Archive for January 17th, 2014

Haniyeh hails Palestinian ‘persistence’ in face of Israeli occupation

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh has attributed Gaza’s survival during the two massive Israeli wars of aggression and the strict Israeli siege to the “wise governing management, legendary persistence of the people and the creativity of the Palestinian residents in Gaza”.

During a public speech delivered before a military parade on Monday, Haniyeh asserted that: “Our power is not targeting any Palestinian or neighbor, despite our major differences.”

He continued: “We are not in a battle with anyone except the Israeli occupation. [The Palestinian parties] may have varying political views, but [Hamas] proposes only those projects that protect the Palestinian principles.”

Hailing the security services in Gaza, Haniyeh said: “This power was built by our accumulated efforts and the blood sacrificed throughout the years. All factions together contributed to it.”

In addition, he noted that: “This power was nurtured on resistance and sticking to the principles of the Palestinian people and their cause. We are sustained by the support of the deprived people, detainees and families of the martyrs.”

Meanwhile, Haniyeh also congratulated the Palestinians and Muslims on the occasion of the birthday of the Prophet Mohamed PBUH, which occurred on Monday.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/9226-haniyeh-hails-palestinian-persistence-in-face-of-israeli-occupation.

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Israel loses ‘last friend’ in Europe

Monday, 13 January 2014

Israel’s friendship with Germany has been damaged because of settlements in the occupied Palestinian West Bank, Israeli newspaper Maariv said on Sunday. Describing Germany as Israel’s “last friend” in Europe, Maariv said that the government in Berlin is withdrawing its historical support from the country. From now on the relationship will be based solely on “interests”, it is claimed.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is in Israel to discuss the “eroded” relations between Tel Aviv and Berlin. Chancellor Angela Merkel, meanwhile, is working on ways to put an end to apparently endless references to Germany’s responsibility for the Nazi Holocaust.

Berlin, claimed Maariv, has been looking forward to stopping its “absolute” support for Israel as public opinion against Israel and its settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories grows across Europe. Israel’s ambassadors in Europe, it is said, have already discussed the claim that Israel has lost its last supporter in Europe. They said that Israeli is suffering from “complete seclusion now” and “Benjamin Netanyahu is no longer credible in Berlin.”

According to Maariv, one diplomat said: “Despite Germany’s candid announcement about supporting Israel, German politicians are persuaded that Germany will no longer maintain normal relations with Israel. This is because it makes a connection between peace negotiations and settlements.”

Foreign Minister Steinmeier arrived in Israel on Sunday ahead of a visit by Merkel at the end of this month. Media reports said that such visits are aimed at encouraging the peace negotiations.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/9201-israel-loses-qlast-friendq-in-europe.

Israel says its final farewell to Ariel Sharon

January 13, 2014

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel said its last farewell to the late Ariel Sharon on Monday with a state ceremony outside the parliament building before his flag-draped coffin was taken on a cross-country procession to its final resting place at his family home in the country’s south.

With a high-powered crowd of VIPs and international dignitaries on hand, Sharon was eulogized as a fearless warrior and bold leader who devoted his life to protecting Israel’s security. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair headed the long list of visitors.

In a heartfelt address, Biden talked about a decades-long friendship with Sharon, saying the death felt “like a death in the family.” When the two discussed Israel’s security, Biden said he understood how Sharon earned the nickname “The Bulldozer,” explaining how Sharon would pull out maps and repeatedly make the same points to drive them home.

“He was indomitable,” Biden said. “But like all historic leaders, all real leaders, he had a north star that guided him. A north star from which he never, in my observation, never deviated. His north star was the survival of the state of Israel and the Jewish people wherever they resided,” Biden said.

Sharon died on Saturday, eight years after a devastating stroke left him in a coma from which he never recovered. He was 85. One of Israel’s greatest and most divisive figures, Sharon rose through the ranks of the military, moving into politics and overcoming scandal and controversy to become prime minister at the time of his stroke.

He spent most of his life battling Arab enemies and promoting Jewish settlement on war-won lands. But in a surprising about-face, he led a historic withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005, uprooting all soldiers and settlers from the territory after a 38-year presence in a move he said was necessary to ensure Israel’s security.

