January 30, 2011

EDITOR: Egypt’s revolution affecting all around

Despite the still unclear results of the Egyptian mass movement towards ridding the country of its dictator and his corrupt regime, the momentous events sent waves of terror towards Israel and the other corrupt Arab regimes surrounding it.  With Rafah being the single, fragile gateway into and out of Gaza, this is a difficult time for Palestinians there, who, like most of us, are wishing success to the marchers in Egyptian cities, who share with them the need and urge for freedom and democracy.

Concern mounts in Gaza as Egypt shuts down its shared border: Haaretz

Gaza border official Ghazi Hamad says Egyptian counterparts indicated the crossing could remain closed for several days.

There was widespread concern in the Gaza Strip on Sunday after Egypt decided to shut down the Rafah border crossing until further notice amid growing unrest.

The Islamist Hamas movement, which rules the Gaza Strip, said it was officially informed by Egyptian security officials that the Rafah crossing would be closed.

Gaza border official Ghazi Hamad said they had been in contact with their Egyptian counterparts and indicated that the crossing could remain closed for several days.

The Interior Ministry in Gaza said in a press statement Saturday that it had redeployed dozens of security personnel to guard the border, to prevent any infiltration of Palestinians from the coastal enclave into Egypt.

Salah al-Bardaweel, a senior Hamas leader in Gaza, said there was so far no official Hamas position on the turmoil in Egypt.

“All what we hope is to see calm and stability are back in Egypt and that the Egyptian people choose their representatives freely and democratically,” said al-Bardaweel.

In a Gaza city cafe, a group of young men expressed concerns over the situation in Egypt. Mohamed al-Shawa said, “We depend on Egypt in so many things in our life, and Egypt has been always our gate for the outside world … we are afraid that Egyptian fuel would be cut off.”

Ahmed Abu Sido, another young Gazan, said: “If the regime in Egypt collapses, I believe that all Arab regimes will follow.”

‘Don’t take our girls …’: Al Jazeera online

Jewish-Palestinian couples in Israel face increasing pressure as racism becomes more open.

”]Not long after religious nationalists held a rally in Bat Yam under the banner of “Jewish girls for the Jewish people,” a group of rabbis’ wives published a letter urging Jewish women not to date Arab men.

Jewish-Palestinian couples remain uncommon in Israel. But both the rally and letter point towards the difficulties faced by such couples, even those from liberal backgrounds.

Rona, a young professional Jewish woman in her early thirties who asked to be identified by a pseudonym, has kept her relationship with a Palestinian man a secret from most of her relatives for almost four years.

While her parents know and have met Rona’s boyfriend, Rona says that she is at a point where she is “actively lying” to the rest of her family.

“I don’t know how to articulate how they’d react, “Rona says. “I think that my aunt and uncle know that there is someone … and they definitely know that he’s Arab. But it’s more about my grandmother and her sisters and the older generation. It’s like if [I] were to bring home a mass murderer.”

She laughs nervously and continues.

“It just doesn’t happen. It’s like: ‘Bring home somebody who is a total loser, but don’t bring home an Arab.'”

Rona describes her parents’ political views as “moving more left but kind of traditional,” adding, “my mum always says that she thinks that the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank in 1967 was a mistake and that [Israel] should have returned the territories.”

Still, Rona did not tell her parents about her relationship right away.

“There was a period of time I was hiding it for convenience’s sake. I just wanted to enjoy my life and not be harassed.”

When she did talk to her parents about her boyfriend, who is a non-practicing Muslim, they sidestepped the issue of his race, focusing instead on “cultural differences”.

“I was like, ‘What are you saying? That he’s going to come home one day and want me to put on a hijab? Do you know what the cultural differences are?'” Rona recalls. “So I took immediate offense to this concept. I thought it was racist from the get go.”

Her parents also objected to the relationship because “it would be so difficult for us to live here together,” Rona says, due to the widespread discrimination they would face.

She describes the first time her parents met her boyfriend as “awkward”.

“I think it was actually their first personal interaction with an Arab, other than [those working in] stores and restaurants. I think it was a very emotional encounter for them. They liked him and my mum said he seemed like an amazing guy.”

Still, Rona’s mother insisted that she not put herself “in that kind of a situation”.

Rona says that she has not felt any racism coming from her boyfriend’s family. But, because of the political situation, there are moments when she feels a divide between them.

She was living with her boyfriend when Operation Cast Lead began in December, 2008. Her boyfriend’s mother, whose sister lives in the Gaza Strip, happened to be visiting when the war began.

