Israel says it prefers diplomacy but is ready to invade Gaza


Israel bombed dozens more targets in the Gaza Strip on Monday and said that, while it was prepared to step up its offensive by sending in troops, it preferred a diplomatic solution that would end Palestinian rocket fire.

Egypt said a deal for a truce could be close, though by late evening there was no end to six days of heavy missile exchanges as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed his next steps with his inner circle of senior ministers.

U.S. President Barack Obama called Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi, who has been trying to use his influence with Hamas, his fellow Islamists who run Gaza, to broker a halt. Obama “underscored the necessity of Hamas ending rocket fire”, the White House said.

The leader of Hamas, speaking in Cairo, said it was up to Israel to end a new conflict that he said it had started. Israel, which assassinated a Hamas military chief on Wednesday, says its air strikes are to halt Palestinian rocket attacks.

To Mursi and in a subsequent call to Netanyahu, Obama said he regretted the deaths of Israeli and Palestinian civilians.

Israeli attacks on the sixth day of fighting raised the number of Palestinian dead to 101, the Hamas-run Health Ministry said, listing 24 children among them. Subsequent deaths raised the toll in Gaza to 106. Hospital officials in the enclave said more than half of those killed were non-combatants. Three Israeli civilians died on Thursday in a rocket strike.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, touring the region in the hopes of helping to broker a peace deal, arrived in Cairo, where he met Egypt's foreign minister in preparation for talks with Mursi on Tuesday. He also plans to meet Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

With the power balances of the Middle East drastically reshaped by the Arab Spring during a first Obama term that began two days after Israel ended its last major Gaza offensive, the newly re-elected U.S. president faces testing choices to achieve Washington's hopes for peace and stability across the region.

ROCKET FIRE

Militants in the Gaza Strip fired 110 rockets at southern Israel on Monday, causing no casualties, police said. Israel said it had conducted 80 air strikes on the enclave. The figures meant a relative easing in ferocity – over 1,000 rockets have been fired in the six days, and 1,350 air strikes carried out.

For the second straight day, Israeli missiles blasted a tower block in the city of Gaza housing international media. Two people were killed there, one of them an Islamic Jihad militant.

Khaled Meshaal, exile leader of Hamas, said a truce was possible but the Islamist group, in charge of the Gaza Strip since 2007, would not accept Israeli demands and wanted Israel to halt its strikes first and lift its blockade of the enclave.

“Whoever started the war must end it,” he told a news conference in Cairo, adding that Netanyahu, who faces an election in January, had asked for a truce, an assertion a senior Israeli official described as untrue.

Meshaal said Netanyahu feared the domestic consequences of a “land war” of the kind Israel launched four years ago: “He can do it, but he knows that it will not be a picnic and that it could be his political death and cost him the elections.”

For Israel, Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon has said that “if there is quiet in the south and no rockets and missiles are fired at Israel's citizens, nor terrorist attacks engineered from the Gaza Strip, we will not attack”.

Yaalon also said Israel wanted an end to guerrilla activity by militants from Gaza in the neighboring Egyptian Sinai peninsula.

Although 84 percent of Israelis support the current Gaza assault, according to a poll by Israel's Haaretz newspaper, only 30 percent want an invasion.

DIPLOMACY “PREFERRED”

“Israel is prepared and has taken steps, and is ready for a ground incursion which will deal severely with the Hamas military machine,” an official close to Netanyahu told Reuters.

“We would prefer to see a diplomatic solution that would guarantee the peace for Israel's population in the south. If that is possible, then a ground operation would no longer be required. If diplomacy fails, we may well have no alternative but to send in ground forces,” he added.

Egypt, where Mursi has his roots in Hamas's spiritual mentors the Muslim Brotherhood, is acting as a mediator in the biggest test yet of Cairo's 1979 peace treaty with Israel since the fall of Hosni Mubarak early last year.

“I think we are close, but the nature of this kind of negotiation, (means) it is very difficult to predict,” Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil, who visited Gaza on Friday in a show of support for its people, said in an interview in Cairo for the Reuters Middle East Investment Summit.

