Hamas says faces “battle” to lift Gaza blockade

Hamas says faces “battle” to lift Gaza blockade

TEHRAN (Reuters) – Hamas’s leader Khaled Meshaal said on Monday the Palestinian Islamist group still faced a battle to lift the Israeli blockade of Gaza despite separate ceasefires declared by his group and the Jewish state.

Visiting Tehran, he praised Iran for providing financial and political backing in the fight against Israel, highlighting ties between Hamas and the Islamic Republic.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal speaks during a rally in Tehran university February 2, 2009. Meshaal said on Monday the Palestinian Islamist group still faced a battle to lift the Israeli blockade of Gaza despite separate ceasefires declared by his group and the Jewish state. (REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi)

Hamas was in close contact with Iran, its main backer along with Syria, during the 22-day Israeli offensive in Gaza.

Hamas has said it would intensify its post-war diplomatic efforts to lift the Israeli blockade on the coastal territory.

It has kept a line open with Egypt, which is mediating a deal for a more solid truce that tries to meet Israel’s demands for stopping arms flows into Gaza and Hamas’s demands for ending the blockade.

“We invite you and we call on you to continue with the steps to support Gaza because the battle is not over,” Meshaal said in a speech at Tehran University.

“We still have a battle, the battle of lifting the siege of Gaza and opening the border crossings,” he said in comments translated by Iran’s English-language Press TV.

His arrival in Tehran on Monday with a Hamas delegation was part of a regional push to reinforce support for the group after the Israeli invasion of Gaza.

Israel accuses Iran of providing weapons to Hamas. Tehran says it provides financial, humanitarian and moral support.

“Thank you for all your support — the financial, political and media and popular support which you gave to us,” he said.

Iran criticised some Arab states and the West for not doing enough to stop Israel’s attacks on Gaza, which medical officials in the enclave said killed 1,300 Palestinians.

Analysts say Hamas’ ties with Shi’ite Iran have contributed to strained relations between the Sunni group and Arab Sunni heavyweights like Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Hamas and Iran were confronting Israel and the “American tyrant”, Meshaal said. “Sunnis and Shi’ites, we are with you for the sake of the interests of the Islamic and Arab world.”

Meshaal, who met Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Monday, said Iran after its 1979 Islamic revolution had become “a victor for all of the resistance movements, all of the liberation movements in the world, especially Palestine.”

Hamas views the war as resulting in regional diplomatic gains for it, with Turkey criticising Israel and Qatar convening a high-profile meeting that supported the group’s objectives.

Meshaal said Israel, Iran’s arch-foe, had both failed to defeat Hamas and to stop the rockets fired at its territory.

Israel carried out air strikes and Palestinians launched mortar bomb attacks on Monday despite the ceasefire in Gaza.

“Israel failed in stopping the rockets from being launched and the rockets continue to be launched towards the enemies’ territory even after the ceasefire,” Meshaal said.

Copyright © 2008 Reuters

Israel, with its adamant stance, risks losing Turkey

Israel, with its adamant stance, risks losing Turkey

Israel’s assault on Gaza and the ensuing tension with Turkey may have a damaging effect on Tel Aviv’s credibility and cast doubts on its commitment to reaching peace through dialogue, Turkish analysts have warned. Turkey has spent hard-earned diplomatic currency with close friends Pakistan and Syria on behalf of its strategic ally Israel. Following the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) military attack on Gaza, which left over 1,300 Palestinians, mostly civilians, dead, Turkey was placed in an awkward position with both Pakistan and Syria. Turkish diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity here in Ankara, said Israel was quickly losing its only Muslim ally that can mend the Jewish state’s relations with countries across and beyond the Middle East.

Over the weekend Israeli media was busy filing news reports and bylined articles meant to ring alarm bells about the sustainability of Turkey’s role as a mediator in the Middle East following Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent public confrontation with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Almost all of those reports and articles have featured tones of intimidation toward Turkey, while they lacked any analytical view based on facts vis-à-vis the Turkish capital’s mediation efforts to date. Furthermore, they also failed to note that the issue at the core of the recent tension between Israel and Turkey was still the killing of Palestinian civilians in Israel’s deadly offensive in the Gaza Strip, not whether Erdoğan behaved diplomatically enough during the recent confrontation, as he and Peres have already exchanged friendly and calm messages following the incident.