“We were watching the news and they were showing the first strikes, the air attack,” Rona recalls. “His mum was screaming and crying and cursing the army and the Israelis and the Jews and everyone and I was standing there like ‘I don’t know what to do.’ On the one hand, I wanted to show her that I care. On the other, does she now want an Israeli Jew to put her arm around her? But I did.”

History of mixed marriages

Although Israel’s religious nationalists have only recently spoken against such relationships, they are far from new. Jews and Arabs have been falling in love in Palestine for as long as both have been there.
Iris Agmon, a professor in Ben Gurion University’s department of Middle East studies, says: “In the Ottoman sharia court records one can find women whose nicknames hint to the fact that they are converted Muslims.” And some of these women were probably Jewish.

After Ottoman rule ended, the British mandate also saw such couples. Deborah Bernstein, a professor in the University of Haifa’s department of sociology and anthropology, says that although there is no “systematic documentation or even discussion of the subject … it is clear that such a phenomena did exist”. She found family stories of these couples while researching her Hebrew-language book about women in mandatory Tel Aviv.

Bernstein also discovered “archival welfare documents,” pointing to such relationships. “For example, [one referred to] a [Jewish] woman leaving her husband and children and going to live with an Arab man.”

In most cases, Bernstein says, Jewish women converted to Islam before marrying their Arab partner. She believes that a majority of these couples left Israel when it was established in 1948.

Bernstein did not come across any examples of Jewish men marrying Christian Arab or Muslim Arab women.

Bernstein adds that the Jewish community was “very strongly opposed” to “mixed marriages”.

“This was the case in [Jewish immigrants’] countries of origin,” Bernstein says, explaining that the opposition to mixed marriages took on an “additional national element” in Israel.

But, sometimes, protests against such relationships ran the other way – leaving a lasting impact on generations to come.

The Palestinian grandson of such a marriage lives in a neighbouring Arab country. According to Jewish religious law, he is not Jewish. While, technically, many of his cousins are Jewish, they do not know it – their grandmother’s conversion is a strictly-guarded secret, shared with only a few members of the family.

Segregation

Because it remains an extremely sensitive issue for both communities, a number of Jewish-Palestinian couples declined my requests for interviews. Several are so concerned about family reactions, they have not told their parents about their Jewish or Arab partner.

But Alex and Salma are lucky. Alex is the son of Jewish Israeli leftists. Salma is a young Palestinian woman whose Communist parents raised her and her four sisters with only a nod to their Christian roots. Because their families are so progressive, Alex says, their relationship is “relatively simple”.

“The first song I learned to sing was shir l’shalom [song for peace]. We’ve gone to demonstrations since I was a toddler. So I was always on the left,” he explains, “but I never knew any Palestinians.”

Alex’s comment points to the deep divisions in Israeli society that make Jewish-Palestinian relationships so unlikely.

“[Society] is built in a way that doesn’t help relationships,” Salma says. “Everything is segregated. The educational systems are separated … People don’t meet. And if they do meet, they meet under unusual circumstances, like at a demonstration.”

Even though both Alex and Salma grew up in liberal homes, the two were no exception – it was activism that brought them together.

And it helps keep them together. Most of their friends hold similar political views, providing a buffer from the rest of Israeli society.

“You know, we sort of chose our lives,” Salma says. “I can’t be friends with racist people so it’s easy to avoid. But I think if we would have gone out to more parties we would have faced more problems.”

Still, things are only “relatively simple”.

Alex recalls running into a friend from school who made a racist and obscene remark about his relationship with Salma. And one of Salma’s closest childhood friends stopped speaking to her when she joined a Jewish-Arab group that advocates for a bi-national solution to the conflict.

“I think it comes out more than that,” Alex adds.

Salma nods and begins to explain: “I have one sister who got married last summer. She knows Alex and his family very well, so she wanted to invite [them] …”

She pauses and, a bit like an old married couple, Alex picks up the thread and continues: “And the oldest sister says, ‘What are you going to invite all of your Zionist friends?'”

There is a flicker of hurt on Alex’s face as he remembers. “Now, this comes out of nowhere. I refused [mandatory military service],” Alex says. “I’m definitely not a Zionist. I refused and my parents aren’t Zionists.”

Alex emphasises that he maintains a warm relationship with Salma’s oldest sister and that her remark came during an emotional argument. But, Alex says, the incident pointed to something that “can’t be completely erased … that the relationship can’t be normalised. It always has to be politically justified.”