His backers called him a war hero. His detractors, first and foremost the Palestinians, considered him a war criminal and held him responsible for years of bloodshed. The speakers at Monday’s ceremony outside parliament largely glossed over the controversy, and instead focused on his leadership and personality.

“Arik was a man of the land,” President Shimon Peres, a longtime friend and sometimes rival, said in his eulogy. “He defended this land like a lion and he taught its children to swing a scythe. He was a military legend in his lifetime and then turned his gaze to the day Israel would dwell in safety, when our children would return to our borders and peace would grace the Promised Land.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who resigned from Sharon’s Cabinet to protest the Gaza withdrawal, said that he and Sharon didn’t always agree with each other. Nonetheless, he called Sharon “one of the big warriors” for the nation of Israel.

“Arik was a man of actions, pragmatic, and his pragmatism was rooted in deep emotion, deep emotion for the country and deep emotion for the Jewish people,” Netanyahu said. Nearly 10 years on, the withdrawal from Gaza remains hotly debated in Israeli society. Supporters say Israel is better off not being bogged down in the crowded territory, which is now home to 1.7 million Palestinians.

Critics say the pullout has only brought more violence. Two years after the withdrawal, Hamas militants seized control of Gaza and stepped up rocket fire on Israel. In a reminder of the precarious security situation, Palestinian militants on Monday fired two rockets from the Gaza Strip. Sharon’s ranch in southern Israel, where his body was being laid to rest, is within range of such projectiles, though but Monday’s missiles did not hit Israel. No injuries or damage were reported.

Biden praised Sharon’s determination in carrying out the Gaza pullout, which bitterly divided the nation. “The political courage it took, whether you agreed with him or not, when he told 10,000 Israelis to leave their homes in Gaza, in order from his perspective to strengthen Israel … I can’t think of a more difficult and controversial decision he made. But he believed it and he did it. The security of his people was always Arik’s unwavering mission.”

Blair, who is now an international envoy to the Middle East, said Sharon’s “strategic objective” never changed. “The same iron determination he took to the field of war he took to the chamber of diplomacy. Bold. Unorthodox. Unyielding,” he said.

Sharon’s coffin lay in state at the Knesset’s outdoor plaza where Israelis from all walks of life paid respects throughout Sunday. In addition to Biden and Blair, the prime minister of the Czech Republic, and foreign ministers of Australia and Germany were among those in attendance at Monday’s ceremony. Even Egypt, the first Arab country to make peace with Israel, sent a low-level diplomat, its embassy said.

After the ceremony ended, the closed coffin, draped in a blue and white Israeli flag, was placed in a military vehicle and driven in a police-escorted convoy toward Sharon’s ranch in southern Israel. Crowds stood along the roadside and on bridges, snapping pictures and getting a final glimpse of the coffin as the procession of vehicles left Jerusalem and snaked down the highway outside the city’s picturesque hills.

The convoy made a brief stop at Latrun, the site of a bloody battle where Sharon was wounded during Israel’s war of independence in 1948, for a brief military ceremony before continuing south. His coffin was lowered into the ground in a military funeral at the family farm in southern Israel.

At Sharon’s graveside, his son Gilad remembered his father for overcoming the odds, whether it was battling a Palestinian uprising after becoming prime minister in 2001 or clinging to life in his final days even after his kidneys had stopped functioning.

“Again and again you turned the impossible to reality. That’s how legends are made. That’s how an ethos of a nation is created,” he said. Sharon’s life will be remembered for its three distinct stages: First, was his eventful and contentious time in uniform, including leading a deadly raid in the West Bank that killed 69 Arabs, as well as his heroics in the 1973 Mideast war.

Then came his years as a vociferous political operator who helped create Israel’s settlement movement and masterminded the divisive Lebanon invasion in 1982. He was branded as indirectly responsible for the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians at the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps outside Beirut when his troops allowed allied Lebanese militias into the camps. An uproar over the massacre cost him his job.

Yet ultimately he transformed himself into a prime minister and statesman, capped by the dramatic Gaza withdrawal. Sharon appeared to be cruising toward re-election when he suffered the second, devastating stroke in January 2006.

Body of Israel’s Ariel Sharon lies in state

January 12, 2014

JERUSALEM (AP) — Hundreds of Israelis lined up outside Israel’s parliament building on Sunday to pay their last respects to Ariel Sharon, the hard-charging former prime minister and general who died over the weekend.

