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  • At least four Palestinian clerks working in the Palestinian Prime Minister's Office in Ramallah, lost consciousness Monday after opening a package thought to contain a poisonous substance. The package arrived at the Palestinian government building in Ramallah, sent to the office of Nasser al-Din Shaer, Ismail Haniyeh's deputy prime minister. Sources in the office said that the package was sent from an address in Tel Aviv. They refused to pass on details about the address.

    One of the clerks opened the package, which emanated a strange smell, and passed out. After, at least another three clerks felt unwell and lost consciousness. According to some reports, seven clerks have been hospitalized following the incident.

    Immediately after the package was opened and the employees injured, most of the people working in the Prime Minister's Office were evacuated and security began combing the building for additional dangerous substances or bombs potentially hidden in the building.

    After the clerks lost consciousness, panic gripped the employees working in the office. This is due to the fact that Shaer himself is practically the only Hamas leader in the West Bank that wasn't arrested in the wave of recent arrests made by the IDF and the Shin Bet. Shaer said that the poisonous package was an Israeli attempt to hurt the Palestinian prime minister and his deputy, noting that the package was addressed to Haniyeh.

    However, it must be mentioned that Prime Minister Haniyeh does not usually come to Ramallah, and hasn't been in the city at all since his appointment to the position out of fear that Israel will hurt, or arrest him. Shaer added that the office intends to open an investigation of the issue.

    In Ramallah, opinions about the source of the package were divided – some said that there is no doubt that it was an Israeli attempt to hurt Shaer, and yet others said that the option must be checked that it may have been connected to the conflict and power struggles between the Palestinian ministers from Hamas, and the clerks in their offices, most of whom were appointed by Fatah.

    Poisoned package sent to Haniyeh


    • The Palestinian parliamentary speaker detained by Israel on Sunday has been taken to hospital with chest pains and dizziness, the Israeli army says.

      A spokesman for Aziz Dweik said he was taken to hospital after being beaten by Israeli guards. The army, which is holding him, denied the claims.

      Mr Dweik, who is a key member of the governing Hamas movement, was detained in a raid on his home in the West Bank.

      The Israeli military said Mr Dweik was a legitimate target as a Hamas leader.

      Israel has detained about 30 MPs and a third of the Palestinian cabinet in the past six weeks, following the capture of an Israeli soldier by Palestinian militants in June.

      Palestinian officials have called on the international community to intervene to secure their release.

      A Hamas spokesman in Gaza said that Mr Dweik was taken to hospital "after being severely beaten".

      The Israeli army said a prison doctor had examined Mr Dweik after he had complained of dizziness and chest pains, and decided to transfer him for further tests to a hospital in Jerusalem.

      "He underwent tests at the hospital and will remain under observation," a spokesman told the Agence France Presse news agency.

