Erdogan gets hero's welcome in Istanbul
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan received a hero's welcome upon his return to Istanbul on Friday following his public spat at the World Economic Forum in Davos with President Shimon Peres over the fighting in Gaza.
Erdogan addresses supporters as they give him a hero's welcome outside Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul.
The Turkish leader was warmly greeted as some 5,000 supporters waving Turkish and Palestinian flags flooded Istanbul's airport when his plane touched down before dawn.
Some outside of the airport gate held banners that applauded his Palestinian stance in Davos. "The conqueror of Davos," one banner read. CNN television said extra buses were put on duty so more people could turn out to welcome him.
In brief comments at the airport, Erdogan said he had been insulted. "My responsibility is to protect the honor of the Turkish nation."
Following their row, Peres spoke on the phone with Erdogan and two leaders agreed not to let the incident affect their relations and that they would continue to cooperate.
The Prime Minister's Office said that Erdogan assured Peres that he wasn't angry with him, but with the organizers of the forum. The PMO denied Turkish media reports that Peres had apologized to Erdogan.
Erdogan leaves the stage in Davos on Thursday.
During the forum, Erdogan had become enraged over being cut off by a panel moderator after listening to an impassioned monologue by Peres defending Operation Cast Lead.
Peres's defense was prompted by harsh criticism leveled at Israel not only by Erdogan, but also by the two other panelists, Arab League head Amr Moussa and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
"You are killing people," Erdogan declared to Peres.
However, a finger-pointing Peres told Erdogan that he would have done the same if rockets had been hitting Istanbul.
"Do you understand the meaning of a situation where hundreds of rockets are falling a day on women and children who cannot sleep quietly, who need to sleep in shelters? What is the matter with you? You don't understand, and I am not prepared for lies."
Peres's comments were met by hearty applause, which apparently irritated the Turkish prime minister.
Erdogan asked the moderator, Washington Post
columnist David Ignatius, to let him speak once more.
"Only a minute," Ignatius replied.
Speaking in Turkish, Erdogan said, "I remember two former prime ministers in your country who said they felt very happy when they were able to enter Palestine on tanks. I find it very sad that people applaud what you said. There have been many people killed. And I think that it is very wrong and it's not humanitarian."
"We can't start the debate again. We just don't have time," Ignatius said.
"Please let me finish," Erdogan said.
However, Ignatius responded, "We really do need to get people to dinner."
The Turkish premier then said, "Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Thank you very much. I don't think I will come back to Davos after this."
The confrontation saw Peres and Erdogan raise their voices - highly unusual at the elite gathering of corporate and world leaders, which is usually marked by learned consensus-seeking and polite dialogue.
The packed audience at the Erdogan and Peres session, which included US President Barack Obama's close adviser Valerie Jarrett, appeared stunned.
Afterward, forum founder Klaus Schwab huddled with Erdogan in a corner of the Congress Center.
"I have known Shimon Peres for many years and I also know Erdogan. I have never seen Shimon Peres so passionate as he was today. I think he felt Israel was being attacked by so many in the international community. He felt isolated," said former Norwegian prime minister Kjell Magne Bondevik.
"I was very sad that Erdogan left. This was an expression of how difficult this situation is," he added.
Moussa, the former Egyptian foreign minister, said Erdogan's actions were understandable.
"Mr. Erdogan said what he wanted to say, and then he left. That's all. He was right," Moussa said.
Of Israel, he said, "They don't listen."
Erdogan brushed past reporters outside the hall. His wife appeared upset.
"All Peres said was a lie. It was unacceptable," she said, eyes glistening.
The unpleasant incident came at a meeting that both Israeli and Turkish diplomatic officials thought could help improve relations between the two countries - relations that have soured considerably due to Erdogan's extremely harsh criticism since the start of Operation Cast Lead.
"Erdogan's actions in Davos show that he doesn't want to miss an opportunity to further harm Turkish-Israeli relations," sources in Jerusalem said in response to the incident. The sources said that Erdogan's behavior on the Davos stage obviously would not help Turkey's attempts to be seen in Europe as a rational and constructive actor on the international stage.
