Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Iraqi Interpreters deserve more than Assassination(2009Happy new year 2009)

"farewell 2008
Here we are living the last minutes in 2008,I cannot consider this year as the worst year in my life, at least, I still alive, and that’s really enough to say it was just another year…in Great Iraq(Alhamdu lelaah).
In career, this is the worst one, In this year they banned the mask, and that was the biggest event for us as Interpreter. In this year I worked with really great team I’ve ever seen, I worked with high rank officer, It was great chance to me to be more close to my people and to discover how my people think, and what’s going on in this country!.How the Americans deal with their counterparts and how the Iraqis work and deal with their counterpart from CF(coalition forces).
In this year, many weird thing happened, on of these thing was: when you dicover like a person has accused by many murders of Iraqi innocents, but after few days, you seen him not just seen but also sit down with him on the same food ceremony table, I never got feeling such this before.
In this year, I went to range to shoot, not with AK 47! But this time was with M4, what a wonderful weapon is!
In this year also, I discovered that the US Army has a good percent of Muslims and Iraqis!!."
Iraqi Translator's

Russia-Ukraine gas row heats up

A war of words has broken out in a gas supply row between Ukraine and Russia, amid claims that supplies to Europe could be under threat.

As a midnight deadline loomed, Russian PM Vladimir Putin accused Kiev of threatening to block supplies piped through Ukraine to Western Europe.

Later, Russian energy giant Gazprom said the talks had failed and it would cut gas supplies on Thursday.

Ukraine denies owning Gazprom money and says it has guaranteed gas transit.

A similar row between Gazprom and Ukraine in 2006 led to gas shortages in several EU countries.

'Severe consequences'

Earlier, Gazprom's chief executive, Alexei Miller, criticised Ukraine's stance during the negotiations as "unconstructive" and warned it would cut off supplies at 1000 local time (0700 GMT) on Thursday if a deal was not agreed.

Mr Miller said the contract depended on the full settlement of £2bn in gas bills and late-payment fines levied by Gazprom.

Ukraine's state gas firm, Naftogaz, has said it has paid $1.5bn (£1bn) in outstanding bills to RosUkrEnergo - a Switzerland-registered gas trading company which is acting as an intermediary - but not the fines.

Gazprom's deputy chief executive, Alexander Medvedev, meanwhile accused Ukraine of trying to "blackmail" Russia by threatening in a letter to divert gas intended for the European Union.

Mr Medvedev condemned the threat as "utterly irresponsible", saying it violated Ukraine's obligations under a previous contract, and suggested that "political intervention" might be needed.

Later, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned Ukraine not to disrupt the transit of gas to Europe.

"If our partners say that they are not intending to fulfil the conditions of a contract signed previously then that means that they are intending to annul it," he told President Dmitry Medvedev during a televised meeting.

"This will be a completely different story with very severe consequences for the transit country, in my opinion. Not only in its relations with Russia, as the exporter, but also with consumers in EU countries," he added.

Mr Putin said Gazprom had been generous in offering Ukraine a price of $250 per 1,000 cubic metres of gas in 2009, given that the price in Europe was currently more than $500.

"We understand that Ukraine is in a difficult economic situation. It is much more complicated than our own situation," he said.

Mr Putin put the dispute down to a "war of the clans" between the Ukrainian Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, and President Viktor Yushchenko. In response, Ms Tymoshenko abandoned plans to fly to Moscow to take charge of the talks in person.

An aide to President Yushchenko told the AFP news agency that the increased gas price was unacceptable unless his country was permitted to raise its transit fees.

Ukraine is a key transit route of Russian gas to Europe, and it is feared that a supply cut could affect countries further west.

Gazprom, the world's largest gas producer, supplies a quarter of the European Union's gas needs, or 42% of EU's gas imports.


Israel rejects truce call, pursues bombing Gaza

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) - Israel resisted mounting international pressure Wednesday to suspend its devastating air offensive against militants in Hamas-ruled Gaza, sending more troops and tanks to the border as signs of an impending ground invasion multiplied. A long column of tanks and other army vehicles, two and three abreast, was strung out along an access road to Gaza. Dozens of tanks were parked in a rain-sodden field on the frontier.

Commanders were moving forward with preparations for a possible ground assault, said an Israeli defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the information.

Earlier this week the government approved the callup of more than 9,000 reserves soldiers.

Heavy cloud cover that could encumber ground forces was expected to lift Thursday.

The diplomatic action was set in motion by Israel's aerial campaign, now in its fifth day, aimed at snuffing out militant rocket barrages that are striking ominously close to the Israeli heartland.

Gaza officials put the death toll at more than 390 dead and 1,600 wounded. Hamas says some 200 uniformed members of Hamas security forces have been killed, and the U.N. says at least 60 Palestinian civilians have died. Israeli defense officials say Hamas' top military and political leaders have gone underground and have not been touched.

Four Israelis have been killed by militant rocket fire, including three civilians.

The chief of Israel's internal security services, Yuval Diskin, told Cabinet ministers Wednesday that Hamas' ability to rule had been "badly impaired."

Weapons development facilities have been "completely wiped out" and a network of smuggling tunnels that has been Hamas' lifeline has been badly damaged, a participant in the meeting quoted Diskin as saying. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed to the media.

A senior military officer said Wednesday that Israeli warplanes had made some 500 sorties against Hamas targets in Gaza and attack helicopters flew hundreds more combat missions in five days of fighting.

The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with military regulations, claimed 95 percent of the intended targets were hit. He said the targets included Hamas command posts, some 130 missile launch sites and anyone who could be carrying a weapon. Also hit was Hamas' Islamic University, which he described as a weapons research facility.

He said all efforts were made to avoid civilian casualties, including calling residents on their phones to warn them their buildings were about to be hit.

The bombing onslaught has touched off protests across the Islamic world. In Iran on Wednesday, fundamentalist students asked their government to authorize volunteer suicide bombers to attack Israel. The Tehran government had no immediate response.

On Tuesday, France urged Israel to halt its operation for 48 hours. Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert discussed the idea with his defense and foreign ministers overnight, but the trio decided to pursue the punishing aerial campaign.

Calls for an immediate cease-fire have also come from the U.S., the European Union, the U.N. and Russia. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice both called leaders in the Middle East on Tuesday to press for a durable solution.

White House officials said Bush talked with Olmert on Wednesday about finding ways to "end the violence" in the region and to voice concerns about civilian casualties in Gaza. Spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Olmert assured Bush that Israel is trying to limit such casualties as it goes after Hamas targets.

Israeli Cabinet ministers did not discuss the substance of a French cease-fire proposal at a meeting later Wednesday.

Olmert told ministers Israel embarked upon the offensive to radically transform the security situation in Israel's south and would not leave the job half done.

"If conditions ripen to the point that we assess they promise a safer existence in southern Israel, we will consider it. We're not they're yet," Olmert said, according to a meeting participant who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed.

France said it was still trying to persuade Israel to suspend its attacks. "I hope there are no ground operations," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner added.

Underlying the Israeli decision to keep fighting are the mightier weapons that Hamas has smuggled into Gaza through underground tunnels along the border with Egypt.

Previously militants had relied on crude homemade rockets that could fly just 12 miles to terrorize Israeli border communities. Now they are firing weapons manufactured in China and Iran that have dramatically expanded the militants' range and put more than a tenth of Israel's population in their sights, defense officials said.

More than 50 rockets and mortar shells were fired by late Wednesday afternoon, including rockets that hit in and around the major southern Israeli city of Beersheba, 22 miles from Gaza. One rocket struck an empty school.

Another landed in a small farming community about 20 miles southeast of Tel Aviv, the hub of Israel's biggest urban area. No serious casualties were reported.

School was canceled in large swaths of Israel's south because of the rocket threat. The 18,000 students at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba, southern Israel's only university, were also told to stay home.

Early Wednesday, Israeli aircraft pounded smuggling tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border in another attempt to sever the pipeline that keeps Hamas in power by supplying weapons, food and fuel. Israel and Egypt blockaded Gaza after Hamas violently seized control of the territory in June 2007, and have cracked open their borders only to let in limited amounts of humanitarian aid.

An Egyptian official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media, said Israel has destroyed 120 tunnels since the aerial campaign began. According to conservative estimates, there were at least 200 tunnels before Israeli warplanes began striking.

In Gaza City, powerful bomb blasts sent high-rise apartment buildings swaying and showered streets with broken glass and pulverized concrete. The Israeli military said government buildings were hit, including an office of Gaza's Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh.

Israeli aircraft flattened a fifth mosque Wednesday, leaving only its minaret standing. Diskin, the Israeli security services chief, said militants have set up command centers in mosques.

Diskin said militants also were hiding at Gaza hospitals, some disguised as doctors and nurses. He said Hamas was trying to smuggle out some of its activists to Egypt through tunnels that were still passable.

Two Palestinian medics were killed and two others were wounded when an Israeli missile struck next to their ambulance east of Gaza City, Palestinians said. The Israeli military said it did not know of the incident.

Israeli navy ships also fired at Hamas positions along the coast.

Although Hamas leaders have been driven underground, spokesman Taher Nunu said the Gaza government was functioning and had met over the past few days.

"What our people want is clear: an immediate stop to all kinds of aggression, the end of the siege by all means, the opening of all border crossings, and international guarantees that the occupation will not renew this terrorist war again," Nunu said in a statement.

Israel fears that opening crossings with Gaza would allow Hamas - which remains officially committed to Israel's destruction - to strengthen its hold on the territory even further.

