Friday, February 20, 2009

A NYTimes Oops

Here's the entire NYTimes report I found here, at 11 AM Israel time..

If you read anything about American lawmakers, let me know.

February 19, 2009
American Lawmakers Visit Gaza

JERUSALEM — Israel’s security cabinet voted Wednesday to make the opening of Israel’s border crossings with Gaza, a central Hamas demand for any long-term cease-fire arrangement, conditional on the release of an Israeli soldier held by Hamas.

The cabinet decision, widely seen as a hardening of the Israeli stance, seemed to dim the prospects for a quick conclusion to the Egyptian-brokered talks for a consolidated truce.

But the unanimous vote merely formalized the position that was being articulated with increasing clarity in recent days by the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and seemed more focused on expediting a prisoner exchange deal with Hamas for the soldier’s return.

Hamas, the militant Islamic group that controls Gaza, is demanding the release of as many as 1,400 Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli jails in return for the captive soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit. He was seized in a cross-border raid and taken into Gaza by Hamas and other militant groups in June 2006.

A government statement released after the five-hour cabinet meeting said the release of the soldier was a “top priority” for Israel and would “entail the release of Palestinian prisoners.”

Significantly, the statement omitted any reference to a longstanding cabinet decision barring the release of Palestinian prisoners with “blood on their hands,” meaning those convicted of planning or perpetrating attacks in which Israelis had died. Hamas has demanded the release of many such prisoners in return for Corporal Shalit.

“We want to see this over,” said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Mr. Olmert, in reference to the Shalit case. “We are willing to pay a difficult price.”

Mr. Regev said specific numbers of prisoners had been discussed in the cabinet meeting, as well as some specific names, so that the ministers fully understood what was involved. But a final list of prisoners has yet to be agreed on, he said.

Hamas has rejected any link between an opening of the crossings as part of a cease-fire and a deal to release Corporal Shalit.

Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said the Israeli position “imposes new conditions at the last minute.”

“This completely contradicts the Egyptian and Palestinian positions,” he continued in a statement, and he accused Israel of “blackmail.”

He added that Hamas “had no objection” to releasing the Israeli soldier if Israel met his group’s demands for a prisoner exchange.

This week, Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, also rejected any direct link between the truce and the release of Corporal Shalit.

But Meir Sheetrit, the Israeli interior minister, who attended Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, told reporters afterward that Israel “cannot come to any agreement with Hamas or Egypt without solving the issue of Gilad Shalit.”

Egypt has been brokering talks for a long-term truce since Israel ended its 22-day war against Hamas in Gaza a month ago. Hamas is demanding open border crossings and a lifting of the economic embargo that Israel has imposed on Gaza since the militant group took over the area in 2007.

Israel demands an end to rocket and mortar fire by Gaza militants against population centers in southern Israel, and a halt to weapons smuggling by Hamas.

In the meantime, the Israeli security cabinet said it would allow only “partial activities at the crossings” to “supply the immediate and basic humanitarian needs of the Palestinian population.” Human rights organizations and some foreign officials have denounced the policy as collective punishment.

The recent sharpening of Israel’s position has caused tension inside the country, too. Amos Gilad, the Israeli Defense Ministry’s liaison in talks with the Egyptians, was quoted in the newspaper Maariv on Wednesday as having told an associate that Israel was risking its relations with Egypt.

“I don’t understand what it is that they’re trying to do,” Mr. Gilad was quoted as saying about the Israeli government. “To insult the Egyptians? We’ve already insulted them. It’s madness. It’s simply madness. Egypt has remained almost our last ally here.”

An Israeli government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly on the dispute, said Mr. Olmert had called Mr. Gilad in and reprimanded him for his remarks, none of which Mr. Gilad denied.

In Gaza, unexploded ordnance left behind by the Israelis has disappeared from a storage site that was guarded by the Hamas police, United Nations officials and Hamas police representatives said on Wednesday. The missing ordnance, including bombs dropped from Israeli warplanes, was awaiting safe disposal by a team working with the United Nations.

United Nations officials have been circumspect in blaming any specific party for the disappearance of the bombs, but Israel has pointed a finger at Hamas.

A Hamas police officer said the ordnance disappeared when those guarding the site were “obliged to evacuate” their positions after they heard remotely piloted Israeli drones in the sky. He said the bombs could have been stolen by “fighters, but we are still investigating.”

Mark Buswell, the technical director of the group working to clear the unexploded ordnance, said it was the Hamas police who first brought in the weapons, which included two guided missiles and powerful aerial bombs.

On Wednesday, Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, began consultations with the political parties recently elected to Parliament to determine which one should form the next governing coalition.

The centrist Kadima Party, led by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, narrowly won 28 seats in the 120-seat Parliament. The more conservative Likud Party, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, won 27 seats, but has broader support in Parliament.

Both Ms. Livni and Mr. Netanyahu have claimed victory and the right to lead the next government. Mr. Peres is likely to choose the party leader with the best chance of forming a coalition. Most analysts believe that would be Mr. Netanyahu.

Taghreed El-Khodary contributed reporting from Gaza.

Here's the AP storty:

US lawmakers make rare visit to Gaza

JERUSALEM (AP) — The American consulate says U.S. lawmakers are visiting the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Consulate spokeswoman Micaela Schweitzer-Bluhm says Thursday's visit by Democrats Reps. Brian Baird of Washington and Keith Ellison of Minnesota is the first of its kind to Gaza in at least four years.

She says Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry is also expected to arrive in Gaza later Thursday to meet with officials from international organizations there. The lawmakers are expected to meet with U.N. officials, and there are no plans to talk to the ruling Hamas group.

The U.S. considers Hamas to be a terrorist organization and has not recognized its authority in Gaza. Hamas militants violently took over the Gaza Strip in June 2007.

Anyone want to come visit me in Shiloh?

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