Rassegna stampa.

By Joshua Mitnick
Christian Science Monitor
June 28, 2006

By Ilene R. Prusher
Christian Science Monitor
June 28, 2006http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0627/p07s02-wome.html

By Leslie Susser
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
June 28, 2006

By Sarah El Deeb
Associated Press
June 28, 2006

By Ewen MacAskill
Guardian, Comment (UK)
June 28, 2006

By Stephen Farrell
Times (UK)
June 28, 2006

By Jeremy Bowen
June 28, 2006

By Akiva Eldar
Haaretz, Opinion (Israel)
June 28, 2006

By Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel
Haaretz (Israel)
June 28, 2006

By Rami G. Khouri
Daily Star, Commentary (Lebanon)
June 28, 2006

Arab News (Saudi Arabia)
June 28, 2006


By Joshua Mitnick
Christian Science Monitor
June 28, 2006

Tel Aviv – Under mounting international pressure to free a kidnapped
Israeli soldier, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister
Ismail Haniyeh closed ranks Tuesday by concluding a power-sharing
agreement aimed at ending months of violent Hamas-Fatah fighting and
laying down principles for talks with Israel.

The pact between Mr. Abbas and Mr. Haniyeh serves to prop up the
political rivals at a time when a hostage standoff threatens an Israeli
army retaliatory invasion of Gaza.

"Now it seems they’re in the same boat because they have a serious
threat to their political existence," says Shaul Mishal, a Tel Aviv
University political science professor who has authored a book on
Hamas. "They need badly to maintain their status within the Palestinian
public. [Sunday’s kidnapping of an Israeli soldier] shows their
weakness, and they have no real control. People do what they want, or
they listen to someone else – not the government."

Osama Hamdan, a Hamas official in Lebanon close to the organization’s
hard-line leadership in Damascus, criticized Abbas Tuesday for helping
Israel search for the kidnapped Israeli soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, who
is believed to be held in southern Gaza, the Associated Press reported.
Instead, the official continued, Palestinians should kidnap more
Israelis to use as bargaining chips.

Meanwhile, Israel’s military is becoming increasingly convinced that an
Israeli settler also missing since Sunday has been kidnapped, the
Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported Tuesday.

In Gaza City, one Palestinian was killed Tuesday and several others
were injured from a missile fired on a car traveling near Abbas’s
office, Israel Radio reported. Israel’s military denied involvement in
the attack.

The Abbas-Haniyeh agreement is based on a document drafted by a
coalition of jailed Palestinian militant leaders that calls for Hamas’s
integration into the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Liberation
Organization (PLO). Because the PLO is the signatory to peace accords
with Israel, the bargain is seen as a major departure for Hamas, which
has opposed peace negotiations and the idea of Israeli and Palestinian
states coexisting alongside one another.

The document also calls for a unity government with Fatah, another
concession by the Islamic militants who would be admitting they are
unable to govern without the help of their bitter adversaries.

A commitment limiting Palestinian attacks to territories conquered by
the Jewish state in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war has been seen as yet
another Hamas concession, but in tolerating attacks by Palestinian
militia groups it marks a compromise on Abbas’s vocal criticism of the
militarized uprising.

And new language in the document seems to give Hamas leeway on which to
oppose a two-state solution in the future, said Reuters.

Haniyeh and Abbas were reported to have been on the verge of concluding
the agreement Saturday night just hours before a detachment of
Palestinian militants raided Israeli military positions near Gaza by
tunneling under the border. Two Israeli soldiers and two Palestinian
militants were killed in an attack seen by many as an attempt by
Hamas’s hard-line leadership to undermine the accord.

Fatah leaders have said that this accord with Hamas isn’t far reaching
enough to form the foundation for peace talks with Israel, but that it
is instead aimed to end weeks of infighting that have claimed the lives
of 20 Palestinians and spurred new anarchy in the West Bank and Gaza.

"It is a national program. Palestinians will not negotiate with Israel
on this basis," says Jamal Nazzal, a Fatah spokesman. "The advantage of
it is that Palestinians will not block the way of each other anymore."

But it rema
ins to be seen whether Hamas and Fatah field commanders will
honor the commitment. One commander from the Fatah-affiliated Al Aqsa
Martyrs Brigade described the agreement as more of a temporary
cease-fire postponing an inevitable civil war.

Palestinians from Fatah have complained of a "two-headed" government
pulling in opposite directions. While President Abbas has called on the
newly elected Hamas politicians to join peace talks with Israel, the
Islamic militants have remained steadfast in their opposition to
recognize the Jewish state or forswear military attacks on Israel.

The US and the European Union both consider Hamas a terrorist group for
its endorsement of suicide bombings against Israel, and have led an
international aid boycott of the Palestinian Authority (PA). That has
emptied government coffers and compounded economic hardship.

For Hamas’s Haniyeh, the agreement with Abbas could potentially bolster
his credentials abroad after most governments shunned Hamas. It also
props him up amid tension with Hamas hard-liner Khaled Meshal in

"People usually unify at the times of crisis," says Ghassan Khatib, a
former Labor Minister under Abbas. "I think the prime minister
particularly is in need of the president nowadays, especially given
that there seems to be difficulties inside of Hamas."

The concessions won by Abbas, on the other hand, gives him ammunition
to counter critics who have described him as a lame duck after Hamas’s
electoral victory, analysts say.

Mr. Khatib continues, "The president has always been interested in such
an agreement, because this will make him stronger internally and
externally." Fatah officials told Reuters that a signing ceremony was
planned for Tuesday evening on the accord.

