Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Freedom of the press as a foreign concept

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A Mexican reporter who wrote about drug violence in his homeland is being held in custody by none other than the U.S. government and its immigration service.

Yes, we reporters might get stuck covering the late shift or -- egad! -- a parade. When disaster strikes or a source calls back on deadline, the nights can be long. Newspaper layoffs and hard economic times can cast a pall over just about everything we do.

But those concerns seem a piffle every time I read dispatches from around the world about journalists who, fighting for the story, also must fight for their lives.

The day before Christmas, an international group condemned the protracted torture of a journalist in Pakistan. And militant Maoists ransacked the offices of an opposition newspaper in Nepal. Its crime? Using acronyms for two of the militant groups without distinguishing between them.

A couple of days later, news arrived that Zimbabwean journalist and human rights activist Jestina Mukoko had been accused of plotting to overthrow the government. Mukoko -- already in custody for challenging Robert Mugabe, the thug who runs her country -- could face death.

Sadly, real press freedom remains elusive even closer to home, as revealed by another story just over our southern border.

Two days before Christmas, a 15-year-old Mexican boy held a news conference in El Paso to detail how his reporter father had been held -- without charges -- for six months. The perpetrators were not shadowy foreign agents or some sketchy dictator, but the United States government and its immigration service.

The story grows out of the drug violence that has beset Mexico and left more than 5,300 people dead this year. Since 2000, 44 journalists have been killed in Mexico, many of them targeted for writing about the drug gangs that dominate the country.

The military crackdown on the drug lords has created its own problems. And that's what brought reporter Emilio Gutierrez Soto of El Diario del Noroeste into the story.

In 2005, he wrote that some soldiers were drunk when they raided a hotel in northern Chihuahua state. Other stories reported alleged thievery by the military. Last spring, a squad of soldiers and their commanding officer invited Gutierrez to a restaurant in his hometown of Ascension. They told him he would pay with his life if he continued. They ordered him not to tell anyone about the meeting.

Gutierrez, 46, promptly wrote another story, in which he recounted the alleged death threat. A few nights later, he said, a pounding on the door awoke him and his son.

Some 50 soldiers, wearing masks, ripped through the house, claiming they were looking for drugs and illegal weapons, he said.

The soldiers didn't find anything and left, Gutierrez said. After, a friend of one of the soldiers warned him that the next visit would be the last.

Gutierrez, the sole supporter of his son, decided he could not wait. On June 15, the reporter and his boy crossed the Rio Grande and into the land of the 1st Amendment, turning themselves in to immigration officials and pleading for asylum.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials took father and son into custody and sent them to a detention center in El Paso.

The U.S. has rejected asylum requests from several other Mexican journalists who said they feared for their safety. But Gutierrez said he believed he could prove he had a real and credible fear for his personal safety in his home country.

The bitter irony -- according to his lawyer, Carlos Spector -- is that by presenting himself as an "arriving alien," the reporter was not entitled to the judicial hearing that an illegal crosser would have received.

ICE's request to postpone his hearing until March means that Gutierrez will have waited nine months to plead his case.

So he sits and waits, missing his freedom and his son (who was released to family friends in the U.S. after a couple of months in custody). He wonders how he can make a new start, if he gets the chance.

"I am not a criminal," the reporter said in a telephone interview last week. "I am a journalist."

U.S. officials, Spector said, have called Gutierrez a "threat to the community" but offered no evidence. "They can't even come up with a rationale," Spector said. "They don't even try."

An ICE spokeswoman declined to comment, citing Gutierrez's privacy and the pending hearing.

Spector theorizes that the U.S. government is loath to offer relief to a journalist who has raised doubts about the Mexican military's conduct. That would embarrass an ally and trading partner.

Even if he could be released back to Mexico, Gutierrez said, he would not want to go, fearful about his safety and of leaving his son behind. "I love my country, but I can't go," he said. "Because if I do, I'm going to die."

Another El Diario reporter was shot to death last month outside his home in Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso. An online newspaper editor at the funeral received a cellphone call: "You will be next."

Reporters Without Borders, an international nonprofit that advocates for journalists, has spearheaded attempts to win Gutierrez's release. The Catholic bishop of El Paso last week lent his voice to the campaign.

It would be nice to believe our government is trying only to protect us. But it's hard to imagine what's taking so long to decide Gutierrez's fate -- or what would warrant holding a reporter for so long, without the chance to plead for his freedom.

In the meantime, the U.S. government has pledged that it wants to help Mexico win its war on drugs and corruption.

A good way to start would be to protect the journalists who have risked their lives to help the public understand a sad, sad state of affairs.

Israel's 'all-out war' in Gaza targets Hamas militants at home

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By Dion Nissenbaum and Ahmed Abu Hamda

The Israeli military extended its air campaign in the Gaza Strip on Monday, and the nation's defense minister warned that the country is in "an all-out war" with its Hamas adversaries, who control the Palestinian territory.

The three-day death toll in Gaza climbed to 345 with more than 1,400 injured, and Gaza doctors said they were running out of blood, bandages and other supplies.

Israel's air strikes failed, however, to prevent the deadliest day of Gaza rocket and mortar fire to hit the country.

Gaza militants fired dozens of crude rockets and killed three Israelis in three separate attacks. Israeli officials said that a relatively sophisticated rocket killed one Israeli in Ashdod, Israel's southern port city about 20 miles north of the Gaza border. A mortar strike near the Gaza border killed a second Israeli, and a rocket fired at the coastal city of Ashkelon killed an Arab-Israeli construction worker.

It was the highest death toll from Gaza rockets and mortars in a single day. Until Monday, Palestinian rocket fire had killed eight Israelis in the past two years. Since Israel launched the air strikes on Saturday, four Israelis have been killed in attacks from Gaza.

As Israeli tanks, artillery batteries and troops stepped up preparations for a possible ground offensive, Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced that the attacks wouldn't end until the military had delivered a "severe blow" to Hamas.

"We are in an all-out war against Hamas," Barak told a special session of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.

In three days of air strikes, Israel has hit scores of Gaza targets and created a climate of fear among the 1.5 million Palestinians who live in the densely populated Mediterranean coastal strip.

Gaza families were sleeping in stairwells and corridors in hopes of avoiding the Israeli air strikes, which have targeted Gaza City's largest university, as well as mosques that Israel claimed were being used to store weapons, build rockets or hide militants. Israel announced Monday that it would also attack private residences if they're used to house militants.

"The IDF will continue to act against anyone who harbors terror in their residence, provides shelter to terrorists and their activities, and forces their children and spouses to act as human shields," the Israeli military said in a statement.

In messages that have left many Palestinians rattled, Israel has been placing calls to Gaza residents to personally warn them that their homes, or adjacent buildings, were targets.

Among those trapped in their homes was Wafa Kannan, a 27-year-old Gaza City resident who's been camping out in a narrow apartment corridor with her mother and two brothers since the strikes began on Saturday.

Over the weekend, Kannan's mother received a recorded call on her cell phone from the Israeli military. When she heard who was calling, she hung up. Minutes later, the same call came to the landline in her apartment warning her to leave if she was storing weapons.

In an apartment building across the street from Kannan and her family live four brothers who are Hamas militants. Israeli intelligence called the Hamas members to warn them that they were targets, Kannan said.

Leaders at the local mosque urged neighbors to converge on the apartment building and act as human shields, she added. No one heeded the call, however, so the Hamas militants fled.

While many families have fled the neighborhood, Kannan said that she and her family don't think there's anywhere to hide from the Israeli strikes.

"You are not safe anywhere in Gaza," Kannan said in a telephone interview from Gaza. "If it's dangerous in our house, it's dangerous in other houses too."

The Israeli military said that it was trying to minimize civilian casualties and noted that Hamas itself has acknowledged that most of those killed were members of its security forces.

On Monday, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that about a third of those killed as of Sunday afternoon — about 90 Palestinians — were civilians.

