US warships head for Israel for possible evacuation of Americans
DEBKAfile Special Report November 20, 2012, 11:33 AM (GMT+02:00)
Tags: US warships Israel-Hamas clash Gaza war
USS Iwo Jima
An unidentified man injured the US embassy guard in Tel Aviv with an axe and knife Tuesday, Nov. 20. He was captured.
Three amphibious warships with 2,500 Marines aboard back to the eastern Mediterranean to remain on standby off Israel’s shore in case they are needed to evacuate American citizens. The USS Iwo Jima, the USS New York and the USS Gunston Hall, were sailing west of Gibraltar on their way to back to Norfolk, Virginia, when they were turned around.
debkafile: The United States have never before evacuated American citizens from Israel. The US notice does not say whether a possible evacuation would include the US forces posted in American bases in Israel. A mass evacuation would entail a Marine shore landing in order to lead the evacuees to the amphibious craft.
The Iwo Jima is a helicopter carrier, while the New York, one of the newest vessels of its kind in the US Navy, is a primary class of amphibious transport dock.
Although a decision to evacuate nationals was defined in the CNN report as a “remote contingency,” our sources stress that it is extreme enough to be taken only when a war situation is envisaged capable of endangering Americans.
This step negates the expectation articulated widely in Israel Monday, Nov. 19, that a ceasefire with the Hamas is within reach. It rather indicates that Washington sees the situation surrounding the Gaza Strip in a far different light, more like a situation holding the threat of a general conflagration beyond the confines of the Israel-Hamas contest in Gaza.
According to the same report, the US military also maintains three to four ships off the coast of Israel that are capable of shooting down ballistic missiles. That deployment has stretched for some months in the face of a potential ballistic threat from Iran.
IDF signals E. Gaza City dwellers to leave. Roads to S. Israel closed
DEBKAfile Special Report November 20, 2012, 4:08 PM (GMT+02:00)
Tags: Gaza operation Israel Hamas missiles
Beersheba takes 30 rockets in one hour
The Israeli Air Force has dropped leaflets signaling residents of the eastern outskirts of Gaza City Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 20, to leave their homes as Palestinian rocket fire on Israel intensifies and spreads to fresh locations. More than 100 fired so far. The IDF closed highways to southern Israel after hitting 11 missile teams, 30 buried launchers and 120 tunnels used as bomb shelters by Jihad fighters. The Palestinians reported 7 killed.
Two missiles aimed earlier at Jerusalem landed in a Palestinian village on the West Bank outside Gush Etzion.
A man was seriously injured in the Eshkol district, the second casualty in the Eshkol district Tuesday after an IDF reserve tank officer was seriously injured by shrapnel from a falling missile. Day 7 of the Israeli operation and Day 10 of the current Palestinian rocket offensive saw a heavy rocket barrage from the Gaza Strip right across the towns and villages of southern Israel.
Several shock victims are in hospital. Early morning saw three Palestinian salvoes of 30 rockets on Beersheba. A local bus was cleared of passengers seconds before a direct hit. Iron Dome intercepted eight rockets before they landed on the city and another three of the scores which damaged vehicles and property in Kiryat Gat, Beer Tuvia, Ofakim, Eshkol, Shear Hanegev, Ashdod, Ashkelon and smaller locations. Monday, two Ashkelon schools took direct hits. They were empty of children who have been kept home from school for six days.
The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton interrupted her Far East tour with President Barack Obama Tuesday and is on her way to Jerusalem and Cairo to salvage the stalemated talks for a Gaza ceasefire.
Up until noon, three Palestinian salvoes of 30 rockets were aimed at Beersheba. A Beersheba local bus was cleared of passengers seconds before a direct hit. Iron Dome intercepted eight rockets before they landed on the city and another three of the scores which damaged vehicles and property in Kiryat Gat, Beer Tuvia, Ofakim, Eshkol, Shear Hanegev, Sderot, Ashdod, Ashkelon and smaller locations. Monday, two Ashkelon schools took direct hits. They were empty of children who have been kept home from school for six days.
The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton interrupted her Far East tour with President Barack Obama Tuesday and is on her way to Jerusalem and Cairo to salvage the stalemated talks for a Gaza ceasefire.
U.S. blocks U.N. Security Council action Israel, Gaza conflict
UNITED NATIONS | Tue Nov 20, 2012 10:43am EST
(Reuters) - The United States blocked on Tuesday a U.N. Security Council statement condemning the escalating conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, setting the scene for a possible showdown between Washington and Russia on the issue.
The United States opposed the statement - which had to be approved by consensus - because it "failed to address the root cause" - missile attacks by Hamas - of the escalation in fighting between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza, said Erin Pelton, spokeswoman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations.
Israel said it was these Hamas rocket attacks that prompted its major offensive against the militants in Gaza on Wednesday.
"We made clear that we would measure any action by the Security Council based on whether it supported the ongoing diplomacy toward de-escalation of violence and a durable outcome that ends the rocket attacks on Israeli cities," Pelton said.
"By failing to call for the immediate and permanent halt to rocket launches from Gaza into Israel, this press statement failed to contribute constructively to those goals," she said. "As such, we could not agree to this statement."
Russia said on Monday that if the 15-member council could not agree on a statement then it would put a resolution - a stronger move by the council than a statement - to a vote later on Tuesday to call for an end to the violence and show support for regional and international efforts to broker peace.
A resolution is passed when it receives nine votes in favor and no vetoes by the five permanent council members - Russia, China, Britain, the United States and France. Some diplomats said a vote on the Russian resolution would likely be tight and could force a veto by the United States.
The Security Council is generally deadlocked on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which U.N. diplomats say is due to U.S. determination to protect its close ally Israel. The council held an emergency meeting last Wednesday to discuss the Israeli strikes on Gaza but took no action.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton headed to the region on Tuesday to try to calm the conflict.
Egypt was trying to broker a truce between Israel and Hamas. An Egyptian intelligence source said "there is still no breakthrough and Egypt is working to find middle ground." Israeli air strikes and Palestinian rocket fire continued on Tuesday for a seventh day.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Will Dunham)
WRAPUP 2-Gaza truce pressure builds, Cairo in focus
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Mon, Nov 19 2012
Egypt PM says Gaza truce deal may be close
Mon, Nov 19 2012
Israeli air strike kills 11 civilians in Gaza: Hamas
Sun, Nov 18 2012
WRAPUP 8-Israeli air strike kills 11 civilians in Gaza -Hamas
Sun, Nov 18 2012
Clinton in Cairo amid waning Gaza truce bid. 27 injured in Tel Aviv bus bombing
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report November 21, 2012, 3:57 PM (GMT+02:00)
Tags: Terror Tel Aviv Hillary Clinton Gaza war
Tel Aviv bus blown up by terrorist
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined world leaders in harshly condemning bombing of a Tel Aviv bus Wednesday, Nov. 21, as a “terrorist attack” when she arrived in Cairo from Jerusalem and Ramallah. She found Egyptian-brokered ceasefire for the Gaza Strip near vanishing point. Police are hunting for the bomber who placed his explosive device under a bus seat and fled before it blew up on Shaul Hamelekh Blvd. opposite the defense ministry and IDF GHQ and injured 27 people. Three are still in serious condition.
More than 75 Palestinian missiles were fired against Israel from Gaza up until 1500 hours, a good proportion intercepted by Iron Dome. The IAF struck a wide range of Hamas government offices, banks, safe house and rocket positions in the Gaza Strip.
A witness of the bus bombing reported a man placing a package on one of the seats and exiting the bus. Another claimed the package was thrown in to the bus through a window. A large dragnet has been thrown in the area for suspects and abettors. The attack took place as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was closeted in Jerusalem for her second meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders to discuss the stalled Gaza ceasefire.
debkafile: The Tel Aviv bus attack, recalling the 2000 Palestinian suicide bombing offensive plaguing Israel streets, could prompt an early Israeli decision to go forward with the IDF ground operation against Gaza terrorists.
Police have been on alert for terrorist attacks since last week when Hamas and Jihad Islami threatened to revert to their suicide bombing campaign inside Israeli towns.
Jordan's King Warns Netanyahu Against Ground Operation
Jordan’s King Abdullah II telephones Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu and warns against a ground operation in Gaza.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 11/21/2012, 5:12 AM
Jordan’s King Abdullah II on Tuesday warned Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu against a ground operation in Gaza.
According to the official Jordanian Petra news agency, the King spoke over the phone with Netanyahu and warned of the danger of the deteriorating situation in Gaza and the serious implications on the security and stability of the region.
During the call, the report said, King Abdullah stressed the need to stop all forms of escalation and to open the way for diplomatic efforts of all parties to reach calm, and build on them to support peace efforts in the region.
He later held a telephone conversation with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, Petra reported, in which the King urged the international community to intensify its efforts to stop all forms of escalation, stressing that the continuation of escalation would fuel tension in the Middle East and affect its security and stability.
The King and Morsi reportedly agreed to maintain coordination and consultation with various regional and international parties to stop the escalation in the region.
King Abdullah’s phone calls were part of an ongoing diplomatic effort to achieve a ceasefire, as the IDF continues Operation Pillar of Defense.
As part of those efforts, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Israel on Tuesday night for meetings with officials.
Clinton and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made statements to the press shortly before they met one on one.
“President Obama asked me to come to Israel with a very clear message. America’s commitment to Israel’s security is rock solid and unwavering. That is why we believe it is essential to de-escalate the situation in Gaza,” Clinton said.
“The rocket attacks from terrorist organizations inside Gaza on these (Israeli) cities and towns must end and a broader calm restored," she added.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also arrived in Israel on Tuesday, meeting with Netanyahu as well with President Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle was also in Israel on Tuesday, and told Netanyahu, "I’m here to underline that Germany stands by our friends in Israel, and Israel has every right to defend itself and protect their own citizens against these missile attacks from Gaza into your country, Prime Minister. Of course we now have to consider and discuss how a cease-fire is possible. But there is one key condition for everything else, and that is the stop of the missile attacks against Israel.”
