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Friday, July 07, 2006

Potential Resolution

Hamas and Israel hint at deal to free captured corporal
From Stephen Farrell, in Gaza City

HOPES of a negotiated end to Israel’s military offensive in Gaza rose last night after Hamas said that the a soldier whose abduction sparked the operation was safe and well.

The Islamist movement’s first direct statement on the fate of Corporal Gilad Shalit came as the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas claimed that Israelis had offered to pull troops out of Gaza and release Palestinian prisoners if their soldier were set free.

Despite a public refusal to negotiate, an Israeli cabinet minister indicated that Palestinian prisoners could be freed as part of a deal.
Hamas said last night: “His treatment is being done well and in a humanitarian way in accordance with the orders of our religion. We stress that negotiations are the only way out of this case and the sole way to preserve the life of the soldier and secure his safe return to his family.”

Speaking at his Gaza headquarters, Mr Abbas claimed that Israel had told President Mubarak of Egypt that a deal could be done. “There are Israeli promises to release a number of prisoners who have been in jail for more than 20 years, the sick, women and children,” Mr Abbas said. “This promise was given to Mubarak. If they release the soldier this will happen, they will withdraw and release the [Hamas] MPs and prisoners.”

The statement came shortly after Avi Dichter, Israel’s Minister of Public Security, said that if Corporal Shalit were released and militant groups halted rocket attacks on Israel then his Government could reciprocate. “Then, in a goodwill gesture, Israel, as it has in the past, knows how to free prisoners,” he said.

Israel escalated its incursion into Gaza on Wednesday after a ten-day stand off during which Palestinian militants demanded 1,500 women and young prisoners be released in return for Corporal Shalit, and then halted discussions when an ultimatum passed. On Thursday more than 20 people died in heavy fighting and yesterday five Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops in northern Gaza.

Ehud Olmert’s Government has refused to negotiate, instead seeking to pressure the Hamas-led Government by moving tanks into Gaza, destroying Palestinian infrastructure and crippling its only power station. However, Israel has no desire to become bogged down in the densely-populated Palestinian strip that it evacuated 10 months ago.

Amir Peretz, the Defence Minister, said: “On the one hand, we are determined not to be dragged into the Gaza mire. On the other, it must be clear to everyone that their hiding in this swamp will not clean it or distance it. We will find a way to strike all those who try to strike the citizens of Israel.”

As Israel’s military operation in Gaza continued the EU it of using disproportionate use of force. “The EU condemns the loss of lives caused by disproportionate use of force,” a statement by the Finnish presidency said.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Geneva Convenes

Geneva - The United Nation's Human Rights Council called for a halt to Israel's military offensive in Gaza Thursday at the end of its first ever emergency session.

The Council also agreed to send a fact-finding mission to the Palestinian territories to report back urgently on alleged human rights violations by Israel.

It expressed grave concern at the detrimental impact of the Israeli offensive on the living conditions of the Palestinian population and urged Israel to 'refrain from imposing collective punishment on Palestinian civilians.'

The resolution was put forward by the Organization of the Islamic Conference composed of Arab and Muslim states, and adopted after 29 states voted in favour, 11 against.

There were five abstentions.

The European Union members opposed the resolution along with the Czech Republic and Canada.

They had already expressed concern Wednesday that the text was too one-sided against Israel.

The final resolution was more encompassing.

An amendment by Switzerland, later modified by the Muslim states, urged 'all concerned parties' to respect the rules of international law and to refrain from violence against civilians.

It reminded both sides to abide by the Geneva Conventions with regard to the treatment of all detained combatants.

The resolution came as Israel widened its eight-day offensive launched with the aim of securing the release of a soldier held captive by Palestinian armed forces in Gaza since June 25.

Israel authorized the military to extend its operation into northern Gaza after an upgraded Palestinian rocket succeeded in hitting the centre of the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon for the first time Tuesday night.

It was the first emergency resolution passed by the new Human Rights Council which only held its inaugural meeting at the end of June.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Canadian Potash Mine Fire

72 miners were trapped underground by a fire. Event lasted 30 hours.

When the fire broke out at 3am on a Sunday, the miners sought safety in ‘emergency refuge rooms’. Firefighters fought the blaze, then cleared the smoke from the underground mine.

The size of the mine was extensive – ranging 18.6 x 12 miles. This delayed the rescue of the final 5 miners. All 72 miners were rescued, unscathed. The miners survived with oxygen, food and water that had been stored in subterranean emergency chambers at the mine in Esterhazy, Saskatchewan. As in the Sago mine disaster, the tunnels were filled with toxic smoke. However, in this instance the miners were sealed in their emergency cover with enough air to outlast the ordeal, plus food and water.

Furthermore, mine workers followed safety procedures to the letter, and rescue teams performed expertly. Even while the miners were still trapped underground, they were able to communicate from their safe rooms to the surface, and tell them they were ok. Rescue workers were able to concentrate on the fire at hand, and what was necessary to clear toxic smoke from the tunnels, so that the miners could exit safely.

The Value of a Miner

$230.76 Per Dead Miner
What a Miner's Life is Worth


The only thing more predictable than the deaths of those 12 miners in the Sago coal mine was the Bush administration's rush to exploit a tragedy that they helped foster.

Over the past five years, Big Coal has benefited from the blind eye that Washington regulators have turned to their rampages across Appalachia. The cost of such official laxity is borne by decapitated mountains, buried and polluted streams, and hundreds of miners who have been injured and killed by an industry that has been liberated from even the most basic regulations governing worker safety and environmental protection.

The Sago miners didn't even have the minimal protections afforded by membership in a union. In the economics of coal country these days, people are so desperate for a job that will sign up for the most dangerous kind of work with few questions asked about the risks or the precautions taken by the companies. And that's exactly the way Big Coal wants it.

Since Bush came to office, more than 230 coal miners have perished in 206 mine accidents. Hundreds of others have been injured. Thousands suffer from chronic ailments and lung diseases caused by hazardous working conditions.

The Sago mine was a death trap. In 2005 alone, the Mine Safety and Health Administration slapped the mine with 208 citations for violations at the mine, ranging from the accumulation of flammable coal dust to ceiling collapses.

The accident rate at Sago was atrocious. In 2004, Sago had an accident rate of 15.90 accidents per 200,000 man-hours worked. This rate is nearly three times more than the national average of 5.66. Last year was even worse. In 2005, Sago's accident rate spiked to 17.04, with at least 14 miners injured.

But these citations and accidents came without regulatory bite. Most of them resulted only in minor fines of $60. In total, the mine was hit with only $24,000 worth of penalties. It's much cheaper to pay the fine than to fix the problems, even when the conditions are lethal. For example, in 2001 Jim Walters Resources paid only $3,000 in fines for an accident that led to the deaths of 13 miners in Alabama. That's $230.76 per dead miner. The company earned more than $100 million that year. Other companies have paid less than $200 in fines for fatalities linked to safety violations.

And these token fines often go unpaid by the mining companies. A review of the Mine Safety and Health Administration's records since 2000 reveals that the agency has hit the mining industry with $9.1 million in fines following fatal incidents. But the companies have paid less than 30 per cent of that puny amount.

All a company has to do is appeal its fine, and it will likely be reduced. More than $5.2 million in fines have been reduced to $2.5 million following appeals. Another $2.2 million is unpaid pending appeal. The agency lists more than $1.1 million in fines as being delinquent, but most of those mines remain in operation.

Under the Bush administration, Big Coal has essentially been handed the responsibility for regulating its own behavior. Few questions asked. Even in the aftermath of the Sago disaster there have been no serious calls for congressional hearings or criminal sanctions against the mine bosses and their corporate chieftains. The biggest outrage was reserved for the false report that the 12 miners had miraculously survived their ordeal in the poisonous pit, where carbon monoxide levels had reached 1,300 parts per million (more than three times the maximum safe level) .

Of course, the Democrats offer the miners almost no relief from this dire situation. In the 2004 presidential campaign, when the election hinged on results from the coal belt, John Kerry wrote off the mining country of southeast Ohio and West Virginia, counties burdened by the highest unemployment in country, and lost by landslide margins to Bush.

If you're going to tie black ribbon on the gates of the White House, you might as well wrap one around a tree outside one of the Kerry-Heinz mansions as well. Neither party gave a damn about the lives of those men.

Skepticism & Miners

Historically, the U.S. government has proven itself moderately adept at passing laws in the scrutinized aftermath of tragedy. The open question is whether, without disaster as an immediate catalyst, executive regulators and congressional overseers will do the unheralded, day-to-day work of keeping mines safe.

