Category: Historic Land of Palestine


May 29, 2017

A group of Palestinian volunteers have launched their annual campaign to offer dates and water to drivers and their passengers across the occupied West Bank throughout the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Dubbed “Dates and Water”, the campaign has been launched for the third year and caters for travelers who are on the road at Iftar time, sunset.

Mahmoud Abdulmoneim, one of the volunteers responsible for the campaign, told Quds Press that the idea behind the campaign was initiated by a group of youths in the town of Sebastia, near occupied Nablus.

The youths wanted to encourage volunteering in the West Bank, Abdulmoneim said, adding that the location was chosen because it is a central area through which hundreds of Palestinians pass.

The process of distributing dates and water starts shortly before the call for Maghreb prayers, which comes at sunset, Abdulmoneim added.

Around 15 volunteers participate in the campaign, aiming to offer dates and water to around 300 travelers.

A number of local Palestinian companies and donors provide the dates to the volunteers for free.

The campaign was well-received, with some drivers coming out of their cars to help the volunteers distribute their Iftar packs, Quds Press cited Abdulmoneim saying.

The campaign inspired youth to come up with more initiatives, such as volunteering to clean and decorate Sebastia to mark the month of Ramadan.

Abdulmoneim called for utilizing the month of Ramadan to maximize volunteering activities among Palestinians and reinforce the sentiments of support and solidarity in light of the difficult living conditions that Palestinians endure under occupation.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170529-marking-ramadan-palestinian-volunteers-launch-campaign-to-enable-travellers-to-break-their-fast-on-the-road/.

May 06, 2017

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The Hamas Islamic militant movement that controls the Gaza Strip announced Saturday it had chosen its former Gaza prime minister Ismail Haniyeh as the group’s new political chief.

Haniyeh succeeds Hamas’ longtime exiled leader Khaled Mashaal, and the move comes shortly after Gaza’s rulers unveiled a new, seemingly more pragmatic political program aimed at ending the group’s international isolation.

Hamas is trying to rebrand itself as an Islamic national liberation movement, rather than a branch of the pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood, which has been outlawed by Egypt. It has also dropped explicit language calling for Israel’s destruction, though it retains the goal of eventually “liberating” all of historic Palestine, which includes what is now Israel.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the group hoped Haniyeh’s election “would see opening to the region.” Hamas has ruled Gaza since 2007, after securing an overwhelming victory in legislative elections the previous year and ending 40 years of political domination by its rival Fatah party. Hamas captured the coastal strip by violently overthrowing forces loyal to the Fatah movement, led by Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel, along with Egypt, has been enforcing a crippling border blockade against them since then. Though it has softened some of its rhetoric, Hamas’ new platform clung to the hard-line positions that led to its isolation. The group reaffirmed it will not recognize Israel, renounce violence or recognize previous interim Israeli-Palestinian peace deals — the West’s long-standing conditions for dealing with Hamas.

In its founding charter, Hamas called for setting up an Islamic state in historic Palestine, or the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, which also includes Israel. It also included anti-Jewish references.

Over the years, Hamas has carried out shootings, suicide bombings and rocket attacks against Israel. Since 2008, Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza have fought three cross-border wars. Abbas has been an outspoken opponent of violence, saying it undercuts Palestinian interests. Repeated reconciliation efforts between the Palestinian factions have failed. Hamas has sharply criticized Abbas’ political program, which rests on setting up a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War.

Haniyeh’s selection marks the final phase of the secretive Hamas elections. In February, the group chose militant commander Yehiya Sinwar, one of its most hard-line figures, as its new Gaza chief in charge of the group’s core power base.

Haniyeh, 54, was born in the al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza. He was the private secretary of Hamas’ founder and spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin. In 2006, after Hamas won the legislative elections, Haniyeh was chosen by the movement to form its first government. He resigned as prime minister after Hamas and Fatah agreed to form a unity government in 2014 — a government has never taken hold.