Throughout the day there were rumors that a ceasefire was imminent, but Gaza’s Hamas terrorist rulers said on Tuesday evening that the ceasefire was off.
According to Izat a-Rishk, a spokesperson for the Hamas government, there would be no ceasefire until Wednesday at the earliest, because Israel had rejected Hamas' conditions for a ceasefire.
Tel Aviv bus explosion jeopardizes Israel-Gaza truce deal
An explosion has hit a public bus in the heart of Tel Aviv, wounding at least 10 people, even as frantic diplomatic efforts continued to secure a truce between Israel and Hamas.
By Damien McElroy and agencies
11:15AM GMT 21 Nov 2012
Police described the explosion as a terror attack. It endangered truce talks taking place between Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, and Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State.
A police spokesman said that of the wounded, five people were moderately to seriously hurt.
"A bomb exploded on a bus in central Tel Aviv. This was a terrorist attack. Most of the injured suffered only mild injuries," said Ofir Gendelman, a spokesman for Mr Netanyahu.
The bus was charred and blackened, its side windows blown out and its glass scattered on the asphalt.
An Israeli driver who witnessed the explosion told Army Radio the bus was "completely charred inside." Another witness said there were few passengers on the bus when it exploded.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said authorities were investigating whether the bomb had been planted and left on the bus or whether it was the work of a suicide bomber.
Witnesses told the BBC that they saw a man leave something on the bus near the nation's military headquarters.
Israeli rescue workers and paramedics carry a wounded person from the site of a bombing in Tel Aviv (AP)
The attack happened on the eighth day of an Israeli offensive against the Gaza Strip which it launched with the stated aim of preventing rocket strikes from the Palestinian enclave.
Celebratory gunfire rang out in Gaza City when local radio stations reported news of the Tel Aviv explosion.
The last time Israel's commercial capital was hit by a serious bomb blast was in April 2006, when a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 11 people at a sandwich stand near the city's old central bus station. "There are about 10 people wounded of whom three are in serious condition," emergency services spokesman Zaki Heller told public radio.
"There was an apparent explosion on a bus in Shaul HaMelech Street in Tel Aviv. The background and circumstances are not clear yet," police spokesman Luba Samri told AFP.
Israeli rescue workers and paramedics carry a wounded person from the site of a bombing in Tel Aviv (AP)
News of the explosion came as Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, is engaged in strenuous shuttle diplomacy to wring an elusive truce deal from Israel and Gaza's militant Hamas rulers, after earlier attempts to end more than a week of fighting broke down amid heavy overnight bombing.
Mrs Clinton joined other diplomats in shuttling between Jerusalem, the West Bank and Cairo, trying to piece together a deal after a week of fighting and mounting casualties.
After meeting Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, in Jerusalem on Tuesday night, Mrs Clinton conferred with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank on Wednesday morning.
She then returned to Jerusalem for further talks with Mr Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, the defence minister and Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister.
She was due to travel to Cairo, carrying Israeli demands for further Egyptian assurances that the flow of arms to Hamas, the militant faction that controls Gaza, can be cut off.
Protesters angered by the eight-day Israel operation to bomb Gazan rocket arsenals gathered outside the Ramallah complex housing the Palestinian Authority as Mrs Clinton met Mahmoud Abbas, its president.
The US envoy arrived in Israel last night and met Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister who launched Operation Pillar of Defence last Wednesday. He said the US and Israel would take the opportunity to align their positions so that diplomacy could draw the conflict to a close.
"If there is a possibility of achieving a long-term solution to this problem with diplomatic means, we prefer that," he said. "But if not, I'm sure you understand that Israel will have to take whatever action is necessary to defend its people."
Sources in Gaza reported the death toll in Gaza had reached 139 by Wednesday morning.
Instead of an expected cessation, Israel’s military laid on a heavy bombardment of artillery and aerial bombing on Gaza after warning residents to move to designated “safe areas”.
In the hours of darkness, Israeli forces targeted dozens of “terrorist infrastructure sites”. More than 30 strikes overnight also included government ministries and a banker's empty villa.
At least four strikes within seconds of each other pulverised a complex of government ministries covering a city block, rattling nearby buildings and shattering surrounding windows. Hours later, clouds of acrid dust still hung over the area and smoke still rose from the rubble.
The list of targets destroyed in bombing runs included weapon depots, smuggling tunnels and rocket-launching bases.
A Hamas operations centre on the seventh floor of a high-rise building was hit. Offices in the building included media organisations, who were warned their status would afford them no protection as Israel sought high value targets.
“Warning to reporters in Gaza,” the army said in a message on Twitter. “Stay away from Hamas operatives & facilities. Hamas, a terrorist group, will use you as human shields.”
Three journalists were among the dead on Tuesday as Israel hit cars it believed contained Hamas figures.
Two worked for news outfits affiliated with Gaza's Hamas government and a third journalist worked for a private radio station was killed in a separate incident.
Two Israelis were also killed by rocket fire from Gaza, bringing to five the casualties in Israel.
Egypt's Islamist government is mediating talks and had floated hopes for a ceasefire by late Tuesday.
Hamas leaders in Cairo accused the Jewish state of failing to respond to proposals and said an announcement on holding fire would be pushed into Wednesday.
Officials suggested that no outcome would be sealed until Mrs Clinton met President Mohammad Morsi in Cairo this afternoon.
Tel Aviv bus blast shakes Gaza truce efforts
21 Nov 2012
Gaza conflict: Egypt and US seek truce amid chaos
21 Nov 2012
Tel Aviv bus bombing a grave test for Israel
21 Nov 2012
Israel and Hamas nearing truce after bloodiest day yet
20 Nov 2012
Windows shatter around journalists in Gaza City
21 Nov 2012
Dispatch: Gaza dead wheeled out past diplomats
20 Nov 2012
Iran accused Saudi Arabia on Tuesday of conducting exploration activities in prohibited border areas, hitting back at its major rival for regional influence after Riyadh complained of Iranian encroachments on its oil and gas fields in the Gulf.
Separated by 250km of Gulf waters, Shi'ite Muslim power Iran and Sunni Muslim-led Saudi Arabia have tense relations. Riyadh accuses Iran of fomenting unrest among Shi'ites in its oil-rich Eastern Province, a charge Iran denies, and the two support opposite sides in Syria's civil war.
"Apparently Saudi Arabia has taken action for exploration activities in prohibited border areas," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said at his weekly news conference in Tehran, according to the official news agency IRNA.
"The necessary notices were given, and our country's point of view and our commitment to border agreements were conveyed to the Saudi ambassador in Tehran."
Mehmanparast was responding to a question about a Saudi complaint to the United Nations last week saying that Iran strayed onto its territory near oil and gas fields in the Gulf.
"We think that any differences can be solved in an environment of cooperation and with a spirit of partnership and understanding," Mehmanparast added.
The Saudi ambassador to the United Nations, Abdullah al-Mualimi, was quoted in the daily newspaper Okaz last week as saying he had sent a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that "details Iran's breaches of the official conventions and treaties between it and Saudi Arabia".
The letter said two Iranian navy boats had intercepted a vessel belonging to state-owned oil giant Saudi Aramco, and that Iranian helicopters flew several times over a gas field at Hasba.
Mehmanparast said it was the Saudis who were at fault.
"The violation that has taken place was on the part of Saudi companies and if this issue is to be followed up, they must be questioned," he said. "The discussion about water border limits between Iran and Saudi Arabia is subject to international laws and documents between the two countries."
This month, Iran impounded a Saudi Arabian fishing vessel that entered its southern territorial waters, according to Iran's official English-language Press TV.
Last month, Saudi border guards arrested 15 Iranians who tried to enter Saudi Arabia by boat, Saudi media reported.
Iran has had disputes with other Gulf neighbours as well.
Both Tehran and the United Arab Emirates claim as their own the three islands of Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tunb, which sit near vital oil shipping channels at the mouth of the strategic Strait of Hormuz.
Iran has said its sovereignty over the islands is non-negotiable. Mehmanparast was quoted last month as warning that Iran would consider downgrading ties with the UAE if it continued to make the claims, although state television later denied Tehran was considering such a move.
US-backed Saudi Arabia, the world's No. 1 oil producer, supports the mainly Sunni Muslim rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Iran backs the Syrian leader, whose Alawite religion is derived from Shi'ite Islam.
'Army must invade': In southern Israel, support grows for action in Gaza
Despite talks of a truce, Israeli airstrikes on Gaza continue, with a Hamas-linked bank being hit overnight along with 10 homes of alleged Palestinian militants. NBC's Richard Engel reports.
By Martin Fletcher, NBC News
ASHKELON, Israel -- As rockets flew over southern Israel on Monday, a Land Rover packed with camping gear stopped in a field and out stepped a man called Boris who offered to make coffee for a nearby NBC news crew.
Their price for accepting the excellent brew was a harangue about Israel's need to invade Gaza and reduce it to rubble. When interrupted, Russia-born Boris just shouted louder.
"Putin! Putin! What would Putin do?" the man screamed. "Think about it! Putin! A football field he would make in Gaza, a football field! What he do in Chechnya? We do same in Gaza."
Boris's 18-year-old son was among the conscripts who had just finished basic training and was waiting, with his paratrooper unit, in a grove of eucalyptus trees for the order to invade. Father and son had not been in contact for days as all soldiers have had their cell phones taken.
Hamas gunmen execute six ‘Israeli spies’ as Netanyahu hints at cease-fire
Nov 20, 2012 11:08 AM ET | Last Updated: Nov 20, 2012 11:21 AM ET
Witnesses say masked gunmen have publicly killed six suspected collaborators with Israel at a busy Gaza City intersection.
The Hamas military wing claimed responsibility.
Witnesses said the six men were pulled out of a van Tuesday, forced to lie face down on the street and then shot dead.
Five bodies lay in a pile as a mob stomped and spit on them. A sixth body was tied to a motorcycle and dragged through the streets as people screamed, “Spy! Spy!”
Hamas posted a sign on an electricity pole, naming the six alleged informers.
Israel relies on a network of local informants to identify its targets.
The killings came during a nearly week-long Israeli military offensive that has killed more than 120 people, both militants and civilians, including three Israelis.