There are strong reasons for doubt. Federal regulators and mine officials like to point to the broad trend toward improved safety. Last year, for example, saw the lowest number of mine fatalities, 22, in U.S. history. In 1950, by comparison, 643 U.S. miners died. And yes, there are certainly other countries where things are worse. China, in an ongoing calamity, is on its way to yet another year in which more than 5,000 miners will die.

But surely the bar in the United States should be set higher than either 1950s America or present-day China. Mine safety, after all, is not the Manhattan Project.

Part of the tragedy of this year’s deaths is that so many of them were preventable – perhaps even easily preventable. At Sago, twelve miners survived an initial explosion and were able to seek a safe haven in the depths of the mine. As they were trained to do, the miners strapped on emergency breathing devices and deployed a sort of plastic sheet in an effort to barricade themselves from the poisonous gas. The barrier failed to keep out the carbon monoxide. As for the breathing devices, four of twelve failed to work properly. The ones that worked delivered only an hour’s worth of oxygen – it took rescuers 42 hours to reach the miners. Eleven of the twelve barricaded men died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Barely two weeks after the Sago disaster, a fire in a Canadian potash mine trapped 72 miners below ground. These miners retreated to a “safe room,” a sealed chamber with a cache of oxygen, water, and food. Twenty-six hours later, rescuers reached them, and every man emerged unscathed.

The inability to communicate with miners – warning them of accidents, conveying instructions, and learning of their whereabouts below ground – is another issue that has received significant attention in the debate following this year’s accidents. Australian and Canadian mines use “personal emergency devices,” a 20-year-old technology similar to a pager that can send and receive signals through rock. The device was credited with saving lives in a 1998 fire at a Utah mine, but only 30 U.S. coal mines require its use.

Other proposals for meaningful safety measures are even more low-tech. Many miners are injured or killed when fellow miners fail to see them. One suggestion is as basic as requiring all miners to wear reflective clothing.

While new laws get headlines, it’s likely that boring-old, day-to-day enforcement and oversight will be more important to miner safety than anything in Congress’s forthcoming legislation. On this count, there are significant reasons to doubt both the commitment and the vigilance of the current administration.

Political appointees in both the Department and Labor and its Mine Safety and Health Administration (“MSHA”) have demonstrated an almost gleeful anti-regulation ideology – including a bias against safety regulations.

To give just a few examples, when the Bush Administration took office in 2001, it killed a draft regulation that would have increased the emergency oxygen available to miners. In the face of an advisory committee on lung disease that recommended lower amounts of respirable coal dust (which would also decrease the risk of explosions), a Bush Administration official at MSHA proposed increasing acceptable dust levels by 400%. As for the critical task of enforcement, there are 200 fewer federal inspectors today than five years ago – even as scores of new mines open and existing mines add shifts.

In the days after January’s Sago disaster, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao promised to “take the necessary steps to ensure that this never happens again.” Yet two weeks ago, an accident at the Kentucky Darby Mine with striking parallels to Sago resulted in the death of five miners. Like the Sago victims, three of the miners at Darby survived an explosion and were able to deploy their breathing units – the same model used at Sago. All three of the men died of carbon monoxide poisoning before rescuers could reach them. One survivor of the Darby accident reported that his breathing unit provided oxygen for only five minutes.

Let’s hope that a new mine safety law and a new attitude at enforcement agencies will result in meaningful change. American miners have a right to expect that all reasonable steps are being taken to protect their safety. Sadly, history gives them considerable reason to doubt that the “blood of miners” pattern will be broken.

America's Miners Deserve Better

Precious air: America's miners deserve better oxygen packs

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The United Mine Workers of America has gone to court to demand that someone ensure laborers get enough oxygen in emergencies _ a completely reasonable plea after 33 miners died this year, nearly half of them from carbon monoxide poisoning.

UMWA wants random inspections by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration of the emergency oxygen packs miners carry. And UMWA wants additional training in using them, not in the safety of tidy classrooms but in conditions simulating smoky, dark, terrifying mine accidents.

MSHA failed to require either when it issued temporary emergency rules earlier this year. And Congress didn't require either in a bill it passed last week strengthening mine safety regulations.

The Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2006 _ which President Bush has said he will sign _ does deal with important safety issues like communications from surface to tunnels and addresses some vital air issues. It requires mining companies to give workers emergency air packs containing twice as much oxygen _ two hours' worth _ and to store additional air supplies along escape routes.

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., attempted to amend the MINER Act to include random inspections of the breathing devices and training in emergency-like conditions.

He felt compelled to try to add these provisions based on the stories told by mine disaster survivors. The sole survivor of the January catastrophe at West Virginia's Sago mine, where 11 perished from carbon monoxide poisoning, said four of the emergency air devices failed, forcing miners to share the remaining oxygen packs. Then, in May, a survivor of the explosion at Kentucky's Darby Mine No. 1, where three died of carbon monoxide poisoning, told relatives his air pack worked for only a few minutes.

While MSHA says all of the emergency devices worked just fine, all of those at Sago contained oxygen, raising the question of why miners dying from lack of good air would discard them before they were empty.

Despite all that, the House rejected Miller's amendments to ensure the devices are in good operating condition before explosions occur and miners know how to use them in a panic.

Mine safety has hardly been a priority for Congress. It managed to adopt the first legislation in 30 years imposing significant improvements only after a series of highly publicized mine tragedies over the past six months. MSHA betrays the same lax attitude about protecting miners when it belittles the UMWA lawsuit as a "stunt."

Demanding an espresso bar for coffee breaks in tunnels would be a stunt. Petitioning for a secure supply of oxygen in emergencies is a right. The UMWA is fulfilling its duty to protect its members by asking. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia should grant the request before another miner suffocates.

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

Regulations Written in Miners Blood

Regulations written with miners' blood
By Michael Punke

History News Service

New mine-safety legislation has now been passed by both houses of the U.S. Congress and with the president's signature will become law. While a new law represents a positive step for miners, there's a real risk that it will prove a distraction from the change that's needed most urgently -- ongoing enforcement and oversight.

The legislation comes in response to a horrific year for mine safety. All of America watched the anguishing television coverage of January's Sago disaster, in which 12 miners died. With less attention but equal devastation, 21 more miners have since perished in other U.S. mining accidents.

In this post-disaster context, it will be difficult for any student of mining history to view congressional action with anything but a cynical eye. Historically, the U.S. government has proved itself moderately adept at passing laws in the scrutinized aftermath of tragedy. The open question is whether, without disaster as an immediate catalyst, executive regulators and congressional overseers will do the unheralded, day-to-day work of keeping mines safe.

There are strong reasons for doubt. We have, after all, been here before. The last major mining safety law, the Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, came after the 1976 Letcher County coal mine disaster in Kentucky (26 dead miners). The last law before that was the 1969 Coal Mine Health and Safety Act, which followed the 1968 Farmington disaster in West Virginia (78 dead miners). Even the creation of the first federal mine safety bureau came in reaction to disaster, the 1907 Monongah incident (362 dead miners).

Federal regulators and mine officials like to point to the broad trend toward improved safety. Last year, for example, saw the lowest number of mine fatalities, 22, in U.S. history. In 1950, by comparison, 643 U.S. miners died. And there are certainly other countries where things are worse. The calamity-ridden Chinese mining industry is on its way to yet another year in which more than 5,000 miners will die.
But surely the bar in the United States should be set higher than either 1950s America or present-day China. Mine safety, after all, is not the Manhattan Project.
Part of the tragedy of this year's deaths is that so many of them were preventable -- perhaps even easily preventable.

At Sago, 12 miners survived an initial explosion and were able to seek a safe haven in the depths of the mine. As they were trained to do, the miners strapped on emergency breathing devices and deployed a sort of plastic sheet in an effort to barricade themselves from the poisonous gas. The barrier failed to keep out the carbon monoxide.

As for the breathing devices, four of 12 failed to work properly. The ones that worked delivered only an hour's worth of oxygen. It took rescuers 42 hours to reach the miners. Eleven of the 12 barricaded men died of carbon-monoxide poisoning.
Contrast Sago with an accident that took place two weeks later in a Canadian potash mine. Seventy-two miners trapped by fire retreated to a "safe room," a sealed chamber with a cache of oxygen, water and food. Rescuers reached them 26 hours later, and every man emerged unscathed.