While rejecting France's proposed truce, Israel said it would allow 2,000 tons of food and medical supplies to enter Gaza on Wednesday, in addition to 4,000 tons the military says have been allowed in since the offensive began. Several dozen chronically ill and wounded Gazans were also authorized to enter Israel for treatment Wednesday, the military said.

The U.N. planned to resume food aid distribution Thursday, after halting it two weeks ago because of shortages caused by the blockade. Most of Gaza's 1.4 million people rely on U.N. food handouts. Britain and Indonesia also said they would send humanitarian relief.

The U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia, citing reports that indicate an approaching invasion, restricted the travel of its employees to within the city limits of Riyadh, Jeddah and Dhahran.


Israel takes battle with Hamas to YouTube

JERUSALEM (AP) - Israel's bruising war on the Islamic militants who control Gaza has moved online, where sites like YouTube and Facebook are the new battlegrounds.
Israel posted video of its attacks on militants firing rockets over the past five days on a new YouTube channel to try to show the world the threat against it.

YouTube temporarily yanked the clips on Tuesday after viewers, apparently supporters of Hamas, flagged it as objectionable and asked that it be taken down. The video-sharing Web site restored the video a few hours later, labeling it inappropriate for minors.

Supporters of Gaza's Hamas rulers, meanwhile, have posted images of the devastating Israeli offensive on both YouTube and Facebook and on blogs, uploading images of the carnage and suffering in the tiny seaside territory.

The militants themselves regularly update their Web sites in Arabic and English. In addition, they broadcast images of masked, uniformed fighters on Hamas TV, which was bombed by Israeli warplanes but continues to broadcast from a mobile unit.

"The blogosphere and the new media are basically a war zone" in a battle for world opinion, an Israeli military spokesman, Maj. Avital Leibovich, said Wednesday.

Gideon Doron, former chairman of the Israeli agency that oversaw the privatization of the country's television and radio services, said today's warfare includes fighting through the media.

"Many of the victories of modern warfare are mediated by the media," Doron said. "We have Internet and all kinds of modern communication, and the Israeli military apparently decided that it has to broadcast its message through these tools."

Leibovich said the new YouTube channel and a new blog the military is launching are an important part of Israel's attempt to explain its actions abroad.

One of the aerial surveillance videos Israel posted shows about a dozen figures that the military says are militants loading rockets onto a truck. They are eventually targeted by an air-launched missile and disappear in a white cloud as the truck explodes.

"We were saddened on Dec. 30, 2008 when YouTube took down some of our exclusive footage," the military wrote on its YouTube channel page. "Fortunately, due to blogger and viewer support, YouTube has returned the footage they removed."

In the past, YouTube has been pressed to take down videos depicting violence. The site has no automatic review, however, so anything posted runs until a viewer flags it and asks that it be taken down.

YouTube, which is owned by Google Inc. (GOOG), said it counts on community members to flag content that violates the community's guidelines.

"We review all flagged content quickly, and if we find that a video does violate the guidelines, we remove it, on average in under an hour," Victoria Grand, Head of Policy at YouTube, said in a statement.

"Occasionally, a video flagged by users is mistakenly taken down. When this is brought to our attention, we review the content and take appropriate action, which may include restoring videos that had been removed."

YouTube said it would not comment on individual videos or answer questions on the Israeli postings.

In May, Sen. Joseph Lieberman complained that the process was flawed because al-Qaida recruitment videos could still be seen on the site.

The Israeli military says its clips have attracted more than 230,000 views since going online Monday.

Israel launched the air assault on Saturday in response to rocket barrages launched from Gaza at Israeli towns. Hundreds of airstrikes across the Palestinian territory have caused huge damage and Gaza officials say some 390 Palestinians have been killed. Hamas says some 200 were members of its security forces, and the U.N. says at least 60 were civilians.

Militant rockets have reached farther into Israel than ever before, killing three Israeli civilians and a soldier.


On the Web:


Iraq opens nearly 90 pct of its oil reserves

BAGHDAD (AP) - Iraq, the holder of the world's third-largest oil reserves, has opened nearly 90 percent of its reserves to international oil companies for development in two major bidding rounds this year as the war-plagued country tries to raise money amid falling oil prices.

Iraq, with at least 115 billion barrels in reserves, plans to add 4 million to 4.5 million barrels a day to its current 2.4 million barrels per day capacity over the next four to six years as it tries to rebuild its infrastructure and develop its economy.

On Wednesday, Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani kicked off the country's second postwar bidding round, naming 11 oil and gas fields or groups of fields as eligible for development proposals.

"We kicked off this round in response to the country's need to increase its crude production to increase its hard-currency income in light of sinking world oil prices," al-Shahristani told a news conference.

Top on the list are the giant Majnoon and West Qurna Phase 2 fields, which hold reserves of at least 12 billion barrels each. The two fields currently produce far below their individual output potential of 600,000 barrels per day.

Al-Shahristani said only 15 of 78 known oil and gas fields have been brought into production, and many desert areas in western and southern Iraq have yet to be explored.

A drop in oil prices to under $40 per barrel from a summertime high of about $150 has hit Iraq hard; the country depends on oil revenues for nearly 95 percent of its budget. As a result, the government was forced to slash its 2009 budget from $80 billion to $67 billion and is considering a further reduction.

On Wednesday, light, sweet crude for February delivery was trading electronically on the New York Mercantile Exchange at $37.96.

"These are of course worrying prices not only for Iraq but also to all oil exporting countries," al-Shahristani said, adding that more cuts could be considered by OPEC when it next convenes in March.

In June, Iraq opened its first postwar round of bidding for contracts to develop six major oil fields and two gas fields. Among those bidding were international energy giants Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSB), BP PLC (BP), ExxonMobil Corp., Chevron Corp. (CVX) and Total.

The companies, which are bidding on long-term service contracts, would be paid through a flat fee for their services instead of production-sharing contracts which are considered more preferable.

The ministry plans to sign the contracts of the first round in mid-2009 and the second round by the end of the year, al-Shahristani said.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Dubious News Reports from Afghanistan

"There were two interesting articles in the news concerning Afghanistan today which illustrate (to me) the dire straits we now face. One article reported on the clever use of Viagra by CIA case officers; the other was a mildly negative critique of the US AID reconstruction efforts made by a senior US AID officer. Both stories represent a total lack of situational awareness as 2008 draws to a close.

When you have lived in a poorly understood, distant country like Afghanistan as long as I have it is easy to find mistakes in the international press. I am not nitpicking two main stream news reports because they report as fact things I know to be completely untrue. You get that a lot from the press these days. What I find alarming is that at least one of these two articles is obviously an entry into the discussion taking place amongst our national leadership. The other article about the CIA is so completely ridiculous that I have no idea what to make of it. Reports like these are truly depressing so let me take these articles one at a time and provide you with some unbiased ground truth."
Free Range International

Santa Gave us C4!

"Those of you that have been reading Afghanistan Shrugged for a while or if you've looked through my posts; may remember a post in November about finding an IED underneath a building and then discovering that the building was an ACM headquarters.

Yes, I'm still calling them ACM despite the popular move to call them EOP, Enemies of Peace, by our higher headquarters at CJTF-P. Boredom must have set in at Kabul and for Christmas they decided to give us a new acronym to call the bad guys. I'm still unsure why bad guys isn't descriptive enough, it's accurate (they're bad), simple ( we all know who we're talking about) and Infantry proof (even I can rememeber it). I'll drop this line of thought as it will force me into some tirade.

Anyway, we'd visited this abandoned town previously and discovered a large IED. Please remember the rules of IEDs that there are no small IEDs. When we pulled back from the town the ANA mortared the building and it was pretty darn effective. In the meantime the ACM (Bad Guys) decided to move next door. Neighborhood watch isn't great here."
Afghanistan Shrugged

Jordan at the brink, again

"King Abdullah of Jordan has just taken the remarkable step of firing his powerful head of General Intelligence in the middle of a major regional -- and potentially domestic -- crisis. Nabil Ghishan, a Jordanian journalist, explains in al-Hayat that the reason for the firing of Mukhabarat head Mohammed al-Thahbi was his role in a controversial rapprochement with Hamas over the last few months. Presumably his replacement, Mohammed Raqad -- whose prior assignment was in the northern city of Irbid -- will have fewer ideas about outreach to Hamas. But more broadly, the move suggests a panic at the heart of the Hashemite establishment over the ramifications of the spiraling Gaza crisis. It's no accident that King Abdullah and Queen Rania have been urgently calling for Israel to "end the violence immediately", even as fellow pro-U.S. autocrats in Cairo and Riyadh hedge in anticipation of Hamas taking damage. There is no way for Jordan to stay on the sidelines of an Israeli-Palestinian crisis - and this one may prove more dangerous than others."
Abu Aardvark

Iran confirms jailing Iranian-Canadian blogger

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Iran on Tuesday confirmed reports that it has detained a well-known Iranian-Canadian blogger who had made trips to Israel.

Judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi told reporters that Hossein Derakhshan was being held under an order from the revolutionary court. He said Derakhshan was charged with insulting religious figures, but did not elaborate.

Derakshan, described as the "father" of Iran's vigorous blogging scene, had been rumored to be in prison the past two months, according to international human rights groups. He reportedly was detained in November, few weeks after he returned to Iran.

Derakhshan lived in Canada and helped ignite the blog boom in Iran in 2001 by posting simple instructions online on how to create sites in Farsi.