For the past four years he has served as Mashaal’s deputy. Haniyeh’s first task will be to cope with escalating tensions between Hamas and Fatah. In recent weeks, Abbas has threatened to exert financial pressure, including cutting wage payments and aid to Gaza, as a way of forcing Hamas to cede ground.

Gaza resident Rani Abu Samra said he hoped Haniyeh’s election could bridge gaps with Fatah and mark “a new beginning for a real reconciliation on the internal Palestinian level.” In Gaza, where Haniyeh still resides in his home in a refugee camp, some residents saw his election as a sign that could draw attention to the territory’s woes.

“If someone is from outside Gaza, he won’t talk about Gaza’s ordeals and worries properly,” said Ahmed Okasha, a Gaza vendor. Since quitting his longtime base in Damascus in 2012, Mashaal has mostly lived in lavish suites in the capital of the oil rich gulf state of Qatar.

May 14, 2017

SIDON, Lebanon (AP) — Ahmad Dawoud recalls the day 10 years ago when a Lebanese soldier asked to search his taxi. Then 17, the Palestinian didn’t wait for the soldier to find the weapons hidden in the trunk.

He jumped from the car and fled into the nearby Palestinian refugee camp, where the Lebanese army has no authority. But it was not long afterward that Dawoud, who once admired the radical groups that have sprouted in the camps in Lebanon, decided he was tired of running. That same year, in 2007, he surrendered to authorities and spent 14 hard months in jail.

Although he was released without a conviction, he couldn’t erase the biggest strike against him: As a Palestinian in Lebanon, he is a stateless, second-class resident in the only country where he’s ever lived.

On Monday, Palestinians mark 69 years since hundreds of thousands of them were forced from their homes during the 1948 war that led to the creation of Israel. Many settled in the neighboring West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

As refugees, various U.N. charters entitle them and their descendants to the right to work and a dignified living until they can return to their homes or such settlement is reached. But Palestinians in Lebanon suffer discrimination in nearly every aspect of daily life, feeding a desperation that is tearing their community apart.

Many live in settlements officially recognized as refugee camps but better described as concrete ghettos ringed by checkpoints and, in some cases, blast walls and barbed wire. The U.N. runs schools and subsidizes health care inside.

In Lebanon, there are 450,000 refugees registered in 12 camps, where Lebanese authorities have no jurisdiction inside. “Our lot is less than zero,” Dawoud said in a recent interview outside Ein el-Hilweh, the crowded camp in Sidon that is one of the most volatile.

On peaceful days, children play in the damp alleys and merchants park their carts of produce along the camp’s main streets. But the place feels hopelessly divided along factional and militant lines, and it frequently breaks down into fighting between Palestinian security forces and militants or gangs that capitalize on the general despair.

Last month, 10 people were killed in a flare-up that drove out thousands of the camp’s estimated population of 75,000. Palestinians are prohibited from working in most professions, from medicine to transportation. Because of restrictions on ownership, what little property they have is bought under Lebanese names, leaving them vulnerable to embezzlement and expropriation.

They pay into Lebanon’s social security fund but receive no benefits. Medical costs are crippling. And they have little hope for remediation from the Lebanese courts. Doctors are prohibited from working in the Lebanese market, so they find work only in the camps or agree to work for Lebanese clinics off the books, and sign prescriptions under Lebanese doctors’ names. That leaves them open to employer abuse, a condition normally associated with low-skill work.

“If a young boy gets in trouble because he is Palestinian, the prosecutor writes in his note to the judge, ‘He is Palestinian,’ meaning: ‘Do what you wish to him. Be cruel to him. Forget about his rights,'” said Sheikh Mohammad Muwad, a Palestinian imam in Sidon.

The crush of war refugees from Syria has made it even harder for Palestinians here to find work. Nearly six in 10 under age 25 are unemployed, according to the U.N.’s Palestinian relief agency UNRWA, and two-thirds of all Palestinians here live below the poverty line.

