News & Current Affairs

January 31, 2009

Steele wins Republican chair vote

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 8:05 am

Steele wins Republican chair vote

Michael Steele

Mr Steele wants to rebrand the Republican party

Michael Steele has won the election to be chairman of the Republican National Committee, becoming the first African-American to lead the party.

Mr Steele won in the sixth ballot, with 91 votes out of a possible 168. His nearest rival, Katon Dawson, received the remaining 77 votes.

Correspondents say Mr Steele was the most moderate of the five candidates who stood for the position.

The favourite, incumbent chairman Mike Duncan, pulled out after two rounds.

“We’re going to say to friend and foe alike, we want you to be a part of us, we want you to with be with us, and for those who wish to obstruct, get ready to get knocked over,” said Mr Steele in his acceptance speech.

Rebranding

He rose to prominence in 2006 when he stood for a senate seat in Maryland. He had previously served as the state’s Lieutenant Governor.

After his senate defeat, he served as the chairman of GOPAC, a conservative political action committee.

As chairman of the Republican National Committee, Mr Steele will be in charge of overseeing the party’s campaigning efforts nationwide.

He fought for the position on a platform of rebranding the party and finding ways to use new technology to connect with the conservative grassroots.

Mr Duncan had been the favourite to win the election, but dropped out after receiving fewer votes than expected in the first two rounds of voting.

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Merkel proposes UN economic body

Merkel proposes UN economic body

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (in red) arriving to speak in Davos, 30 January

Mrs Merkel leads one of the world’s most important economies

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has proposed the creation of a United Nations Economic Council modelled on the UN Security Council.

In a speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, she called for the adoption of a post-crisis global economic charter.

The charter would be based on sustainable economics and the Economic Council would oversee markets.

It is an idea that Mrs Merkel has advocated previously.

“All of these issues… need to be enshrined in a charter for the global economic order,” she said.

“This may even lead to a UN Economic Council, just as the Security Council was created after World War II.”

The idea of creating a UN Economic Council was proposed by Mrs Merkel when she met French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris earlier this month.

Australia counts heatwave deaths

Australia counts heatwave deaths

The Australian authorities fear about 20 people have died as a result of one of the worst heatwaves in 100 years to hit the south-east of the country.

Most of them were elderly people who had been struggling in the heat.

The heatwave has also caused power outages in Melbourne, Australia’s second biggest city.

Extreme temperatures of more than 40C (104F) have hit the south-eastern states of Victoria and South Australia in the past three days.

If the high temperatures continue into Sunday, it will equal the worst heatwave that south-eastern Australia has witnessed in 100 years.

Already, it has caused disruption, destruction and death.

Map

In Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, health officials reported more than 20 sudden deaths, most of them elderly people overcome by the baking temperatures of over 40C who had suffered strokes and heart attacks.

Raging wildfires have ripped through the Gippsland region of neighbouring Victoria, and at least 10 homes have been destroyed near the rural town of Boolarra.

In Melbourne, the state capital, the heatwave has meant disruption to transportation services and power outages.

Trains have been cancelled because the rail lines have buckled in the heat.

An explosion at an electrical substation left over 300,000 homes without power.

Some traffic lights in the city have stopped working, so too the signals in parts of the rail network.

 


Are you affected by the heatwave? Send us your comments

Iraqis vote in landmark elections

Iraqis vote in landmark elections

A man casts his vote in Baghdad, Iraq (31/01/2009)

Voters had to pass through strict security to cast their ballots

Iraqis are electing new provincial councils in the first nationwide vote in four years, with the Sunni minority expected to turn out in strength.

Sunnis largely boycotted the last ballot. Correspondents in Baghdad, where there has been a total ban on vehicles, said voting started slowly.

The vote is seen as a test of Iraq’s stability ahead of the next general election later this year.

Security is tight and thousands of observers are monitoring the polls.

Up to 15 million Iraqis are eligible to cast votes.

“This is a great chance for us, a great day, to be able to vote freely without any pressure or interference,” a Baghdad voter identified as Hamid told Reuters news agency.

Another voter said he had not slept in order to be first at the polling station.

“I want this experience to be a success, and that there will no fraud,” said Adnan al-Janabi.