Iranian authorities have arrested numerous bloggers in recent years as part of a wider attempt to clamp down on Internet dissent.

Derakhshan, who blogs in both Farsi and English, was a controversial figure among the large community of reformist Iranian bloggers.

In the past, he was critical of the Iranian government. But over the past year he expressed strong support for hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, praising him for standing up to the West and defending Iran's nuclear program. He also criticized Iranian reformers.

Despite an Iranian ban on travel to Israel, Derakhshan visited Israel twice, in 2006 and early 2007, saying he wanted to break the taboo on contacts with Israel and show Israelis a different face of Iran. During his trips, he did interviews with Israeli media and spoke at a university.

Iran sees Israel as its archenemy and repeatedly says it has disbanded Israeli spy networks in the country.


Egypt refuses full opening of Gaza crossing

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) - The Egyptian president says his country will not fully open its crossing into the Gaza Strip unless Mahmoud Abbas' Palestinian Authority is in control of the border post.

The speech Tuesday from Hosni Mubarak came despite criticism of Egypt in the Arab world over its refusal over the past year to open the Rafah crossing, which has helped complete an Israeli blockade of the territory. Since Israel's offensive in Gaza began Saturday, Egypt has allowed some wounded to cross from Gaza for treatment and some humanitarian supplies to enter the territory.

But Egypt resists dealing with the Islamic militant Hamas because it opposes the militant group's 2007 takeover of the Gaza Strip and insists Abbas is the legitimate Palestinian leader.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) - Israeli aircraft kept up a relentless string of attacks on Hamas-ruled Gaza on Tuesday, smashing a government complex, security installations and the home of a top militant commander as thousands of Israeli ground troops, backed by tanks and artillery, massed along the border and waited for a signal to attack.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told President Shimon Peres on Tuesday that the aerial phase of the operation is "the first of several" phases of attack that have been approved, an Olmert spokesman said.

Warplanes launched their bruising aerial offensive on Saturday after the Islamic Hamas defied Israel's warnings that it would not stand for the rocket barrages on southern Israel that resumed nearly two months ago, toward the end of a recently expired truce.

More than 360 Palestinians have been killed, most of them members of Hamas security forces but at least 64 of them civilians, according to the United Nations. The toll includes two sisters, aged 4 and 11, who perished in an airstrike on a rocket squad in northern Gaza on Tuesday.

Militants, battered but unbowed, have pressed on with their rocket and mortar assaults, killing three Israeli civilians and a soldier and bringing a widening circle of targets into their sights with an arsenal of longer-range missiles.

"Zionists, wait for more from the resistance," Hamas spokesman Ismail Radwan said in a text message to reporters, referring to militants' armed struggle against Israel.

The military estimated that nearly 10 percent of Israel's population of 7 million people is now within rocket range, shifting the battles closer to Israel's heartland. Of the four Israelis killed since the operation began Saturday, all but one were in areas that had not suffered fatalities before.

Fires blazed across the Gaza Strip's main city, Gaza City, where five government buildings were badly damaged in air attacks Tuesday. Rescue workers said 40 people were injured when warplanes dropped more than a dozen bombs on the government compound. It wasn't clear whether anyone was buried under the debris.

The campaign began Saturday when the air force hammered security facilities, then broadened to weapons-making and storage facilities, the homes of militant field operatives and government buildings that are the symbols of Hamas' power.

The initial wave of airstrikes took Gaza by surprise, targeting militants and Hamas security forces at key installations, often located in the midst of tiny Gaza's densely populated towns and cities.

But the government buildings targeted later were empty, as Gazans became fearful of venturing out into the streets. For Ziad Koraz, whose nearby home was damaged in the attack on the government compound Tuesday, that violence gratuitously put Gaza civilians at risk.

"More than 17 missiles were directed at an empty government compound, without regard for civilians who lived nearby," Koraz said. "We are people who live in peace and want to live in peace. If someone committed a crime, they should go after him, not after an entire nation."

The offensive began eight days after a six-month truce between Israel and the militants expired amid a barrage of Palestinian rocket fire. The offensive comes on top of an Israeli blockade of Gaza that has largely kept all but essential goods from entering the coastal territory since Hamas violently seized control June 2007.

Israel agreed to allow 100 trucks of humanitarian aid into Gaza on Tuesday, as well as five ambulances from Turkey, defense officials said. A Jordanian diplomat said 21 Jordanian army doctors and four field hospitals would be allowed to enter on Wednesday, though Israeli officials could not immediately confirm that.

Israel's navy on Tuesday turned back a boat of pro-Palestinian protesters who had hoped to enter Gaza to demonstrate against the Israeli blockade.

So far, warplanes and unmanned drones have dominated Israel's military operation. But the military has moved up thousands of infantry soldiers, dozens of tanks and artillery pieces. With the air force knocking off target after target, the big question looming over the operation is whether it will expand to include ground forces. The border area was declared a closed military zone on Monday, drawing a thick fog over operations in the area.

Olmert spokesman Mark Regev wouldn't comment on the prospects for a ground operation but said Israel would "continue keeping the pressure up on the Hamas military machine."

"This operation will continue until a new security reality can be created in the south, and those hundreds of thousands of Israelis who live in fear of Hamas rockets no longer have to live in that fear," Regev said.

Short of reoccupying Gaza, however, it was unlikely any amount of Israeli firepower could permanently stop rocket attacks. Past operations all failed to do so.

The militants have fired even while under the barrage of Israeli bombs and missiles, demonstrating with deadly effect the widening threat that is making larger cities farther inside Israel vulnerable. On Monday, a missile crashed into a bus stop in Ashdod, 23 miles (37 kilometers) from Gaza and only 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Israel's heartland in Tel Aviv.

The city of 200,000 is the largest in southern Israel.


Monday, December 29, 2008

IAF uses new US-supplied smart bomb

The Israel Air Force used a new bunker-buster missile that it received recently from the United States in strikes against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip on Saturday, The Jerusalem Post learned on Sunday.

The missile, called GBU-39, was developed in recent years by the US as a small-diameter bomb for low-cost, high-precision and low collateral damage strikes.

Israel received approval from Congress to purchase 1,000 units in September and defense officials said on Sunday that the first shipment had arrived earlier this month and was used successfully in penetrating underground Kassam launchers in the Gaza Strip during the heavy aerial bombardment of Hamas infrastructure on Saturday. It was also used in Sunday's bombing of tunnels in Rafah.

The GPS-guided GBU-39 is said to be one of the most accurate bombs in the world. The 113-kg. bomb has the same penetration capabilities as a normal 900-kg. bomb, although it has only 22.7 kg. of explosives. At just 1.75 meters long, its small size increases the number of bombs an aircraft can carry and the number of targets it can attack in a sortie.

Tests conducted in the US have proven that the bomb is capable of penetrating at least 90 cm. of steel-reinforced concrete. The GBU-39 can be used in adverse weather conditions and has a standoff range of more than 110 km. due to pop-out wings.

Also Sunday, Military Intelligence's Psychological Warfare Department broke into radio broadcasts in Gaza and warned Palestinian civilians not to cooperate with Hamas terrorist activity.

Palestinians reported that they received phone calls to their cellular phones and landlines from the IDF. The phone call, the Palestinians said, conveyed a recorded message ordering the immediate evacuation of homes that were next to Hamas infrastructure or being used by the terrorist organization.

On Sunday, head of the Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration Col. Moshe Levy was interviewed by several Arab news outlets during which he stressed that Israel was not against the Palestinian public in Gaza but was operating against Hamas.

Defense officials said Sunday that Israel would, however, not hesitate to target the homes of civilians who protected Hamas terrorists throughout the operation.

"We will go after every Hamas operative, no matter where he is," one official said. "We urge the Palestinians not to cooperate with terrorists."


Hamas calls 'reservists' to foil attack

Hamas's armed wing, Izaddin Kassam, on Monday announced that it was recruiting an additional 1,000 militiamen ahead of a possible IDF ground operation in the Gaza Strip.

The group said that thousands of volunteers from the Gaza Strip had also asked to be recruited to the movement in the past 48 hours so that they could fight against IDF soldiers.

The announcement came as sources close to Hamas said that the movement's armed wing had hardly been affected by the IDF operation that began on Saturday.

The sources told The Jerusalem Post that many of the casualties in the first two days of the operation were "ordinary" policemen who had been recently recruited to various branches of the security forces.

"These policemen were being enlisted to direct the traffic and fight crime," the sources said. "These are not the militiamen who are responsible for the rocket attacks on Israel."

This explains why Hamas did not rush to evacuate the headquarters of the "civilian" police force in Gaza City before the IDF offensive.

On the contrary, the police chiefs decided to go ahead with plans to hold a graduation ceremony for the cadets on Saturday because they did not believe that they would be targeted by Israel.

According to the sources, these policemen were not members of Izaddin Kassam. As such, they were never asked to participate in armed attacks on Israel. Nor had they been asked to prepare for the possibility of having to fight against the IDF when and if it invades the Gaza Strip.

"Almost all the policemen who were killed in the past three days were responsible for imposing law and order in the Gaza Strip," said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum. "Many of them were not even Hamas members."

Another Hamas operative said that Izaddin Kassam, which functions as the official Hamas "army," has over 15,000 men throughout the Gaza Strip who are better trained and equipped to fight against the IDF.

This is the same paramilitary force that defeated tens of thousands of US-backed Fatah policemen and security officers in the Gaza Strip in June 2007.

Ever since taking full control of the Gaza Strip, the Hamas militia have been busy training its men for the possibility of an IDF invasion or a revolt by Fatah loyalists.