Many have criticized the agreement for language so vague as to allow
radically divergent interpretations. While saying he supported the
agreement, Hamas legislator Wael Husseini insisted that the accord
doesn’t mark a departure from Hamas’s traditional opposition to
Israel’s existence.

"We will never recognize the legitimacy of Israel inside the 1948
borders," he says, referring to the dimensions of the Jewish state
accepted by most of the international community. "That doesn’t mean we
don’t recognize the existence of the Israelis. We recognize the
existence of Israel but not on our land. We don’t give Israel anything
in return for withdrawal."

Meanwhile, the militants holding Corporal Shalit issued their first
demands Monday. The groups, which included Hamas’s military wing and
two offshoots of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), said Israel
should release all jailed Palestinian women and children under 18 in
return for information about Shalit. Officials estimate there are 500
such prisoners.

"The soldier is in a secure place that the Zionists cannot reach," PRC
spokesman Mohammed Abdel Al said. It was the first acknowledgment by
militants that Shalit was still alive.

About 3,000 Israeli troops, along with tanks and armored vehicles, have
massed along Israel’s border with Gaza. Commanders said they were
awaiting orders.

By Ilene R. Prusher
Christian Science Monitor
June 28, 2006

Jerusalem – With one of their soldiers in captivity for the first time
in more than a decade, Israeli officials are facing one of the greatest
dilemmas in a time of conflict: whether or not to negotiate with a
group who has taken someone hostage.

The predicament arose Sunday when Palestinian militants kidnapped Cpl.
Gilad Shalit and then dragged him away to a kilometer-long tunnel
infiltrating Israel from Gaza.

Three Hamas-linked militant groups demanded Monday that Israel release
all Palestinian women and minors in exchange for the soldier. A
spokesman for one of the groups said the message was authentic.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and other government ministers have been
quick to reiterate the official policy of Israel as well as a plethora
of Western nations, including the US: no negotiations with terrorists,
including an exchange of prisoners.

But Israel’s history with its regional foes shows that the country’s
line on negotiating over hostages and prisoners of war is fuzzy and
complex. And the hard-to-swallow reality, some observers here argue, is
that negotiations may be the only route to ensuring the captive gets
out alive.

"We can come to terms with Israeli soldiers being killed, but we can’t
come to terms with Israelis being taken as prisoners of war," explains
Anshel Pfeffer, a senior analyst for the Jerusalem Post. The last time
an Israeli soldier was kidnapped, in 1994, the army launched a rescue
operation that ended in the death of both the kidnapped soldier,
Nahshon Wachsman , and an officer involved in the failed rescue

"The popular feeling is that an Israeli citizen or soldier must not be
in the hands of the enemy, so some impossible mission has to be done,"
says Mr. Pfeffer. "The reality is, grin and bear it, and deal with

That raises ethical questions, he acknowledges, that many here are
afraid to touch. But they are issues that have come up in the past,
when Western hostages were held in Iran and in Lebanon, and are being
raised with increasing frequency vis-à-vis Iraq, presenting
governments, employers, and families with the conundrum of how to deal
with hostage-takers.

Israel’s message on this is mixed. While Mr. Olmert says that he isn’t
interested in exchanging Cpl. Shalit for Palestinian prisoners, other
sources here suggest that his very statement of refusing to negotiate
can be read as an opening to the people holding the kidnapped soldier.
Moreover, Israel has a long history of negotiating with groups it
considers to be terrorist organizations, even making lopsided exchanges
to bring soldiers and other citizens home.

In 2004, the Lebanon-based Hizbullah won the release of several dozen
of its militants held by Israel in exchange for one Israeli citizen,
Elhanan Tannenbaum, who was lured to Lebanon as part of a drug deal
gone awry. The exchange also included the remains of three Israeli
soldiers. Israeli experts of prisoner exchanges also point to the
Jibril Deal of 1985, in which Israeli won the release of three of its
soldiers in return for setting free more than 1,100 Palestinian and
other prisoners.

Some Israeli critics say this has set a worrying precedent, while
others say that it shows the lengths to which Israel is willing to go
bring its boys home. Moreover, cultural norms have shaped past

In Judaism, if a married man goes missing in action, his wife is unable
to remarry. Even if it is highly likely that he died in the field, the
family is forbidden to hold the traditional week of mourning unless
they have buried him. Meanwhile, many religious Jews hold that it is
unethical to placate kidnappers, citing a Talmudic discussion on the
matter, because this will only encourage more kidnapping.

Indeed, this has been the logic behind the reluctance of many nations
to negotiate with hostage takers. Still, it is a door that Israel has
left open before, and that might be left open now.

"In this case, because it’s Hamas, the prime minister has already
declared that he is not going to release prisoners, and I personally
feel that it is better not to say anything," says Zee
v Schiff, a
military commentator with the Haaretz newspaper. "He drew a line …
but from a tactical point of view, experts will usually tell you, don’t
say no, but don’t promise."

This will make life much more difficult for Olmert. Israel has
threatened a major military operation in retaliation for the
kidnapping, during which two other soldiers were killed, and there has
been a significant buildup of forces around the Gaza Strip.

The territory, from which Israel withdrew last August, has seen
increasingly deadly clashes, with at least 14 Palestinian civilian
casualties over the past two weeks. More than 150 rockets have been
fired by Palestinians on southern Israeli towns in the past month.

Israel has accepted Egypt’s offer to intercede in an attempt to win the
soldier’s release. And according to Hebrew University political
scientist Shlomo Aronson, Israel will wait out the diplomatic efforts,
both because of failed rescued operations in the past, and because it
currently has time on its side.