      Seized speaker in Israel hospital


      • 1. Anwar Isma'el Atallah, 12 years old

        2. Saleh Sleman Al Jemasi, 16 years old

        3. Ruwan Fareed Hajjaj, 5 years old

        4. Khalid Nidal Abed Al Karim Wahbeh, 1 year old

        5. Mahfouth Farid Nasseer, 15 years old

        6. Ahmad Ghaleb Abu Amshah, 16 years old

        7. Ahmed Fathi Odah Shabat, 16 years old

        8. Waleed Mahmoud Al Zinati, 12 years old

        9. Salah Adeen Hammad Abu Maktuma, 17 years old

        10. Ibrahim Ali Khatoush, 15 years old

        11. Mahmoud Muhammad Al Asar, 15 years old

        12. Ibrahim Ali Al Nabaheen, 15 years old

        13. Ahmad Abdil Mina'm Abu Hajaj, 16 years old

        14. Nasrallah Nabil Abu Selmieh, 5 years old

        15. Aya Nabil Abu Selmieh, 7 years old

        16. Iman Nabil Abu Selmieh, 11 years old

        17. Yahya Nabil Abu Selmieh, 9 years old

        18. Huda Nabil Abu Selmieh, 13 years old

        19. Basma Nabil Abu Selmieh, 15 years old

        20. Sumaia Nabil Abu Selmieh, 16 years old

        21. Raji Omar Deif Alla, 16 years old

        22. Muhanna Sa'ed Mesleh, 16 years old

        23. Ahmad Rawhee Abdo, 13 years old

        24. Ali Kamil Al Najar, 13 years old

        25. Fadwa Faisel al 'Urouqi, 13 years old

        26. Mohammad Awad Muhra, 17 years old

        27. Khitam Muhammad Tayeh, 11 years old

        28. Nadee Habib Al Ataar, 11 years old

        29. Saleh Ibrahim Nasser, 13 years old

        30. Ashraf Abdullah Awad Abu Thaher, 14 years old

        31. Bara' Naser Habib, 2 years old

        Thirty-one Gaza children killed in Israeli offensive in thirty-one days


        • An Israeli helicopter gunship has fired a missile into a Palestinian fighters' training camp in the Gaza Strip, killing three people, including a three-year-old girl, witnesses say.

          They said the attack on the camp in Gaza City on Wednesday also wounded three people, one of them a child who was in a critical condition.

          The dead men were identified as members of the Popular Resistance Committees, a Palestinian resistance group.

          An army spokesman said: "The IDF attacked a training camp for terrorists in Gaza. The site was used by terrorists making preparations for terror activities against Israeli targets."

          Witnesses said the air strike was directed at fighters in a small grove of citrus trees in the Tufah area of Gaza.

          Fighters of the Islamic Jihad group wept over bodies at Shifa Hospital where they were taken.

          The girl was brought to the hospital with the two men, but it was unclear how she was hit, police said.

          Earlier on Wednesday, Israeli helicopters fired missiles at two houses in the West Bank refugee camp of Jenin, killing two Palestinians, witnesses and security officials said.

          Witnesses said they saw two bodies being removed from the buildings.

          Security officials said the two, Osama Attili and Mohammed Atik, were leaders of Islamic Jihad's military wing.

          Israeli strike on Gaza camp kills three


          • GAZA, Aug 10 (Reuters) - Israeli warplanes destroyed the homes of two Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip on Thursday after residents said they received telephone calls from the military warning them to evacuate.

            Neither militant - one a member of the Islamic Jihad and the other of al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades - nor their relatives were hurt in the air strikes on Beit Hanoun, a town on Gaza's northern border with Israel that has seen intense fighting during a more than 5-year-old Palestinian uprising.

            An Israeli military spokesman confirmed the Beit Hanoun homes were targeted, saying they contained weapons caches.

            One of the destroyed buildings was three storeys high, and residents reported blast damage to neighbouring homes.

            The air strikes were part of a wider offensive launched by Israel after Palestinian gunmen captured a soldier in a cross-border raid on June 25.

            The offensive has killed at least 172 Palestinians, more than half of them civilians.

            Israel has rejected demands by the three militant groups that captured Corporal Gilad Shalit in the raid, which includes the governing Islamic faction Hamas, to trade the soldier for Palestinian prisoners.

            Israel destroys Gaza homes after warning residents


            • Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyya said Wednesday that Israel's attacks against his government raised questions over the continued existence of the Palestinian Authority. "We need to debate the future of the Palestinian Authority following the kidnapping of its second highest-ranking figure and an attempt to assassinate its prime minister," Haniyya told Parliament.

              The gathering of the Legislative Council was held by video-conference in Ramallah and Gaza City, where the head of the government is based.

              Haniyya was referring to the detention Saturday by Israeli forces of parliamentary speaker Aziz Dweik, who is officially the Palestinian Authority's second in command.

              On Monday, seven employees of the Palestinian Cabinet were hospitalized after opening an envelope destined for Haniyya that contained a suspicious powder.