While new laws get headlines, it's boring old enforcement and oversight that are most critical to miner safety. On this count, there are reasons to question both the commitment and the vigilance of the current administration.
Political appointees in both the Department of Labor and its Mine Safety and Health Administration have demonstrated an almost gleeful anti-regulation ideology -- including a bias against safety regulations.

To give just a few examples: When the Bush administration took office in 2001, it killed a draft regulation that would have increased the emergency oxygen available to miners. In the face of an advisory committee on lung disease that recommended lower amounts of respirable coal dust (which would also decrease the risk of explosions), an MSHA official proposed increasing acceptable dust levels by 400 percent.

As for the critical task of enforcement, there are 200 fewer federal inspectors today than five years ago, even as scores of new mines open and existing mines add shifts.
In the days after January's Sago disaster, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao promised to "take the necessary steps to ensure that this never happens again." Yet a little more than a month ago, an accident at the Kentucky Darby Mine with striking parallels to Sago resulted in the death of five miners.

Like the Sago victims, three Darby miners survived an explosion and were able to deploy their breathing units -- the same model used at Sago. All three of the men died of carbon-monoxide poisoning before rescuers could reach them.

Little wonder that there's a common saying among the more than 100,000 Americans who make their living underground: "Safety laws are written with the blood of miners." Miners accept that their chosen profession will always carry considerable risk, but they have a right to expect that all reasonable steps are being taken to protect their safety.

True dedication to oversight and enforcement could break history's grim pattern. Absent such vigilance, one thing is as certain as history: Not only have we been here before -- we'll be here again too.

Michael Punke is a writer for the History News Service, an adjunct professor at the University of Montana, Missoula, and author of the forthcoming book "Fire and Brimstone: The North Butte Mining Disaster of 1917." Readers can write to him via e-mail at

Sago Mine Disaster

Sago mine disaster

13 miners were trapped for 2 days by a methane explosion. 1 miner survived. 1 died in the initial blast.

The crew initially tried to walk out of the mine. They encountered some debris. However, because 4 of the men’s air packs didn’t work, they made the decision to return to the area of the initial blast because it was determined that without working air packs for the 4 men, it wasn’t safe to attempt a walk out.

The doomed crew talked about rescue. They banged on roof bolts, in an attempt to signal where they had been trapped after the collapse. This caused them to use up available oxygen faster. They retreated behind a cloth barrier attached to a wooden barricade with the light of one headlamp, where they waited. Smoke from the blast became increasingly dense. They believed a seismograph above would register their signal. They believed that a specialized machine, like the one used in the rescue of trapped miners in the Quecreek mine Pennsylvania incident trapped for 78 hours, would be utilized to reach them. The men talked about how long the rescue should be expected to take. They expected rescuers would dig in the right spot, would have registered their signal, and would have the specialized machine to work with. As time went on, they realized that there chances were decreasing, and they had less hope of being rescued.

Meanwhile, there effort had been in vain to signal, because the machine was not delivered, out of the belief that it was not needed. The special machine was not used, because the rescuers felt reasonably certain they knew where the trapped miners were, and the specialized machine was only needed if that were not the case. The Federal Mine Safety & Health spokesman is quoted as indicating that it would have taken 12-15 hours to set up the equipment. As it was, 40 hours passed.

The trapped miners needed air. 4 of the miner’s air packs did not work. The men examined the air packs, and also tried them, without managing to make them work. The men, therefore, shared air packs between them. At one point, 2 of the men left the cloth barrier to search for a way out, about 90 minutes into their ordeal. They returned quickly, gagging, after approximately 1 ½ minutes, and the group determined their only option was to huddle and wait. "All of our options," Mr. McCloy said, "were diminished to nothing." The men took turns banging of the roof bolts in order to continue signaling. They placed their exhausted rescue devices in a pile. Some men wrote letters to loved ones. They prayed. Eventually, everyone started falling asleep. The men succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning hours later, though the sole survivor withstood 40 hours in the conditions, long enough to be rescued, and eventually recover consciousness and health in a medical setting.

It has been noted that a whole generation of mine workers has been trained to pound on roof bolts if they get trapped underground. It has also been noted that this is a fruitless effort on the part of trapped miners, because in the case of most mine disasters, no one is listening. While it is true that the USMSHA has a seismic detector designed to hear the vibrations, it is 1970’s outdated equipment that is not rapidly deployable. Officials from the agency have admitted its ineffectiveness. In fact, while the system has been set up before, it has never been used. It is both cumbersome and antiquated, but the only system currently available that can detect trapped miners’ signals.

USMSHA must maintain modern seismic detection systems. Furthermore, miners should not be trained to believe they are entering into contractual labor that has safety and rescue options that don’t truly exist.

Rescuers also determined that it would have been possible for the men to walk out of the mine. It is unclear whether it was the dysfunctional air packs, the debris, or the dense smoke that lead the men to believe that there was a cave-in trapping them. In fact, rescuers claim this was not the case. The men did attempt to find an alternative escape route, but there was very dense smoke where ever they went. Once behind the cloth barrier, Mr. McCloy said the miners did not attempt to leave the barricade because they were convinced that the combination of smoke, gas, the blockage they'd encountered and wrecked radios and mine telephones had made it impossible to escape.

In contrast to the events and the testimony of the survivor, officials of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration said tests on the four SCSR devices showed they were functioning. Investigators are confused by this, and were trying to determine this inconsistency. The Sago mine company’s explanation is that the stress of the situation caused the miners to perceive that they did not work. However, the survivor is adamant that there was something blocking their exit from the mine, and that they invested much time trying to make the air packs work, without success, and that something was definitely wrong with the devices. He claims that they were trained on them extensively, and that they understood perfectly well how they worked. In fact, it is clear, with questioning, that miners tried proper procedures to start emergency air packs. They also attempted a proper ‘jump start’ of the devices, recommended when they do not immediately activate.

Since the Sago mine disaster, it is believed the recent spate of mine fatalities, and the industry's handling of information pertaining to those deaths, may have cost the mining industry dearly in terms of credibility. In the Sago case, MSHA had issued citations but it is believed the mine had not corrected all the conditions. MSHA, for the purpose of protecting human life, can't afford to write the kind of citations they did prior to the Sago disaster, where they grant generous abatement periods and allow multiple citations to problem mines. In the past, a mine that makes a habit of poor management citations has not been considered as a serious threat to miner safety, unlike a mine that can be assessed as having violations imminently dangerous to health and safety, where a mine shut-down is required.

Mine rescue teams are now required to be located within an hour of a mine, with equipment and training. Maintenance, equipment and installing communications and tracking systems are necessary. Erroneous Sago communications created a public, media and political backlash. States considered pay hikes for mine inspectors. The President of the United States signed a Mine Safety Overhaul Bill into law, and the Miner Act was passed by Congress.

However, along with the previous rescue and equipment issues presented, a radio that can send a clear voice signal at least 11,600 feet into an underground coal mine may never get beyond the prototype stage because its developers say the market for it is too small. Coal production has increased steadily since World War II, but modern technology and a shift to surface mining allows companies to mine more coal with fewer employees at fewer mines. The decline in miners and underground mines has shrunk the market for mine safety devices. The relatively small market makes it hard for companies to recoup the cost of developing equipment that meets federal standards for use in underground mines. Most of the development of such safety equipment comes through contracts with the military, such as an Army contract for a radio to help troops maintain contact with their command centers as they move through basements, subways and other underground urban structures. In the Sago mine disaster, the explosion disabled the mine's wire-based phone system, leaving miners with no contact with rescuers.

People would like to see mine safety laws enforced strictly. Even as new legislation was passed following the Sago mine accident, it was missing some of the toughest provisions proposed by West Virginia's congressional delegation. Meanwhile, symposiums for the coal industry are looking at the Sago mine disaster in special sessions to highlight federal and state perspectives on the matter. Over the past few months, the Senate has overwhelmingly passed stricter mine safety laws. Who will implement them is still up in the air.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Geneva Convening??

The Geneva Conventions are housed in Switzerland. It is the government's responsibility to convene and host conferences when changes are needed. Switzerland has stated an interest in the affairs currently occurring between Israel and Palestine, and appears to be prepared to respond to a forum.

For its part, Switzerland is concerned with Israeli actions, but is also appealing to the Israeli's captors to 'treat him humanely'. The group has appeared to respond to this respectfully, and Palestine is filing a formal action calling for a conference at the Hague in this matter.

Palestinian Shares What It's Like...

Most people here are living on their nerves. It is not safe.