"Since the legitimacy of the Hamas government is at stake, Israel can
afford to wait a little bit, to find out where the soldier is being
held, and to let international pressure be brought to bear on them,"
says Prof. Aronson. "And there is a lot of internal Palestinian
pressure as to whether it was a wise decision to do this, even on the
eve of the agreement on the prisoners’ document," referring to a
proposal drawn up by prisoners from all Palestinian factions in support
of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has called for a referendum July 26
on the document, which implies support for a two-state solution.

By Leslie Susser
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
June 28, 2006

Jerusalem – Beyond the immediate escalation, the Palestinian attack on
an Israeli army outpost near the Gaza border raises serious questions
about Israel’s security and foreign policies.

Right-wing politicians argue that the incident, coupled with months of
incessant rocket fire from Gaza on Israeli civilians, shows that the
army has lost its deterrent capacity and that it will take a massive,
sustained operation in Gaza to restore it.

Ehud Olmert’s plan for a major unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank
also is under fire, with some pundits maintaining that the latest turn
of events will further erode public confidence in the prime minister’s
pullback strategy.

The attack left two Israeli soldiers dead and seven wounded. One
soldier was kidnapped by the militants and brought back to Gaza.

The attack highlighted sharp differences on the Palestinian side. It
came just days before Palestinian factions were set to reach agreement
on a document meant to pave the way for negotiations with Israel, and
was widely seen as an attempt to torpedo the deal. It also raised
questions about the limits of power of both Palestinian Authority
President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

With many splinter militia factions acting independently or taking
orders from Hamas’ more radical leadership abroad, it raised another
fundamental question: Does any Palestinian leader have enough domestic
clout to deliver on a deal with Israel?

Though there had been prior intelligence warnings, the Palestinian
gunmen surprised the Israelis early Sunday morning by attacking from
the Israeli side and not the Gaza side of the outpost. Eight
Palestinian militiamen infiltrated through a recently dug 300-yard-long
tunnel, coming out well inside Israeli territory.

They then turned back toward the border, firing at the Israelis who
were facing Gaza. Two attackers were killed while the others made it
back to Gaza, taking Cpl. Gilad Shalit with them.

Israel demanded Shalit’s immediate and unconditional release, but the
abductors insisted on the release of all Palestinian prisoners under
age 18 and all Palestinian women prisoners in Israeli jails – in return
merely for information on Shalit.

The Palestinian leadership was divided. Abbas, who leads the Fatah
movement, ordered a search for the soldier to hand him back to Israel.

Haniyeh, of Hamas, also favored a speedy resolution of the crisis. Both
realized they had been presented with a chance to win diplomatic points
and alleviate international sanctions against the Hamas led-government.

Danny Rubinstein, Arab affairs analyst for the Ha’aretz newspaper,
called it "Haniyeh’s moment," and suggested that he could make enormous
international gains by forcing the militias to release the soldier.

But Haniyeh may not be calling the shots: According to Israeli sources,
Khaled Meshaal, Hamas’ Damascus-based leader, is in control, ordering
the militiamen to stick to their demand for a prisoner exchange.

Meshaal is strongly opposed to the agreement reached Tuesday between
Abbas and Haniyeh on a document that gives Abbas a mandate to negotiate
with Israel and calls for restricting terrorist attacks to areas Israel
conquered in 1967.

Israel’s military options in the face of the kidnapping are not
risk-free. The government considered three options: a commando
operation to free Shalit, a major ground operation to smash the
militias, and the assassination of Palestinian political and military
leaders involved in terror.

Olmert warned that Israel would target leaders behind terrorism,
"wherever they were." This was seen as a direct threat to Meshaal and

"This is the essence of the government’s warning: The blood of Corporal
Gilad Shalit is on all your heads, from Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh
down. There won’t be a Hamas government in Gaza or Ramallah, and many
of its ministers won’t be alive, if they don’t return the Israeli
soldier the way he left: on his feet," analyst Ben Caspit wrote in

For the first few days after the attack, there was an uneasy deadlock.
Israel did not want to take any action that might endanger Shalit’s
life; the Palestinians didn’t want to harm him for fear that it would
untie the army’s hands.

With Israel, the United States and European Union refusing to deal with
Hamas, which they consider a terrorist organization, Egypt was leading
mediation efforts on Shalit’s release. But Olmert warned that Israel
would not wait indefinitely for results.

Israel massed troops along the Gaza border, threatening a major ground
invasion. It also imposed a land and sea blockade on Gaza to prevent
Shalit from being spirited out of the territories. According to one
report, however, Palestinians were hoping to take Shalit through
tunnels beneath the Gaza-Egypt border, an area where Israel has no way
to operate.

When Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip last summer, it evolved a new
military doctrine based on deterrence rather than occupation.

The thinking was that with the occupation of Gaza finished, Israel
would have international backing to respond with overwhelming force to
any attack on sovereign Israeli territory. So far, however, this has
failed to create a deterrent balance.

For months Palestinians have been firing Kassam rockets at the town of
Sderot. When Israeli retaliatory shelling has killed Palestinian
civilians, the international outcry has been resounding.

Right-wing politicians now are pressing the government to launch a
large-scale attack on Gaza to restore the army’s deterrence.

"We should send the following message
to the Palestinians: ‘If you go
on doing what you are doing, we will inflict such damage on you that it
won’t be worth your while,’ " Effie Eitam, a former brigadier general
and legislator from the right-wing National Union-National Religious
Party bloc, told JTA.

The persistent Palestinian attacks also are undermining Israeli public
support for a unilateral pullback from the West Bank.

"The demographic threat at the root of the plan sounds frightening, but
it is still distant and not palpable. The Kassam and the Hamas are
nearby and obvious to everyone," political commentator Aluf Benn wrote
in Ha’aretz.