What do such tensions say about Israeli society?

“Nothing good,” Alex answers.

The couple is also concerned about the recent outbreak of open racism in Israel.

“I think the hatred is becoming more and more explicit,” Salma says, pointing to the rally in Bat Yam and the rabbis’ wives’ letter as two examples. “It’s ‘don’t take our girls’ ….”

Israeli Arab who spied for Hezbollah jailed for nine years: Haaretz

Ameer Makhoul was detained by the Shin Bet and police anti-terror units last May; struck plea bargain with prosecution.

Ameer Makhoul at court

The Haifa District Court on Sunday sentenced Israeli Arab activist Ameer Makhoul to nine years in prison and another year suspended sentence for charges of spying and contact with a foreign agent from the Lebanon-based Hezbollah militant organization.

Makhoul’s lawyers struck a plea bargain with the prosecution in October 2010, in which they asked for a reduced sentence of seven years, while the prosecution asked for 10 years – the maximum sentence for the charges against him.

The verdict stated that Makhoul handed intelligence to a Hezbollah agent on Shin Bet installations in the Haifa region and on Mossad offices in the center of the country. He also attempted, the verdict said, to pass on information about a military base and sought details about the residence of Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin.

Makhoul, director general of the charity Ittijah (Union of Arab Community-Based Associations), was detained by the Shin Bet security services and police anti-terror units on May 6, along with fellow Israeli Arab activist Omar Saeed.

Saeed struck a plea bargain in August, under which he will be charged with working for an illegal organization, a crime that carries a punishment of several months’ jail-time.

Upon his arrest, Makhoul was kept from meeting with a lawyer or speaking with his family for nearly two weeks, during which he confessed to the accusations. His lawyers later claimed the confession was coerced. They were finally allowed access to Makhoul only after threatening to boycott a hearing.

Makhoul, a veteran activist well-known among Arab charities and NGOs, was a regular participant in conferences on discrimination in Israel and abroad and has been a virulent critic of government policy.

Europe’s failure on Middle East peace: The Guardian CiF

Attempts to reconcile policy contradictions have prevented the EU from mounting an alternative foreign policy to that of the US

Many have questioned why the European Union failed to provide an independent view to that of the United States on Middle East policy during the last decade. It is not a simple question to answer. Partly, the EU failed to assert its voice because, at the beginning of the decade, it was scrambling to contain the impact of inflating US hubris, fuelled by the defeat of Saddam Hussein. Partly, it was also a simple reflection of most European politicians’ dependency on Washington. But the release of the Palestine Papers provides another answer.

They show how Tony Blair in particular had so undercut the political space that there was effectively no room for it. In a secret policy switch in 2003, he tied the UK and EU security policy into a major American counter-insurgency (Coin) “surge” in Palestine.

It was an initiative that would bear a heavy political cost for the EU in 2006, and for years to come, when Hamas won parliamentary elections by a large majority. The EU’s claims for democracy have rung hollow ever since. Blair’s “surge” also left the EU exposed as hypocrites: on a political level, for example, the EU might talk about its policy of fostering reconciliation between Palestinian factions, but at the security plane, and in other ways, it was pursuing the polar opposite objectives.

In 2003, US efforts to marginalise Yasser Arafat by leeching away his presidential powers into the embrace of the prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, collapsed. Arafat dismissed Abbas as PM. This was a blow to the US policy which – even then – was focused on creating a “de-Fatah-ised” Palestinian Authority. George Bush complained to Blair bitterly about Abbas’s dismissal: the Europeans still were “dancing around Arafat” – leaving the US to “do the heavy lifting” with the Israelis. Europeans were not pulling their weight in the “war on terror”, Bush concluded.

Blair’s Coin surge was his response to Bush. The Palestine Papers reveal “a security drive” with the objective of

“degrading the capabilities of the rejectionists: Hamas, PIJ [Palestinian Islamic Jihad], and the al-Aqsa Brigades – through the disruption of their leaderships’ communications and command and control capabilities, the detention of key middle-ranking officers, and the confiscation of their arsenals and financial resources held within the occupied territories. US and – informally – UK monitors would report both to Israel and to the Quartet. We could also explore the temporary internment of leading Hamas and PIJ figures.”
The papers also show how the project ballooned: a huge investment in training and infrastructure of the security services, building prisons to accommodate the possible introduction of internment for Hamas members, the establishment of the Dayton military battalions to confront Hamas, the planning to depose Hamas in Gaza, the targeted assassination of Hamas leaders. Even the international Quartet was engaged to work with Arab states’ intelligence services in order to disrupt Hamas’s sources of financing.