Mediators believe a cease-fire may be at hand, but it remains to be seen if these gruesome public murders will complicate the truce process.
Israel’s prime minister says Israel would be a “willing partner” in a cease-fire with Gaza’s ruling militant group Hamas.
Netanyahu made the pronouncement Tuesday at a meeting with UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who is in the region as part of an international diplomatic push to end nearly a week of fighting between Israel and Hamas.
Netanyahu says that “if a long-term solution can be put in place by diplomatic means, Israel will be a willing partner.”
Israel launched the offensive last week to end months of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.
Ban has condemned the rocket attacks but urged Israel to show “maximum restraint.” He also has offered his services to help broker a truce.
Egypt’s president predicted earlier today that the operation in the Gaza Strip would end within hours, as diplomats from across the world raced across the region to negotiate a cease-fire to end relentless Israeli airstrikes and Palestinian rocket attacks.
Mohammed Morsi, perhaps the most important interlocutor between the militant Hamas group that rules the Palestinian territory and the Israelis, gave no explanation for his statement, saying only that the negotiations between the two sides will yield “positive results” during the coming hours.
President Barack Obama also dispatched Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to the Mideast from Cambodia, where she had accompanied Obama on a visit.
Hours before Morsi spoke, a man identified as Hamas’ militant commander urged his fighters to keep up attacks on Israel, and Palestinian militants fired a rocket toward Jerusalem, just minutes before Ban arrived in the holy city. Israeli airstrikes killed a senior militant and five others in a separate attack on a car, according to Gaza health officials.
“This must stop, immediate steps are needed to avoid further escalation, including a ground operation,” Ban said from Egypt. “Both sides must hold fire immediately … Further escalation of the situation could put the entire region at risk.”
REUTERS/Mohammed Salem Palestinian gunmen shot dead six alleged collaborators in the Gaza Strip who "were caught red-handed", according to a security source quoted by the Hamas Aqsa radio on Tuesday.
Clinton is scheduled to meet with Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank and Egyptian leaders in Cairo. Turkey’s foreign minister and a delegation of Arab League foreign ministers traveled to Gaza on a separate truce mission. Airstrikes continued to hit Gaza even as they entered the territory.
It was unclear how diplomatic efforts to achieve a cease-fire and stave off a threatened Israeli ground invasion into Gaza were hampered by the hard-to-bridge positions staked out by both sides — and by the persistent attacks. Tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers have been dispatched to the Gaza border in case of a decision to invade.
Residents of Jerusalem ran for cover Tuesday when Palestinians fired a rocket toward the holy city for the second time since the fighting started last Wednesday. The rocket, which set off sirens in the city, landed harmlessly in an open area on the outskirts in one of the longest rocket strikes fired from the Gaza.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the rocket landed in Gush Etzion, a collection of Jewish West Bank settlements southeast of the city. Last Friday’s attempt to hit Jerusalem, nearly 80 kilometres from Gaza, landed in the same area. No one was wounded in either attack.
Jerusalem had previously been considered beyond the range of Gaza rockets – and an unlikely target because it is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, Islam’s third-holiest shrine. Israeli officials feared Gaza’s Hamas rulers will try to stage similar attacks deep into Israel’s heartland ahead of any possible truce.
Shortly afterward, an Israeli airstrike destroyed a car in Gaza City killing five people and seriously wounding four others. Their identities were not immediately known.
In a sign of the difficulty diplomats will have in forging such a cease-fire, a man identified as Mohammed Deif, Hamas’ elusive military commander, urged his fighters to keep up attacks on Israel.
Speaking from hiding on Hamas-run TV and radio, Deif said Hamas “must invest all resources to uproot this aggressor from our land,” a reference to Israel.
Deif is one of the founders of Hamas’ military wing and was its top commander until he was seriously wounded in an Israeli airstrike in 2003. He was replaced as the de facto leader by Ahmed Jabari, who was assassinated by Israel last week in the opening salvo of its latest Gaza offensive.
The U.S. considers Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide and other attacks, to be a terror group and does not meet with its officials. The Obama administration blames Hamas for the latest eruption of violence and says Israel has the right to defend itself. At the same time, it has warned against a ground invasion, saying it could send casualties spiraling.
An airstrike Tuesday killed a senior Hamas militant identified as Amin Al Dada and wounded two others, Gaza heath official Ashraf al-Kidra said.
AP Photo/Adel Hana Palestinians sit on the debris left after an overnight Israeli strike on the house of Hamas militant Ez Eldeen Hamdan in Bureij refugee camp, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012.
By Tuesday, 115 Palestinians, including 54 civilians, were killed since Israel began an air onslaught that has so far included nearly 1,500 strikes. Some 840 people have been wounded, including 225 children, Gaza health officials said.
Three Israeli civilians have also been killed and dozens wounded since the fighting began last week, the numbers possibly kept down by a rocket-defense system that Israel developed with U.S. funding. More than 1,000 rockets have been fired at Israel this week, the military said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that Israel was exploring a diplomatic solution, but wouldn’t balk at a broader military operation.
“I prefer a diplomatic solution,” Netanyahu said in a statement after meeting with Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who is also in the region trying to advance peace efforts. “But if the fire continues, we will be forced to take broader measures and will not hesitate to do so.”
Westerwelle said a truce must be urgently pursued, “but of course, there is one precondition for everything else, and this is a stop of the missile attacks against Israel.”
REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa Smoke rise after what witnesses said was an Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip November 20, 2012.
The conflict erupted last week, when a resurgence in rocket fire from Gaza set off the Israeli offensive, which included hundreds of airstrikes on militants’ underground rocket launchers and weapons’ stores.
The onslaught turned deadlier over the weekend, as airstrikes began targeting the homes of suspected Hamas activists, leading to a spike in civilian casualties. Israel sent warnings in some cases, witnesses said, but in other instances missiles hit suddenly, burying residents under the rubble of their homes.
Hamas is deeply rooted in densely populated Gaza, and the movement’s activists live in the midst of ordinary Gazans. Israel says militants are using civilians as human shields, both for their own safety and to launch rocket strikes from residential neighborhoods.
Early Tuesday, Israeli aircraft targeted another Hamas symbol of power, battering the headquarters of the bank senior Hamas officials set up to sidestep international sanctions on the militant group’s rule. After Hamas violently overran Gaza in June 2007, foreign lenders stopped doing business with the militant-led Gaza government, afraid of running afoul of international terror financing laws.
The inside of the bank, which was set up by leading Hamas members and describes itself as a private enterprise, was destroyed. A building supply business in the basement was damaged.
AP Photo/Hatem Moussa A Palestinian boy walks outside the National Islamic Bank, destroyed overnight in an Israeli strike, in Gaza City, Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012.
Owner Suleiman Tawil, 31, grimly surveyed the damage to his store and six company cars. “I’m not involved in politics,” he said. “I’m a businessman. But the more the Israelis pressure us, the more we will support Hamas.”
Fuad Hijazi and two of his toddler sons were killed Monday evening when missiles struck their one-story shack in northern Gaza, leaving a crater about two to three metres deep in the densely populated neighborhood. Residents said the father was not a militant.
The conflict showed signs of spilling into the West Bank, as hundreds of Palestinian protesters in the town of Jenin clashed with Israeli forces during a demonstration against Israel’s Gaza offensive.
Two Palestinian protesters were killed in anti-Israel demonstrations in the West Bank on Monday, according to Palestinian officials. Separate clashes occurred Tuesday in Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian government, during the funeral for one of the dead.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who lost control of Gaza to Hamas in 2007, now governs from the West Bank. Abbas claims to represent both areas, and there is widespread sympathy among West Bank Palestinians for their brethren in Gaza.
Lior Mizrahi/Getty ImagesIsraeli soldiers prepare their weapons in a deployment area as the conflict between Palestine and Gaza enters its seventh day on November 20, 2012 on Israel's border with the Gaza Strip.
As part of truce efforts, Ban was to meet with Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem on Tuesday. In Cairo, Ban said he would also travel to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Egypt, the traditional mediator between Israel and the Arab world, has been at the center of recent diplomatic efforts involving the U.S., Turkey, Qatar and other nations.
Israel demands an end to rocket fire from Gaza and a halt to weapons smuggling into Gaza through tunnels under the border with Egypt. It also wants international guarantees that Hamas will not rearm or use Egypt’s Sinai region, which abuts both Gaza and southern Israel, to attack Israelis.
Hamas wants Israel to halt all attacks on Gaza and lift tight restrictions on trade and movement in and out of the territory that have been in place since Hamas seized Gaza by force in 2007. Israel has rejected such demands in the past.
Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal told reporters in Cairo on Monday that Hamas would only agree to a cease-fire if its demands are met. “We don’t accept Israeli conditions because it is the aggressor,” he said. “We want a cease-fire along with meeting our demands.”
AP Photo/Adel HanaPalestinians climb on the rubble at the destroyed house of Islamic Jihad militant Hasam Al Kholy, hit overnight in an Israeli strike on Gaza City, Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012.
Cease-fire deal between Israel and Gaza militants announced
Published November 21, 2012
After a deadly eight-day conflict, Israel and Gaza militants agreed to a ceasefire effective Wednesday evening, the Egyptian foreign minister announced at a press conference.
The cease-fire agreement was later confirmed by Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Earlier Wednesday, A bomb exploded aboard an Israeli bus near the nation's military headquarters in Tel Aviv, wounding 27 people and at the time delivering a major blow to diplomatic efforts to forge a truce.
Hours after the bus blast, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is shuttling across the region in truce talks, arrived in Cairo and met with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, who is mediating between Israel and Hamas to end the fighting that has killed more than 140 Palestinians and five Israelis.
The blast, which left the bus charred and its windows blown out, was the first bombing in Tel Aviv since 2006. It appeared aimed at sparking Israeli fears of a return to the violence of the Palestinian uprising last decade, which killed more than 1,000 Israelis in bombings and shooting attacks and left more than 5,000 Palestinians dead as well. Hamas has carried dozens of suicide bombings that have killed hundreds of Israelis.
While Hamas did not take responsibility for the attack, it praised the bombing.
