I knew nothing of bribery until after ISL collapse: Blatter

BERNE, July 14 –

“I did not know until later, after the collapse of ISL in 2001, about the bribery,” the head of soccer’s world governing body told Swiss newspaper SonntagsBlick in an interview to be published on Sunday.

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“It was FIFA who then filed a claim at that time and set the whole ISL case in motion,” he added, referring to May 29 2001 when, after ISL collapsed, FIFA filed a claim for ‘suspicion of fraud, embezzlement as well as misappropriation of funds’.

“When I now say that it is difficult to measure the past by today’s standards, this is a generic statement. To me bribery is unacceptable and I neither tolerate nor seek to justify bribery. But this is what I am accused of now.

“The Swiss Federal Court has this week proven wrong all those people, who for years have accused me of having taken bribes. Now it is on record what I have always said: I have never taken nor received any bribes,” said Blatter.

“Now the same people are trying to attack me from a different angle: ‘Okay, he has not taken any bribes but he must have known.’

“Once again, I only knew after the collapse of ISL years later. And this is because we instigated the whole matter. The people who attack me now know this is the case but still they persist. They want me out.”

A Swiss prosecutor said in a legal document released this week that Havelange and former FIFA executive committee member Ricardo Teixeira took multi-million bribes on World Cup deals in the 1990s from ISL.

ISL sold the commercial rights to broadcast World Cup tournaments on behalf of FIFA. It collapsed with debts of around $300 million in 2001.

Blatter, who has been with FIFA since 1975, and succeeded Havelange as president in 1998, said on Thursday he knew that payments were being made. He referred to them as “commission” and said they were not illegal at the time.

Asked in a question-and-answer session with FIFA’s own website (www.fifa.com) on Thursday if he had known of payments, Blatter replied: “Known what? That commission was paid? Back then, such payments could even be deducted from tax as a business expense.

“Today, that would be punishable under law. You can’t judge the past on the basis of today’s standards.”

Havelange is still FIFA’s honorary president while Teixeira quit his post earlier this year, shortly after resigning as president of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF). (Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Ken Ferris)

Syrian conflict engulfs university campus

“There are many arrests and raids, especially against Sunni students excelling at their studies,” said an engineering student who gave her name only as “Amira”.

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“The atmosphere is tragic… it is not easy to study when people are being killed everywhere,” she said.

“Emotionally, it is a feeling of daily humiliation because of inspections by our peers of the ‘loyal sect’,” she said, referring to the minority Alawite community to which President Bashar al-Assad belongs.

The complex sectarian make-up of the campus reflects that of the central city itself.

Sunnis consider themselves the true natives of Homs and never took kindly to the mass influx of Alawites, who adhere to a branch of Shiite Islam, in the late 1960s when a military coup brought Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father and predecessor, to power.

Another student, Abu Baha, 23, said the sectarian faultlines began to surface soon after a revolt against Assad’s rule erupted in March 2011, quickly morphing into a civil war in which according to the UN more than 60,000 people have died.

“With the beginning of the revolution, the university devolved into a fifth column of the security forces,” said Abu Baha.

The engineering student described plain-clothes security agents patrolling the campus while the army was deployed on rooftops to bombard neighbouring Baba Amr district in a fierce assault last year.

A disturbing phenomenon, he added, was the arming of pro-regime students.

“The student union became real shabiha (pro-regime militiamen), each one given a weapon and free reign to insult or arrest fellow students for uttering a single word about freedom,” he said.

Mainly divided along confessional lines, Homs has experienced the worst sectarian violence of the 22-month revolt.

Activists accuse the authorities of deliberately fomenting sectarian strife, pointing to a day in July 2011 when some 30 people from various confessions were killed in a bloodbath the regime blamed on the opposition.

All the students quoted in this article, interviewed online in coordination with an Al-Baath student in Beirut, said they had lost friendships during the conflict ravaging Homs, where opposition areas remain under army blockade.