Israel launched a military offensive on Dec. 27 to force Hamas militants who control the Gaza Strip to stop firing rockets at southern Israeli towns. Some 1,300 Palestinians were killed, of whom over 700 were civilians. Over 4,000 were wounded and thousands were left homeless after their houses were destroyed by bulldozers. Ten Israeli soldiers were killed in the fighting and three civilians were killed by Hamas rockets inside Israel before the two sides called a halt to the fighting on Jan. 18.

Syrians wave Palestinian and Turkish flags as others place roses in front of the Turkish Embassy in Damascus on Saturday to thank Erdoğan.

Erdoğan walked off a panel at the World Economic Forum (WEF) held in Davos on Thursday evening after being prevented from rebutting Peres’ fervent defense of Israel’s 23-day deadly offensive. The prime minister had encountered an audacious Peres, who launched a fiery defense of his country’s offensive in Gaza over the past month with a raised voice and pointed finger, and questioned what Erdoğan would do if rockets were fired at İstanbul every night.

Erdoğan “has lost all credibility as an honest broker in peace discussions,” leading Israeli daily The Jerusalem Post quoted a senior Israeli diplomatic official as saying on Saturday night. “As long as he is the prime minister of the country, Turkey has no place in peace negotiations or discussions. It is not a trustworthy diplomatic partner anymore,” the same official said.

Within days of the launch of Israel’s offensive, Turkey had announced that it had suspended efforts to broker peace talks between Israel and Syria, saying the onslaught in Gaza had led to “deep disappointment” in Ankara. Turkey, a predominantly Muslim but secular country that historically has had good ties with Israel and the Arab world, also played a role in helping broker an end to the Gaza offensive, particularly by lobbying the Hamas group to declare a cease-fire.

Another leading Israeli daily, Haaretz, cited Israeli Foreign Ministry officials as saying that they have “learned that senior European Union diplomats were highly critical of the vociferous criticism Erdoğan had leveled at Israel over the operation in Gaza and for his support of Hamas.”

Haaretz quoted senior European officials as saying, “Erdoğan wants to be part of the European Union, but now he can forget about it.”

All of these comments, apparently aimed at causing alarm in Ankara, were met with a calm response by a senior Turkish diplomat speaking with Today’s Zaman yesterday.

“There is no rush or an alarmed mood here in Ankara,” the Turkish diplomat, speaking under condition of anonymity, first noted.

“We’ve never acted hastily or asked parties in a conflict to be a mediator. That has to be understood very well. We have assumed this role only as long as the two sides of a conflict have requested us to do so,” the diplomat said.

“All kinds of mediation efforts around the world are outlined and formed in line with mutual interests. That’s what all parties should focus on now, too. Turkey has always said that there will not be any major problem in bilateral relations as long as channels of cooperation and dialogue are kept open and that’s what we’ve been trying to do in the case with Israel, as well,” he added.

When reminded of certain comments suggesting that Erdoğan had lost his “neutrality,” which is necessary for mediation, the diplomat said: “When everything has quieted down, realities will be comprehended by everyone and common sense will prevail. Time will then show whether Mr. Prime Minister has lost neutrality or not. One should not forget that he brought a new momentum to the region by delivering messages based on democratic principles to the peoples of the region.”

Ankara had long remained tight-lipped concerning its mediation efforts between Israel and Syria. The Turkish capital broke its silence in the spring of last year only after Israeli and Syrian officials acknowledged the ongoing negotiations publicly. “We’re not seeking to show off. We do not hold unreasonable expectations, either. But Turkey will firmly continue its efforts in a calm manner,” a senior Turkish official told Today’s Zaman at the time.

Furthermore, Turkey’s mediation between Israel and Syria came despite harsh criticism of Ankara at the time for holding talks with Hamas officials.

In early 2006, after Hamas’ landslide victory in Palestinian elections, a Hamas delegation led by Khaled Meshaal, the Damascus-based leader of Hamas, was hosted in Ankara. The visit drew ire from Israel, which, like the US, calls Hamas a terrorist organization and refuses to hold talks with it.

