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Monday, November 19, 2012

Hamas's Khaled Meshaal says he is not against a truce, but he wants his demands met, including an end to Israeli attacks


Israel-Gaza: truce talks ongoing in Cairo – live updates: Live coverage as Egypt peace talks continue amid fears... 
Live coverage as Egypt peace talks continue amid fears of ground invasion
Israeli soldiers wake after sleeping in a deployment area on 19 November 2012 on Israel's border with the Gaza Strip. Photograph: Lior Mizrahi/Getty ImagesIsraeli soldiers wake after sleeping in a deployment area on 19 November 2012 on Israel's border with the Gaza Strip. Photograph: Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images
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A CNN poll has found that nearly six in ten Americans think the Israeli assault on Gaza is justified, Politico reports. The wording of the question was unclear:
Only a quarter of Americans think the Israeli response to rockets fired at the country’s cities is unwarranted, the CNN/ORC poll found, while 57 percent believe Israel’s response is proper, and 19 percent have no opinion.
The last time Israel waged a major offensive against Hamas, in January 2009, 63 percent of Americans believed Israel’s actions were justified. In the poll released Monday, 59 percent of Americans sympathized with Israelis, and only 13 percent with the Palestinian people.
The IDF press department is devoting a lot of time to making sure it gets across its reasons for the Shurooq bombing. The tweets continue:
Ma'an's live blog says the Israeli army is saying the Islamic Jihad militant Ramez Harb, who was killed in the Shurooq media building today, was "responsible for propaganda".
Haaretz's live blog says the three other Islamic Jihad militants targeted in the building were all injured.
The IDF lists the four militants:
IDF spokeswoman Avital Leibovich adds:
IDF spokeswoman Avital Leibovich continues:
Updated 

Shurooq media building

The IDF's official Twitter account and that of military spokeswoman Avital Leibovich have put out tweets discussing the attack on the media building in Gaza City:

Shurooq media building

Mark Regev, the Israeli prime minister's spokesman, is suggesting on al-Jazeera that Hamas is using journalists as human shields. Israel does not target journalists, he said.
An al-Aqsa journalist lost a leg in yesterday's strike on the building. Regev seemed to draw a distinction between al-Aqsa journalists and those working for the international media. al-Aqsa is Hamas's official TV station. He also described the building as hosting part of Hamas's "command and control" network.
Russia Today has published video purporting to show the moment of today's strike on the Shurooq building. The video, which was uploaded today, appears to be shot from the back side of the tower. It has not been independently confirmed that the attack depicted is today's strike.
Updated 

Shurooq media building

The Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad has confirmed that one of its top leaders was killed in the strike today on the Shurooq media building, writes Tom McCarthy. Locals initially thought the dead man was the owner of a computer store on the third storey of the city centre building, Reuters reported. At least one person was wounded in the attack. Most members of the media evacuated the building after it was first hit yesterday. The Shurooq building housed both local Arab and international media agencies such as al-Arabiya, al-Quds TV, Sky News, France 24 and Russia TV.
Israeli officials have not yet commented specifically on the strike, except to say that buildings associated with Gaza militants are a legitimate target.

Iran

Reuters reports that among the Israeli government's concerns is that "If they go to war against their arch-enemy Iran's nuclear programme, the Islamist Hamas-governed Gaza Strip could serve as a launch pad for the reprisals promised by Tehran". That raises the prospect that part of the motivation of the last week's destruction of missile-launching sites has been to make sure those sites are unable to be used in the event of any conflict with Iran.

Truce prospects

Hamas's Khaled Meshaal says he is not against a truce, but he wants his demands met, including an end to Israeli attacks and the lifting of the siege, Reuters reports.

Prospect of ground invasion

The Daily Beast's Eli Lake reported on Saturday that Binyamin Netanyahu had given private assurances to Barack Obama that there would be no ground invasion of Gaza - "but those plans would change, he said, if Hamas escalated its rocket war".
Updated 

Rocket fire

Israeli military spokeswoman Avital Leibovich tweets that 116 rockets were fired today from Gaza into Israel.

Ceasefire dispute

Reuters has been speaking to a senior Israeli government official about Khaled Meshaal's comments suggesting Israel had been the ones calling for truce talks:
Hamas's comments about a ceasefire, alleging that Israel is begging for one, are about as accurate as its claims to have shot down an F-15 or attacked the Knesset.
The Hamas chief also said Israel had to take the first step towards a truce. "Whoever started the war must end it." And he said he would not yield to any Israeli conditions in truce talks.