The “surge” sucked in everything: aid, economic assistance, institution-building – all were reoriented towards the counter-insurgency project. Ultimately, the Palestinian state-building project, and the Coin surge, were to become one.

Against this counter-insurgency background it is not surprising that Hamas’s victory in the 2006 polls only prompted a further increase in European “off-balance sheet” assistance to the EU/US-made security sector. At a political level the Europeans were attempting to keep an independent voice, the Palestine Papers show, when EU envoy Marc Otte spoke with Saeb Erekat two months after the Hamas election.

Otte: EU has to deal with the reality of a Hamas-led government … In this respect, EU position is different from the US.
Erekat: How is this position different?
Otte: US wants to see a Hamas government fail. The EU will encourage Hamas to change and will try to make things work as much as possible.
Inevitably, the EU’s actions spoke louder than Otte’s words. The EU had endorsed the Quartet conditions for engagement with Hamas – conditions that the UN representative at the time told the UN secretary general were hurdles raised precisely in order to prevent Hamas from meeting them, rather than as guidelines intended to open the path for diplomatic solutions. Soon after, British and American intelligence services were preparing a “soft” coup to remove Hamas from power in Gaza.

EU standing in the region has suffered from the contradiction of maintaining one line in public, while its security policies were facing in another direction entirely. Thus, we have the EU “talking the talk” of reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas while “walking the walk” of disruption, detention, seizing finances, and destroying the capabilities of one of the two factions.

Thus we have EU “talking the talk” of aid for Palestinians, while “walking the walk” of tying that aid to the objectives of the US security project; we have the EU “talking the talk” of Palestinian state-building, while Palestinian institutions are dispersed to external control; we have the EU “talking the talk” of democracy, while it colludes with a system of government exercised through unaccountable decree, and parliament is prevented from exercising any function.

This catalogue of attempts to reconcile an internal policy contradiction has pre-empted the EU from mounting any effective foreign policy alternative to that of the US on the “peace process”, and has eaten away its standing in the region. The legacy of Blair’s 2003 surge has been a highly costly one, as the Palestine Papers well illustrate.

• This article appeared first on al-Jazeera. Copyright reserved.

Mubarak’s dictatorship must end now: The Observer Editorial

It is in the interest of autocratic Arab nations to note the mood in Egypt and effect change

Days of rage in Egypt signify the end of days for Hosni Mubarak’s repressive and bankrupt regime. For 30 years, the president has held his country down through fear, secret police, emergency laws, American cash subsidies and a lamentable absence of vision and imagination. His crude, Gaullist message: without me, chaos. Now the chaos has come anyway. And Mubarak must go.

Five days of rage on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and dozens of other cities have transformed the way Egypt sees itself. For years, they said it was impossible. The regime was too powerful, the masses too apathetic, the security apparatus too ubiquitous. Like eastern Europeans trapped in the Soviet Union’s cold, pre-1991 embrace, they struggled in the dark, without help, without hope. Movements for change, such as Kefaya (Enough!), were brutally suppressed. Courageous dissidents such as Ayman Nour were harassed, beaten and imprisoned.

Yet all the time, pressure for reform was rising. Every day, higher prices, economic stagnation, poverty and unemployment, political stasis, official corruption and a stifled, censored public space became less and less tolerable. Every day, impatience with the regime’s insulting insouciance bred more enemies. Hatred seeped like poison through the veins of the people. Until, at last, in five days of rage, as if as one, they cried: “Enough!” And now, Mubarak must go.

Fittingly, Egypt’s youth led the way against the old order, using not guns or bombs but the arsenal of 21st-century information technology: social media, mobiles, texts and emails. The Paris mob of Bastille notoriety became, through peaceful evolution, the flash mob of Tahrir Square. They espoused no leaders. They wrote no plans. In fast-moving, separate but interconnected street offensives, they out-thought, outfoxed and outran the police.

With the once omnipotent security forces looking beatable, Egyptians of all backgrounds rose to join the fight: students, trade unionists, women, rights activists, Islamists and, crucially, the great workers’ army of Egypt’s employed and unemployed. Here, truly, was people power in all its magnificent might. Here was democracy in the raw. Here was the legitimacy of an Egypt freed of its old fears and suddenly alive to its changing destiny. In five days of rage, they seized control of their country’s future. And so, inevitably, Mubarak must go.