At the time, Turkey defended its dialogue with the Hamas leader, saying it had urged the Palestinian group to renounce violence.

Pushing relations to their limits

Over the weekend, Erdoğan continued his criticism of Israel, this time for arresting leading Hamas parliamentarians. In an interview with The Washington Post published on Saturday, Erdoğan described the Gaza Strip as “an open-air prison” and said Israel’s moves provoked Hamas.

“You expect them to sit obediently?” he asked in the interview.

In a separate interview with Newsweek International, Erdoğan denied that he had pushed the Turkish-Israeli relationship to its limits with his expression of a sense of disappointment when he recounted how he had met with Olmert just days before the offensive, and believed they were close to reaching terms for a face-to-face meeting with Syrian leaders.

“At the request of Syria, we entered a phase of working together with Israel and Syria indirectly to get them to talk with each other. We are mediators in that process. This was an example of how much importance we put on peace in the Middle East. We had done this before with Pakistan and Israel. During the tenure of Mr. Pervez Musharraf, we brought them together in İstanbul: the foreign minister of Israel and the foreign minister of Pakistan. In these talks, at least we started the process of coming together. The request came from Pakistan and Israel to bring them together, so we did. The meetings took place for two days in secret about two years ago,” Erdoğan explained.

“I’m not saying that Hamas is a good organization and makes no mistakes. They have made mistakes. But I am evaluating the end result,” he also told Newsweek.

“We have a serious relationship. But the current Israeli government should check itself. They should not exploit this issue for the upcoming elections in Israel,” he said, when asked whether Turkey-Israel relationship was over.

Who Really Fires the Provocative Toy Rockets

NOTICE THE POWERFUL PROJECTILE CARRIED BY THE BURLY ISRAELI INVESTIGATOR.  I CAN BUY TOY “ESTES ROCKETS” THAT BIG!  FOR THIS THE ZIONIST AGGRESSORS THREATEN TO LAUNCH NEW “DISPROPORTIONATE RESPONSES”!  ANY MILITARY RESPONSE TO THESE TOY ROCKETS WOULD NECESSARILY BE “DISPROPORTIONATE”!

Why War in Gaza

Why War in Gaza

By Charles E. Carlson

What does Israel’s war against the Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have in common with America’s serial wars all over the globe, now centered on Afghanistan? The common denominator is that American money and weapons are used in every such war. Israel enjoys the approval and unconditional support of the American government. That means that no act that Israel does or has done will arouse serious objection from America’s leaders. In this Part V, we will examine why the War for Palestine is no closer to ending now than it was when it began, 54 years ago, and why the American government is financing the Israeli side in its brutal path.

The war in Palestine is an American war, just as much as the one in Afghanistan is. I know this, because I, personally, heard and saw the American F-16 planes and the missiles made in the U.S. exploding in the refugee camps, homes, and office buildings of Gaza. It is not necessary to go to Gaza to understand what is going on there, unless you are a person who trusts the American media implicitly. There is little reason for anyone to have doubts about who is beating up on whom. Most of the facts show up in the international press, and they are readily available on the Internet, where there is much greater freedom from the censorship that controls the mainstream press.

I saw the people who live in the gulag called Gaza, and I learned to appreciate their dignity and ability to govern themselves and live under nearly impossible circumstances. We Hold These Truths is not against the Israelis, but we are against what they do to Palestine. Similarly, we are not against the father who makes the bad choice to submit his unborn child to the abortionist. We do not favor punishing or killing him because he has allowed his unborn child’s life to be ended, but in every abortion situation, we are pro-baby, because the baby cannot defend itself; it is always the victim.

We oppose what the Israelis do, and we oppose those who are causing and promoting the genocide Israel is engaged in, and that includes our own government and large numbers of the Christian leaders in America. We do not condone killing by Palestinians either, but we recognize that it is a response to Israeli aggression against them, and not the other way around, as it is portrayed by the Pro-Israel American media.

Israel is responsible, even though it has clearly been manipulated by its American financiers to commit genocide. If the world’s only superpower gives weapons of mass destruction to the Israeli side of the war, Israel can hardly be expected not to use them. Because of the exorbitant military aid that the U.S. gives to Israel, it is able to use extremely costly weapons of mass destruction on the Palestinians every day. Israel is the aggressor this is undeniable to any fair-minded person, whether he visits the gulag called Palestine or whether he just listens to the international version of CNN and BBC. The news that CNN presents in Egypt is different from the news it presents to Americans; it employs a double standard of reporting.