Security tight

Voters had to pass through stringent security checks to reach the polling stations, which were mostly set up in schools.

As voting got underway, several mortar rounds landed near polling stations in Tikrit, hometown of late ruler Saddam Hussein, but no casualties were reported.

Hundreds of international observers are monitoring the vote, as well as thousands of local observers from the various political parties.

We didn’t vote and we saw the result – sectarian violence
Khaled al-Azemi
Sunni speaking about 2005 boycott

At least eight of the 14,000 candidates have been killed in the run up to the election.

Three of the candidates – all Sunni Muslims – were killed on Thursday, in Baghdad, Mosul and Diyala province.

While the recent level of violence around Iraq is significantly lower than in past years, Iraq’s international borders have been shut, traffic bans are in place across Baghdad and major cities, and curfews have been introduced.

Hundreds of women, including teachers and civic workers, have also been recruited to help search women voters after a rise in female suicide bombers last year, according to the Associated Press.

Iraqi and US military commanders have in recent days warned that al-Qaeda poses a threat to the elections.

Setting the stage

Sunnis largely boycotted the last ballot, a general election which resulted in Shia and Kurdish parties taking control of parliament.

Despite intimidation, many Sunni voters say they will vote this time.

PROVINCIAL ELECTIONS
Baghdad prepares for Saturday's election

Some, like Khaled al-Azemi, said the boycott last time had been a mistake.

“We lost a lot because we didn’t vote and we saw the result – sectarian violence” he told the News.

“That’s why we want to vote now to avoid the mistakes of the past.”

The drawing of alienated Sunnis back into the political arena is one of the big changes these elections will crystallise.

On the Shia side, the results will also be closely watched amid signs that many voters intend to turn away from the big religious factions and towards nationalist or secular ones.

If they pass off relatively peacefully, these elections will set the stage for general polls at the end of the year and for further coalition troop withdrawals, our correspondent says.

The election is also being seen as a quasi-referendum on the leadership of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.

Saturday’s elections are being held in 14 of the country’s 18 provinces, with more than 14,000 candidates competing for just 440 seats.

There is no vote in the three provinces of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of the north and the ballot has been postponed in oil-rich Kirkuk province.

Iraq’s provincial councils are responsible for nominating the governors who lead the administration and oversee finance and reconstruction projects.

January 24, 2009

India PM undergoes heart surgery

India PM undergoes heart surgery

Manmohan Singh

Mr Singh’s surgery comes just months before a general election in India

Doctors have begun heart bypass surgery on Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after he was admitted to hospital in Delhi, Indian media report.

A team of six to eight surgeons was expected to operate on the 76-year-old leader, after two blockages were found in his arteries, officials said.

Mr Singh previously had bypass surgery in 1990 and an angioplasty in 2004.

The ruling Congress Party says he will still lead the party in the forthcoming general election which is due by May.

Mr Singh underwent tests earlier this week after he complained of chest pains.

He will have “coronary artery bypass graft surgery” performed by doctors from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, India’s top state-run hospital, and the Asian Heart Institute in Mumbai.

Doctors say that there is “very little risk” associated with Mr Singh’s surgery and that the prime minister should be fit to resume normal duties in three to four weeks.

Succession speculation

This is not a good time for the prime minister to be removed from the political fray, given the tense relations with Pakistan in the wake of the Mumbai attacks.

Rahul Gandhi

Will Rahul Gandhi emerge as a successor to Mr Singh?

Congress has so far dismissed concerns that Mr Singh’s health would interfere with its current election campaign.

But there has been widespread speculation that party chief Sonia Gandhi has been lining up her son, Rahul Gandhi, heir to India’s powerful Gandhi dynasty, as the country’s next prime minister.

Mr Singh has largely been in good health since he was sworn in as prime minister in May 2004, but he recently underwent prostate surgery and has also had cataract treatment.

Mr Singh, who studied economics at Cambridge and Oxford, became India’s finance minister in 1991 when the country was plunging into bankruptcy, and is widely regarded as the architect of the country’s economic reform programme.

The quietly spoken economist-politician is also seen as the cleanest politician in India, a subject dear to voters’ hearts.