Where is all this heading – toward escalation and a total breakdown of
order on the Palestinian side? Is it the final jockeying for position
by Palestinian factions before they accept a cease-fire? Or will there
be a familiar, two-pronged Palestinian policy, with moderates
negotiating with Israel while radicals attack it?

Olmert still sees unilateral withdrawal as the best answer to all these
unsavory scenarios – but decision time on both sides of the border
seems to be rapidly approaching.

By Sarah El Deeb
Associated Press
June 28, 2006

Many Palestinians think a captured Israeli soldier should not be
released without major concessions from Israel – despite an Israeli
ground and air assault on the Gaza Strip on Wednesday meant to recover

Many in this impoverished coastal strip were savoring a rare feeling of
military superiority following the capture of Cpl. Gilad Shalit during
an attack on an Israeli military post Sunday. The popularity of the
kidnapping would make it difficult for Palestinian leaders to secure
the 19-year-old soldier’s return without getting something in exchange.

Palestinian militants demanded the release of some Palestinian
prisoners in Israel for information about Shalit, an offer Israel
swiftly rejected. Prisoners hold great weight in Palestinian society,
and the demand for a prisoner release resonated across Gaza.

"Even if they slaughter 100,000 Palestinians, this is a chance that
can’t be lost. It’s the only way the prisoners will be able to get
out," said Bassem al Khoudry, 35, owner of a fast food stand in Gaza
City. "If they release him with nothing in return, they would betray
their nation, their prisoners."

Since the attack Sunday, which also killed two militants and two other
Israeli soldiers, international mediators, including Jordan and Egypt,
have been trying to negotiate Shalit’s freedom. But holding talks
between Israel and the Palestinians is tricky, following the militant
Hamas group’s victory in Palestinian elections in January.

Hamas refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist, and Israel is
leading an international economic boycott of the Palestinian government
that has deepened poverty in Palestinian areas, especially in Gaza.

Palestinians see the abduction as a legitimate attack on a military
target – far different from a suicide bombing aimed at Israeli
civilians – and no Palestinian leader has condemned it. The militants’
demand for the release of Palestinian prisoners is also popular with
many here.

Abdel Fatah al-Aila, a 61-year old engineer in Gaza, called the
abduction a "courageous" operation that followed Israeli attacks that
killed Palestinian civilians. Israel has been shelling northern Gaza
and carrying out airstrikes targeting militants in response to a wave
of rocket attacks into Israel, and some civilians have been killed.

"This is not kidnapping, but a military operation against a military
target," al-Aila said.

The kidnapping of a soldier also hits a nerve with Israel, where most
citizens have served in the military. Israel in the past has made
lopsided prisoner exchanges to secure the return of dead soldiers.

In January 2004, Israel released 436 prisoners, including Palestinians,
in a deal with the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah. In return,
Hezbollah released a captive Israeli businessman and turned over the
bodies of three Israeli soldiers.

But Israel has never negotiated such an exchange with the Palestinians,
and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he had no intentions of doing so

Instead, Israeli tanks and troops entered southern Gaza in the first
major ground offensive since Israel withdrew from the territory last
year. Planes also attacked three bridges and a power station, knocking
out electricity to most of Gaza.

"We won’t hesitate to carry out extreme action to bring Gilad back to
his family," Olmert said. "All the military activity that started
overnight will continue in the coming days."

Palestinians said they were confused by Israel’s refusal to negotiate
an exchange.

Palestinian prisoners are no less "precious" than Lebanese prisoners,
said Nihaya Armelad, a 31-year-old mother of five who lives in the
southern town of Rafah, which would likely be the front line of any
Israeli ground assault.

"They have to exchange him for (Palestinian) prisoners," Armelad said.
"They haven’t seen their children in years. We are (humans) just like
the Israelis."

Since the abduction, prisoners’ relatives have marched through Gaza’s
streets demanding their family members be released in exchange for his

Sanaa Hirz, 44, said she was willing to weather attacks from Israel if
it would bring the release of her husband, a Fatah activist who has
been in prison for 22 years.

"Gazans are used to missiles, assassinations, artillery. Every day
there is death. Death is a natural thing," she said. "Let it come …
it is better with honor."

The last time an Israeli soldier was abducted by Palestinians was 12
years ago when Hamas militants kidnapped Cpl. Nachshon Waxman and
demanded a prisoner release. Waxman was killed in a botched rescue

Palestinian pollster Nader Said said the current abduction has given
the Palestinians a "temporary sense of self esteem" and hope. But with
the Israeli incursion into Gaza, they will be faced with a new reality
that will "transform any small victory into a big loss," he said.

Attala Azzam, an unemployed construction worker from Mughraga, just
outside the former Jewish settlement of Netzarim, also expressed
reservations, saying the militants had the right to abduct Shalit but
should perhaps make concessions now.

"We are lost in the middle. There may be a complete invasion of Gaza,
there won’t be any food on top of the bad situation we’re already in,"
he said. "Let’s not throw any more fuel on the fire. Maybe we should
agree to give back the soldier and solve this problem instead of
escalating things."

By Ewen MacAskill
Guardian, Comment (UK)
June 28, 2006

Israel has good cause for taking tough action against the Palestinians
in Gaza. Even before the capture of Corporal Gilad Shalit, the
Palestinians have been regularly firing Qassam rockets from northern
Gaza into Israel.

The Israelis are right to be fearful of these rockets. Having pulled
out of Gaza last year, the Israelis would have been justified in
thinking they might enjoy a bit of peace on their southern border.
Instead, Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad and the other groups have been in
competition in launching attacks on I
srael, each with their own brand
of homemade rockets.