Shurooq media building

ITV is reporting that an Islamic Jihad commander was killed in the Shurooq media building.

Khaled Meshaal

Abdel-Rahman Hussein sends one more quote from Hamas's Khaled Meshaal in Cairo:
All options are available. If Israel wants a ceasefire brokered through Egypt, then that is possible. Escalation is also possible, especially as there are differences in Israeli statements. We are prepared and ready for all options.

West Bank

My colleague Mona Mahmood has interviewed a resident of the West Bank, Sameeh Muhssein. He says that people began to demonstrate in solidarity with their fellow Palestinians in Gaza as soon as they heard about the death of Ahmed al-Jabari on Wednesday. He says reaction of people on the West Bank in support of Gaza was much firmer than it had been in 2008, when people were still affected by the “tense relations” between Hamas and West Bank rulers Fatah at that time.
Demonstrations in the West Bank are attempting to reach Israeli settlements of the Ofer and Qalandiyia checkpoints, he says. “Some of them even reached the edge of Beit Ilyia settlement where the Israeli military command are.”
The Israeli army ran to disperse these demonstrations, which led to the wounding of many protesters and the arrest of a few of them. The Palestinian police started to gather in the streets of the West Bank, warning people against protesting near the Israeli settlements or checkpoints.
The Palestinian Authority is trying to stop the protesters ... under the pretext of not having more casualties. If the aggression continues in Gaza, I can promise you there will be a third intifada as the political solution looks really futile and people are very upset here as they learn every few minutes of more martyrs in Gaza. We can't put our feelings in a refrigerator and just keep watching; it is really heartbreaking watching the bodies of the children under the debris.
People are unhappy with Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas]'s two speeches related to the aggression against Gaza and are making jokes of them as they did not live up to the level of risk the people in Gaza are living in and the audacious crimes committed by the Israeli army.
People in West Bank highly respect Ahmed al-Jabari, who is originally from al-Kahliel city, in the south of the West Bank and went to Gaza to join the al-Qassam brigade. He is a respected national figure and gained the love of the people after the deal exchanging prisoners. People resent the level of corruption we have here, and Jabari was well known as an honest man and never involved in any case of corruption. That is why they are upset about losing him.
Updated 
Israel has denied Meshaal's assertion that it was Netanyahu who requested the truce talks, Reuters reports.

Khaled Meshaal

Abdel-Rahman Hussein has more on Khaled Meshaal. The Hamas leader says calls for a truce have come from Israel, which has requested the US, Egypt and other countries consider the prospect. "No requests for a truce have come from Hamas," he says.
The BBC's Jon Donnison says Meshaal said Hamas was not interested in escalating the situation.

Shurooq media tower

The BBC's Paul Danahar tweets this picture of the Shurooq media tower in Gaza City after the attack today. The fire brigade has now put out the fire and are searching for survivors, he says.

Khaled Meshaal

Abdel-Rahman Hussein in Cairo sends these quotes from Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal's press conference:
Morale on the ground is high, in our people in Gaza and our resistance fighters. Compare that with the morale of Netanyahu. They have been taken by surprise.
Netanyahu had three goals and many messages but he didn't succeed. He succeeded in assassinating the hero Ahmed al-Jabari. He wanted deterrence, and he has failed. He wanted to destroy the infrastructure of the resistance, and he failed. Thirdly he wanted to tell Gazans he has the initiative, to strike when I want, but the youth have responded with 'No'.
The messages he is trying to send are numerous, but ... the messages went to the wrong address. He wanted to be seen as a hawk to win his election but it won't work. He wanted to test the new, revolutionary Egypt and Egypt has responded in a way he didn't desire. He wanted to test the Arab spring countries but the response was strong. He also wants to market his new advanced weapons but the simple weapons of Gaza has exposed him. With what army and people will he wage war after this, he has no will and no patience, he has no legitimacy.
He wanted to confuse Obama in his second term after backing the wrong horse in the US election. This is a terrified enemy which has miscalculated.
We don't have the same military or deterrence capabilities but we have deterred them with our will.
Our enemy is drowning in the blood of children.
Updated 
Adalah, the legal centre for Arab minority rights in Israel, has emailed to say that "bombing the civilian media building constitutes a war crime". The Shurooq building housed both local Arab and international media agencies such as al-Arabiya, al-Quds TV, Sky News, France 24 and Russia TV. It was also hit yesterday, prompting Adalah to write to Brigadier General Danny Efroni, chief military advocate general of the Israel Defence Forces:
Under international customary law, civilian objects enjoy full protection from any attack. Attacks must be limited strictly to military objectives. Insofar as objects are concerned, military objectives are limited to those objects which by their nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution to military action, and whose total or partial destruction, capture or neutralization, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military advantage. According to these criteria “Al-Shoroq Tower” is a civilian building, and therefore it is prohibited to attack it.
Most media organisations left the building after yesterday's strike.
Updated 
Gaza City on 19 November 2012Gaza City on 19 November 2012. Photograph: Sky News
Above is the scene in Gaza City showing the bombed Shurooq media building.
At his press conference in Cairo, Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader, says an Israeli ground offensive would not be a "picnic" for Israel. It would be a "political disaster" and Netanyahu would lose the Israeli election in January, Meshaal says.
If they wanted to do it, they would have done it already, he says.
Updated 

