Sunday, July 1, 2007

Weekend News Wrapup- 7/1/07

A Summary of Interesting Stories throughout the Middle East

Israel & the Palestinian Territories
ISRAEL has transferred $118 million to the new Palestinian government. These custom duties have been collected by Israel on behalf the Palestinian Authority ["PA"] under a 1990 agreement. Following the 2006 Palestinian election where Hamas won the majority of parliament seats & formed the government, Israel has refused to transfer the funds for fear that they may be used for terrorist attacks. But now that Hamas is no longer part of the official Palestinian government, Israel has agreed to release the funds in installments.

FORMER Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak--who is currently the defense minister, head of the Labor party, and prospective candidate for the prime ministership--has announced that he will pull Labor out of the government if current Prime Minister Ehud Olmert does not resign by September or October. The Winograd committee, set up to review Israel's performance against Hezbollah in the 2006, is expected to come out with its final report at that time. The preliminary report that was released earlier this year pinned much of the blame on Olmert for poorly planning, executing, and reviewing war strategies. If Barak pulls Labor out of the government, Olmert will either have to find new coalition partners to maintain a majority in the Knesset [parliament], or call new elections, in which case his Kadima party will likely lose many--if not most--of its Knesset seats.

HAMAS stated Saturday that it would attack international peace-keeping forces if they enter the Gaza Strip. Hamas, which defeated PA President Mahmoud Abbas' security & militia forces in a bloody coup three weeks ago, now has effective control over all of the Gaza Strip. The organization's recent statements were in reaction to Abbas' proposal that international forces enter Gaza to ensure a stable environment for elections and reunification with the West Bank.

EGYPT has stated that it will resume efforts to negotiate a deal between Israel and Hamas that would lead to the release of Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit. Hamas and other terrorist groups kidnapped Shalit in a cross-border raid a year ago. Egypt, which has served as a mediator between Hamas and Israel, ended all efforts when Hamas took over Gaza three weeks ago. Hamas has demanded the release of hundred of Palestinians in Israeli jails, many of whom have been convicted of murdering civilians in terrorist attacks.

LEBANESE soldiers killed four Palestinians and wounded 30 during a protest demonstration, in response to Palestinian throwing stones at the soldiers. The Palestinians demanded to return to their homes in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, where many have lived since Israel's 1948-49 War of Independence. The Palestinians had fled the camp when Islamist extremists used the area as a base to carry out terrorist bombings, which led to the Lebanese army laying siege to the camp a month and a half ago. Since there are still terrorists believed to be holed up in Nahr al-Bared, the Lebanese army has refused to let civilians back in.

VENEZUELAN President Hugo Chavez reiterated his support for Iran's nuclear program as he met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Sunday. Iran is widely believed to be working on a nuclear weapons' program, though officials have insisted that the technology is only for peaceful civilian purposes. Fear of what Iran might do with a nuclear weapon was intensified last year when Ahmadinejad promised to wipe Israel off the map. Chavez appeared in Tehran, described Ahmadinejad as his "ideological brother" and promised to help Iran in its fight against international "imperialism."