UNRWA country director Claudio Cordone said they feel trapped in political limbo and see an “almost total lack of meaningful political prospects of a solution” to their original displacement from Palestine.

Lebanese politicians say that assimilating Palestinians into society would undermine their right to return. But Palestinians say they are not asking for assimilation or nationality, just civil rights.

“They starve us, so we go back to Palestine. They deprive us, so that we go back to Palestine. Well, go ahead, send us back to Palestine! Let us go to the border, and we will march back into Palestine, no matter how many martyrs we must give,” Muwad said.

For those in the camps, the line between hustling and criminality is often blurred. Unemployed and feeling abandoned by the authorities, many turn to gangs for work. Adding to this is a widely shared disaffection with the Palestine Liberation Organization, which many Palestinians now see as having sold out their rights with the failed Oslo Accords of 1994.

This has helped fuel the rise of radical Islam — a shift in the occupied Palestinian territories that is reflected by Hamas’ rising popularity, and one outside the territories in the meteoric trajectory of militant groups such as Fatah al-Islam in the volatile and deprived Nahr al-Bared camp.

Growing up in Nahr al-Bared, a camp much like Ein el-Hilweh, Dawoud felt a strong affiliation for Fatah al-Islam, his gateway to radical extremism. “They were the only ones who seemed honest,” he said. “Of course, later I figured out they were just like everyone else, too.”

In 2007, the Lebanese army razed most of Nahr al-Bared to crush Fatah al-Islam. By that time, Dawoud already was in Ein el-Hilweh, and his arrest was the beginning of a slow falling out with the gangs that once sheltered him and treated him like a brother. After his stint in prison, they began to feel they couldn’t trust him, and he was chased out of Ein el-Hilweh in 2013. Now, he can only enter the parts of the settlement firmly under PLO control.

With no job, no prospects and little wealth, Dawoud now runs errands for others in his white 1980s-era BMW — all done under the table, of course. Palestinians cannot apply for the red license plates that identify taxis and other commercial vehicles.

“I don’t even think about marrying and getting into those situations,” he said, waving off starting a family at age 27. His ambition now is to apply for a visa to leave Lebanon. But first he needs a travel document, and for that he needs to be on good terms with the Lebanese authorities.

Not all Palestinians live in camps, but even the most privileged among them endure discrimination. At a panel on Palestinian labor rights at the American University of Beirut, Muhammad Hussein asked a Lebanese Labor Ministry official why he was denied work even in sectors that are formally open to Palestinian employment.

The 22-year-old graduate showed the official an email he received from a marketing firm in Dubai refusing his job application on the grounds that the Lebanese office had to give priority to Lebanese workers.

“The problem isn’t finding vacancies,” Hussein said. “It’s getting the job.”

May 02, 2017

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The Islamic militant Hamas on Monday unveiled what had been billed as a new, seemingly more pragmatic political program aimed at ending the group’s international isolation.

With the new manifesto, Hamas rebrands itself as an Islamic national liberation movement, rather than a branch of the pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood, which has been outlawed by Egypt. It also drops explicit language calling for Israel’s destruction, though it retains the goal of eventually “liberating” all of historic Palestine, which includes what is now Israel.

It’s not clear if the changes will be enough to improve relations with Egypt which, along with Israel, has been enforcing a crippling border blockade against the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip since the group seized the territory in 2007.

Hamas clung to hard-line positions that led to its isolation in the first place. The group reaffirmed that it will not recognize Israel, renounce violence or recognize previous interim Israeli-Palestinian peace deals — the West’s long-standing conditions for dealing with Hamas.

The five-page program, a result of four years of internal deliberations, was presented at a news conference in Doha, Qatar, by Khaled Mashaal, the outgoing Hamas leader in exile. The group has said Mashaal’s replacement is to be named later this month, after the completion of secret leadership elections.

The document reflects a “reasonable Hamas, that is serious about dealing with the reality and the regional and international surroundings, while still representing the cause of its people,” said Mashaal.

