Tag Archives: Palestinian

Jordan: All-out UNRWA strike could hit vulnerable refugees

AMMAN, 27 May 2009 (IRIN) – A pay dispute between employees and the management of the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) in Jordan could affect vulnerable refugees, especially in the many UNWRA-run schools and clinics.

Thousands of UNRWA employees went on strike 12-14 May in UNRWA facilities, members of the teachers committee who declined to be identified, said, and an all-out strike – potentially paralysing hundreds of clinics and schools across Jordan – is being threatened.

The employees are demanding a 7 percent pay rise, in line with a promised government pay rise of the same magnitude for civil servants.

During the three-day strike, about 124,000 students in different parts of the kingdom, including all 10 of the UNRWA-run refugee camps, were unable to attend classes, according to UNRWA.

The strike involved about 10,000 workers, including teachers, doctors, sanitation workers and administration officials, teachers committee members say. However, some media reports put the figure at 7,000.

Health centres and refuse collection activities also came to a halt, and the alleyways of the al-Hussein-camp in Amman filled up with rubbish during the three-day strike.

Disgruntled

One of the disgruntled teachers, Salem (not his real name), said he was also a refugee and deserved a “decent salary”.

“People used to envy us. due to the good salaries, but as the years passed by and inflation ate into our pay, people began to pity us,” he told IRIN.

Salem shares his two-room concrete home near the centre of the al-Hussein-camp with his wife and eight children. He said he had no option but to strike: “The salary is barely enough for 10 days. What to do for the rest of the month?”

UNRWA provides services to Palestinian refugees who arrived in Jordan after the 1948 and 1967 wars with Israel. Together with their offspring, they now number nearly 1.8 million.

UNWRA “needs time”

Meanwhile, UNRWA officials in Amman said the strike, which came less than a month after a one-day work stoppage for the same reason, was “futile”.

UNRWA spokesman in Amman Matter Saqer said he was “concerned about the fate of tens of thousands of students as well as beneficiaries of health care in the camps and outside.”

“We made all possible efforts up to the last minute to avert the strike. We did not want this to happen, but schools were closed and health care clinics stopped working,” said Saqer, stressing that the UN agency never ignored its workers’ demands, but “needs time”.

According to officials from the Department of Palestinian Affairs (DPA), which manages the affairs of the 1.8 million Palestinian refugees, UNRWA needs urgent financial assistance to implement its programmes and increase its budget.

UNRWA’s camps contain 338,000 registered refugees, while the total number of registered refugees in Jordan is 1,951,603.

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GPM received funds from Foreign Minister

19 March 2009
Kuala Lumpur
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Malaysia organised a Cheque Presentation Ceremony to Malaysian Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) for the implementation of Humanitarian Programmes for Palestinians in Gaza at the Institute of Diplomacy and Foreign Relations (IDFR), Kuala Lumpur. The ceremony was graced by Datin Paduka Seri Rosmah Mansor who presented cheques amounting to RM11 million to Malaysian NGOs to implement various projects identified under 4 main categories, namely Basic Needs, Health and Medicine, Children and Education as well as Humanitarian Work.
 
As of 17 March 2009, the total amount donated by the Malaysian public to the Humanitarian Fund for the Palestinian People has reached RM13,630,741. 29.
For the Micro Financing Project, Global Peace Mission (GPM) Malaysia together with Aman Palestine and Haluan Palestine received a sum of RM2,000,000. 00; while under the Assistance for Bakeries Project a sum of RM1,000,000. 00 was allocated to GPM and Muslim Care.

Hj Mohd Nur Anuar Hashim, President of GPM represented GPM at the ceremony. Exco members  Mohd Azlan Shariff and Mohd Halimi Abdul Hamid together with CEO Mohd Asri Abdul and Mohd Shakir Fahmi were also present.

All together 13 NGO’s received a total off RM11,000,000. 00 in allocations; as recognition for their involvement and activism in helping the Palestinian cause especially in Gaza.

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Deepening humanitarian crisis in Gaza: Lessons for operational agencies

INTRODUCTION

On 27 December 2008, in response to continued rocket fire from Gaza on southern Israel, Israeli forces launched “Operation Cast Lead” – a combined land and air military operation in the Gaza Strip.

