On Thursday night in Israel, terrorist attacks flared up once again, with rocket and mortars continuing to be launched from the Gaza Strip at southern Israel, forcing some 1 million civilians into bomb shelters. As the rockets mortars rained down across Israel’s southern skies, they managed to cause damage to the Erez Crossing, The only crossing used by people traveling between Gaza and Israel.
With Hamas committed to the destruction of Israel, one would normally assume the victims of their terrorist attacks are always Israelis. After all, they are firing into southern Israel, right?
Unfortunately, during the recent attack, a Palestinian family was caught in the crossfire on their way back to Gaza from Israel. Three Palestinian women and their children had come to Israel to receive medical treatment. Whether during periods of calm or not, it is quite common for Gazans to seek medical treatment in Israel, as the Hamas-run enclave spends more time crafting missiles than training doctors.
The mortar attack on the Erez Crossing happened at the very same time the Palestinian family was attempting to return to Gaza. With the Erez Crossing suffering serious damage to its electrical system from the attacks, Israelis monitoring the crossing risked their lives to bring the Palestinians back to a safe location. Here, they were given food, water and medical care.
Despite an onslaught of terrorist attacks and rocket fire over the last week, it has not stopped Israel from maintaining the border crossings, which are used for the movements of not only Palestinians but to bring in goods and supplies, which arrive by the thousands of tons per day.
Since Thursday’s terrorist attack which left 8 Israelis dead and scores more wounded, Israel has responded swiftly to hold those responsible to justice. Even while Israel continues to be pounded by over 100 rockets launched from Gaza, the Israeli government approved the transfer of humanitarian goods and aid to enter Gaza.
The Erez Crossing, despite being hit by 2 rockets, remained open to allow 100 Palestinians living in Gaza to enter Israel to receive medical treatment. At the Kerem Shalom crossing, 80 truckloads entered Gaza over the weekend, totaling 2,554 tons of goods, and 46 tons of cooking gas.
Here’s the breakdown:
13 truckloads of Fruits and Vegetables.
5 truckloads of Meat and Fish.
3 truckloads of Dairy Products
23 truckloads of Mixed Grain for animals feed.
9 truckloads of mixed food.
UNRWA transferred 21 truckloads of construction materials and 6 truckloads of flour.
With recent events shining an international spotlight on the situation in Gaza, the Middle East Quartet (United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia), released a statement noting that efforts “have improved conditions over the last year, including a marked increase in the range and scope of goods and materials moving into Gaza, an increase in international project activity, and the facilitation of some exports.” Last week alone, 1,236 truckloads totaling over 29,556 tons of goods were unloaded at the land crossings into the Gaza Strip and transferred to Palestinian and international organizations for distribution. This is in addition to Egypt’s reopening of the Rafah border crossing. The Quartet commended “the recent approval by Israel of materials for new homes and schools to be constructed by UNRWA.”
The statement continued saying:
“The Quartet recognizes that Israel has legitimate security concerns that must continue to be safeguarded. Members of the Quartet are committed to working with Israel, Egypt and the international community to prevent the illicit trafficking of arms and ammunition into Gaza and believe efforts to maintain security while enabling movement and access for Palestinian people and goods are critical. In this context, the Quartet strongly urges all those wishing to deliver goods to the people of Gaza to do so through established channels so that their cargo can be inspected and transferred via established land crossings. The Quartet regrets the injury and deaths caused by the 2010 flotilla, urges restraint and calls on all Governments concerned to use their influence to discourage additional flotillas, which risk the safety of their participants and carry the potential for escalation.”
The Quartet also called for an end to “the deplorable five-year detention of Gilad Shalit.”
The Government of Israel has offered aid to the Japanese government after the 8.9 magnitude earthquake that hit Japan on March 10th, followed by tsunamis across the Pacific Ocean.
Widespread death and destruction was caused by the earthquake and tsunamis. According to Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, the “enormously powerful” earthquake caused “tremendous damage over a wide area.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman immediately directed Israel’s ambassador in Tokyo, Nissim Ben- Sheetrit, to offer any aid to the Japanese government that it may need in dealing with the tragedy.
In addition, Ben-Sheetrit said that the embassy was trying to make contact with Israelis known to be in the country and who remain unaccounted for.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, together with Quartet Representative Tony Blair, announced Friday a series of steps that Israel will take to enhance stability and advance economic prosperity with the Palestinian Authority, ultimately contributing to peace and security in the region. The broad framework of Israel’s plan includes:
Steps to advance the economic growth in the Palestinian areas
Steps to make Gaza independent of Israeli infrastructure
Steps to diversify gas supplies and develop additional energy sources in the future
The concrete measures Israel plans to take include:
An extension of Palestinian Authority security presence in Area B on the West Bank – with seven towns approved in principle.