We live three kilometres from the northern Israeli border and we can see or hear the Israeli tanks all the time.

Why is one Israeli worth more than thousands of Palestinians in Israeli jails? These people are fighting for their rights. This soldier came from France to fight Palestinians in Gaza.

Support for Hamas is shrinking. People now understand that all this pressure is just because of Hamas.

I am married with five children and I have received just $300 salary in the last five months. The shops have stopped giving me credit.

Palestinians are like one family. Those who have give to those who don't. But we cannot do this forever.

At night we feel like we are in a jungle because of the darkness, because of the noise. There is no electricity so we cannot have the fan on.

The impisonment of Palestinian children, among other issues, has been frustrating to Palestinian families, many of which have one or several family members beind bars in Israel. Featured here is a photograph of Palestinian children, fathers and mothers protesting this, some holding pictures of loved ones.

Current Assessment

While some news agencies are still reporting that the Group holding the Israeli captive made statements implying they would kill the man if demands were not met by the deadline, other news agencies are reporting on the new situation at hand. As the deadline came and went, the group involved stated the hostage would not be killed, because Islamic law prevented such a thing. Therefore, the implication is now thought to be directed more towards the Israel PM and the state of Israel.

Even as militants said their would be no more discussion on freeing the Israeli soldier, this seemed to complement Israel's position, likewise, that there would be no discussion on freeing Palestinian prisoners, several hundred of which include children.

Furthermore, Palestine has indicated it's willingness to capture and hold hostage more Israelies. At the moment, both sides appear to have the other in some form of 'check'.

Meanwhile, Palestinians are demanding that Israel come to the negotiating table and work things out. They say that the time for an end to the conflict that has lasted over many decades now is overdue. Israel continues to take a hard line approach with the uncertainty of a resolution in question. Privately, however, Israel is making some internal indications that its primary focus is the safety, welfare and return of the captive Israeli, and that this plays a pivotal role in the conflict. It is forseeable that the negotiation of terms over this issue are going to be very important.

Both sides are coming under pressure from the International community, in different ways. Hamas is being held responsible for the safe return of the Israeli captive, with the acknowledgment that his capture was key to the formation of the present conflict. Israel has been encouraged from the onset to practice restraint and to continue to do so. Other observers are critical of the humanitarian issues currently present in Palestine that will have to be dealt with, and cannot be until the conflict is resolved through the withdrawel of both sides and a resolution of terms.

Palestine, at this point, appears to be attempting to force Israel to the negotiating table through courtroom proceedings, where Palestine would be granted an opportunity to present its case in an international forum for its greivances against Israel, and thereby be granted an ear not only by the international community, but also Israel itself as an attendant at the proceedings.

Hamas Plans Hague Action Against Israel

Palestinian justice minister says Hamas-led government is drafting petition against Israel over Gaza air strikes; petition to be filed with International Criminal Court at The Hague
Roee Nahmias

The Palestinian Authority is planning to file a petition with The Hague against Israel for "war crimes it committed against the Palestinians," a reference to the latest series of air strikes in Gaza and arrests of Hamas legislators in the West Bank.

The decision to press war crime charges against Israel with the International Criminal Court was announced by Justice Minister Ahmad al-Khalidi in an interview with the London-based daily al-Quds al-Arabi.

"We have taken legal steps to press charges against Israel with the international court of justice," al-Khalidi said.

Al-Khalidi said Israeli air strikes on power and water stations and government buildings in the Gaza Strip violate international law.

The minister warned that if the court fails to stop Israel's aggression against the Palestinians, Hamas will have no choice but to use violence in order to protect the Palestinian people.

"Suing Israel in the international court is a test for international institutions. If they deny the rights of Palestinians, then the international community has to act responsibly when it comes to blocking the legal channels to the Palestinians, forcing them to use violence to defend ourselves and our people," he said.

He stressed that his ministry will provide legal assistance to defend Hamas legislators arrested by Israel, which threatened to put on trial arrested Hamas members.

A statement issued Monday by the Palestinian government said: "What is being done against the Palestinian people and its government amount to war crimes which require the intervention of the United Nations."

(07.04.06, 10:11)

On the Palestinian side, meanwhile, lawmakers endorsed a call for Israel to release Palestinian prisoners in return for Shalit, including 26 Hamas lawmakers and several Cabinet members rounded up last week. The militants believed to be holding Shalit first demanded that Israel free women and minors, who account for several hundred of the 8,500 Palestinians in Israeli jails. The groups later amended their demand, calling on Israel to release 1,000 prisoners in exchange for Shalit, who is thought to be held captive in the southern Gaza Strip.

Palestine -

*Release women, and especially minors, being held in prison. Israel's prisons are holding children and women by several hundreds.
*Release Palestinian cabinet members and politicians, necessary to the function and leadership of the State of Palestine.
*Release politican prisoners, determined to number 1,000.
*Withdraw completely from Palestine with the return of the captured Israeli, and allow subsequent humanitarian aid to commence.
*Immediately restore water to Palestine areas, essential to life and for the aid of the injured.

Israel -
* Return the captured Israeli
* Withdraw any Palestinians from Israeli territory and cease military activities
* Do not cross into Israeli territory without permission

Monday, July 03, 2006

Groups Claim Substantiated by News Agencies

The Australian Sydney and other news agencies have substantiated the report from the 'Army of Islam, responsible for holding an Israeli soldier captive, that states Islamic law prevents them from killing the man. However, he is still hostage, condition and location unknown, with Palestine and Israel deadlocked over Israel's refusal to come to the negotiating table and discuss terms.

Group Claims Islamic Law Guides Them Not To Kill Shalit

Earlier, the 'Army of Islam' vowed not to release any new information that will give the "occupation good news or reassurance."

"We will not kill the soldier since the principles of Islam command us to treat prisoners with respect," a spokesman for one of the groups that kidnapped Gilad Shalit said on Tuesday, three hours after the ultimatum to release Palestinian prisoners, which was rejected by Israel, expired.

Earlier, the group vowed not to release any new information about Shalit.

--> It could be a miracle, if its true. However, this information needs to be confirmed. If it is substantiated, then Israel needs to be pressured to resolve the other issues on the table immediately, and Israel needs to restate its position and goals that are necessary for it to achieve in order to release Palestinians and withdraw from Gaza so that humanitarian efforts can ensue.

Abu Muthana, the spokesman of "the Army of Islam" announced shortly after the 6 a.m. deadline expired. He would not say whether the soldier is dead or alive. "We will not give any information that will give the occupation good news or reassurance," he told The Associated Press.

The Army of Islam was unheard of before the soldier was captured on June 25.

Nevertheless, the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper reported on Tuesday that Israel and the Palestinians were close to an agreement over the kidnapped soldier.

Reportedly, the soldier would be returned to Israel, via Egyptian or French mediators, in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.

Additionally, in exchange for the IDF halting its operations in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian organizations would apparently agree to stop rocket attacks on Israel.

Meanwhile, according to government officials, Israel would continue its ongoing military operation against Hamas as if there were no ultimatum, and has warned key international players that the military action will be escalated if Shalit is killed.

One senior official in the Prime Minister's Office said Monday that the IDF's ongoing military operation would not be impacted by the ultimatum.

The ultimatum triggered warnings by various cabinet ministers of fierce Israeli action if Shalit were harmed.

"If, God forbid, they should hurt the soldier, our operations will be far worse," Justice Minister Haim Ramon told Channel 2. Interior Minister Roni Bar-On told Y-Net that "the kidnappers will pay a price they have not yet paid if they harm the soldier."

In Moscow, meanwhile, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, during a 90-minute meeting with Russian President Vladimr Putin that was dominated by this crisis, said there was a "potential for regional deterioration" unless the international community applied pressure "decisively and immediately." Similar messages, according to diplomatic officials, were passed on during the day to Washington and to various European capitals.

Livni, according to sources in her office, said that Syrian President Bashar Assad and Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal were the main actors behind the scenes, and needed to be the focus of international pressure.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz also continued shining the spotlight on Syria, telling a Labor faction meeting in the Knesset Monday, "We suggest that Assad, who is trying to operate with his eyes shut, open his eyes, because he is responsible. We will know how to strike those who are involved."

Shalit's captors gave Israel a 24-hour ultimatum to start releasing some 1,500 prisoners, and implied that they would kill him if he was not released. Later Monday they said they would issue another announcement when that ultimatum expired.

"We give the Zionist enemy until 6:00 tomorrow morning, Tuesday, July 4," the three groups that seized Shalit said in a statement posted on a Hamas Web site and faxed to news agencies.