It is clear that Mubarak does not share this view and that the army, for now, is backing him. The 82-year-old’s television appearance on Friday night only underscored how little he understands the causes of the tumult. Like Tunisia’s recently deposed president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Mubarak chided the demonstrators, insisted stability was all and shifted the blame to others, sacking his cabinet and promising another. He gave no assurances about this autumn’s elections, made no mention of his intentions or those of his purported heir, Gamal, though his selection yesterday of his old henchman Omar Suleiman as vice president hinted at a new succession strategy, and offered no vision of reform. He made plain he would not go.

This impasse is not acceptable, this deadlock cannot be sustained. It is damaging to the region, to Egypt’s western friends and, most of all, to Egypt itself. All concerned now have an urgent duty to think afresh.

For unreformed Arab regimes that look to Egypt for leadership, the message is clear. Several, following Tunisia’s example, have been rattled by attempted uprisings. In Jordan, in Yemen, in Algeria, a common theme emerges: demands for inclusive, open, honest governance and for economic opportunity and social freedom.

These demands may only be addressed by a root-and-branch reconstruction of governance. As a string of UN reports in the past decade has illustrated, the Arab world is being left behind by other regions, whether the benchmark be literacy, educational achievement, private enterprise, healthcare or women’s rights. These trends, if allowed to continue unchecked, promise only more days of rage, more instability and more grief. A good start would be the renunciation by Arab leaders of objectionable dynastic succession plans that, in Libya, Syria and elsewhere, have seen favoured sons follow, or be selected to follow, their fathers into power. In Egypt, Gamal Mubarak must state publicly he will not seek the presidency once his father has gone.

For western countries, particularly the US, the paymaster of the Mubarak regime, a radical new approach is also now required. In recent days, Barack Obama has increased the pressure on Mubarak. But he has not, as yet, withdrawn his personal support. That should change.

Obama, David Cameron and EU leaders must tell Mubarak that his time is up, that the appointment of an interim government of national unity, the release of political prisoners, the suspension of emergency laws and free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections is the only way forward they will support. Other autocratic Arab regimes must hear the same message. The west’s postwar dance with Middle Eastern tyranny is ending. That it would end in tears and teargas is wholly unsurprising. But end it must. The regimes must reform from within, with help from without. There is no sane or safe alternative.

For sure, it is a fraught proposition. But what great reform moment is not? In place of Mubarak and men of his ilk, western leaders fear the rise of militant Islam, the ascendancy of groups such as Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, and a general loss of influence and stability in a Middle East made free for democracy. As Palestine fractures under the weight of revelations about secret negotiations with Israel, as shaky Lebanon faces a new Hezbollah-led government, and as Iran crows over what it hopes will be the domino collapse of the “apostate” regimes, the US takes fright at a world unravelling beyond its control.

Courage and vision are required in Washington as well as Cairo. The US, Britain and other western governments that have wrongly valued stability above freedom should take inspiration from the brave people of Egypt. They have shown the way. In five days of rage, they overcame their fears, broke with the old ways and made a glorious, chaotic yet purposeful lunge for a future full of hope for all. They made a reality of democracy. Now they must make their choice freely. So, first, Mubarak must go.

Cairo protesters stand their ground: Al Jazeera

Warplanes and helicopters flew over the main square and more army trucks appeared in a show of force but no one moved.
Protesters have rejected the president’s cabinet reshuffle and are demanding that he resign [AFP]
Egyptian air force fighter planes buzzed low over Cairo, helicopters hovered above and extra troop trucks appeared in a central square where protesters were demanding an end to President Hosni Mubarak’s rule.

State television said that a curfew has been imposed in the capital and the military urged the protesters to go home.

But the thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square choosed to stay on Sunday.

The show of defiance came as Egypt entered another turbulent day following a night of deadly unrest, when looters roamed the streets in the absence of police.

Opposition groups in the country have called for national unity, and Mohamed Elbaradei, a leading opposition figure, has arrived at Tahrir Square to join the protests.

The National Coalition for Change, which groups several opposition movements including the Muslim Brotherhood, appointed ElBaradei with negotiating with Mubarak’s government.

As the protests continue, security is said to be deteriorating and reports have emerged of several prisons across the country being attacked and of fresh protests being staged in cities like Alexandria and Suez.

Thirty-four leaders from the Muslim Brotherhood were freed from the Wadi Natroun jail after guards abandoned their posts.

The protesters in Cairo, joined by hundreds of judges, had collected again in Tahrir Square afternoon to demand the resignation of Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president.