The preparations included the construction of a vast network of underground tunnels and bunkers in various parts of the Gaza Strip, as well as the smuggling of tons of explosives and missiles across the border with Egypt.

A former Palestinian Authority security official estimated that Izaddin Kassam has over 20,000 rockets and mortars, as well as tens of thousands of tons of explosives.

The official said that according to reports emanating from the Gaza Strip, most of the group's commanders have survived the IDF offensive.

"Israel has managed to kill only a small number of Izaddin Kassam members," said a Palestinian journalist in Gaza City. "The Kassam doesn't have offices and public security bases. This is a clandestine organization entrusted with carrying out special missions."

The Hamas militiamen have now been entrusted with the task of repelling an IDF ground attack. Spokesmen for the group said on Monday that their men are determined to fight to the end.

"We have many surprises for Israel," said one of the spokesmen. "We are just waiting for the ground attack to teach them an unforgettable lesson."


The Fog Of War

The Fog Of War 'The Slim Pickin's Duo' written, performed and recorded by nigel weaver/eddy fury 2005 Video footage added by canadian forces troops 2005

Sent in by reader

Ward 69

"I did not smoke while composing this.

I’ve been masturbating so much lately, that there is a good chance that my dick will fall off in the coming months. If this happens, I will end up with the other amputees at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Odds are that I will then spend the next few months with Gabora at a group home provided by Fisher House while the Army teaches me how to fuck again with a new prosthetic cock.

Hopefully, they have my size in white... and circumcised.

Fisher House is supported by donations, and RangerUp has graciously designed a t-shirt to help support Fisher House through Big Tobacco."
Big Tabacco

Today's Military Leadership...


So I have been all high on the holidays for the last few posts, and now that is gone because I have been brought crashing down by the leadership around me, mostly above me.

Military leaders today are nothing more than politicians who are quickly and quietly building a military that is incapable of winning wars without the assistance of their electronic toys. Today’s military is so technologically advanced that in some cases there is little to no need for actual boots on the ground soldiers to be there. So they are left with little if anything to do and because of that they invent things for soldiers to do and they invent new rules for soldiers to follow. Not to mention the tactical proficiency of some of them is so questionable that any private with half a brain could make superior tactical decisions with the same information."
Embrace the Suck

Spillover Discussion

"I'm having an exchange of comments with an Iranian hardoce pan-Shia known as 'Justice', because of Eyeraki's comments moderation policy, which requires us to wait for him to approve all comments, slowing down these debates a bit, I thought we should continue the discussion here.

in response to another Shia, Abdulamir, who copied an angry statement of mine targeting al-Hussein bin Ali, I thought it should be fitting to outline my stance towards the Prophet's companions, and because some of my comments are blasphemous, Eyeraki, who is an observant Muslim, did not opt to publish them, I reprint my comment here for the annoyance of disinterested vistior."

Great discussion in the comments about the Shi'a/Sunni divide that people keep telling dose not exist.
Why not be Suchi?

My Question:


Why not be Suchi?

Beyond my own curiosity, I would really like to know what your response would be if presented with such a choice?

Would you pretend to be something other than yourself, just for polite society?

Or in your opinion was there something darker behind it, than just polite society?

LEBANON: Hezbollah says it won't provoke Israel clash over Gaza

Will Hezbollah or won't it?

That's the question on the minds of many throughout the Middle East.

Will the Shiite militia which fought Israel to a stalemate in the summer 2006 war intercede militarily on behalf of Palestinians in Gaza or won't it?

The answer so far seems to be a resounding "no."

At least, that is what the Shiite militant group has strongly suggested over the last couple of days.

On Sunday evening, in an address to Shiites in Beirut’s southern suburb, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah made it clear that his party would not actively seek to provoke an Israeli attack against Lebanon and would only react to defend itself.

We should be aware that this bad timing amid Arab collusion, an international void, an economic crisis and the U.S. political vacuum between Bush and Obama, might tempt Israel to take a certain action against Lebanon, especially since they need to make such a move for political and electoral gains.

He also denied any responsibility for a set of rockets discovered along the border with Israel last week, stating even that the Jewish state might have actually planted them to find justifications to strike Lebanon.

Lebanon has to be cautious and not to underestimate what is happening around it. ... I have asked the brothers in the resistance in the south specifically to be present, on alert and cautious because we are facing a criminal enemy and we don't know the magnitude of the conspiracies being weaved around us.

In his recent speeches, Nasrallah focused instead on galvanizing the Arab world to push their governments to provide more support to the Palestinians.

Many in Lebanon believe their country has already paid a dear price for the Arab cause in their many conflicts with Israel. The fear remains that the Lebanese border with Israel will flare up again, as it did in the summer of 2006 when Israel fought a devastating war against Hezbollah.

But with the current deployment in the southern border regions of Lebanon’s army, along with thousands of international peacekeeping troops, there are logistical complications as well.

The possibility of a military confrontation between Hezbollah and the Jewish state would be far more complicated than in 2006.

At a large rally gathering tens of thousands of Hezbollah supporters this afternoon, Nasrallah voiced support for the resistance in Gaza and urged the Palestinians not to surrender.

But when it came to Lebanon’s role in stopping the Israeli attacks, he said his country’s response should be political rather than military. Nasrallah called on the Lebanese government to play an active role against the Gaza raids by pressing Arab leaders to convene and support the Palestinians:

The president is requested to play a central role and make his brave voice heard in support of the oppressed Palestinian people.

He also offered up some interesting analysis about the nature of the conflict between the United States and Israel on the one hand and Hezbollah, Iran and its allies, including Hamas, on the other. He said he doesn't buy the notion that the friction between the two alliances is some kind of clash of civilizations. To him, it's just about power:

The U.S. administration’s scheme is to establish the Zionist entity over the heads of all Arabs in the region. It does not care who governs Arab states. In principle, the U.S. administration has no objection if an Islamist, extremist or fundamentalist rules any Arab country. What’s important for the U.S. is the ruler’s political program and his stance regarding Israel and the U.S. Will he sell his oil and yield to Washington and Tel Aviv’s political and economic terms or not?

Nasrallah has devoted the bulk of rhetoric to lambasting other Arab regimes. He harshly criticized Egypt’s government and called on officials there to open their border crossing with Gaza to help Palestinians remain steadfast in the face of Israel.

What is the nation’s responsibility today? To triumph, the central objective is to work on stopping the aggression against Gaza. ... Arab peoples should press their governments to take action even if this leads to face their regimes with their chests. ... Arab governments should not take weakness as a pretext not to act and Arab people should not take their government’s suppression as a pretext not to take action.

Nasrallah struck a sensitive note in the Egyptian street by calling on people to stand against what he called the Hosni Mubarak regime’s acquiescence to Israeli aggression. Egypt has never really recovered from what the Arab world regards as a betrayal for signing a bilateral peace deal with Israel in the 1970s.

Babylon & Beyond

Of course not, Iran needs someone to pick up the slack just in case Hamas is devastated.

Scenic Pakistani valley falls to Taliban militants

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) - Taliban militants are beheading and burning their way through Pakistan's picturesque Swat Valley, and residents say the insurgents now control most of the mountainous region far from the lawless tribal areas where jihadists thrive.

The deteriorating situation in the former tourist haven comes despite an army offensive that began in 2007 and an attempted peace deal. It is especially worrisome to Pakistani officials because the valley lies outside the areas where al-Qaida and Taliban militants have traditionally operated and where the military is staging a separate offensive.

"You can't imagine how bad it is," said Muzaffar ul-Mulk, a federal lawmaker whose home in Swat was attacked by bomb-toting assailants in mid-December, weeks after he left. "It's worse day by day."

The Taliban activity in northwest Pakistan also comes as the country shifts forces east to the Indian border because of tensions over last month's terrorist attacks in Mumbai, potentially giving insurgents more space to maneuver along the Afghan frontier.

Militants began preying on Swat's lush mountain ranges about two years ago, and it is now too dangerous for foreign and Pakistani journalists to visit. Interviews with residents, lawmakers and officials who have fled the region paint a dire picture.

A suicide blast killed 40 people Sunday at a polling station in Buner, an area bordering Swat that had been relatively peaceful. The attack underscored fears that even so-called "settled" regions presumptively under government control are increasingly unsafe.

The 3,500-square-mile Swat Valley lies less than 100 miles from the capital, Islamabad.

A senior government official said he feared there could be a spillover effect if the government lost control of Swat and allowed the insurgency to infect other areas. Like nearly everyone interviewed, the official requested anonymity for fear of reprisal by militants.

Officials estimate that up to a third of Swat's 1.5 million people have left the area. Salah-ud-Din, who oversees relief efforts in Swat for the International Committee of the Red Cross, estimated that 80 percent of the valley is now under Taliban control.

Swat's militants are led by Maulana Fazlullah, a cleric who rose to prominence through radio broadcasts demanding the imposition of a harsh brand of Islamic law. His appeal tapped into widespread frustration with the area's inefficient judicial system.

Most of the insurgents are easy to spot with long hair, beards, rifles, camouflage vests and running shoes. They number at most 2,000, according to people who were interviewed.

In some places, just a handful of insurgents can control a village. They rule by fear: beheading government sympathizers, blowing up bridges and demanding women wear all-encompassing burqas.

They have also set up a parallel administration with courts, taxes, patrols and checkpoints, according to lawmakers and officials. And they are suspected of burning scores of girls' schools.