              Jordan said Wednesday that it would provide medical care for the employees.

              "Employees of the Palestinian prime minister's office are expected to arrive in Jordan in line with a royal decree and will be given medical care in Jordan," government spokesman Nasser Joudeh told a weekly news conference. King Abdullah II "has ordered that they be given medical care and any other care they need," he said, adding that the Palestinian Authority had requested assistance.

              The group was due to arrive on Wednesday, but Joudeh did not say how many people would be coming, according to state-run Petra news agency.

              Haniyya also blamed "the Israeli and US policy of continuing to reject the results of the elections" which saw his Hamas movement come to power in March.

              The premier charged that this policy "was aimed at undermining the structure of the Palestinian Authority."

              "The question we have to ask ourselves is the following: Can the Palestinian Authority continue to operate and function in these circumstances?" Haniyya said.

              Israel arrested 64 Hamas officials - including eight ministers and 26 lawmakers - as part of a massive offensive that followed the June 25 abduction by Gaza militants of an Israeli soldier.

              Russia criticized Wednesday Dweik's arrest, and called for his release.

              "Such actions in no way help to calm the situation in the Palestinian Territories or to make progress towards an Israeli-Palestinian settlement," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

              "The arrest of the legally elected chairman of the Palestinian legislative assembly ... raises many questions, above all about Israel's competence to arrest and prosecute representatives of the Palestinian legislature and executive on territory outside Israeli jurisdiction," the ministry said.

              Haniyya questions whether Palestinian Authority can survive


              • Israel has ordered the Gaza-Egypt border crossing closed just hours after it was partially opened for the first time in weeks.

                The vital Rafah border crossing, which was re-opened early on Thursday for humanitarian cases, was later closed for security reasons.

                EU and Palestinian officials said on Thursday that Israel informed European monitors that the crossing had to shut because it had a high security alert. The Israeli army had no immediate comment.

                The crossing links the Gaza Strip with Egypt and has suffered numerous closures.

                Officials at the terminal said that about 50 Palestinians had crossed into the Egyptian town of Rafah before the closure of the terminal and another 3,500 were still waiting.

                The crossing is Gaza's only gateway to the world that bypasses Israel.

                It had been closed by Israel on June 25, after a deadly cross-border raid in which Gaza armed groups killed two soldiers and seized a third, sparking a deadly offensive in the coastal strip.

                Since then, the crossing has been open just once, on July 18 and 19, to allow Palestinians stranded in Egypt to cross back into the Gaza Strip.

                Last November, two months after Israel withdrew from Gaza following a 38-year occupation, the Rafah border crossing began operating under a US-brokered Israeli-Palestinian agreement that allowed EU monitors.

                Rafah border crossing closes again


                • Last month was the deadliest in the Gaza Strip for nearly two years, a Palestinian research group said yesterday, as Israel's six-week offensive against militants in the territory led to a surge in killings.

                  The Palestinian Monitoring Group said 151 people were killed in the strip in July, the highest total since October 2004, when 166 people died. The majority of those killed were civilians.

                  "The spiralling civilian casualties caused by Israeli actions throughout the region serve to strengthen extremists, weaken peace advocates and exacerbate the conflict," said the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, commenting on the findings.

                  From late June, when Israel launched its offensive, until August 8, at least 170 Palestinians were killed, of whom 138 were civilians and a quarter children, the monitoring group said. Other reports have put the death toll at 200.

                  When the offensive was launched, Israeli warplanes bombed and partly destroyed Gaza's only power plant and also hit several bridges. The flow of fuel, food and other essential supplies was also repeatedly interrupted. The United Nations says the densely populated territory is now facing some of the worst humanitarian conditions in years.

                  In a report this week the UN said more than 70% of the 1.4 million population was reliant on emergency assistance to meet food needs and the price of essential goods, such as flour and sugar, had risen by between 15% and 33% this year. Waste treatment in the northern strip has reached a "critical point", threatening to flood populated areas with sewage and spread infection.