Israel also allowed 63 truckloads of aid and 1,000 units of blood into Gaza to replenish dangerously low supplies.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Monday for an immediate cease-fire, but neither Hamas nor Israel showed any signs of working towards a political compromise.

Israeli government leaders made it clear that they want to contain the rocket fire from Gaza, but have yet to explain when or how this conflict will come to an end.

"The strategy today is to hit Hamas, and to hit Hamas hard," said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. "We believe that will create a new reality, a new security environment in which a quarter million Israelis no longer have to live in fear of rocket attacks."

Regev said that Israel wasn't actively looking to topple Hamas, the Islamist militant group that seized control of the Gaza Strip in a June 2006 military showdown with fighters loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

"We have not articulated regime change as a strategic goal," Regev said of Hamas, which was founded in part to destroy Israel.

The internal Palestinian rift has deepened in the past 18 months, and Abbas pointedly blamed Hamas over the weekend for bringing the Israeli attacks on itself by not agreeing to renew a six-month cease-fire that brought temporary and relative calm to the area until it expired earlier this month.

In apparent preparation for sending in troops, Israel Monday declared large swaths of its border with Gaza "closed military zones" that prohibit journalists and others from entering.

Last month, Israel shut its main border crossing with Gaza to all-but-essential medical cases.

As it did during the first phase of Israel's 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Israeli public has rallied behind the air strikes. Polls show growing Israeli support for the attacks on Hamas.

That backing could plummet, however, if Israel embarks on a ground offensive that ends with heavy casualties and no clear-cut victory as the one in Lebanon did.

"I don't think Israel is looking for a political solution," said Yossi Kuperwasser, the brigadier general who served as head of the Israeli military's intelligence branch during the 2006 war. "Israel is looking for a situation where Hamas, because of its own considerations, decides not to shoot."

Unrest caused by bad economy may require military action, report says

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By Diana Washington Valdez

A U.S. Army War College report warns an economic crisis in the United States could lead to massive civil unrest and the need to call on the military to restore order.
Retired Army Lt. Col. Nathan Freir wrote the report "Known Unknowns: Unconventional Strategic Shocks in Defense Strategy Development," which the Army think tank in Carlisle, Pa., recently released.

"Widespread civil violence inside the United States would force the defense establishment to reorient priorities ... to defend basic domestic order and human security," the report said, in case of "unforeseen economic collapse," "pervasive public health emergencies," and "catastrophic natural and human disasters," among other possible crises.

The report also suggests the new (Barack Obama) administration could face a "strategic shock" within the first eight months in office.

Fort Bliss spokeswoman Jean Offutt said the Army post is not involved in any recent talks about a potential military response to civil unrest.

The report become a hot Internet item after Phoenix police told the Phoenix Business Journal they're prepared to deal with such an event, and the International Monetary Fund's managing director, Dominique Strauss-Khan, said social unrest could spread to advanced countries if the global economic crisis worsens.

Javier Sambrano, spokesman for the El Paso Police Department, said city police have trained for years so they can address any contingency, but not with the military.

"The police (department) trains on an ongoing basis as part of its Mobile Field Force Training," Sambrano said. "As a result, the police will be able to respond to emergency situations, such as looting or a big civil unrest. The police (department) does not train with soldiers."
Earlier this year, Pentagon officials said as many as 20,000 soldiers under the U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) will be trained within the next three years to work with civilian law enforcement in homeland security.

Joint Task Force-North, a joint command at Biggs Army Airfield, which conducts surveillance and intelligence along the border, comes under NORTHCOM. No one was available at JTF-North to comment on the Army War College's report. NORTHCOM was created after the 9-11 attacks to coordinate homeland security efforts.

Soldiers under the former Joint Task Force-6 (now JTF-North) supported the Border Patrol in El Paso with its drug-interdiction operations.

In case civilian authorities request help or become overwhelmed, El Paso has several National Guard and military reserve units that can be called on. In 1992, National Guard and active Marine and Army units were deployed to help police control riots and looting in Los Angeles.

Charles Boehmer, political science professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, was skeptical about the Army War College report.

"The military was not called out during the Great Depression, and I don't think our economic problems are as bad as they were then," he said. "The military always has contingency plans. It's a think tank's job to come up with scenarios, but that doesn't mean it represents an active interest on the part of the (Pentagon)."

Israel's Onslaught: One of Its Bloodiest Attacks on Palestinians in 60 Years

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By Amy Goodman

Update: The Gaza death toll has passed 350.

Amid worldwide protests, Israel is continuing its bombing campaign against Gaza for the third consecutive day and preparing to launch a possible ground invasion. Following months of a crippling blockade, this has been described as one of Israel’s bloodiest attacks on Palestinians since 1948. Latest reports indicate that 310 people have been killed and 1,400 injured in the aerial strikes across the Gaza Strip since Saturday morning. The latest targets of the air strikes include the Hamas Interior Ministry building and the Islamic University. Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced today that Israel is in an "all-out war with Hamas and its proxies" in Gaza. Fears of a ground invasion are growing after Israel declared a military buffer zone around Gaza, closing off the strip and its 1.5 million residents to journalists and civilians.

We speak to Dr. Moussa El-Haddad and Fida Qishta in Gaza, Dr. Mustafa Barghouti in Ramallah, Gideon Levy in Tel Aviv and Ali Abunimah in the United States.

JUAN GONZALEZ: The latest targets of the air strikes include the Hamas Interior Ministry building and the Islamic University. Five people in a single family were killed in a strike Sunday night on Jabaliya. This is a surviving family member, Iman Baloushi.

    IMAN BALOUSHI: Seven of us were sleeping when, all of a sudden, the walls came tumbling in on us. They were screaming. I told them all to call for martyrdom, because we were going to die tonight.

JG: Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced today that Israel is in a, quote, "all-out war with Hamas and its proxies" in Gaza. Fears of a ground invasion are growing after Israel declared a military buffer zone around Gaza, closing off the Strip and its 1.5 million residents to journalists and civilians. The Israeli cabinet authorized a calling up of 6,500 reserve soldiers Sunday. Israeli prime minister spokesperson Mark Regev said the military campaign would continue until there was "quiet in the south," referring to the rockets launched from Gaza into southern Israel.

    MARK REGEV: Our initial strikes against the Hamas military machine have been successful, but we have no doubt that the Hamas military machine in Gaza remains both formidable and lethal. This campaign will continue, and we have to prepare for different contingencies. Obviously, the final goal remains achieving peace and quiet in the south.

AMY GOODMAN: Al-Jazeera is now reporting 318 Palestinians have been killed. Two Israelis have been killed by rockets from Gaza since Saturday. Hamas’ political leader, Khaled Meshaal, vowed that rocket attacks would continue and suicide missions against Israel would resume in an interview broadcast on Al-Jazeera Saturday. The exiled leader in Damascus called on Palestinians to unite and rise up in a Third Intifada.

    KHALED MESHAAL: This is a historical moment. We worked shoulder to shoulder during the First Intifada and the Second Intifada. Despite the political differences between us, today what is needed is for us to work together in the upcoming intifada and our coming resistance, not only in Gaza, but also in the West Bank.

AG: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, however, blamed Hamas Sunday for triggering the Israeli assault.

    MAHMOUD ABBAS: I want to say very clearly that, yes, we talked to Hamas and the leaders of Hamas in Gaza, and we spoke to them clearly and honestly, directly and indirectly, and through many parties, Arab and non-Arab. So we were in touch with them. Now it’s not important what problems existed between us. We called them and told them, "Please, we ask you, do not end the truce. Let the truce continue and not stop," so that we could have avoided what happened. And I wished it had been avoided.

AG: We’re joined by a number of people right now for our discussion. In Jacksonville, Fla., we’re joined by Ali Abunimah. He is founder of Electronic Intifada, author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. His latest piece, "We Have No Words Left," was published in London’s Guardian newspaper.