A copy of the program was distributed to journalists in Gaza who followed the news conference by video link. The new platform seemed to cement the ideological divide between Hamas and its main political rival, the Fatah movement of Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Hamas drove out forces loyal to Abbas in its 2007 takeover of Gaza, a year after defeating Fatah in Palestinian parliament elections. Reconciliation efforts have failed. The Hamas manifesto was released at a time of escalating tensions between the two sides. In recent weeks, Abbas has threatened to exert financial pressure, including cutting wage payments and aid to Gaza, as a way of forcing Hamas to cede ground.

Leaders of the group have vowed they will not budge. The war of words with Hamas was seen as an attempt by Abbas to position himself as a leader of all Palestinians ahead of his first meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House on Wednesday. The U.S. president has said he would try to broker Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on a peace deal, despite repeated failures over the past two decades.

In the past, Hamas has sharply criticized Abbas’ political program, which rests on setting up a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War.

In its founding charter, Hamas called for setting up an Islamic state in historic Palestine, or the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, which also includes Israel. The new program for the first time raises the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state in the 1967 lines, saying it’s a “national consensus formula.” However, the wording suggests Hamas considers this to be an interim step, not a way of ending the conflict.

The document does not contain an explicit call for Israel’s destruction, but says “Hamas rejects any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea.” “There shall be no recognition of the legitimacy of the Zionist entity,” the document says.

The Palestine Liberation Organization, now led by Abbas, exchanged letters of mutual recognition with Israel in 1993. The Hamas document said it considers armed resistance against occupation as a strategic choice and that the group “rejects any attempt to undermine the resistance and its arms.”

Over the years, Hamas has carried out shooting, bombing and rocket attacks in Israel. Since 2008, Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza have fought three cross-border wars. Abbas has been an outspoken opponent of violence, saying it undercuts Palestinian interests.

While the founding charter was filled with anti-Jewish references, the new document stresses that Hamas bears no enmity toward Jews. It says its fight is with those who occupy Palestinian lands. Mashaal is to step down as Hamas leader later this month. Two possible contenders for the No. 1 spot are Moussa Abu Marzouk, a former Hamas leader, and Ismail Haniyeh, a former top Hamas official in Gaza.

The Mashaal announcement was initially scheduled for 7 p.m. (1600 GMT) Monday, but was delayed after a Doha hotel withdrew consent at the last minute to host the Hamas news conference. Hamas scrambled to find a new venue.

Laub reported from Ramallah, West Bank.

2017-02-13

GAZA – Hamas elected in secret a hardline member of the Palestinian Islamist movement’s armed wing as its new Gaza leader on Monday, indicating a tougher stand against longtime adversary Israel.

Yahya Sinwar was elected to head the Hamas political office in the Gaza Strip, officials from the party said on condition of anonymity.

An influential military figure, Sinwar represents for some the hardest line within the Islamist movement which has fought three wars against Israel since 2008.

He will succeed politician Ismail Haniya and becomes the second most important figure in the party after Khaled Meshaal.

Sinwar was held in Israeli jail for more than 20 years until 2011, when he was released along with more than 1,000 other Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured five years earlier.

He has since become a senior figure in the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing.

In September 2015, Sinwar’s name was added to the US terrorism blacklist alongside two other Qassam members.

Mukhaimer Abu Saada, a political analyst in Gaza, said the appointment showed the military wing was asserting its dominance in Hamas.

Israel’s foreign ministry and prime minister’s office declined to comment, but the defense ministry body responsible for the Palestinian territories labelled him the head of Hamas’s “radical camp”.

– Secretive –

A graduate in Arabic, Sinwar was born in the Khan Younis refugee camp of southern Gaza in 1962 and founded “Majd,” one of Hamas’s intelligence services.

In 1988, he was arrested by Israel for “terrorist activity” and eventually sentenced to four life sentences.

Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, two years after Israel pulled its forces out but Sinwar remained in jail for another four years.

He was released in October 2011 as part of a mammoth deal for Shalit, who was captured in 2006.