Al Jazeera’s correspondent, reporting from the scene, said that demonstrators confronted a fire truck, at which point army troops fired into the air in a bid to disperse them.

He said the protesters did not move back, and a tank commander then ordered the fire truck to leave. When the truck moved away from the square, the thousands of protesters erupted into applause and climbed onto the tank in celebration, hugging soldiers.

Main roads in Cairo have been blocked by military tanks and armoured personnel carriers, and large numbers of army personnel have been seen in other cities as well.

Reporting from Cairo earlier on Sunday, Al Jazeera’s Dan Nolan said it was a “long way from business as usual” in the Egyptian capital on the first working day since protests peaked on Friday.

He said that extra military roadblocks had been set up in an apparent attempt to divert traffic away from Tahrir Square, which has been a focal point for demonstrators.

“It’s still a very tense scene to have so much military in the capital city of the country.”

Earlier in the morning, Al Jazeera’s Jane Dutton, also in Cairo, reported that the city appeared deserted in the early hours.

“The streets are very dirty, there is debris everywhere. The police have just disappeared. Any security at this stage is in the hands of the army.”

Al Jazeera’s correspondents in the port city of Alexandria have also said that anti-government protests have begun there, with hundreds of people on the streets.

The air force in Cairo has been attempting to disperse protesters, with fighter planes flying low over Tahrir Square on Sunday.

Al Jazeera correspondents say the noise from the planes was deafening and that the planes repeatedly flew over the crowds.

The security situation in the capital has prompted the country’s interior minister to hold meetings with top officials on Sunday.

Habib al Adli met Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the defence minister, and vice president Omar Soliman, state television reported.

As the police withdrew from streets across Egypt, Adli has been the target of growing criticism by the protesters who have called on him to resign.

The absence of police has given looters a free rein, forcing ordinary citizens to set up neighbourhood patrols.

According to Dina Magdi, an eyewitness, unidentified men on Sunday morning came out of the interior ministry compound in a car and dumped a body on a street. They then opened fire on people present in the area and fled. There were no immediate reports of casualties in that attack.

‘Chaotic’ scenes

Al Jazeera’s sources have indicated that the military has now also been deployed to the resort town of Sharm el Shaikh.

Sherine Tadros, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in the city of Suez, said the city had witnessed a “completely chaotic night”, but that the streets were quiet as day broke.

She reported that in the absence of police and military, people were “tak[ing] the law into their own hands”, using “clubs, batons, sticks, machetes [and] knives” to protect their property.

“People are trying to get back to normal, but of course this is anything but,” she said, adding that as the day wore on, the military had set up several checkposts in an attempt to “show people that they are here and … will provide some kind of security”.

Rawya Rageh, our correspondent in Alexandria, reported similar scenes, saying that people were particularly concerned about their personal safety and that of their property.

She reported that the military in Alexandria was not focusing on protesters, attempting instead to prevent any further damage or theft of property.

Anti-Mubarak protests have engulfed Middle East’s most populous nation since last Tuesday. More than 150 people have been killed in the unrest.

On Saturday, an embattled Mubarak sacked his cabinet and appointed a vice-president and a new prime minister. But the move has failed to douse anger on the streets

Dutton said that protesters are unlikely to stop demonstrating, as they “want one thing, and one thing only: they want the leadership to go”.

As international powers express concern regarding events in Egypt, the US state department has reduced its diplomatic presence in Egypt, saying it had authorised the voluntary departure of dependents of diplomats and non-essential workers.

Report: Cyprus recognizes Palestinian states within 1967 borders: Haaretz

Palestinian news agency WAFA says Cyprus President Christofias sent letter to PA leader Abbas, stating his hope that a Palestinian state will be formed with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Cyprus has recognized a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, the official Palestinian news agency WAFA said on Sunday, following similar recent declarations coming mostly from South American states.

On Friday, Paraguay’s government too said it recognized a Palestinian state based on pre-Six-Day War borders, following similar moves by other South American countries in recent months.

Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia and Uruguay have also recently recognized a Palestinian state along the pre-war borders. Chile and Peru have given their recognition to a Palestinian state as well, but without specifying borders.

Within the European sphere there has been less of an inclination to unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state, however, a growing trend to upgrade Palestinian missions to embassies has emerged. Prominent European states who have already announced this upgrade include France, Spain and Ireland.