In every fight or squabble, including those our kids get into, there is always an aggressor–a perpetrator. In some fights, the victim wins…we like to see these hero stories on TV and read about them in books. But in the case of the Palestinian people, they are and have always been the victim; though the press tries to make them the aggressor. To presume that Palestinians are the aggressors is as ridiculous as presuming that a four-year old child attacked a 90-pound pit bull; it could happen, but it never does.

We have heard all the arguments as to why Israel has a right to destroy the Palestinians in order to possess the land if need be. Many of the arguments are specious and do not hold any historical or legal water, and are based upon one or another false premise. Jewish and Israeli historians, time and time again, in hundreds of written works have refuted all of these arguments. We could offer many references without ever naming a Christian author. Our own One Nation Under Israel has a bibliography that is almost entirely Jewish and makes these arguments look silly.

There is, however, one argument about who owns the land that we will answer. Most Israelis I asked told me, “We own the land because God gave it to us.” Several of those who said this then admitted they never attend synagogue and are not religious. We will discuss this argument in depth in the next and final edition of this series, because it is the answer that is presented most often by Americans, particularly professing Christians. Many of these Christians say they believe this excuses any actions the Israelis may take to keep the land, no matter how violent.

Israel has surpassed the Soviet Union as the most socialistic country on the face of earth. One evidence of this was told to me by my American friends who live in Gaza but who, unlike the Palestinians, are able to travel to and shop in Israel. They tell that in the up-coming Passover no bread will be available in Israel even though most store owners are secular and do not really believe in the so called Jewish history. Merchants are required to hide the leavened bread during Passover, selling only the Kosher unleavened, regardless of their own beliefs. To insure its official religion is observed, the State of Israel maintains Passover police who patrol stores looking for malefactors selling yeasted bread, who they believe are prosecuted and fined when caught.

Most store owners apparently do not really believe in God, but my hosts said they tolerate this practice even if it is slightly silly to enforce the belief in tradition. What would Moses have said about Passover police back in the days of slavery? Not even the Pharaohs went this far, but Israelis think nothing of it.  But it is religion that works. The statement “god gave it to us” referring to the Palestinians’ land, is heard from everyone including Sharon. It, too, is part of Israeli religion. If few believe in or worships “god” what difference does it make? It is a religion that works for the Israelis….it is the system.

During my stay in Gaza, I learned that the Palestinians have dignity and pride in spite of the conditions imposed on them by the Israelis. They are not lacking for bravery and have given a good account of themselves in battle. Israel is not enjoying the war with them; if you think otherwise, ask any Israeli. Some prominent Israelis are now saying they cannot defeat the Palestinians. They may be right, but Israel has yet to employ nuclear arms against Palestine, and it’s my opinion that, if it received US approval, it would do it. Israel is pleading for more massive aid from the US taxpayers right now.

Palestinians wonder why Americans will not do their part by ending their aid to the bully. As one person told me in a letter, if we allow this great injustice to continue, some day we will be the Palestinians and our grandchildren will be in the ghetto or gulag. If we can stop this war, we can stop all wars, but I don’t mean stopping war by the phony peace process we hear about on the news.

Both parties are exhausted by the 54-year war in Israel. Only the victims of the Soviet Union during the Bolshevik reign parallel the suffering of the Palestinians. But in the last half of the 20th century, there has been no comparable brutality. The Israeli people have also suffered from the conflict, but in a different way that few discuss. Israeli deaths are exaggerated in our news and have been about one-for-every-seven Palestinians.

It appears the war has impoverished Palestinians while the Israelis seem to prosper, but this too is an illusion. In its struggle and poverty, the life style of the Palestinians has never been stronger in terms of commitment to religion and the family. It has prospered while Israel has deteriorated. In Israel moral decay of every conceivable kind is epidemic. The best measure of this divergence in character is the relative birth rate; Palestine has one of the highest rates in the world and Israel one of the lowest.