Gaza City

At least one person has been killed in an attack on the Shurooq media building in Gaza City, al-Jazeera is reporting.
Updated 
Meshaal says the resistance fighters' morale is sky high. They are all united, he says.
Our enemy, armed to the teeth with conventional and unconventional weapons, were surprised, he says. They were shaken while our heroes are standing steadfast and unshaken.
Over on BBC News, Daniel Taub, Israel's ambassador to Britain, calls this a "chilling performance" and attacks Meshaal for lionising terrorists as "martyrs".

Khaled Meshaal press conference

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal is speaking in Cairo at the moment. He says he is proud of the Palestinian people, and of the Egyptian people.
He says it pains him to see a single Palestinian child die.
He grieves for those who have lost their dear ones and their homes.
The treacherous enemies have killed Ahmed al-Jabari, he recalls.
He loved Jabari as he loves all the heroes of Palestine, he says.
Jabari was not an ordinary person. The enemy has dealt us a great blow, he says.
He has confidence about the current action despite the difficult conditions they are working in.
Updated 

Ceasefire prospects

Reuters has also been talking to an Egyptian official about the ongoing peace negotiations. This official said Egypt was receiving "encouraging signals" about a ceasefire and said both Israel and Hamas were seeking guarantees.
What we are trying to agree on is to achieve a ceasefire and achieve some possible guarantees, and then later discuss more guarantees.
The news agency notes that both Hamas and Israel have summarised their ceasefire terms on social media sites:
Izzat Risheq, aide to Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshaal, wrote on Facebook that Hamas would enter a truce only after Israel "stops its aggression, ends its policy of targeted assassinations and lifts the blockade of Gaza".
Listing Israel's terms, vice-prime minister Moshe Yaalon wrote on Twitter: "If there is quiet in the south and no rockets and missiles are fired at Israel's citizens, nor terrorist attacks engineered from the Gaza Strip, we will not attack."

Palestinian statehood

According to a Palestinian official, Middle East Quartet envoy Tony Blair was in Ramallah this morning to renew efforts to persuade the Palestinian leadership to delay its drive to get the United Nations general assembly to recognise a Palestinian state, Harriet Sherwood reports. The Palestinian official expressed surprise and anger that he was focusing on this issue, rather than the ongoing Israeli offensive in Gaza. "[He is] way more concerned about delaying our vote at the UN than stopping a ground invasion of Gaza," he said. The Palestinians would not be deterred from pressing ahead with a vote on statehood recognition on 29 November, he added.
Updated 

Ceasefire prospects

The Associated Press quotes "a senior Egyptian official" as saying that Egyptian mediators are hoping to have a clearer idea on the possibility of a ceasefire by the end of the day today. The official said he hoped that "by the end of the day, we will receive a final signal of what can be achieved".