As well as causing damage to infrastructure and buildings, this operation had a considerable human cost. According to OCHA the operation has left 1,336 Palestinians dead, including an estimated 430 children and 110 women; 5,450 Palestinians injured, including 1,870 children and 800 women.

Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire on 17 January, which was put into effect on 18 January, and Hamas and other Palestinian factions also declared a ceasefire later the same day. This ended the fighting, although several attacks have occurred resulting in at least one Israeli and five Palestinians killed and several rockets have been launched. The last few weeks have seen the deployment of a substantial humanitarian effort, with appeals from the

Disasters Emergency Committee in the UK, and the Gaza Flash Appeal from the UN which totalled some $686m.

This lessons paper aims to distil key lessons for senior and mid-level managers in operational settings, as well as those staff working to support relief efforts from a regional / HQ level. It draws on the findings of a desk review, including evaluation reports in the ALNAP Evaluation Reports Database, and an extensive telephone-based research process with key international and national actors working in Gaza and Jerusalem.

While attempts were made to look at other comparable crises, the point was made at numerous times that there was no comparable situation. However, there are some partial parallels to the conditions facing agencies – for example, Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Lebanon – and wherever possible, these have been drawn upon.

The fifteen lessons covered in this paper are divided into four sections. These sections each relate to specific areas of agency work, and while they have been separated for ease of reading, it is important to highlight that in complex settings, each of these areas are interconnected and, done effectively, should be mutually reinforcing.

The majority of these lessons focus on humanitarian concerns, although attention is also paid to recovery and reconstruction issues.

Special thanks are due to all those involved in the response, at head office and operational level, who gave their valuable time to this process, as well as peer reviewers who commented on the draft document.

Please send any feedback and comments on this paper to alnap@alnap.org.

Shahrul Peshawar – those who are from local Malaysian Ngo’s should read and understand the report.  It may help you in planning your next disaster activities.

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UN says Israel blocks most Gaza aid

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says Israel only allows a meager amount of humanitarian aid to enter the impoverished Gaza Strip.

The United Nations strives to provide relief to one million people daily inside a coastal sliver that is home to 1.5 million people, Ban said during a news conference on Tuesday.

Israel, however, is only allowing supplies enough for 30,000 people to get through and only from one crossing, he added.

“We are experiencing serious difficulty in getting all the materials, humanitarian assistance, so it is absolutely necessary that they open the crossings,” the secretary general affirmed while announcing plans to launch a probe into Israel’s bombing of UN compounds during its war on the Gazan population.

Ban told reporters that although Israel has completely ignored his calls, he “will continue to urge that” Tel Aviv allow more aid into the Palestinian strip.

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International has largely criticized Ban for being too timid on the extent of an inquiry into Israel’s attack on its facilities.

“What is needed is a comprehensive international investigation that looks at all alleged violations of international law by all armed groups involved in the conflict,” Irene Khan, the secretary general of Amnesty International, said in an announcement.

Khan added that researchers have found clear evidence of war crimes during the operation – in which more than 1300 Gazans have been killed and over 5300 others have been injured.

MT/AA

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23 proofs of Israel’s defeat in the 23-day war

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Israel began its Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in the Gaza Strip on December 27, 2008, an almost three-week long bloodbath which killed or wounded thousands of civilians.

Taking into consideration the lessons the regime learned from its defeat in the summer 2006 war against the Lebanese Hezbollah, Tel Aviv avoided setting out any specific objectives for its military operation in a bid to enable it to claim victory after the conflict ended.

The Israeli military initially presumed that it could settle its old score with Hamas and crush the movement in a matter of days. Relying on the support of some Arab states which viewed Hamas’s defeat as a blow to Iran, the regime, therefore, took the opportunity provided by the transitional period in the White House and escalated its bombing campaign into a full-blown ground offensive to kill Hamas leaders once and for all.

The plan, however, blew up in the face of its masterminds; everything spiraled out of control and the Israeli Army found itself stuck in a quagmire. Subsequently, the leaders of the Kadima Party who were on the brink of political bankruptcy and had resorted to the plan to save themselves ahead of the general elections, had to hastily find a way to clean up the mess.

