Thursday, March 22, 2012

MIDDLE EAST WRAP: TRAGEDY IN TOULOUSE, FRANCE

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Thursday paid condolence calls to the families of the Jewish school shooting in Toulouse, France. 

A round-up of the newspapers in Israel and the Palestinian Territories; covering the major events happening in Israel and the Middle East. Haaretz-Maariv-Yedioth Ahronoth-Israel Hayom-The Jerusalem Post-Ynet-Arutz 7 News-Army Radio-and Israel Radio....plus Bethlehem-based Ma'an News Agency.


On Wednesday all the Israeli newspapers were dominated by the Toulouse shooting attack, in which a rabbi and three children were shot dead at a Jewish school on Monday, March 19, 2012 in Toulouse, France. All of the papers led with the news that the four victims of the attack will be laid to rest in Jerusalem.

But several hours after the newspapers were sent to print, French police tracked down the man believed to be responsible for the school attack and the killing of three French soldiers in the same city some three weeks ago. The man, named by the AFP news agency as Mohammed Merah, has apparently been under surveillance by France's domestic intelligence service for several years.


According to French Interior Minister Claude Gueant, the suspect claims to be linked to al-Qaeda and to have been in Afghanistan, where many Western Muslims are believed to have been trained by al-Qaeda. ‘He wanted revenge for the Palestinian children and he also wanted to take revenge on the French army because of its foreign interventions,’ Gueant said.

The media in France have linked the suspect to a group called Forsane Al-Izza (Knights of Pride) that was outlawed by the French government in January. If any of this turns out to be true, and the neo-Nazi angle speculated before proves to be false, then the attack takes on a whole new significance for Israel which had, until this latest development, seen the attack as part of increasing racial tensions within France, and not part of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In other news, Haaretz reported that the Knesset Finance Committee yesterday approved the reallocation of NIS 61 million from the state budget including an extra NIS 25 million for the Jewish Agency to use beyond Israel's 1967 borders, including NIS 1.5 million for infrastructure in settlements in the Hebron Hills, NIS 8 million for the Golan Research Institute in Katzrin, and NIS 7.6 million for public buildings in the Jordan Valley and the Binyamin district. Meretz MK Gal-On opposed the latter transfer, saying it was not clear why allocations were being outsourced to a nongovernmental entity such as the Jewish Agency without oversight. She also questioned whether it was proper for the committee to approve such transfers.

In other settlement-related news, Peace Now held a protest Wednesday in the West Bank outpost of Migron over an agreement that will move the community. Peace Now has also petitioned the High Court against the agreement.

On the Palestinian side, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fateh movement claimed Tuesday that Iran had paid rival group Hamas to back out of implementing the reconciliation deal between the two factions. According to the spokesman, Ahmed Assaf, Iran paid Hamas tens of millions of dollars to avoid implementing the agreement. ‘We have information that Tehran paid tens of millions of dollars to Mahmoud Al-Zahar and Ismail Haniyeh during their visits to Iran,’ Assaf said.

Assaf explained that Iran has renewed its financial support for Hamas, after a six-month suspension that came about as a result of Hamas’ refusal to support Syrian President Bashar Assad during the uprising against his regime. The Hamas politburo recently agreed to a deal in Qatar with Abbas to form an interim government of technocrats. However, Hamas leaders in Gaza ambushed politburo chief Khaled Mish’al after-the-fact with a raft of new demands which observers say Fateh will never agree to. The last minute bait-and-switch by the organization’s Gaza leadership underscores a deepening rift within Hamas. Last week, Fateh officials admitted they do not expect Hamas leaders to follow through on the reconciliation deal ‘anytime soon.’

Meanwhile, In Gaza the Hamas government has ordered civil servants to offer rides to people during daytime work hours in order to survive the self-imposed lack of fuel. In addition, Hamas cut in half the fuel allowances for its 1,800 official cars, according to the Bethlehem-based Ma'an news agency.

Hamas ministers said the lack of fuel is due to the Israeli blockade, which has in effect been lifted on all materials not used for military activities. The local administration has refused Israel’s offers to continue fuel shipments. Hamas remains dependent on Egypt, which is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is an offshoot.

Finally, in politics, incumbent Kadima leader Tzipi Livni has launched a new campaign aimed at scaring Kadima voters into voting for her in the March 27 leadership race, issuing a new slogan: ‘Without Tzipi Livni, there is no Kadima.’ Livni has not committed firmly to remaining in Kadima or in politics at all if she loses the race to MK Shaul Mofaz. ‘It is a fact and not a threat to leave,’ Livni's spokesman said regarding the slogan. ‘Kadima without Tzipi is a second Likud.’

Sources close to Mofaz mocked the new slogan, saying it was the first time that a candidate marketed a 60 percent downfall in a party's support as an achievement. The latest polls predict that Kadima would fall from its current 28 seats to 12 in the next general election. ‘It's a full hysteria campaign,’ Mofaz strategist Lior Chorev said. ‘It's pathetic.’



 

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