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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) – U.S. President Barack Obama on Sunday spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and stressed the need for an immediate and sustainable ceasefire in the raging Gaza conflict.

Both the Israelis and Hamas exchanged strike and counter-strike on day 20 of the war, as world leaders pushed for an elusive ceasefire.

In a statement, the White House said Obama “made clear the strategic imperative of instituting an immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire that ends hostilities now and leads to a permanent cessation of hostilities based on the November 2012 ceasefire agreement” brokered by Egypt.

Obama “reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself” and stressed the need to “ensure the disarmament of terrorist groups and the demilitarization of Gaza,” while reiterating “serious and growing concern about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives,” the statement read.

Israeli media meanwhile said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet was holding a meeting extending from Sunday evening into the early hours of Monday to discuss the next steps in Gaza.

Earlier, fighting renewed apace, as Israel pounded Gaza with aerial, naval and artillery bombardments after a night of rocket fire from Hamas.

The two sides had observed a 12-hour humanitarian pause on Saturday, giving Gaza medics a chance to pull bodies from rubble they had not been able to reach under fire.

But Hamas rocket fire prompted Israel to abandon an extension of that truce Sunday, and subsequent Hamas calls for another ceasefire were ignored by both sides, as world leaders pushed for a permanent cessation of hostilities.

Neither side has agreed to the truce demands of the other, in a conflict that has killed more than 1,030 Palestinians, 43 Israeli soldiers and three civilians inside Israel.

A controversial incident on Thursday when a UN school acting as a shelter was shelled, killing 15 people, drew fierce condemnation from Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA.

The Israeli army confirmed on Sunday it had hit the school, but said it was a “single errant mortar” round, denying that people were killed “as a result of (army) operational activity”.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif engaged in a round of telephone diplomacy late Sunday to rally support and humanitarian aid for Palestinians in Gaza.

He spoke with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and regional leaders, stressing that the priority was to get food and medical aid into areas worst hit by Israel’s military offensive, Iran’s official IRNA news agency said.

Meanwhile Obama’s Secretary of State John Kerry was still working for Israel and Hamas to agree to further halts in the bloodshed ahead of hoped for Egypt-led peace talks, a U.S. official said.

Israel rejected a Kerry-proposed ceasefire earlier in the week, and Hamas has resisted truce efforts by Cairo, which has made an enemy of the Palestinian Islamist group that is allied to the Muslim Brotherhood that Egypt has designated a “terrorist” organization.

Israel insists that it will continue its mission to destroy Hamas tunnels used to launch attacks on the Jewish state, and Hamas wants a lifting of the crippling Gaza blockade that has been in place for eight years.

Although Hamas said its militants would halt their fire from 1100 GMT Sunday in response to a request from the United Nations, there was no response from Israel.

At least 22 rockets from Gaza hit Israel after the reported truce went into effect, an army spokeswoman told AFP.

“They are violating their own ceasefire,” Netanyahu told the CNN news network.

In a separate interview with CBS, he said Israel would not allow “a ruthless terror organisation… to decide when it’s convenient for them to stop for a moment, rearm, and continue firing”.

New Israeli attacks on Sunday killed 11 people across the territory, including an elderly Christian woman, medics said, raising the Palestinian toll on day 20 of Israel’s devastating military campaign to 1,031.

The violence looked set to continue ahead of the Muslim Eid festival starting on Monday, ending the month-long fast of Ramadan.

UN chief Ban urged, “in the strongest terms, both the Israelis and Palestinians to extend, for an additional 24 hours, the humanitarian ceasefire that was in effect and mostly observed until early this morning (Sunday),” a statement from his office said.

In Rome, Pope Francis pleaded for an end to the bloodshed which has killed mostly civilians, around a quarter of them children.

“Stop, please stop! I beg you with all my heart,” he said in the weekly Angelus prayer.

Exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said his group could not coexist with Israel as long as it occupied Palestinian land.

“We are not actually fighting the Jews because they are Jews,” he said in remarks broadcast Sunday. “We fight the occupiers.”