Casualty figures

The Palestinian death toll has now risen to 94, reports the Associated Press, as Israel's most recent policy of targeting the homes of Hamas activists results in much higher numbers of civilian casualties. Fifty civilians have died so far, according to Gazan health officials, while over 700 have been injured.
AP reports that Hamas fighters have fired 75 rockets into Israel today. Twenty of those were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome counter-missile system. No deaths were reported; many of the rockets landed in open areas. Three Israelis died on Thursday, and dozens have been wounded, according to AP.
Updated 

Ceasefire prospects

Egypt is the key player in any attempt to mediate a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, reports our Middle East editor Ian Black. He weighs up the prospects for a ceasefire:
Egypt has powerful reasons of its own for helping to defuse an already bloody crisis that risks becoming a wider and even more dangerous conflict. In that respect Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood president, is following a similar path to his overthrown predecessor Hosni Mubarak, though Morsi is far closer to Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement that rules Gaza. Morsi is unlikely to do anything to jeopardise his country’s 32-year-old peace treaty with Israel.
Talks in Cairo between Egyptian general Intelligence and Israeli security officials are focusing on finding a mechanism to end the current bout of fighting, while the Egyptians meet separately with Hamas. The trick, as with any negotiation, will be reaching an agreement that allows both parties to claim to their respective publics that they have achieved something tangible from the blood-letting.
Hamas wants a guarantee from Israel that it would end “targeted assassinations” of the kind that killed Ahmed al-Jabari last Wednesday. It would also need pledges about opening the crossing points into Egypt and Israel - in effect lifting the blockade of the coastal enclave. Israel is insisting at minimum on an end to the cross-border rocket fire which has more or less united public opinion behind Operation Pillar of Defence.
Any deal would include other elements that are unlikely to be made public. Israel certainly wants the Egyptians to crack down on the network of tunnels that are Gaza’s lifeline to the outside world. Food and other goods are one thing, but the missiles that allow Hamas or more militant groups to strike targets in Tel Aviv and elsewhere in Israel’s urban heartland are another.
Hanging over the whole discussion, writes Ian, is the much advertised threat that Israel will mount a ground offensive inside Gaza, something which the US and other western countries have warned against. Israeli public opinion has its doubts as well.
Neither Egypt nor Israel want to see the collapse of Hamas rule in Gaza. The PLO in the West Bank, weakened by the perception that it is somehow complicit in Israel's policies, is in no position to take over.
But even if a ceasefire is achieved, it will take a far broader and more sustained effort, with wide international support, to revive the moribund peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. It is the absence of any such peace efforts for the last four years that have led to this latest brutal episode in the long and bloody history of the conflict.
Updated 

Summary

Here is a summary of today’s key points so far:

Israel

• The Egyptian prime minister, Hisham Kandil, has said a deal to stop the fighting in Gaza and Israel could be close. Negotiations are going on in Egypt at the moment. Kandil said: “I think we are close, but the nature of this kind of negotiation [means] it is very difficult to predict.” Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported that Binyamin Netanyahu, his defence minister Ehud Barak, and his foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, have agreed "to give international efforts to bring about a ceasefire more time". An official close to Netanyahu said Israel would prefer a diplomatic solution to a ground invasion. Nevertheless, troops remain massed at the Gaza border.
• Israeli air strikes on Gaza as well as Palestinian militant rocket attacks on Israel continued today, with Israel bombing dozens of suspected militant sites in the Gaza Strip, bringing the death toll in Gaza since Wednesday to 90; three Israelis were killed by a Palestinian rocket last Thursday.
• Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, headed to Cairo to join the peace talks. He said: "Any further escalation will inevitably increase the suffering of the affected civilian populations and must be avoided." The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, described Israel as a "terrorist state" carrying out "terrorist acts" in Gaza. China said it was "extremely concerned" about Israel's bombing of Gaza, which it characterised as "over-use of force". The Egyptian foreign minister, Mohamed Kamel Amr, is to head to Gaza tomorrow with other Arab ministers to "express solidarity" with the Palestinians. 
• The BBC reported that the Israeli military did intend to hit the house in Gaza City where 10 or 11 members of the Dalou family, including four children, were killed yesterday. A spokesperson said the IDF believed Yahio Rabiya, a senior Hamas militant, was hiding in the house, but Israel did not know if he was actually in the house when it was bombed.