Israel is the sad site of the most outrageous inflation; meantime, one can buy a street lunch in Gaza city for 50 U.S. cents, and a white cotton men’s shirt can be taken home for $7.50, about a fifth of the cost in Israel.  Without its biggest moneymaker, tourism, Israel is in effect bankrupt; its businessmen are on their knees. Furthermore, its farming practices that have been touted as greening the desert will run Israel out of drinking water, not to mention irrigation, in about 30 years, I was told by an Israeli businessman. Palestinian farmers and nomads lived with the frail ecosystem for a thousand years; Israel may well destroy it in less than a century.

Since the Intifada 2, Israel apparently has no one willing to pick the oranges, which can begin rotting on the trees in orchards. Keep in mind that 100% of the Israeli youth, who would normally be entry level labor and might pick fruit, are riding the busses from place to place and standing guard over the Arabs at a thousand outposts. They are not available to pick the oranges, and the Arabs, who have picked for generations, are locked up in the gulags. It is Israel’s specious claim they have a blooming desert, but do not have a way to harvest their crops without the Palestinian labor.

One comparison I found curious was public transportation. In Gaza City, a fair sized town, there is no public bus system, but unemployment is high and taxis are everywhere. The fare is one Israeli shekel (25 cents) to go anywhere in the city. This is a bargain in transportation, but you must share your cab with anyone else going your way. There are no subsidies and little regulations, and most people ride because they can afford it.

In Israel, the government owns the public bus system that is everywhere and is obviously losing a bundle. You can ride all the way across Israel for $18.00, but the taxpayers (American ones) are probably putting up at least that much for every ride. The buses are, in effect, military transport vehicles half full of armed Israeli Defense Forces. It did not make me feel safe, and it is clearly another road to Israeli bankruptcy.

The greatest problem of the Israelis is their morale. They are a people afraid, and it shows. Israelis simply do not like the risk of being splattered by suicide bombers, no matter how favorable the odds. Recently prominent Israeli officers have stated that Israel cannot win the war. Thousands of Israeli Defense Force reserves and regulars are now refusing to serve. Israel is in the worst moral crisis of its history. It shows in the eyes of the thousands of youth who ride its radically-subsidized bus system. It shows in the voices of businessmen who tell you that there is no business and that the war must end.

There is no denying who the parties to the war are. The American government is the principal Warmaker on the Palestinian people. I defy anyone to go to Gaza and Jerusalem and not sense it is true. Every Palestinian knows this and will say so if you give him time to express himself. The Americans provide everything for the war except the people. Israel provides the boys and girls. It also sends the dead home to Israeli families in body bags.

I stood on my rented roof and watched sortie after sortie of American F-16s delivering 50 million dollar missiles into a refugee camp where the homes are made of dirt. Every missile dropped had “Made in the USA” stamped on it. I witnessed an attack by Apache helicopters, perhaps the most frightening war machines in the world, for it can be anchored a mile away and fire a guided missile capable of incinerating a 60-ton tank into your bedroom window without even waking you to the danger. That day the Apaches fired 42 guided anti-tank missiles into relatively worthless office buildings that were abandoned by the Palestinian government because they were known to be targets. The cost was many million dollars of American money.

Everyone in Israel knows the government is bankrupt and has been for years. I am told by a trusted financial analyst that the Israeli war budget exceeds its Gross National Product and has for many years. Consider for a moment this amazing statement, which if even half true would be staggering. Israel is a country that spends more on its war with the indigenous Palestinians than all its citizens and residents combined take in from the sale of everything.

As an analogy, what if your household spent more on the lottery than all your sources of income combined–your wages, your sale assets, your pension plan, social security, whatever. It is inconceivable to even contemplate such a household, much less a government. This means that Israel must receive gifts to carry out its war against the Palestinians; else it would have to make peace. And it does receive those gifts–from the American taxpayer.

The Palestinians know where the bombs and bullets come from, but they do not want to believe it, because to recognize America as the real enemy is to admit defeat. Most Palestinians do not believe Israel can defeat them, but they can’t help knowing that they cannot defeat the full war efforts of the American Government. This is the sad plight of the Palestinians; they cannot admit what they know deep inside, that the enemy is the U.S. The question is, can the Americans come to admit it?