Government officials said that Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee will take charge of cabinet meetings during the prime minister’s absence.

Obama lifts ban on abortion funds

Obama lifts ban on abortion funds

US President Barack Obama has lifted a ban on federal funding for foreign family planning agencies that promote or give information about abortion.

The US is one of the biggest supporters of family planning programmes globally, but former president George W Bush blocked funds for abortion services.

Powerful anti-abortion groups in the US have criticised the lifting of the ban.

But aid agencies welcomed the move, saying it would promote women’s health, especially in developing countries.

A White House spokesman said Mr Obama signed the executive order without asking for coverage by the media late on Friday afternoon.

The issue of abortion services remains controversial in the US, pitting pro-life conservative groups against more liberal, pro-choice Americans who back a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion.

This may be why President Obama signed the order with so little fanfare.

Highly contentious

Organisations that had pressed Mr Obama to make the abortion-ban change were jubilant.

They called the funding ban the “gag rule” because it cuts funds to groups that advocate or lobby for the lifting of abortion restrictions.

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America hailed the president for “lifting the stranglehold on women’s health across the globe with the stroke of a pen.”

“No longer will health care providers be forced to choose between receiving family planning funding and restricting the health care services they provide to women,” the organization said in a statement.

But anti-abortion groups were quick to criticise the reversal of the funding ban.

“President Obama not long ago told the American people that he would support policies to reduce abortions, but today he is effectively guaranteeing more abortions by funding groups that promote abortion as a method of population control,” said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee.

A 1973 decision by the US Supreme Court legalised abortion.

A Gallup poll conducted last year showed that 54% of Americans think abortion should be allowed under certain circumstances, 28% believe it should be legal under any circumstances, while 17% back a total ban.

See-saw issue

The policy has become a see-saw issue between Republican and Democratic administrations.

Former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, repealed the policy when he took office in 1993 and George W Bush reinstated it in 2001.

The ruling is also known as the Mexico City Policy, because it was first introduced at a UN conference there in 1984 by former Republican President Ronald Reagan.

In a move related to the lifting of the abortion rule, Mr Obama is also expected to restore funding to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in the next budget, the AP news agency reported.

The Bush administration contended that the fund’s work in China supported a Chinese family planning policy of coercive abortion and involuntary sterilisation, claims the UNFPA has vehemently denied.

In a separate move earlier on Friday, US regulators cleared the way for the world’s first study on human embryonic stem cell therapy.

While the decision of the US Food and Drug Administration is independent of White House control, Mr Obama is widely expected to adopt a more pragmatic and science-oriented approach to stem cell research.

January 15, 2009

Gaza pounded amid push for truce

Gaza pounded amid push for truce

Israeli tanks have pushed deep into Gaza City, prompting fierce exchanges of gunfire with fighters of the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

The UN’s relief agency, Unrwa, says part of its HQ in Gaza caught fire after being hit by Israeli shells.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon expressed outrage. Israeli PM Ehud Olmert apologised but said troops returned fire after coming under attack from the UN’s compound.

The Hamas interior minister, Said Siyam was reported killed in an air strike.

Both Hamas and Israeli officials said Siyam was killed at his brother’s home in Gaza City.

Meanwhile, Hamas and Israeli negotiators were said to be making progress towards a ceasefire agreement as they held separate meetings with Egyptian mediators in Cairo.

Olmert apology

Speaking to reporters on the Israel-Gaza border, Unrwa spokesman Christopher Gunness said three of the agency’s employees were hurt in the attack on its compound in Gaza City.

About 700 people were still sheltering in the compound, he said, and the fire had been burning close to five full fuel tanks.

Mr Gunness added that Unrwa would not be able to distribute food or medical supplies on Thursday as its trucks were unable to leave the compound.

Mr Olmert met Mr Ban and apologised for the attack, but blamed it on Palestinian fighters firing from the UN site.

“It is absolutely true that we were attacked from that place, but the consequences are very sad and we apologise for it,” he said.

“I don’t think it should have happened and I’m very sorry.”

Escalation

The coastal enclave came under heavy fire from the east in the early morning as soldiers and tanks pushed into Gaza City.

Witnesses said they saw soldiers on foot marching behind bulldozers and tanks.