In mid-December, Taliban fighters killed a young member of a Sufi-influenced Muslim group who had tried to raise a militia against them. The militants later dug up Pir Samiullah's corpse and hung it for two days in a village square - partly to prove to his followers that he was not a superhuman saint, a security official said on condition of anonymity.

A lawmaker and the senior Swat government official said business and landowners had been told to give two-thirds of their income to the militants. Some local media reported last week that the militants have pronounced a ban on female education effective in mid-January.

Several people interviewed said the regional government made a mistake in May when it struck a peace deal with the militants. The agreement fell apart within two months but let the insurgents regroup.

The Swat insurgency also includes Afghan and other fighters from outside the valley, security officials said.

Any movement of Pakistani troops from the Swat Valley and tribal areas to the Indian border will concern the United States and other Western countries, which want Pakistan to focus on the al-Qaida threat near Afghanistan.

On Friday, Pakistani intelligence officials said thousands of troops were being shifted toward the border with India, which blames Pakistani militants for terrorist attacks in Mumbai last month that killed 164 people. But there has been no sign yet of a major buildup near India.

"The terrorists' aim in Mumbai was precisely this - to get the Pakistani army to withdraw from the western border and mount operations on the east," said Ahmed Rashid, a journalist and author who has written extensively about militancy in the region.

"The terrorists are not going to be sitting still. They are not going to be adhering to any sort of cease-fire while the army takes on the Indian threat. They are going to occupy the vacuum the army will create."

Residents and officials from the Swat Valley were critical of the army offensive there, saying troops appeared to be confined to their posts and often killed civilians when firing artillery at suspected militant targets.

The military has deployed some 100,000 troops through the northwest.

A government official familiar with security issues estimated that some 10,000 paramilitary and army troops had killed 300 to 400 militants in Swat since 2007, while about 130 troops were killed. Authorities have not released details of civilian casualties, and it was unclear if they were even being tallied.

The official, who insisted on anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity, disputed assertions that militants had overrun the valley, but said a spotty supply line was hampering operations. He said the army had to man some Swat police stations because the police force there had been decimated by desertions and militant killings.

A Swat militant boasted that "we are doing our activities wherever we want, and the army is confined to their living places."

"They cannot move independently like us," said the man, who was reached over the phone and gave his name as Muzaffarul Haq. He claimed the Swat militants had no al-Qaida or foreign connections, but that they supported all groups that shared the goal of imposing Islamic law.

"With the grace of Allah, there is no dearth of funds, weapons or rations," he said. "Our women are providing cooked food for those who are struggling in Allah's path. Our children are getting prepared for jihad."


Barack the magic Negro

Israeli assault targets symbols of Hamas power

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) - Israel's air force obliterated symbols of Hamas power on the third day of its Gaza assault Monday, striking next to the Hamas premier's home, devastating a security compound and flattening a university building in the deadliest campaign against Palestinians in decades.

Israel's defense minister said his military is fighting a "war to the bitter end" against Hamas but is not fighting the residents of Gaza.

The three-day death toll rose to at least 315 by Monday morning, with some 1,400 wounded. The U.N. said at least 51 of the dead were civilians, and medics said eight children under the age of 17 were killed in two separate strikes overnight. Israel launched its campaign on Saturday in retaliation for rocket fire aimed at southern Israeli towns.

Since then, the number of Israeli troops on the Gaza border has doubled and the Cabinet approved the call-up of 6,500 reserve soldiers.

The strikes have driven Hamas leaders into hiding and appear to have gravely damaged the organization's ability to launch rockets, but barrages continued. Sirens warning of incoming rockets sent Israelis scrambling for cover throughout the day.

One medium-range rocket fired at the Israeli city of Ashkelon killed an Arab construction worker there Monday and wounded several others. He was the second Israeli killed since the beginning of the offensive, and the first person ever to be killed by a rocket in Ashkelon, a city of 120,000.

On Sunday, Hamas missiles struck for the first time near the city of Ashdod, twice as far from Gaza as Ashkelon and only 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Israel's heart in Tel Aviv. Hamas leaders have also threatened to renew suicide attacks inside Israel.

At first light Monday, strong winds blew black smoke from the bombed sites over Gaza City's deserted streets. The air hummed with the buzz of drone aircraft and the roar of jets, punctuated by airstrike explosions. Palestinian health officials said one strike killed four Islamic Jihad militants and a child.

Some Palestinians ventured outside for mourning. In northern Gaza, a father lifted the body of his 4-year-old during a funeral Monday for five children from the same family killed in an Israeli missile strike.

Most of those killed since Saturday were members of Hamas security forces, though the precise numbers remain unclear. A Hamas police spokesman, Ehab Ghussen, said 180 members of the Hamas security forces were among the dead, and the U.N. agency in charge of Palestinian refugees said at least 51 of the dead were civilians. A rise in civilian casualties could intensify international pressure on Israel to abort the offensive.

Israel's intense bombings - more than 300 airstrikes since midday Saturday - reduced dozens of buildings to rubble. The military said naval vessels also bombarded targets from the sea.

One strike destroyed a five-story building in the women's wing at Islamic University, one of the most prominent Hamas symbols in Gaza. Other attacks ravaged a compound controlled by Preventive Security, one of the group's chief security arms, and destroyed a house next to the residence of Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister.

Late Sunday, Israeli aircraft attacked a building in the Jebaliya refugee camp next to Gaza City, killing five children and teenagers under age 17 from the same family, Gaza Health Ministry official Dr. Moaiya Hassanain said. In the southern town of Rafah, a toddler and his two teenage brothers were killed in an airstrike aimed at a Hamas commander, Hassanain said. In Gaza City, another attack killed two women.

Some families fled their apartments next to institutions linked to Hamas.

Suad Abu Wadi, 42, kept her six children close on mattresses in her Gaza City living room. Her husband sat with them, chain-smoking. Abu Wadi said he said nothing since seeing their neighbor carrying the body of his child, killed in an airstrike Saturday.

Gaza's nine hospitals were overwhelmed. Hassanain, who keeps a record for the Gaza Health Ministry, said that some of the over 1,400 wounded were now being taken to private clinics and even homes.

Abdel Hafez, a 55-year-old history teacher, waited outside a Gaza City bakery to buy bread. He said he was not a Hamas supporter but believed the strikes would only increase support for the group. "Each strike, each drop of blood are giving Hamas more fuel to continue," he said.

Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, told parliament Israel was not fighting the residents of Gaza. "But we have a war to the bitter end against Hamas and its branches," he said. Barak said the goal is to deal Hamas a "severe blow" and that the operation would be "widened and deepened as needed."

In Israel, 17 people have been killed in attacks from Gaza since the beginning of the year, including nine civilians - six of them killed by rockets - and eight soldiers, according to Israel's Foreign Ministry.

Israeli security officials have warned that the militants' range now includes Beersheba, a major city 30 miles (50 kilometers) from Gaza. Resident Mazal Ivgi, 62, said she had prepared a bomb shelter. "In the meantime we don't really believe it's going to happen, but when the first boom comes people will be worried," she said.

Israel began Saturday's assault by targeting Hamas security installations, and has broadened the attacks since then. On Sunday planes struck dozens of smuggling tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border, cutting off a key lifeline that had supplied Hamas with weapons and Gaza with commercial goods.

In Jerusalem, Israel's Cabinet approved a call-up of 6,500 reserve soldiers Sunday in apparent preparation for a ground offensive. The final decision to call up reserves has yet to be made by the defense minister, and the Cabinet decision could be a pressure tactic. Military experts said Israel would need at least 10,000 soldiers for a full-scale invasion.

Israel has doubled the number of troops around Gaza and also deployed an artillery battery. Several hundred reservists have already been summoned to join their units, but no full combat formations have been mobilized so far.

The assault has sparked diplomatic fallout. Syria decided to suspend indirect peace talks with Israel, and the U.N. Security Council called on both sides to halt the fighting and asked Israel to allow humanitarian supplies into Gaza. Israel opened one of Gaza's border crossings Monday, and about 40 trucks had entered with food and medical supplies by midday, military spokesman Peter Lerner said.

Egypt also opened its borders to Gaza and allowed trucks loaded with humanitarian aid to enter the Rafah terminal Monday. It was also taking in wounded Palestinians from Gaza, with more than a dozen Egyptian ambulances waiting at the crossing.

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, who heads a moderate government in the West Bank and is holding peace talks with Israel, issued his strongest condemnation yet of the operation, calling it a "sweeping Israeli aggression against Gaza" and saying he would consult with his bitter rivals in Hamas in an effort to end it.

Israel is trying to avoid civilian casualties, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told reporters Monday, while "Hamas is looking for children to kill."

"Hamas is targeting deliberately kindergartens and schools and citizens and civilians because this is according to their values. Our values are completely different. We are trying to target Hamas, which hides among civilians," Livni said.

The carnage inflamed Arab and Muslim public opinion, setting off street protests in Arab communities in Israel and the West Bank, across the Arab world, and in some European cities.

In Iraq, about 1,000 backers of anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr staged a protest Monday in Baghdad demanding Israel immediately stop its air assault. The political party of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki condemned the attacks and called on Islamic countries to cut relations with Israel.

On Monday, a Palestinian stabbed and wounded four Israelis in a West Bank settlement before he was shot and wounded. It was not immediately clear if the attack was directly connected to the events in Gaza.