Sharon’s coffin was displayed in a plaza in front of the Knesset, where a stream of visitors passed by to snap photos and say farewell. A funeral service to be attended by dignitaries from around the world, including U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, is scheduled for Monday.

The 85-year-old Sharon, one of Israel’s most iconic and controversial figures, died Saturday, eight years after suffering a stroke that left him in a coma. “My heart is broken. Israel lost the King of David. There is no other word to describe this man, they don’t make people like this anymore,” said Uri Rottman, a mourner who said he once served in the military with Sharon.

“I feel committed to share the very last moment before they’re going to bury him,” said Eliav Aviram, another former army comrade. Sharon was a farmer-turned-soldier, a soldier-turned-politician, a politician-turned-statesman — a leader known for his exploits on the battlefield, masterminding Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, building Jewish settlements on war-won land and then, late in life, destroying some that he deemed no longer useful. To his supporters, he was a war hero. To his critics, he was a war criminal.

Israeli authorities closed off streets around the parliament in anticipation of huge crowds Sunday. Visitors were asked to park at lots in and around the city and were brought to the site by special buses.

President Shimon Peres and former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who succeeded Sharon after the 2006 stroke, was among the visitors. Olmert crossed past a roped-off area to stand silently next to the flag-draped coffin.

A state memorial is planned Monday at the parliament building. In addition to Biden, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Czech Prime Minister Jiri Rusnok, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and others were expected.

Afterward Sharon’s body will be taken by military convey for burial at his ranch in southern Israel. News of Sharon dominated Israeli newspapers and broadcast reports, and Israel’s three main TV stations all broadcast live from the memorial. Radio stations were filled with interviews with former officials and military men who shared stories of Sharon’s exploits.

Sharon’s career stretched across much of Israel’s 65-year existence, and his life was closely intertwined with the country’s history. Throughout his life, he was at the center of the most contentious episodes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, starting as a young soldier fighting in the 1948 war over Israel’s creation.

In the 1950s, he led a commando unit that carried out reprisals for Arab attacks. In 1953, after the slaying of an Israeli woman and her two children, Sharon’s troops blew up more than 40 houses in Qibya, a West Bank village then ruled by Jordan, killing 69 Arabs, most or all of them civilians.

Residents in Qibya on Sunday remembered the village’s darkest hour. Qibya resident Hamed Ghethan was just 4 years old when the raid took place. He said he could remember older residents placing their hands over the children’s mouths so they wouldn’t make a sound.

“Sharon’s name reminds me of… martyrs from my village,” said Ghethan, 65, as he surveyed the ruins of buildings destroyed in the military action. As one of Israel’s most famous generals, he was known for bold tactics and an occasional refusal to obey orders.

Historians credit him with helping turn the tide of the 1973 Mideast war when Arab armies launched a surprise attack on Israel on the solemn fasting day of Yom Kippur, causing heavy Israeli casualties.

Sharon became a minister in Menachem Begin’s government in the late 1970s, and voted against the historic 1979 peace treaty with Egypt. But when it fell to Sharon to remove Jewish settlements from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, he obediently ordered protesting settlers to be dragged away and their homes bulldozed to rubble.

As defense minister in 1982, Sharon launched the invasion of Lebanon, where he became complicit in one of bloodiest incidents of the Lebanese war, when Israeli-allied forces systematically slaughtered hundreds of Palestinians in the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps in September 1982. An Israeli judicial inquiry found Sharon indirectly responsible for the killings, and he was forced to step down as defense minister.

Yet over the years, he gradually rehabilitated himself by holding a number of Cabinet posts. As opposition leader in September 2000, Sharon demonstratively visited a contested Jewish-Muslim holy site in Jerusalem, setting off Palestinian protests that quickly lurched into an armed uprising that ultimately killed hundreds of Palestinians and Israelis.

Several months later, he was elected prime minister. While Sharon ordered a tough crackdown on the Palestinian uprising, he made a dramatic about-face in 2003 when he announced his plans for a unilateral withdrawal from occupied lands.

In 2005, he directed a unilateral pullout of Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip, ending a 38-year occupation. He later bolted from his hard-line Likud Party and established the centrist Kadima Party, with a platform promoting further territorial concessions and support for a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

It seemed he was on his way to an easy re-election when he suffered the stroke in January 2006.

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