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JFP 3/31: Half a Million U.S. Iraq and Afghanistan Vets Treated in the VA
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 31 March 2010 - 8:31pm
Just Foreign Policy News
March 31, 2010
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Urge Congress to Talk About the Human Cost of War
In the next few weeks, Congress is expected to be asked to approve $33 billion more for war and occupation in Afghanistan. Urge your representatives in Congress to use this opportunity to shine a spotlight on the human cost of continuing war and occupation.
How Many Vets Have Been "Wounded" in Iraq and Afghanistan?
According to Department of Defense statistics cited in press reports, 36,904 U.S. soldiers have been "wounded" in Iraq and Afghanistan. But according to information obtained by Veterans for Common Sense from the VA under FOIA, 508,152 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have been patients at the VA, and there have been 442,412 disability claims.
Jewish Voice for Peace: Stand Up for Divestment
The president of UC Berkeley's student senate vetoed a historic 16 to 4 vote calling for divestment from General Electric and United Technologies because of their involvement in Israel's illegal occupation and the bombing of Gaza. But the veto can be overturned with just 14 senate votes.
Institute for Public Accuracy: "Energy Independence" is "Ludicrous"
President Obama said increased offshore drilling was needed to assure 'energy independence.' But the idea the U.S. could be "energy independent" is "ludicrous," says Robert Bryce, author of "Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusions of 'Energy Independence.'" IPA notes that while politicians talk of "dependence on Mideast oil" (Rep. Henry Waxman: "We're so dependent on importing oil from the Middle East"), the countries the U.S. gets the most oil from are Canada, Mexico and Nigeria.
Mustafa Barghouti on declaration of Hebron site as "Israeli national heritage site"
Katya Reed interviews Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, president of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees.
Highlights of the Afghanistan Debate
1) U.S. forces hope to control Kandahar and surrounding areas by late summer, the Washington Post reports. Officials have pressed local leaders to eject the Taliban or their areas will be the focus of expanding military operations. Among those specifically warned by U.S. military commanders is Ahmed Wali Karzai, the elected head of Kandahar's provincial council, the unquestioned power broker in the province and brother of President Hamid Karzai [and also President Karzai's representative in talks with Taliban leader Mullah Baradar weeks before Baradar's arrest, a fact curiously unmentioned by the Post or the very similar New York Times story - JFP.] One senior U.S. military official said he threatened Ahmed Wali Karzai thus: "I told him, 'I'm going to be watching every step you take. If I catch you meeting an insurgent, I'm going to put you on the JPEL,' " the Joint Prioritized Engagement List, reserved for the most wanted insurgents. "That means," the official said he told Karzai, "that I can capture or kill you." [If the Post had mentioned Ahmed Wali Karzai's role in talks with Baradar, it could have explored the implications of the US official's threat to kill President Karzai's brother for President Karzai's claim that the US was obstructing Karzai's efforts to make peace with the Taliban - JFP.]
2) The Obama administration has expressed hopes that this year's U.S. military buildup, if successful, will push insurgents toward a political settlement, paving the way for an eventual Western withdrawal, the Los Angeles Times reports. Some viewed Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's dispatch of a Hezb-i-Islami delegation for public peace talks with President Karzai as preempting the indirect contacts that have been taking place for months between the Taliban and the Karzai administration. But a former Taliban official said some of the Hezb-i- Islami demands presented to the government represented common aims of the two movements.
3) Followers of Moktada al-Sadr announced they were arranging a referendum to pick Iraq's next prime minister, the New York Times reports. A Sadrist member of Parliament said the Iraqi National Alliance had begun talks with Prime Minister Maliki's State of Law, Allawi's Iraqiya and the Kurdish parties. He said serious negotiations would not start for several weeks and that an alliance between the Iraqi National Alliance and State of Law was likeliest.
4) The New York Times and Reuters are joining Fox News in hyping the threat of Iran's nuclear program, writes Glenn Greenwald for Salon. Fox falsely claims a CIA report says Iran is still working on building a nuclear weapon; Reuters misinterprets the stance of the of the IAEA, which continues to certify that none of Iran's supervised nuclear material has been diverted to military uses; the New York Times' David Sanger darkly warns that Western intelligence agencies "suspect" Iran is preparing to build more enrichment sites, when Iran has publicly declared its intention to do so.