The rockets are not accurate and have only a short-range. There are
casualties but these are small in relation to the number of rockets
fired. Israel rightly judges that any casualty is one too many but the
real fear is that the Palestinians, with practice, ingenuity and
outside help, will make more efficient rockets, ones that will be able
to go beyond the Israeli border town of Sderot and hit the bigger
population centres like Ashdod and the Israeli power plant. The view of
the Gazans is that until the Israelis pull out of the West Bank and
negotiate a final settlement, the conflict is not over.

The problem is Israel’s over-reaction. The Israeli army, in an attempt
to deter the rocket launching, has been laying down artillery barrages
into Gaza that are reminiscent of the first world war. And would there
be rocket attacks at all if the Israeli army, having pulled out of Gaza
last year, had not continued with its policy of assassinations, taking
out militants – and civilians – in Gaza with missiles fired from
helicopters. Which came first? The rocket attacks or the targeted

The overnight incursion by the Israeli army last night into Gaza is
another over-reaction. Israel has either pulled out of Gaza or it has
not. It cannot keep going back in. Israel has to allow the Palestinians
a degree of sovereignty. It cannot keep sending in the tanks.

The only way Israel will end the firing of rockets into its territory
and attacks on its soldiers and civilians is through a negotiated
agreement with the Palestinians. It has to stop pretending there is "no
partner for peace" on the Palestinian side, as it has been doing since
the intifada begun, and begin serious discussions.

The ambiguous document agreed between Hamas and Fatah yesterday does
not recognize Israel’s right to exist but it is a step in the right
direction, one that Israel and the international community should grab
as a starting point. In the longer-term, it could be much more
important than the Israeli incursion into Gaza.

By Stephen Farrell
Times (UK)
June 28, 2006

The tunnellers of Rafah are celebrating a rare blow that dented the
might of their enemy. Just under two miles from the military base that
was attacked from underground on Sunday, Palestinian militants were
jubilant yesterday.

Rafah is a shattered city with frontline buildings more bullet holes
than cement. But speaking from a secret location, a tunnel specialist
with the Popular Resistance Committees – one of the three militant
groups that attacked Kerem Shalom – said that tunnels were a key weapon
against Israel. "Whether it is a tunnel or anything else, any military
attack against the Israelis affects their psychology," the heavily
bearded militant, of wiry body and calloused feet, told The Times.

"For us, we have a deep belief that what helps the Israeli soldier is
his machinery, not his courage," the man said. "Inside, he is shaking,
but he is better equipped." The attack on Sunday was not the first, but
at more than 650m (2,130ft) – 300m of it in Israel – the Kerem Shalom
tunnel was nearly twice as long as any other of its kind and took
months to build. Most tunnels go from Rafah into Egypt and are dug by
smuggling gangs to move people, drugs, weapons and equipment into the
45km (28-mile) coastal strip, which is virtually sealed off from the
outside world by Israel.

The tunneller said that tunnels were still being scooped out by hand,
but that the factions had speeded up the process by using machinery to
remove the soil.

On a previous visit to Rafah The Times saw a tunnel with an entrance
hidden beneath a shower drain. It was equipped with a telephone, wooden
planks to shore up the earth and a motor winch and railway line to pull
goods or people through its 70cm by 70cm (28in by 28in) hole.

As deep as 20 metres, they have ventilation shafts every 200 metres or
so and, on a good day the engineers can dig 15 metres, working in three
shifts, using a compass to set the direction and observers above

"It depends on the nature of the ground," the militant said. "The
closer you go to the sea, the sand is very loose, so it might collapse.
The further east you go, it is mud. It is a very risky business, very
risky. Every time you go down, you go like a martyr: you know you might
not come back."

By Jeremy Bowen
June 28, 2006

Violence moves faster than negotiation. Now that Israel has its tanks
in Gaza, military force will drown out everything else until Prime
Minister Ehud Olmert decides that his business there is done.

In his office in Jerusalem, Mr Olmert is facing the most important test
for any Israeli leader – how well he handles a military crisis. Those
who fail the test, suffer severe political damage.

Israel hopes that the presence of the troops and armour will persuade
the Palestinians holding Corporal Shalit to give him up. But what if
that does not happen?

The Israelis will not turn round and go home if they do not get their
man back quickly.

The army and air force will go onto the offensive, aiming perhaps to
destroy what it calls the Hamas terror infrastructure.

Attempts to assassinate Hamas leaders are also possible.

Israeli attacks will be resisted, which will be highly dangerous for
all concerned – especially Palestinian civilians caught in the middle.

Israeli pressure always produces a reaction on the Palestinian side.

It will strengthen the resolve of the Hamas military wing and other
militant groups to fight.

Among the politicians, it might be the catalyst for the establishment
of a Palestinian government of national unity.

Before Israel moved its troops in, Fatah and Hamas, the two main
Palestinian factions, sealed an agreement that the Hamas prime minister
Ismail Haniya and the Fatah president Mahmoud Abbas have been working
on for some time.

In it, Hamas accepted the idea of a Palestinian state on the West Bank,
Gaza and east Jerusalem.

Because of what they did not say, it can be interpreted as an implicit
recognition of Israel. Hamas people moved quickly to challenge that.

One of the Hamas MPs, Salah al-Bardaweel, told the Reuters news agency
that "We said we accept a state (in territory occupied) in 1967 – but
we did not say we accept two states."

Had Ismail Haniya stood up on the morning after the Palestinian
elections in January and said what he has agreed to now – accepting
that President Abbas can negotiate for a state only on the land
occupied since the 1967 war – he would have had a warm reception from
some Western countries at least, and might even have headed off moves
to isolate his government internationally.