The Israeli assessment is that Britain, Sweden, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Denmark, Malta, Luxembourg, Austria and perhaps other states are considering a similar move.
According to the Palestinian news agency WAFA report on Sunday, the EU member decided to break ranks, sending Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a letter from Cyprus President Dimitris Christofias, in which he reportedly recognized a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders.

According to the WAFA report, Christofias wrote in his letter to Abbas of the “historic deep relations” between Palestine and Cyprus, stating his hope that a peace agreement would be reached which would ensure an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Last week, the Foreign Ministry reprimanded Ireland’s ambassador to Israel Breifne O’Reilly for the nation’s decision to upgrade the Palestinian mission, saying Israel was “very disappointed” and that “this does not contribute to the peace process in any way.”

O’Reilly reminded the FM official that Ireland had already stated its intention to upgrade the Palestinian mission to an embassy, and promote the head of the mission to the status of ambassador.

The reported recognition of Palestine by Cyprus comes as a relative surprise amidst efforts to strengthen ties between Israel and Cyprus. Israel is attempting to form new Mediterranean alliances after falling out with former major ally Turkey in the aftermath of Israel’s raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in May of last year.

The Egyptian masses won’t play ally to Israel: Haaretz

As long as the masses in Egypt and in the entire Arab world continue seeing the images of tyranny and violence from the occupied territories, Israel will not be able to be accepted, even it is acceptable to a few regimes.
By Gideon Levy
Three or four days ago, Egypt was still in our hands. The army of pundits, including our top expert on Egypt, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, said that “everything is under control,” that Cairo is not Tunis and that Mubarak is strong. Ben-Eliezer said that he had spoken on the phone with a senior Egyptian official, and he assured him that there’s nothing to worry about. You can count on Fuad and Hosni, both about to become has-beens.

On Friday night everything changed. It turned out that the Israeli intelligence estimates, which were recited ad nauseum by the court analysts, were again, shall we say, not the epitome of accuracy. The people of Egypt had their say, and had the nerve not to fall in line with Israeli wishes. A moment before Mubarak’s fate is sealed, the time has come for drawing the Israeli conclusions.

Not a plague of darkness in Egypt but the light of the Nile: the end of a regime propped up by bayonets is foretold. It can go on for years, and the downfall sometimes comes at the least expected time, but in the end it will happen. Not only Damascus and Amman, Tripoli and Rabat, Tehran and Pyongyang: Ramallah and Gaza are also destined to be shaken.

The hypocritical and sanctimonious division of countries by the U.S. and the West between the “axis of evil” on the one hand, and the “moderates” on the other, has collapsed. If there is an axis of evil, then it includes all the non-democratic regimes, including the “moderates” and the “stable” and the “pro-Western.” Today Egypt, tomorrow Palestine. Yesterday Tunis, tomorrow Gaza.

Not only is the Fatah regime in Ramallah and the Hamas regime in Gaza destined to fall, but perhaps also, one day, the Israeli occupation, which certainly meets all the criteria of criminal tyranny and an evil regime. It too relies only on guns. It too is hated by all levels of the ruled people, even if they stands helpless, unorganized and unequipped, facing a big army. The first conclusion: Better to end it well, with agreements based on justice and not on power, a moment before the masses have their say and succeed in banishing the darkness.

A second, no less important conclusion: Alliances with unpopular regimes can be torn up overnight. As long as the masses in Egypt and in the entire Arab world continue seeing the images of tyranny and violence from the occupied territories, Israel will not be able to be accepted, even it is acceptable to a few regimes.

The Egyptian regime became an ally of the Israeli occupation. The joint siege of Gaza is irrefutable proof of that. The Egyptian people didn’t like it. They never liked the peace agreement with Israel, in which Israel committed itself to “respect the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people” but never kept its word. Instead, the people of Egypt got the scenes of Operation Cast Lead.

It is not enough to have a handful of embassies in order to be accepted in the region. There also have to be embassies of goodwill, a just image and a state that is not an occupier. Israel has to make its way into the hearts of the Arab peoples, who will never agree to the continued repression of their brothers, even if their intelligence ministers will continue to cooperate with Israel.

If there’s one thing shared by all factions of the Egyptian opposition, it is their seething hatred of Israel. Now their representatives will rise to power, and Israel will find itself in a difficult situation. Neither will anything remain of the virtual achievement that Netanyahu often paraded – the alliance with the “moderate” Arab regimes against Iran. A real alliance with Egypt and its sister-states can only be based on the end of the occupation, as desired by the Egyptian people, and not on a common enemy, as an interest of its regime.