An agreement to fast-track the construction or reconstruction of schools and health clinics in Area C on the basis of plans submitted by the Palestinian Authority and the Quartet Office.
Granting West Bank identification cards to 5,000 Gaza-registered residents of the West Bank.
An agreement to quickly resolve outstanding revenue collection issues between the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority Finance Ministries.
An agreement to revive discussions on the “Gaza Marine” gas field project, with approval in principle to supply Palestinian offshore gas to Gaza power plants and the approval of a new power station in Gaza.
An agreement to establish mobile desalination plants to meet Gaza’s needs for clean water, and the approval in principle for a permanent desalination plant.
Approval for all the sanitation and water treatment plants necessary for Gaza. The Government of Israel agreed to facilitate and support the entry of construction materials to enable projects to be completed on schedule.
An agreement on further measures to promote Gaza exports, especially in furniture, textiles, and agriculture. In February, the Israeli Government will transfer 40,000 tons of aggregates into Gaza.
Future approval of another 20 named construction projects. The aim is to begin a pilot project for private sector construction materials by April 1, 2011.
Israel has agreed to encourage the implementation of all projects that abide by municipal regulations that will improve infrastructure in East Jerusalem for Palestinians, particularly in housing, with two projects already approved.
Always a time for planting in Israel, the ancient Jewish New Year for the Trees or Tu B’Shvat – this year, corresponding to the 20th of January – will serve as a symbolic start to bringing the devastated Carmel forest back to life after the early December fire that led to 44 deaths and destroyed about five million trees along with many plants and creatures.
It will take massive manpower and money to restore the nature reserve, fix damaged buildings and infrastructure, and care for residents traumatized or left homeless by the blaze. Many government ministries are working together with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and Keren Kayemeth LeYisrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) to rehabilitate the forest and prevent future disasters.
The Carmel Forest blankets the coastal Carmel mountain range, the only Israeli biosphere reserve designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Druze towns and cities are nestled in and around its 80 square miles, including the port city of Haifa on its northern slope. continue reading…
Following the devastating forest fire which broke out in the Carmel, Israel’s friends in the international community have provided an amount of aid on a scale unprecedented in the history of the State of Israel. The overwhelming response has come from allies as close as Jordan and Turkey and as far as Russia and Azerbaijan. This is one of the moments in Israel’s history that we will never forget. The legacy of the Carmel fire, in addition to the tragic loss of life and the destruction of five million trees in Israel’s most beautiful oasis, is now about the generosity and goodwill of Israel’s friends around the world.
Plane dropping fire retardant over the fire on Mount Carmel
Israeli diplomatic missions in capitals around the world are continuing in their efforts to accelerate international assistance to enable the country to cope with the disaster. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has established a situation room with representatives from the Israel Air Force, the National Emergency Authority, the firefighting services and other agencies.
The following is the current situation according to the data received in the MFA’s situation room:
Twenty one aircraft and helicopters have arrived in Israel. Of these, thirteen are actively engaged in extinguishing the blaze.
One of the most important contributions from Israel’s allies was the Boeing Evergreen 747 forest-fighting plane sent over by the United States. The Evergreen, the largest fire-fighting plane in the world, has a capacity of 24,000 gallons (94,850 liters) which was filled with water and fire retardant. On Sunday, the American plane made two passes, and was instrumental in helping stop the blaze.
In a ten-minute telephone call, U.S. President Barack Obama told Prime Minister Netanyahu that the United States would continue helping in any and every way until the last fire is out.
Breakdown by country:
Greece: 4 aircraft and an additional Hercules plane for equipment and cargo.
Cypress: 2 aircraft, 1 plane and 1 helicopter
Great Britain: 2 helicopters
Turkey: 2 planes
Russia: 4 planes, including 1 B-20, 1 YAK which brought in 10 experts and two Ilyushin-67s.
France: 1 cargo plane
Italy: 1 cargo plane
Bulgaria: Approximately 100 firefighters
Jordan: 3 firefighting vehicles and fire prevention materials
An additional thirteen planes landed in Israel last night, Saturday December 4th, 2010:
The United States: 2 Hercules planes originating from the US Air Force base in Germany, expected to land at approximately 1800 hours at Ben Gurion Airport. They are expected to carry fire prevention materials and other essential equipment.
