PCHR in the Irish Times


MIDDLE EAST: While president Mahmoud Abbas and prime minister Ismail Haniyeh carried on negotiations with the aim of forming a national unity government yesterday, Hamas made it clear that the Israeli soldier captured by Palestinian fighters 10 days ago would not be killed.

Six hours after the deadline for a deal involving an exchange or prisoners had expired, Hamas spokesman Salah Bardawil stated: "We want to keep the soldier alive and well."

Standing in the wreckage of the building at the Islamic University demolished by an Israeli missile attack early in the morning, Dr Bardawil asserted: "Israel must deal with the reality that there is resistance to its continuing occupation of Palestinian land. On one hand, we don't want to kill any [ Israeli] soldier or capture any soldier. On the other hand, we embody the Islamic resistance to occupation.

"We ask all peoples and governments to help us to put pressure on Israel to release our prisoners. Israel must free Palestinian prisoners if the soldier is to be released."

Dr Bardawil, who heads the Hamas parliamentary faction in Gaza, made this appeal after the three factions holding the Israeli soldier declared that they had withdrawn from Egyptian-brokered negotiations.

The university building, a small office used by the student council, was targeted by a missile which reduced it to rubble and shards of glass without breaking even one window in the dining hall, the central library and other buildings on the quadrangle.

The strike, made by an Apache helicopter, was intended as a warning to Hamas rather than a punitive operation against Palestinian cultural infrastructure. The Islamic University is the pride and joy of Hamas, which understands the importance of providing education for ambitious young Palestinians.

Two of the three factions holding the soldier are connected with the movement: the Izzedin al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas military wing, and the Jaish al-Islami (Army of Islam), a mysterious offshoot which emerged recently in the Khan Yunis area. Since Hamas provides training and equipment for both, it is expected that the factions will respect the wishes of its political leaders.

Dr Raji Sourani, a lawyer who heads the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, put forward the legal argument that the Israeli soldier was captured during "a military operation, at a military base, by men in full military uniform".

"Resistance operations are not only a right, but also an obligation for any people who want to be free of occupation and secure self- determination," he said.

As the steady crump of artillery shells sounded in the fields on the edge of Gaza City, he said he was not concerned about the soldier but civilians who could be harmed by ongoing Israeli military action.

"Nobody in the outside world cares about those protected by the Fourth Geneva Convention, which deals with people living under foreign occupation. We must separate between the soldier affair and what is going on in Gaza. Israel is using the pretext of the soldier to destroy Hamas. Definitely, what Israel is doing is endangering his life."

The Palestinian casualty toll for this crisis by yesterday afternoon stood at five activists assassinated, two fighters and one armed civilian killed, and 40 wounded, including 15 children.

Christer Nordahl, spokesman of the UN Relief and Works Agency said it is now "distributing food to 900,000 people in Gaza, but it is out of milk powder and beans and in 10 days there will be no food at all. Eight thousand tons of supplies are stuck in Israel's Ashdod port. If food cannot get through there could be a disaster."

Many Palestinians, including Mr Sourani, who served time in an Israeli prison during the first intifada (1987-93), make the comparison between the current situation in Gaza and Israel's siege of Beirut during the summer of 1982. Under the command of Mr Olmert's predecessor, Ariel Sharon, the Israel army invaded and occupied the southern half of Lebanon and West Beirut where the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) was based. For over six weeks, Israel bombarded the open city from the air, sea, and land and cut electricity, water and food supplies.

The PLO agreed to evacuate Beirut in exchange for guarantees for the safety of Palestinian civilians left behind. Yasser Arafat and his entourage moved to distant Tunis, but Palestinians make the point, that Hamas is not an organisation based abroad. Hamas is at home in Gaza and cannot be sent into exile.

The Irish Times