Since there have been no peace negotiations worth talking about between
Israel and the Palestinians for more than five years, and there is no
immediate chance of them restarting, the discussion, for now, is

But in the months since then, the political background has changed.

The big powers have cut off the money that the Palestinians need to run
their government and to pay their soldiers, teachers and doctors, which
has caused great hardship.

They have established three tests that the Hamas government must pass
before the money ta
p is turned on again – recognising Israel, giving up
violence and accepting past agreements.

The Palestinian deal falls well short of that.

The most important thing the agreement does for Palestinians is to
reduce the tension between the leaders of Hamas and Fatah, the two most
important factions.

Do not forget that their men have been fighting each other on the
streets and that there has been talk of a Palestinian civil war.

Palestinians feel very uncomfortable about splits, and are always
conscious of the pressure and power radiating from Israel.

Their deal might end up to be worthless if the multiple pressures on
the Palestinians destroy the shaky unity that Messrs Haniya and Abbas
are now proclaiming.

The agreement would be worth more if both men were masters of their own

But both men have been weakened, and one experienced negotiator here in
Jerusalem commented that weak plus weak usually equals weak.

Abbas was weakened by the defeat of Fatah at the elections and the fact
that Israel does not take him seriously; Haniya by the pressures of
government, the international financial sanctions, and now the
abduction of the Israeli soldier Corporal Gilad Shalit, which seems to
have taken him by surprise.

There have been suggestions that Haniya is losing the internal debate
within Hamas.

Some suggest that there is a strengthening of an axis between the Hamas
military wing in Gaza and the exiled leadership of the movement in
Damascus – and that the prime minister is the odd man out.

But in this conflict, the different sides have spent years building
bigger defences around their own beliefs, and deeper ditches between
each other. So, some believe that movement, however small, ought to be

The European Union thinks Hamas has moved, a little bit. It says the
agreement is a good first step.

If there were Israelis and Palestinians and strong outside powers who
wanted to create something bigger, it could conceivably lead somewhere.

Perhaps it is a seed for the future.

But first, this place is preparing itself for the more familiar
realities of blood, bulldozers, bullets and bombs.

By Akiva Eldar
Haaretz, Opinion (Israel)
June 28, 2006

In early June last year, not long before the evacuation of Gaza, an
Israeli leader got up in front of a Jewish audience in New York and
said the following brave words: "We are tired of fighting, we are tired
of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating
our enemies. We want that we will be able to live in an entirely
different environment of relations with our enemies. We want them to be
our friends, our partners, our good neighbors." He ended his emotional
plea with the words, "this is not impossible. [I]t is within reach if
we will be smart, if we will dare, if we will be prepared to take the
risks, and if we will be able to convince our Palestinian partners to
be able to do the same. So that together we will move forward in this
direction of building up different relations, better understanding, and
greater trust between us and them." The speaker was Ehud Olmert, then
deputy prime minister.

A year later, this time in Jerusalem, without the deputy in front of
his title, Olmert turned to a Jewish audience at the Jewish Agency
convention and said, "I regard the Palestinian Authority, headed by
[Mahmoud] Abbas and the PA government, as responsible for yesterday’s
act of terrorism." And he added: "Everyone representing the PA is among
those responsible for what is done by it, and we will not give any of
them immunity." And at the security cabinet session on Monday night, he
said: "The world is fed up with the Palestinians. So far our responses
have been restrained. No more." The fatigue of war was gone as if it
had never existed, the wisdom gave way to heroism, and the language of
threats replaced the call for partnership.

Is it possible that a wise statesman would change his doctrine because
of a gang of rocket launchers? Is it conceivable that a leader would
shelve his vision because of a military failure that cost the precious
lives of two soldiers and the capture of their buddy? Have we not
learned yet that in the relationship between us and our neighbors,
force is the problem, not the solution? Ariel Sharon used the Abu Nidal
group’s assassination attempt on Ambassador Shlomo Argov in London in
June 1982 to chase after Yasser Arafat, and entangled Israel in the
Lebanese quagmire. The Netanya terror attack in March 2002 provided
Sharon with an excuse to conquer the territories and eliminate the PA
under Arafat’s leadership.

The calls for vengeance shoved aside the calls for reconciliation from
Saudi Arabia. The echoes of the battles of Operation Defensive Shield
overcame the declaration of peace issued by the Arab League in Beirut.
And now, the rage and humiliation leave no chance for the first
initiative for reconciliation by key Fatah and Hamas activists in
Israeli prisons. It is no accident that the group that planned and
conducted the attack in Rafah gave their operation the code name
"Shattered Illusions." The "illusion" referred to the Prisoners’
Document, which Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas were about to sign.

The document, which is based on a cessation of all violence inside the
borders of the state of Israel, could save the lives of Israeli
citizens. The goal of the soldier’s captors was to kidnap the
cease-fire and the chance for a resumption of the dialogue between
Israel and a pragmatic Palestinian coalition. If Olmert really was
blessed with the courage of his words in New York, he would offer to
trade Shalit for the signatories of the Prisoners’ Document, Marwan
Barghouti of Fatah and Abdul Khaleq Natshe of Hamas. Their release
would be the decisive blow to Khaled Meshal, who is ready to fight
Jewish children down to the last drop of Palestinian children’s blood.
There could not be any clearer signal of Israeli intent to effect a
real change in relations with the large Palestinian population that is
also tired of fighting.