                  Palestinian deaths rise amid fear of worse to come


                  • Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and Rabbi Yehuda Leib Steinman, a leading Ashkenazi haredi spiritual leader, have given their blessing to a meeting with Hamas aimed at reaching a hudna (Arabic for cease-fire) that could save Jewish lives.

                    The plan approved by Yosef and Steinman calls for three rabbis representing Sephardi, Ashkenazi and religious Zionist Orthodoxy to meet with Hamas representatives. The three rabbis are: Rabbi Shmuel Jakobovits, son of former chief rabbi of Britain Immanuel Jakobovits; Rabbi Zion Cohen, rabbi of the Sha'ar Hanegev region; and Rabbi Menahem Fruman of Tekoa, a veteran interfaith dialoguer who is the driving force behind the initiative.

                    The proposed hudna would be between Hamas and the Jewish people - not with the state of Israel - to circumvent Hamas's refusal to recognize the Zionist entity.

                    Yosef, Steinman and other major rabbinic leaders take a pragmatic approach to the talks, said Cohen. They see it as a means of stopping, even if only temporarily, the barrage of Kassam rockets in the South, suicide bombings and roadside shootings.

                    However, the kidnapping by Hamas of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, the war in the north with Hizbullah and the escalating conflict in the Gaza Strip have made direct talks with Hamas impossible, said Fruman. "I hope that talks can begin after the war in the North has ended." Jakobovits, who is the dean of Harav Lord Jakobovits Torah Institute of Contemporary Issues in Jerusalem, said that religious leaders, both Jewish and Muslim, had much in common and could accomplish much more than politicians.

                    "The Islamic world has deep concerns about the penetration of liberal, secular values and lifestyles into the Middle East. A major factor in the conflict between radical Islam and the Western world is Islam's opposition to secular lifestyle and ideology.

                    "The haredi community understands their sensitivities and mentality and feels threatened by the same phenomena. The haredi community could play a key role in dialogue between the West and Islam because we live in two worlds, one deeply religious and the other liberal and pluralistic. We understand that the secular mind is different from the religious mind.

                    "Today in the West the assumption in dealing with Muslim extremism is that moderation and tolerance are the keys. But what the West does not understand is that there is something threatening in that approach, both to the haredi mind and to a deeply Islamic mind. Both haredim and Muslims see multicultural society as an anathema.

                    "The West, which has the power, needs to assure Islam that no one is going to try to force a multicultural worldview on them. Otherwise the clash with Islam will only get sharper and sharper," Jakobovits said.

                    Haredi rabbis seek 'hudna' with Hamas


                    • Seven weeks into Israel's offensive on Gaza finds the civilian population desperate, isolated, and defenceless before Israeli massacres, Erica Silverman reports:

                      "There was no resistance, only open fields, and we were told via loud speaker to evacuate our home," said Salan Jibara, a 35-year-old farmer from As-Shoka now living in a makeshift tent along his family of seven with no access to food or water. The Red Cross was trying to make its way into Rafah Saturday with emergency supplies for refugees.

                      Across the board, the misery index is rising as thousands from the Rafah district were forced to flee their homes under Israeli fire, taking refuge in UNRWA schools and tents, while the residents who remain are without water and electricity in sweltering summer heat. The economy has come to a grinding halt. The only sound in the street is the drumming of Israeli drones and funeral processions. Rafah is under siege.

                      Israeli tanks plowed into Rafah Thursday, beginning an incursion that claimed the lives of 17 Palestinians, including five children (one, a three-day-old baby) and wounding 50, half of them children. The operation first swept through Gaza's defunct airport, then on to the As-Shoka district and along the outskirts of Rafah, all strategically located areas west of Kerem Shalom crossing - the point from which Israeli forces enter Gaza.