The advancing troops came under fire from fighters from Hamas and other Palestinian factions positioned on rooftops and balconies.

The building where he lives in the Gaza City suburb of Tel al-Hawa was surrounded by Israeli tanks at one point, he said, and several shells hit the lower floors.

Columns of thick smoke rose into the sky over Gaza from fires touched off by the fighting.

About 70 people have been killed in the fighting on Thursday, Gaza’s Ministry of Health said.

Reports said at least 15 rockets had been fired from Gaza into Israel since the early morning, injuring eight people in Beersheba.

Nearly 1,100 Gazans and 13 Israelis have reportedly died so far in the conflict.

Speaking to the press after meeting Israeli leaders in Tel Aviv, Mr Ban repeated previous calls for an immediate ceasefire, and said the suffering in Gaza was a “dire humanitarian crisis” that had reached an “unbearable point”.

In other developments:

  • The UK Foreign Office minister Lord Malloch-Brown says the British government “utterly” condemns the attack on the UN headquarters in Gaza. Fierce criticism also came from the French foreign ministry
  • Two hospitals in Gaza City are hit by shellfire: the al-Quds hospital in Tel al-Hawa neighbourhood, scene of heavy fighting, and a Red Crescent hospital, the UK Red Cross says
  • The Shurouq tower block in Gaza City, which houses the offices of the Reuters news agency and several other media organisations, is hit by an explosion, injuring a journalist for the Abu Dhabi television channel
  • Leaders of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council are to meet in Saudi Arabia to discuss the crisis. The Saudi monarch, King Abdullah, said the meeting was convened because of what he called Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people
  • A boat carrying medical supplies to Gaza is surrounded by Israeli warships in international waters off Lebanon’s southern coast and forced to return to Cyprus, according to charity Free Gaza
  • Palestinian deaths in the Gaza Strip reach 1,083 according to Gaza medical sources. Nearly a third of the dead are said to be children

‘Detailed vision’

Israeli and Hamas envoys have been in Cairo, holding separate meetings with Egyptian negotiators.

Egypt has been leading efforts to broker a ceasefire that could include a peacekeeping force being deployed along its border with Gaza to prevent the smuggling of weapons.

GAZA CRISIS BACKGROUND
Destroyed building in Gaza City

On Wednesday, Hamas official Salah al-Bardawil said his movement had presented Egyptian negotiators with a “detailed vision” of how to bring about a ceasefire.

Hamas, which controls Gaza, has said any ceasefire agreement would have to include a halt to Israeli attacks, the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces and the opening of border crossings to end the blockade of Gaza.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said there was “momentum” to the talks.

“Ultimately we want to see a long-term sustainable quiet in the south, a quiet that’s going to be based on the total absence of all hostile fire from Gaza into Israel, and an internationally supported mechanism that will prevent Hamas from rearming,” Mr Regev said.

Israel launched its offensive on the Gaza Strip on 27 December and has refused to allow international journalists to enter Gaza without supervision, making it to independently confirm casualty figures.

The offensive has provoked widespread international condemnation at the cost in civilian casualties and the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the coastal enclave.

Map

Go-ahead for new Heathrow runway

Go-ahead for new Heathrow runway

The government has given the go-ahead for a third runway at Heathrow, saying it is the “right” move for the country.

The decision, confirmed by Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon, comes despite opposition from environmentalists, local residents and many MPs.

Mr Hoon outlined measures to limit noise and emissions but told MPs doing nothing would “damage our economy”.

The debate was halted and local MP John McDonnell thrown out after he grabbed the mace and shouted “disgrace”.

Alongside the commitment to a new runway, Mr Hoon also announced increased investment in public transport, including the possibility of new high-speed rail links from the airport.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
MPs told of decision
Planning process begins – this will take years
Legal challenge likely in days
If Tories win next election they would scrap plan
If all goes according to government plan, construction would start in 2015
Third runway due to finish 2019

In an effort to appease critics he said airlines using the new runway would be required to use the newest, least-polluting aircraft.

He told MPs the government was satisfied environmental targets could be met, as it would put an initial cap on additional flights from the new runway of 125,000, would ensure new slots were “green slots” used by only the “cleanest planes” and would set a new target on aircraft emissions – that they would be lower in 2050 than in 2005.