We shall now examine how and why America is secretly at war with the poor mothers and sons I visited in Gaza. We shall also logically show how this tragic war can be ended and why, for the sake of the American people if not for the Palestinians and Israelis, it must be ended. If the American government would stop funding the war in Israel, it would stop overnight. There is no need for an Oslo Accord or a Washington-initiated peace accord, or an Arab plan. The people in Israel on both sides are afraid and tired of the war. Both sides see the hopelessness of the war, and there is an easy solution the United States must withdraw from helping either side.

The State of Israel–both the Palestinian side and the Jewish side–is nothing more than a vast resettlement camp for both Jews and Arabs. On November 29, 1947, by a vote of 33 to 13, with 10 abstentions, the United Nations General Assembly declared the existence of the State of Israel by a Partition Plan. The U.N. was a new, internationalist tool owned, created and controlled by the winners of World War II. It granted control of certain seaport cities on the Mediterranean to a government entity that did not even exist, but which was to constitute itself and adopt the Biblical name of Israel.

These cities granted to Israeli control include TelAviv, Haifa, and others. These cities and the surrounding territory were primary populated by Arabs at the time, and nothing in the agreement suggested that the Arabs were required to leave the new Israeli state. But, in fact, the Arabs were forced to leave and became refugees in their own lands. Some left Palestine by boat or on foot, but many stayed, and today they and their descendants number 400,000 in Gaza alone. Many refugee camps still exist in the Gaza Strip and the West bank.

In subsequent military operations the new State of Israel–always supported by U.S. financial and military aid–invaded and captured all of the Palestinian territory not given to it in the Partition Agreement. Israel assumed control of the entire state of Palestine, except for two separate chunks of territory most densely populated by Palestinian Arabs–the West Bank and Gaza. These two isolated parcels are today the home of millions of Arab Palestinians.

But Israel did not stop here, it effectively subdivided the West Bank and Gaza into dozens of gulags, or live-in prison camps by capturing and occupying all the major roads and waterways within the West Bank and Gaza, and further, by establishing militarized squatter camps at all strategic road crossings, and sites having potential military value. These squatters’ camps have been referred to as settlements but the civilian inhabitants are actually squatters on the occupied, inhabited land. In fact, they evicted the Arab residents by force.

As a result of their action, the map of partitioned territory today resembles two chunks of Swiss cheese, the holes being the settlements, with all surrounding roads and most of the internal roads designated as Israeli territory. One Jewish commentator likened the set up to a house where the rooms belong to the Palestinians, but the halls, windows and doors belong to the Israelis.

One intelligent question is asked over and over again and must be answered: Why is America warring against one Islamic country after another? Is it because Muslim and Arabs are subhuman as the Israelis claim, and as the American press sometimes subtly suggests? Or is there an anti-Islamic agenda among our nation’s leaders that they do not share with us? Who can help but notice the common denominator in America’s serial wars; Muslims are dying in almost every war.

My hosts in Gaza were almost all Christians who had long experience living and working among the Muslims. Some had themselves been Muslims. They wonder how it can be a coincidence that Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan are all Islamic countries, and they are all war victims of the U.S. Why, they ask, would the U.S. government single out Islam for destruction? There can be no understanding of why the U.S. supports war against the Islamic Palestinians until we face this question. Fortunately, the answer has been recorded and tested by the unforgiving standard of time

On March 21, 1994, this author wrote the answer to that question in Attacking Islam, which was published in a national magazine. That article is history and needs no additions or corrections to expose the truth today. The proof of its accuracy is that it can stand the light of scrutiny eight years later. We are quoting the entire article intact, changing nothing and leaving off only the historical introduction. The story is called “Attacking Islam,” and it explains exactly why the U.S. government is doing and why.

Predator Attacks Crimes Against Humanity, Whether in Pakistan or Gaza

Faulty intelligence, wanton recklessness, or a combination of the two

1 February 2009: A 13-year-old girl who was asleep in her bed; three primary school-age boys who were carrying sugar canes; two young women on their way to a shelter in search of safety; a 13-year-old boy on his bicycle; eight secondary school students who were waiting for the school bus to take them home; an entire family sitting outside their home – these are among the many victims of missiles fired from Israeli UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), commonly known as drones.