We’re also joined from Gaza City by Dr. Moussa El-Haddad. He’s a retired physician. His daughter, Laila El-Haddad, is a journalist who writes the popular blog "Raising Yusuf.

Dr. Moussa El-Haddad, we welcome you to Democracy Now. Can you describe where you are and what the situation is like right now?

MOUSSA EL-HADDAD: Well, I am in the middle of Gaza City, in the heart of Gaza City, and the situation is indescribable. If this is not a holocaust, I don’t know what holocaust is. According to the news, they say almost 318 people are dead. The majority of those are civilians. At least 300 of them are civilians. And they say about 1,500 are injured, but a lot of them are seriously injured. The hospitals lack a lot of the necessary staff, instruments, even gauze and medicines, and everything is lacking. Physicians and nursing staff are working around the clock. People cannot find a place in the hospitals for treatment, injuries. And I am sure there will be a lot more of the dead under the rubbles of those buildings that were attacked and demolished.

Every now and then, we hear a rocket attack or two. So, there are warplanes in the sky flying all over the time. As I speak to you now, I can hear them up in the sky, the pilotless jets and the warplanes, F-16s and God knows what. The warships in the sea are also attacking from the sea. And attacking who? Hamas? They are not attacking Hamas; they are attacking the people, the civilians. The civilians -- I mean, I’m looking at the street right now, the main street of Gaza, Omar al-Mukhtar, and hardly you can see anyone walking there, because every single person is afraid.

As you mentioned, last night, a family, five people, a woman and her four children, were killed when they were in their house. Three and -- I don’t know -- three or four mosques were demolished. These are praying areas. These are mosques. So I don’t know -- nobody is safe. No place is safe. All the buildings that were attacked, they are not military buildings. Even in the initial day, on Saturday, the first 150 people, they were civil servants. They were not striking attackers. They were civil servants, civilians. I don’t know. I --

JG: I’d like to ask you also about the -- there have been reports that the Israelis were trying to block television signals. What’s the situation with the electricity, the ability of the people to at least get some information and communicate with each other?

MH: Well, as I speak to you now, I have no electricity in my house. I have a generator that I can open or let work for like two or three hours every now and then to let the Internet work and watch TV. We have electricity like three or four hours a day. We have no cooking gas. I mean, I’m talking about the people. Maybe I have a little left in my house. But people don’t have electricity about 75 percent of the time, no cooking gas, no gas for the cars. So fuel is also lacking. And the only source of, like, food and fuel lately was through Egypt, through those tunnels, and these were attacked last night. At least 40 tunnels were demolished last night.

I don’t know. This is -- can you tell me if any of this is against Hamas? There’s nothing against Hamas. This is a clear-cut genocide and holocaust against civilians, civilians who are helpless. They don’t have warplanes. They don’t have warships. They don’t -- even the rockets that they talk about are homemade. And I just -- I cannot -- and I really lost the words, because the situation is so bad. And we are in the 21st century. We are not in 10th or 15th century. Everybody in the world can see and hear. But who acts? Who is doing anything? Now, they say the killer and the killed are the same. They are putting Israel, with all its military power, [inaudible] level like Hamas and people of Gaza.

AG: We’re also joined by Fida Qishta, who is a freelance journalist living in Rafah and the Gaza Strip coordinator for the International Solidarity Movement. Welcome to Democracy Now. Describe what is happening in Rafah.

FIDA QISHTA: Well, at this moment, everything is calm, but yesterday was a massive attack to Rafah’s border. They attacked the border area with more than 11 rockets by the F-16, and it was the only source for the Gazans to stay survivors, by the food and the medicines, anything that they could bring through the tunnels. But now, the only way for the Gazans to stay survive is destroyed.

And yesterday morning, they attacked a pharmacy in Rafah near my house. It’s just 50 meters away from my house. And they [inaudible] other normal buildings in Rafah, too, which just include families and civilians. I don’t know what is the reason for doing that. As Dr. Moussa said, they’re attacking civilians. And it’s true that the Israelis say that they attack -- their attack is really, really massive, and it’s really unbelievable that we can see in our eyes what’s happening. It’s too much. The hospitals -- and even in Rafah, the biggest hospital, Abu Yusuf Al-Najjar, cannot afford to have more than 20 injured. And they moved the injured to Gaza City. And most of the people stay at home. Everything is closed. It’s like a war. Nobody goes out.

JG: I’d like to ask you about the role of Egypt. There have been reports that the Egyptians along the border have prevented Palestinians from trying to escape the violence. Could you talk about that or what you have -- the reports you have heard there?

FQ: Well, when we heard the attack to the border, me and some friends from the ISM went there to observe in our eyes what’s going on. And when we went there, we saw the Palestinians. Palestinians didn’t try to escape. The Palestinians tried to show their anger to the Egyptian soldiers, why they didn’t open just part of these borders or the crossings to let the injured go out of Gaza to have treatment in Egypt. This is what the Palestinians tried to do. They didn’t try to escape to Egypt. This is a false information. People went to the border with Egypt after the attacks by the F-16s happened, and they tried to show their anger for the Egyptian soldiers to let them -- just let the injured go to Egypt for treatment. They didn’t try to escape.

AG: We’re speaking with guests in Rafah, in Gaza City. Now we go to Tel Aviv with the Ha’aretz journalist Gideon Levy. He’s on the phone with us. His latest piece is called "The Neighborhood Bully Strikes Again."

Welcome to Democracy Now. As you listen to Dr. Moussa El-Haddad, Fida Qishta, speaking to us from Rafah, your thoughts in Tel Aviv and the response of the Israeli population to what’s happening right now?

GIDEON LEVY: First of all, I feel horrible as an Israeli when I hear all those reports, when I watch all those horrible pictures. But unlike me, I am afraid that most of the Israelis are quite indifferent. They think that there was a legitimate reason. The attacks on the southern part of Israel was a legitimate reason. Israel has the right to do everything. Unlike them, I think that Israel crossed any line of humanity or morality or even legality. And I think what Israel is doing right now there is horrible and has no justification.

JG: Do you think that there may be some decision by the Israeli government to act now, just as the Bush administration is leaving office and Barack Obama will be sworn in on Jan. 20, that there’s a feeling maybe that the U.S. government at this point will not react in any negative way to this kind of action?

GL: Look, you can find all kind of justifications about the timing. There are also elections coming, elections in Israel, soon. But I must remind you that Israel went through a very similar war two years ago, a little bit more than two years ago, two-and-a-half years ago, when there were no elections and President Bush was still in power and there was no elections in the United States and not here. So, I mean, the second Lebanese war. I wouldn’t count -- I mean, the situation is much more complex than this. There are [inaudible] calculations, but I don’t think that’s the main thing. The main thing is that Israel is reacting, overreacting with overpower to a situation which has to have a solution, but not this kind of solution.

AG: And how do you think that this relates to the Feb. 10 elections? Explain who is running and how this plays into this, the bombing of Gaza.

GL: You mean in the domestic Israeli politics?

AG: Yes, with Tzipi Livni, with Ehud Barak, with Benjamin Netanyahu.

GL: There was a poll published yesterday in Israel which showed that, within two days, Labor had gained 50 percent more in the poll, namely because Ehud Barak, he’s the man who is mostly identified with this operation. He’s the minister of defense, as you know. So he might gain -- his party might gain out of it, but I wouldn’t go so far and think that he did it only for the elections. It was in the back of his mind. If he gains so Netanyahu loses, and maybe Kadima remains in the same place or gains also a little bit, but it’s too early to judge, because we don’t know how will it end. You know, all those operations [inaudible] in a very successful way, but then you don’t know how will they end.

AG: We’re also joined in Ramallah by Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, independent Palestinian lawmaker, democracy activist. Your response from the West Bank right now, which isn’t under siege, to say the least, in the same way as Gaza, Dr. Barghouti?

MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: We are not under siege, but we are under Israeli attack, as well. The Israeli army attacked civilian nonviolent demonstrators yesterday in Nil’in and killed one person and injured three very seriously. Another young boy was killed in another village in [inaudible]. Three people have been killed already in the West Bank, and the number is rising.

But let me say that what Israel is doing in Gaza is not an act of self-defense, as it is claiming. It’s not an attack on Hamas. It is an attack on the whole Palestinian population. What we see is a war crime, a bloodbath, unprecedented since 1967. What we have had so far is 318 people killed, including 30 children, and at least 1,400 people injured, including 150 children and 40 women. I was shocked deeply today over the fact that yesterday the Israeli planes destroyed a house in Jabaliya camp and killed five girls, five sisters from one family, and injured their mother seriously and critically. This is a bloodbath that should stop immediately.

Israel is claiming that it is attacking Hamas, but in fact it is attacking all the Palestinians. It is attacking the whole infrastructure. They have destroyed a university. They have destroyed five mosques. They have attacked the hospital. They are shooting and destroying everywhere. And it seems imminent that there will be even a land invasion which could destroy and kill and take away thousands of lives. This is very dangerous. And Israel would not have gone so far if it wasn’t for the compliance and the silence of the international community.

One very important point here, I must clarify that it was not the Palestinians or Hamas that broke the ceasefire; Israel was the one that broke the ceasefire since two months. They started operations and attacks here and there, trying to provoke a reaction, ’til there was a reaction, and then they claim that it was the Palestinians who broke the ceasefire.

Also, I want to clarify that Gaza Strip is the highest densely populated area in the world, with almost 4,150 people in each square kilometer. When you start bombing the place with bombs that are 1 to 2 tons heavy, then you’re determined to kill people and kill civilians and innocent people. I’ve just heard Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister of Israel, saying that Palestinians should go away from Hamas and Gaza. Where should they go away? In which place? Where? Which place they can go to, when Israel is putting Gaza for two years under total blockade, by sea, by air, by land. Israel has been claiming that it has withdrawn from Gaza. Israel never ended its occupation of Gaza. It maintains the occupying of the airspace, the sea around Gaza and the land around Gaza. And it was preventing people from getting medical aid and equipment and fuel and electricity. I was just talking to our people in Gaza and asked them, "What is your situation?" They told me they don’t have bread. Even bread is unavailable in Gaza. And now Israel is bombarding it in this horrible and unacceptable way.

I think the world community must see the reality. This is an unprecedented bloodbath that the Israeli generals are using -- and politicians are using for their political campaigning in their elections. For one more time, they’re using Palestinian blood for their election campaigns. I’m so sorry that even some left parties in Israel are supporting such an aggression. They all claim that this is about missiles. But let me ask a very simple question: How many Israelis were killed during the last six months by missiles? Almost none. The only two Israelis that were killed so far, were killed after this operation.

Will this bring peace? It will not bring peace. Will this bring security? On the contrary, it is bringing back the intifada of the West Bank. It is creating terrible feelings all over the occupied and Palestinian territories, and this must be stopped. And if it wasn’t for the compliance of this terrible American administration, Bush administration, who seems to insist to have a very dark reputation before he leaves his office, if it wasn’t for that support and compliance, Israel would not have dared to go so far in punishing innocent victims and in creating this terrible disaster in Gaza Strip.

AG: What about the issue of the complicity or the silence of other Arab governments and also of the Palestinian Authority now also criticizing Hamas?

MB: Well, I think the Palestinian Authority is finding itself in a very difficult position. One of the main reasons of this operation is to weaken Abbas so badly that I don’t think he will be able to speak on behalf of Palestinians anymore. Even Abbas is now under terrible pressure to stop all negotiations with Israel, to stop all forms of security coordination with Israel, because, at the end of the day, he was elected by the Palestinians and not the right-wing extremists in Israel. And I think he has just called for a general meeting with all parties, including Hamas, and they have. This is something that never happened during the last year-and-a-half. And I believe that the intention now among Palestinians is to find a way of regaining their unity in front of this grave, inhuman and unacceptable bloodbath.

AG: I want to bring in Ali Abunimah, who is in Jacksonville, Fla., though usually based in Chicago, founder of the Electronic Intifada. Your comments on the situation, on Mahmoud Abbas, for example, saying that it was Hamas that brought this on?

ALI ABUNIMAH: I want to say, Amy, first of all, that we have to go back to the Warsaw Ghetto or Guernica to find crimes in the modern era of the scale of the viciousness and of the deliberateness of what Israel is committing with the full support of the United States, not just the Bush administration, but apparently as well, the incoming Obama administration. We have to recognize the complicity not just of the so-called international community, but also of the Arab regimes, Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak, the Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit of Egypt. Tzipi Livni, when she issued her threats against Gaza, was in Cairo in the biggest Arab capital, and Aboul Gheit stood next to her silently.

Mahmoud Abbas is not a bystander, the so-called president of the Palestinian Authority. For two years since the elections, which Hamas won, he and his coterie have been collaborating with Israel and the United States, first to overthrow the election result and then to besiege Gaza. We have talked before of the Palestinian contras, funded and armed by the United States, which sought to overthrow Hamas in June 2007 and had the tables turned on them. And now this. The complicity of Mahmoud Abbas is very clear and must be clearly stated. He does not have the authority, moral or otherwise, to call together the Palestinian people for anything. He has gone over to the other side. He has joined the Israeli war against the Palestinian people, and I choose my words very carefully.

And let me say this, as well, Amy, that Israel is trying to produce and promote the fiction that it is engaged in a war with a so-called enemy entity. What Israel is doing is massacring a captive population. You heard -- you said in the headlines how Nancy Pelosi, our so-called progressive, liberal, anti-war speaker of the House, gave her full support to these crimes. Obama has done the same through a spokesman. And that will not change. The United Nations issued a weak statement aimed at covering the backsides, let me say, of those who issued it, not aimed at changing the situation.

What are Palestinians calling for today? Yesterday, the Palestinian National Committee for the Campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions reissued and reaffirmed its call on all international civil society in the United States, in North America, in Europe, everywhere, to redouble the efforts for boycott, divestment and sanctions modeled on the anti-apartheid movement. This is necessary. This is moral. This is the nonviolent resistance we can all participate in. And it is more urgent than ever. Let’s not look back at these crimes like we look at the Warsaw Ghetto and like we look at Guernica, and we look at the other atrocities of the 20th century and say, "We had the chance to act, but we chose silence and complicity." The time to stop this is now.

And we also have to be clear that those who are accountable -- Ehud Barak, his orders over the past few months to withhold insulin, chemotherapy drugs, dialysis supplies, all forms of medicine from the people of Gaza, were just as lethal and just as murderous as the orders to send in the bombers and warplanes to attack mosques, to attack universities. The Islamic University in Gaza is not a military site. It is a university with 18,000 students, 60 percent of them women. Last night, Israeli warplanes attacked a female dormitory in the Islamic University. This is what Israel is attacking. They attacked the fishing port. No food gets into Gaza. People can barely fish enough to sustain them, and Israel has attacked the fishing boats that sustains them. These are historic crimes, and we cannot be silent about them.

And we have to continue this nonsense that there’s fault on both sides. We have a captive occupied population. 80 percent of the people in the Gaza Strip are refugees. 750,000 of them are children. Where else in the world can these crimes be committed while the world looks on, while our elected politicians in Congress, Democrats and Republicans, sit there applauding, when you see the shameful statement of Howard Berman, the Democrat chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, giving his full support to Israel? People have to stand up to this. We cannot sit on our hands anymore and say change is coming. Change is not coming unless we create it.

AG: We have on the line with us Dr. Mustafa Barghouti in Ramallah. We’re joined by Dr. Moussa El-Haddad. He is a retired physician in Gaza City. We’re joined by Fida Qishta. She is joining us from Rafah. And Ali Abunimah is on the line with us from Jacksonville, Fla., in studio.