"We consider it a natural response to the occupation crimes and the ongoing massacres against civilians in the Gaza Strip," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told The Associated Press.
Bassem Ezbidi, a West Bank political analyst, said it was unlikely Hamas itself was behind the attack, since it would not want to risk losing any of the international support it gained in recent days.
"If Hamas wants to target civilians it would do so by firing rockets, but not by buses because such attacks left a negative record in the minds of people. Hamas doesn't need this now," he said.
On the other hand, Hamas may be interested in signaling to Israel that a renewed bombing campaign is possible, particularly as thousands of Israeli ground troops massed on the Gaza border awaiting a possible invasion should cease-fire talks fail.
A tiny militant group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, claimed responsibility for the bus bombing but offered no evidence to back up the claim. The Damascus-based group has few followers in the West Bank and Palestinian groups often claim attacks they haven't carried out.
The Tel Aviv bombing came after a night of more than 30 Israeli airstrikes over Gaza that hit government ministries, smuggling tunnels, a banker's empty villa and a Hamas-linked media office.
Some 10,000 Palestinians sought shelter in 12 U.N.-run schools, after Israel dropped leaflets urging residents to vacate their homes in some areas of Gaza to avoid being hit by airstrikes, said Adnan Abu Hassna, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency spokesman.
The influx of displaced people came a day after the head of UNRWA, Filippo Grandi, warned that the agency urgently needed $12 million to continue distributing food to the neediest Gazans.
The agency runs schools, shelters and food programs for hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees and their descendants in Gaza.
The bus attack took place around noon on one of the coastal city's busiest arteries, near the Tel Aviv museum, the district courthouse and across from an entrance to Israel's national defense headquarters.
The blast was from a device placed inside the bus by a man who then got off, said Yitzhak Aharonovich, Israel's minister of internal security,
He said the explosion took place while the bus was moving. Blood splattered the sidewalk at the site of the explosion, with glass scattered around.
"I was sitting in the middle of the bus. We were about to pull into a station and suddenly there was a huge explosion," said Yehuda Samarano, 59, from his hospital bed where he was being treated for shrapnel wounds to his chest and leg. "I flew from my seat. Everything became white and my ears are still ringing now."
Police set up roadblocks across the city trying to apprehend the attacker.
"We strongly believe that this was a terror attack," said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. He said three of the 10 wounded were moderately to seriously hurt.
In Gaza, the bombing was praised from mosque loudspeakers, while Hamas' television station interviewed people praising the attack as a return of militants' trademark tactics.
Clinton said the U.S. "strongly condemns" the bombing, which she called a "terrorist attack."
Israel and Hamas had seemed on the brink of a truce deal Tuesday following a swirl of diplomatic activity also involving U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon and Egypt's Morsi. But sticking points could not be resolved as talks -- and violence -- stretched into the night.
Clinton shuttled among the sides, meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem Tuesday night, then Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank the next morning before heading to Cairo. After talks withC Clinton, the Egyptian president met with Ban.
In overnight Gaza violence, at least four airstrikes within seconds of each other pulverized a complex of government ministries the size of a city block, rattling nearby buildings and shattering surrounding windows. Another strike leveled the empty, two-story home of a well-known banker in downtown Gaza City.
"This is an injustice carried out by the Israelis," said the house's caretaker, Mohammed Samara. "There were no resistance fighters here. We want to live in peace. Our children want to live in peace. We want to live like people in the rest of the world."
The Israeli military said its targets included the Ministry of Internal Security, which it says served as one of Hamas' main command and control centers, a military hideout used as a senior operatives' meeting place and a communications center.
Huge clouds of black smoke rose above the Gaza City skyline on Wednesday as airstrikes pounded a Gaza City sports stadium, from which rockets have been fired at Israel in the past, and a high-rise office building housing Hamas-affiliated media offices, but also Agence France-Presse.
AFP reporters said they evacuated their fourth-floor office Tuesday, after an initial strike targeted sixth-floor offices linked to Hamas and other smaller factions.
A four-year-old boy was killed in the second attack on the high-rise Wednesday, according to Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra. The boy, Abdel-Rahman Naim, was in his family apartment in the building when he was struck by shrapnel and died on the way to Gaza's Shifa Hospital, al-Kidra said.
The attacks brought to 144 the number of Palestinians killed since Israel launched its offensive on Nov. 14. Among the dead were 60 civilians, according to al-Kidra.
Five Israelis have also been killed by Palestinian rocket fire, which continued unabated early Wednesday with dozens of rockets.
Israel launched the offensive Nov. 14 following months of rocket salvoes from Gaza. It has battered the territory with more than 1,500 airstrikes. The militants hit back with more than 1,400 rocket attacks. The Israeli death toll has been relatively low because of a U.S.-funded rocket defense system that has shot down hundreds of Gaza projectiles.
Washington blames Hamas rocket fire for the outbreak of violence and has backed Israel's right to defend itself, but has cautioned that an Israeli ground invasion could send casualties soaring.
The U.S. considers Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide and other attacks, to be a terror group and does not meet with its officials.
Israeli media quoted Defense Minister Ehud Barak as telling a closed meeting that Israel wanted a truce to start with a 24-hour test period of no rocket fire to see if Hamas could enforce a truce among its forces and other Gaza militant groups.
Palestinian officials briefed on the negotiations said Hamas wanted assurances of a comprehensive deal that included new arrangements for prying open Gaza's heavily restricted borders -- and were resisting Israeli proposals for a phased agreement. Israel and Egypt slammed shut the border after the militant group seized the territory from Abbas in June 2007, hoping to disrupt Hamas rule.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Bus Explodes in Central Tel Aviv: Hamas Takes Responsibility & Reportedly Launches ‘Ecstatic’ Celebration
Posted on November 21, 2012 at 6:03am by Sharona Schwartz Sharona Schwartz
Sharona Schwartz reports from Israel for TheBlaze.
A large explosion took place on a bus in central Tel Aviv Wednesday. Hamas in Gaza claimed responsibility for the attack it says was carried out by a suicide bomber, reports the Times of Israel, though Israeli police officials said they did not find the body of a terrorist on the bus. A journalist for Israel Channel 2 quotes his sources in Ramallah reporting Palestinians there celebrated the news and some handed out candy, while another reporter for the Israeli network said the response on the street in Gaza was “ecstatic.”
The BBC’s Gaza reporter Rushdi Abualouf wrote via Twitter that Hamas celebrated as an achievement the Tel Aviv bombing over mosque loudspeakers.
You can witness the aftermath in our slideshow of the incident below:
Israel’s Channel 2 initially quoted police sources who said they arrested two individuals suspected of involvement in the attack, but security officials later told Israel Army Radio that no suspect was in custody by Wednesday afternoon. One man who was arrested at the “Boursa” Tel Aviv Stock Exchange is now believed to be psychologically unstable and is not being considered a suspect at this time, reports Channel 2 News police correspondent Moshe Nussbaum.
The explosion took place at the corner of King Saul Street and Weitzman Street. An eyewitness tells Army Radio the bus was not full at the time. Avi Mayer who works for the Jewish Agency writes, “A friend who was at the scene of the Tel Aviv bus bombing reports ‘glass all over, screams, a burnt smell, blood all over the place.’”
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The Magen David Adom rescue services say ten passengers were injured, of them hospital sources say one sustained heavy wounds, two moderate and the rest lightly from the explosion that took place around noon local. A local hospital says 17 arrived in the emergency room, some of them suffering from psychological trauma.
The White House quickly condemned the bus bombing, calling attacks on innocent civilians “outrageous”:
The United States condemns today’s terrorist attack on a bus in Tel Aviv. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those injured, and with the people of Israel. These attacks against innocent Israeli civilians are outrageous. The United States will stand with our Israeli allies, and provide whatever assistance is necessary to identify and bring to justice the perpetrators of this attack. The United States reaffirms our unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security and our deep friendship and solidarity with the Israeli people.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Israel Wednesday meeting with Israeli and Palestinian officials to try to secure a ceasefire, which so far seems elusive. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is also on the ground, and released his own condemnation of the bus attack:
“The Secretary-General was shocked at the news of the terror attack on a bus today in the center of Tel Aviv. He condemns this attack in the strongest possible terms. There are no circumstances that justify the targeting of civilians. The Secretary-General is saddened and expresses his sympathy to those injured in the blast.”
While details are still sketchy, Israel Channel 2 reports that police are investigating if the terrorist threw the bomb onto the bus and ran away. Contrary to that report, one eyewitness told Channel 2 that passengers told police a suspicious man got off the bus one stop before the explosion took place.Tel Aviv Police Chief Aharon Axel says “We are combing the area.”
Police are trying to determine whether the bomber came from Gaza, the West Bank or Jerusalem. With ongoing hostilities, the Gaza possibility would seem less likely.
Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington writes: “Just unlikely that the attack originated in Gaza, given distance from TA [Tel Aviv] and the barrier. The West Bank barrier more porous.” He warns that if the attack originated in the West Bank, it could portend the opening of a second front from the West Bank as Israel continues to battle Gaza terrorists.
Many rescue vehicles including fire trucks and ambulances arrived quickly on the scene. The explosion took place very close to Ichilov Hospital and to the IDF headquarters, also known as the “Kirya.” Police protectively closed the Azrieli Center, one of the country’s largest malls situated in a three-building skyscraper complex.
An eyewitness told Israel’s Army Radio he saw white smoke that rose about 15 yards high.
Reporters on site said the bus’ windows were blown out, and that the numbers blew off so that they couldn’t inform worried listeners which bus line was hit.
A police spokesman told Army Radio “We are pursuing a number of investigative directions,” while an Army Radio correspondent reported her sources said no body of a suicide bomber was found on the bus.
Police cordoned off the area to look for any secondary bombs as has been terrorists’ modus operandi in past attacks.
An eyewitness said he at first thought the explosion was an incoming missile: “We heard a horrible sound.” “There is a deep fear the terrorist who planted the bomb got away.”