"Israel's strategic relationship with Turkey is important to us, but it is no less important to Turkey," the official said. "Erdogan is harming his own interests."
The official said that Israel was growing increasingly "tired" of Erdogan's tirades, and was unlikely to make any more efforts to "chase after the Turks."
The official dismissed as no longer valid the argument that Erdogan's diatribes - he has called for Israel to be barred from the UN and said its actions were inhumane and would bring it to self-destruction - were the result of domestic considerations, and that he was playing to his strong Islamic base before the Turkish municipal elections in March.
The incident came even as Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan appeared over the last couple of days to be tempering Turkish rhetoric and taking a more conciliatory approach. On Wednesday he called on Hamas to abandon violence.
Hamas hailed Erdogan on Friday for storming off the stage.
"Hamas appreciates the courageous step by the Turkish prime minister, who in Davos, defended the victims of the criminal war of the Zionists against our women and children in Gaza," said Fawzi Barhoum, one of the group's spokesmen in the Strip.
'Iran and Syria trying to replace PLO'
The Palestinian Authority on Thursday accused Iran and Syria of encouraging Hamas and other radical groups to establish a new leadership that would challenge the PLO's claim to be the "sole and legitimate" representative of the Palestinians.
Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Syria.
The PA is an organ of the PLO.
The PA fears that the potential new leadership, which would be headed by Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal, would be recognized by several Islamic governments that are unhappy with President Mahmoud Abbas.
The PA is also worried because the idea of replacing the PLO is being backed by prominent Arab political analysts, newspaper editors and even veteran Fatah leader Farouk Kaddoumi.
Abbas, who met with US Middle East envoy George Mitchel in Ramallah, warned that any attempt to create an alternative leadership to the PLO would "consolidate divisions" among the Palestinians.
Mashaal on Wednesday surprised the PA by announcing that the current circumstances require the Palestinians to start thinking about the creation of a new leadership that would represent all Palestinians.
The PLO was no longer the legitimate representative of the Palestinians "because of its role in deepening divisions among the Palestinians," he said.
His declaration has won the backing of all the Damascus-based Palestinian groups, including Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command headed by Ahmed Jibril.
Mashaal's statement has been interpreted by PA and Fatah officials in the West Bank as "the most serious challenge to the PLO since its founding."
During the meeting in Ramallah, Abbas told Mitchell he was very worried about the role of Iran and Syria in the Fatah-Hamas conflict. Abbas said that he was keen on achieving "national unity" with Hamas and the other Palestinian groups.
Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat said Abbas also briefed Mitchell about Israel's settlement construction and its policy of "creating new facts on the ground" in the West Bank.
Ahmed Abdel Rahman, a senior Fatah official closely associated with Abbas, accused the Iranians and Syrians of meddling in Palestinian affairs. "This is cheap meddling in our affairs," he said. "They are inciting some sick people like Khaled Mashaal to reject national reconciliation and to go ahead with their plans to form an alternative leadership. But these attempts are doomed to failure."
Another PA official said the Iranians and Syrians were now openly "conspiring" to undermine the PA leadership.
"They are seeking to take advantage of the increased sympathy for Hamas on the Arab street following the Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip," the official said. "We see this as a declaration of war on the legitimate representatives of the Palestinians."
Hussein a-Sheikh, a senior Fatah operative in the West Bank, called for organizing protests against Mashaal's comments.
"This is an Iranian-Syrian plot against the PLO," he said. "We will do our utmost to thwart it."
Another senior Fatah official, Ziad Abu Ein, said Damascus and Teheran were seeking to "destroy" the Palestinian cause and to solidify divisions among the Palestinians.
The PA believes that Qatar is also behind the call to establish a new Palestinian leadership. A PA official said the Qatari-owned Al-Jazeera network had long served as a platform for Mashaal and Hamas. He also claimed that the station had been "inciting" against Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas by depicting them as traitors.