Washington accuses Sinwar of pushing for kidnapping more Israeli soldiers as a bargaining chip for Palestinian prisoners.

Hamas currently claims to be holding four Israelis in captivity in Gaza, though Israel says the two soldiers among them were killed in the 2014 war.

After his release from jail, Sinwar initially made a number of public appearances.

Later, however, he disappeared from public view and was presented in Hamas media as the commander of Qassam’s elite units.

On Monday, he seemed set to step back into the public sphere at a time when Hamas has been holding elections.

The election process, ongoing for months, is shrouded in mystery and it was unclear how Sinwar was appointed and if and when other appointments will be announced.

There was no reference to his appointment on the Hamas website Monday afternoon.

Haniya is seen by many observers as the most likely successor to Hamas’s overall leader Meshaal, who currently lives in exile.

Sinwar, however, could have significant freedom inside Gaza.

– ‘Escalation’ –

Both Palestinian and Israeli analysts said the appointment could make another conflict between the two sides more likely.

“I think it is an indication that we might see an escalation with the Israeli occupation in the coming stage,” said Abu Saada, the Gaza analyst.

“Sinwar is known to not accept any facilitation that eases the tense situation with the occupation,” Abu Saada said.

“We might see in the coming stage further provocations against Israel and violent responses against Gaza.”

Israel last year appointed hardline rightwinger Avigdor Lieberman as its defense minister.

After his appointment, he warned the next war with Gaza would be the last as “we will completely destroy them”.

Kobi Michael, an analyst and former head of the Palestinian desk at Israel’s strategic affairs ministry, said the appointment would alarm Israeli politicians.

“He represents the most radical and extreme line of Hamas,” he told reporters. “Sinwar believes in armed resistance. He doesn’t believe in any sort of cooperation with Israel.”

In the 2014 war, 2,251 Palestinians and 74 Israelis died.

The Jewish state maintains a crippling blockade on Gaza which it says is necessary to restrict Hamas’s ability to rearm but which the UN says amounts to collective punishment.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=81418.

2017-01-18

MOSCOW – The main Palestinian parties on Tuesday announced a deal to form a national unity government prior to the holding of elections, after three days of reconciliation talks in Moscow.

“We have reached agreement under which, within 48 hours, we will call on (Palestinian leader) Mahmud Abbas to launch consultations on the creation of a government” of national unity, senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmad told a press conference, speaking in Arabic.

Ater the government is formed, the Palestinians would set up a national council, which would include Palestinians in exile, and hold elections.

“Today the conditions for (such an initiative) are better than ever,” said Ahmad.

The non-official talks in Moscow began on Sunday under Russian auspices with the goal of restoring “the unity of the Palestinian people.” Representatives came from Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other factions.

Abbas’s secular party Fatah and the Islamist Hamas have been at loggerheads since the latter seized Gaza in a near civil war in 2007.

Last year the Palestinian government postponed the first municipal polls in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip in 10 years after the high court ruled they should be held only in the Fatah-run West Bank.

The last time the Palestinians staged elections in which both Hamas and Fatah took part was in 2006.

The Palestinian representatives also met on Monday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and asked him to dissuade incoming US president Donald Trump from carrying out a campaign pledge to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Israel captured east Jerusalem during the 1967 war and later annexed it — in a move not recognized by the international community — declaring all of the city its unified capital.

“We sensed understanding on the part of Mr. Lavrov,” said Ahmad.

Ahmad and Moussa Abu Marzouk of Hamas spoke derisively of the Quartet — the United States, Russia, the EU and UN — in its years-long effort to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The Quartet’s work completely failed. It was unable to advance the decisions taken by the international community, including (UN) resolutions,” said Ahmad.

“It is imperative to find a new working mechanism for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he said.

Abu Marzouk, a senior Hamas official, said he no longer wanted to work with the Quartet but instead with countries and organisations on an individual basis.

“Russia can play a substantial role” in the region, he said.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=80933.