“Taken together this gives us the toughest climate change regime for aviation of any country in the world,” he told MPs.

He also announced he would set up a company to look into creating a high speed rail line between London and Scotland – adding there was a “strong case” for a new high speed rail hub at Heathrow.

Heathrow ‘hub’

And he said hard shoulders could be used to ease traffic on the the most congested parts of the M1, M25, M6, M62, M3 and M4, as well as motorways around Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol.

But he ruled out ending “mixed mode” use of runways – where planes land on one runway until 3pm then the other for the rest of the day to give residents a break from noise.

However, he said the Cranford agreement, which limits planes taking off to the east of the airport, would end, which he said would benefit Windsor and other towns to the west of the airport and Hatton and North Feltham to the east.

“Heathrow is the only hub airport, it’s our most important international gateway, it connects us with the growth markets of the future – essential for every great trading nation,” he told MPs.

Doing nothing would only give an advantage to its competitors, he said, adding: “The government is taking the right decisions for the long term.”

The debate was halted when John McDonnell, whose constituency borders Sipson – where hundreds of homes will be bulldozed to make way for a third runway and sixth terminal – shouted “disgrace” as the transport secretary said MPs would not get a vote on the decision.

Labour unease

After marching from the backbenches to the despatch box he picked up the mace and placed it on an MPs’ bench – he refused requests to end his protest and was ordered out of the Commons and suspended for a week.

The government has long argued, in principle, that it is in favour of the scheme, subject to pollution limits and access concerns.

But there has been deep unease within Labour ranks about the decision, with several cabinet members reported to be unconvinced and more than 50 MPs openly opposed.

At a press conference in Berlin ahead of the Commons statement, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he wanted to “protect the economic future of the country while, at the same time, meeting the very tough environmental conditions we have set ourselves”.

Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers told BBC Radio 4’s Today any government environmental promises would be shown “to not be worth the paper they are written on” and said her party would cancel the project if they win the next general election.

In the Commons she said: “This is a bleak day for our environment and for all those of us who care about safeguarding it.”

The Liberal Democrats also oppose the third runway and have urged ministers to invest in high-speed rail links instead.

Their spokeswoman, Susan Kramer, told the BBC the arguments in favour of expansion were “glib” and south west London would become a “pretty miserable” place to live.

“There’s this conventional wisdom amongst business that you must grow the airport … it just isn’t held up by the reality. Actually Heathrow has been serving fewer destinations over the last ten years.”

The statement to MPs – it is not subject to a vote in the Commons – marks the start of the planning process which would be a lengthy one, even without the opposition and legal challenges expected.

Work on a new runway is unlikely to start until 2015 and it is not expected to be operational for at least a decade.

About 700 homes will have to be demolished to make way for the runway, which will increase the number of flights using Heathrow from about 480,000 a year now to 702,000 by 2030.

‘At risk’

Campaigners have bought some land earmarked for the construction of the runway in an effort to frustrate the expansion plans.

Environmental campaigners say proceeding with the new runway will leave the government’s legal commitment to cut carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 in tatters.

Energy Secretary Ed Miliband told the the plans represented “constrained expansion” with strict rules on air quality and noise.

But Greenpeace director John Sauven said: “If Gordon Brown thinks this is a green runway then he must be colour-blind. This package is designed to patch up a cabinet split and will do very little to reduce the huge environmental impact of an expanded Heathrow, which will now become the single biggest emitter of carbon-dioxide in the country.”

Supporters of the runway say Heathrow is already operating at full capacity and the UK economy will lose business to the rest of Europe if it does not go ahead.

They point out that rival airports such as Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam already have at least four runways and that Heathrow is at risk of falling further behind.

Former Labour MP Lord Soley, campaign director of Future Heathrow, which represents groups in favour of expanding the airport said Heathrow brought jobs and “prosperity” to west London and the Thames Valley that was “at risk”.

The boss of British Airways, Willie Walsh, said he was “very pleased” by the decision and welcomed the fact the scheme would be subject to “very strict environmental conditions”.