                      Israel is trying to avoid a redeployment of troops along the Philadelphi corridor between Gaza and Egypt, fearing that it will be perceived as a re-occupation of Gaza. Israeli forces easily swept As- Shoka, an open area comprised mostly of farmland. Infantry soldiers conducted house-to-house raids throughout Rafah, scores of residents taken for interrogation.

                      On Saturday, Israeli missiles killed seven Palestinians in As-Shoka, five of them civilians, including a 16-year-old girl, Kifah Natour, and her brother Amar, 15. Sunday morning Israeli forces again fired a missile at a civilian home in As-Shoka killing 13-year-old Ibrahim Ermeilat and wounding four others. Israeli forces withdrew from As-Shoka later that day, prompting residents -- mostly farmers -- to return to their property, only to find bulldozed homes, razed crops and crushed infrastructure.

                      An-Najar Hospital in Rafah is a gruesome sight as staff - short on basic supplies like X-ray film and antibiotics - are trying to cope with an unprecedented number of amputees amongst the steady stream of victims of Israeli state terrorism. "Whole parts of the body are cut: legs, heads, even entire bodies cut in half," said Samir Judah, emergency room manager since the start of the second Intifada. "Israel is using a new kind of weaponry that burns the bodies, cuts like a knife. It enters the body and rips organs apart," continues Samir, holding large jagged pieces of burnt shrapnel removed from one victim's body.

                      Samir and hospital staff visited the scene of an Israeli attack Thursday night. Israeli forces targeted a vehicle they allegedly believed to be carrying militants, but the missile exploded before impact and everyone within 300 meters was ripped apart by shrapnel, explained Samir. Larger pieces (some over a foot long) tore clear through those who were near, while smaller pieces embedded inside civilian victims.

                      Shelling, rather than gunfire, killed all victims, reported hospital director Dr Ali Mousa. For two nights the hospital itself came under Israeli fire. "Victims commonly suffer massive aerial burns and tissue damage, and amputations resulting in infections and complications," said Mousa. When admitted, the clothes of the injured or dead are burned to their bodies. Mousa states that as hospital director since 2000 he has never seen such a large number rendered handicapped as a result of Israeli aggression.

                      Dr Juma Al-Saqqa, head of public relations at Al-Shiffa Hospital, the main medical centre in Gaza City, also asserts that a more powerful type of weaponry has been employed by Israel against Palestinians during "Operation Summer Rain". A walk through the recovery unit is proof enough. At 20 years old, Hysan Gelease has lost both his legs and his left hand to Israeli shelling while standing in the doorway to his home in Beit Hanoun. Thick bandages hold his chest together, ripped apart by burning shrapnel. Hysan's bed is the first in a row of young amputees; their skin covered in back craters where white-hot iron penetrated their bodies.

                      Al-Shiffa's pharmacy is missing 30 basic medications while hospital staff resort to scavenging local chemists in search of basic supplies. Funds from the EU Temporary International Aid Mechanism were supposed to begin flowing to healthcare facilities at the beginning of August, yet Al-Shiffa and Al-Najar are still in crisis. Gaza's UNRWA director, John Ging, said a team of UN officials is investigating. "Health risks from the amount of solid waste strewn about Gaza are mounting," reports Ging. There are still massive fuel shortages in Gaza, leaving garbage trucks non-operational. Diseases in small children are increasing due to their contact with street waste, coupled with a lack of clean water, according to UNICEF special representative Dan Rohrmann.

                      Meanwhile, Israeli tanks have taken position along the border of Beit Hanoun in north Gaza for over two weeks, conducting frequent incursions. Thousands have been forced to evacuate their homes, most fleeing to Jabalyia camp where four UNRWA schools have been converted into shelters, housing 1,753 refugees and counting. Miriam, a 23- year-old mother of three, is hurrying across a deserted street, seeking shelter after Israeli forces gave her 15 minutes to evacuate her home. She and her children escaped with only the clothes they were wearing, while her brother and sister-in-law fell victim to Israeli shelling.