Russia: 2 helicopters
France: 2 firefighting aircraft
Spain: 4 firefighting aircraft and an additional cargo plane
Azerbaijan: 2 helicopters
Switzerland: 1 helicopter
In adddition to the above, Israel’s own El Alhas also flown in fire prevention materials from Marseille.
Later today, Sunday December 5th, an additional 3 planes from the US and one from Canada are expected to arrive.
Said Prime Minister Netanyahu, “I have spoken with approximately 30 heads of state and government, presidents and prime ministers, in the past three days. I must tell you that their mobilization, the warmth of their remarks, their willingness, the desire to help immediately, sometimes even before we have managed to request it, must warm the heart of all Israelis. There is very great solidarity here and there is very great cooperation, of course in keeping with their abilities. People are bringing what they have. Governments are bringing what they have, as per the distances which are often considerable; but not even this is deterring people.”
Forty-two lives have been lost and five injured in a fire raging on the Carmel mountain range in northern Israel. A national disaster has been declared.
The Israel Foreign Ministry is in contact with almost all European countries, and with Middle Eastern states regarding assistance in extinguishing the blaze. A number of nations have sent fire-fighting aircraft as well as equipment and supplies to help control the flames.
In addition to the human casualties, the environmental damage is vast in Carmel, known to Israelis as “Little Switzerland”. Four million trees have been decimated in an area of 8,650 acres.
The international response has been overwhelming, with the United States, Greece, Cyprus, Britain, Turkey, Russia, Croatia, Azerbaijan, Spain, France, and Switzerland already sending forest fire-fighting planes and helicopters.
Bulgarian Firefighters in Israel
Bulgaria sent a contingency of 92 firefighters, and Israel’s close ally Jordan has sent firetrucks. The Palestinian Authority’s Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, called Israeli President Shimon Peres to express his condolences to the families, and offered Palestinian support in the form of fire trucks sent to Carmel.
A Boeing 747 loaded with the fire retardant chemical needed to stop the raging Carmel forest fires left the United States for Israel Thursday night, thanks to a kind offer from New York City Mayor Bloomberg.
Said Mayor Bloomberg, “New York, and the United States as a whole, share a special bond with Israel in good times and bad. On behalf of the millions of New Yorkers kindling Hanukah lights across our City tonight, I want to thank the US Forest Service and their partners across the US Government for their quick response to our friends and allies in need.”
President Barack Obama offered his “deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of all of those who’ve died as a result of the terrible forest fire in northern Israel” noting that he “launched an effort across the U.S. government to identify the firefighting assistance we have available and provide it to Israel as quickly as possible. Of course, that’s what friends do for each other.”
With most of the world still struggling to climb out of an economic recession, one of the last places on earth most would guess is enjoying near double-digit growth is in the Palestinian Territories. According to the International Monetary Fund, real GDP growth in the first half of 2010 was 9 percent in the West Bank and 16 percent in Gaza. Unemployment dropped by three percent in the first quarter of 2010, as a result of Palestinian construction projects increasing by 20 percent since 2009.
Photo: Bjørn Svenungsen, UD
With checkpoints being removed by Israel, barriers to movement are being removed not just for trucks and movement of goods but everyday people. Israel’s Crossings Management Agency noted a 57 percent increase in pedestrians entering Israel in 2009 from 2008 (2010 numbers are not in yet but projected to continue to grow). In Gaza, following the Government of Israel’s June 20th cabinet decision to ease the restriction on the passage of goods into Gaza, the number of trucks getting in per week went from 385 in the end of May to over 1,100 weekly in the first week of July.
All of this is in Israel’s report to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, which monitors how resources from donor countries are improving the situation between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors. The AHLC, which is based and chaired Norway (think Oslo), will be meeting on September 21st in New York with its 16 other member states.
The entire report by Israel is online, right here.
Following the release of Israel’s updated policy on civilian goods entering Gaza, “things that people are trying to bring in by flotilla you can bring in through the legitimate existing crossings, [so] do it that way” said Quartet Envoy and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Israel is currently letting in all civilian goods enter Gaza, with the only outright banned items being weapons and explosive materials. The goal has always been to weaken Hamas but not to the detriment of the Palestinian people living in Gaza. The updated policy will come with a public, universal list of what is not allowed to fall into the hands of Hamas, which continues to mount rocket attacks at Israeli and Palestinian civilians. continue reading…