According to the BBC which is monitoring the Hamas-run Al-Aqsa TV station, Hamas released this statement: “Hamas welcomes the martyrdom operation and stresses that it is a natural response to the massacring of the Al-Dalu family and the targeting of Palestinian citizens.”
Eight members of the Al-Dalu family were killed earlier this week in an Israeli air strike. The IDF said it is investigating what it’s calling a mistaken bombing that had been intended for a man “in charge of rocket launching” from the neighborhood.
TheBlaze will continue to update this post as more information comes in, including reactions from the Israeli and U.S. governments.
A Sudan Surprise
Hamas militants may have received new weapons from Iran through Sudan, experts say
BY: Adam Kredo
November 21, 2012 5:00 am
Sudan has played a key role in arming Hamas militants with sophisticated Iranian-made rockets, experts said.
The Israeli Defense Forces’ (IDF) principal objective in Gaza is to rid Palestinian terrorists of sophisticated Iranian-produced rockets that are capable of striking deep into Israel’s heartland, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
These rockets originated in Sudan and were then smuggled into Gaza with Iran’s help, sources said.
The existence of these advanced Fajr-5 rockets reveals the deepening ties between Iran and its terrorist proxies in Gaza and Sudan, where the rockets were housed before shipment.
“To put it simply, it was Iranian-made Fajr-5s, imported via Sudan, that prompted this war,” said Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. “Iran’s fingerprints are all over this.”
Hamas terrorists in Gaza were provided around 100 Fajr-5 rockets by Iran. The rockets are capable of travelling nearly 50 miles, putting both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv within their reach. These missiles differ drastically from the crude rockets typically fired by Hamas terrorists.
The Fajr-5 missiles are believed to have been smuggled from Sudan into Gaza via Egypt’s porous Sinai region.
Sudan, a longtime ally of Iran, acted as a “key transit point” for these weapons, Schanzer said.
“[Sudanese capital] Khartoum has long been a transit point for Iranian-made rockets to Gaza,” he said. “The smuggling route goes up through Egypt and across the Sinai [desert] into the tunnels and into Gaza.”
Israel was the prime suspect after a weapons facility in south Khartoum mysteriously exploded in late October. The Jewish state’s attack on the Yarmouk military manufacturing facility was preventive in nature, experts said.
“I am convinced that the October bombing of an IRGC weapons factory in Khartoum was part one of this operation,” Schanzer said. “The Israelis learned of a large cache of Fajr-5s and destroyed it there.”
“But it appears that around 100 of them had already made it into Gaza,” he added. “This prompted the Israelis hunt down the Fajrs during this latest round of fighting.”
Several of the Fajr-5 missiles have landed near Jerusalem in the last week. Others have crashed by Tel Aviv, forcing more than a million Israelis to take refuge in bomb shelters.
Smuggling has become easier and less restricted in Gaza following the fall of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who was known to bar the passage of sophisticated weaponry such as the Fajr-5 missiles.
“One of the main ways that Hamas acquires weapons is via an extensive network of tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border,” the Israeli Defense Forces stated in a report earlier this month. “Since Hamas seized power in the Gaza Strip in 2007, the terrorist group’s smuggling efforts have increased. With funding from Iran, Hamas has improved its stockpile of weapons.”
Israel’s current military incursion into Gaza is different from its 2008 Operation Cast Lead, Schanzer said.
“Cast Lead was about Israel sustaining too many rockets” from Gaza, he said. “This is about Israel trying to get rid of a certain kind of rocket. They had a very specific goal here.”
Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren condemned Iran’s arming of Hamas in a recent interview with Fox News.
“Our problem is not our border with Gaza,” Fox News quoted Oren saying on Monday. “Among the rockets being fired at us are the Fajr-5 rockets, which come directly from Iran. We know that Hamas terrorists have trained with the Iranians. There’s a strong connection.”
Terrorists in the Gaza Strip have also made use of Iranian-made M-75 rockets, which have reached areas near Jerusalem. The long-range rockets are believed to have been assembled with Iran’s help.
It was believed that Iran pulled funding for Hamas as economic sanctions and other factors lightened Tehran’s purse.
“There’s a prevailing assumption in Washington that Iran has been on the out with Hamas and that is absolutely wrong,” Schanzer said. “Iran likely never left because it probably took months to smuggle these [weapons] in—the surprise here is that Iran is still very much a player in Gaza”
Fighting in Gaza dovetailed with a series of military drills in Iran that are being viewed as a warning to the West.
Iran has also helped hackers in the Gaza Strip launch cyber attacks on Israel, according to reports.
“The Iranians may not have ordered the day and hour for Hamas to launch its missiles, but they have been the guiding hand behind Hamas’ rearmament,” said Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser on Iran and Iraq.
Others believe Israel’s campaign in Gaza is a prelude to an attack on Iran. The IDF has launched more than 1,300 air assaults on targets in Gaza.
“The last 6 days of fighting may in fact be a prelude to what looks like an increasingly inevitable military strike against Iran’s nuclear program,” said Jennifer Griffin of Fox News on Monday.
Iran’s increased presence in Gaza creates a new reality for Israel.
“Those who deny Iranian involvement with Hamas are like the new Truthers, those who couldn’t be convinced that Al Qaeda was responsible for 9/11 no matter how many times Bin Laden claimed credit,” said Rubin. “Let’s just hope the White House and Langley aren’t filled with these new Truthers.”
This entry was posted in Middle East, National Security and tagged Adam Kredo, Fajr-5 Missiles, Gaza, Iran, Israel, Israeli Defense Forces, Palestinian, Sudan.
Russian warships in position opposite Israel
DEBKAfile Special Report November 23, 2012, 4:58 PM (GMT+02:00)
Tags: Russian warships US warships Israel Syria
The Russian Moskva missile cruiser
The Black Sea Fleet's naval task force, including the missile cruiser Moskva, the destroyer Smetlivy, the large landing ships Novocherkassk and Saratov, the tugboat MB-304 and the large oil tanker Ivan Bubnov, have received an order to remain in a designated area in the eastern Mediterranean ready to evacuate Russian citizens from the Gaza Strip should the Palestinian-Israeli conflict worsen.
This statement was issued Friday, Nov. 23, by a source in the Russian Navy’s Mai Command.
debkafile’s military sources: The Russian statement is in effect a cover story for the naval task force’s real mission, which is to stand by for coming developments in relation to the Syrian conflict.
Moscow used the pretext first offered by Washington last week for the stationing of three US warships led by the USS Iwo Jima amphibious ready group opposite Israeli shores last week, i.e. as a precautionary measure for the evacuation of US citizens in a war emergency.
The Iwo Jima was meanwhile to be found Friday in waters opposite Syria.
Obama’s pledge of US troops to Sinai next week won Israel’s nod for ceasefire
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report November 23, 2012, 3:11 PM (GMT+02:00)
Tags: Barack Obama Binyamin Netanyahu Sinai smuggling US special forces Gaza
Obama on the phone to Netanyahu with key pledge
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu agreed to a ceasefire for halting the eight-day Israeli Gaza operation Wednesday night, Nov. 21, after President Barack Obama personally pledged to start deploying US troops in Egyptian Sinai next week, debkafile reports. The conversation, which finally tipped the scales for a ceasefire, took place on a secure line Wednesday morning, just hours before it was announced in Cairo. The US and Israeli leaders spoke at around the time that a terrorist was blowing up a Tel Aviv bus, injuring 27 people.
Obama’s pledge addressed Israel’s most pressing demand in every negotiating forum on Gaza: Operation Pillar of Cloud’s main goal was a total stoppage of the flow of Iranian arms and missiles to the Gaza Strip. They were smuggled in from Sudan and Libya through southern Egypt and Sinai. Hostilities would continue, said the prime minister, until this object was achieved.
Earlier, US officials tried unsuccessfully to persuade Israel to accept Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s personal guarantee to start launching effective operations against the smugglers before the end of the month. The trio running Israel’s Gaza campaign, Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, were willing to take Morsi at his word, except that Israeli security and intelligence chiefs assured them that Egypt has nothing near the security and intelligence capabilities necessary for conducting such operations.
When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Jerusalem from Bangkok Tuesday, she tried assuring Netanyahu that President Obama had decided to accelerate the construction of an elaborate US system of electronic security fences along the Suez Canal and northern Sinai. It would also cork up the Philadelphi route through which arms are smuggled into the Gaza Strip. (The US Sinai fence project was first disclosed exclusively by DEBKA-Net-Weekly 564 on Nov. 9).
US security and civilian units will need to be deployed in Egyptian Sinai to man the fence system and operate it as an active counter-measure for obstructing the smuggling of Iranian weapons supplies.
The prime minister said he welcomed the president’s proposal to expedite the fence project, but it would take months to obtain Egyptian clearance. Meanwhile, the Palestinians would have plenty of time to replenish their weapons stocks after Israel’s Gaza campaign. It was therefore too soon to stop the campaign at this point or hold back a ground incursion.
Clinton was sympathetic to this argument. Soon after, President Obama was on the phone to Netanyahu with an assurance that US troops would be in place in Sinai next week, after he had obtained President Morsi’s consent for them to go into immediate action against Iranian smuggling networks.
Netanyahu responded by agreeing to a ceasefire being announced in Cairo that night by Clinton and the Egyptian foreign minister, and to holding back the thousands of Israeli reservists on standby on the Gaza border.
debkafile’s military sources report that the first air transports carrying US special forces are due to land at Sharm el Sheikh military airfield in southern Sinai in the next 48 hours and go into action against the arms smugglers without delay.
This development is strategically significant for three reasons:
1. Once the missile and arms consignments depart Iranian ports or Libyan arms bazaars, Tehran has no direct control of their transit from point to point through Egypt until they reach Sinai and their Gaza destination. All the same, a US special forces operation against the Sinai segment of the Iranian smuggling route would count as the first overt American military strike against an Iranian military interest.
Netanyahu, Barak and Lieberman are impressed by the change the Obama administration has undergone since the president’s reelection. Until then, he refused to hear of any military action against Iran and insisted that Tehran could only be confronted on the diplomatic plane.
2. President Morsi, by opening the Sinai door to an American troop deployment for Israel’s defense, recognizes that the US force also insures Israel against Cairo revoking or failing to honor the peace treaty Egypt signed with Israel in 1979.