Syria

• A group of extremist Islamist factions in Syria has rejected the country's new opposition coalition, saying in a video statement they have formed an "Islamic state" in the embattled city of Aleppo to underline that they want nothing to do with the western-backed bloc.
 Government forces have fired rockets into southern Damascus in what activists say is the heaviest bombardment in 40 days of air strikes and artillery shelling against rebels.
• Turkey is expected to request today that Nato missiles be placed on its border with Syria to defend against mortar rounds fired from its neighbour.
Updated 

Interview with Gaza resident

My colleague Mona Mahmood has been talking to Samier Na'awoum, a Gaza resident. Na’awoum told her:
We live in great fear all the time. The situation is very difficult. Rockets are falling all the time in different places. Children are in panic all the time and can't sleep owing to the repeated explosions.
I live with my brother who has three children. We are following the TV and radio at home but the news is so confusing. Once we heard that there will be a truce and the bombardment will be stopped, which gave us a big relief, but then after half an hour we listened to another report telling us that a land incursion will be conducted by the Israeli forces by tanks. When we hear that we freeze and do not know what to do with the children and our thoughts get very negative, thinking of death only.
We won't leave our homes whatever happens and even if we think of leaving where shall we go? All the doors are blocked in our faces. The shelling is targeting civilians and residential areas. You can't move one step as the rocket might land at any moment and kill you ...
There is no power at all, most of the shops are closed, few bakeries are open. It’s so hard to get fuel. No sleep at all, as you have to calm down the children all the time. There are no shelters to hide in – all we do when we hear the rockets, we run to the basements, but most of the families who live in apartments or makeshift houses do not have basements …
It is simply hell and we are waiting for death to happen at any moment. The government in Gaza can help us with nothing as they themselves are targeted too.
Updated 

Ceasefire negotiations

Israel's Haaretz newspaper reports that prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, his defence minister Ehud Barak, and his foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, have agreed "to give international efforts to bring about a ceasefire more time".
Updated 

Eilat

Ma'an, the Palestinian news agency, reports that the blast in Eilat, right on the south-eastern tip of Israel, this morning, was caused by militants in the Egyptian territory of Sinai "who detonated an explosive device near Israeli workers installing [a] border fence".
This map shows where Eilat is in relation to Gaza.

West Bank

Here's a video of West Bank Palestinians protesting against and throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers.

Truce negotiations

The Egyptian prime minister, Hisham Kandil, has said a deal to stop the fighting in Gaza and Israel could be close. Negotiations are going on in Egypt at the moment. Kandil said:
Negotiations are going on as we speak and I hope we will reach something soon that will stop this violence and counter-violence. I think we are close, but the nature of this kind of negotiation [means] it is very difficult to predict.

Gaza blast last night

This video shows a huge explosion in Gaza City shortly after midnight.
Updated 

Dalou family

The BBC is reporting that the Israeli military did intend to hit the house in Gaza City where 10 or 11 members of the Dalou family, including four children, were killed yesterday. A spokesperson said the IDF believed Yahio Rabiya, a senior Hamas militant, was hiding in the house, but Israel did not know if he was actually in the house when it was bombed.
Gaza residents search through debris of Dalou family following Israeli air strikeGaza residents search through the debris of the Dalou family's house following the Israeli air strike yesterday. Photograph: Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images

Rocket attacks

The Israel Defence Forces tweet that since last Wednesday 570 rockets from Gaza hit Israel, and 307 more were intercepted by the Iron Dome defence system.

Turkey

According to Reuters, the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has described Israel as a "terrorist state" carrying out "terrorist acts" in Gaza. Erdoğan said at a conference of the Eurasian Islamic Council in Istanbul:
Those who associate Islam with terrorism close their eyes in the face of mass killing of Muslims, turn their heads from the massacre of children in Gaza.
For this reason, I say that Israel is a terrorist state, and its acts are terrorist acts.

Ofakim

The Haaretz live blog on the conflict reports that a rocket from Gaza has hit Ofakim, just west of Gaza. This map shows where that is.

Gaza rockets

Avital Leibovich, the Israeli military spokeswoman, has tweeted this picture purporting to show that Palestinian militants fired two rockets at Tel Aviv from Gaza's football stadium.
That Gazan militants are firing from densely populated civilian areas is a message the IDF are also trying to get across:
The IDF also reports that a rocket has hit a house in Ashkelon today.

Prospect of ground invasion

Reuters has been speaking to a "senior official close to" Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister. The official said Israel would prefer a diplomatic solution to the conflict to a ground invasion:
We would prefer to see a diplomatic solution that would guarantee the peace for Israel's population in the south. If that is possible, then a ground operation would no longer be required. But if diplomacy fails, we may well have no alternative but to send in ground forces.