A Fatah leaflet distributed in Nablus on Thursday lashed out at former MK Azmi Bishara for supporting the idea, alleging he fled Israel because of his involvement in financial corruption. The leaflet condemned all those who support Hamas as "mercenaries" working for Iran, Syria and Qatar.
Three previous attempts to establish an alternative leadership to the PLO failed - largely because of the refusal of the majority of Arab and Islamic countries to recognize the new bodies.
The first attempt occurred in 1976, when then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein encouraged a group of Palestinian officials to form the Palestinian Rejection Front.
The second attempt was in 1983, when dissident Fatah officers Abu Musa Maragha and Abu Khaled al-Amleh, backed by Syria, established the Palestinian Salvation Front. The third attempt took place a few years ago when Hamas and other Damascus-based Palestinian groups established the Front of the Ten Palestinian Factions.
Intelligence Agencies Thwart Attack
CBNNews.com January 29, 2009
- JERUSALEM, Israel - Israel's Channel 2 reported Wednesday evening that Israeli Intelligence agencies thwarted a major attack by Hezbollah terrorists in Europe.
According to the report, Israeli agents worked in tandem with intelligence agencies in the unnamed country where the terror attack was foiled.
Last week, Defense Minister Ehud Barak put Israeli security services on heightened alert as the one-year anniversary of the death of Imad Mughniyeh approaches.
Mughniyeh, one of the most senior members of the Lebanese-based Hezbollah terror group, was killed by a bomb planted in his car in an upscale residential neighborhood in Damascus on February 12.
Hezbollah blamed Israel for his assassination, threatening to carry out revenge attacks against Jews in Israel and abroad.
"The Zionists will discover that the war they had in July  was a walk in the park if we compare it to what we've prepared for every new aggression," Hezbollah spiritual leader Sheikh Hasan Nasrallah warned, London's The Times
DEBKAfile's military and intelligence sources report that the aid ship Iran Shahed , which the Israel embargo of the Gaza Strip forced to stay 42 km from the coast, took delivery Monday, Jan. 26 of sophisticated communications equipment from Cyprus for maintaining contact with Hamas leaders who remain in hiding. It came with a group of maintenance engineers.
The Iran Shahed set out from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas Dec. 29, the second day of the Gaza conflict, as a Red Crescent aid ship loaded with humanitarian and medical supplies for the Palestinian population.
On Jan. 13, when it reached a point 30 km from the shores of Gaza, the aid ship was surrounded by Israeli missile ships and ordered to leave the 40km zone blockaded by Israel at the outset of its Gaza operation. This was Day 18. When the captain failed to respond, a missile boat escorted it none too gently into international water.
Tehran has meanwhile airlifted to its embassy in Nicosia a group of military men in civvies, including intelligence and Revolutionary Guards officers, who are setting up a military ground staff base to support the ship's operations for Hamas. They have also hired Cypriot craft to shuttle between Cyprus and the "aid ship."
Western naval intelligence sources say the vessel has been converted into a floating logistical headquarters for the Hamas leadership, with Hamas frogmen using fishing boats to keep them connected. They believe the converted ship is the first link in a protective belt the Iranians are throwing around the Hamas leadership in Gaza.
Last week, Tehran asked Cairo for permission to fly a group of 20 journalists and photographers to Cairo on their way to the Gaza Strip to report on the situation there. Our sources report that five members of the group were bone fides press people, the rest Iranian undercover agents for attachment to Hamas' Gaza command. Cairo withheld permission.
Gazans get aid, blame Hamas for situation
Hamas members hand out aid to homeless Gazans, along with victory speech, claiming 'Israeli military machine defeated', promise to rebuild homes; some residents skeptical. Meanwhile, Minister Herzog tells US Mideast envoy crossings must not be opened
|A Hamas cabinet minister carried a carton stuffed with checks worth nearly $2 million into a Gaza tent camp pitched on the ruins of the Salam neighborhood, close to the Israeli border. But before hundreds of homeless residents could collect, they had to listen to a political speech. Social Affairs Minister Ahmed al-Kurd told them Israel's military machine was defeated and that the Hamas government would rebuild their neighborhood bigger and better.