5) Congress and State Department have taken little notice of Mexico's failure to comply with the human rights conditions of the Merida Initiative, Kristin Bricker reports for NACLA. One of the human rights conditions requires that Mexico improve "the transparency and accountability of federal police forces . . . including establishing police complaints commissions with authority and independence to receive complaints and carry out effective investigations." But a new law gives the federal Attorney General's Office (PGR) discretion to decide what information it will withhold from the government's National Human Rights Commission (CNDH). Giving the PGR sole discretion in determining what information it hands over to the CNDH regarding human rights abuses allegedly committed by its officials and police officers significantly reduces its transparency and accountability.
6) The UN Human Rights Committee said Mexico has failed to make significant progress on human rights issues like violence against women, abuses by military troops involved in policing work, and attacks on journalists, Inter Press Service reports. The Committee expressed concern about the use of torture, violations of women's rights, and the safety of human rights activists.
7) Palestinians held protests to mark Land Day, the anniversary of 1976 protests against Israeli land expropriation in northern Israel, during which six Israeli Arab citizens were killed in confrontations with Israeli security forces, the New York Times reports. Several Palestinians were wounded by Israeli army fire in Gaza as they demonstrated close to the border with Israel.
1) U.S. Sets Sights On Taliban Bastion
Karen DeYoung and Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, March 31, 2010; A01
Kandahar, Afghanistan - U.S. forces have begun the initial phases of a political-military offensive in this Taliban bastion and hope to control the city and surrounding areas by late summer, according to senior U.S. military officials.
Officials have pressed local leaders and tribal elders over the past several weeks to begin holding shuras, or conferences, in Kandahar city and outlying districts, telling them that they must improve governance, address corruption and eject the Taliban. Otherwise, their areas will be the focus of expanding military operations scheduled to begin in June with the arrival of 10,000 new U.S. troops, the officials have said.
Among those specifically warned by U.S. military commanders is Ahmed Wali Karzai, the elected head of Kandahar's provincial council. American officials have for years accused Karzai, the unquestioned power broker in the province and brother of President Hamid Karzai, of administering a corrupt regime and protecting narcotics traffickers. He was also accused of orchestrating voter fraud in August's presidential election.
In interviews, senior U.S. military and civilian officials stressed the difference between the operations in Kandahar, an urban area that is the Taliban's heartland, and operations in neighboring Helmand province, where Marines have taken control of the Marja district and installed government officials appointed by the central government in Kabul.
"Marja is rural and was ungoverned," said Frank Ruggiero, the senior U.S. civilian official in southern Afghanistan. "Kandahar city is controlled by the Afghan government." But 80 percent of the Zhari district to the west is controlled by the Taliban, as is 40 percent of the Panjwayi district, to the southwest. There are scattered insurgent operations in the Arghandab district to the northwest, Ruggiero and other officials said.
Together, the three districts and the city proper have a population of 2 million, making Kandahar Afghanistan's second-largest population center, after Kabul.
Ahmed Wali Karzai "presents a huge challenge for us, that's for sure," another senior military official said. Added a Western diplomat in Kabul: "Is it a campaign to liberate Kandahar city from the Taliban or to liberate it from Wali Karzai? The two come together."
One senior U.S. military official described a personal visit he said he made two weeks ago to Karzai in Kandahar to threaten him with arrest or worse. "I told him, 'I'm going to be watching every step you take. If I catch you meeting an insurgent, I'm going to put you on the JPEL,' " the Joint Prioritized Engagement List, reserved for the most wanted insurgents. "That means," the official said he told Karzai, "that I can capture or kill you."
But this official and others acknowledged that they have no real evidence to back up allegations that Karzai has contacts with insurgents and that the threat is largely an empty one.
"We'd rather not have him," the military official said, "but there's nothing we can do unless we can link him to the insurgency." As an elected official, Karzai cannot simply be removed from office, and officials said the only option is to persuade his brother to ease him out of office by sending him to an overseas embassy, something the president has thus far refused to do. He has said that he has repeatedly demanded U.S. officials provide him with proof of specific wrongdoing by his brother, but that none has been forthcoming.
Ahmed Wali Karzai has proved to be a deft political operator, both within Afghanistan's complicated tribal networks and inside the U.S. government.