                      Nearby Mohamed Abu Oda is attending his 24-year-old son Mahmoud's funeral. He and his family refuse to evacuate. An Israeli sniper killed Mahmoud, a father of two, while trying to restore electricity to their home from the rooftop. "This government, Hamas, is suffering the same assaults as our previous government. Nothing has changed. The occupation is still the only problem," says Mohamed. The following day Israeli forces leveled his home.

                      The past week of violence is the latest onslaught in a seven-week long Israeli incursion into Gaza, purportedly aimed at halting the launching of Qassam rockets into Israel and to recover a soldier captured by Hamas resistance fighters. Yet Israel's offensive on Gaza has been overshadowed in the media by its offensive on Lebanon, leaving Gaza's population even more isolated and vulnerable to Israeli massacres. So far, Israeli forces have destroyed three major bridges, along with roads, crops, and infrastructural piping crushed by Israeli tanks.

                      Gaza's main power station was destroyed on 28 June leaving households, businesses and hospitals across the Strip without electricity and water, while sanitation systems have collapsed. "People's whole existence has been pushed to a new low of basic survival," says Ging. During this period Israeli forces have killed 190 Palestinians, including 56 children, leaving over 800 injured, including 300 children, according to the office of President Mahmoud Abbas.

                      "The Israeli aggression is relentless, and Israel benefits from Lebanon, in that the world is not paying attention to Gaza," said Interior Minister Said Syiam in Gaza City. "I appeal to the world to pay attention."

                      Plain genocide


                      • Three Palestinians have been killed by Israeli army fire in the Gaza Strip.

                        The shelling came in response to the launch of missiles across Gaza's border, which hit the Israeli city of Ashkelon, injuring one person.

                        The Israeli army says it immediately identified the launch site and targeted the militants.

                        Palestinians say the militants escaped, and that the dead were civilians caught in shelling that went on for more than half an hour.

                        Israel has been trying to stop rocket fire from Gaza and free one of its soldiers, captured in a raid by Palestinian militants into Israel on 28 June.

                        Thousands of rockets have been fired into Gaza, killing nearly 200 Palestinians, many of them civilians. Israel has also launched ground offensives into Gaza.

                        The Palestinian side has proposed a ceasefire and said the soldier would be freed if Israel released some of the thousands of Palestinians that it holds in its jails, a condition Israel has rejected.

                        The United Nations has warned of a severe humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

                        Reports say one of the Palestinians killed in Beit Hanoun, in northern Gaza, was 17-years-old.

                        The Israeli military said it fired at three Palestinian militants in the area after they launched two Qassam rockets at Ashkelon.

                        Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad said it fired the rockets.

                        Palestinians report that a group of fighters set up a rocket launcher near an agricultural college in Beit Hanoun, but local residents told them to leave.

                        As the militants were leaving, an Israeli tank shell hit the area, wounding the teenager. Two relatives, aged 55 and 65, went to his aid and were killed in subsequent Israeli fire, Palestinians report.

                        Three other people were wounded, they said.

                        Palestinians killed in Gaza Strip


                        • GAZA (Reuters) - Palestinian gunmen kidnapped two foreign journalists working for the Fox News television channel in Gaza on Monday, a witness said.

                          The witness, a Palestinian who worked with the two journalists, said one of them, a producer, was an American, and the other, whose nationality he did not know, was a cameraman.

                          The Fox News bureau in Jerusalem said it was checking the report.

                          There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the abduction.

                          The witness said two vehicles blocked the journalist's transmission truck in the centre of Gaza City and a masked man put a gun to the bodyguard's head, forcing him to the ground.

                          The kidnappers then sped away with the two journalists.

                          Similar incidents in the past in Gaza have ended with the release, usually within hours, of kidnapped foreign journalists or aid workers.