"There's a lot of talk," resident Zayed Khader, 45, said after the speech, as he waited for his name to be called so he could pick up relief checks worth a total of $6,000 for his family of nine. "When I see them actually building my house, I'll say these are good words."
Tent camp in Jabaliya (Photo: Reuters)
Khader watched Thursday's bustle, of cabinet ministers, bodyguards and aid deliveries, with disdain. He said he has told visiting Hamas politicians that the civilians are the losers and that they oppose continued rocket fire on Israel - the attacks that triggered the war.
"It's all hot air," he said of the officials' promises. "What do they care if my house is bombed?"
Jumma Dardona, whose nearby three-story family house has been rendered uninhabitable, fears he'll live in a tent for a long time. "No one knows the accurate period," said Dardona, 34, as he cut firewood behind the last row of tents, his 6-year-old son Mohammed by his side.
Dardona and several others in Salam said they want Hamas and Abbas' Fatah movement to put aside their rivalries. They say the infighting is one of the main reasons for the misery of Gaza civilians. "As long as they fight, I feel I am lost," said Dardona, who served as a policeman before the Hamas takeover.
Meanwhile, the power struggle between Hamas and Fatah on reconstruction in the Strip continues. Despite Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's statements that all contributions and aid was welcome, Hamas suspect the international community's goal is to get Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' foot back in Gaza in this manner.
Ruins of Beit Lahiya school (Photo: AP)
In recent days, UNRWA expanded food aid, with some 900,000 Gazans now getting rations of flour, oil and sugar. On Thursday, each of 200,000 students in UN schools received about $25.
John Ging the top UN aid official in the territory told reporters this week, "The ordinary people here in Gaza are not getting enough help and are not getting it quickly enough."
Israel said UN trucks are given priority at crossings into Gaza and denied aid was getting stuck. "
"There are thousands of tons of assistance generously donated, sitting in Egypt, Jordan and also in the ports in Israel," Ging said. "That aid should be right here, right now, helping the people who need it."
Meanwhile, US Mideast Envoy George Mitchell on Friday met with Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog, who is responsible for the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.
Herzog told Mitchell that some 200 aid trucks enter Gaza every day.
"Now the international community's test is to refrain from demanding the opening of the crossings, which would aid Hamas," Herzog said, "The opening of the crossings should be done only in exchange for (kidnapped soldier) Gilad Shalit. In the humanitarian aspect the Palestinian consumption is reaches its maximum capacity."
Mitchell stressed to Herzog the need to continue isolating Hamas.
Roni Sofer contributed to this report
New rules of play
Strategic importance of Gaza operation much greater than we assume
|Operation Cast Lead was not a war pitting equal forces against each other and was not beyond the scope of many past Israeli operations. However, I believe that its strategic importance is much greater than we assume, and that this is a milestone that would be etched in the historic memory of the Middle East for many years. This is not necessarily because of the narrow military aspect, even though the military achievements are clear. First, the IDF restored its deterrence vis-à-vis Hamas. This holds great significance to the deterrence vis-à-vis other Mideastern players, mostly Hizbullah in the north and the Iran-Syria axis. Even the Second Lebanon War, which was managed in a flawed manner, looks different today in light of the capabilities showcased by the IDF in the latest operation. As opposed to common perceptions, the IDF showed that it possesses the means, combat doctrine, and required determination for fighting in a crowded urban area while ensuring minimal casualties among our forces.
Secondly, Hamas’ rocket fire ended unconditionally. It is of course possible that Hamas leaders, who are only now digesting the disaster they brought upon themselves and their people, will recover eventually and go back to their old ways. Yet then they will have to take into account the fact that the IDF could again strike at them whenever it wishes to do so, and it is doubtful whether the Gaza population would allow them to prompt another similar blow against it.