If the prime minister does not have the strength to use this
opportunity that has come his way to free the two and strengthen their
camp, he could at least use the document as a lever for progress in the
peace process by acceding to the bilateral cease-fire that it proposes.
The fear of an Israeli invasion of Gaza strengthens the connection
between Haniyeh and Abbas and improves the chance that the fire will
indeed die down. But none of this can happen as long as passing
emotional storms take our national leaders’ judgment hostage and they
behave as if they were the ones who had been kidnapped.

By Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel
Haaretz (Israel)
June 28, 2006

As things appeared last night, Israel was moving to stage two in the
affair of the abducted soldier, Gilad Shalit. The efforts to secure
Shalit’s release through negotiations are close to exhaustion; and
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who over the past two days has blocked the
moves recommended by Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, is now about to approve
them, and Israel will begin a military operation in the Gaza Strip.

Two brigade-level combat teams are deployed along the Gaza border in
preparation for a ground offensive, with the objective being not t
immediate rescue of the soldier, but to placing of pressure on the
Palestinians with the slim hope of forcing the kidnappers to make

The operation will focus initially on open areas in the Strip, with the
idea being to gradually apply more and more pressure with minimum risk
to Shalit’s life. At the same time, the operation would also make it
more difficult for the kidnappers to smuggle Shalit across the border
into Egypt, and from there to Sudan perhaps.

According to military officials, if the initial IDF move proves
unsuccessful and does not bring about any change in the situation, the
Palestinians will at least be aware of the price they will have to pay.

Things have been complicated meanwhile by what appears to be a second
abduction- the disappearance of Itamar settler Eliyahu Asheri. Although
Israel is not in the possession of any definite intelligence regarding
the fate of the youth, the prevailing assessment yesterday was that
Asheri was abducted in the Ramallah area on Sunday night. He may no
longer be alive.

For its part, the IDF’s Central Command is readying for another wave of
abductions. The large number of Israeli citizens in the West Bank are
prime easy targets for the terror groups, and not all the settlers take
the trouble to coordinate their movements with the military.

On Monday night, for example, following publication of the initial
reports on the abduction of the settler, the IDF tried in vain to
prevent hundreds of Jewish worshipers from attending a celebration at
Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus. When the soldiers asked the Bratslav Hasidim
to refrain from taking risks by going to the area, they replied: "What
does it have to do with us at all"

This soft underbelly in the West Bank is Olmert’s motivation for not
wanting to make concessions in the Shalit affair. Capitulation to the
demands of the kidnappers will only spur on more abductions.

On the Palestinian side, meanwhile, a new and highly influential
element has entered the fray- the families of Palestinian prisoners who
are being held in Israel. These families are demanding that Hamas not
forgo the asset in its possession.

Rallies in support of the prisoners took place yesterday in Nablus,
Ramallah, Hebron, Gaza and Rafah, with the procession in Nablus
featuring armed Hamas activists for the first time in some 18 months.

Among the Palestinian public at large, support for Hamas’ military wing
is growing. The Palestinian wanted revenge for the dozens of civilian
fatalities in the Gaza Strip, and they got two for the price of one- a
degrading attack and the kidnapping.

From the point of view of the prisoners’ families, the affair sparks a
glimmer of hope regarding the possibility of their loved ones returning
home. Even long-serving Fatah activist and former prisoner Issa Qaraqi
of Bethlehem called yesterday for conditioning the return of the
soldier on the release of prisoners.

In contrast, a second Fatah activist, and also a former prisoner in
Israel, said that linking the return of the soldier and the release of
prisoners was nothing but an illusion. "Gaza is not Lebanon," he said.
"Even if the IDF has a hard time rescuing the soldier, it will be able
to take revenge on the kidnappers and punish the population, until we
all are left to curse Hamas’ brilliant operation."

A similar dispute exists among the prisoners themselves, with the
veteran and more pragmatic ones expressing concern about a possible
deterioration in the situation, and the younger ones nurturing dreams
of an early release.

Adnan Asfour, a Hamas leader in Nablus, said to Haaretz last night
during the rally in the city that the soldier should be released as
soon as possible in return for a limited Israeli concession the
unfreezing of the funds for the Hamas government.

Indirectly, the abduction affair has prompted progress in the internal
Palestinian debate on the prisoners’ document. Yesterday,
representatives of the organizations in Gaza initialed the document; a
date for an official signing by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and PA Prime
Minister Ismail Haniyeh has yet to be set.

By Rami G. Khouri
Daily Star, Commentary (Lebanon)
June 28, 2006

Israeli troops Monday massed on the northern border of Gaza and
threatened to invade, in retaliation for continuing Palestinian rocket
attacks against southern Israel, the killing of two Israeli soldiers
and the kidnapping of a third on Sunday. Why do I feel that we have
been through this before, without any real success in the past?

Perhaps it is time for Israelis and the world to acknowledge something
they have always preferred to avoid: The pullout from the Gaza Strip
last year did not result in the intended effect of resurrecting the
Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Why? Because the occupation of Gaza
and the West Bank was not alone the main issue of conflict between
Israelis and Palestinians.

I have been attending in Switzerland this week a conference of
American, Middle Eastern and European research scholars discussing
major political issues in the Middle East, including Israel and
Palestine, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, terrorism, nuclear non-proliferation,
and domestic political culture. The gathering confirmed to me how large
is the gap between Arab analysts and the political establishments in
the United States, Europe and Israel.

The basic divergence in perceptions of the Arab-Israeli conflict
focuses on the causes, meaning and consequences of three main ongoing
Israeli unilateral moves – building a separation wall in the West Bank,
the pullout from Gaza, and, according to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s
promises, a pullout from much of the West Bank in the coming years.
Most people in Israel and the West see the latter as a bold initiative
that reflects a historic change in the mindset of the Israeli public
and political elite, who have decided that they must separate from the
Palestinians and their lands occupied in 1967.