While he has earned the ire of U.S. military officials and diplomats, he has reportedly cultivated a longtime relationship with the CIA. The New York Times reported last fall that he had received regular payments from the CIA for several years and helped recruit a Kandahar-based militia that works on behalf of the U.S. spy agency.
2) Afghan militant Hekmatyar packs a surprise
After the insurgent's fighters sought Kabul's protection from the Taliban, he sent envoys to talk peace.
Laura King, Los Angeles Times, March 31, 2010
Pul-I-Khumri, Afghanistan - The battle raged for two days, rocket and mortar duels hopscotching across the flat farmlands, gunfire rattling through market villages. At first the combatants seemed equally matched, but when one side rushed in reinforcements, the other's lines broke and its fighters scattered. When the smoke and dust had cleared, dozens from the two sides lay dead.
Warfare is an everyday event across Afghanistan, but the confrontation this month on the fertile plains of Baghlan province, in the country's north, marked a sharp departure from battlefield norms. Rather than pitting Western and Afghan troops against the Taliban or other militants, this was insurgent-on-insurgent fighting - signaling a schism that could hasten or hamper the first significant peace moves in more than eight years of conflict.
The Taliban and its allies are the West's main adversaries in Afghanistan. But smaller militant factions such as Hezb-i-Islami, led by veteran commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, are likely to play a pivotal role in any Afghan endgame.
It was Hekmatyar's loyalists who squared off against the Taliban in Baghlan in early March, fighting for turf and lucrative extortion rackets, including the "taxing" of local farmers. With Taliban forces poised to overrun them, nearly 50 of Hekmatyar's men sought protection under the government rather than risk being captured by the Taliban. Others managed to slip away.
The Obama administration has expressed hopes that this year's U.S. military buildup, if successful, will push insurgents toward a political settlement, paving the way for an eventual Western withdrawal. So far, most of the attention has centered on the question of whether Taliban rank-and-file fighters can be wooed away from the battlefield. But last week it was Hezb-i-Islami that seized the initiative.
Hekmatyar dispatched a senior delegation to the capital, Kabul, for his militia's first publicly acknowledged talks with President Hamid Karzai - preempting, in the view of some, the indirect contacts that have been taking place for months between the Taliban and the Karzai administration.
It was a characteristically bold move. Hekmatyar, now in his early 60s, has for decades threaded a deft path through Afghanistan's violent geopolitical labyrinth, switching sides whenever it suited his purposes, reinventing himself along with the changing times.
Over the years, he has been a CIA asset, a feared mujahedin commander in the war against the Soviets, a wily politician who rose to the rank of prime minister, a warlord notorious for raining rockets on his own capital during the country's savage civil war.
"Hezb-i-Islami and the Taliban have different goals - there have been problems between them from the beginning," said Diyan, the Hezb-i-Islami commander who gave himself up to the government in Baghlan. "Each group has its own vision, its own ideology, its own agenda."
If Hekmatyar's intention is to rattle the Taliban with his overtures to the government, the tactic may be working. After the Kabul talks, a statement posted on the Taliban website described the negotiations as "a trap laid by the enemies of Islam" and insisted that there should be no parley until Western troops had left Afghanistan.
But Hekmatyar, a master of the double game, may also be working behind the scenes with the Taliban to formulate strategy. Wahid Mozhda, a former Taliban official who sometimes serves as an intermediary, said some of the Hezb-i- Islami demands presented to the government represented common aims of the two movements.
Militarily, Hekmatyar's forces are considerably weaker than the Taliban. They are concentrated in northern provinces such as Baghlan and neighboring Kunduz, which have been recent trouble spots for Western forces but are not regarded with the same urgency as the Taliban heartland of Helmand and Kandahar provinces.
But Hezb-i-Islami, in its political incarnation, is a powerful movement across Afghanistan. Its onetime allied party, which has publicly distanced itself from Hekmatyar, holds a number of governorships and Cabinet posts, with dozens of members or sympathizers in parliament.
If there were some accord in place, many analysts believe Hekmatyar could draw on that base to reinsert himself into national politics. No one considers any agreement imminent. Some elements of the 15-point plan presented by Hekmatyar's representatives are considered non-starters - for instance, a demand that foreign troops leave Afghanistan this year. But those familiar with the talks, including lawmaker Sultanzoy, said they detected a degree of flexibility on the part of Hekmatyar's envoys.
