x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Another Hamas-Israeli truce in the making?

As Israeli leaders threaten to topple the Gaza government, Hamas observes a 24-hour ceasefire with Israel at the request of Egyptian mediators who are making efforts to restore a longer truce. Washington says it could send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan but the Taliban claims the US is heading down the same path as the Soviet Union. A parliamentary row in Iraq delays a vote on whether non-American foreign troops can remain. Global car industry suffering from plunging sales.

Even as Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert warned his cabinet and opposition leaders to avoid making "bold statements" about launching major military operations in Gaza, the foreign minister Tzipi Livni and the Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu both vowed that if elected as Israel's next prime minister they would topple the Hamas government, the BBC said.

Mahmoud Zahar, a top Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip was not impressed by the threats. During an interview with a Nazareth radio station he said: "For three years we've been hearing comments about an Israeli invasion into the Gaza Strip. Israel is like a teenager who begins to smoke, chokes, then stops." Quoted by The Jerusalem Post he said: "If they want to [invade] - by all means."

In The Christian Science Monitor, Joshua Mitnick wrote: "For all the bravado, the recent conflict is as much about domestic muscle flexing as it is about the balance of power between the Jewish state and Hamas, which has controlled the coastal strip since June [2007], say both Israeli and Palestinian experts.

"With Israel's parliamentary election campaign heating up and the Palestinians headed toward a new deterioration in Hamas-Fatah relations over Palestinian presidential polls, the conflict is being complicated by twin domestic political struggles." In an indication that political rhetoric will not necessarily be allowed to stand in the way of diplomacy, Ms Livni accepted an invitation from Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak to attend talks in Cairo on Thursday.

For its part, Hamas has enlisted Turkish support in an effort to restore the ceasefire, Reuters reported.

The syndicated Middle East commentator, Patrick Seale, wrote in Middle East Online: "To win international support, Hamas needs to re-state publicly the message it gave last April to former US President Jimmy Carter, and more recently to Yves Aubin de La Messuzière, a former senior French diplomat.

This message was that Hamas no longer adhered to its 1987 charter, which called for the destruction of Israel, but would support the creation of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders - provided this solution was approved by the Palestinian people in a referendum.

"Such a statement - if repeated with sufficient clarity and authority - would put Hamas in line with the international consensus and open the door for a dialogue with the European Union, if not yet with the United States. "If Israel, in turn, wants peace, it will need to recognize that Hamas is an unavoidable part of the Palestinian equation and cannot be excluded."

Meanwhile, as the siege continues, Sara Roy, writing in the London Review of Books asks: "How can keeping food and medicine from the people of Gaza protect the people of Israel? How can the impoverishment and suffering of Gaza's children - more than 50 per cent of the population - benefit anyone? International law as well as human decency demands their protection. If Gaza falls, the West Bank will be next."

The announcement that Washington could send as many as 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan over the next six months drew taunts from a Taliban spokesman.

Yousuf Ahmadi, claiming to represent the fugitive leader Mullah Omar, told The Daily Telegraph: "Russians also sent that many troops but were badly defeated. "When the US increases its troop levels to that of the Russians, they will also be cruelly defeated."

He added: "More troops - that means there will be more targets for the Taliban." While Britain has contingency plans to send up to 3,000 more troops next summer, in a parliamentary statement the British prime minister, Gordon Brown, only committed to an additional 300.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, the Nato commander, General John Craddock, said: "I don't think 300 more, if you are talking about Helmand province, will do the trick. We've got to hold down there until we've got some Afghan street forces who can take over."

The report said: "Brown's decision to pull out of southern Iraq - leaving US troops to fill the gap - and his reluctance to commit to sending a substantial number of extra troops to Afghanistan have rung alarm bells in Washington.

"US defence chiefs are concerned that Brown would rather pander to war fatigue back home than provide the long-term forces necessary for the new anti-Taliban surge. They fear the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan could soon make the war there as unpopular with the British as the conflict in Iraq."

"The Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament today suspended moves to approve a contentious resolution that would allow British and other non-American troops to remain in the country," The Times reported.

"Mahmoud al-Mashhadani called for a delay in voting after a group of MPs demanded his resignation for insulting them during a recent parliamentary shouting match over the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President Bush. "The lawmakers said they were boycotting today's session until their demands were met. "The speaker threatened to resign last week after he failed to bring under control an unruly debate over the shoe-throwing incident.

Last Wednesday the first reading of the resolution failed in the aftermath of Muntathar al-Zaidi's 'attack' on the American President." The Associated Press reported that Mr Zaidi did not regret what he had done and that he was forced to write a letter of apology after being tortured in jail, according to his brother.

The Guardian said: "The investigating judge in the case said last week that Zaidi, who will stand trial on 31 December, was beaten around the face and eyes. Zaidi's brother, Uday, said the journalist suffered worse injuries, including a missing tooth and cigarette burns to his ears, and would sue."

The Sunday Times described one of the events that had incensed the Iraqi journalist. In May, he covered a story about an American soldier who used a copy of the Quran for target practice, according to his family.

"It is just a matter of time before all major automakers are losing money," an auto analyst in Tokyo for Credit Suisse Securities, Koji Endo, told The New York Times after Toyota announced on Monday that it expected to make its first operating loss in 70 years. The world's largest car manufacturer expects to make a loss of 150 billion yen in contrast to last year's profit of 2.3 trillion yen.

Toyota's financial difficulties provide yet more evidence that decoupling - the idea that the emerging economic power houses could prosper even while the US economy faltered - is a myth.

"Toyota, which just a few months ago seemed unstoppable after eight years of record profits, said it suffered from plunging vehicle sales not only in North America but also in once-promising markets like India and China, which many had hoped would prove immune to the United States malaise," The New York Times noted.

The struggling US car makers, General Motors and Chrysler, received a last minute reprieve in the form of a $17.4 billion emergency loan from the Bush administration and in addition the two manufacturers will receive loans of four billion Canadian dollars from the governments of Canada and its Ontario province.

"Without proportional assistance from Canada, the companies would have begun winding up operations here and repatriating jobs to the US. That would have started a domino effect that could have toppled Ford's Canadian operations, the auto parts sector, and even the Japanese-owned auto plants in Ontario.

In all, close to 600,000 jobs were at risk, according to a report released last week," an editorial in the Toronto Star said. As The New York Times pointed out, the Canadian car industry forms a larger share of Canada's manufacturing economy than its parent companies do for that of the United States.