*** Gazastreifen: The Gaza Strip's water provider on Wednesday urged the area's 1.5 million residents to boil their drinking water, blaming a shortage of purifying chlorine on Israel's blockade of the strip. Israel Defense Forces said no Palestinian request for chlorine was made until Wednesday, and it was urgently trying to arrange a new shipment into Gaza. The Coastal Municipality Water Utility informed residents that sanctions have left Gaza without equipment and supplies needed to maintain the water system and chlorine deliveries stopped on January 21. More than one-third of Gaza's water supply is now untreated, said deputy director Maher Najjar, amid concern over a health disaster due to possible contamination. He appealed to the international community for help. [...] The Palestinian Center for Democracy and Conflict Resolution, and the Popular Campaign for Nationalist Reconciliation announced on Tuesday a campaign to collect signatures to urge the Palestinian rivals Hamas and Fatah to begin dialogue. The deputy director of the Democracy Centrer Iyad Al-Hujair said in a press conference in Gaza City: "We have proposed a plan for nationalist reconciliation through pursuing the origins of the conflict. Many legal experts and specialists in the Palestinian affairs from Arab countries have participated to the plan, and 250 thousand copies have been prepared to be distributed in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip." [...] Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday said that Al-Qaida militants have infiltrated the Gaza Strip and are receiving assistance from Hamas in establishing a base of operations in the Strip. "An alliance has formed between these two organizations," Abbas told the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat on Wednesday. [...] Fourteen Palestinian patients from the Gaza Strip crossed into Egypt on Wednesday through an Israeli border crossing point used by vehicles, a Palestinian official said. The Palestinian patients first crossed into Israel at the main Erez checkpoint with northern Gaza, then through the Al-Oja cargo border crossing between Israel and Egypt, where buses were waiting to carry them to the Nasser Medical Center in Cairo for treatment, said Hani Jabbour, a Palestinian official. [...] Egyptian intelligence chief Omer Suleiman is scheduled to arrive in Israel next Tuesday for meetings with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in an effort to advance a new Egyptian initiative to reduce the tension on the border between Egypt, Israel and the Gaza Strip. [...] John Dugard: A report commissioned by the United Nations suggests that Palestinian terrorism is the inevitable consequence of Israeli occupation and laws that resemble South African apartheid - a claim Israel rejected Tuesday as enflaming hatred between Jews and Palestinians. [...] Nazir Majali: For several months now, the media has been reporting that Israel is angry at Egypt's behavior. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who is responsible for strengthening Israel's ties with the rest of the world, launched this trend in December. The rightist opposition continued it, from MK Yuval Steinitz to former minister Avigdor Lieberman. After Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced that red lines had been crossed and Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit threatened that Egypt could have a negative influence on Israel's interests, Israeli officials ceased speaking on the record, but continued to attack Egypt anonymously, via unnamed "government officials." [...] Amira Hass, "The breakthrough that did not happen": For an entire day, the Israel Defense Forces raised the level of hysteria in Israel by announcing they were preparing for the possibility that thousands of Gazans would try to break through the checkpoints. It is easy now for the army to say that the breakthrough did not occur only because of the warnings that Hamas would be held responsible for the blood that would be shed. But anyone who is attentive to the Palestinians as an occupied people rather than as "an intelligence objective" (which openly provided the information that women and children would demonstrate against the siege on Monday), was aware they did not have a plan to topple the barriers at the Erez and Karni crossing points. The well-publicized army preparations had a racist subtext: Look how Hamas is prepared to send children and women to absorb the bullets. In other words, Hamas is indifferent to people's lives and can also set them in motion like pawns. But even the youngsters who two days ago threw stones at the Erez checkpoint walls, thus putting themselves in danger of being shot at and hit by the IDF, and who were arrested, did not do so because someone had "sent" them. In contrast to Israel, the Palestinians do not have compulsory military service. Everyone who puts himself in danger of dying in what appears to him and his society as the national struggle against the occupation, does so not because "the state" obliges him to do so and sends him but rather because that is what he chooses to do. [...] A prominent Israeli human rights group on Wednesday criticized an Israel Defense Forces probe that decided not to press charges in an errant artillery attack that killed 21 Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip in November 2006. The Military Advocate General announced late Tuesday that it was closing the case after its investigation determined the deaths were the result of a "rare and severe" technical malfunction. In a statement, the human rights group B'Tselem questioned whether the inquiry met proper legal standards: an investigation which is independent, effective, open to review and timely. The group also called on the IDF to take measures that would prevent similar incidents in the future, and urged it to compensate relatives of the dead. [...] Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas -met- with his Egyptian counterpart Hosni Mubarak in Cairo on Tuesday to discuss the latest developments in the Palestinian arena and the efforts to move the peace process forward. Abbas updated Mubarak on the outcome of his recent meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as well as the talks Abbas held yesterday with the Jordanian king Abdullah II.
*** Iran: Russia warned Iran on Wednesday that unless it ceased uranium enrichment within days Moscow would support new UN sanctions being prepared by the West against the Islamic Republic. The Russian envoy to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, said Moscow could back a sanctions resolution that the Western powers have drafted and which they want to discuss in the Security Council this week. Churkin said via a video link from New York that Russia had undertaken "certain commitments" to "support the resolution that has been drafted in the past month" unless Iran stopped enrichment activities within the next few days. [Von dem erwarteten Treffen in Japan zwischen Olmert und Rice wird nichts gemeldet. Zuvor war gepoltert worden Rice würde Olmert bezüglich der schleppenden Verhandlungen mir Ramallah abbürsten. Eine Ente damit die Gesellschaft von den eigentlichen zielsetzungen der Beiden abgelenkt wird.
*** Syria-Lebanon: Saudi Arabia withdrew its ambassador from Syria as the two countries clash on how to resolve Lebanon's current political crisis, the Syrian daily Al Watan newspaper reported, citing unidentified diplomats. The kingdom will move its official to Qatar where it hasn't had an ambassador for some 5 years as the two neighboring countries disagreed over content broadcast on Qatar-based al Jazeera television, the report said. [...] Commentary by Joshua Landis: The situation in Lebanon becomes ever more dire as word circulates that Saudi Arabia is withdrawing its ambassador from Syria. The stalemate in Lebanon over the presidency threatens Lebanon's economy. Lebanese authorities are asking Saudi Arabia to plug the holes in the country's economic dike by upping its deposits in Lebanese banks and helping to subsidize the public debt, which cannot be refinanced.
Sehr Empfehlenswert, Blog-Entry I: The Carnegie Endowment has published the best short overview of the Middle East situation I have read. Read the entire Pdf file. "The New Middle East," by Marina Ottaway, Nathan J. Brown, Amr Hamzawy, Karim Sadjadpour, Paul Salem, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, February 2008. [...] Blog-Entry II: Dr. Alon Liel was speaking at the Middle East Institute in Washington last Thursday to a packed audience.