Divisions became “more pronounced after repeated arbitrary arrests, usually because of reports by pro-regime students, most of them Alawite,” said engineering student Abu Mohammed.

“My relations with Alawite students were completely finished after I realised what they were doing.”

“On the days of massacres you find opposition students are upset while pro-regime students are ecstatic with victory,” Amira said grimly.

Professors too are embroiled in the conflict, whether in interrogating students or working to conceal their own personal views.

“Most are afraid to speak about the situation, but in my faculty there is an Alawite professor who spends 70 percent of his lectures provoking opposition students. No one dares challenge him because we would not graduate,” said Abu Baha.

One Al-Baath University professor, himself displaced from Homs, said he went into early retirement due to the prevailing stressful atmosphere and fear of being kidnapped or killed during his daily commute.

“Many students have dropped out. The only ones left are pro-government. The rest are called ‘those from traitorous areas’,” he said during an interview in Beirut, refusing to be named for fear of his safety.

Abu Mohammed naively thought the academic sphere was a safe zone to discuss the uprising when it first erupted.

“In December 2011 I was arrested on several charges, including collaborating with an armed group to kill the dean of the architecture faculty, because of a heated debate with a loyalist Alawite student.”

He was expelled from university and said he was imprisoned for one month without evidence. “Only then did I become truly conscious about the injustice in my country.”

But despite the difficulties, some students, among them Abu Qusay, remain hopeful about the future.

“Employment opportunities were always limited due to nepotism and most young Syrians had been planning to work abroad after graduation, but after the success of the revolution I expect job opportunities to be equal between all Syrians,” he said.

“I am optimistic about a bright future for me in my country.”

NRL season all but over, Cowboys concede

North Queensland co-captain Matt Scott concedes the Cowboys chances of making the NRL finals are almost dead, saying only something special in the final six weeks of the season will steal them a top eight spot.

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After a disappointing 18-16 loss to fellow Queensland strugglers Brisbane on Friday night, a result which appears to have ended Neil Henry’s chances of coaching at the club next season, Scott said the Cowboys would need to win out to give themselves a hope.

But rather than calling it a miracle, the Queensland and Test prop said he believed anything was possible if they could win their last six games.

The Cowboys host competition front-runners South Sydney next week before a tough run home which includes finals aspirations Penrith, Cronulla, Gold Coast and Newcastle.

“It’s not impossible,” Scott said.

“I think we’ve certainly made it tough on ourselves and I think we’re at times playing footy that will get us into the eight if we maintain it.

“At the moment it’s just stupid individual errors that’s really hurting us.

“Win the next six and it’s possible but we’ve got to play a lot better than we did tonight.”

Next week North Queensland chairman Laurence Lancini will reportedly tell Henry, who signed a contract extension earlier this year, that the club will be looking elsewhere for a head coach next season.

Henry said his side had been made to pay for defensive misreads and communication breakdowns, and some players deserved better from their teammates.

The Cowboys were exposed repeatedly down their right edge defence, with all three Broncos tries coming from combinations down that side.

“We’re putting a lot of effort in to the game and we dominate field position for large parts of it,” Henry said.

“The players deserve better decisions off each other.

“They’re the men out there doing the hard yards, they’re working their backsides off for each other and they’re committed but they deserve better for each other in crucial parts of the game.

“And they didn’t do that for each other (against Brisbane) and that’s the difference, simple as that.

“It’s not a lack of confidence, it’s not a lack of will out there, it’s a couple of crucial decisions.”

Henry said he could do little if the Cowboys board decide to terminate his contract.

“I hope not but we’ll see what happens,” he said.

“We’ve got six games to go and potentially six wins and then we’ll all be marching into the finals, hopefully.

“We’ve got a big game against Souths next week and we can’t repeat (Friday night) or the season is well and truly over.”

Safety probe after Japan tunnel collapse

Japan has ordered inspections of ageing highway tunnels after a fiery collapse that killed nine people, with suspicions about the cause of the accident centred on decaying ceiling supports.