Egypt has been hosting leaders of both Hamas and Islamic Jihad, a smaller armed faction.

Israeli media said a delegation from Israel had also been to Cairo for truce talks. A spokesman for Netanyahu's government declined comment on the matter.

Egypt's foreign minister, who met U.N. chief Ban on Monday, is expected to visit Gaza on Tuesday with a delegation of Arab ministers.

THOUSANDS MOURN FAMILY

Thousands turned out on Gaza's streets to mourn four children and five women who were among 11 people killed in an Israeli air strike that flattened a three-story home the previous day.

The bodies were wrapped in Palestinian and Hamas flags. Echoes of explosions mixed with cries of grief and defiant chants of “God is greatest!”.

Those deaths drew more international calls for an end to hostilities and could test Western support for an offensive that Israel billed as self-defense after years of cross-border rocket attacks.

Israel said it was investigating the strike that brought the home crashing down on the al-Dalu family, where the dead spanned four generations. Some Israeli newspapers said the house might have been targeted by mistake.

In scenes recalling Israel's 2008-2009 winter invasion of the coastal enclave, tanks, artillery and infantry have massed in field encampments along the sandy, fenced-off border.

Israel has also authorized the call-up of 75,000 military reservists, so far mobilizing around half that number.

The Gaza fighting adds to worries of world powers watching an already combustible region, where several Arab autocrats have been toppled in popular revolts in the past two years and a civil war in Syria threatens to spread beyond its borders.

In the absence of any prospect of permanent peace between Israel and Islamist factions such as Hamas, mediated deals for each to hold fire unilaterally have been the only formula for stemming bloodshed in the past.

Hamas and other groups in Gaza are sworn enemies of the Jewish state, which they refuse to recognize and seek to eradicate, claiming all Israeli territory as rightfully theirs.

Hamas won legislative elections in the Palestinian Territories in 2006. A year later, after the collapse of a unity government under President Mahmoud Abbas, it seized Gaza in a brief civil war with Abbas's forces.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Dan Williams and Peter Graff; Editing by Alastair Macdonald

Homs shelled as Syria demands ‘neutral’ U.N. mission


Syria challenged the United Nations chief over the size and scope of a U.N. truce monitoring mission on Wednesday, resisting a larger presence as its army shelled targets in the city of Homs in violation of the ceasefire.

Despite the seven-day-old truce agreement between government and rebel forces, explosions rocked the battered Khalidiyah quarter of Homs as the army resumed what has become a daily barrage of heavy mortar shelling, and plumes of black smoke drifted over the rooftops.

In northern Idlib province, six members of the security forces were killed by a bomb placed by an “armed terrorist group”, state news agency SANA said. It was the second such attack in two days.

While the truce has held in some parts of Syria since President Bashar al-Assad pledged to enforce it last week, in strong opposition areas such as Homs, Hama, Idlib and Deraa, the army has kept up attacks on rebels, using heavy weapons in violation of the pledge by Damascus to pull back.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem told a news conference in Beijing that no more than 250 truce monitors were needed, and they should come from what he called “neutral” countries such as Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, all of which have been more sympathetic to Assad than the West and the Arab League states.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was due to present proposals for the next phase of the mission on Wednesday to the Security Council. He says more monitors are needed for credible supervision of the truce in a country the size of Syria in the 13th month of a conflict marked by extreme violence and over 10,000 deaths.

An advance party of a half a dozen U.N. peacekeepers in blue berets, led by Colonel Ahmed Himmiche of Morocco, toured towns near Damascus on Wednesday in two white U.N. Land Cruisers with a Syrian police escort.

In Erbin their convoy was mobbed by anti-government protesters who chanted demands to arm the rebel Free Syrian Army. A banner was plastered on one U.N. car reading: “The butcher continues killings. The observers continue observing, and the people continue with their revolution. We only bow to God.”