3) Empowered Sadrists Organize New Ballot in Iraq
Tim Arango, New York Times, March 31, 2010
Baghdad - Followers of Moktada al-Sadr, the militant cleric whose militia was a major force in the Shiite insurgency against American forces, announced Wednesday that they were arranging a special vote to pick Iraq's next prime minister. Mr. Sadr, who has been living in Iran, released a statement through his political office in Iraq that called for putting the "choice of prime minister in to the hands of the Iraqi public through a referendum for all Iraqi people."
The move appeared to be part political gimmick and part public relations masterstroke. The referendum would have no legal authority, but it continues the political maturing of a movement that moved away from violence, embraced the democratic process, and solidified its political force in the March 7 parliamentary election. The group won as many as 40 of the 325 seats, possibly pushing them past Kurdish groups in talks on forming a government.
At a news conference on Wednesday morning at the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, several representatives of Mr. Sadr's political movement announced they would hold the referendum on Friday and Saturday to choose among five candidates for prime minister or write in a candidate. The group has already printed ballots.
The five are Ayad Allawi, the former interim prime minister whose Iraqiya coalition won the most seats in the recent election; the current prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki; a former prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari; Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi; and Muhammad Jaffar al-Sadr, a newcomer to electoral politics here who ran on Mr. Maliki's ticket. He is the son of Muhammad Baqr al-Sadr, a revered ayatollah who was assassinated 30 years ago, a founder of the Islamic political movement in Iraq and an uncle of Moktada al-Sadr.
Sheik Salah al-Obedi, a Sadrist spokesman, said the organization would set up tents across Iraq's provinces to poll citizens. The Sadrists will also send teams to knock on doors and conduct polls, he said. The group said it would agree to support the candidate that won. "This referendum is not exclusively for Sadrists' followers," said Mr. Obedi. "On the contrary, it's for all the Iraqis to participate in."
Still, given Iraq's sectarian divisions, it is seen as more likely that only followers of Mr. Sadr would participate, and not a vast swath of the Iraqi populace.
While the Sadrists may directly claim 40 seats, their broader coalition, the Iraqi National Alliance, won 70 seats. Iraqiya, a coalition headed by Mr. Allawi, won the election with 91 seats. Mr. Maliki's State of Law group came in second with 89 seats. With none winning a mandate, negotiations that could take months are under way to cobble together a majority of Iraq's 325 seats in parliament.
The Sadrists have held discussions with Mr. Maliki's group, but they seem unlikely to form a coalition if it means another term for Mr. Maliki, who ordered military operations against Mr. Sadr's Mahdi Army in 2007 and 2008.
In that light, the referendum could be a Sadrist effort to gain more political leverage in talks on forming a government. "It could be a political stand in the negotiations for the next government, or an excuse to say that the Sadr movement can't accept Maliki since the public doesn't want him," said Hazim al-Nuami, a political analyst.
Bahaa al-Araji, a Sadrist member of Parliament who won re-election, said the Iraqi National Alliance, had begun talks with State of Law, Iraqiya and the Kurdish parties. He said that serious negotiations would not start for several weeks and that an alliance between the Iraqi National Alliance and State of Law was likeliest, since they are both Shiite parties and were once under the same political umbrella. "But that doesn't mean that a joining of the two alliances will take place without conditions or demands," said Mr. Araji.
4) Reporting on Iran should seem familiar
Glenn Greenwald, Salon, Wednesday, Mar 31, 2010
Fox News currently has an article at the top of its website that is headlined: "CIA: Iran Moving Closer to Nuclear Weapon." The report, by DOD and State Department correspondent Justin Fishel, begins with this alarming claim: "A recently published report by the Central Intelligence Agency says Iran is still working on building a nuclear weapon despite some technical setbacks and international resistance - and the Pentagon say it's still concerned about Iran's ambitions."
But, as blogger George Maschke notes, that statement is categorically false. The actual report, to which the Fox article links and which the DNI was required by Congress to submit, says no such thing. Rather, this is its core finding: "We continue to assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons though we do not know whether Tehran eventually will decide to produce nuclear weapons. Iran continues to develop a range of capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons, if a decision is made to do so."