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Iraqi prison break drama ends with Qaeda escapee killed, two arrests

RAMADI, Iraq (AFP) — Two Al-Qaeda prisoners who broke out of a police jail in the western Iraqi city of Ramadi were arrested early Sunday, hours after their accomplice was killed by Iraqi police snipers, police said.

The arrest of the two men brought to an end a dramatic series of events that began early on Friday when the three local Al-Qaeda in Iraq leaders escaped from cells in Forsan police station triggering a deadly firefight that killed 13 militants and policemen.

The man shot dead on Saturday by Iraqi forces was Imad Ahmed Farhan, nicknamed "Imad the Killer" because police say the Qaeda operative had confessed to murdering at least 100 people and setting over 100 roadside bombs.

Farhan's accomplices, Abdel Aleem and Lazeem, were arrested in the central Ramadi district of Andaluz early on Sunday following a desperate manhunt that lasted nearly two days, Ramadi police major Alaa al-Jassam, told AFP.

"They are now being held in a police station in Ramadi," said Jassam.

Farhan's two accomplices were found hiding in water tanks in a private home, Udai Mohammed Daud, an intelligence police captain, told AFP.

"They were arrested on the second floor of a home, hiding in water tanks," said Daud, adding they had taken the suspects without firing a shot after receiving a tip.

Farhan, 32, was killed by sniper fire around midday Saturday after a fierce gun battle in which he had taken a family hostage in a home on Street 20 in the centre of Ramadi, capital of Anbar province in western Iraq, police said.

Police had been carrying out a massive manhunt since Friday and found Farhan holed up in a home in central Ramadi. They were alerted to his whereabouts when one of the hostages was able to get word to a neighbour.

"The female hostage got to the back of the house and was able to tell her neighbour that they were hostages and that a terrorist was there," Colonel Salah Arar, commander of the southern sector of Ramadi police, told AFP.

"We took a police unit and a sniper squad with us and we identified the room in the house where he was," Arar said.

"One of our snipers shot him but only wounded him. Then as he tried to move across the roof from one house to another, one of our snipers shot him five or six times."

Pictures of a man alleged to be Farhan showed a body riddled with bullet holes.

Police raided the home of Farhan's sister on Friday and confiscated his passport and his national identity document in case he tried to flee abroad, Ramadi police captain Mohammed Daud said.

The daring and apparently well-planned breakout from the station began at around 2 am Friday when a prisoner called out that he was sick and a policeman went to a communal cell to check.

When the officer entered the cell holding 40 men, 13 of them Al-Qaeda members, they grabbed him and cut his throat with a makeshift knife. They then seized his gun and went to the police chief's office and slit his throat.

The Al-Qaeda prisoners then dashed into the courtyard where they shot a lieutenant and made it to the armoury before the gun battle erupted.

The prisoners and police battled for two hours before the officers managed to regain control of the complex. One prisoner was recaptured after suffering gunshot wounds.

The predominantly Sunni Arab city of 540,000 was a key Al-Qaeda stronghold in the aftermath of the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime by US-led forces in 2003.

Iraq's biggest province became the theatre of a brutal war focused on the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, while a string of towns along the Euphrates valley became insurgent strongholds and later safe havens for Al-Qaeda.

Farhan himself has been captured twice by US forces and following his release he took charge of Al-Qaeda financing in Ramadi. He later fled to Syria.

When he returned in 2007, he was arrested by Iraqi police but US forces demanded his transfer to Camp Bucca because of his criminal record.

He was then handed to Iraqi police four months ago and was set to go on trial.

"I interrogated him personally, and he admitted to me that he had killed more than 60 brothers of the south (Shiite) on the road between Ramadi and the Jordan border and had planted more than 100 roadside bombs that killed dozens," Arar said.


Score: 1 for the Ramadi police!

Video captures deaths of 14 Afghan students

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - A single-file line of school children walked past a military checkpoint Sunday as a bomb-loaded truck veered toward them and exploded, ending the lives of 14 young Afghans in a heartbreaking flash captured by a U.S. military security camera.

The video shows an SUV slowly weaving through sandbag barriers at a military checkpoint just as a line of school children, most wearing white caps, comes into view. They walk along a pathway between the street and a wall, several of them pausing for a few seconds in a group before moving forward again. The vehicle moves toward the security camera while the children walk in the opposite direction, nearly passing the SUV when the footage ends in a fiery blast.

Photos of the bombing's aftermath showed bloodied text books lying on the ground beside small pairs of shoes. Afghan officials said the kids were attending a final day of class for the year to find out whether they would move up to the next grade.

Dr. Abdul Rahman, a doctor at a hospital near the blast, said the children were aged 8 to 10.

The U.S. military said the attack in the eastern province of Khost killed 16 people, including 14 children, an Afghan soldier and another person - likely a private security guard that Afghan officials reported killed. The U.S. said 58 people were wounded.

In an angry condemnation of the attack, President Hamid Karzai said those that carried it out "cannot escape the revenge of Afghans and God's punishment."

The U.N. mission in Afghanistan and the NATO-led force also strongly condemned the attack.

The blast went off near the entrance to a police and army post, said Yacoub Khan, the deputy police chief of Khost. U.S. troops are also stationed inside the outpost, but no troops were wounded or killed in the attack.

U.S. Gen. David McKiernan, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, said he believes the militant network run by warlord Siraj Haqqani was responsible for the attack.

"The brutality and disregard for human life by terrorists is sickening, as I continue to witness innocent men, women and children being killed and maimed in the pursuit of this pointless insurgency," McKiernan said in a statement.

Afghan officials offered a slightly lower death toll. Abdullah Fahim, spokesman for the Ministry of Health in Kabul, said eight people in total died and 51 were wounded. Khan said he believed that only five school children had died.

It wasn't possible to reconcile the differing death tolls, though the U.S. military video seemed to support the likelihood of the higher toll.

Khan said the attack came at a time when Pashtun tribal elders from Mandozai district were meeting inside the compound to discuss security issues. It was not immediately clear how many - if any - of those tribal leaders were wounded or killed. Khan said it was possible they were the target but that there was no way for him to know for sure.

The attack came on the last day of school for the year. Students had gathered in the classrooms to receive end-of-year certificates and learn if they had passed on to the next grade, Asif Nang, spokesman for the Ministry of Education, said.

A U.N. spokesman said the U.N. mission in Afghanistan was "appalled" at the suicide attack.

"The deaths of young children who were receiving their end-of-year education certificates are particularly galling," said Dan McNorton.

The blast in Khost province came only hours after a late-night rocket attack in Kabul on Saturday killed three teenage sisters. McNorton said that attack "also reminds us of the true impact this conflict has on those who play no part in it."

Violence has spiked across Afghanistan the last two years, and the U.S. plans to send between 20,000 and 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan over the next six months to reinforce the 32,000 U.S. forces already in the country.

More than 6,100 people have died in insurgency-related violence this year, according to an Associated Press count of figures from Western and Afghan officials.

The year has also been the deadliest for NATO soldiers since the 2001 invasion to oust the Taliban.

In the south, a roadside bomb killed two Canadian soldiers and two Afghans working alongside them in a dangerous region of southern Afghanistan, Canada's military said Sunday.

In addition to those killed in Saturday's roadside bomb attack, four Canadian soldiers and one Afghan interpreter were wounded, the military said.

The two Afghans killed in the blast in the Panjwayi district of Kandahar province included an interpreter and a police officer.

NATO officials have said that Canadian troops have suffered more deaths per capita than any other foreign military in the country. More than 100 Canadians have been killed.

Elsewhere, coalition forces killed five militants and detained six during operations in Kabul and Paktika provinces on Saturday, the U.S.-led coalition said Sunday.


On the Net:

U.S. video of the attack: Video


UPDATE 2-Iran leader orders Muslims to defend Palestinians

TEHRAN, Dec 28 (Reuters) - Iran's Supreme Leader issued a religious decree to Muslims around the world on Sunday, ordering them to defend Palestinians in Gaza against Israeli attacks "in any way possible", state television reported.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also declared Monday a day of public mourning in Iran after Israel killed more than 280 Palestinians in two days of air strikes on Gaza.

"All Palestinian combatants and all the Islamic world's pious people are obliged to defend the defenceless women, children and people in Gaza in any way possible," Khamenei said.

"Whoever is killed in this legitimate defence, is considered a martyr," he said in a statement.

A religious decree is an official statement by a ranking religious leader that commands Muslims to carry out its message. While there is no religious and legal force behind it, Khamenei is respected by many Iranian and non-Iranian Shi'ites.

Iran refuses to recognise Israel, which accuses Tehran of supplying Hamas Islamists with weapons. Iran denies the claim, saying it only provides moral support to the group.

Israeli leaders said their campaign was a response to almost daily rocket and mortar fire by Gaza militants that intensified after Hamas ended a six-month ceasefire a week ago.

Khamenei criticised some Arab governments for their lack of response towards the Israeli raids.

"The even greater catastrophe is the encouraging silence of some Arab governments who claim to be Islamic," he said, also accusing the West of being indifferent to the killing of Palestinians.

Khamenei, Iran's most powerful authority, urged Muslim countries to punish Israeli leaders.

"The officials of this regime ... should be tried and punished for this crime by Islamic governments."

Khamenei's remarks were interpreted by some oil traders as a hint that Iran was calling on oil-producing Arab countries to disrupt energy shipments to Israel.

The West accuses Iran of covertly trying to build nuclear bomb, a charge rejected by Tehran.

But Israel's insistence that the Islamic state must not be allowed to develop atomic weapons has fuelled speculation that the Jewish state, widely assumed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal, could mount its own pre-emptive strike.