January 16, 2017

The Amir of Qatar, Shaikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, has ordered his government to pay the costs of Gaza’s electricity supply for three months, official sources announced on Sunday. Qatar’s Ambassador to Palestine told the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah that his country will pay $4 million per month as part of this agreement.

Mohamed Al-Emadi released a press statement to explain that the funds will be transferred to the PA “immediately” in order to relieve the suffering of the Palestinian in Gaza. He also noted that there are intensified contacts with the authority regarding current proposals to find a permanent solution for the crisis.

The ambassador explained that these decisions were made after a meeting between Amir Tamim and senior Hamas official Ismail Haniyeh in Doha.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170116-qatar-pays-gaza-electricity-costs-for-three-months/.

January 12, 2017

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Thousands of people took to the streets on Thursday to protest chronic power cuts in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, in one of the largest unauthorized protests in the territory since the Islamic militant group took power a decade ago.

Hamas has shown little tolerance for dissent, and it moved quickly to contain Thursday’s demonstration. Police fired in the air to disperse a crowd of stone-throwing protesters and blocked journalists from the area. A day earlier, Hamas-run authorities arrested a local comedian who made a viral video lamenting the power shortages during the cold winter season.

The demonstration began in the Jebaliya refugee camp, and as it grew in size, the crowd marched toward the nearby offices of an electricity distribution company, chanting: “Raise your voice, electricity cuts mean death.”

Hamas police made way for the crowd, but took up positions outside the electricity company’s building. When a group of youths threw stones at them, they fired into the air to disperse the crowd. Later, the protesters arrived at the building and gathered peacefully.

Hamas forces blocked journalists from filming the gathering, and an Associated Press journalist was briefly detained at gunpoint until he handed over his mobile phones to plainclothes security men. The Foreign Press Association, which represents international media operating in Israel and the Palestinian territories, said a photographer with Agence France-Presse was badly beaten in the head by uniformed policemen and required medical care after he refused to hand over his camera. The group condemned the “violent behavior” in the “strongest terms.”

Interior Ministry spokesman Iyad Bozom denied anyone had been injured. He said protesters were dispersed after they “attacked” the electricity company building and that “quiet has been restored” to the area.

Life has become increasingly difficult for Gaza’s 2 million residents, who are squeezed into the tiny coastal territory. Hamas’ violent takeover a decade ago triggered a border blockade by Israel and Egypt that, among other things, sharply aggravated power shortages.

In a sign of the worsening situation, Gaza comedian Adel al-Mashwakhi was arrested just hours after posting a video about the hardships under Hamas rule, friends and rights groups said. By Thursday afternoon, the video had received more than 250,000 views.

In the one-minute video, titled “Hamas, it’s enough,” he lists the basics missing in Gaza, including jobs and the ability to travel. “(Take) everything but electricity, Hamas,” he says, facing the camera.

Bozom declined to comment about the arrest. Hamas, an Islamic militant group sworn to Israel’s destruction, has ruled the territory since 2007, routinely clamping down on critics. Despite the hardships, anti-Hamas protests have been rare, in part because of fear and because even disgruntled Gazans believe there’s no realistic path to toppling the militants.

Gaza is currently experiencing the worst electricity shortage in years, with power supplied to households only three to four hours a day in a cold winter. Residents have tried to improvise, using old kerosene heaters to keep warm and restarting previously disused community ovens for cooking and baking.

In recent weeks, Gaza residents have staged spontaneous demonstrations, including marching at night with torches to demand more electricity. Al-Mashwakhi posted his video late Tuesday. “There is no work, no (border) crossing points, no food, no water and also no electricity,” he shouts in the clip, after getting out of a white car in the dark.

The artist has produced several short mobile phone videos and acted in some. He rose to fame locally with video clips in which he sings songs with nonsensical lyrics. The Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights condemned the comedian’s arrest, and said it was the third time since last year that he was taken into custody for criticizing Hamas. During one of the detentions, he was tortured, the group said.