The report says the opposite of Fox's statement that "Iran is still working on building a nuclear weapon." And, of course, the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate which concluded that Iran ceased development of its weapons program has never been rescinded, and even the most hawkish anonymous leaks from inside the intelligence community, when bashing the 2007 NIE, merely claim that analysts "now believe that Iran may well have resumed 'research' on nuclear weapons - theoretical work on how to design and construct a bomb - but that Tehran is not engaged in 'development' - actually trying to build a weapon."
This misleading "reporting" is hardly confined to Fox News. Reporting on Obama's efforts to secure international sanctions, Reuters today makes this claim: "[E]evidence has mounted raising doubts about whether Tehran is telling the truth when it says its nuclear program is only to produce peaceful atomic energy. Particularly damning was a report in February from the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, that said Iran may be working to develop a nuclear-armed missile."
But as Juan Cole correctly notes: "This Reuters article also misinterprets the stance of the International Atomic Energy Agency of the UN, which continues to certify that none of Iran's nuclear material, being enriched for civilian purposes, has been diverted to military uses. The IAEA has all along said it cannot give 100% assurance that Iran has no weapons program, because it is not being given complete access. But nagging doubt is not the same as an affirmation. We should learn a lesson from the Iraq debacle."
Meanwhile, The New York Times' David Sanger - who is the Judy Miller of Iran when it comes to hyping the "threat" based overwhelmingly, often exclusively, on anonymous sources - continues his drum beat this week. In an article co-written with William Broad, Sanger warns - "based on interviews with officials of several governments and international agencies" ("all" of whom "insisted on anonymity") - that "international inspectors and Western intelligence agencies say they suspect that Tehran is preparing to build more sites in defiance of United Nations demands." But rather than the secret, nefarious scheme which the NYT depicts this as being, these plans for additional sites were publicly announced - by the Iranian government itself - many weeks ago.
5) Mexico Backslides on the Merida Initiative's Human Rights Conditions
Kristin Bricker, NACLA, Mar 29 2010
Mexico's Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of a legal reform that limits the amount of information the federal Attorney General's Office (PGR) must hand over to the government's National Human Rights Commission (CNDH). Under the new law, the PGR will give the CNDH only information that it determines "does not put active investigations or individuals' security at risk." Human rights lawyer Luis Miguel Cano told the Mexican daily El Universal that the new law gives the PGR discretion to decide what information it will withhold from the CNDH.
When former CNDH president José Luis Soberanes Fernández brought the case before the Supreme Court last year, he argued that the new law impedes the CNDH's access to evidence in its investigations into PGR officials who have allegedly committed human rights abuses in the war on drugs. Mexican president Felipe Calderón has deployed the PGR's Federal Ministerial Police (formerly the Federal Investigation Agency) to several states to combat drug trafficking.
The new law limiting the CNDH's access to the PGR's files runs counter to the human rights conditions that apply to 15% of Mexico's funding under the Merida Initiative, Washington's controversial billion-dollar aid program that since 2008 has provided equipment and training to Mexican counter-narcotics forces.
One of the human rights conditions included in the initiative requires that Mexico improve "the transparency and accountability of federal police forces . . . including establishing police complaints commissions with authority and independence to receive complaints and carry out effective investigations." The CNDH is the independent commission that is tasked with receiving complaints filed against federal police forces, including the Federal Ministerial Police. Giving the PGR sole discretion in determining what information it hands over to the CNDH regarding human rights abuses allegedly committed by its officials and police officers significantly reduces its transparency and accountability.
Soberanes told the court that of all the federal government agencies, the PGR is one of the most prone to committing human rights abuses. "In 2008, of the 10 agencies most frequently accused by individuals as alleged human rights violators, the PGR ranks third," Soberanes said. Furthermore, he argued, some of the most frequently committed human rights abuses are arbitrary detention, illegal house searches, and cruel or degrading treatment, "conduct that tends to be most frequent during investigations carried out by the District Attorney's Office and the Ministerial Police."
