Israel steps up killings as Hamas offers peace

On the evening of April 21, 60-year-old Fatin Abu Daqqa died after being refused permission by Israeli occupation forces to leave the Gaza Strip for medical treatment.

The WAFA Palestine news agency reported that her death brings to 136 the number of Gaza residents who have died as a direct result of the siege that began with economic sanctions imposed by the US, EU and Israel in early 2006 to punish the civilian population for handing a majority to the militant resistance organisation Hamas in elections for the Palestinian National Assembly.

The blockade was tightened into a siege in June 2007, following the failure of a US-instigated coup attempt against the democratically-elected Hamas-led government. The failed coup created two Palestinian Authorities — the Hamas-led administration of Gaza and the pro-US President Mahmoud Abbas's administration in the West Bank.

Hamas overtures to Abbas's Fatah movement to reunite the PA have been countered by Western pressure.

Humanitarian disaster

In addition to these 136 deaths, more than 400 Gaza residents, the majority civilians, have been killed by Israeli military strikes since the latest round of US-sponsored "peace" talks began in November.

On April 24, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) announced that it would be suspending its food aid program because of fuel running out after Israel prohibited all fuel entering Gaza on April 9.

A tightening of the siege in October, when Israel declared Gaza a "hostile entity", caused the closure of over 95% of businesses, leaving 85% of the population dependent on UNWRA food aid.

UNRWA is also suspending its waste disposal programs. Along with other infrastructure, sewage and garbage disposal are already on the point of collapse. The absence of fuel has also led to the collapse of transport and education. There is not even fuel for ambulances. Hospitals lack medicines as well as fuel for power generation.

UNRWA called on Israel to fulfill its obligations as an occupying power under international law and allow fuel supplies to resume.

'Peace' talks

While UNRWA was announcing its suspension of services in Gaza, Abbas was in Washington in talks with US President George Bush that, they announced to the media, were advancing the "peace process".

The US and Israel's other Western allies refuse to talk to Hamas because it will not unilaterally renounce the use of arms or recognise the legitimacy of Israel's existance as an exclusively Jewish state.

While Bush reiterated that Abbas was an "appropriate partner" for peace and declared that a Palestinian state would be the final outcome of the process, Israel's simultaneous expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank suggests that any "state" offered to Abbas's PA will be smaller than the 11 walled ghettos it currently administers in the West Bank.

One concession that Israel has announced is the removal this month of 61 of the roadblocks that, along with settlements, bypass roads and the Apartheid Wall, severely impede freedom of movement for Palestinians in the West Bank.

However, the April 19 Palestine Chronicle reported that this was achieved by creating new barriers and removing them, sometimes in the same day. In fact, "data from OCHA, B'Tselem and Machsom Watch proves that the numbers have increased, from 563 to 580".

On April 19 and 20, former US president Jimmy Carter drew condemnation from the US and Israeli governments by holding talks with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Damascas.

Hamas calls for peace

At these talks, Meshaal explained the long-standing Hamas offer for a long-term truce, and the release of Gilad Shilat — the Israeli prisoner of war captured in 2006 — in exchange for Israel withdrawing to its pre-1967 borders and removing all soldiers and settlements from the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the West Bank; releasing Palestinian political prisoners and prisoners of war; and ending its blockade of Palestine's borders, coastline and airspace.

On April 23, Chinese newswire Xinhua reported that Hamas had communicated to Egyptian officials an offer to Israel for an immediate truce in Gaza, with both sides ceasing military operations, including the end the blockade.

This represents a concession as Hamas had previously argued that a truce should happen simultaneously in Gaza and the West Bank. However, Hamas rejected a proposal by Carter for a unilateral ceasefire — which it has previously implemented — because of unrelenting Israeli military aggression.

Abbas's concessions to Israel have not spared the West Bank from military attacks. This includes the use of live ammunition against protesters and rioters armed with stones, as well as "targeted strikes" against activists.

Not only are extrajudicial assassinations themselves criminal acts, the Israeli use of missiles fired from jets, helicopters and combat drones creates a high casualty rate among bystanders.

In 2007, 40 Palestinians were killed in Israeli military attacks for every Israeli killed by the Palestinian resistance. The majority of Israelis killed were soldiers or armed settlers — the majority of Palestinians' civilians. Since 2006, Israeli military attacks have been mainly against Gaza.

On April 16, after resistance fighters ambushed and killed three Israeli soldiers inside the Gaza Strip, Israeli reprisals killed 20 people in Gaza, at least 13 of whom were civilians.

One of these was Reuters video journalist Fadel Shana, who was shredded, along with five other civilians, by an Israeli tank firing cluster munitions that spray their victims with darts. Shana's car was clearly marked as belonging to the press.

On April 20 Palestinian journalists held a demonstration in the West Bank city of Ramallah to condemn Shana's murder. Another five people in Gaza were killed by the Israeli military that day.

In an article published in the April 17 Washington Post, Mahmoud al-Zaher, Hamas negotiator and health minister explained why his organisation sees armed resistance as remaining necessary: "Palestinians are fighting a total war waged on us by a nation that mobilizes against our people with every means at its disposal — from its high-tech military to its economic stranglehold, from its falsified history to its judiciary that legalizes the infrastructure of apartheid.

"Resistance remains our only option. Sixty-five years ago, the courageous Jews of the Warsaw ghetto rose in defense of their people. We Gazans, living in the world's largest open-air prison, can do no less."