JAN. 9, 2017

GAZA (Ma’an) — Qatar has reportedly decided to build an embassy in the besieged Gaza Strip during a meeting of the Qatari committee for Gaza reconstruction on Monday.

The head of the committee, Abd al-Halim al-Issawi, gave the greenlight for the construction of the embassy after visiting the planned location, a five-dunam (1.2 acres) plot of land south of the Gaza City port, on Thursday with contractors.

While Qatar has had a representative office in the besieged Palestinian enclave, the planned embassy could mark a significant diplomatic move, as most countries have implanted their diplomatic missions and consulates to the occupied Palestinian territory in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Qatar is a prominent backer of the Hamas movement — the de facto ruling party in Gaza — and has provided significant financial support for reconstruction in the blockaded enclave following several devastating Israeli offensives.

Naji Sharab, a professor of political science at Gaza’s al-Azhar University, told the Dunya al-Watan news outlet that “such a step is unprecedented in diplomatic relations,” and that he saw it as a potential move by Qatar to recognize the Gaza Strip as a national entity separate from the Palestinian Authority-ruled West Bank.

However, Dunya al-Watan quoted another political analyst and writer, Hussam al-Dajani, as saying that embassies are usually located in the capital cities of the host countries, but that given East Jerusalem’s occupied status, “Qatar can choose a location for its embassy to Palestine in coordination with the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

Al-Dajani thus dismissed the significance of the move “as long as the Foreign Ministry in Ramallah and the one in Gaza are in agreement.”

Source: Ma’an News Agency.

Link: http://www.maannews.com/Content.aspx?id=774823.

Wednesday 28 December 2016

The fall of Aleppo to Iran-backed pro-government forces has brought a bubbling conflict between Iran and Hamas to the boil, with the former making thinly-veiled threats to cut off the Palestinian group.

The threats came from Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, a member of the Iranian Foreign Affairs and National Security Committee, in the wake of increasing solidarity from Hamas to Aleppo.

In an interview last week with the reformist Qanun newspaper, Falahatpisheh made clear there would be material consequences if Hamas did not change its position on Iran’s role in the region, not least its intervention in Syria.

If Hamas does not reconsider the “inconsistent positions by its leaders,” Tehran will be forced to turn to “the most detested of available options” – turning to other Palestinian factions such as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, said Falahatpisheh on 21 December.

The tensions between Hamas, the most renowned anti-Israel movement in the region, and Iran are significant, as Tehran legitimizes its foreign policy through its “Axis of Resistance” against Israel and the United States, which includes Hamas, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“Currently, the sphere of influence of the resistance extends from the Indian subcontinent to the borders of Israel,” Falahatpisheh said.

The harshness of the senior Iranian official’s tone underlines the depth of the crisis in relations. Falahatpisheh accused Hamas of continuing to “support terrorist groups working under the umbrella of the Syrian opposition”.

He described Hamas’ current stance as “hostile,” and saw the group as moving out of Iran’s sphere of influence.

Falahatpisheh demanded Hamas not forget that Syria was, in his words, “a leader in the resistance, and much of its misfortunes are now due to this position”.

Hamas’ support for Aleppo

“We are following with great pain what is happening in Aleppo and the horrific massacres, murders and genocide its people are going through, and condemn it entirely,” read a statement from Hamas at the height of the bombardment of Aleppo.

The movement asked those whom it described as “wise, free and responsible in the ummah (global Islamic community) to act promptly to protect civilians in Aleppo and save those who are still alive”.

It also called on international, human rights and humanitarian institutions around the world to intervene immediately to “stop these dreadful massacres, stand by the children, women and elderly of Aleppo and save them from death and destruction”.

Ahmed Youssef, a senior Hamas figure and former foreign relations head, told al-Khaleej Online that his group would not change course – not least after what happened in Aleppo.

Youssef said the group’s position reflected that of the Palestinian public, who themselves have suffered similar brutality during Israel’s repeated assaults on the Gaza Strip.