                          Many of the abductions were carried out by Palestinians pressing a grievance against the Palestinian government or its security forces.

                          Gunmen kidnap 2 journalists in Gaza


                          • Fatah and Hamas are close to reaching an agreement on forming a national unity government, Palestinian Authority officials in Ramallah revealed on Monday.

                            They said PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to hold talks in Gaza City late Monday night with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh over the establishment of a new government and ways of ending tensions between Abbas's Fatah party and Haniyeh's Hamas movement.

                            "The two sides believe that in the wake of the Israel-Hizbullah war, the best thing for the Palestinians at this stage is to be united," one official told The Jerusalem Post. "That's why we are working hard to persuade Hamas to accept the idea of a national unity government that would see both parties in power. We believe the next phase carries serious challenges for the Palestinians."

                            Another PA official said Hamas appeared to be divided over the national unity idea. "Some Hamas leaders like Haniyeh support the initiative, while others are strongly opposed to it," the official explained.

                            He disclosed that Haniyeh has been invited to visit Qatar before the end of the month to discuss the possibility of forming a new government with Fatah. This would be Haniyeh's first visit abroad since he was elected PA Prime Minister earlier this year.

                            The Palestinians are hoping that the cease-fire in Lebanon would shift the world's attention back to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. For the past month, the Palestinians have been complaining that the international community was no longer interested in what's happening in their areas because of the fighting in Lebanon.

                            Abbas and Haniyeh are also expected to discuss the fate of kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit, who is being held in the Gaza Strip by Hamas and other militias. Egyptian mediators based in the Gaza Strip have stepped up their efforts in the past few days to secure the release of Shalit, holding intensive talks with Hamas leaders and activists.

                            Sources close to Hamas expressed cautious optimism that the case could be resolved peacefully. According to one source, Egypt has suggested that Shalit be handed over to the Egyptian authorities. In return, Israel would release scores of Palestinian detainees and prisoners, including Hamas legislators and ministers who were taken into custody over the past few weeks.

                            "We believe that we are close to a deal," the sources said, pointing out that Hamas was keen on ending the crisis peacefully. "Qatar, Turkey and Egypt are continuing to play a constructive role by mediating between Hamas and Israel."

                            Meanwhile, Hamas said on Monday that it was studying the implications of the Hizbullah "victory" in Lebanon and warned that the presence of IDF soldiers in southern Lebanon would lead to more violence.

                            "The conflict could resume and even deteriorate into a regional war," said PA Information Minister Yusef Rizkah of Hamas. "The war has taught us that resistance should be a key factor in resolving the problems of Lebanon and Palestine."

                            Rizkah said the war united Arabs and Muslims around the world "because now they are looking forward to achieving freedom and dignity." He added: "If anything, this war has shattered the myth of the invincible [Israeli] army and [shown] that the Israelis are unable to confront the strong determination and will of Muslim fighters."

                            The "defeat" of the IDF in Lebanon, he added, marks the beginning of the regression of the Zionist project in the Middle East. "Israel will fail in Palestine the same way it failed in Lebanon," he said. "Israel failed to score real achievements despite 30 days of destruction. This is remarkable if we take into consideration the fact that Israel defeated many Arab armies in 1967."

                            Emboldened by what they perceive as the Hizbullah "victory" over Israel, several writers and commentators in the Arab world have begun openly discussing the possibility of destroying Israel. In a series of articles in the Palestinian and Arab media, many of them said that the poor performance of the IDF in the war proved that the elimination of Israel is no longer unattainable.

                            Palestinian political commentator Mustafa Sawwaf, analyzing the results of the war, wrote on Monday that it was now obvious that the IDF had lost its credibility and reputation as the strongest army in the region.

                            "This war has also harmed Israel's deterrence capability," he said. "Israel's deterrence force is gone forever and this revives hopes in the Arab world of confronting Israel in the future. The war has also affirmed that Islam constitutes a real threat to Israel, which now realizes that its end is close despite the military power it possesses."