The masses of the Egyptian people – please note: on all levels – took their fate in their hands. There is something impressive and cheering in that. No power, not even that of Mubarak, who Ben-Eliezer likes so much, can overcome them. In Washington the gravity of the moment has already been understood, and they were quick to dissociate from Mubarak and tried to find favor in the eyes of his people. That should happen at some point in Jerusalem.

Egypt unrest causes fuel shortage in Gaza Strip: Haaretz

Merchants and tunnellers say pace of smuggling of fuel and other materials had dropped in recent days and reached its lowest level on Saturday

Gaza Strip residents flocked to petrol stations on Saturday after clashes in neighbouring Egypt hampered smugglers ferrying fuel supplies through tunnels that run under the border into the enclave, witnesses said.

Merchants and tunnellers said the pace of smuggling of fuel and other materials had dropped in recent days and reached its lowest level on Saturday as clashes between Egyptian residents of north Sinai and security forces intensified.

Fearing that makeshift fuel pipes that run through the smuggling tunnels would soon dry up completely, Gaza car owners filled their tanks to the brim and also took extra cans to stock up with additional supplies.

“Move now and fill your car,” read a mobile phone text message that Gazans circulated.

A statement issued by Hamas officials tried to calm fears by issuing a statement saying that there was no shortage of any goods in the coastal strip but it did not deter drivers from filling their cars.

Palestinian get most of their fuel from Egypt through a network of underground tunnels.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak sent troops and armoured cars into Egyptian cities on Friday in an attempt to quell street fighting and mass protests demanding an end to his 30-year rule.

Egyptian troops have a high presence in Rafah and police the border to try to prevent the smuggling of munitions and goods into the Gaza Strip that is partially blockaded by Israel.

Sounds of gunfire and explosions on the Egyptian side of the border could be heard across the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah where Hamas security forces have been placed on high alert to prevent any possible breach of the border fence.

A Hamas interior ministry spokesman said the border was “secure and there were no violations.”

Only a few dozen tunnels remain along Gaza’s border with Egypt due to repeated Israeli air strikes and a stepped-up security crackdown by Egypt. Three years ago hundreds were used to smuggling munitions for militant factions.

Israel tightened its land, air and sea blockade of the Gaza Strip in 2007 after Gaza militants abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in a cross-border raid.

Tunnellers have said their business has become less lucrative because of the increased risk that has raised prices and because Israel has eased its restrictions on the importation of civilian goods and has allowed goods to be exported from the
territory.

Funeral of Yousef Ikhlayl Attacked by Israeli Military, Dozens Injured: Palestine Solidarity Project

29 JANUARY 2011
On January 29th, 2011, thousands of residents of Beit Ommar as well as from surrounding villages attended the funeral of Yousef Fakhri Ikhlayl, the 17-year-old boy shot in the head by Israeli settlers the day before. Yousef was brain-dead in Al-Ahli Hospital in Hebron before succumbing to his wounds early in the morning.

The Israeli military attacked the funeral around 12pm, shooting live and rubber bullets into the crowd as well as throwing sound bombs and tear gas. Over 40 people suffered from a range of injuries that included live gunshot wounds, none of which appeared serious.

After noon-time prayers an estimated 10,000 people carried Yousef’s body through the streets of Beit Ommar. The villagers also waved Palestinian flags and chanted against the occupation. As the crowd neared the military tower at the entrance to the village on the way to the cemetery, soldiers within the tower began throwing sound bombs and tear gas into the crowd. Several funeral participants responded by throwing stones at the tower.

More Israeli Forces in jeeps and on foot came into the area and began shooting live and rubber bullets. Most of the crowd dispersed at this point, carrying the injured people away. Several residents stayed and continued to confront the occupying army with stones. Soldiers closed the entrance to the village for four hours and occupied three buildings. including one of the village schools. The army continued shooting gas and ammunition at people and houses alike until about 3pm. At one point, weaponry was used against a Palestinian ambulance attempting to give first aid to an injured person.

Contrary to claims by the Israeli Military of “clashes” in Beit Ommar and Saffa between Israeli settlers and Palestinian resident the day before when Yousef was shot, in reality he was murdered while working on his family’s fields with his father. About 100 armed settlers from Bat Ayn entered Palestinian land and began shooting live ammunition, fatally injuring Yousef and also wounding another 16-year-old boy in his arm. It took the Israeli Military almost two hours to arrive in the area, at which point they escorted the settlers away instead of arresting those responsible for ending the life of a 17-year-old boy.

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