Ali Abunimah, I wanted to ask you about the statements at this point of Barack Obama, or the lack of them. Of course, he’s on holiday right now in Hawaii, but David Axelrod was on the networks. Again, they are continuing to say that there is only one president at a time, and that president is President Bush now. Condoleezza Rice is briefing Barack Obama. But he did say that not only would it be counterproductive for the president-elect to weigh in too deeply, but he said that Obama’s commitment to the "special relationship" between the United States and Israel, in a way that suggested general sympathy for the Jewish state’s actions. I’m reading from the Huffington Post. Your response?

AA: Isn’t it convenient that we only have one president at a time, when it suits Barack Obama to stay silent on something that is enflaming the whole world? Apparently, we don’t have one president at a time when it comes to the economy or Iraq or Afghanistan or other issues. But on this, Barack Obama is content to remain silent and, in fact, to give, through the statements of David Axelrod, his more or less open support for what Israel is doing, which fits with the policies that he has enunciated consistently of supporting Israel’s attacks on Gaza, supporting the blockade of Gaza, supporting the Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006.

And this is why Israel feels so comfortable carrying out these sorts of atrocities, which cross every red line of the Fourth Geneva Conventions, of the Nuremberg Principles, of all of the laws of war that were developed in the 20th century. Israel feels totally comfortable crossing them, because it knows that it will have full support from any U.S. administration, no matter what political shade it is.

And this is why it’s crucially important that people don’t sit by waiting ’til Jan. 20. The calendar flipping is not going to change anything. What’s going to change things is boycott, divestment and sanctions, people rising up and demanding an end to impunity, demanding, for example, that Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni be brought to account before an international war crimes court for the orders that they have given for these massacres of the civilian population of Gaza. That’s what’s going to bring change, and that’s what people must call and organize for.

JG: I’d like to bring in Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, again. The issue of what is the potential for reaction in the West Bank and in the Arab street, as opposed to the complicity of many of the Arab governments at this point -- your sense of, if this continues much further, what will be the reaction?

MB: Well, let me explain one very specific point. Israel is very proud, with the complicity of some Arab regimes and some of the people in the Palestinian Authority, about what’s going on. But I want to remind you that what is happening in Gaza and in the West Bank is nothing but also a slaughter of democracy. We have, as Palestinians -- we, the civil society in Palestine, we, the Palestinian democratic forces, jointly with many others -- managed to have the best democratic experience ever in the Arab world. Everybody knows that, and President Carter reported it when we had the last elections. And I think this complicity of some certain Arab sides are specifically because they don’t want this democracy to happen. They don’t want this democracy to survive. And if Israel is very proud to be in alliance with dictatorships, then that reveals how democratic Israel itself is.

Israel has been claiming that it’s the only democracy and so on, but why is it slaughtering Palestinian democracy? They did that in 1976, when we had elections for the first time for our municipalities, and within one year, because they didn’t like the elected people, they either bombarded them or deported them or arrested them. And now, after 2006 elections, they are putting 45 members of our parliament in jail. One of the leaders, one of the members of parliament, is not Hamas. His name is Ahmed Saadat. He’s from the left, from the secular democratic left. He was just sentenced to 30 years in jail, just because he is the secretary-general of a Palestinian organization. It’s amazing how the world is silent about this slaughter of democracy. And if Israel is happy with being in alliance with some dictator, then it is the one that is losing.

The main question here, that I want to come back to some myths that Israel is spreading. They keep stressing that they are attacking Hamas. This is not on Hamas; this is on the whole Palestinian population. They claim that they ended occupation in Gaza. This is not true. They never ended occupation in Gaza. They continue to occupy Gaza. Now they’re changing the form of occupation again, and they’re threatening to complete the invasion again and destroying people’s lives. Third, they claim that it was the Palestinians who broke the ceasefire. This is false. This is incorrect. Israel broke the ceasefire. And now the party that is refusing to have ceasefire is Barak, the defense minister of Israel, and he’s the one who is refusing to allow ceasefire to happen again.

At the same time, I must say that Israel is not only attacking the Gaza Strip. Practically, Israel in the West Bank has created a system that can only be described as an apartheid system, a much worse apartheid than the one that prevailed in South Africa at one point of time. Why do we have all these problems? For one very simple fact: The violence is a symptom of the disease. The disease has been there all the time, for 41 years, and it is the Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian territories. And because the Israeli government does not want to stop this occupation, that’s why we keep running from one conflict into another. Please.

AG: I wanted to bring Gideon Levy back into the conversation from Tel Aviv from the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. Gideon, you write, "Blood will now flow like water. Besieged and impoverished Gaza, the city of refugees, will pay the main price. But blood will also be unnecessarily spilled on our side. In its foolishness, Hamas brought this on itself and on its people, but this does not excuse Israel’s overreaction." What about -- can you elaborate on this?

GL: Yes, I think that Israel had this legitimacy to protect its citizens in the southern part of Israel, and it had the legitimacy to do something, as the Israelis all expect the government to do, but this doing something does not mean this brutal and violent operation. The diplomatic efforts were just in the beginning, and I believe we could have got to a new truce without this bloodshed.

And even about the military reaction, you know, there are all kinds of stages. Immediately to send dozens of jets to bomb a total helpless civilian society with hundreds of bombs -- just today, they were burying five sisters. I mean, this is unheard of. This cannot go on like this. And this has nothing to do with self-defense or with retaliation even. It went out of proportion, exactly like two-and-a-half years ago in Lebanon.

AG: Dr. Moussa El-Haddad in Gaza City, the responsibility of Hamas here and the response of the people of Gaza? Right now, a quote of Tzipi Livni, who just recently said, "Unfortunately, in this kind of attack, there are some civilian casualties, but Israel took all the necessary actions to warn the civilians before the attacks to leave the places they know that Hamas stays."

MH: Well, it’s not some civilians. All those who are dead now, most of them are civilians. And a question that keeps coming up, people are saying Israel has the right to protect itself from the Hamas rockets. What about the West Bank? Does Hamas -- does West Bank has rockets that they throw on Israel? Of course, none. And look at what’s happening in the West Bank, in Hebron, Nablus and Ramallah and everywhere. People are being killed almost every day. And I just cannot explain to you the situation right now.

Hamas, as an organization, was, as Dr. Barghouti just mentioned, this government was democratically elected in front of the eyes of the whole world, and this is the only democratic election that happened in the Middle East, really democratic. And people -- why just the world didn’t give this government a chance to prove itself? It was not going to throw rockets or just -- when they had this truce and the ceasefire, who broke it? It was Israel. We had a siege for one-and-a-half months, nothing allowed in, no medicines, no food, no nothing. And still, Hamas and other organizations did not throw any rockets. Israel kept on coming, and they killed 23 people in three weeks. Of course, this provoked Hamas, and they just did not renew this issue of ceasefire, because it was useless.

JG: I’d like to ask also Fida Qishta back into the conversation -- this continuing occupation and encirclement and the problems that you face in Gaza, how do persevere, you and other residents there, day to day, manage to get through?

FQ: Well, for Palestinians, in general, they face a lot from the Israeli occupation. And if you don’t find a house in the whole Gaza Strip that isn’t damaged by losing a son or a father or a daughter or a mother -- we used to face lots of problems with the Israelis. And me, myself, I’m one of the people and a person who lost their house in 2004. We managed to continue our lives. We managed to build a new house, and now we survived. But the problem of the other people who can’t build new houses or even afford food for their families.