Thirdly, and most importantly, the asymmetrical rules of the game that Israel appeared to accept in recent years had been broken. Previously, it appeared as though the weak side (Hamas, Hizbullah) could attack Israeli citizens uninterruptedly, while Israel hesitates in utilizing its substantial military power (airplanes, tanks, and guided missiles) for fear of hurting civilians on the other side. Yet the recent operation showed that even mosques used by terror groups are no longer an obstacle in the face of Israel using its military power.
The attack on the Kissufim Road earlier this week is also related to the new rules of play. Hamas was forced to stop the rocket fire and attacks on civilians, yet it is trying to show that attacking soldiers is allowed. We must not agree to this, of course, and we have the power to enforce the rules of play that are desired by us, which shall also include a ban on Hamas activity in the Strip within a few hundred meters of the border fence.
Meanwhile, the operation’s diplomatic achievements are significant and no less important than the military ones.
The first diplomatic achievement is the destabilization of Iran’s position in the Mideast in the wake of the blow sustained by its protégé in Gaza. Moreover, most of the Arab world crossed the lines and stood by Egypt vis-à-vis Hamas. This closer step to Israel and the recognition of the common interest against Iran and its emissaries holds immense strategic importance.
The second achievement is the unequivocal support offered by Western leaders to the Israeli position regarding the prevention of Hamas’ military buildup in Gaza. Understandings and agreements on curbing the smuggling have been signed and secured vis-à-vis the US and most western European states.
The third achievement is ending the war without Israel recognizing Hamas – not even indirectly.
All of the above puts Hamas’ leadership at a crossroads. It discovered that it cannot simultaneously raise the banners of sovereignty and resistance. It is for good reason that there is no precedent for this anywhere in the world. It will have to decide what is more important: Being the sovereign in an Islamic state, or enjoying the benefits of being a terror movement.
For the time being, it appears that the path of resistance has failed, big time.
Turkish PM walks off stage over Gaza
At Economic Forum in Davos, Erdogan tells Peres 'you are killing people'; Israeli president responds: You would do the same if rockets would fall on Istanbul
|Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan walked off the stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, red-faced after verbally sparring with Israeli President Shimon Peres over the fighting in Gaza.
Erdogan was angry after being cut off by a panel moderator after listening to an impassioned monologue by Peres defending Israel's recent offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Erdogan declared to Peres: "You are killing people." A finger-pointing Peres told Erdogan at Thursday's panel that he would have done the same if rockets had been falling on Istanbul.
The confrontation saw Peres and Ergodan raise their voice shouting, highly unusual at the elite gathering of corporate and world leaders, which is usually marked by learned consensus seeking and polite dialogue. It showed how emotions remain frayed over Israel's offensive against Hamas that ended less than two weeks ago.
The packed audience at the Ergodan and Peres session, which included President Obama's close adviser Valerie Jarrett, appeared stunned.
Afterward, forum founder Klaus Schwab huddled with Erdogan in a corner of the Congress Center. A press conference with both men was scheduled for 8:30 pm (1930 GMT)
"I have known Shimon Peres for many years and I also know Erdogan. I have never seen Shimon Peres so passionate as he was today. I think he felt Israel was being attacked by so many in the international community. He felt isolated," said former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik said.
"I was very sad that Ergodan left. This was an expression of how difficult this situation is."
Amr Moussa, the former Egyptian foreign minister who now leads the Arab League, said Ergodan's action was understandable. "Mr. Ergodan said what he wanted to say and then he left. That's all. He was right." Of Israel, he said, "They don't listen."
Ergodan brushed past reporters outside the hall. His wife appeared upset. "All Peres said was a lie. It was unacceptable," she said, eyes glistening.
Earlier Thursday Peres met Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and asked him to help prevent arms trafficking from Iran to Gaza.
Peres said that "Israel has learned from Russia that there are some measures a country must resort to when it has no other choice. This was the case in Gaza; it was not out of choice that we launched (the offensive), but out of necessity.
"We had to stop the incessant cycle of terror that harmed Israel's women and children; but nevertheless, Israel wants peace," the president said.
AP and Ali Waked