Various protests were held in Tehran on Sunday, including one by Iranian lawmakers chanting "Death to Israel".

Iran is ready to receive Palestinians wounded in the raids, foreign ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi said.

Tehran denounced Israel's attacks as "unforgivable" on Saturday. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the raids showed Israel's "weakness".


Well, why doesn't he order Iran to defend? Or don't they count?

I think he must mean, for all Muslims to come to the defense of Iran.

Suicide bomber hits Iraqi Gaza protest

BAGHDAD (AP) - A suicide bomber on a bicycle blew himself up Sunday amid a crowd of demonstrators in northern Iraq who were protesting Israel's airstrikes on Gaza, killing one demonstrator and wounding 16 others, Iraqi police said.

The bomber rode his bicycle into the demonstration of about 1,300 people in the center of the northern city of Mosul, said a police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with news media.

The demonstration was organized by the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party. The party's Mosul spokesman, Yahiya Abid Mahjoub, complained that police and the Iraqi army had not taken security precautions for the demonstration.

There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack, the officer said.

"The ones who targeted our brothers in Gaza are the same who targeted us in Mosul today. They are agents of Israel," Mahjoub said.

U.S. and Iraqi forces continue to battle al-Qaida and other insurgents in Mosul, Iraq's third largest city, where economic and political problems persist. The issues are complicated by Kurdish-Arab tensions in the city.

Also Sunday, police in Fallujah said a bomb exploded on the outskirts of the city, killing two civilians and wounding four others.

A police officer said the bomb exploded in a parking lot where farmers and other merchants gather to buy and sell goods. A U.S. military spokesman, Army Capt. Charles Calio, confirmed the casualty toll but added that the bomb targeted a police patrol.

Delivery trucks and other vehicles that do not have access permits for Fallujah are not allowed to drive into the city, which is west of Baghdad.

The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to release information to the news media.

Iraq's government also condemned Israel's airstrikes on Gaza, which began Saturday.

In a statement, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Iraq is demanding that Israel immediately halt attacks on Gaza and called on the international community "to take the necessary steps to stop this attack."

Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said condemnation didn't go far enough.

"Expressing condemnation and denunciation for what is going on against our brothers in Gaza and expressing solidarity with them by words only doesn't mean anything in the face of the big tragedy they are facing," he said in a statement released by office in Najaf.

"Now more than at any other time, both Arab and Islamic nations are required to take a practical stance for the sake of stopping this repeated aggression and to break the unfair besieging of these brave people," the statement said, without giving details of the proposed stance.

In Samarra, 60 miles (95 kilometers) north of Baghdad, hundreds of protesters gathered to denounce the airstrikes.

The demonstrators also condemned "the Arab silence and the humiliating stance of Arab rulers," said Mahdi al-Aran, a local member of the Iraqi Islamic Party.

About 100 people took to the streets in Baghdad's largest Palestinian neighborhood, a complex of 16 apartment blocks surrounded by Shiite areas in the Baladiyat district, to protest the attacks. Some carried signs denouncing Israel and others carried flags.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

"Crappy Hanukkah"

"I did not smoke while writing this. This essay describes the events that occurred on 21DEC08.

I stand in the dining facility.

The DEFAC manager graciously set aside a small clump of tables reserved for all of the Jews on The Little FOB to light the menorah.

I’m the only Jew that showed up."
Big Tabacco

Live with it.

US taxpayers money in Action: 1000 palestinians killed and injured in one day

"Dozens of U.S.-made airplanes and helicopters attacked more than 40 sites in Gaza today, dropping more than 100 tons of bombs by mid-afternoon.

Human Rights Defenders from Lebanon, the UK, Poland, Canada, Spain, Italy and Australia are present in Gaza and are witnessing and documenting the current Israeli attacks.

read some of their accounts here, and try to put them in touch with your local media. I'll send the press release to radio stations here in DC."
Raed in the Middle

My Non-Stalker

"I have a new stalker, only he's more like a non-stalker. He texts me and sends me messages on Yahoo constantly, but that's about as far as it goes. I have a feeling though that if he wasn't so damn paranoid about rumors that he'd be one of those creepy stalker guys that's always hiding out in the shadows watching my every move.

I had heard from the girl that I work with that heard from her roommate that a Sergeant here has a crush on me.

He comes up to the office at least once a day and we casually talk while he's here. We exchanged phone numbers a few weeks ago so that we could text back and forth whenever we were bored."
Pink's War

AFGHANISTAN: U.S. hopes to make friends with sugar

The U.S. is hoping to unleash a new weapon against the Taliban in Afghanistan: bees.

No, not killer bees. Honey makers, pollinators, the better to help the subsistence farmers of Kunar province, one of the most violent and impoverished areas of the country.

The philosophy is simple: If farmers can make a better living, they'll be less prone to help the Taliban in its fight to drive the U.S. and NATO out of Afghanistan and topple the government in Kabul.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the State Department's provincial reconstruction team in Kunar have teamed with the Afghan government to distribute sugar to Kunar beekeepers to help existing hives prosper. Healthier hives should help the spring crops.

More honey and beeswax would also help. Honey is one crop that doesn't need refrigeration, a rarity in this part of Afghanistan.

Babylon & Beyond

China starts filling tanks at largest oil reserve: report

China has started filling tanks at its largest oil reserve, taking advantage of tumbling world crude prices, state media reported Thursday.
The facility's 10 tanks, which have a total capacity of 6.3 million barrels, are operated by China National Petroleum Corp., the nation's top oil producer, and are located in the northwest Xinjiang region, the Xinhua news agency said.

This is just the first phase of the reserve, which will eventually have an overall capacity of more than 50 million barrels of crude, mainly produced in Xinjiang or imported from neighbouring Kazakhstan, it said.

Total investment in the project is 6.5 billion yuan (950 million dollars), with 856 million yuan invested in the first phase, it added.

Analysts said the ongoing slump in the global oil market, with crude prices falling 78 percent since hitting record highs above 147 dollars per barrel in July, made a good opening for China to expand its crude imports and reserves.

"People thought before it was not a good time to raise oil reserves due to excessively high prices," said Zhou Fengqi, a former official with the National Development and Reform Commission, the top economic planning agency.

"But there is no excuse for not seizing the opportunity now as oil prices are relatively cheap," Zhou said, according to Xinhua.

China began to build four strategic oil reserve facilities on its east coast earlier this decade, and two of these are now in operation, Xinhua said.

The aim of the reserves is to guarantee supply in times of need as the nation's a growing economy demands ever-more energy to fuel the factories that supply many of the world's consumers with manufactured goods.

Strategic oil reserves in the country are expected to reach 101.9 million barrels by the end of this year and rise to 145.9 million barrels in 2010, with 511.9 million barrels a long-term goal, Xinhua said.

A net importer of oil since 1993, China imported around 1.2 billion barrels of crude in 2007, up 12.4 percent from the previous year.

The country's current oil consumption is about eight million barrels per day, according to data from the Securities Daily, a state-run newspaper.

Energy Daily

The next car I buy will have to be a single mode hybrid that gets 150 MPG, and my next truck better be the same, but run on natural gas.

Power to the Consumers!

Hobbyists are trying genetic engineering at home

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - The Apple computer was invented in a garage. Same with the Google search engine. Now, tinkerers are working at home with the basic building blocks of life itself.

Using homemade lab equipment and the wealth of scientific knowledge available online, these hobbyists are trying to create new life forms through genetic engineering - a field long dominated by Ph.D.s toiling in university and corporate laboratories.

In her San Francisco dining room lab, for example, 31-year-old computer programmer Meredith L. Patterson is trying to develop genetically altered yogurt bacteria that will glow green to signal the presence of melamine, the chemical that turned Chinese-made baby formula and pet food deadly.

"People can really work on projects for the good of humanity while learning about something they want to learn about in the process," she said.

So far, no major gene-splicing discoveries have come out anybody's kitchen or garage.

But critics of the movement worry that these amateurs could one day unleash an environmental or medical disaster. Defenders say the future Bill Gates of biotech could be developing a cure for cancer in the garage.

Many of these amateurs may have studied biology in college but have no advanced degrees and are not earning a living in the biotechnology field. Some proudly call themselves "biohackers" - innovators who push technological boundaries and put the spread of knowledge before profits.

In Cambridge, Mass., a group called DIYbio is setting up a community lab where the public could use chemicals and lab equipment, including a used freezer, scored for free off Craigslist, that drops to 80 degrees below zero, the temperature needed to keep many kinds of bacteria alive.

Co-founder Mackenzie Cowell, a 24-year-old who majored in biology in college, said amateurs will probably pursue serious work such as new vaccines and super-efficient biofuels, but they might also try, for example, to use squid genes to create tattoos that glow.

Cowell said such unfettered creativity could produce important discoveries.

"We should try to make science more sexy and more fun and more like a game," he said.

Patterson, the computer programmer, wants to insert the gene for fluorescence into yogurt bacteria, applying techniques developed in the 1970s.

She learned about genetic engineering by reading scientific papers and getting tips from online forums. She ordered jellyfish DNA for a green fluorescent protein from a biological supply company for less than $100. And she built her own lab equipment, including a gel electrophoresis chamber, or DNA analyzer, which she constructed for less than $25, versus more than $200 for a low-end off-the-shelf model.

Jim Thomas of ETC Group, a biotechnology watchdog organization, warned that synthetic organisms in the hands of amateurs could escape and cause outbreaks of incurable diseases or unpredictable environmental damage.