Palestinians try to be strong. But under these attacks that the Israelis now -- actually, the war that Israelis started with Palestinians in Gaza, it’s really unbelievable and not acceptable. It’s genocide. And all the world should stop and say to Israel, "Stop it. That’s enough. The Gazan people chose this government, and you should accept it." And for us, as Gazans, we try to continue our lives, no matter what happens. We keep the hope, and we keep the struggle for the future and for our families. We don’t think, for example, if the Israelis destroy a house or kill a son or a daughter, that means our life is ended. We try to survive and continue our life. We try to do our best with it, but Israel is trying every single day, every single minute, to destroy the Palestinians’ hope. And I don’t know what these normal Palestinians did for them, what these civilians did for them. So we try to manage and continue our life. This is what we try to do. No matter what, we try to continue our lives.

AG: I want to go back to Ali Abunimah. The next step now? Israel is preparing for a ground invasion, calling up 6,500 troops. Do you hold Hamas responsible for any of this? What do you think Hamas should be doing now?

AA: Well, what could -- I mean, this thing about if they hadn’t fired rockets, this was the Israeli propaganda that Mahmoud Abbas was repeating in Cairo. And as Dr. El-Haddad said, has one single rocket ever been fired from the West Bank? No. And as Dr. Barghouti was saying, the West Bank is under constant attack. People are being killed. Amy, you had on your show the settler pogroms that were happening in front of the eyes of the world in the West Bank, the settlement construction that goes on. There has not been a single rocket fired from the West Bank. Abbas has capitulated to the Israelis. His so-called security forces, trained by the United States and armed by the United States, have been fighting the resistance in the West Bank. Did that spare one single Palestinian in the West Bank from Israeli violence or colonization? No, it did not.

This notion that Israel has a right to defend itself -- against who? Against 1.5 million people who are refugees, who are starving, who are caged in the world’s largest prison or concentration camp? Don’t Palestinians also have a right to defend themselves? What should Palestinians do? I turn the question of those who keep pointing the finger at the Palestinians. Resistance is not acceptable, and so --

AG: Ali Abunimah, we’re going to have to leave it there.

AA: Thank you, Amy.

AG: I thank you very much for being with us, Ali Abunimah in Florida; Dr. Moussa El-Haddad and Fida Qishta, both in Gaza; Dr. Mustafa Barghouti in Ramallah.

US: Economic stress drives rise in child abuse and domestic violence

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By Kate Randall

As families confront the impact of the current economic crisis, social service agencies across the US are seeing growing numbers of cases of domestic violence and child abuse. The correlation between financial stress and the growing incidence of such cases is shown in increased calls to hotlines, visits to emergency rooms and the utilization of social services and shelters.

Lisa Rivera, a staff attorney at the Domestic Violence Clinical Center in New York, told the New York Lawyer, "When you speak with victims of violence, they talk about the stressors in their lives and the stressors in their abusers' lives—loss of a job, loss of income."

"This is a very stressful time," Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Joshua Sharfstein told the Washington Afro American. "Everyone's waiting for the next shoe to drop."

As the recession deepens, social workers and medical professionals expect the situation to worsen. And while more women and children—the primary targets of this violence—become victims, funding for programs to assist them is being cut back. The impact is being felt in states across the country.

Domestic violence shelters in Texas are experiencing an unprecedented jump in families seeking emergency assistance. Of the 29 shelters surveyed by the Allstate Foundation this year, 83 percent reported a dramatic increase in hotline calls, walk-ins, and/or families staying at their shelters.

Walk-ins at one Texas shelter were up by 240 percent over one year ago, and the number of women and children staying in shelters has increased by as much as 71 percent in some cases. Calls to many emergency shelter hotlines have doubled.

"Every year the stresses of the holiday season send women and children fleeing for safety," Paige Fink, executive director of Family Place in Dallas, told the Allstate study. "But this year, the financial pressures of the holiday season are compounded by the weakened economy."

Shelter directors in Texas said they expect the situation to worsen, as many women try to keep their families together during the holidays, only to seek shelter in January when their home situation becomes untenable.

In Florida, the number of calls received by the state's Department of Children and Families' hotline is up by more than 12,000 over the 12-month period ending in October. DCF Secretary George Sheldon attributes the rise to the financial stresses of job loss and dwindling family budgets.

By state officials' estimates, one in five cases reported to the hotline represents a legitimate child abuse case, which would translate into 2,400 children in danger. Despite the urgent need for care, Florida is likely to carry out cuts to social services programs in order to deal with an estimated $2 billion budget deficit.

Child welfare experts in the Sacramento, California region are concerned about the number of children at risk for abuse as the economy worsens. Sacramento County Child Protective Services is seeing an increase in both the number and severity of child abuse cases. In October, there were 460 reported situations where a child's safety was in such immediate risk that an investigator was required to respond immediately.

The Child Abuse Prevention Council of Placer County (Calif.) handles cases involving sexual and physical abuse, abandonment and medical and educational neglect. The council has seen a 65 percent increase in need for its services, and is struggling to keep up with demand.

Placer County, with the region's highest per capita income, saw its unemployment rate rise to 7.4 percent in October from 5 percent a year earlier. Median home sale prices plunged by 20.5 percent in the same period. The county recorded 1,833 foreclosures from January through October, up from 668 for the same period last year, according to MDA DataQuick.

Deanne Thornton, executive director of the Placer County council, told the Sacramento Bee, "Parents are losing their jobs and their health plans. Families are facing foreclosure and they don't know where to turn."

Rhode Island has recently seen a 25 percent increase in felony-level domestic violence crimes. Victims' advocates say that economic stress contributes to more frequent and violent abuse, posing grave dangers to the victims, who have fewer opportunities to seek help or to get away from their abusers.

From 2005 to 2007, the rate of domestic violence-related homicide in Massachusetts tripled, according to the Boston Globe. Researcher Jaclyn Campbell identified the risk factors contributing to this horrific statistic as limited access to services for the victim and joblessness for the person committing the crime.

In Fairfax County, Virginia, investigations of child neglect have surged by 152 percent, comparing July-October 2008 to the same four-month period in 2007. Many of these investigations are the result of families living without heat or electricity, or failing to provide children with medical care. Abuse and neglect investigations combined rose by 23 percent.

In nearby Washington DC, the nation's capital, there was an 18 percent increase in child neglect and abuse investigations during the same period. Allison Jackson, medical director of the Children's National Medical Center, has noticed an increase in the number of children coming to the emergency room with burns, broken bones, fractured skulls and injured stomachs.

Jackson told the Washington Post, "We are all questioning whether it's the economy and the stresses that come with a bad economy."

The need for shelters and services for victims of domestic violence is immense. A 24-hour census conducted in 2007 by the National Network to End Domestic Violence found, in one day, that more than 53,000 women, men and children across the US received services from domestic violence programs.

Over 25,000 of these individuals were able to find refuge in emergency domestic violence shelters or transitional housing, while more than 7,700 victims did not receive help because the programs lacked adequate funding and resources.

Need for these services will surely rise as more families face the loss of a job, wage cuts, lose their medical coverage, or go into foreclosure. A September 2004 study released by the National Institute of Justice revealed a direct link between such stress and domestic violence:

• Women whose male partners experience two or more periods of unemployment over the five-year course of the study were three times more likely to be abused.

• Couples under "financial strain" had triple the domestic violence rate of other couples in the population.

Despite such data, as the demand for services grows under the weight of these economic strains, federal funding to a key program that serves victims of domestic violence has been cut: $2.1 million was slashed from The Family Violence Prevention and Services budget earlier this year.

Israel inflicts mass suffering on Palestinian population

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By Tom Eley

Israel's bombardment of the Gaza strip, which after three days has killed at least 364 Palestinians and maimed scores, has sharply intensified a severe humanitarian crisis in the area.

In recent weeks Israel had taken new measures to choke Gaza off from its limited access to food, fuel, and other necessities. Amidst acute shortages caused by the blockade, the current Israeli onslaught imperils Gaza's entire population.

Evidence that Israeli's bombing campaign is no "surgical" operation, but a campaign of mass terror, continues to mount. Among the dead are at least 62 civilians, according to the United Nations.