They unilaterally declared a truce to break the deadlock while disguising their military failure as a humanitarian act.

However, Israeli military and political officials interestingly are still boasting about a decisive victory over Hamas. The reality on the ground proves the opposite; it indicates a defeat more humiliating than what the regime suffered in the 33-day war.

Israel was, without doubt, the loser because:

1- From the military perspective, “the most powerful” army in the Middle East which faced only a militia group hardly advanced into the Gaza Strip’s urban areas. It faced fierce resistance and realized that the price of any military victory would be too high.

2- At the beginning of the operation, Israel announced that the operation was aimed at preventing rocket attacks by Hamas and other Palestinian groups against Israeli towns. Palestinians, however, continued striking Israeli targets, even in the last hours of the war.

3- Hamas extended the range of its rockets and managed to hit targets as far away as 60 kilometers from the Gaza Strip. In fact, the Israeli operation helped Hamas boost its military might.

4- In the course of killing civilians, the Israeli regime set up a factory for producing living time bombs which will jeopardize the security situation for Israel. Civilian casualties in any conflict always radicalize members of bereaved families. Following the massacre of civilians in Gaza, it is more likely that those Palestinians who adopted a nonviolent approach to resist the Israeli occupation, will now turn to military tactics. Keep in mind that many of them have noting to lose.

5- Israel hastily signed an agreement with the US-a third party which was not directly involved in the war-to prevent “the arm smuggling” into the Gaza Strip. The deal envisaged measures to prevent Hamas from rearming, going so far as to for example seek US assistance in policing sea routes to Gaza and providing Egypt with the equipment to destroy smuggling tunnels along its border with the coastal sliver. This was however nothing but a propaganda tactic to persuade public opinion that the war had had some achievements. Shin Bet’s announcement that Hamas will be able to rearm within a few months supports this notion. The Israeli media has also revealed that Washington has given no guarantees to Tel Aviv that Hamas would not be rearmed.

6- Hamas has vowed to restore its arsenals, dealing a blow to Israeli officials who claim that the movement has been “punished” and it knows that it cannot continue its armed campaign against Israel.

7- No high-ranking Hamas leader, except Said Siyam, was killed in the Israeli operation. In fact, it is estimated that out of more than thousands of victims of the Israeli offensive, only 95 people were Hamas members and most of them were killed on the first day of the attack when Hamas was caught off guard due to alleged betrayal of some Arab states.

8- Israel’s defeat by a small group has shattered the image of an invincible army that overpowered the army of several Arab nations in 1967. It would not be surprising if Israel’s arch foes were encouraged to settle their old score with the regime after its recent defeat. No matter what you have in your arsenals, you are considered the loser if you have been defeated in your enemy’s mind. Israel seems to have entered the spiral of decline.

9- From the political perspective, Israel’s situation is not any better than the one in the military arena. For the first time, two Israeli ambassadors were expelled, a big diplomatic humiliation for Tel Aviv.

10- The indiscriminate killing of civilians including women and children drew international condemnation to the point that the US, which always vetoes UN Security Council resolutions against Israel, was neutralized and gave in to mounting international pressure when the council voted on a binding resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire.

11- Israel’s strategy of decreasing Hamas’s popularity through putting pressure on the Gazans has obviously backfired. The Islamic movement emerged more popular than ever before after the war, because any group or person who deals a blow to Israel will be praised as a hero in the eyes of Arab nations. We witnessed the phenomenon during the 33-day war which made Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah the most popular Arab leader in the Islamic world.

12- Following the Gaza war, Mahmoud Abbas’s political life came to an end. Now, Abbas who was reportedly preparing himself for returning to Gaza after the Hamas government was toppled, has to desperately beg to political brokers to find a place for him in the political future of Palestine. If Abbas loses in the Palestinian Authority general elections – a strong possibility given the situation after the Gaza war- Israel will lose its partner for peace talks.

13- Kadima’s hopes for victory in the upcoming elections have been dashed. In other words, right-wing parties like the Likud and people like Israel Beitenu’s and Shas’s hawks will come to power, fanatics who do not even believe in peace. Israel should brace itself for days during which there would be no hope for a political solution to the current conflict.