The reason that Israeli unilateralism has not triggered a renewed
peace-making effort is very simple: this is not a unilateral conflict.
Easy moves that reflect the concerns of one side only, while leaving
the underlying causes of the conflict untouched, will only keep the
conflict alive. The only way out of this is the hard way: coming to
terms with the core dispute over the land of historic Palestine and the
rights of all its people.

For the Palestinians, the dispute is not only about Gaza and the West
Bank; it is a wider national conflict that can be resolved by
addressing the full dimensions of Palestinian national rights in an
integrated manner. This means statehood in the West Bank and Gaza, a
capital in Arab East Jerusalem, and resolving the 1948 Palestinian
refugee issue fairly, on the basis of international legitimacy and law.
In return, the Palestinians have to make the hard decision to live in
peace and mutual assured security with a predominantly Jewish Israeli
state in its 1967 borders.

The Hamas victory in the last election was badly misinterpreted by
Israel, the United States and much of Europe. The victory reflected
widespread Palestinian perceptions that must be grasped and engaged
politically, including the failure of nearly 40 years of Fatah, and of
Yasser Arafat’s policies; the failure of foreign diplomatic
intervention, including recent European moves toward US-Israeli
positions; the absence of solid Arab support; the I
sraeli center-right
majority’s preference for unilateral moves that deny Palestinian
national rights; and, subordination of Arab-Israeli issues to the
American-led "war on terror." Palestinians feel they are on their own
and that they must prepare for a long political and military struggle
with Israel.

The Hamas victory represents a reaction to all these perceptions, and
reflects the dominant Palestinian strategic approach that aims to
achieve three main goals: to resist Israel militarily and politically,
while exploring opportunities to negotiate with it on equal terms, not
the unequal, humiliating and failed terms of the past; to continue to
develop the republican institutions of a pluralistic democracy; and to
rebuild Palestinian society on the basis of good governance, local
security, and a revived economy.

The Palestinian mindset and the Hamas victory both reflect these broad
analyses and aims. Palestinians look at themselves and their national
issues as an integrated whole, not as a narrow West Bank-Gaza matter or
through the lens of the "demographic threat" they pose to Zionist
purity. Palestinian priorities include resolving the refugee issue,
reclaiming all lands occupied in 1967, and stopping Israeli attacks,
assassinations and colonial expansion, in return for coexistence with a
non-colonial, law-abiding Israel.

The message is simple: If Israel will not allow Palestinians to live in
peace, dignity, and national integrity, Israelis themselves will not be
permitted to enjoy those same rights. If Israel is prepared to
negotiate seriously and fairly, and resolve the core issues emanating
from the 1948 war, rather that the secondary ones from the 1967 war, a
fair and permanent peace is possible.

Sending yet another Israeli assault brigade to kill and torment more
Palestinians in Gaza will only heighten that reality, not override it.
Israelis must wise up one day and accept that unilateralism – whether
invading or retreating with their army – does not solve the problems of
a bilateral conflict.

Arab News (Saudi Arabia)
June 28, 2006

Hamas’ implicit recognition of Israel is a historic step. It should
lead to a restoration of Palestine’s relations with the international
community; it should also result in the end of economic and political
sanctions imposed because of the claim that Hamas is a terrorist
organization committed to the destruction of Israel.

Unfortunately the timing of this profound change by Palestine’s Hamas
government could not have been worse. Yesterday, after weeks of
negotiations between Premier Ismail Haniyeh and President Mahmoud
Abbas, the formation of a unity administration was agreed. Led by
Hamas, it will include Fatah and other opposition politicians and at
its heart is a manifesto which seeks a Palestinian state in the West
Bank and Gaza Strip. By signing the document, Hamas is effectively
abandoning its refusal to recognize Israel and so has opened the way
for the two-state solution.

Normally such a major breakthrough would be sending international
politicians scurrying back and forth as they endeavored to capitalize
on it and restart the stalled peace process. As it is, last night what
international talking there was focused exclusively on trying to head
off massive Israeli reprisals for the capture and detention of one of
its soldiers in the Gaza Strip. Many Palestinians of course view this
action as a legitimate part of the armed struggle. Israel, however, has
been able to finesse the incident into what it claims to be yet another
example of Hamas-led terrorism. It demands further massive reprisals.

Whatever the human tragedy that may unfold from the unleashing of
Israel’s overwhelming firepower, is there a political tragedy in the
making as well? Israeli hard-liners will claim that the emergence of
the Hamas concession has only been prompted by the threat of attack and
that they plan to withdraw from the agreement whether Israel
compromises over the release of Palestinian women and children or goes
ahead with its assault. Indeed if any Israeli attack were sufficiently
brutal, Hamas might find itself politically incapable of sticking to
its change of policy, however serious its motives. So much new anger
and despair would be produced by fresh humiliations and bloodletting
that the Palestinian voters, who elected a Hamas government on a
no-recognition ticket, would demand that it keep its political

Of course, the last thing that hard-line Israelis want is a Palestinian
government with whom they have to engage in serious negotiations. It
may also be wondered why, last Sunday, militants were able to assault
an Israeli tank and seize the teenaged Israel soldier after killing two
of his comrades. Why did the normally ruthless Israeli commanders make
what appears to have been a basic tactical error? Equally, why did
Hamas militants launch the attack and seize the soldier on the very eve
of reaching this potentially historic agreement with Fatah? Hard-liners
on both sides can only be pleased by this fresh confrontation which
threatens, once again, to rob the political process of what little
momentum still remains in it.

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