With the flashpoint cities in Syria scattered over several hundred kilometers, Ban said he had asked the European Union if it can supply helicopters and planes to make the proposed monitoring mission rapidly and independently mobile, but Moualem said Syria would supply air transport if necessary.

A political source in neighboring Lebanon said Damascus has already refused the use of U.N. helicopters.

The West has shown no desire to intervene militarily or push for the sort of robust peacekeeping mission that might require 50,000 troops or more. Russia and China, Syria’s powerful friends on the Security Council, have made clear they would block a U.N. mandate to use force. They are likely to back Damascus as the terms of the mission are thrashed out later this week.

Assad says Syria is under attack by foreign-backed terrorist and that for their own safety, the unarmed observers would have to coordinate every step of their operation with Syrian security to protect them from “armed gangs”.

STILL NO PULLBACK

The rebel Free Syrian Army fighting to topple Assad says it will stop shooting if he keeps his pledge to U.N. peace envoy Kofi Annan to withdraw tanks, heavy weapons and troops from urban areas, which critics say he clearly has not done since the truce took effect a week ago.

Apart from the shelling of targets in Homs, the city at the heart of the revolt, troops have swept towns and villages in raids to arrest suspected opponents of Assad. Activists say scores of people have been killed since the ceasefire officially came into force last Thursday.

Syria’s official news agency SANA reported that four law enforcement members and a civilian were killed on Tuesday when “an armed terrorist group threw a bomb at a bus” in Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city after the capital, Damascus.

It said terrorists were attacking and killing loyalist troops in their homes and kidnapping judges.

Internet video showed what anti-Assad activists said was renewed shelling of Homs shortly after dawn on Wednesday. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based group opposed to Assad, reported explosions and heavy gunfire in the southern city of Deraa early on Wednesday. It confirmed the five killed by a bomb in Aleppo.

ADVANCE PARTY

Ban said on Tuesday that the ceasefire was being “generally observed”, though there was still violence. He said the 250 observers Assad will accept would be “not enough, considering the current situation and the vastness of the country”.

Annan delivered a status report to Arab League ministers, who called on Assad to let the U.N. observers do their job.

“We fully support Mr Annan and his six-point plan, but sadly, the killing still goes on,” Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jasim bin Jabr al-Thani told reporters after the meeting. “We are fearful that the regime is playing for time. We expressed this to Mr Annan.”

Equipment for the mission, including vehicles, is already being transported to Syria via Beirut from a U.N. logistics base in Brindisi, Italy.

Diplomats say Annan’s main aim is to get a U.N. mission on the ground backed by Syria’s supporters Russia and China, even if it is not big enough at first to do the job.

TIME TO ARM THE REBELS?

The mission must have Syrian consent, and Moualem said “this commitment does not cancel out the right to self defense and appropriate response against any attack on government forces, infrastructure, civilians and private or state property”.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia say it is time to arm the Free Syrian Army with weapons to combat Syria’s powerful, Russian-armed forces, but other Arab League states say this would tip the crisis into all-out civil war, threatening the wider region.

Russia is also critical of Western and Arab states backing the Syrian opposition-in-exile in the “Friends of Syria” group.

France said it would host a foreign ministers meeting of the group on Thursday in Paris, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to discuss the fragile ceasefire.

Western sanctions have halved Syria’s foreign reserves and should be stepped up to force Damascus to comply with the U.N.-backed peace plan, France’s Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told officials from 57 countries meeting in Paris.

Additional reporting by Ayat Basma and Mariam Karouny in Beirut; Writing by Douglas Hamilton; Editing by Will Waterman

Israeli strike kills three civilians


Israeli combat aircraft reportedly killed three Palestinian civilians in a retaliatory attack.

Palestinian officials were quoted by Israeli media as saying that a 45 year old woman, her 20 year old daughter and a 55 year old man were killed in the attack Friday on the southern Gaza Strip.

The Israeli army in a statement said the attacks targeted terrorists and were in retaliation for a missile attack on a school bus the day before that critically injured a teenage boy.

