Border areas bombed again

CAIRO (IPS) - Almost two months after the attacks on the Gaza Strip, the border area between the battered coastal enclave and Egypt continues to come under frequent Israeli aerial bombardment. Israeli officials say the strikes target cross-border tunnels used to smuggle weapons to Palestinian resistance factions. 

Experts to Obama: Political Islam not the enemy

WASHINGTON (IPS) - Scores of Middle East and democracy experts released an open letter to US President Barack Obama Tuesday asking him to focus more of his foreign policy efforts at making reforms in the region, including boosting human rights. Signed by more than 120 academics, scholars, experts and others, the letter said that previous US policy had been “misguided” and “produced a region increasingly tormented by rampant corruption, extremism, and instability.” 

Gaza reconstruction aid fettered by political motives

CAIRO (IPS) - A conference held this week in Cairo devoted to the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip succeeded in raising more than 5 billion dollars from international donors. But some critics say the issue is being used as a means of isolating Gaza-based resistance faction Hamas. “Reconstruction efforts are being exploited to further weaken Hamas and coerce it into changing its position vis-a-vis the Zionist occupation,” Essam al-Arian, leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition movement, told IPS

Washington ends its diplomatic embargo on Syria

WASHINGTON (IPS) - Ending a four-year diplomatic embargo on Damascus, the administration of United States President Barack Obama Tuesday confirmed that it is sending two high-level officials to Syria this week for “preliminary conversations,” presumably on improving relations. The trip, which will be undertaken by Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Jeffrey Feltman and Daniel Shapiro, a senior staffer on the National Security Council who also served as one of Obama’s top Middle East advisers during his presidential campaign, was announced by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Jerusalem. 

Fatah and Hamas on an uphill road to rapprochement

CAIRO (IPS) - Representatives of rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas met in Cairo this week for talks aimed at national reconciliation and the formation of a unity government. “Egypt hopes this meeting is the real start of a new period ending the state of division which has gone on too long,” Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s point-man on Palestinian affairs, was quoted as saying. 

Poll: Muslims reject US military bases

WASHINGTON (IPS) - Strong majorities of people in predominantly Muslim countries reject terrorism but support key goals of al-Qaeda, notably expelling United States military forces from the Islamic world, according to a major new study of public opinion in seven nations and the Palestinian territories released here Wednesday. Nearly 90 percent of Egyptian respondents, 65 percent of Indonesians, 62 percent of Pakistanis, and 72 percent of Moroccans said they agreed with al-Qaeda’s goal of “push(ing) the US to remove its bases and its military forces from all Islamic countries.” 

Amos Gilad "running Israel"

It is not entirely surprising that Amos Gilad, an Israeli general who once sued his own government for “irreversible mental damage” caused by his role in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, has publicly courted controversy again. On Monday, Ehud Olmert, Israel’s outgoing prime minister, suspended Gilad as his envoy to Egypt, responsible for negotiating a ceasefire with Hamas, after Gilad called the prime minister’s truce conditions “insane.” Jonathan Cook reports. 

The only Palestinian woman in Israel's parliament

Haneen Zoubi has made history: although she is not the first Arab woman to enter the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, she is the first to be elected for an Arab party. Sitting in her home in Nazareth, the effective capital of Israel’s 1.2 million Palestinian citizens, she is dismissive of her predecessors, two women elected on behalf of Zionist parties. “They were worse than decorations,” she said. “Decorations don’t do any harm, but these women damaged our society. They were no role models at all.” Jonathan Cook reports from Nazareth. 

Gaza children "afraid to return to school"

GAZA CITY (IRIN) - Schoolchildren in the Gaza Strip face psychological trauma and lack facilities after schools were badly damaged or destroyed during Israel’s three-week assault on the enclave that began in December. Primary and secondary schools in Gaza run by the government and the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) report a shortage of drinking water and textbooks for students, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).