If Israel doesn't comply with the demands, "we will consider the soldier's case to be closed," the statement said, an apparent reference to killing him. "And then the enemy must bear all the consequences of the future results."

Abu Obeida, a spokesman for the Hamas military wing, said Israel must at least begin freeing the women and minors.

"Israel must understand that the resistance factions are serious in this matter. They will close this case if [Israel] doesn't deal with the demands," he said, adding that there would be no compromise.

The government, however, unequivocally rejected the demands.

Following consultations with top security officials, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert issued a statement that read, "Israel will not give in to extortion by the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas government, which are led by murderous terrorist organizations. We will not conduct any negotiations on the release of prisoners. The Palestinian Authority bears full responsibility for the welfare of Gilad Shalit and for returning him safe and sound to Israel."

Israeli intelligence officials said the ultimatum was likely issued Monday morning because the kidnappers feared they would be discovered and that the IDF would launch a hostage retrieval operation.

Since Shalit's abduction last Sunday, the IDF has said he is in the Gaza Strip but has said it did not know his exact location. According to intelligence experts, the longer the standoff in Gaza continues, the easier it would be to locate the kidnappers and their hideaway.

Livni, who spoke with Olmert before meeting Putin and is in close consultation with the prime minister, spoke at length about the agony of Shalit's family, the killing last week of Eliahu Asheri and the situation in Sderot. She also met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russia's Security Council head Igor Ivanov.

During these talks, according to her office, Livni said that Israel had shown restraint up until now, but that it would "not put up with the situation much longer."

At a press conference after meeting Lavrov, Livni, in an apparent jibe at Russia for meeting with Hamas representatives soon after they won the Palestinian Legislative Council elections in January, said, "If someone still had any doubts about the character of Hamas, the recent events have demonstrated that the government claims responsibility for terrorist attacks and strives to conduct negotiations concerning those terrorist attacks with Israel."

"Elections are not some kind of a washing machine whereby a terrorist organization can wash itself. Terror is terror," she said.

he Kremlin issued a statement saying that Putin had called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas after the Livni meeting, and that the Russian president said Moscow "will do everything in its power to promote the swiftest possible normalization of the situation in the Palestinian territories." Lavrov, meanwhile, called for Shalit's release and an end to attacks on Israeli cities, while urging Israel to show restraint in its offensive in Gaza.

"The main thing now is to have the Israeli soldier freed. We are trying to facilitate this through every channel we have," Lavrov said at a press conference after meeting Livni.

Lavrov said it was necessary to "by all means stop the spiral of violence, which requires restraint and wisdom."

The EU, meanwhile, issued a statement Monday saying that said it was "extremely concerned about the situation which has evolved over the last days between Israel and the Palestinians and calls on all parties to abstain from any actions that are in violation of international law. It calls for the immediate and unconditional release of the kidnapped Israeli soldier."

The statement condemned Asheri's murder and called on the Palestinians to end terrorism and rocket fire on Israel. At the same time, it expressed its "particular concern about the detention of elected members of the Palestinian government and legislature. Those detained should be accorded their full legal rights."

The statement also "reminds all parties of their responsibility to protect civilian lives. Notwithstanding Israel's legitimate right of self-defense, ongoing military operations should be in accordance with international law."

The statement called on Israel "to exercise the utmost restraint and to avoid disproportionate action." It also regretted "the destruction of essential infrastructure, which contributes to the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Gaza. Restoring electricity and water supplies and access for humanitarian organizations must be a priority now to avoid a humanitarian crisis."

Yaakov Katz and AP contributed to this report

Israel, Palestine Close to Shalit Deal?

The Jerusalem Post

The London-based Al-Hayat newspaper reported on Tuesday that Israel and the Palestinians were close to an agreement over kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit.

Reportedly, the soldier would be returned to Israel, via Egyptian or French mediators, in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.

Additionally, in exchange for the IDF halting its operations in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian organizations would apparently agree to stop rocket attacks on Israel.

Palestine Faces Dissolution as Terror Group Cuts Off Comunication

Palestinian PM's plea on brink of war
Martin Chulov, Gaza

PALESTINIAN Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh has pleaded for the world to help stop the slide towards war in the Holy Land as the deadline expired for the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Israel tightened its grip on Gaza yesterday, pounding the northern strip with artillery shells and destroying Mr Haniyeh's city offices in an early-morning bombing raid ahead of a full-scale invasion of the Palestinian territory that a cabinet meeting was expected to authorise last night.

Before the meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert continued his uncompromising stance in the face of Palestinian and Egyptian attempts to broker a peace deal, which included the release of prisoners in return for Corporal Shalit's freedom.

Arab media last night reported that the deal involved the release of prisoners who had served more than 20 years in Israeli jails.

"We have no intention of capitulating to any kind of extortion," Mr Olmert said.

"Capitulation means inviting the next act of terror.

--> I fail to see his point. Even now he is inviting the next act of terror, by his own logic. I fail to see how he has achieved his objectives. In this respect, he has failed, so what are the grounds for his statement? Without some proof to offer, I don't see how he can be taken seriously. And in his position, I would think he would want to be taken seriously.

"I instructed the Israel Defence Forces and the security establishment to hurt anyone who bears responsibility for acts of terror.

"No one will get away. Gilad is being held by a bloodthirsty gang, which is also hurting the Palestinian population."

Earlier, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had demanded the Hamas-led Government of Mr Haniyeh respond to a deadline he had set for midday, Gaza time, to free Corporal Shalit in return for Israeli promises to release prisoners at a later point.

Mr Haniyeh, a marked man since an Israeli death threat against him last Friday, privately urged Hamas militants to hand over the captive they have held since seizing him during a daring tunnel incursion into Israel on June 25.

He described the destruction of his office as "a policy of jungle arrogance" and later released a statement, after consulting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, which urged the world to stop the Israeli offensive.

--> I am also surprised that the Israel PM has not considered that the terror group holding the captive Israeli may hold no interest in seeing the current Palestinian government persist. They may have visions people like themselves seizing power after Hamas. If I were the Israel PM, I would consider the negotiating power that Hamas may be able to bring to this situation, with their backs to the wall. Israel is not rationalizing what it has in common with the Palestinian cabinet. While he should hold them responsible, he should consider what they have to lose , as well.

"The international community must shoulder its responsibility," he said.

Israel is holding Mr Haniyeh responsible for the kidnapping as elected head of the Palestinian people. But security officials in the Palestinian Authority insist he had no knowledge of the operation and are instead pointing to the Damascus-based head of the Hamas politburo, Khalid Meshaal, as a likely instigator.

Mr Haniyeh claims the Israeli offensive was a premeditated plan to bring down his Government.

The arrest of up to 32 Hamas legislators, including eight cabinet ministers, in the West Bank last week removed what little authority he retained after a five-month blockade. The office of the Gaza-based Interior Minister was also destroyed in an Israeli air raid last week.

Israeli analysts have speculated the Hamas MPs could be used as a bargaining chip to free Corporal Shalit, who Palestinian officials say was visited by a doctor last week and is in good health.

Mr Abbas, who has been prevented from leaving Gaza, has blamed factional fighting for the delay in Corporal Shalit's release, saying he remained hopeful of a diplomatic outcome.

Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz ordered the temporary re-opening of the Karni goods crossing into Gaza to allow the delivery of 150 trucks of aid relief,

as world pressure mounted to ease a feared humanitarian crisis.

The trucks slowly entered the restive strip under an arc of renewed shell fire into the north, which was pounded for the sixth consecutive day by artillery.

Jerusalem officials also authorised Israeli power companies to increase the supply of electricity into Gaza after jet fighters bombed the main transformers on Tuesday night, cutting power to almost 70 per cent of the strip.

Condemnation of the Israeli operation, dubbed "Summer Rains", mounted in Muslim nations, with pro-Palestinian rallies in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, as well as Jordan, Morocco and Algeria.

Both the UN and US have said Israel has a right to defend itself, but have urged Mr Olmert to prevent the conflict from descending into outright war.

Canberra has strongly backed the Israeli operation and condemned the killing by West Bank militants last week of a second kidnap victim, Eliyahu Asheri, the son of an Australian-born convert to Judaism.

Up to 200 tanks have taken positions in northern and eastern Gaza, while several columns more remain confined to the abandoned airport in the south of the strip.