“IDF forces identified two terrorist squads from the Hamas terrorist organization in two incidents in the southern Gaza Strip,” said a statement from the Israel Defense Forces. “Armed forces as well as IAF aircraft fired at the squads, and identified hits. The IDF will not allow any attempt to harm Israeli civilians and will respond with determination to any attempt to use terror against the citizens of Israel.”

The attack came as terrorists in the Gaza Strip continued to barrage southern Israel with indiscriminate mortar fire.

Netanyahu says Israel ‘regrets’ hitting Palestinian civilians


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he regretted the accidental killing of four members of a Palestinian family in their Gaza home by Israeli tank fire.

Netanyahu in a statement Tuesday from the Prime Minister’s Office emphasized that the shooting was in response to fire by Hamas at Israeli citizens.

“It is unfortunate that Hamas continues to rain down dozens of rockets on Israeli civilians intentionally using civilians as shields,” he said. “Israel has no intention of bringing about a deterioration of the situation, but at the same the IDF will continue to act decisively to protect Israeli citizens.”

Later Tuesday evening, three gunmen from the al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of Islamic Jihad, were killed in an Israeli airstrike, according to the Palestinian Ma’an news agency. The Israel Defense Forces said it struck terrorists on their way to launch rockets at Israel; the IDF identified them as the terrorists who launched a Grad-style rocket on Beersheba last month.

A Kassam rocket fired from Gaza struck Ashkelon shortly after.

Some 13 other Palestinians, including children, also were injured in Tuesday afternoon’s strike, which came after four Kassam rockets fired from Gaza hit southern Israel, according to reports. Israeli troops fired in the direction of Palestinians who had launched mortars at them, accidentally hitting the home, reports said.

Also Tuesday, Israeli troops fired on Gaza Palestinians preparing to launch an anti-tank missile at an Israeli force operating in the northern Gaza Strip. The IDF in a statement said its soldiers hit their target.

Israeli combat planes late Monday night pounded the Gaza Strip in retaliation for a weekend mortar attack, the worst barrage of rocket attacks on southern Israel in two years. More than 50 mortar shells struck the area on Saturday morning. On Monday, a long-range Grad-style rocket was fired from Gaza at southern Israel.

The Israelis’ attack hit two terror tunnels, two weapons manufacturing and storage facilities and two additional terror activity sites across the Gaza Strip, according to the IDF. Israel Radio said there were reports from Palestinian sources of 17 wounded.

Israel had responded earlier Monday to Saturday’s barrage with airstrikes on suspected bomb smuggling tunnels. The latest attack seemed more comprehensive and sustained, according to Israel Radio.

The armed wing of Hamas, Izzadin Kassam Brigades, had claimed responsibility for most of the explosives sent Saturday from Gaza.

Before Israel’s attack Monday night, a spokesman for Hamas, the terrorist group that controls Gaza, had indicated that the group was ready to return to a fragile truce.

Cluster Silence


I haven’t heard major Jewish groups rush to comment on Israel’s use of cluster bombs in the war against Hezbollah.When they have spoken up, they’ve eitherweakly defended Israel’s actions or expressed their concerns in private.

What a mistake.

Cluster bombs burst into bomblets that disperse over a wide area near the ground. Because many bomblets do not explode when launched — between 14 and 40 percent by varying estimates — they become de facto land mines that can kill or maim humans long after a conflict ends.

That’s what has happened in southern Lebanon, thanks to Israel.According to data collected by the United Nations’ Mine Action Coordination Centre of South Lebanon and by international and Israeli human rights organizations, Israel used between hundreds and many thousands of cluster bombs in its shelling of southern Lebanon.

The cluster bomblets spread over a radius of some 220 yards. As of Sept. 28, according to a report in The New York Times, cluster bombs had severely wounded 109 people — and killed 18 others.

The Times report told, among others, the story of Muhammad Hassan Sultan, 12, from Sawane, a hillside village in south Lebanon now littered with cluster bombs. “Muhammad was sitting on a hip-high wall, watching a bulldozer clear rubble, when the machine bumped into a tree.