3. In the face of this US-Israel-Egyptian understanding, Hamas cannot credibly claim to have won its latest passage of arms with Israel or that it obtained guarantees to force Israel to end the Gaza blockade.
Indeed, Gaza’s Hamas rulers will be forced to watch as US troops in Sinai, just across its border, break up the smuggling rings filling their arsenals and most likely laying hands on the reserve stocks they maintain under the smugglers’ guard in northern Sinai, out of reach of the Israel army. This means that the blockade on Gaza has been extended and the focus of combat has switched from Gaza to the Sinai Peninsula.
Egypt’s President Mursi claims vast new executive powers
By Johannes Stern
23 November 2012
On Thursday evening Egypt’s Islamist president, Mohamed Mursi, issued a new constitutional declaration claiming vast new executive powers. This comes amid a broader political crisis in Egypt, after Israel’s brutal attack on Gaza and amid the ongoing US proxy war for regime change in Syria.
The main target of the declaration is working class opposition to Mursi and the ruling Muslim Brotherhood (MB). In Article VI Mursi claims extraordinary powers, declaring that, “the president is authorized to take any measures he sees fit in order to preserve and safeguard the revolution, national unity or national security.”
Mursi also re-asserts the powers he took from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) junta in a political coup in August, also granting himself further powers over the ongoing formulation of Egypt’s constitution.
Article II of his declaration states that all “previous constitutional declarations, laws, and decrees made by the president since he took office on 30 June 2012, until the constitution is approved and a new People’s Assembly [lower house of parliament] is elected are final and binding and cannot be appealed by any way or to any entity.”
Mursi’s declaration explicitly targets rival sections of the Egyptian state. Those are more secular-oriented bureaucrats tied to the army and the old Mubarak regime. The declaration states that the January 25 Revolution had tasked the president to “root out the remnants of the old regime from Egypt’s state institution.”
Mursi thus cynically evokes the mass uprising against former dictator Hosni Mubarak, which the MB initially opposed, to replace the Mubarak-era figures with right-wing MB cadres.
Since Mursi’s political coup in August, a war has raged between the Islamists and Mubarak-era judges. The latter filed lawsuits against the Islamist-dominated constituent assembly, tasked with drafting a new constitution. They regularly acquitted Mubarak-era officials charged with killing protesters during last year’s revolutionary struggles.
The declaration deprives the judiciary of oversight powers against Mursi. Article II annuls all lawsuits “brought before any judicial body against these (the president’s) decisions”.
Article III dismisses Egypt’s prosecutor-general Abdel Maguid Mahmoud, a long-standing rival of Mursi. Meguid’s successor will be directly appointed “by the President of the Republic for a period of four years.”
As of this writing, Washington has not commented on Mursi’s declaration. However, top US officials’ remarks about Mursi’s role in the US-Israeli onslaught against Gaza suggest that Mursi is working out his policies in close consultation with US officials.
The New York Times quoted a senior US official expressing President Barack Obama’s positive impressions of phone talks with his Egyptian counterpart during the Gaza fighting. “The thing that appealed to the president was how practical the conversations were—here’s the state of play, here are the issues we are concerned about. This was someone focused on solving problems,” the official said.
The Times wrote that Obama felt he had a “connection” with Mursi after six phone calls over the last few days, and that Obama had decided to “invest heavily” in Mursi.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton thanked Mursi at a press conference in Cairo Wednesday, stating, “Egypt’s new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone of regional stability and peace.”
Mursi is cynically cloaking his new power grab behind claims he is “safeguarding the revolution,” while continuing to crack down on the force that led the revolution: the Egyptian working class.
Since Monday there have been ongoing clashes between Mursi’s security forces and thousands of angry youth in downtown Cairo, who compare Mursi to Egypt’s former dictator Hosni Mubarak and demand his ouster. Policemen are firing rubber bullets and tear gas canisters at protesters who are fighting back with stones and Molotov cocktails. Over one hundred protesters have been wounded, and at least one protester was killed.
The protests began as peaceful marches to commemorate the anniversary of the so-called Mohammad Mahmoud uprising—street protests that began near Tahrir Square in Cairo, shortly before the parliamentary elections one year ago. In these mass protests against the SCAF junta, more than fifty protesters were killed and thousands injured.
The current protests reflect rising discontent amongst the Egyptian masses against the ruling MB, which is continuing Mubarak’s anti-working class and pro-imperialist policies.
The Islamists’ cynical statements of solidarity with the Palestinians could not conceal that Egypt worked closely with the United States and Israel and is deeply complicit in the war in Gaza.
As Israel fired rounds of missiles on Gaza, killing more than 150 Palestinians and destroying much of Gaza’s infrastructure, Mursi started a diplomatic offensive in Cairo to enforce a truce on Hamas, the Palestinian offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. This aimed to block the development of broader popular opposition to war in Egypt, Israel, and throughout the region.
Israel demands that Egypt increase security at its border with Gaza and ensures that no weapons reach Gaza. Egypt plans to increase its collaboration with Israel on the Sinai Peninsula, arresting alleged militants and sealing tunnels to the Gaza Strip. Egypt has reportedly already begun to enforce the ceasefire; yesterday three rockets were seized by Egyptian security forces in Sheikh Zewayed, near Gaza.
Washington and Tel Aviv view the suppression of Hamas and of the Palestinian people as a precondition for their plans to oust the Syrian regime of Bashar Al-Assad and prepare war with Iran. As the Mubarak regime before it, Mursi and the MB are aligned with Washington and aim to back imperialist policies hated by the Egyptian masses.
On economic issues Mursi is preparing further attacks on the working class. Earlier this week, Egypt secured a $ 4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), based on plans to cut Egypt’s budget deficit. On Wednesday Ashraf Al-Arabi, Egypt’s minister of planning and international cooperation, approved gasoline subsidy cuts.
As the MB enforces its reactionary program on the Egyptian masses, there is growing concern in the ruling elite about a renewed explosion of mass discontent. “Mursi’s popularity can’t go on eroding like this forever,” rights activist Mohsen Kamal told Reuters. “He is vulnerable to dramatic, and maybe even violent, changes if he ignores what is happening.”
That Other War
The bloody conflict you didn't read about this week is in Congo, and it threatens to redraw the map of Africa.
BY ANJAN SUNDARAM | NOVEMBER 20, 2012
KIGALI, Rwanda — One of Congo's biggest eastern cities fell to a powerful rebel force on Tuesday, Nov. 20, in a war that may redefine the region but has produced little political action by the United Nations, the United States, and international powers that heavily support neighboring governments -- notably Rwanda, a Western darling and aid recipient -- that are backing the violence, according to U.N. experts. The fighting has displaced nearly 1 million people since the summer, and the battle for the city of Goma marks the latest episode of a long struggle by Rwandan-backed rebels to take control of a piece of the Democratic Republic of the Congo -- a struggle the rebels are now decisively winning. The fighting has also highlighted the ineptitude of the United Nations mission, one of the world's largest and most expensive, charged with keeping Congo's peace.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Rwandan President Paul Kagame on Saturday "to request that he use his influence on the M23 [rebels] to help calm the situation and restrain M23 from continuing their attack," as the U.N.'s peacekeeping chief put it. And French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius affirmed that the rebellion in Congo was supported by Rwanda, expressing "grave concern." But the violence has only escalated since. The U.N. Security Council called an emergency session over the weekend, but its condemnation of the violence, demanding that the rebels stop advancing on Goma and insisting that outside powers stop funding the M23 rebels, have all simply been ignored. The Security Council announced it would sanction M23 but did not even mention Rwanda, the main power behind the rebellion. And even as the fighting has intensified, the U.N. mission in Congo has been making public pronouncements about new access to drinking water for people in eastern Congo -- producing a surreal image of the war.
The well-equipped and professional M23 fighters, perhaps better armed and organized than any rebel unit in Congo in the past decade, put on a remarkable show of force over the weekend to move within a few kilometers of the provincial capital, Goma. The rebels not only withstood heavy shelling by U.N. helicopter gunships, but simultaneously gained ground and forced back the Congolese national army on two other fronts, according to reports. The Congolese army and U.N. peacekeeping forces subsequently stayed out of the rebels' way, allowing M23 to capture large parts of Goma with virtually no resistance. In the end, some 3,000 Congolese soldiers, backed by hundreds of U.N. peacekeepers with air power, were unable to contain M23 forces numbering in the few hundreds.
This unprecedented military capability of the M23 rebels in a country of ragtag militias has led to many credible claims -- backed by findings from U.N. experts -- that Rwanda is providing weapons, soldiers, and military guidance to the rebels, with orders coming directly from Rwanda's defense minister, Gen. James Kabarebe. Human Rights Watch says it has extensively documented Rwandan troops crossing into Congo to support the M23 rebels. Uganda, too, is accused of providing M23 with a political base, though on a request from the Congolese government it recently closed a key border-crossing point that had been helping to finance the rebels. Both Rwanda and Uganda are relatively ordered countries -- in stark contrast to Congo -- with well-entrenched authoritarian governments that receive significant military and financial aid from the United States and the West.
Such powerful backing means the rebels can deliver on their far-reaching threats. As Goma fell, M23 spokesman Lt. Col. Vianney Kazarama told me that rebels intended to "capture a good part of eastern Congo," including its other major city in the east, Bukavu. The rebels have demanded that Congo's government negotiate with them -- without specifying precisely what they want. But Congo has said it will only speak with Rwanda, "the real aggressor," and not to a "fictitious" group that is serving as a cover. For now, the M23 rebels are regrouping in Goma. And there may well be a calm interlude in the war, as parties attempt to negotiate. But given the rebels' history, at the back of their minds is likely an old dream -- of a place of their own in eastern Congo -- that has become distinctly more real with Goma's capture.
Syrian rebels capture key army base, seize military-grade weapons
Insurgents have been making advances in the strategic Deir el-Zour province, near Iraqi border, for weeks
By Barbara Surk
November 23, 2012, 1:08 am
BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian rebels strengthened their hold Thursday on an oil-rich province bordering Iraq, activists said, capturing a key military base that was considered one of the last bastions for President Bashar Assad’s loyalists in the strategic region.
