team, retrieved the injured crew, who is now receiving treatment on the Karlsruhe, the statement said.Piracy has taken an increasing toll on international shipping this year, especially in the Gulf of Aden-one of the world's busiest sea lanes. Spurred by widespread poverty in their homeland, Somali pirates have made an estimated $30 million hijacking ships for ransom this year.More than a dozen warships are now patrolling the vast gulf. Countries as diverse as Britain, India, Iran, America, France and Germany have naval forces in the waters or on their way there."Despite increased naval patrols, pirates are continuing to attack ships because the warships cannot be everywhere at the same time.But we are pleased with the quick assistance by the coalition force," Choong said.Choong said there have been 110 pirate attacks this year in the Gulf of Aden, including 42 hijackings. Most were released after a ransom was paid, though 14-with more than 240 crew-are still being held.A second German frigate responded to another emergency call Thursday from a different ship in the gulf,the military said. The statement gave no other details on that incident.Japan said Wednesday it is considering sending military ships to join the coalition. China is scheduled to send warships on Friday. Somalia, a nation of about 8 million people, has not had a functioning government since warlords overthrew a dictator in 1991 and then turned on each other.

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