Careful Resolve Attempts to Take Foot Amidst Angry Giants

A military leader who is aware of his emotional responses, but can control them in favor of reasoning his way through stategical choices to outwit the enemy transmits the same as an example to his countrymen and soldiers.

By making revenge and the need to punish a declaration of war, it risks alienation from allies, because of war could turn into genocide, mass killings and slaughter, or other manifestations of overzealous warfare.

The vision for what one wishes to accomplish through the tactic of battle must be very clear. Goals can easily be lost to rage. The mission should be noble, like the rescue of a fellow countryman from hostile forces. This mission is lost in an escalation of warfare where the goal becomes unclear.

Israel has a strong position in the demand that the Israeli captive be released and returned safely. I also believe that in exchange for the Israeli, Israel needs to release the captured Palestinians. Israel's declaration that all conflict will cease upon the return of the Israeli speaks of strength, and in the satisfaction in the accomplishment of their demand. To be fair, Palestine should be paying reparations to Israel for the loss of their people who were kidnapped and subsequently killed. The money should go to the families left behind. For Israel's part, they should pay reparations to the families of the dead, where such exist and they are responsible, following the prior treaty granting Palestine autonomy.

In my belief, there is a lack of accountability in the Middle East. There culture boasts contributions to education, religion and so forth, making the region one of the world's civilized society. Yet, they are rife with blood feuds and conflicts extending backwards in time for sometimes many generations. It is culturally significant that where a person is murdered, and the offending party and there family do not compensate the deceased's family financially for their grave loss, then there is no law and there is no honor. The society exists only on its face a profession of honor and nobility. Underneath, wronged members of that society are forced to make there own rights, and mafia like conditions take place.

Politicians have a very important role to play, including in the example that they provide for their people, the laws they keep, even as they expect their people to keep the laws, and also in setting the tone and mood for their country. If a leader becomes murderous, his people are likely to be caught up in the same emotional response, because of a leader's decision making capacity, and his example. Nation states experience events together, with their own perspective generated by their view of the world acting on them in unique ways significant to their culture. Where a leader is cool, calm, collected and both aware of his emotions but balanced with experience of the need to reason through decision making, he also sets an example and a tone. Military crisis are difficult, but the choice to keep thinking your way through provides determination, spirit and the endurance necessary to see the battle to its end. There is no time to waste during war, just as there is no life that is not valuable. Time=Life.

Palestine continues to declare that Israel is only making t worse for itself by attacking Israel, because Israel is endangering the life of the captive they wish to save. However, Palestine is primarily responsible for the endangerment of the Israeli captive by holding him hostage to begin with. Their effort to influence the International community or neighboring sympathizers suggests that they are aware of their own weakness, and are hoping for outside aid so that they do not have to consider a defeat. However, Israel has determinedly stated that they will cease all warfare activity upon the release of the Israeli soldier. It is right and just that a country take the kidnapping and hostage situation of their people very seriously. Palestine has a collective decision to make: they may determine that they wish to discontinue their capture and release the Israeli individual, or they may choose to be forced to do so. They grant themselves more latitude by making the first choice in the latter.

Israel's Political Leaders Rocked by Their Emotional Responses to a Tenuous Situation

MK Sharoni baits Arab MK , says Israel should 'obliterate' Gaza, during an intense emotional moment at talks. The frustration for Israel as it is admonished for its part is not sinking in well with the Israeli leadership.

Read as follows:

Shouting matches broke out in the Knesset on Monday afternoon during a charged debate on three no-confidence motions filed by Arab parties regarding Israel's military response to the kidnapping of a soldier by Palestinian militants.

The no-confidence motions were defeated by a large majority after all opposition parties - with the exception of Arab parties - supported the coalition.

The no-confidence motion brought forth by Hadash said the Israel Defense Forces operations in Gaza and the arrests of Palestinian parliamentarians were planned in advance and added that the kidnapping of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit cannot be seen as a catalyst for these wide Israeli actions.

During the debate, MK Moshe Sharoni (Gil) directed heated barbs at his Israeli Arab colleagues.
"You are cooperating with terror. You are supporting the terrorists. You place is not here. Go there. Where were you when they murdered an 18.5-year-old boy in Ramallah? Did you say anything then? You kept quiet. Where are you when they are fire Qassams day after day at Sderot? We need to obliterate Gaza and call it the City of Murderers, the City of Terrorists."

Yisrael Beiteinu MK Alex Miller also hinted that Arab Knesset members should move to Gaza.

"I think that those MKs who were disturbed by the fact that we arrested parliament members from Palestina can go there and take their places. They will certainly be welcomed warmly," Miller said.

United Arab List MK Ahmed Tibi said "it is not possible for tanks and mortars to bombard refugee camps and to say: 'We hurt children and civilians by accident.' All the recent air forces attacks in Gaza were carried out due to a lack of choice? You blow up a vehicle on Salah a-Din Street out of lack of choice?"

Hadash MK Mohammed Barakeh said the IDF operations in Gaza are reminicsient of Operation Peace for Galilee that evolved into the Lebanon war.

Kadima MK Ruhama Avraham said to Barakeh: "Call for the release of the soldier" to which he replied "I won't do anything at your request."

Arab MK calls on Hamas to extend deadline
United Arab List Chairman MK Talab al-Sana called Monday evening on Hamas and two other militant groups responsible for the kidnapping of Corporal Gilad Shalit to extend the 6 A.M. Tuesday deadline it gave Israel to release 1,000 Palestinian prisoners or "pay the consequences"

He also urged the government to end military operations in Gaza and suggested Arab MKs act as mediators in an effort to end the growing crisis.

Israeli Arab leaders demonstrated earlier Monday opposite a military prison calling for the release of the Hamas parliamentarians arrested by Israel last week.

The protest was held opposite the Ofer military prison, located north of Jerusalem adjacent to the Ramallah suburb of Beituniya, where thousands of Palestinian security prisoners are held.

Nearly all Arab Knesset members participated in the protest together with relatives of some of the detainees who are Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem.

Chairman of the Israeli Arab Higher Follow-Up Committee, Shweiki Khatib, said during the protest that "the Israeli government is trying to create Palestinian leaders who fit its own parameters."

Khatib said the demonstration was meant to open Israel's eyes.

"We are acting from a unique place. We are the part of the Palestinian people who stayed on our land within the borders of the State of Israel. We are acting with the understanding that the occupation is destructive. We were always a shofar sounding the truth," Khatib said.

All Israeli Arab MKs slammed the government's policies and each of the Arab parties is attempting to act against these policies.

Islamic Movement MKs Sheikh Ibrahim Tzartzur and Sheikh Abbas Zaqur visit family members of arrested Hamas officials who live in East Jerusalem.

Balad party Chairman MK Azmi Bishara appeared live last week on Syrian satellite television and said the kidnapping of Shalit at the Kerem Shalom outpost was a sacrificial operation carried out by Palestinian activists.

"The context is the occupation, the context is the failure of the disengagement. We will not dance to the Israeli drum," Bishara said on a live broadcast immediately after Israel Air Force warplanes buzzed the palace of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Despite the protest and the attempts to effect public opinion, sources in the Israeli Arab Higher Follow-Up Committee admit their influence on the Israeli and Palestinian sides is not significant.
Most Israeli Arab Knesset members have no working ties with Hamas despite their general call on Israel to respect the voting choices of the Palestinian people.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas also does not host Israeli Arab leaders as often as did his predecessor Yasser Arafat.

"Both sides are uninterested in our help," said Israeli Arab Higher Follow-Up Committee spokesman Abed Enbatawi.

Hamas Displays Diplomatic Willingness

Hamas: Resolve Shalit Crisis Through Diplomacy

Senior Hamas Government official says 'we reiterate necessity to resolve Gilad Shalit problem with logic, wisdom'; Adds: We think there remains chance to reach acceptable formula.

A senior Hamas government official said Monday that “the crisis with Israel over the kidnapping of a soldier (Gilad Shalit) should be resolved through diplomacy,” signaling the group may be softening its line after issuing a harsh ultimatum to Israel that expires in less than 10 hours."Since the kidnapping of the Israeli soldier we have called for the need to protect his life and solve the problem through calm diplomatic channels," said Ghazi Hamad, the Hamas government spokesman.

'Resistance factions serious'

"We reiterate the necessity to resolve this problem with logic and wisdom and we think there remains a chance to reach an acceptable formula." Earlier Monday, Hamas implied it would kill Shalit if Israel does not begin releasing about 1,500 Palestinian prisoners early Tuesday.