“A flash of a second later he was fatally injured when a cluster bomblet dropped from the branches.”

The explosion cut into his neck and head.

As is becoming unfortunately more common, the only real Jewish outrage to these munitions is coming from Israel.

The most damning revelations that Israel was using these bombs were published in the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz. A Sept. 12 article quoted the unnamed head of an Israeli rocket unit as saying: “What we did was insane and monstrous; we covered entire towns in cluster bombs.” The commander said that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) used delivery systems called Multiple Launch Rocket System platforms, despite the fact that experts consider them highly inaccurate.The rocket unit head stated that Israeli forces fired about 1,800 cluster bombs, containing more than 1.2 million bomblets.

The IDF response was not, sad to say, an automatic denial. The military spokesman’s office said that “international law does not include a sweeping prohibition of the use of cluster bombs.” Israeli military, it said, “makes use only of methods and weaponry which are permissible under international law.”

In fact, there is ample evidence to conclude that Israel’s use of the cluster bombs in southern Lebanon clearly violated international law. Again it was an Israeli human rights group, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, that made the argument in a letter to Israeli Attorney General Menahem Mazuz that cluster bombing civilian areas constitutes “an extremely severe violation of the basic principle upon which humanitarian law is based.”

The group cited numerous examples where “the firing of cluster bombs in urban areas, with complete disregard for the dangers they pose to the lives of innocent civilians, establishes, prima facie, sufficient criminal intent to carry out the deliberate killing or injury of innocent civilians.”

The State Department is investigating whether the munitions Israel used were American-made. The rules regarding Israel’s use of American munitions are not widely known or clear. But it doesn’t take a Karen Hughes, the Bush administration’s ambassador for public diplomacy to the Muslim world, to figure out that the continuing maiming and killing of Lebanese civilians by made-in-America cluster bombs cannot help America’s standing in the world.

That concern prompted two Democratic senators to introduce legislation that would require recipients of such munitions not to use them in or near civilian centers.

The Cluster Munitions Amendment to the 2007 defense appropriations bill, authored by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), would have prevented Department of Defense funds from being spent to transfer cluster bombs to foreign countries, unless the Pentagon ensures that such bombs do not jeopardize civilians.The measure lost a Sept. 15 Senate vote 70-30, with all 55 of the chamber’s Republicans voting against it.

At an Oct. 11 discussion in Los Angeles with the Pacific Council on International Policy, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Richard H. Jones underplayed criticism of Israel over its use of the bombs. He declined to confirm reports that the bombs were American made, pending the results of a State Department investigation, and he reiterated the most common rejoinder to Israel’s critics on this matter: That Hezbollah used similar munitions in Israel.

Indeed, Human Rights Watch reported Oct. 20 that Hezbollah guerrillas fired several hundred cluster rockets at civilian areas of northern Israel during this summer’s war with Israel.

He also said that Israel didn’t choose this war, and “war is hell.”I appreciate the ambassador’s defense of an ally, but it doesn’t change the fact that using cluster bombs in civilian areas is morally suspect, to say the least, and a good many Israelis think it is tactically counterproductive.

But American Jewish voices of outrage? Nada.

Look, I understand we live in a time when Israel is under constant attack from a well-Arab-oil-funded propaganda machine. I understand its enemies are ruthless and tireless, and that Israel’s opponents will undoubtedly harp on the cluster bomb issue with nary a word against Hezbollah, Hamas or Israel’s terrorist and dictatorial foes.But it does Israel no favors to stand mute when its policies undermine the country’s own moral foundations and challenge basic notions of humanity.

So here’s a little hint about when it’s time for AIPAC and AJC and the Museum of Tolerance and others to challenge Israel’s actions:When the best defense is “Hezbollah does it, too.”

Camps Spotlight Double Standard


Armed gunmen roamed freely in U.N. refugee camps. They stockpiled weapons, recruited refugees and launched cross-border attacks.

