Saturday, 3 November 2007

Around the Middle East - November 2nd

A look at the top stories making headlines on Nov. 2

With so much happening in the region this Friday, its difficult to decide which events have the most significance.

Perhaps the least anticipated event was a surprise meeting in Ramallah between officials from Hamas and Palestinian Authority Chief Mahmoud Abbas.

This was the first meeting between the two sides since Hamas ousted Fatah forces and took control of the Gaza Strip in June following the failure of the Palestinian Authority to form a unity government acceptable to Israel.

Original article published on Ohmynews International

A Fatah spokesman said the meeting was a good indicator for future dialogue, but Hamas officials back in Gaza were less optimistic. They said the talks that took place after Friday prayers did not mean the relationship is back to normal. As a condition for further dialogue they demanded that Abbas stop his frequent meetings with Israeli officials.

Hamas sees both Israel and the United States as their arch enemy, and hold them responsible for the dire humanitarian crisis unfolding in the coastal strip. The United States and Israel both rejected the sweeping victory of Hamas in January 2006 elections, and refused to recognize the unity government eventually formed in March the following year. .

For their part, Fatah says Hamas must hand over control of Gaza back to the authority of President Abbas.

Analysts say there appears to a will among certain factions in Hamas to mend fences with Fatah, but the tit-for-tat demands and preconditions each side is imposing may be mutually unacceptable, at least for now.

Meanwhile, the United Nations relief and development agency for Palestinian refugees has warned of a humanitarian crisis if Israel maintains its draconian economic stranglehold on the Gaza Strip.

The UNRWA, among other things, has called for an urgent resumption in fuel supplies to Gaza. They have also expressed grave concern over the closing of the Sufa crossing into the Strip. They say this has reduced by some 60 percent the amount of humanitarian goods getting into the impoverished and isolated region. Israel has virtually put the Gaza Strip under siege in its efforts to remove the democratically elected government of Hamas from power.

Moving to London, and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany have decided to consider a third round of sanctions against Iran. But under pressure from Russia and China, they've agreed to wait until after the International Atomic Energy Agency makes its mid-November report on Iranian cooperation and transparency.

The five plus one will meet again on Nov. 19 to determine if Tehran is coming clean on its nuclear program.

Iran's ambassador to the IAEA is optimistic the group will find no grounds on which to base further sanctions. Ali Asghar Soltanieh said. "We have accepted a promise, and encourage others to appreciate this new environment of cooperation."

In the meantime, IAEA secretary general Mohammed ElBaradei has made another appeal to Washington to ease off on its harsh rhetoric and threats of military action against Iran. ElBaradei said there is no reason to speak about force and warned Washington against "taking the law into its own hands."

The secretary general said there is no concrete evidence to prove Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon capability. "I do not believe that at this time we are facing a clear and present danger that requires that we go beyond diplomacy," he said.

He said a military option is not the solution and Iran needs to be assured it will not be attacked, put under further sanctions, or deprived of its rights to nuclear energy.

The Bush White House has made no secret of its desire for regime change in Iran, and analysts say the administration has simply been looking for an excuse to use the military option against Tehran.

Besides accusations that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons, Washington has repeatedly accused Tehran of supporting insurgent groups in Iraq with cash, weapons and other materials. Iran has strenuously denied the charges. Observers say if the United States could tie Iran directly to an incident that led to the deaths of American soldiers, then they would have the excuse they need for a military strike.

But claims that Iran is arming insurgents appear to be unfounded after British military officials say they have found no proof that Iran is sending arms into Iraq..

A spokesman said British troops conduct hundreds of border surveillance operations every day in southern Iraq. He said during this time there has not been any seizure of lethal aid from Iran.

And finally, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice received a frosty reception in Turkey where she held tough rounds of talks with President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Rice is in Ankara to dissuade Turkey from attacking the Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK, in northern Iraq. For the first time Rice described the PKK as a common enemy of Turkey and the United States, but called on Ankara to show restraint as up to 100,000 troops mass along the Turkish-Iraqi border waiting for the order to make their assault.

Turkey has accused Washington of doing almost nothing to crack down on the PKK who launch regular attacks on Turkish soil.

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