Secret negotiations underway

European Jewish Congress reports on Israeli News

Secret negotiations

– Maariv : Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are supposed to be resumed shortly, after secret talks that have been under way between the parties for a while. The initiative is supposed to be regional, under American patronage, and will also include upgrading relations between Israel and Arab and Muslim countries in the region-perhaps even the establishment of relations between Israel and countries with which it currently does not have formal relations. Other countries and elements are linked to the initiative, mainly members of the “axis of moderate countries” in the region.

In the past two months intensive secret talks have been held among Israel, the United States and others, on the one hand, and Sunni Muslim states in the region that are concerned about mounting Iranian influence and the Shiite revolution that is at their doorstep, on the other.

Yoram Turbowicz and Shalom Turjeman, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s two advisers, are currently in Europe, where they met with their American interlocutors in secret. Meanwhile, Saeb Erekat and Yasser Abed Rabbo, two aides to Abu Mazen, are scheduled to leave for Washington either tomorrow or the day after. The parties are making the final preparations for the expected summit meeting in the last week of February with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, PA Chairman Abu Mazen and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. That summit is supposed to be the launching point of negotiations between the two sides, which will be defined as a framework of meetings and reciprocal examination.

Gilad Shalit was held in Hamas university

– Yediot Aharonot : Senior Palestinian sources said yesterday that Gilad Shalit was held up until some three months ago somewhere on the campus of the Islamic University in Gaza City. The sources said that Shalit was transferred to a different hiding place in the middle of October in the wake of disagreements that erupted between Hamas officials and members of the Popular Resistance Committees.

The Islamic University is considered to be Hamas’s most stalwart stronghold in the Gaza Strip. All of the directors, lecturers and students belong to the movement. The university classrooms are used not only for academic purposes, but also for military activity and religious preaching. Palestinian sources described the Islamic University as a “city of refuge” for wanted men, and noted that when Yihye Ayash, the engineer of the suicide bombing attacks in the mid-1990s, fled from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip in 1995, he hid on the Islamic University campus for a number of months. Ayash and other Hamas members enjoyed the fact that no non-Hamas member ever dared to set foot on campus.

Diskin : Do not rush into a military operation in Gaza

– Maariv : “We are witnessing a historic power battle over the future image of Palestinian society, and its results will have ramifications for the State of Israel,” said GSS Director Yuval Diskin at a periodic briefing for journalists.

Diskin said that the major problem in the Palestinian arena is the crumbling of the PA government and of society. “The feeling of insecurity in the Gaza Strip is causing the Palestinians to revert to clan loyalties rather than to an organization or to the Palestinian Authority.” The director of the GSS said that today Hamas is busy building up its military strength-in 2005, five tons of explosives were smuggled into the Gaza Strip, as opposed to 30 tons last year-and with strengthening its charitable and social organizations through which it spreads its ideology and recruits many people.

Commenting on the option of an Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip, Diskin said, “It is important that Israel take into account what will happen on the day after. If the Palestinian Authority collapses and stops providing services to the Palestinian citizen, Israel will need to establish a civil administration. We do not need to rush into an operation tomorrow morning. If we take control over one piece of territory in the Gaza Strip, that does not mean that there will not be Kassam rockets from another area.”

Diskin said that the parameters for such an operation are the pace at which Hamas is building its strength, its level of preparedness, its fight against the Palestinian Authority, and a reasonable governmental alternative that will moderate the fundamentalist forces in the Gaza Strip. “Chaos in the Palestinian Authority will not serve Israel. In the long term, even worse conditions than what we have had up until now could be created. Underneath every low point is an entire stairwell, and in the worst case I think of worldwide jihad, such as what is happening in Iraq.”

Hizbullah bombs

– Yedioth Ahronot : The IDF is concerned over the erosion of one of the only achievements of the war in Lebanon : distancing Hizbullah from the border. Hizbullah has returned to the border area on a low profile, without outposts, and in the past several days, succeeded in planting a group of bombs near Moshav Avivim against IDF patrols along the border. The political echelon was surprised, saying : We never guessed that Hizbullah would start its provocations at such an early stage after the war.Officials of the Northern Command heaved a sigh of relief yesterday after they prevented a terrible disaster. During a routine road check, troops of the Engineering Corps spotted a suspicious object 60 meters north of the security fence, precisely on the Blue Line, the international border. The patrol was being carried out as one of the lessons learned from the war, and took place beyond the security fence, in a salient inside Israeli territory. The explosives, which included five powerful anti-vehicle and anti-personnel bombs, were found near the village of Maroun a-Ras, where several of the toughest battles between Hizbullah and troops of the Egoz commando unit were waged during the last war.

“This was done by a professional Hizbullah cell that took advantage of the stormy weather of the past several days, when it was impossible to observe the area, in order to approach the fence and plant the bombs,” a high-ranking officer in the area said. “If the patrol had not discovered them, it would have been hit. These were sophisticated bombs that were planted precisely at the right distance-but close enough-to harm IDF patrols moving along the security fence.”

French UN troops operating in the area were summoned to the scene, together with troops from the Lebanese army, who began searches. IDF snipers blew up one of the bombs with gunfire from a distance, and three other bombs were burned.

Northern Command sources said the bombs could not be seen from the nearby UNIFIL outpost, but certainly could be seen from the Lebanese army outpost in Maroun a-Ras. The defense minister ordered that UNIFIL be told to increase its alertness and operate near the fence, and today Israel will submit a sharply-worded complaint to the UN secretariat in New York. High-ranking political sources said yesterday that the incident is very worrisome and indicates, earlier than the IDF had expected, that Hizbullah is headed toward escalation. “We knew that they were deploying on the border. We knew that they had gotten back all the rockets that they had before the war. But to start with provocations-we didn’t think that would happen so quickly.” They said it was obvious that the countdown to a Hizbullah attack has begun.

February 6, 2007 | Comments Off on Secret negotiations underway

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