Earlier on MondayAbu Obeida, spokesman for the Hamas military wing, told the Associated Press that Israel must at least begin freeing the women and minors. "Israel must understand that the resistance factions are serious in this matter. They will close this case if (Israel) doesn't deal with the demands," he said, adding that the militants would not compromise.

Abu Obeida refused to specify what the militants would do if the ultimatum was ignored.

Meanwhile, the European Union urged Israel on Monday to free Hamas officials, including eight Cabinet ministers and 26 legislators, and show restraint in its military campaign to force Palestinian militants to free Shalit. It also called for the soldier's "immediate and unconditional release."

During a visit to Helsinki, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the EU is "very concerned about the negative developments we are now seeing," and urged both parties to solve the conflict.

"We in the commission are ready to assist all the efforts of our member states to give positive contributions," Barroso said after talks with Finnish President Tarja Halonen whose country assumed the rotating EU presidency on Saturday.

The EU called on Palestinian leaders "To bring an end to violence and terrorist activities, including the firing of rockets on Israeli territory."

Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Broadcast: 03/07/2006

TONY JONES: Well, it's now nine days since the capture of Corporal Gilad Shalit and as the tension increases on the Gaza border, so too do the ransom demands. Militants have set a 24-hour deadline for the release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners before they'll free the captured soldier. Israel has rejected the ultimatum; instead deploying its military might in a series of air raids and incursions. Our Middle East correspondent Matt Brown reports from Gaza.

MATT BROWN, MIDDLE EAST CORRESPONDENT: Israel has once again invaded Palestinian territory and rolled into Gaza. The second incursion within a week is taking place in the north of the Gaza Strip. The Israeli military says its tanks and troops are looking for explosive devices and tunnels dug under the border with Israel. Overnight, a building being used by the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an armed offshoot of President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction, was hit in an air strike. Israel says the building was being used to store weapons. Another building used by the Brigades was also hit in the overnight raids, and the bodies of two of the three Palestinians killed yesterday were brought to a hospital in Rafah. They were shot by Israeli troops near the Gaza airport. Despite the growing pressure on the Palestinian leadership, there's still no sign of a backdown.

MAN #1: Your aggression against our people - this will lead to nothing and this may be reflected negatively on the life of the soldiers, so you have to be very, very careful and you have to stop your aggression.

MATT BROWN: The militants holding the captured Israeli soldier have issued an ultimatum, demanding that 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel be released before they'll hand over the soldier. They've given Israel less than 24 hours to comply.

GHAZI HAMAD, PALESTINIAN GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN: Israel will not reward acts of terrorism and terrorism will not be paid.

MATT BROWN: But while Israel says publicly that it won't negotiate for Corporal Gilad Shalit's release, Hamas leaders say that behind the scenes, a deal is in progress.

HAIM RAMON, ISRAELI JUSTICE MINISTER (TRANSLATION): The Zionist enemy is still being stubborn. They were originally refusing to give anything in return for releasing the soldier, and then, they were talking about releasing the number that they see fit, at a time they see fit, and the Palestinian resistance cannot accept that. The situation must be clear and precise, and, at the very least, they need to release, in the first stage, the children and women prisoners in Israeli jails.

MATT BROWN: At this funeral for a Hamas man killed in an air strike on the weekend, the mourners are adamant - Israel must do a deal.

MAN #2: This is a prisoner of war; it's not a kidnapped soldier. You have to end this suffering. You have to end this suffering. You have to end this war. We know, we get bored of this bloodshed.

MATT BROWN: The Palestinian cemetery near the border with Israel - reserved for the bodies of martyrs - is expanding fast. Outside the northern Gaza town of Betanun, Israeli tanks stand guard on the ridgeline. Armoured bulldozers are clearing the fields below. At least one militant operating on the edge of Betanun has already been killed by Israeli forces. Unmanned spy planes, fighter jets, and attack helicopters have been crisscrossing the sky here and Israeli artillery has opened up on the fields just outside the town. Matt Brown, Lateline.

Israel is faced with a very stiff proposition...if militants end the life of the Israeli captive without the exchange of captives, then there is the suggestion that they will capture another Israeli...and another, until they are complied with. Of course, the captors must accept that the risk of life and limb is imperiled as well when they up-the-ante in this way. It is odd that even as they assay their opposition, they would rely on the goodwill of their opponent to keep arrested Palestinians safe. Such tactics revolve on the head-of-a-pin, logically speaking, being prone to breakdown, poor juidgement, and the worst-case scenario for the plotters. In the meantime, I believe failure in these negotiations should be the last option. There is always another choice to make in order to be working for resolution, even if the tasks seem monumental or a long-shot. Certainly I am aware that the Palestinian captors are attempting to force Israel to run through all its options as quickly as possible so that they may arrive at only one option - the one they want. However, this really does highlight one of Palestine's long standing problems - a lack of experience and judgement in its nation state affairs. Palestine has already admitted defeat if it chooses to end its capture of the Israeli by ending his life. They will have failed to achieve their goals because of a lack of judgement, assessment of the situation, admit they have failed, and attempt to make up for it in death. In short, they will have failed to see their options.

Nation Tormented As History Repeats Itself

The Sydney Morning Herald
july 4, 2006

GAZA CITY: The kidnappers of the young Israeli soldier knew his comrades would be searching for him, and that the end would come quickly if their safe house was discovered.

So their Palestinian commanders gave out special instructions, a former Hamas leader recalled as he described the 1994 kidnapping of Corporal Nachshon Waxman.

"If there's any movement around the house, your first step is to kill the soldier … don't think about your life," said Imad Falouji, one of the Hamas leaders negotiating in secret with the then prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin.

When Israel located Corporal Waxman, commandos stormed the West Bank safe house. By the time they reached the second-floor room where the Israeli-American was tied to a chair, the soldier had a bullet in his neck and in his chest. He was dead.

As Israel agonises over the capture of 19-year-old Corporal Gilad Shalit, the kidnapping of Corporal Waxman almost 12 years ago could offer some answers to what may lie ahead. Or it could prove a harsh lesson in what not to do. Some, including Mr Falouji, believe the circumstances of the two kidnappings are so similar that Corporal Shalit's fate is inevitable.

Mr Falouji said it was almost certain that Corporal Shalit has had a gun to his head 24 hours a day since he was taken on June 25.

In October 1994, the kidnapping of Corporal Waxman gripped Israel for six days. In a video, the terrified soldier had asked Mr Rabin to free prisoners including the jailed founder of Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin.

Like the current prime minister, Ehud Olmert, Mr Rabin had publicly ruled out negotiations with the kidnappers. Behind the scenes, he used an Arab-Israeli member of the Israeli parliament as an intermediary with Falouji and Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas leader who is now the Palestinian Foreign Minister.

The word came that Mr Rabin would free Sheik Yassin after Corporal Waxman was released. Hamas agreed to extend the deadline for executing the soldier by 24 hours. That gave the Israeli military timeto learn the soldier was in a house in Bir Naballah.

After the raid, the house became something of a shrine for Corporal Waxman's parents, Esther and Yehuda. For Esther Waxman, 59, the events of the past week have brought fresh pain. "It's an identical situation," she said in Jerusalem. "All we can do is pray that this story has a different ending."

Too Confused to Surrender??

By Dennis Ross

Israel faces a crisis with a Palestinian Authority that lacks a clear address. Who can be held accountable? The internal Hamas, which makes up the cabinet and the legislative council? Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister, tells Mahmoud Abbas that he knows nothing and was blindsided by the attack at Kerem Shalom and the kidnapping. The external Hamas, which is led by Khaled Mashaal in Damascus? Even if he is calling the shots, he is in Syria and not so easy to get at.

How about Mahmoud Abbas? He is the president of the Palestinian Authority and has unequivocally condemned the Hamas-led attack, which if nothing else was an embarrassment to him as he negotiated with Haniyeh to produce internal peace among Palestinians. Abbas surely has the intention to act but continues to lack the capability.

Perhaps, the address should be outside of the Palestinian Authority. While Iran continues to push Hamas and others to carry out attacks against Israel, it is Syria that provides the headquarters and sanctuary to the external leadership of Hamas. Maybe Syria must come to see that it is in its interest to force Khaled Mashaal to order those who hold Cpl. Gilad Shalit to release him.

Surely, if Mashaal thought he would be forced to leave the comfort and safety of Damascus, he would think twice about the value of holding Shalit.