He was adamant that Hamas would continue to stand in solidarity with Syria and condemn the killing of civilians there.

During Hamas’ recent parade commemorating the movement’s 29th anniversary, civilian Gazans and Qassam Brigade soldiers alike were seen carrying banners in solidarity with the people of Aleppo.

Hamas-Iran tensions

On the issue of Iranian-Hamas relations, the Iranian outlet Qanun threw in its own two cents: “It seems that Hamas moved away from Iran a long time ago.”

“This can be clearly seen from what is taking place in Syria. All of this is occurring at a time when leaders of the movement deny the existence of any differences of opinion between Tehran and the movement.

“In reality, however, their actions contradict their words.”

“Its financial relations with the Arabs are the reason behind the incoherent positions among the movement’s leaders,” Falahatpisheh said, going as far as to add that the “Israeli lobby” was influencing the group’s position.

He accused a “current” within Hamas of “seeking to save Daesh under the label of the Syrian opposition”.

There are also tensions within Hamas’s leadership over Iran’s influence on the group’s direction, which were made public through information leaked to the London-based pan-Arab al-Sharq al-Awsat daily.

The leaks came from a meeting of senior Hamas leaders, where a leading commander of Hamas’s military wing expressed his concern over growing Iranian influence due to its financial and military support for the group.

Salah al-Arouri is a founding commander of Hamas’ military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, and the movement’s preeminent figure in the West Bank.

According to the leaks, he accused Qassem Soleimani – leader of the Quds Force, the elite branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) – of trying to weaken the Qassam Brigade’s allegiance to Hamas and attempting to absorb them into the Quds Force.

Arouri also protested in the meeting against the pressure Soleimani was putting on the group to pledge complete loyalty to Tehran in the same way Islamic Jihad had done when their general secretary, Ramadan Shalah, led a delegation to Tehran and pledged an oath of allegiance to the Iranian regime.

Relations between Hamas and Iran deteriorated sharply following the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in 2011. The following year, the group’s leadership left Damascus after being based there for more than a decade. Their funding was reduced drastically shortly thereafter.

“Our position on Syria affected relations with Iran. Its support for us never stopped, but the amounts [of money] were significantly reduced,” a senior Hamas official said in 2013.

In response to this turn of events, Iran ramped up funding for other Palestinian groups, most notably the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Islamic Jihad moves closer to Iran

Islamic Jihad has staged its own show of force in Gaza in recent months in a rally including its military wing – the al-Quds Brigades.

Shalah, quoted in the al-Sharq al-Awsat leaks as criticizing Iranian influence, spoke via video link at the October rally, saying: “[Iran] is the only country which commits to the unending support of the Palestinian cause”.

Islamic Jihad has had their own tensions with Iran over Syria for the past two years, but have recently changed tune and become one of Iran’s most vociferous Palestinian proxies.

Earlier this year, Shalah led a Palestinian Islamic Jihad delegation to Tehran and met with Soleimani.

“The defense of Palestine amounts to a defense of Islam,” Shalah said, adding: “The Arab states did not support the popular uprising in Palestine and will never support it since it contradicts their leaders’ agendas. Iran is the only state that supports the intifada and the martyrs’ families.”

Soleimani pledged to provide $70m in annual assistance to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad after the visit, which could explain their change in direction.

JPost reported that the move could be seen as a snub to Hamas following the 2015 visit by the movement’s political chief Khaled Meshaal to Iran’s arch-rival Saudi Arabia, which appeared to mark a significant warming of relations with the Gulf state.

At the end of his interview, Falahatpisheh said that Tehran “does not see Hamas as the whole of the resistance.

“If Hamas continues its current political direction in obstructing things, then Iran will develop new relations with other Palestinian groups without seriously harming the resistance.”

Source: Middle East Eye.

Link: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/after-aleppo-s-fall-hamas-finds-itself-resisting-tehran-well-tel-aviv-1017030317.