Between Sunday night and Monday morning, two separate missile strikes killed eight children. In the Jebaliya refugee camp near Gaza City, an Israeli missile killed five children under the age of 17. In Rafah, in the South, a toddler and his two teenage brothers were killed in an attack ostensibly aimed at a Hamas commander. Over half of Gaza's population of 1.5 million are children under the age of 16.

On Monday, UNRWA, a United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, reported that an Israeli bomb killed eight students and injured twenty more at the Gaza Vocational Training Centre in Gaza City.

The rest of the dead were reportedly members of Hamas security forces or in training. They were utterly defenseless against the Israeli bombs and missiles. Many were killed in Israel's initial surprise attack inside their offices, homes, schools, and prisons.

Scores of buildings have been destroyed. Police stations and all other structures loosely connected with Hamas, which governs Gaza, have been pounded by heavy artillery and missiles, from the air, land, and sea. One Israeli strike targeted the women's wing and the faculty of the sciences building at the local Islamic University. It has also been reported that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) has destroyed Gaza's only port, which was engaged primarily in the fishing industry.

According to IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Networks) of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, (IDF) bombs have destroyed Gaza's already limited infrastructure, "leaving residents without electricity and water." As a result of the invasion local aid officials have warned that "a dire humanitarian situation looms."

Eyewitness accounts report that the sounds of jets and drones can be heard everywhere, supplied to the IDF by the US, punctuated by explosions, sirens, and the screams of people. "From my desk in my university classroom we could see the smoke from Israel's bombing and hear the most terrifying sound of non-stop explosions," writes Eman Mohammed. "Girls around me screamed in horror ... Some of my classmates ran out of the university, fearing their lives, but were killed by Israeli missiles as they fled."

"One of the injured at the hospital was a little boy heading home from school," he continued. "Terrified and unable to see due to his injury, the boy was shaking and holding on to anything alive. However, I think holding his hand helped me more than it helped him; I didn't have the words to comfort him. When doctors were able to attend to the boy, I promised him he would be OK. The next thing I knew, his little weak body, deprived of life, was lying on the hospital's cold floor. Was his crime being born Palestinian?"

"More than three buildings have been brought to the ground in my area," Hamoudi, of Tal el Hawa, said on the Al Jazeera web site. "Two of my neighbours were killed on their way back from school—sixteen-year-old Yasmeen and her sister, 15-year-old Haneen. They were innocent girls."

Hatem Shurrab, an aid worker in Gaza, said "the situation is getting worse day by day. They're targeting everything. We don't know when or where they will strike next. They're hitting hospitals, medical centres, universities, homes, security centres, police."

As Israel masses tanks on the border with Gaza, fears of a ground invasion have grown. "In a city that is so densely-populated, a ground offensive would mean urban warfare, street-to-street fighting ... leaving many Palestinians in the crossfire," a reporter for Al Jazeera said. "Unlike other conflict zones where there is the possibility to flee the war zone, Gaza itself has become the war zone. There is nowhere for the population to go, they are in the middle of all these attacks."

Israel has prepared the humanitarian crisis now unfolding over months, during which time it limited the movement of basic necessities into the Gaza Strip. Then, beginning on November 4, Israel closed off the few border crossings into Gaza, in evident preparation for the current bombardment.

A Gaza Health Ministry spokesman, Hamam Nasman, told IRIN that due to the Israeli blockade, local hospitals were ill-prepared for the injuries resulting from the current onslaught. "Since August we have not received basic medications," he said, "The ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross], which usually delivers 60 types of medication, has been unable to deliver a shipment for one month," he said. "One hundred and five drugs and 230 basic supplies, like alcohol, cotton, needles, and IVs are out of stock."

Mawia Hassanini, the head of emergency care at the health ministry, told IRIN that about half of Gaza's tiny fleet of ambulances is broken down for lack of parts due to the Israeli blockade—leaving about 100 ambulances to provide service for 1.7 million people suffering under the Israeli blitz. "Victims were being brought to hospitals in private cars, donkey carts, and some were being carried by others on foot," IRIN reports.

Through its blockade Israel openly flaunted the so-called "truce" between it and Hamas, which was based on the quid pro quo that Israel would ease the movement of goods into the territory, in exchange for a cessation of rocket fire by Palestinian militants. The purpose of the renewed blockade is now clear: it aimed to create a pretext for a full-scale military attack by goading the Palestinians into a response.

So severe was the blockade that even humanitarian organizations were forced to curtail their activities. UNRWA stopped food distributions in Gaza on December 18. Christopher Guinness, a spokesman for UNRWA, said that it had become "virtually impossible" to carry on humanitarian operations. Prior to the complete Israeli blockade, UNRWA supplied food to more than 750,000 people, while the World Food Programme provided for 200,000 more. In other words, almost two months before it began its massive bombing campaign, Israel cut off food supplies upon which a majority of the local population depended.

In the weeks leading up to the invasion, power and fuel shortages had caused widespread suffering. As a result, a large share of the population went without electricity for extended periods. Even energy to hospitals and to water and sewage treatment was limited, compounding the precarious health situation facing the population. (In its 2006 attack on Gaza, Israel targeted the area's sole power station. Now Gaza is dependent upon electricity imported from Israel for about 2/3 of its overall use.)

One of the few limited supply lines to Gaza—tunnels constructed under the border with Egypt—have been destroyed by Israeli strikes in the new attacks.

Third day of Israeli attacks deepens anger of Arab masses

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By Chris Marsden

The Israeli Air Force has waged its third day of bombing against Gaza, hitting the interior ministry and Islamic University. Also hit was a house near the abandoned home of a senior Hamas leader in the southern town of Rafah.

Israel has massed thousands of troops along the Gaza border and has declared the area a "closed military zone." Over 6,500 reservists have been called up. Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak on Monday said Israel was engaged in a "war to the bitter end" against Hamas. Speaking to a special session of the Israeli parliament, Barak said the current assault would continue and even intensify.

Hamas officials say that over 300 Palestinians have been killed and more than 1,400 others wounded. The UN relief agency in Gaza says 62 civilians have been killed by Israeli fire so far, with five girls dying in Jabaliya refugee camp after Israel bombed a mosque near their home.

Khaled Meshaal, the political leader of Hamas, called on Palestinians to wage a new intifada against Israel, including a revival of suicide missions. Hamas has not carried out a suicide attack on Israel since January 2005.

The BBC cited a Palestinian doctor in Gaza as saying that nearly all the casualties he saw overnight and on Monday were civilians. Bloomberg.com reported Monday that the Shifa Hospital morgue in Gaza City was overflowing with the bodies of Palestinians killed in the Israeli air attacks. The article noted: "The refrigerated compartments at Shifa Hospital's morgue in Gaza City were filled three bodies to a drawer.

"Dozens more corpses wrapped in sheets lay on stretchers in the white-walled morgue yesterday as grieving parents identified sons who were killed in Israeli's most punishing aerial assault on the Gaza Strip in more than 40 years. Hospital corridors were jammed with wounded, many screaming as they waited for a doctor.

"Gaza is saturated in death on the second day of Israel's bombardment with brief funerals taking place in cemeteries throughout the 40-kilometer-long seaside territory."

Humanitarian aid groups warned on Sunday of a growing humanitarian crisis in the densely populated territory. They described a deteriorating medical situation and urged the opening of Gaza's borders to allow supplies to flow to hospitals.

The Washington Post quoted Iyad Nasr, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza, as saying, "There are hundreds of wounded in the hospitals in the Gaza Strip, and what we have received so far has only been a fraction of our need. Our supplies have been depleted, and we are in desperate need of supplies."

The Israeli offensive against Gaza has sparked demonstrations around the world, which in many Arab nations have become political protests against the ruling regimes.

Over 2,000 rallied Sunday in Copenhagen. Police arrested a man after he threw a petrol bomb at officers.