Virgin Atlantic’s Paul Charles told BBC Radio 5 Live that if there was no third runway “jobs won’t be created and people will go to Europe instead”.

Richard Lambert, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, said: “This approach to expanding Heathrow’s capacity makes real sense. It will create the integrated transport system necessary for an economy that needs to grow in an environmentally sustainable fashion.”


January 12, 2009

Gaza survivors’ four days without water

Gaza survivors’ four days without water

A Palestinian man carries an injured child into al-Shifa hospital 8 January 2009

The ICRC has accused the Israeli army of failing to evacuate and care for the wounded

Sameh, aged three, and Ahmad, 18 months, cry all the time.

As she sits on the bed in al-Quds hospital in Gaza City, their mother Fatima al-Shamouny, 36, tries to comfort them.

But as she tells their – and her own – story, she sobs too.

The boys were found on Wednesday, with their dead father and unconscious mother nearby, four days after the emergency services said they began trying to reach the neighbourhood.

They were among 30 people Palestinian Red Crescent workers said they evacuated from Zeitoun, a south-eastern suburb of Gaza City, on Wednesday.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said the paramedics found “shocking” scenes of wounded people huddled together in houses among dead bodies, weak after having had no food or water for several days.

Map

In one home, the agency said, four small children were found sitting close to their dead mothers, “too weak to stand on their own”.

It is not clear if Sameh and Ahmad were in that particular house – it may be that the unconscious Fatima was initially thought to be dead – but she says she and her toddlers were among those who had a long wait for help.

Survivors’ accounts

The ICRC has accused the Israeli military of failing to live up to its obligations under international law to facilitate the evacuation or to care for the wounded.

The agency said it had been requesting safe passage for its ambulances to access the neighbourhood since 3 January, but only received permission to do so from the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) four days later.

The details of exactly what happened at the Shamouny family compound are still sketchy.

Survivors have told the News that 26 of the extended family’s 65 members died in Israeli military operations.

We spent days without food, without water – the wounded were bleeding for four days
Wael Faris al-Shamouny

Their accounts of shelling, and then ground troops surrounding their homes, cannot be independently verified.Fatima, who was wounded in the chest, says two of her sons, her husband, her aunt, her uncle and her brother-in-law were all killed.

“One of my sons crawled to our neighbour’s house – he was injured – and he called some of the local radio stations to ask for help. But the help arrived late. Everybody had died,” she said.

“On the third day, I passed out. I don’t know what happened until I found myself here in the hospital,” she said.

Wael Faris al-Shamouny, 39, another member of the extended family, smoked and sipped black coffee as he sat on the floor in the hospital corridor.

He says he lost five sons and his wife, and believes some of the dead may have survived if given medical treatment earlier.

“We tried to help them, but we didn’t have first aid things in our house. We spent days without food, without water – the wounded were bleeding for four days,” he said.

“The ambulances came and they saved who they saved. There are still pieces of my wife, my sons and my cousins’ bodies in the house.”

ICRC criticism

The ICRC said the wounded had to be transported about a kilometre on a hand-pulled donkey cart because large earth walls erected by the Israeli army had made it impossible to bring ambulances into the neighbourhood.

Katarina Ritz, the ICRC’s head of mission in Jerusalem, said experienced Palestinian emergency workers wept at the scenes they were confronted with.

She said Israeli troops were within about 100m of the houses in question, and that the ICRC believes the soldiers “must have been aware” of the presence of the wounded people, because of repeated requests from aid agencies for access.

Under international law, she said, even if there are security concerns meaning the injured cannot be evacuated, “the minimum is to treat these people, to feed these people, give them water, and keep them in a safe place”.

The Israeli military said it was investigating the case. It said it is “engaged in a battle with the Hamas terrorist organisation that has deliberately used Palestinian civilians as human shields”.

And it stressed it works in “close co-operation with international aid organisations during the fighting, so that civilians can be provided with assistance”.

‘Difficult’ co-operation

Earlier in the week, an ICRC spokeswoman told the BBC attempts to co-ordinate safe passage for ambulances were so slow that people were dying as they waited.

Not all ambulance drivers in Gaza have been waiting for co-ordination with the Israeli military, and health officials in Gaza say 10 paramedics have been killed trying to rescue the wounded since the Israeli operation began.