Here in Gaza people call the drones “zannana”, an onomatopoeic description reflecting the buzzing sound that they emit as they fly overhead. Their main function is surveillance, but, in recent years, Israeli forces have also used them to fire missiles, often to assassinate “wanted” Palestinians.

An Israeli journalist told us that the military censor does not permit Israeli media to publish any reference to strikes by drones. These missiles seem to be very precise, with a relatively small but concentrated radius. Yet, they have killed or injured hundreds of civilians, including many children, though the reason for this – whether due to faulty intelligence, wanton recklessness, or a combination of the two – is unclear.

In many of the cases we investigated, we found a consistent pattern: each missile is packed with tiny metal cubes that increase its lethal effect. These are blasted with extreme force, penetrating through metal doors and steel pylons and embedding deep into concrete walls.

Today, we visited the place where a missile fired from a drone killed two women and three children from the same family on the morning of 15 January. It was in a Bedouin village on the outskirts of Beit Lahiya, in north Gaza. Those killed were three children, their mother and their grandmother.

The family’s home had been destroyed some 10 days earlier by the blast from a powerful air strike that apparently targeted a nearby tunnel. After this, the family had gone to stay with relatives across the road. The two women and three children were killed by the missile when they returned to the remains of their home to retrieve some of their possessions.

Earlier, we investigated several other cases in the Khan Yunis area, in the south of the Gaza Strip. There, the latest drone attack had occurred on 29 January, despite the 11-day-old ceasefire, in the centre of Khan Yunis.

The target, it seems, were two suspected Palestinian militants who were riding a motorcycle. They were hit and injured, but so too were 16 civilians, almost all of them children, as might have been predicted considering the location and time of the missile strike.

It was launched at a point opposite the hospital, only a few metres distant from the entrance to a UN primary school and directly in front of a row of food stalls. The attack was launched at 11.30am, just as children were leaving school at the end of the morning lessons.

On 2 January, three boys from the al-Astal family – eight-year-old Abderrabbo, his brother Mohammed, aged 11, and Abd-al-Sattar al-Astal, also just 11 – were killed by a missile fired from a drone while collecting sugar cane in al-Qarara, north-east of Khan Yunis. At the scene, we again found metal posts peppered with the signature square holes from the shrapnel blasted from the drone missile.

Another characteristic of these missiles is a small hole that penetrates deep into the ground, leaving few remains. We asked to borrow a shovel from local farmers in order to dig down and try to recover any remains from the missile. At this, some village youths stepped up enthusiastically and began to dig into the sandy ground.

Some six feet down, they recovered small parts of the circuit board and other shards of the missile. We urged the children’s family to hold on to these and keep them safe, as possible evidence to be considered in any future investigation.

HARDtalk: “Our intelligence is not good enough” —Ameer Haider Hoti, Chief Minister NWFP

HARDtalk: “Our intelligence is not good enough” —Ameer Haider Hoti, Chief Minister NWFP

Ameer Haider Hoti, chief minister of the NWFP, says the army’s “ground intelligence is not good enough” to get militant leader Maulana Fazlullah in Swat, though the situation in the area has “not slipped out of hand totally”. In an exclusive interview with Daily Times’ Peshawar Bureau Chief Iqbal Khattak, Hoti expressed concern that the command structure of the militants is “still intact”, and that “their FM channel is still operational.” Excerpts follow:

Daily Times: How would you describe the situation in Swat today?

Ameer Haider Hoti: When this [insurgency] started, no one moved in. Had we moved in [at the beginning], I think we wouldn’t have had this problem now. In Swat…the situation on ground is not good. We tried peace agreements with military operations but, unfortunately, despite our best efforts we haven’t been able to achieve our targets. It is an extraordinary situation and we require an innovative solution for Swat right now. But…you have to look at whole picture. It is not just Swat. What is going on in FATA? The Swat situation is linked to the situation in FATA. For a stable Pukhtoonkhwa [NWFP], you need stability in FATA.

How are the government and the military coordinating their efforts against the militants?

The government’s priority is clear. We told the military it should be selective with its targets, and that there should be minimum collateral damage. But there has been a lot of collateral damage, and people have been complaining about what is happening. Now we got new commanders on the ground and have a better understanding with army. So, now the strategy is that the military will be clearing areas and handing them over to civil security forces. The military will be moving forward, instead of being scattered and stretched. That is what happened earlier, and it was not helping anyone.