"Once you move to people working in their garage or other informal location, there's no safety process in place," he said.

Some also fear that terrorists might attempt do-it-yourself genetic engineering. But Patterson said: "A terrorist doesn't need to go to the DIYbio community. They can just enroll in their local community college."


Ok now we're doomed. I change my mind, outlaw everything...

As Taliban nears Kabul, shadow gov't takes hold

WARDAK PROVINCE, Afghanistan (AP) - Two months ago, Mohammad Anwar recalls, the Taliban paraded accused thieves through his village, tarred their faces with oil and threw them in jail.

The public punishment was a clear sign to villagers that the Taliban are now in charge. And the province they took over lies just 30 miles from the Afghan capital of Kabul, right on the main highway.

The Taliban has long operated its own shadow government in the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan, but its power is now spreading north to the doorstep of Kabul, according to Associated Press interviews with a dozen government officials, analysts, Taliban commanders and Afghan villagers. More than seven years after the U.S.-led invasion, the Islamic militia is attempting - at least in name - to reconstitute the government by which it ruled Afghanistan in the late 1990s.

Over the past year in Wardak province alone, Taliban fighters have taken over district centers, set up checkpoints on rural highways and captured Afghan soldiers. The Taliban in Wardak has its own governor and military chief, its own pseudo-court system and its own religious leaders who act as judges. Bands of armed militants in beat-up trucks cruise the countryside, dispensing their own justice against accused spies and thieves.

"After night falls, no police drive through here," the 20-year-old Anwar said, urging an AP journalist to return to Kabul before the militants drove into view.

Two miles down the road, a policeman named Fawad manned a checkpoint, wearing the traditional shalwar kameez robe so he could pretend to be a simple villager in case of a Taliban attack.

"There are more and more Taliban this year," said Fawad, who like many Afghans goes by only one name. "The people of the villages are not going to the government courts. The Taliban are warning them that no one can go there."

In a growing number of regions, insurgents have put in place:

- Militant commanders who serve as self-described governors and police or military chiefs of provinces.

- A 10 percent "tax" - a forced payment at gunpoint, Western officials say - on rich families, or donations by poorer families of food and shelter for fighters.

- A military draft that forces fighting-age males to join the Taliban for months-long rotations.

- A parallel judicial system run by religious scholars who impose such punishments as tarring, public humiliation and the chopping off hands.

- The closing of Afghan schools or the forcing of schools to replace science with more religious study.

- Manned Taliban or militant checkpoints to demand highway taxes and search vehicles for government employees or foreigners.

The increasing "Talibanization" is taking place in wide areas of countryside where the U.S., NATO and government of Hamid Karzai don't have enough troops for a permanent presence. Recognizing this, the U.S. plans to send its newest influx of troops in January into Wardak and Logar, right next to Kabul. Between 20,000 and 30,000 new American forces are scheduled to arrive by the summer.

Some Western officials argue that the rise of a shadow government is nothing more than the return of different emboldened warlords. They suspect militants simply stepped in where they saw a void in areas not reached by the Karzai's government, and it is still not clear if they have a coherent strategy. U.S. Gen. David McKiernan, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, has noted deep fault lines between Afghan insurgent groups.

McKiernan said the Taliban is trying not to govern but to intimidate.

In some cases they do try to have shadow governors or court systems, McKiernan said, "but they certainly do not bring with them any incentives to a community, any socio-economic programs, any perks, if you will..."

It's not clear just how far the shadow government goes. Taliban officials and analysts boast that there are now Taliban shadow governors in almost every Afghan province.

"Three years ago the Taliban had no control in Afghanistan. They were spread too thin. Now they have power. They have soldiers. They have governors, district chiefs and judges. It is a very big difference from what you saw in 2003 or even 2005," said Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban's former ambassador to Pakistan.

The Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, which provides safety information to aid organizations operating in the country, said that by a conservative estimate, anti-government militants operate in more than 35 percent of the country, and that the number is growing.

In 2007 militants attacked foreign troops only in small formations, worried that bombing runs by fighter aircraft would result in huge battlefield losses. But over the last year, that has changed.

Recently, some 300 militants massed for an attack in the Bala Murghab district of Badghis province. About 250 insurgents took part in an attack on a government center in Paktika province in late November. And earlier this year some 200 militants attacked a small U.S. outpost in the east and killed nine soldiers.

An hour's drive south of Kabul in Logar, the Taliban took over the district of Baraki Barak just before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in September. They rented shops and armed men wandered the streets, residents say.

They ordered barbers with TV sets to throw them away and kicked the satellite dishes on some houses to the ground.

After Friday prayers on the 25th day of Ramadan, Taliban fighters announced they were going to implement sharia law by their conservative and punitive reading of Islam. They warned that anyone working for the government would be considered a spy and killed.

"Everyone with links to the government fled the area," said a shopkeeper in Baraki Barak who spoke only on condition he wasn't identified for fear of the Taliban. "The people are very afraid of the Taliban, but if anyone shows any kind of reaction, the Taliban will mark that man and say, 'You are a spy of the foreigners and infidels.'"

In Helmand province, perhaps Afghanistan's most militant-infested region, Mullah Mohammad Qassim was appointed as the Taliban police chief last spring. Qassim said each of Helmand's 14 districts has a Taliban government leader and police chief, and courts across the province implement strict Islamic or sharia law.

The Taliban in Helmand have no relations with Karzai's government, he said. "We are more powerful than them. Even most of the capital of Helmand is under our control."

Every week Taliban judges hold court after Friday prayers, said tribal elder Mohammad Aslam from the district of Sangin. In the Kajaki area of Helmand, the site of a large U.S.-funded dam project, militants tax houses with electricity, he said. Trucks using the highways are also taxed.

Aslam estimates that 90 percent of people in Helmand side with the Taliban. Echoing a common complaint of Afghans across the country, Mohammad Aslam labeled the Afghan government "corrupt."

"No one can trust them," he said of government officials. "Whenever we have a problem, we go to the Taliban and the Taliban court."


I hope Obama knows something we don't.

26-Dec-08: If you were a Gazan Palestinian Arab...

"If you were a Gazan Palestinian Arab, what would you make of these unfolding events today?

You're living in a tiny miserable space that your political masters and their friends misleadingly call "the most densely populated place on earth". (In fact, it's nothing of the sort. Tel-Aviv and dozens of other cities have a higher population density, but no matter.) In your tiny, not-quite-state-of-Hamastan, you have nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Despite this, the regime that governs you makes blood-curdling threats they have little ability to carry out. Its spokesman Fawzi Barhoum is quoted saying "There is no chance of extending the calm" and his colleagues are making sure this turns out to be true. "
This Ongoing War

Israel attacks Gaza, more than 155 reported killed

GAZA (Reuters) - Israeli warplanes and combat helicopters pounded the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Saturday, killing at least 155 people in the bloodiest day for Palestinians in more than 20 years.

Palestinian militants responded with rocket salvoes that killed an Israeli man and wounded several others, medics said.

Black smoke billowed over Gaza City, where the dead and wounded lay scattered on the ground after more than 30 air strikes destroyed several security compounds, including two where Hamas was hosting graduation ceremonies for new recruits.

Among the dead were the Hamas-appointed police chief, Tawfiq Jabber, the head of Hamas's security and protection unit, and the governor of central Gaza, according to medical workers.

At the main police headquarters, some rescue workers beat their heads and shouted "God is greatest" as one badly wounded man lying nearby quietly recited verses from the Koran.

The Israeli military said it had targeted "terrorist infrastructure" following days of rocket attacks from Gaza on Israel and pledged more strikes if necessary, possibly targeting leaders of the Hamas Islamist militant group.

Hamas threatened to unleash "hell" to avenge the dead, including possible suicide bombings inside Israel.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the Israeli air campaign was "criminal" and called for the international community to intervene.

European Union Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana called for an immediate ceasefire. "We are very concerned at the events in Gaza. We call for an immediate ceasefire and urge everybody to exert maximum restraint," his spokesman said.

Egypt also condemned the Israeli raids and said it would keep trying to restore a truce between Israel and Gaza and Arab foreign ministers were set to hold an emergency meeting in Cairo on Sunday or Monday to take a common position on the raids.


At the main Gaza City graduation ceremony, uniformed bodies lay in a pile and the wounded writhed in pain, television pictures showed. Rescuers carried those showing signs of life to cars and ambulances, while others tried to revive the unconscious.

The air strikes followed a decision by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's security cabinet to widen reprisals for cross-border Palestinian rocket attacks following the collapse of a six-month-old, Egyptian-brokered ceasefire a week ago.

Asked if an escalation of the assault could include targeted strikes against Hamas leaders, army spokeswoman Avital Leibovitch said: "Anything belonging to Hamas could be a target. You can interpret that as you like."

A five-day Israeli offensive in March killed more than 120 people, but Saturday's death toll would be the highest for Palestinians since their 1980s uprising.

Hamas armed wing spokesman Abu Ubaida said the Islamist group would "teach the enemy a lesson they will never forget," and brushed aside Israeli threats to target its leaders.

Witnesses reported heavy Israeli bombing along Gaza's border with Egypt. Palestinians use hundreds of tunnels under the border to bring in everything from goods to weapons, making them prime Israeli targets.

Olmert had warned Hamas, which seized control of the coastal enclave in June 2007, to stop firing rockets.

"I will not hesitate to use Israel's might to strike Hamas and (Islamic) Jihad," he told Al Arabiya television, an Arab broadcaster widely watched in Gaza.