Israeli Defence Ministry Spokesman Peter Lerner said that co-ordinating the movements of ambulances has been “extremely difficult because of heavy gunfire”.

He said that even during the three-hour lull Israel declared to allow humanitarian operations, Hamas militants continued to shoot at Israeli forces.

Outside the hospital, as Fatima Shamouny told her story, dozens of people gathered as Thursday’s ICRC-led convoy of ambulances prepared to leave.

They came with addresses where they believed injured people were trapped.

One man’s hands shook so much with fear that he had to ask for help writing the directions down.

Finally, the convoy received clearance, and drove away.

It was headed back to Zeitoun, where the ICRC said there were reports of more injured people stranded, and another area in northern Gaza, which ICRC workers had not even reached yet.

The minimum is to treat these [injured] people, to feed these people, give them water, and keep them in a safe place
Katarina Ritz
ICRC’s head of mission in Jerusalem

Israeli reservists sent to Gaza

Israeli reservists sent to Gaza

Soldier in APC on Israel-Gaza border

Israel says its military pressure on Hamas is proving effective

Israel has confirmed that reserve units have been sent to the Gaza Strip, as its campaign there enters a 17th day.

But military officials denied this heralded a new phase in Israel’s offensive against Hamas militants.

Earlier, PM Ehud Olmert said Israel was nearing its military goals and operations would go on.

Israel says it carried out 12 overnight airstrikes. One rocket attack was reported from Gaza on Monday morning but there were none overnight.

Previous nights have seen as many as 60 pre-dawn Israeli strikes.

I think we could sum it by saying that it’s been a living hell for the Palestinians
Dr Mads Gilbert


“We’re keeping the military pressure up on Hamas, we think our pressure has been effective and continues to be effective in taking apart their military machine,” he said. The Israeli military said some reservists were being used to refresh troops currently in action in Gaza, but that this did not yet constitute an escalation of the campaign.

Brig Gen Avi Benayahu, Israel’s chief military spokesman, said thousands more – who are to comprise a new, expanded phase in the ground operation – were still in training and had not been deployed.

On Sunday Israel dropped new leaflets into Gaza and left phone messages warning Gazans to stay away from areas used by Hamas, saying its operation would soon enter “phase three”, the Associated Press reported.

In Cairo, talks between Hamas and Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman were described by an unnamed intelligence official as “positive”, the state news agency reported, without providing details.

Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, now Middle East envoy for the Quartet – the US, EU, UN and Russia – is due to meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo on Monday morning.


On Sunday, after an Israeli cabinet meeting in Jerusalem to consider the country’s next move, Mr Olmert praised the military’s “impressive gains” in Gaza and said it was time to “translate our achievements into the goals we have set”.

“Israel is nearing the goals which it set itself, but more patience, determination and effort is still demanded.”

Referring to last week’s UN Security Council call for an immediate ceasefire, Mr Olmert said “nobody should be allowed to decide for us if we are allowed to strike”.

Both Hamas and Israel have rejected the UN resolution.

Civilian patients

In Gaza the main hospital is close to collapse, according to two Norwegian doctors who have been working there during the conflict.

They said patients at al-Shifa hospital are dying because of a lack of specialist doctors and basic medical equipment.

Doctors Mads Gilbert and Erik Fosse said half of their patients were civilians, some of them young children with shrapnel and blast wounds.

They told the BBC that 12 ambulance staff had been killed in shelling, despite their clearly-marked vehicles.

Frequent power cuts mean surgeons are having to perform some operations by torchlight, they said.

“I think we could sum it by saying that it’s been a living hell for the Palestinians,” said Dr Gilbert.

Aid agencies say Gaza’s 1.5 million residents are in urgent need of food and medical aid.

Meanwhile, Israel’s army denied deploying white phosphorus bombs in Gaza, after Palestinian medics said they had treated patients for burns caused by the munitions.

Israel began Operation Cast Lead just weeks before parliamentary elections in the country, as a six-month truce with Hamas unravelled.

A Palestinian boy near a burning car hit by Israeli air strike in the southern Gaza Strip near the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, 11 January 2009
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