The U.S. Congress and State Department have taken little notice of this direct violation of the Merida human rights conditions. On August 13, three weeks after the CNDH challenged the law in the Supreme Court, the State Department sent Congress an unconvincing report on Mexico's compliance with the human rights conditions. Despite human rights organizations' criticism that the rambling report never actually stated that Mexico was complying with the conditions, the Appropriations Committee accepted the report and released about $60 million of conditioned aid from fiscal year 2008. The State Department handed over its Merida Initiative human rights report just in time: 2008's conditioned funds were set to expire one month later, on September 30.
The PGR is one of the main recipients of Merida Initiative aid in Mexico. Of the initiative's 25 funding categories listed in a recent Mexican government report, the PGR is set to receive aid under 12 categories-more than any other government agency. This includes "non-intrusive" inspection equipment like wiretapping equipment and ion scanners, police dogs, investigations training, riot gear for police, and the strengthening of special operations teams.
6) UN Complains of Scant Progress by Mexico
Emilio Godoy, Inter Press Service, Mar 26
Mexico City - Mexico has failed to make significant progress on human rights issues like violence against women, abuses by military troops involved in policing work, and attacks on journalists, the United Nations Human Rights Committee stated Friday. At the end of its 98th period of sessions, the New York-based U.N. Committee, which is made up of 18 independent experts, also expressed concern about the use of torture, violations of women's rights, and the safety of human rights activists.
The Committee, which also issued its recommendations for Argentina, New Zealand and Uzbekistan on Friday, monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by its state parties. The Covenant, adopted in 1976, was ratified by Mexico in 1981.
Its members considered the case of Mexico on Mar. 8-9, discussing questions like the use of preventive detention, gender violence, torture, the rights of indigenous peoples, and attacks on human rights defenders and reporters.
"We applaud the observations, because we and a number of other human rights organisations have been denouncing problems like preventive detention, which opens the door to abuses," Mayra López, a lawyer with the non-governmental Mexican Commission for the Defence and Promotion of Human Rights (CMDPDH), told IPS.
Representatives of the CMDPDH and other NGOs flew to New York this month to present reports to the Committee on human rights violations committed by soldiers in the fight against drug trafficking as well as other kinds of abuses.
The 2008 overhaul of Mexico's legal system included an extension to 80 days of the period during which suspects can be held without charge, which human rights groups argue is a violation of the right to due process and foments the use of torture to extract confessions.
7) Several Wounded in Gaza by Israeli Gunfire
Fares Akram and Isabel Kershner, New York Times, March 30, 2010
Gaza - Several Palestinians were wounded by Israeli army fire in Gaza on Tuesday as they demonstrated close to the border with Israel, according to Palestinian medical officials and the Israeli military. But it was unclear who was responsible for the death of a Palestinian youth, 14, who was apparently shot in another part of the border area.
Palestinian officials said the youth, Muhammad al-Farmawi, was killed by Israeli soldiers close to his home in the southern Gaza town of Rafah. The military denied having fired at anybody in that area, however, and local Palestinians said the boy had been missing since Monday, raising questions about whether he could have been the victim of internal violence.
The military often fires warning shots in the area to warn Palestinians away from the border fence. By nightfall Tuesday, Palestinian ambulances were still waiting to coordinate their entry into the border area with Israel in order to retrieve the boy's body, according to Dr. Muawiya Hassanein, director of emergency medical services in Gaza, the Palestinian territory controlled by the Islamic militant group Hamas.
Elsewhere along the border dozens of Palestinians held protests Tuesday to mark Land Day, the anniversary of the 1976 protests against Israeli land expropriation in northern Israel, during which six Israeli Arab citizens were killed in confrontations with Israeli security forces.
Dr. Hassanein said nine demonstrators were wounded on Tuesday, one critically, when soldiers fired at them from observation towers and vehicles across the border fence. The military said the number of injured was lower, and that the soldiers had operated in accordance with army procedures to deter the protesters from reaching the fence.
Demonstrators set fire to tires and waved Palestinian flags. A handful of protesters planted flags in the sand a few yards from the security fence.
A military official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with army rules, described the area along the border of Gaza as "practically a war zone." On Friday, an Israeli officer and a soldier and two Palestinian militants were killed in clashes in the border area. The military said an Israeli force had entered Gaza territory after spotting Palestinians laying explosives near the border fence.
In the West Bank, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, Salam Fayyad, joined farmers and protesters for a Land Day protest in Qarawat Bani Hassan, a village where the agricultural lands lie mostly in an area under Israeli control.
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