14- The Gaza war managed another sort of uncalled for achievement for Israel: it united all Muslims and anti-Israeli parties across the world! The world has never witnessed such massive anti-Israeli rallies.

15- Hamas has set a good example for others. A small group managed to defeat the most powerful army in the Middle East. It would not be surprising if someday, we see Israel struggling to survive in a battle with a host of small or big groups and organizations which adopt military resistance as their approach.

16- The Israelis have realized that their leaders are unable to protect them; there is no safe place inside the occupied territories. It means that Israel’s worst nightmare is coming true: a dramatic rise in the rate of negative immigration followed by major demographical impacts. It could shake the foundation of the Israeli regime through changing the Jewish people to a minority group in occupied Palestine. The apprehensions about this issue have so far prompted the regime to deny Palestinian refugees the right to return to their land.

17- After the war, the world is recognizing Hamas as a major player whose role can no longer be ignored and it cannot be excluded from any political process in the Middle East.

18- Prime Minister Ismail Haniya called the war “Forqan”, a Quranic word meaning what separates good and evil. The outcome of the war weakened those Arab states who had adopted a pro-Israeli stance. On the other hand, it also highlighted the significance of the role of pro-resistance countries including Iran and Syria. Therefore, the balance of power has changed with regards to Israel’s interests.

19- Kadima leaders made a fool of themselves and showed that they lack the qualifications required to lead the regime. Kadima, which was set up by former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to end the regime’s political deadlock, committed a political suicide by attacking Gaza.

20- The war also weakened the political base of those leaders of Islamic countries who are close to Israel. They have to face their people. The process has already started as we have witnessed demonstrations in some countries in which political or social protests are rare.

21- Despite nonstop bombing of the Gaza Strip by unconventional weapons, Gazans kept their high morale, a fact reported by Western journalists. There were no long queues of people at border crossings wanting to flee to a safe place. Inside Israeli towns, scores of people were treated for “shock” everyday. In other words, Israel has also lost the psychological war.

22- The war unfortunately fueled anti-Semitic sentiments across the world. Although attacks on Jews or their property under any pretext are certainly condemned, the fact indicates that Israel, despite paying lip service to the world Jewry, never considers the interests of the Jewish. Tel Aviv even turned down a request by 11 prominent leaders of the British Jewish community who asked the regime to stop its offensive for the sake of their security.

23- There are and will be groups which will open legal cases against Israel in international courts for its war crimes in Gaza. If Hamas had been destroyed, Israeli leaders might have been able to claim that it had been worth paying such a heavy price. But without achieving anything, how can they justify their acts which have drawn a wave of international condemnation?

The Gaza war has certainly changed the status quo against Israel. History seems to repeat itself; the situation is the same as that of the days after the end of the 33-Day War except for one thing: this time, the regime has no excuse to justify its defeat; there was no inexperienced defense minister leading the war.

The Gaza war dealt the last blow to the Israeli regime and its end result is the start of a battle within the regime which will put its very existence at risk.

Those who make a mistake once may be considered as inexperienced but those who repeat their mistakes are certainly judged as being “incompetent and insane”. Shall we expect another Winograd report?

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Press Statement MERCY 14th January 2009

PRESS STATEMENT
MORE LIFE-SAVING SUPPLIES FOR THE PALESTINIANS

KUALA LUMPUR, WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 14, 2009
MERCY Malaysia has deployed two more aid workers to Cairo, Egypt, to help deliver humanitarian assistance to the people in Gaza.

MERCY Malaysia Executive Council Member Prof Dr Ikram Mohd Salleh and volunteer Dr Al-Amin Mohamad Daud’s role would be to determine and manage medical supplies and equipment procured by MERCY Malaysia for the population in Gaza affected by the Israeli attack in the past 18 days.

The two will also co-ordinate the purchasing and equipping of 4 ambulances as well as a mobile blood bank unit. Currently, there are only 30 ambulances in Gaza but the need is for 40, after bombs destroyed dozens of ambulances. The mobile blood bank unit will deliver blood supply to the wounded.