The reported fall of the Mayadeen base, along with its stockpiles of artillery, caps a series of advances in Deir el-Zour including last week’s seizure of a military airport.
The province borders on western Iraq. Syria’s rebels enjoy strong support with the Sunni tribes of Iraq’s west, and many Iraqis with combat experience from their own war are believed to have crossed to fight in their neighbor.
Rebel fighters also say that weapons seized when bases fall have been essential to their transformation from ragtag brigades into forces capable of challenging Assad’s professional army.
Activist groups and a local fighter told The Associated Press the Mayadeen base was taken in the morning hours, after a three-week siege. The fighter spoke on condition of anonymity because of security concerns.
Violence also was reported in opposition strongholds around the capital Damascus and in the northern city of Aleppo, where government aircraft damaged one of the rebels’ key field hospitals.
Rebels who have battled government forces for months to control Aleppo, Syria’s economic hub, scored a major victory several days ago when they overran the nearby base of the regime’s 46th Regiment. The unit was a pillar of the government’s Aleppo garrison and its fall cuts a major supply line.
However, the regime has used its air power to dent rebel gains. Government aircraft late Wednesday flattened a building next to Dar al-Shifa hospital, killing 15 people and badly damaging one of the last remaining sources of medical help for civilians in the city, activists said.
Once a private clinic run by a businessman said to be close to Assad, Dar al-Shifa became a field hospital run by volunteer doctors, nurses and aides united by their opposition to the regime. They gave medical care to both civilians and rebels.
The facility has taken at least six direct shell hits in recent months, mostly affecting the upper floors. The seven-story hospital is only 400 to 500 meters (yards) from the front line in a neighborhood that is heavily shelled every day.
The warplanes turned the building adjacent to the hospital into a pile of rubble and sprayed shrapnel and debris into Dar al-Shifa itself, activists said.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, chief of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said at least 11 fighters were killed in the raid, in addition to a doctor, a young girl and two children who were on the street.
Another activist group, the Local Coordination Committees, confirmed the bombing and identified the doctor as Mohammad Qassem Agha. The group said 40 people died in airstrikes in Aleppo on Wednesday, but did not say how many died in the hospital strike.
Videos posted online by activists showed the flattened building. Residents and rebels along with a doctor in green scrubs are seen picking through the rubble and overturned gurneys outside the hospital entrance.
In one video, a man calls out to survivors under the rubble, while one of the survivors is heard crying for help from beneath a huge slab of concrete.
In Damascus, two mortar shells struck the upscale neighborhood of Mazzeh during the morning rush hour Thursday. An AP reporter said one of the shells set fire to a six-floor apartment in a residential building, seriously injuring one woman. The second mortar struck and damaged the first floor in a building across the street.
Downtown Damascus — the seat of Assad’s power — has seen scores of car bombs and mortar attacks in recent months. Mazzeh, home to a number of foreign embassies as well as homes of wealth Syrians, including one exclusive compound housing members of the regime, has been targeted several times in the past few days.
“This is a residential area and there are no military bases here. So why are they targeting civilians?” said Nizar Hamdi, a 38-year-old owner of a computer center.
Syrian TV showed a girl in school uniform who said the mortar fell as she was preparing herself to go out.
“It was terrifying, I couldn’t go to school. People were screaming,” she said.
The state-run SANA news agency also reported that a car bomb exploded in the Massaken Barzeh district of the capital, wounding another person.
The reports blamed “terrorists” for the attacks, a term the government uses for opposition fighters.
Meanwhile, the military pounded opposition strongholds in the outskirts, activists said. In videos that were posted online by activists Thursday, mortar rounds and artillery shells can be heard landing in the suburb of Daraya. Plumes of black smoke are seen rising from behind rows of houses in a residential area and a fire engulfs a one of the buildings that was hit.
With a population of about 200,000, Daraya is part of Rural Damascus, a province that includes the capital’s suburbs and farmland. It has been a stronghold of support for the rebels fighting the government since the start of the uprising, posing a particularly grave threat to Assad’s seat of power.
In August, troops backed by tanks stormed the town after several days of siege, with hundreds reportedly killed.
To the north, near the border with Turkey, fighting broke out in the city of Ras al-Ayn on the Syrian side of the border between Kurdish and Arab rebel factions, according to an official at the mayor’s office in the nearby Turkish town of Ceylanpinar. He said two wounded rebels were brought over to Turkey for treatment, but he did not say to which faction they belonged. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government rules.
Kurdish and Arab groups cooperated to oust Syrian regime forces from the ethnically mixed area earlier this month, but they have since frequently clashed over control of the city.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on reports from the ground, confirmed the infighting.
Syria’s conflict erupted in March 2011 with an uprising against Assad’s regime, inspired by other Arab Spring revolts. The crisis has since morphed into a civil war, with scores of rebel groups across the country fighting government troops. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the 20 months of unrest, according to activists.
NATO Allied Land Command activating next week in Turkey
By John Vandiver
Stars and Stripes
Published: November 23, 2012
Lt. Gen. Frederick Hodges, seated, visits Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum in the Netherlands in November 2012. Hodges is the commander of NATO's new Land Forces Command, which will activate Friday in Izmir, Turkey.
STUTTGART, Germany — A new NATO land command headquarters, restructured to streamline costs and decision making, will be activated next week in Turkey as the new home for planning how infantrymen from the 28-nation alliance fight together.
As the war in Afghanistan winds down, one of the prime focuses of NATO Allied Land Command will be harnessing that war fighting experience to ensure that the alliance doesn’t lose the lessons learned, said the American Army officer commanding the new headquarters in Izmir, Turkey.
Coming off more than a decade at war, the level of “interoperability” among NATO members is at an all-time high, Lt. Gen. Frederick “Ben” Hodges, said.
“My job will be to maintain that level of interoperability,” Hodges said. “You’ve got to retain this experience, and a lot of that resides in the noncommissioned officer corps.”
Following an activation ceremony on Friday in Izmir, Allied Land Command headquarters will formally assume the responsibilities of Force Command Heidelberg, Germany, and Force Command Madrid, Spain, which are being deactivated as part of NATO’s transformation. A similar merger of Air Command headquarters formerly in Turkey with one in Germany is taking place at Ramstein Air Base.
The Allied Land Command is responsible for ensuring readiness of NATO forces, conducting land operations and synchronizing land force command and control.
Hodges said he intends to discuss with his alliance counterparts ways to bolster the role of the enlisted force in their respective militaries and emphasize the advantages of putting “more and more responsibility on NCOs.”
While the U.S., Germany and the United Kingdom have a long tradition of well-developed NCO corps, not all allied militaries have a history of pushing significant decision making power onto the enlisted ranks.
Another area of focus for Hodges is lobbying for a U.S. policy change that currently limits tours in Izmir to one-year unaccompanied missions for U.S. personnel. To ensure the U.S. can attract the best troops to the command, tours in Izmir should become accompanied and extended like other alliance members’ tours, according to Hodges.
“The current policy hurts our effectiveness,” said Hodges. “I think it marginalizes the American contribution to some extent.”
After long separations from family during more than a decade of war fighting, some troops also could opt against enduring another separation for an assignment in Izmir, Hodges said.
As a result, “all that experience isn’t taken advantage of,” Hodges said. “And frankly it is hard to explain to other countries.”
The proposal is currently being considered by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Hodges said.
Meanwhile, Hodges said he hopes to develop an exercise that would bring together allies in a rugged environment to test their logistical and communication abilities.
For NATO reaction forces to be effective, “we’re going to have to ramp up some of our training,” he said.
While NATO may not have the resources to bring back something on the massive scale of the Cold War-era Reforger exercise, ground troops would benefit from getting together for a major logistics event, Hodges said. “You’ve got to apply rigor to truly test logistics.”
The transformation of NATO’s Land Command is just one part of a 2011 NATO decision designed to streamline the alliance’s overall command structure. Once fully implemented, it will result in a 30 percent reduction in manpower, taking Allied Command Operations from 13,000 personnel to about 8,800, according to NATO.
The new Land Command will have about 350 people, down from roughly 800, Hodges said.
Establishing the headquarters in Turkey — home to NATO’s second largest military, makes good strategic sense, Hodges said.
“Turkey’s location from a geographic standpoint — adjacent to the Middle East, nearly adjacent to Russia — it’s an important location,” Hodges said. “It sends a signal not only to Turkey and the rest of the alliance. It sends a signal to the other neighbors.”
Russia-Turkey rift widens as NATO teams set to arrive for site surveillance
23 November 2012 / TODAY'S ZAMAN, ÝSTANBUL
Sharp comments between Ankara and Moscow over the former's decision on the deployment of NATO-backed Patriot missiles on Turkey's border with Syria may be yet another indication of a growing rift between Turkey and Russia, already at odds over how to resolve the 20-month-long Syrian crisis.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoðan reacted strongly to the negative statements coming out of Moscow over Turkey's formal application to deploy missile batteries from NATO. He said such a reaction from Russia nearly amounted to intervening in Turkey's domestic affairs.
“I find Russia's statements very wrong. Its approach of trying to show Turkey's internal affairs -- which it is not involved with -- as a matter of its own [interest] is wrong. The issue is the placement of missiles for defense purposes,” Erdoðan told reporters aboard a plane en route to Ankara from Islamabad.
“This is a measure being taken against certain possible attacks from [the Syrian] side,” Erdoðan said.
Moscow said openly on Thursday that it opposes deployment of NATO Patriot missiles on Turkey's border with Syria, a sign of deepening tensions across the region over the Syrian crisis.
“This would not foster stability in the region," Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said of Turkey's request to the Western military alliance for the deployment.
“The militarization of the Syrian-Turkish border is an alarming signal,” Lukashevich said. “We have different advice for our Turkish colleagues -- use their influence with the Syrian opposition to accelerate the start of a political dialogue.”
Turkey recently requested advanced PAC-3 model Patriots from NATO, which Germany, the Netherlands and the US maintain for intercepting ballistic missiles.