ANP leaders Haji Adeel and Ilyas Bilour have openly admitted that Swat has slipped out of the government’s hands completely.

It has not slipped totally. With coordinated efforts, we can manage things. But let me admit that we do have a lot of problems and a lot of challenges as far as Swat is concerned. There is room for improvement. For that, force is one of the options. But civilians should not suffer. Political dialogue was and is the best possible option. Reconstruction and rehabilitation should follow. But winning the media war (against militancy) is very important. The same goes for rest of the province and the country.

Do the local people still have confidence in the government after the Pir Samiullah incident?

The people of Swat really hate [the militants]. They need the support of the government. We need to reorganise them. What happened to Pir Samiullah should not have happened. The Pir should have been supported. He was the voice of the people, he stood up against the militants. Unfortunately, he could not be supported and what happened after his death to him, no Muslim can accept.

How long do you think it will take the government and the armed forces to conclusively deal with this problem?

There is a war going on. We are facing an insurgency. I cannot give you a definite timeframe…but it is going to take quite some time.

Why do you think the army has failed to get Fazlullah?

I think this question is for the army to answer. I think our ground intelligence is not very good, which is a problem that is hurting the army and everyone involved. It is very difficult to differentiate between the locals and the militants. The army is worried about this. In a village of 5000, there are 50 to 100 militants, [who are difficult to identify if] you don’t have proper intelligence. We have discussed this problem to improve ground intelligence… I would love to see this insurgency defeated. But we have certain problems and setbacks. The command structure [of Fazlullah-led militants] is still intact. The FM channel is still operational. Something needs to be done about these things. We shouldn’t be allowing them to expand their territory. We are trying to make the military operations more effective.

Given your concerns about collateral damage, has the ANP stopped the army from conducting a full-fledged operation in Swat?

We clearly told [the army] that we can afford minimum civilian casualties. No government can afford a lot of collateral damage. So an operation on a massive scale right now would solve the problem to some extent…but at the same time would lead to a lot of civilian casualties. We don’t want this to happen. We want the operation to be selective and targeted. That can be managed with good ground intelligence.

Your government released Sufi Mohammed, Fazlullah’s father-in-law, as a confidence-building measure. Yet it has been obvious for months that Fazlullah did not value this gesture and continued with his activities.

Sufi Muhammad was not released because of Fazlullah. Sufi Muhammad was tortured; wasn’t treated properly. He was never given the opportunity to defend himself. In fact, no one took his case to a court of law. He was being held hostage for nothing. If the government had a case against him, it should have gone to court. This has happened to us, my own elders. They have been behind bars for ages without trial. [Sufi Muhammad] was freed purely on humanitarian grounds.

Is there any shift in the ANP policy on Swat?

Our policy is political dialogue. That will eventually be the way out. As a last option, to protect our own people and installation and to ensure that there is no parallel administration running, force has to be used. It is a hard decision for a political government to order the use of force.

Given your commitment to negotiations, are you still trying to negotiate a peace deal with Fazlullah?

Yes. We are ready to talk to anyone, provided the group or individual is ready to renounce violence, come to the negotiating table and accept the government’s writ. We are ready to negotiate even with those who planned and ordered the suicide attack at Wali Bagh if they are ready.

What about the Swat Taliban’s recent ‘summons’ to several politicians and influential people of Swat, including some from the ANP?

We don’t recognize them or their courts… They have no authority to summon anyone. No one is going to their court. This is a propaganda stunt.

Last year, just before you took over as chief minister, you said that if the imposition of sharia can improve things, why not. Do you still consider sharia to be a viable option?

You can call it sharia or adal regulation. Basically, what people want is speedy justice, and that is what we want too. But this will definitely be done in accordance with the Constitution. This system, in no way, will go against basic human rights and liberties.

Will Fazlullah stop his activities if sharia is enforced?

I don’t trust Fazlullah or any other miscreant. And we would not do this for Fazlullah. We will be doing this for the people of Malakand because this is their demand and it is genuine. By putting such a system in place, we would isolate those who carry out violent acts. *