These efforts are part of MERCY Malaysia’s comprehensive plan of action to deliver humanitarian assistance to the population in Gaza

In the past three days, MERCY Malaysia has delivered two more consignments of medicines and medical equipment into the war-torn area.

Lorries were loaded with surgical sets and disposable items including syringes, intravenous infusions and bandages by MERCY Malaysia’s second team in Cairo – MERCY Malaysia Programme Officer Mohammad Said Alhudzari Ibrahim and volunteer Syed Zahid Syed Mohamad who were deployed to Cairo on Jan 9.

Last week, a first consignment of medicines and medical equipment weighing 50 tonnes were transported in five trucks into Gaza by the first team from MERCY Malaysia, which consisted President Datuk Dr. Jemilah Mahmood, Executive Council Member Nor Azam Ab Samah and Programme Officer Muhammad Fitri Muhammad Hashim.

The first three consignments have cost approximately USD300,000.

An order has been place for a fourth consignment which will include, apart from medical disposables, wheelchairs and crutches, to fill the pressing needs among Gazans wounded by the Israeli attack, now in its 18th day.

Since the Israeli onslaught of the Gaza Strip, homes, hospitals and other infrastructure have been severely damaged. Basic needs have become top commodity.

Another worry is that the complete breakdown of sewage systems in Gaza could cause diseases to spread.

Given the seriousness of the situation in Gaza, a number of doctors have been allowed into the Strip. In Malaysia, MERCY Malaysia has put 20 volunteer doctors on standby for deployment.

To date, the conflict in Gaza has resulted in 884 dead, including 257 children and 93 women. Another 3,860 are injured and this includes 1,333 children and 587 women.

The MERCY Malaysia Palestine Relief Fund has chalked RM5.35 million, thanks to the generous contributions of the public and corporate donors. This includes a RM1 million donation from PETRONAS, MERCY Malaysia’s Corporate Partner, and a USD1 million contribution from the Malaysian Government.

MERCY Malaysia has been able to work for the Gaza survivors because of the generous contributions of the Malaysian public.

Please continue to donate to the Palestine Relief Fund through MERCY Malaysia. For CIMB users, make cheques payable to MERCY MALAYSIA through account number 1424-000-6561053. MAYBANK users may make cheques out to MERCY HUMANITARIAN FUND at account number 5621-7950-4126. Please indicate “Palestine Relief Fund” on the back of the cheque.

For more information, please contact 03-22733999 or log on to www.mercy.org.my


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In Remembrance of Tom Hurndall

If Tom still with us today, he will be very sad on what had happenned to the Palestinian for the past 17th day.  Tom, you’ve made your parent proud.

tom-hurndall2

Shahrul Peshawar, Alor Setar

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Israel pounds new Hamas targets, enlists reserves

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Israeli warplanes pounded the homes of Hamas leaders and ground troops edged closer to the Gaza Strip’s densely populated urban center Monday, as Israel weighed a decision to escalate its devastating offensive.

Despite the tightening Israeli cordon, militants managed to fire off at least four rockets Monday morning. There were no reports of injuries, though one rocket hit a house in the southern city of Ashkelon.

Black smoke rose over Gaza City’s suburbs, where the two sides skirmished throughout the night. At least six Palestinians died in the new airstrikes or of wounds on Monday, Gaza health officials said. One of the dead was a militant killed in a northern Gaza battle.

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The army announced Sunday that it was sending reserve units into Gaza to assist thousands of ground forces already in the territory. The use of reserves is a strong signal that Israel is planning to move the offensive, which Gaza officials say has killed some 870 Palestinians, into a new, more punishing phase.

Israel launched the offensive on Dec. 27, bombarding Gaza with dozens of airstrikes before sending in ground forces a week later. The operation is meant to halt years of Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel. Fighting has persisted despite international calls for a cease-fire. Thirteen Israelis, including 10 soldiers, have died.

Egypt, which often serves as a mediator between Israel and Hamas, has been playing a key role in trying to forge a cease-fire. In Cairo, Egypt’s state-owned news agency reported progress in truce talks with Hamas but provided no specifics.