In response, opposing forces attacked the camps, aiming for the gunmen — but sometimes cutting down civilians in the process.

The international community was troubled both by the instability fomented and the thought of the beleaguered refugees — exploited within the camps, denied a truly safe haven, then caught in the crossfire.

So the United Nations took action.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan produced a pair of landmark reports singling out the militarization of refugee camps as a cause of conflict and insecurity. He called for the “separation of armed elements from refugee populations” to maintain the camps’ civilian character. And he outlined several steps to police the camps.

The U.N. Security Council followed suit in 1998 with Resolution 1208, defending the sanctity of refugee camps and criminalizing their militarization.

What was the source of this international concern — the Palestinian camps in Gaza and the West Bank? No, it was Africa in the mid-1990s, when civil wars in Rwanda, Burundi, Liberia and elsewhere unleashed torrents of refugees across the continent.

To defenders of Israel, the scenario described above sounds familiar. They question why the world body has never applied Resolution 1208 to the 27 U.N. refugee camps in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, which were a prime source of attacks during the violent Palestinian uprising that began in September 2000.

Security Council resolutions carry the weight of international law — and Resolution 1208 makes note of the fact that it should be universally applied.

The question of the Palestinian exception to 1208 is more than theoretical. Despite moves toward reform in other areas, the U.N. General Assembly is unlikely to make any changes to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which provides relief and social services to the majority of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Thus, an appeal to the Security Council to apply Resolution 1208 may be a viable option if, as some predict, the intifada is renewed and terrorists again use UNRWA camps to plan and launch attacks against Israel.

Annan underscored the universality of Resolution 1208 in March 2001, when reports of similar abuses emerged from refugee camps in West Timor.

“Not separating combatants from civilians allows armed groups to take control of a camp and its population, politicizing their situation and gradually establishing a military culture within the camp,” Annan wrote. “The impact on the safety and security of both the refugees and the neighboring local population is severe. Entire camp populations can be held hostage by militias that operate freely in the camps, spread terror, press-gang civilians, including children, into serving their forces.”

Yet Annan hasn’t voiced similar outrage regarding Palestinian militancy in UNRWA camps.

For example, on Oct. 6, 2002, Palestinians in the Khan Yunis camp in Gaza launched a mortar attack on a Jewish settlement. The next day, Israel fired a missile from a helicopter gunship, killing 14 people, among them accused militants and civilians.

On Oct. 8, Annan issued a statement deploring Israel’s “military attack in civilian areas” and the Jewish state’s “reckless disregard” for civilian life. However, he ignored the fact that the original mortar attack was launched from among civilians, settling for a bland “appeal to both sides to halt all violent and provocative acts.”

One Jewish group lodged a protest with the U.N. chief. Harry Reicher, at the time the U.N. representative for Agudath Israel World Organization, wrote Annan to contrast his outspokenness on West Timor with his “silence” on “the continuing strategy pursued by the leadership of the Palestinians of locating terrorists, as well as caches of their arms, in heavily populated civilian areas” and the “use of civilian men, women and children as human shields.”

UNRWA says it acknowledges Israel’s security needs and right to self-defense, but that civilian well-being should take priority.

An UNRWA defender agreed.

“Of course there are people trying to use these places, but having armed people inside the camps doesn’t legitimize Israel’s attacks on civilians,” said Raji Sourani, director of the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights.

Yet critics say that if UNRWA really is concerned about civilians, it should speak out against any action that endangers them — including Palestinian attacks launched from among civilians that provoke Israeli retaliation.

What could be more guaranteed to encourage the Palestinian use of refugees as human shields “than the certain knowledge that, if Palestinian civilians are tragically killed, it is Israel that will be blamed by the United Nations?” asked Reicher, a professor of international law at the University of Pennsylvania.

The militarization of UNRWA camps is not a recent revelation. In 1982, President Ronald Reagan accused UNRWA of allowing its Lebanese camps to become armed bastions of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Forced to investigate when Reagan threatened to withhold U.S. funding for the organization, UNRWA admitted that several camps indeed had been militarized.

