The Council for the National Interest, a group of former American diplomats, met on Monday with the Palestinian prime minister in the Gaza Strip, Ismail Haniyeh. One of the diplomats, Richard Waits, who in the past served as U.S. ambassador to Jordan and was the number two man in the U.S. embassy in Israel from 1977 to 1979, said that the delegation did not ask for anyone’s permission. He said that the purpose of the delegation was to examine the situation and tell the citizens of the U.S. about what they saw.

The Council for the National Interest opposes pro-Israel policies of the American government.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian daily newspaper Al-Hayat, the semi-official voice of the Palestinian Authority, reported on Tuesday that since 2008 the Quartet – the E.U., U.N., Russia and the U.S. – has been conducting secret talks with former senior government officials in the Gaza Strip who belong to Hamas.

Al-Hayat notes that the Quartet is more careful than France, which held secret talks with Mr. Haniyeh himself.

Longer-Range Rocket Fired

A 107-millimeter Katyusha rocket was fired for the first time out of the Gaza Strip at the western Negev region on Tuesday. The rocket in question is a standard-issue Katyusha rocket with a six-mile range and a larger warhead than the Kassam and Grad rockets that have been fired thus far out of Gaza.

Since the warhead of the Katyusha rocket is packed with standard-grade explosives, the rocket has a longer shelf life than the homemade Kassam rocket.

Five people, two of whom are foreign nationals who work in agriculture, were injured on Tuesday by a barrage of rockets and mortar shells that were fired out of the northern Gaza Strip at civilian communities in the western Negev.

The two foreign workers were injured when one of the rockets exploded near a packing factory not far from their residential quarters. They sustained light injuries and were taken to Soroka Hospital in Beer Sheva along with three other people. Two other people who sustained light injuries were able to take themselves to the local medical clinic, where they received treatment.

In the course of the day on Tuesday, seven Kassam rockets and four mortar shells were fired at Israel. In response, the IDF attacked and killed an armed terrorist who was spotted trying to fire a rocket at the southern Gaza Strip.

A few minutes later the Israelis attacked a number of mobile rocket launchers in the same area. The targets were reportedly hit.

Earlier on Tuesday morning, an Israeli soldier was shot in the shoulder by Palestinian sniper fire in the central Gaza Strip near Kissufim. The soldier, a bulldozer driver, was injured while carrying out groundwork in the area. He was evacuated by helicopter to Soroka Hospital.

Livni: Military Option On The Table

“Iran needs to realize that the military option exists and hasn’t gone off the table,” declared Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

Her statements were made in the Knesset Parliament at precisely the same time as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared that Israel would “disappear either with or without Iran’s help.”

Ms. Livni made her statement in a meeting of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. She underscored the importance of immediate action with respect to the Iranian nuclear threat. “We have made it clear to officials with whom we come into contact throughout the entire region that in the Middle East either you strike at the neighborhood bully or you join him,” said the foreign minister, who criticized “moderate states that sit on the fence.”

Ms. Livni also reported on the activity pursued by her ministry to expand sanctions against Iran outside of the United Nations Security Council as well. She said Israel wanted to make it clear to the European states that the Iranian threat included “long range surface-to-surface missiles that can also threaten Europe.”

While Ms. Livni warned against Iran, Mr. Ahmadinejad reiterated his “forecast” that Israel would disappear. At the U.N. conference in Rome on the international food crisis, Mr. Ahmadinejad claimed that the U.N. could not solve crises of this type when certain members of the Security Council did as they pleased.

Ms. Livni’s comments are taken seriously, since she is next in line to replace Ehud Olmert, who is expected to resign shortly because of multiple cases of fraud now pending against him.

Barak: Syria Continues To Arm Hezbollah

“Syria continues to arm Hezbollah in spite of the talks with Israel,” Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said yesterday during a visit to Israel’s northern border with Syria.

According to intelligence possessed by Israel’s security establishment, Damascus continued to deliver shipments of munitions, rockets and long-range missiles to the terrorist group, even during the period when the secret talks with Jerusalem were expedited and also after they became public two weeks ago.

The Syrians are cooperating very closely with Hezbollah, and to a large extent they are responsible for the delivery of weapons to the organization and for its growing strength, Mr. Barak said on Tuesday.

Senior defense sources said they had expected that Syria would behave differently, at least at least during the talks.

Commenting on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s declaration that he would not concede the return of the Golan Heights, Mr. Barak said, “I do not think that anybody, and certainly not the Syrian president, imagines that this is what the talks are about. Feelers have been put out to the Syrians to determine whether it is possible to embark on negotiations with them, which will have to be direct, and to discuss all the issues. Difficult decisions and concessions will have to be made, but there are two sides to it. That means that Assad and we will both have to make difficult decisions.”

David Bedein can be reached at Media@actcom.co.il. His Web site is www.IsraelBehindTheNews.com

©The Bulletin 2008

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David Bedein is an MSW community organizer and an investigative journalist.   In 1987, Bedein established the Israel Resource News Agency at Beit Agron to accompany foreign journalists in their coverage of Israel, to balance the media lobbies established by the PLO and their allies.   Mr. Bedein has reported for news outlets such as CNN Radio, Makor Rishon, Philadelphia Inquirer, Los Angeles Times, BBC and The Jerusalem Post, For four years, Mr. Bedein acted as the Middle East correspondent for The Philadelphia Bulletin, writing 1,062 articles until the newspaper ceased operation in 2010. Bedein has covered breaking Middle East negotiations in Oslo, Ottawa, Shepherdstown, The Wye Plantation, Annapolis, Geneva, Nicosia, Washington, D.C., London, Bonn, and Vienna. Bedein has overseen investigative studies of the Palestinian Authority, the Expulsion Process from Gush Katif and Samaria, The Peres Center for Peace, Peace Now, The International Center for Economic Cooperation of Yossi Beilin, the ISM, Adalah, and the New Israel Fund.   Since 2005, Bedein has also served as Director of the Center for Near East Policy Research.   A focus of the center's investigations is The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). In that context, Bedein authored Roadblock to Peace: How the UN Perpetuates the Arab-Israeli Conflict - UNRWA Policies Reconsidered, which caps Bedein's 28 years of investigations of UNRWA. The Center for Near East Policy Research has been instrumental in reaching elected officials, decision makers and journalists, commissioning studies, reports, news stories and films. In 2009, the center began decided to produce short movies, in addition to monographs, to film every aspect of UNRWA education in a clear and cogent fashion.   The center has so far produced seven short documentary pieces n UNRWA which have received international acclaim and recognition, showing how which UNRWA promotes anti-Semitism and incitement to violence in their education'   In sum, Bedein has pioneered The UNRWA Reform Initiative, a strategy which calls for donor nations to insist on reasonable reforms of UNRWA. Bedein and his team of experts provide timely briefings to members to legislative bodies world wide, bringing the results of his investigations to donor nations, while demanding reforms based on transparency, refugee resettlement and the demand that terrorists be removed from the UNRWA schools and UNRWA payroll.   Bedein's work can be found at: www.IsraelBehindTheNews.com and www.cfnepr.com. A new site,unrwa-monitor.com, will be launched very soon.