International Mideast envoy Tony Blair was in Cairo on Monday, meeting with President Hosni Mubarak following talks with Israeli leaders on Sunday. Egypt has put forward a three-stage proposal to end the fighting.

“I think the elements of an agreement for the immediate cease-fire are there,” Blair said, adding that, while more work needed to be done, he hoped to see a cease-fire “in the coming days.”

Israel’s representative to the talks, Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad, was in close contact with Egypt. But in a sign that more work is needed, he postponed a trip to Cairo, officials said.

With Israeli troops surrounding Gaza’s main population centers, Israeli leaders have given mixed signals on how much further the army is ready to push, saying the operation is close to achieving its goals but vowing to press forward with overwhelming force.

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“Israel is a country that reacts vigorously when its citizens are fired upon, which is a good thing,” Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told Israel Radio on Monday. “That is something that Hamas now understands and that is how we are going to react in the future, if they so much as dare fire one missile at Israel.”

Israeli security officials say they have killed hundreds of Hamas fighters, including top commanders. However, there has been no way to confirm the claims, and Hamas officials say the group is determined to keep fighting.

The army also says Hamas has been avoiding pitched battles against the advancing Israelis, resorting instead to guerrilla tactics as its fighters melt into crowded residential areas.

In Monday’s fighting, the army said it carried out more than 25 airstrikes, hitting squads of gunmen, mortar launchers and two vehicles carrying Hamas militants.

It also said ground troops came under fire from militants holed up inside a mosque. An Israeli aircraft attacked the squad, and Israeli troops then took over the mosque, confiscating rockets and mortar shells.

Israeli leaders are expected to decide in the next day or two on whether to push the offensive into a third phase — in which the army takes over larger areas of Gaza. This move would require the use of thousands of reserve units massed on the border with Gaza.

A push into densely crowded urban areas would threaten the lives of many more civilians. More than 20,000 Palestinians have already fled Gaza’s rural border areas and crowded into nearby towns, staying with relatives and at U.N. schools turned into makeshift shelters.

International aid groups have repeatedly said Israel must do more to protect Palestinian civilians, who are believed to make up about half of the dead.

Human Rights Watch has accused Israel of firing artillery shells packed with the incendiary agent white phosphorus over populated areas of Gaza. The chemical, used for creating smoke screens and for illuminating battlefields at night, ignites when it comes in contact with oxygen and can cause serious burns and spark fires as it drifts to the ground in long trails of smoke.

Marc Garlasco, a military analyst working for the rights organization, said he witnessed such shelling from the Gaza-Israel border last weekend. He reviewed AP Television News footage on Monday of similar midair fire that he said was white phosphorus.

“You basically have what looks like the head of a jellyfish and the tentacles coming down on fire,” he said. “It’ll burn for approximately five to 10 minutes, depending on atmospheric conditions and this causes extreme fire and the potential for civilian harm.”

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The Israeli army refuses to say whether it’s using phosphorus, saying only it is “using its munitions in accordance with international law.”

White phosphorus is not illegal. Under customary laws of war, however, Israel would be expected to take all feasible precautions to minimize the impact on civilians, Human Rights Watch said.

As soldiers geared up for battle, Israeli President Shimon Peres visited hundreds of reservists at a base in southern Israel on Monday.

“I don’t think Israel has ever had an army better trained, organized and sophisticated than you,” he told them, according to a statement released by his office.

For the time being, the reserve units have been taking over areas cleared out by the regular troops, allowing those forces to push forward toward new targets. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were discussing classified operational strategy.

In addition to Egypt, European envoys have been pressing efforts to negotiate an end to the war even though Israel and Hamas have ignored a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for an immediate and durable cease-fire.

Israel is demanding an end to years of rocket attacks, as well as international guarantees to prevent Hamas from smuggling weapons into Gaza through the porous Egyptian border. This complex goal would require Egyptian or international help in shutting off the smuggling routes.

Israel has been bombing tunnels that run under the Egypt-Gaza border.

In an e-mail message early Monday, Hamas leader Ismail Radwan said his group would not consider a cease-fire before Israel stops its attacks and pulls back from Gaza. He also demanded opening of all border crossings, emphasizing the Rafah crossing with Egypt.