While the Security Council hasn’t enforced 1208 in the Palestinian territories, it has applied pressure on terrorist Palestinian refugees elsewhere.

Resolution 1559, passed in September 2004, demanded that “foreign forces” — an allusion to Syria — withdraw from Lebanon. Syria finally did end its 29-year occupation last April, two months after being implicated in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Resolution 1559 also calls for the “disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias” — a reference to the pro-Syrian Hezbollah militia and to Palestinian terrorist groups in UNRWA’s 12 Lebanese camps. That part of 1559 has not been implemented.

After rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israel in late December, Resolution 1559 once again gained the United Nation’s attention.

Al Qaeda claimed credit for the attack, reportedly its first on Israel. But some suggested it was carried out by Palestinian terrorists only loosely connected to Osama bin Laden’s global terrorist network.

The next day, Annan called on the Lebanese government “to extend its control over all its territory, to exert its monopoly on the use of force and to put an end to all such attacks.”

Still, from Israel’s perspective, militancy in UNRWA’s Lebanese camps is far less immediate a threat than militancy in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Some Palestinian supporters argue that Resolution 1208 shouldn’t apply to the West Bank — or, before Israel’s withdrawal last summer, to the Gaza Strip — because Palestinians there are engaged in “legitimate resistance to occupation.”

Israel’s defenders, though, say it’s a clear case of double standard.

“Here the U.N. has adopted clear criteria for how refugee camps are supposed to be maintained and consistently fails to apply its own law when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said Dore Gold, Israel’s former U.N. ambassador and current president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. “One of the most compelling arguments for demonstrating how Israel is systematically denied the same rights and privileges given to other member states is the story of Resolution 1208.”

Resolution 1208 clearly should apply to UNRWA, said Astrid Van Genderen Stort, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which handles the world’s other 19.2 million refugees.

“The Israelis may say UNRWA is not protecting the camps well enough or that we can do a better security job, but I don’t think UNRWA would ever say 1208 doesn’t apply,” Van Genderen Stort said. “If UNRWA people knew there were terrorists firing weapons from the camps, they should remove these people from the camps. But I can’t speak for UNRWA; I’m not on the ground.”

In an interview, UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen Koning AbuZayd acknowledged that Resolution 1208 officially applies to UNRWA camps but added that “it requires action to be taken by the authorities where the camps are located, not by the humanitarian agencies.”

“We don’t run camps; that is the responsibility of the sovereign governments and authorities wherever the camps are based,” she said. “It’s like asking, ‘What has Bethesda Hospital done to combat street gangs in Washington, D.C.?’ We do send situation reports to the U.N.’s security department and the office of the secretary-general. These are simple, straightforward factual accounts of clashes and other incidents.”

Yet a line needs to be drawn somewhere, Van Genderen Stort said.

“For me, a refugee camp is a place where people in need of protection or assistance can find it,” she said. “A refugee camp shouldn’t be a battleground or a place where criminals are hiding.”

If the intifada resumes and U.N. camps again become terrorist staging grounds, some pro-Israel activists say they’d revive a push for the Security Council to apply Resolution 1208 to UNRWA’s turf.

“I hope the U.N. will use the same standards to ensure the humanitarian nature of refugee camps in the Palestinian territories as they’ve mandated for the rest of the world,” said Felice Gaer, a human rights expert for the American Jewish Committee. “Exceptionalism for Palestinian refugee camps would be just another way of revealing the U.N. has often used a double standard when it comes to the Middle East conflict.”

If Resolution 1208 were applied, UNRWA would be obliged to report violations to the U.N. secretary-general, who would be obliged to deliver the information to the Security Council. Observers say it’s not inconceivable that, with their actions placed under the microscope, terrorists might be flushed from the camps, cut off from a prime source of recruits and denied a sanctuary from which to plan and launch attacks.

Given the political realities at the United Nations, that may be a pipe dream. But if nothing else, critics say, even the negative publicity might strike a symbolic blow.

 

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