“I’m ready to coexist with the Jews, with the Christians and the Arabs and non-Arabs,” he said. “However, I do not coexist with the occupiers.”

Rights groups say the vast majority, some 80 percent of Palestinians killed, have been civilians.

AFP Photo/Marco Longari

Many Democrats are getting nervous about the upcoming presidential election. Ominous, extensively reported articles by two of the best in the business—the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin and The Atlantic's Barton Gellman—outline Boss Trump's plot to keep control of the White House in 2021 no matter how the American people vote.
Trump is hardly making a secret of it. He's pointedly refused to commit to "a peaceful transfer of power."

"Well, we're going to have to see what happens," is how he answered the question. He added that after we "get rid of the ballots"—presumably mail-in ballots he's been whining about for weeks--"there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation."

Of course, Trump himself has always voted by mail, but then brazen hypocrisy is his standard operating mode. If you haven't noticed, he also lies a lot. Without prevaricating, boasting, and bitching, he'd be mute. And even then, he'd still have Twitter. He recently tweeted that the winner "may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED" because mail-in ballots make it a "RIGGED ELECTION in waiting."
Gellman gets this part exactly right in The Atlantic: "Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.
"Trump's invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before."
No, we haven't. However, it's important to remember that Trump makes threats and promises almost daily that never happen. Remember that gigantic border wall Mexico was going to pay for? Trump has built exactly five miles of the fool thing, leaving roughly two thousand to go.
His brilliant cheaper, better health care plan? Non-existent.
On Labor Day, Boss Trump boasted of his unparalleled success in strong-arming Japan into building new auto-manufacturing plants. "They're being built in Ohio, they're being built in South Carolina, North Carolina, they're being built all over and expanded at a level that we've never seen before."
Not a word of that is true. Two new plants, one German, another Swedish have opened in South Carolina, but construction began before Trump took office. Auto industry investment during Barack Obama's second term far exceeded Trump's. His version is sheer make-believe.
But back to the GOP scheme to steal the election.
First, it's clear that even Trump understands that he has virtually no chance of winning the national popular vote. He's been polling in the low 40s, with no sign of change. To have any chance of prevailing in the Electoral College, he's got to do the electoral equivalent of drawing to an inside straight all over again—winning a half-dozen so-called battleground states where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.
At this writing, that looks highly unlikely. The latest polling in must-win Pennsylvania, for example, shows Trump trailing Joe Biden by nine points. That's a landslide. Trump's down ten in Wisconsin, eight in Michigan. And so on.
So spare me the screeching emails in ALL CAPS, OK? Polls were actually quite accurate in 2016. Trump narrowly defeated the odds. It can happen. But he's in far worse shape this time. Furthermore, early voting turnout is very high, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans two to one.
Hence, The Atlantic reports, "Trump's state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states."
The plan is clear. Because more Democrats than Republicans are choosing mail-in voting during the COVID pandemic, Trump hopes to prevent those ballots from being counted. Assuming he'll have a narrow "swing state" lead on election night, he'll declare victory and start filing lawsuits. "The red mirage," some Democrats call it.
"As a result," Toobin writes, "the aftermath of the 2020 election has the potential to make 2000 look like a mere skirmish." With Trump in the White House urging armed militias to take to the street.
Mail-in votes take a long time to count. Things could definitely get crazy.
True, but filing a lawsuit to halt a Florida recount was one thing. Filing suits against a half dozen states to prevent votes from being counted at all is quite another. Public reaction would be strong. Also, winning such lawsuits requires serious evidence of fraud. Trumpian bluster ain't evidence.
The Atlantic reports that GOP-controlled state legislatures are thinking about sending Trumpist delegations to the Electoral College regardless of the popular vote winner—theoretically constitutional but currently illegal.
Fat chance. If that's the best they've got, they've got nothing.
Anyway, here's the answer: Vote early, and in person*.

[Editor's note: In some states, receiving an absentee ballot means that a voter can no longer vote in person* or may have to surrender the absentee ballot, including the envelope in which it arrived, at their polling place. Please check with your local election authorities.]