That would relieve economic pressure on the destitute territory but also strengthen Hamas control of Gaza, which Israelis fear will allow the group to re-arm.

In Paris, the French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, said Monday that European military observers should be sent to Gaza to monitor any eventual cease-fire.

Germany’s foreign minister suggested Sunday that Egypt and Israel were favorable to having international experts deployed at the Gaza-Egyptian frontier to stop arms smuggling. Kouchner, however, said Monday that “neither the Egyptians nor the Israelis want international observers on their territory for the moment.”

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Barzak reported from Gaza City and Federman from Jerusalem.

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Humanitarian desperation in Gaza

“The only talk must be of ceasefires and peace, and the safety and rights of ordinary people must be the urgent top priority.”

By Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director, Oxfam International

Two days ago an Oxfam employee living in Gaza risked a desperate drive from his house to find some fresh food for his four young children. There is no fruit or meat and little milk in Gaza now, but he found a few expensive vegetables. And then, because of ongoing bombing and bullet fire, he had to drive around and around the streets near his house, because a parked car is a sitting target until, in the briefest of lulls, he could dash into his home to his terrified family.

Oxfam has had to suspend much of its work within Gaza including one of its largest programs – assisting 65,000 people – for security reasons, though a number of Oxfam partners continue to carry out essential work against impossible odds. UN food aid, relied on by 80% of the Gazan population of 1.5 million, has been severely disrupted for the last week because of the bombing.

Gaza’s civilian population has already borne the brunt of an increasingly severe blockade for the last 18 months, impeding access to a wide range of goods and supplies and making it hard for people to move freely in and out of Gaza. It has been a form of collective punishment illegal under international humanitarian law yet tolerated by the international community.

Now with the ground incursion on the back of a week-long bombing campaign a critical humanitarian situation has become a desperate one. One local Oxfam staff member in Gaza describes power blackouts, people trapped in their homes by the violence – cold, with windows open so they are not blown in by bombs, children screaming in the night.

Lack of fuel is one of the major problems, shutting the Gaza power plant and leaving many people without power for most of the day. Bombing has also damaged power lines and energy-generating infrastructure. Without fuel and power, pumps for wells and water sanitation will increasingly go out of action. Hospitals overwhelmed by casualties are desperately working with back-up generators – if they crash (through overuse or when fuel stocks finally end), desperation will become devastation.

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It is way past time for both Israel and Hamas to renounce violence and to respect the rights of ordinary people. The vulnerable civilians of Gaza, including thousands of children, urgently need an immediate and permanent ceasefire strictly implemented by both sides.

EU and other politicians talk of possible ‘humanitarian pauses’- to a clear negative response so far from the Israeli side. Any pause in hostilities must be welcome; its rejection is gravely disappointing. But a brief cessation of hostilities on its own cannot relieve the increasingly critical situation for ordinary people in Gaza.

They are mostly dependent on regular food aid and are reeling from a week of bombing. They cannot be supplied adequately with cooking fuel or food stocks in a ‘pause’ from attacks of a day or two. Nor can overwhelmed hospitals create more bed space, or give proper treatment to the injured, in the before more dead and injured arrive at their doors. Nor can children go back to school for two days only to then cower frightened at home, nor can the serious work begin of tackling the psychological damage that many civilians suffer in war.

A ceasefire must be combined with a lifting of the blockade so Gazan civilians have access to a wide range of supplies, not just the restricted food, medicines and basic goods that were being allowed through before the bombing started. Humanitarian workers need to be able to work freely in the Gaza Strip without risking their own lives.

Much greater pressure needs to be put on both Israel and Hamas. International players, especially the UN, but also the EU, League of Arab States and others should be engaged in rapid and urgent shuttle diplomacy in the region, engaging intensively to get both to a short run ceasefire and to serious longer term peace talks.

We need an immediate UN security council resolution condemning both the disproportionate use of force by the Israeli government and indiscriminate rocket attacks by Hamas. It should demand an immediate, comprehensive and permanent truce and an end to the blockade, allowing access for humanitarian and commercial goods, and for people too.