                            Fatah, Hamas discuss unity government


                            • Imad Badawi has put on hold his dreams of building his own home in Gaza City.

                              For the past four months, the cleaner, 25, has had to borrow from relatives to support his wife and one-year-old daughter because of an international aid blockade. Western donors decided to block all salaries to the Palestinian territories following the electoral victory of the Islamist Hamas movement, over its refusal to recognise Israel.

                              The owner of the El Sammak fish restaurant surveys his empty tables overlooking a dusty road, where donkey carts vie for space with cars. " The Israelis have closed the sea to our fishermen. There are no customers. I need money to feed my family," he says.

                              It was not meant to be like this. On 15 August last year, when the Israelis began their unilateral pullout from Gaza, evicting 8,500 settlers from the territory which they had occupied for 38 years, Palestinians dared to hope they would take over the greenhouses left behind by the Israelis and start to build their own economy by exporting their flowers, vegetables and fruit.

                              One year later, the Israelis have not recovered the security they craved, and the Palestinians' hopes are shattered. First, the vital Karni cargo crossing has either been closed or had opening times severely restricted. Then public servants were punished by the international community after Palestinians voted to replace the discredited and corrupt Fatah leadership. And since the end of June, following the capture of an Israeli soldier, the Israeli military has returned, with its warplanes, tanks and helicopter gunships, punishing the 1.4 million Gazans for the home-made Qassam rockets fired by militants towards Israeli towns.

                              Three Palestinians from one family were killed yesterday by an Israeli air strike in the northern Gaza Strip, after two rockets were fired towards the Israeli city of Ashkelon. In less than two months, almost 180 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, most of them civilians. The Israelis have uprooted orange trees, partly destroyed the territory's only power plant and destroyed several bridges. Parts of the strip have no electricity between 7am and 5pm.

                              But Palestinians are mainly suffering from their lack of income, with no sign that the Hamas government will agree to the international demands.Gaza's mayor, Majed Abu Ramadan, said yesterday that parents could not even afford the cost of school uniforms for their children.

                              A year after the pull-out, Gaza's hopes for peace and prosperity lie in ruins


                              • GAZA (Reuters) - Egyptian mediators have presented Hamas and other militant groups with a new proposal aimed at ending a six-week-old standoff over an Israeli soldier seized near the Gaza strip, Hamas officials said on Tuesday.

                                A source close to the negotiations said the proposal called for Hamas to transfer Corporal Gilad Shalit to Egyptian authorities in return for Israel's release of up to 600 Palestinian prisoners, including women and minors.

                                Another group of Palestinian prisoners, including many who have served longer sentences, would be freed by Israel at a later date.

                                The Israeli government has so far rejected any prisoner swap for Shalit, who was captured by gunmen from Hamas and other groups in a cross-border raid on June 25.

                                Israel responded by launching an air and ground offensive that has killed more than 165 Palestinians in Gaza, more than half of them civilians.

                                "A new offer was made to the Hamas movement by the Egyptian security delegation in Gaza," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters, declining to discuss the proposal's contents.

                                He said the militant groups would not back down from demands that Palestinian prisoners be released in exchange for Shalit.

                                "Hamas is still committed to its demand that there must be reciprocity in time and action," Abu Zuhri said.

                                He also stressed the group was insisting that those freed fell under the categories of prisoners specified by the three militant factions holding Shalit.

                                Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met in Gaza on Tuesday with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas.

                                Haniyeh said last week that he hoped a deal over Shalit could be reached soon, though he offered no details.

                                A senior Palestinian official said Qatar had recently stepped in to help mediate between Israel and Hamas.

                                "Israel has made new offers to Hamas via the Qataris in return for Shalit," the official said.

                                Gaza militants get new proposal over Israeli soldier


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