NATO said on Wednesday it will consider Turkey's request "without delay," and next week a NATO team will visit the alliance member for a site survey to consider a deployment.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoðlu also stated on Friday that there is no need for Russia to oppose deployment of NATO Patriot missiles on Turkey's border with Syria.
“There is no need for any country, especially Russia, to declare its concern over the issue,” Davutoðlu said during a press conference after his meeting with the president of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, Moaz al-Khatib, in Ankara. The meeting at the Çankaya presidential palace was closed to the press.
Pointing out that Turkey shares a 910-kilometer border with the war-torn Syria, Davutoðlu said that Turkey will take every precaution for his own safety, within its national capacity and in line with the system of the NATO alliance. “Those who know the technical details understand the fact of the matter. So does Russia. It is a defensive system,” Davutoðlu said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said he will discuss Turkey's request for Patriot missiles for use in defense against Syria with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, reiterating his country's concerns that a Patriot deployment by Turkey would fuel regional conflicts.
Russia understands Turkey's security concerns along its Syria border, Lavrov said. “However, we want to warn against provocations that could fuel clashes in the region,” he added.
Lavros statement was echoed in Damascus on state-run Syria TV, which on Friday quoted a Syrian Foreign Ministry source as saying, "Syria stresses its condemnation of the Turkish government's latest provocative step."
"There is no reason for panic because Syria respects the sovereignty and sanctity of Turkish territory and the interests of the Turkish people," Syria TV quoted the source as saying.
Egypt's President Morsi expands power, defies judiciary with new declaration
President Morsi issues new constitutional declaration appointing new prosecutor-
general; immunizing Constituent Assembly and Shura Council from threat of
dissolution; and calling for retrial of ex-regime figures
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi issued a constitutional declaration on Thursday
calling for the retrial of those accused of killing and injuring protesters during and
after last year's Tahrir Square uprising.
The retrials will also target ex-regime officials who have carried out "terrorism"
against Egyptian protesters.
An article in the declaration also gives immunity to Egypt's controversy-prone
Constituent Assembly – tasked with drafting a new constitution – from a potential
court verdict that may have otherwise led to its dissolution.
Another article protects the current Shura Council – the upper, consultative house of
Egypt's parliament – from dissolution, effectively pre-empting appeals against the
The declaration also gives the president the power to appoint Egypt's prosecutor-
general for a four-year period.
The new declaration included the appointment of Judge Talaat Ibrahim Mohamed
Abdullah, a former deputy head of Egypt's Court of Cassation, to the post of
The decree also called for giving pensions to the families of the "martyrs of the 25
January Revolution" and increasing reparations to those injured.
The surprise decision came amid ongoing clashes between protesters and police on
Cairo's Mohamed Mahmoud Street.
Protests held to commemorate four days of street fighting between protesters and
security forces in November of last year turned violent on Monday.
Egypt’s Morsi Grants Himself Sweeping Powers
Posted November 22nd, 2012 at 2:30 pm (UTC-4)
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has issued a decree granting himself far-reaching powers and ordering retrials of former officials who tried to violently suppress last year's popular revolution against longtime president Hosni Mubarak.
In a statement read on state television by his spokesman Thursday, Mr. Morsi declared that his decisions cannot be appealed by the courts or any other authority, putting himself beyond judicial oversight.
The spokesman also said Mubarak-era officials will face retrials for alleged involvement in the killings of protesters during the 2011 uprising, a move that could lead to a retrial of Mubarak himself. The ousted leader was sentenced to life in prison in June for failing to stop the killings. But, he avoided convictions on more serious offenses of corruption and ordering the deadly crackdown, angering many Egyptians.
Other Mubarak-era officials and security personnel also have been acquitted on charges of killing protesters, prompting critics to accuse the top government prosecutor of mishandling the cases. In his decree Thursday, Mr. Morsi fired that prosecutor, Abdel-Maguid Mahmoud, a Mubarak appointee who had been in the post for many years. The decree retroactively limited Mahmoud's term to four years, bringing it to an immediate end.
President Morsi had tried to fire Mahmoud last month but was blocked by the courts. He named Talat Abdullah as the government's new general prosecutor.
The presidential decree also bars Egypt's judiciary from dissolving the upper house of parliament and an assembly drafting a new constitution – two bodies dominated by Mr. Morsi's Islamist allies. Egyptian courts have been examining cases demanding the dissolution of both assemblies.
Egypt fury over Mohammed Mursi 'coup against legitimacy'
Opposition leaders at press conference in Cairo. 22 Nov 2012 Opposition leaders Mohamed ElBaradei, Sameh Ashour and Amr Mussa called for protests
Mursi's 100 days in power
What drove Mursi's outburst?
Foreign policy clues
Opposition groups in Egypt have called for mass protests on Friday against President Mohammed Mursi's decree that gives him sweeping powers.
They have described his move as a "coup against legitimacy" and accused the president of appointing himself Egypt's "new pharaoh".
The decree states that the president's decisions cannot be revoked by any authority, including the judiciary.
His supporters say the move is designed to protect Egypt's revolution.
On Thursday, thousands celebrated the decree in front of the Egyptian High Court in Cairo.
But leading opposition figures later denounced it.
"This is a coup against legitimacy," said Sameh Ashour, head of the lawyers syndicate, in a joint news conference with Mohamed ElBaradei and Amr Moussa.
"We are calling on all Egyptians to protest in all of Egypt's squares on Friday."
Wael Ghonim, a key figure in last year's uprising against President Hosni Mubarak, said the revolution had not been staged "in search of a benign dictator".
"There is a difference between revolutionary decisions and dictatorial decisions," he said.
"God is the only one whose decisions are not questioned."
Mr ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, had earlier said the decree placed the president above the law.
22 November declaration
All investigations into the killing of protesters or the use of violence against them will be re-conducted; trials of those accused will be re-held
All constitutional declarations, laws and decrees made since Mr Mursi assumed power cannot be appealed or cancelled by any individual, or political or governmental body
The public prosecutor will be appointed by the president for a fixed term of four years, and must be aged at least 40
The constituent assembly's timeline for drafting the new constitution has been extended by two months
No judicial authority can dissolve the constituent assembly or the the upper house of parliament (Shura Council)
The president is authorised to take any measures he sees fit in order to preserve the revolution, to preserve national unity or to safeguard national security
"Mursi today usurped all state powers and appointed himself Egypt's new pharaoh. A major blow to the revolution that could have dire consequences ," he wrote on his Twitter account.
Thursday's decree bans challenges to Mr Mursi's decrees, laws and decisions.
It also says no court can dissolve the constituent assembly, which is drawing up a new constitution.
"The president can issue any decision or measure to protect the revolution," presidential spokesman Yasser Ali announced on national TV.
"The constitutional declarations, decisions and laws issued by the president are final and not subject to appeal."
Mr Mursi also sacked chief prosecutor Abdel Maguid Mahmoud and ordered the retrial of people accused of attacking protesters when Mr Mubarak held office.
Mr Mahmoud's acquittal of officers accused of involvement in attacks on protesters led to violent clashes in Cairo's Tahrir Square in October, when supporters and opponents of Mr Mursi clashed.
Thousands of protesters have returned to the streets around Tahrir Square over the past week demanding political reforms and the prosecution of officials blamed for killing demonstrators.
The president had tried to remove Mr Mahmoud from his post by appointing him envoy to the Vatican.
But Mr Mahmoud defied the Egyptian leader and returned to work, escorted by judges and lawyers.
New prosecutor Talaat Ibrahim is tasked with re-examining all the investigations led by Mr Mahmoud into the deaths of protesters, and re-trying people already acquitted in the case.
Mr Mursi said his decree was aimed at "cleansing state institutions" and "destroying the infrastructure of the old regime".
The declaration also gives the 100-member constituent assembly two additional months to draft a new constitution, to replace the one suspended after Mr Mubarak was overthrown.
The rewrite of the constitution, which was meant to be finished by December, has been plagued by lawsuits questioning the make-up of the constituent assembly.
Once completed, the document is due to be put to a referendum. If it is approved, legislative elections will be held two months later.
Black Sea Fleet Moves to Evacuate Russian Nationals from Gaza
November 23, 2012
In a move revealing the hostilities in Gaza may be far from over, Russia has sent a detachment of ships from the Black Sea Fleet to the coast of the Gaza Strip to evacuate Russians if the conflict escalates.
“The detachment of combat ships of the Black Sea Fleet, including the Guards missile cruiser Moskva, the patrol ship Smetliviy, large landing ships Novocherkassk and Saratov, the sea tug MB-304 and the big sea tanker Ivan Bubnov, got the order to remain in the designated area of the Eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea for a possible evacuation of Russian citizens from the area of the Gaza strip in case of escalation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” the main command of the Black Sea Fleet told The Voice of Russia early today.
The radio station quoted the Russian Navy as stating “the crews of the ships will continue their routine combat training, maintenance of equipment and weapons.”
Israel has imposed a maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip and it is unclear how the Russians would evacuate their nationals if they decided to do so.
On Thursday, the Russian government praised a ceasefire agreement between the Palestinians and Israel and called for an end to a blockade of the Palestinian territories.
“We believe it is necessary to proceed further to achieve stable and lasting settlement, which guarantees security of Israel and peaceful life of Gaza residents as a part of Palestinian territories, without any blockade and isolation,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told reporters.
Israel Warns Lebanese, Iranian Activists against Sending Ships to Gaza
Gaza Blockade: Economic Warfare Against Palestinian People
Iran: Controversial attempt to break Israeli blockade of Gaza called off
Gaza, the Next Somalia
Israel launches air strikes in Gaza after rocket fire
A Closer Look at New Gaza Conflict
Israel Prepares to Invade Gaza
Fears of new flashpoint as defiant Israel prepares for showdown with two more Gaza aid ships
Palestinians shoot down Israeli F-16 fighter jet in Gaza
Palestinians shoot down Israeli F-16 fighter jet in Gaza: Hamas
U.S., Russian Ships Square Off in Black Sea
Israeli fire kills four Palestinians in Gaza