There must be no business as usual in international politics in the Middle East until Gazans have a chance to eat, drink and move around with some degree of normalcy, not cower in their homes wondering if and how they will survive. The only talk must be of ceasefires and peace, and the safety and rights of ordinary people must be the urgent top priority.

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Israeli forces draw near Gaza City

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip: Israel pounded rocket sites and tunnels Saturday while its planes dropped leaflets warning of an escalation, and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas predicted a “waterfall of blood” unless all parties adhere to the U.N.’s call for a durable cease-fire.

Hamas fighters kept up attacks on southern Israel, launching 15 rockets. And with neither side ready to step down, the death toll in two weeks of fighting rose to more than 800 Palestinians, according to Palestinian medical officials, and 13 Israelis.

Flames and smoke rose over Gaza City amid heavy fighting.

Diplomacy was not finished, but it appeared to be in retreat following both sides’ defiance of Thursday’s U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a halt to fighting. Struggling to keep peace efforts alive, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak invited representatives of Gaza’s Hamas rulers to Egypt for further talks on his cease-fire initiative.

Defying the international calls for a cease-fire, Israel threatened to launch a “new phase” in its offensive.

The leaflets urged Gaza residents not to help Hamas and to stay away from its members.

Israel launched the offensive on Dec. 27 to halt years of Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel. A week later, ground troops moved in.

Israeli defense officials say they are prepared for a third stage of the offensive, in which ground troops would push much further into Gaza, but are still waiting for approval from the government.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were discussing classified information, said the army also has a fourth stage planned that calls for a full reoccupation of Gaza and toppling of Hamas.

The dropping of leaflets appeared to be partly a psychological tactic.

The Israeli military said more than 15 militants were killed in overnight fighting. It said aircraft attacked more than 40 targets including 10 rocket-launching sites, weapons-storage facilities, smuggling tunnels, an anti-aircraft missile launcher and gunmen.

In the day’s bloodiest incident, an Israeli tank shell killed nine people in a garden outside a home in the northern Gaza town of Jebaliya, said Adham el-Hakim, administrator of Kamal Adwan hospital.

The Israeli military disputed the account, saying its forces did not carry out attacks in that area on Saturday.

Israel has come under international criticism for the rising number of civilian casualties. Palestinian paramedics said the nine people killed in the garden were from the same clan and included two children and two women.

“Residents brought them to the hospital in a civilian car. They put them all in the trunk because their bodies were mangled,” Hakim said.

Separately, a woman was killed by tank fire in the nearby town of Beit Lahiya.

The Israeli army has repeatedly accused Hamas of using civilians as human shields and launching attacks from schools, mosques and homes. Earlier this week, an Israeli attack outside a U.N. school killed nearly 40 people. Both Israel and Palestinian witnesses said militants carried out an attack from the area moments earlier.

Palestinian medical officials say roughly half of the more than 800 Palestinians who have been killed were civilians.

Israel and Hamas ignored the U.N. resolution calling for an immediate and durable cease-fire that would lead to the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza.

Israel dismissed the resolution as impractical, while Hamas, whose government in Gaza is not recognized internationally, is angry it was not consulted in the diplomatic efforts.

In Cairo, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority president urged both Israel and Hamas to agree to a truce.

After meeting Mubarak, Abbas warned there was no time to waste in ending the bloodshed in Gaza, home to 1.4 million people.

“If any party does not accept it (the truce), regrettably it will be the one bearing the responsibility. And if Israel doesn’t want to accept, it will take the responsibility of perpetuating a waterfall of blood,” Abbas said.

Hamas officials from both Gaza and Syria are also in Cairo for separate talks with Egyptian officials on a truce. Israeli officials were in Cairo earlier this week.

Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah party, which dominates the West Bank, are fierce political rivals, but the president still claims authority over Gaza. Hamas violently took control of Gaza from Fatah forces in 2007.

In Damascus, Syria-based Palestinian militant groups, including Hamas, on Saturday rejected any deployment of international observers or troops in Gaza.

A statement issued by the groups after a meeting attended by Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal also rejected any security arrangement that “infringes on the right of resistance against Israeli occupation.”

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