This is the context in which Israel must act - a context in which one Palestinian told me that "we don't even have the capacity to surrender." If the context were not difficult enough, Israel must balance the need to demonstrate that Hamas will pay a price that matters to it with the need to keep the international community on board. The longer the crisis goes on, the more Europeans and others will be uneasy about the price the Palestinian public in Gaza is paying.

To this point, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert appears to be juggling the various needs effectively. From Palestinians I am speaking with - admittedly part of Fatah - the arrests of Hamas governmental and elected officials has had a shock effect on at least the internal Hamas. It is reeling right now. Many around Abbas believe that it is possible that a new government without Hamas in it will emerge out of this crisis.

Perhaps, but the crisis has unfortunately not yet played out. How it ends will undoubtedly affect what comes next. Will Hamas decide to cut its losses or will it decide to hold out, hoping that Israeli coercion and attacks that cause high civilian losses will cause such anger among Palestinians, the Arab world and the international community that it recoups what it has lost? One should never bet on Hamas doing the right thing.

On the contrary, its objectives and its leaders - even those who supposedly are "pragmatic" - seem capable only of lowest common denominator decisions opting for violence and confrontation. Should Hamas leaders decide that their survival depends on conceding now, they might choose a different course.

FOR THE near term, that argues for keeping them off balance and under pressure. Israel certainly should continue to weaken Hamas's infrastructure. At the same time, Abbas should be encouraged to assume his role of responsibility for the well-being of the Palestinian public, emphasizing that Hamas and its external patrons, like the Syrians, must stop treating the Palestinian people as pawns and making them suffer.

The international community led by the United States must orchestrate pressures on Bashar Assad in Syria to make it clear that Syria has something to lose if Shalit is not released unharmed. King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia has more leverage than anyone else in dealing with Assad and the Saudis need to play a role in trying to resolve this crisis.

For the longer term, there needs to be a strategy for altering the basic ground rules, and here Egypt and Jordan can play an important role. Collectively they need to work on Abbas to appoint an emergency government without Hamas or Fatah officials in it and to decide, finally, to create a professional security force that is led by a real commander who has his backing and blessing.

All the talk of restructuring never happened; a professional to run the force was never put in charge.

In current circumstances, Abbas - with Egyptian and Jordanian urging - might finally see that he has no choice but to act in this way. With international financing and backing, a new, professional security force could be constructed.

Even a force of 10,000 that acts professionally and is led by those who are committed to ensuring law and order would be sufficient - and the fact is that such a force could be constructed in time if Abbas acted decisively, picked the right leadership for it, entrusted them to fulfill this mandate and had the financing from the international community for it.

Interestingly, the Israeli defense establishment would also be supportive of such an initiative, seeing it as the only way to end chaos on the Palestinian side and to ensure that Hamas or al-Qaida don't define the Palestinian future.

But one last element must also be put in place: In the aftermath of the crisis, a UN Security Council resolution should be adopted which declares that the Israeli occupation of Gaza is over and that all attacks and rocket fire out of Gaza against Israel must cease once and for all.

Israel left Gaza, and yet not for one day did the rocket fire into Israel cease. Without the Kassam rockets, there would not have been a train of events that produced the current crisis.

Even in terms of the Palestinian narrative, there is no conceivable justification for attacks out of Gaza once occupation had ended.

If there is to be a more enduring basis for stability in Gaza when this crisis ends, the Security Council needs to adopt a resolution - much like it did after the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon - that delegitimizes all such attacks. And, assuming there is a new emergency Palestinian government without Hamas, the international community must also urgently provide a package of economic assistance to help this new government deliver.

The writer, a senior diplomat in the first Bush and Clinton administrations, is director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Israel Strikes Offensive for Freedom of Captured Soldier-Timeline

03 Jul 2006 09:44:56 GMT
Source: Reuters

July 3 (Reuters) - Israel has launched an offensive to try to get Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip to free a soldier captured a week ago.

Below are some of the main events so far:

June 25, 2006
* Militants including members of the governing Hamas movement carry out cross-border raid from Gaza, killing two Israeli soldiers and abducting Corporal Gilad Shalit. Two attackers are killed.

June 28
* Israeli aircraft strike bridges in Gaza while helicopters knock out main power plant, cutting off electricity for hundreds of thousands of residents.

* Troops and tanks enter southern Gaza, taking control of the disused international airport in the biggest raid into the territory since Israel quit Gaza in 2005 after 38 years of occupation.

* Israeli warplanes buzz one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's palaces in a warning to him and the exiled Hamas leaders that he hosts.

June 29
* Israel detains dozens of Hamas cabinet ministers and lawmakers in the occupied West Bank in a move the Islamist group says is aimed at toppling its government.

June 30
* Israeli warplanes set ablaze the Interior Ministry offices of the Hamas government in Gaza.

July 1
* Factions who captured Shalit demand Israel free 1,000 "Palestinian, Arab and Muslim prisoners" and end Gaza assault in return for his release. Israel rejects the demands.

* Palestinian official, quoting mediators, says Shalit is alive and in good condition after being treated for wounds.

* U.S. President George W. Bush says release of Shalit should be the first step to ending Gaza crisis.

July 2
* Israel helicopter fires missile at empty Gaza office of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas a few hours before dawn.

* Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says Israel will strike anyone who harms its citizens.

* Israel reopens Karni, the main commercial crossing into Gaza, as humanitarian crisis looms in the strip.

July 3
* Israeli tanks and armoured bulldozers push into the northern Gaza Strip in what an Israeli military source describes as a "pinpoint operation" to locate tunnels and explosives near the border fence.

* Militants who abducted Shalit give Israel less than 24 hours -- until 6 a.m. (0300 GMT) -- to meet their demands to release Palestinian prisoners, threatening unspecified consequences if it refuses.

* A Palestinian gunman in the northern Gaza Strip is killed by an Israeli aircraft, witnesses said.

The statement has been put forth by international observers that the United States interest in mediation and Israel and Palestine living conflict-free is an opportunity for those who wish to use mediation and resolution formats to undermine the United States. However, it should be pointed out that these types of rationalizations suffer the people. Such situations result in humanitarian crisis for the fulfillment of agendas, rather than national integrity.

Neighbboring Allies to Palestine State Positions

Syria: Captors Have the Right to Demand Swap

Monday, July 3, 2006

DAMASCUS - The Associated Press

Militants are entitled to demand the release of jailed Palestinians in exchange for a captured Israeli soldier, and Israel and the U.S. have no right to call for his unconditional release, a state-run newspaper said on Sunday in an editorial that likely reflects Syria's official take on the matter.

The Tishrin daily, which often mirrors government thinking, said the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton renewed his "loyalty" to the Jewish state on Friday when he called on Syria to act against Hamas, whose militants claimed responsibility for the soldier's June 25 abduction.

"Since the capture of the Israeli soldier ... Bolton has been waiting impatiently to vent the hatred and spite on his face on Syria and to renew his loyalty to Israel," the front-page editorial said.

"As soon as the Security Council announced it was holding a session to evaluate the situation in the region ... Bolton turned to the media to exonerate Israel and lay the blame on Syria," it said.

Syria's focus on Bolton was significant, since he is widely viewed as a relative hardliner in the Bush administration and has been a prominent critic of Syria in the war on terror.

At an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Friday, Bolton called for the immediate and unconditional release of Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit by Hamas, saying it would be the best way to resolve the immediate crisis.

But to establish lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, he said Syria and Iran must "end their role as state sponsors of terror and unequivocally condemn the actions of Hamas, including this kidnapping."

Bolton also called on Syrian President Bashar Assad to arrest Hamas' top political leader Khaled Mashaal, who lives in Damascus, and close the militant group's office in the Syrian capital.

The soldier's captors, on the other hand, have offered to trade "information" about Shalit in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.

"These (Palestinian) groups have the legitimate right under international law to seek such an exchange," the newspaper said.

"Israel has the right to accept or reject (the conditions), but it is an international precedent for Israel and Bolton to demand his immediate and unconditional release," it added.

The U.S. accusations against Syria came days after Israeli warplanes buzzed Assad's summer residence in the western city of Latakia on the Mediterranean coast. The Israeli action was seen as a message to Assad to use his influence with Hamas to win the Shalit's release.

Several countries have asked Assad to intervene. Syria, according to Arab officials, has said it cannot do so while the Israeli offensive against Gaza continues.

Amid efforts to defuse the crisis, Assad received Qatar's foreign minister, Sheik Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr Al Thani, on Saturday.

No details emerged about the meeting. Mashaal and other members of Hamas' politburo were based in the Gulf state for some time before moving to Syria in 1999.