BBC News & Antiwar.com & Associated Press & Ha’aaretz – 2009-01-18 22:40:26
Israel ‘Wants Rapid Gaza Pullout’
• Video: Inside Gaza, after the fighting.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said he wants Israeli troops to leave Gaza “as quickly as possible” after Israel’s three-week offensive. Troops began pulling out after Israel said it had met its war aims and declared a unilateral ceasefire. Hamas later declared its own truce with one of its leaders claiming a “great victory” over Israel.
As Gaza enjoyed a second quiet night, local sources said the conflict had left 4,000 buildings destroyed. A further 20,000 buildings were severely damaged, Gaza municipal officials said after an initial count.
An Israeli military spokesman told the BBC it appeared that the ceasefire was holding. Correspondents say the ceasefire in Gaza remains fragile.
Palestinian militants fired about 20 rockets over the border after the Israeli ceasefire announcement, and Israel responded with an air attack.
Surrounded by an array of European political leaders, some of whom were highly critical of Israel’s tactics in the conflict with Hamas, the Israeli prime minister said his country was not interested in staying in the Gaza Strip. “We didn’t set out to control Gaza, we don’t want to remain in Gaza and we intend on leaving Gaza as quickly as possible,” he said.
The European leaders had traveled to Israel to lend their support to the ceasefires. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the opening of the crossings into Gaza was important to “make possible a resumption of the talks that are necessary for a permanent peace”.
Boasting of victory, Ismail Haniya, the top Hamas leader in Gaza, said Israel had “failed to achieve its goals.” In a speech broadcast on Hamas TV station, he said: “Despite all the wounds, our people didn’t surrender, but demonstrated a legendary perseverance.”
Hamas said it would hold fire for a week to give Israel time to withdraw its forces from the Gaza Strip.
“Our demand is the withdrawal of the enemy forces from the Gaza Strip within a week, along with the opening of all the crossings for the entry of humanitarian aid, food and other necessities for our people in the Gaza Strip,” said Hamas’s deputy chief in Syria, Moussa Abou Marzouk.
Meanwhile, the BBC’s Paul Wood entered northern Gaza via the Erez crossing as part of the first group of journalists to gain independent access to the Strip from Israel. He says that in the town of Beit Lahiya he saw the first real destruction — streets churned up by Israeli heavy armour, overturned cars, a lake of raw sewage in the street and a mosque left as a charred ruin.
Hamas officials stopped the BBC from filming at one site where bodies were still being removed — a sign, perhaps, that there had been some kind of military target nearby, our correspondent says.
The BBC’s Bethany Bell, on the Israeli side of the border with Gaza, said Israeli helicopters and drones had been flying overhead and Israeli troops were on high alert on Sunday. Many people are hoping that a ceasefire will last, but no one on either side of the border will be surprised if the fighting starts up again, she adds.
At least 1,300 Palestinians, according to Palestinian sources, and 13 Israelis have been killed since Israel launched its offensive on 27 December. Palestinian medical sources say at least 95 bodies have been pulled from the rubble since Israel halted its offensive.
The BBC’s Christian Fraser, in Rafah on the Gaza-Egypt border, says many of the 40,000 people who fled the town during the conflict, were returning to pick through the ruins of their homes on Sunday. People are salvaging whatever they can, our correspondent says — even the broken bricks and corrugated iron are taken away on donkeys.
Hamas is still very much in control of the town, our correspondent adds. One fighter told the BBC their determination and ability to fight was undiminished.
Earlier on Sunday, heads of state from across Europe traveled to Egypt for a summit with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and UN chief Ban Ki-moon to try to shore up the ceasefire.
Speaking after the talks, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he would be sending a team to assess the immediate humanitarian needs of the people in Gaza. “Within 10 days, I think we’ll be able to make an assessment report and we will issue a humanitarian urgent, a humanitarian flash appeal.”
Israel Bans Arab Parties From Elections
Balad Chairman Asks Why Lieberman
Is so Afraid of Democracy
JERUSALEM (January 12, 2009) — By a margin of 26-3, the Israeli Central Elections Committee decided to ban the Balad Party from running in next month’s election. By a margin of 21-8, they also banned the United Arab List-Ta’al (UAL-T). The two bans will prevent more than half of the current Arab members of Israel’s Parliament, the Knesset, from running for reelection.
The Arab parties earned the ire of the most hawkish elements in the Israeli government by publicly opposing the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip. Balad likewise made enemies by explicitly calling for equal rights for all citizens of Israel, regardless of national or ethnic identity, which the ruling Kadima Party said would ‘undermine Israel’s identity as a Jewish state.’
A handful of Arabs will remain on the ballots across Israel, running for as-yet-unbanned Jewish majority parties, but with the general consensus among most of the population that Israeli Arabs are traitors based purely on their ethnic background, they would seem to have an uphill battle. Many disillusioned Arab voters may not vote at all, now that the only significant Arab parties aren’t allowed on the ballot.
During the discussion, Balad Chairman Jamal Zahaika called the move to ban his party ‘a test for Israeli democracy’ and asked Avigdor Lieberman, the driving force behind the ban, ‘Why are you afraid of democracy?’ Lieberman declared Balad a terrorist organization and said ‘whoever values life’ would understand the need to ban it.
Israel Bans Arab Parties from
Running in Upcoming Elections
Associated Press & Ha’aaretz
TEL AVIV (January 12, 2009) — The Central Elections Committee on Monday banned Arab political parties from running in next month’s parliamentary elections, drawing accusations of racism by an Arab lawmaker who said he would challenge the decision in the country’s Supreme Court.
The ruling, made by the body that oversees the elections, reflected the heightened tensions between Israel’s Jewish majority and Arab minority caused by Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip. Israeli Arabs have held a series of demonstrations against the offensive.
Knesset spokesman Giora Pordes said the election committee voted overwhelmingly in favor of the motion, accusing the country’s Arab parties of incitement, supporting terrorist groups and refusing to recognize Israel’s right to exist. Arab lawmakers have traveled to countries listed among Israel’s staunchest enemies, including Lebanon and Syria.
The 37-member committee is composed of representatives from Israel’s major political parties. The measure was proposed by two ultranationalist parties but received widespread support.
The decision does not affect Arab lawmakers in predominantly Jewish parties or the country’s communist party, which has a mixed list of Arab and Jewish candidates. Roughly one-fifth of Israel’s 7 million citizens are Arabs. Israeli Arabs enjoy full citizenship rights, but have suffered from discrimination and poverty for decades.
Arab lawmakers Ahmed Tibi and Jamal Zahalka, political rivals who head the two Arab blocs in the Knesset, joined together in condemning Monday’s decision.
“It was a political trial led by a group of Fascists and racists who are willing to see the Knesset without Arabs and want to see the country without Arabs,” said Tibi.
Together, the Arab lists hold seven of the 120 seats in the Knesset.
Tibi said he would appeal to the high court, while Zahalka said his party was still deciding how to proceed.
Pordes remarked that the last time a party was banned it was the late Rabbi Meir Kahane’s Kach Party, a list from the 1980s that advocated the expulsion of Arabs from Israel.
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