On Monday, British riot police made 10 arrests as demonstrators gathered for a second day outside the Israeli embassy in London. Protests were also held in Paris, where about 200 people gathered on the Champs Elysees, while the northern district of Barbes saw at least 1,300 mount an anti-Israel protest.

In Spain, hundreds demonstrated outside the Israeli embassy in Madrid. In Turkey there were demonstrations involving thousands in a dozen cities.

Over 2,500 people rallied on Monday afternoon in Sydney, Australia. The protestors marched from the Sydney Town Hall to the US consulate in Martin Place blocking peak-hour traffic. Several hundred people also demonstrated in Lakema, a south-western Sydney suburb. Demonstrations will be held today in Melbourne and Adelaide.

The regime in Egypt is particularly threatened by the rising tide of anger at its collaboration with Israel. Together with Jordan it has signed peace agreements with Israel. Egypt borders the Gaza Strip and the government of Hosni Mubarak has kept Palestinians penned in since June of last year.

The largest protests against the Israeli bombardment of Gaza were in Egypt, where 8,000 demonstrated in the southern city of Aysut, 4,000 protested in the capital Cairo and 4,000 in Alexandria. In total, more than 50,000 demonstrated in Egyptian cities on Sunday, led by the Islamist opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, out of which Hamas first emerged.

On Sunday, Palestinians breached the Rafah border fence with Egypt in four places along its nine-mile length. Hundreds of desperate Palestinians crossed over. Clashes with Egyptian security personnel saw one Palestinian shot dead and four wounded.

An Egyptian major was shot twice in the stomach, killing him. Five other border guards were injured and an eight-year-old Egyptian child was wounded by a stray bullet. Tear gas was used extensively. Gunmen briefly took control of several Egyptian checkpoints, after which 300 additional border guards were dispatched to the area.

In January, a similar breach saw hundreds of thousands enter Egypt to stock up on food.

Egyptian security had pulled back ahead of Sunday's Israeli air strikes on tunnels between Gaza and Egypt, underscoring that they had been warned in advance by Jerusalem.

Gamal Abdel Gawad, head of the international relations unit at the Cairo-based al-Ahram Center for Strategic and Political Studies, warned, "The Egyptian public cannot tolerate a massive Israeli military operation in Gaza in which Palestinians will be hurt, particularly civilians... If you expose the Egyptian government or any government to pressure, to criticism, this could be destabilising."

Spontaneous demonstrations and riots have broken out across the West Bank and in Arab parts of Israel. In the Bedouin village of Rahat in the Negev desert some 400 residents protested the attacks. Palestinian protestors from West Bank towns and refugee camps marched on Israeli checkpoints and Israeli settlements. Many were injured by rubber bullets and tear gas shot by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers.

In Ramallah, hundreds of protestors from the various Palestinian factions waved banners and flags and called for unity in support of the people of Gaza.

Several hundred Israelis marched through the streets of Tel Aviv toward the Israeli defence ministry headquarters, chanting, "No to war, yes to peace." Protestors carried signs saying, "Israeli's government is committing war crimes," "Negotiation instead of slaughter," and "Lift the siege on Gaza." Several Israeli protestors were arrested.

Several thousand marched in the Jordanian capital Amman to demand the closure of the Israeli embassy. They chanted, "No for peace, yes to the rifle." There were rallies in many of Jordan's Palestinian refugee camps.

Demonstrators in Amman rallied outside the Egyptian embassy to protest Cairo's refusal to open the border with Gaza. "The Egyptian regime has taken the decision to be part of a conspiracy against Gaza," the secretary general of Jordan's Islamic Action Front, Zaki Saad Beni Rasheid, said.

Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia group, denounced Israel's offensive as a "war crime" that "represents genocide." In the capital Beirut, protestors tried to approach the barbed wire fence around the Egyptian Embassy offices. Policemen wearing gas masks hurled tear gas canisters and the protestors set fire to rubber tires. Protests were also staged in downtown Beirut and Tripoli, called by the Jamaa Islamiya, Lebanon's chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood. In Ain el-Hilweh, Lebanon's largest refugee camp near Sidon, around 2,000 demonstrators urged Hezbollah to attack Israel.

Nawaf Mussawi, Hezbollah's chief of international relations, told Lebanon's New TV, "What is happening in Gaza today is an Israeli-US war, with Arab collusion, to deprive the Palestinians of their rights."

In a televised speech Sunday, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah urged Egyptians in their "millions" to take to the streets to force their government to open the country's border with Gaza. He called on the Egyptian people, government officials, the intelligentsia and political parties to exert pressure on their government to keep the Rafah crossing to Gaza open permanently and to send weapons and ammunition to the Palestinians.

"There are some who speak of Arab silence, but this is wrong," he said. "There is full Arab cooperation, especially by those who have signed so-called peace agreements with Israel."

He denounced Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, who said that Hamas must bear responsibility for the current situation in Gaza. "Yesterday we heard a high-ranking Egyptian leader cast the responsibility on the victim," he said. "Can we accept such things from Arabs?"

If Egypt does not open the Rafah crossing, he added, it will be accused of partnership in Israeli aggression. He described what is occurring in Gaza as "a Palestinian version of what happened in Lebanon in July 2006," referring to the Israeli war that led to the loss of 1,200 lives, mainly Lebanese civilians.

Israeli jets flew low-level sorties over south Lebanon Monday for a second day. They have carried out intensive mock air raids over Hasbaya, Nabatiyeh Khiam, Iqlim al-Tuffah and Marjayoun all the way to eastern Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Jerusalem has pledged to attack Lebanese civilian locations in the event of renewed hostilities. Lebanese army troops and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon have stepped up security at the border with Israel and across south Lebanon.

Nasrallah urged those in southern Lebanon to remain vigilant in case of Israeli attacks, declaring, "Since the beginning of the Zionist attack on Gaza, Israeli officials have issued threats about another front, and they mean Lebanon."

In Syria, 5,000 demonstrated in central Damascus. Protestors waved the green flags of Hamas as well as Palestinian, Syrian and yellow Hezbollah flags.

Israel's assault on Gaza prompted Syria to rule out an early resumption of ongoing but indirect peace talks. A Syrian official declared on Sunday that Israel's action in Gaza "closes the door on the movement for a peaceful political settlement."

Turkey's foreign minister, Ali Babacan, who has mediated the talks, added, "It is not possible to carry on the negotiations under these conditions."

In Iran tens of thousands protested yesterday, burning Israeli and US flags and calling on Islamic countries to boycott "Zionist companies." Clerics were reported to be signing up volunteers to fight in the Gaza Strip. More than 1,100 people have registered for military service.

In the northern Iraqi city of Mosul a demonstration of some 1,300 people was organised by the Iraqi Islamic Party, the main Sunni Arab faction in parliament. A suicide bomber blew himself up among the crowd, killing one person and wounding 16. "Arab silence is behind the bombings," read a banner at a rally of several thousand people in the Sunni Arab city of Samarra north of Baghdad.

On Monday, about 1,000 supporters of the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr chanted, "No, no to Israel" and burned Israeli and American flags during a demonstration in eastern Baghdad. The al-Dawa party of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki issued a statement calling on Islamic countries to cut relations with Israel and end all "secret and public talks" with it.

In the Yemeni capital Sanaa, tens of thousands joined a demonstration jointly organised by the ruling General People's Congress and opposition parties. One banner read, "How long will the silence last? Arabs wake up!" In Bahrain, over 2,000 people protested with many slogans attacking Egypt such as "Mubarak, you have embarrassed the Arabs."

Most Arab states have pledged aid to Gaza, but done little else. The treachery and complicity of the Arab bourgeois regimes were underscored by the decision of the Arab League to put off a meeting to discuss a common response to the Israeli attack until a summit scheduled for January 2 in Doha, Qatar. Arab foreign ministers were due to hold an emergency meeting on Sunday, but postponed the meeting until Wednesday.