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The government pledged a thorough review and said “significant investment” would likely be required in the motorway network, parts of which including the accident site were built during the economic boom of the 1960s and 1970s.

“As a major factor, we suspect ageing,” an official from highway operator NEXCO said, referring to the tragedy at the Sasago tunnel which passes through hills near Mount Fuji 80km west of Tokyo.

Engineers on Monday began inspections at three other tunnels in the region with the same design, as well as the Sasago carriageway.

There are around 20 such tunnels nationwide, reports said. Footage from inside the tunnel showed concrete panels had collapsed in a V-shape, possibly indicating some kind of weakness in the central supporting pillars suspended from the roof, experts said.

NEXCO said safety inspections consist largely of visual surveys, with workers looking for cracks and other abnormalities, or listening to the acoustics of the concrete and metal parts by hitting them with hammers.

Officials admitted that during the five-yearly check of the ceiling in September there had been no acoustic survey of the metal parts on which the panels weighing up to 1.5 tonnes rest. Emergency workers were still at the nearly 5km tunnel, but more than 24 hours after the cave-in, efforts had shifted from rescue to recovery.

Three vehicles were buried on Sunday when concrete ceiling panels crashed down inside the tunnel.

Witnesses spoke of terrifying scenes as at least one vehicle burst into flames. Emergency workers had collected five charred bodies – three men and two women – from a vehicle by early Monday.

One report said the victims were all in their 20s. They also recovered the body of a truck driver, identified as 50-year-old Tatsuya Nakagawa who reportedly telephoned a colleague immediately after the incident to ask for help.

Three other deaths have been confirmed, an elderly man and two elderly women, who were all in the same passenger vehicle, officials said.

“I offer my deepest condolences” to those affected, NEXCO Central president Takekazu Kaneko said.

“First and foremost, the rescue operation is our priority. We are also inspecting our tunnels that use the same design.” Japan’s extensive highway network criss-crosses the mountainous country, with more than 1500 tunnels.

Around a quarter of these are more than 30 years old, according to the Transport Ministry.

The country is also prone to earthquakes and despite a tightening of safety regulations over the past 20 years, older structures could be vulnerable to the regular movements, experts have warned.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said the government had ordered immediate action to shore up the transport system.

“The prime minister ordered the transport ministry to do its utmost in the rescue operation, to find out the cause at an early stage, to take thoroughly preventive measures against similar accidents,” he said.

“We will have to make significant investment in public transportation systems and will need to ensure its durability. We need to review infrastructure as it ages.”

Japan had an infrastructure boom in the 1960s and 1970s as the economy went through a period of spectacular growth.

But experts warn that as they age, many tunnels and bridges will need to be replaced – not an easy task for a government that already owes more than twice what the economy makes in a year.

Comment: Media is missing climate in heatwave story

By Simon Divecha, University of Adelaide

As Australia stares at “a once-in-20 or 30-year heatwave”, with temperatures over 40 degrees, it is likely that more extreme weather events similar to this are in store for us.

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The probability of this occurring is well researched. (For example, Professor Barry Brook has previously outlined Adelaide’s situation.)

Australia’s media largely fails to link climate change to the heat. There have been more than 800 articles in the last five days covering the heatwave. Fewer than ten of these also discuss “climate change”, “greenhouse gas”, carbon or “global warming” (from a 3 -7 January 2013 Factiva news source search conducted on 7 January at 4pm).

Even with the occasional mention, these articles often obscure the link. Tim Blair’s Carbon Kings story in the Daily Telegraph is a good example. It reports on a tweet from Sydney Morning Herald columnist Peter FitzSimons:

Peter: Will the politics of carbon tax/climate change alter with this extraordinary, sustained heatwave hitting the southern states?

Tim: It’s called summer, Peter, and the carbon tax won’t make any difference.

Death caused by extreme heat is usually of interest to the media. For example 370 people died from extreme heat in Victoria during the same week that there were 173 deaths in the 2009 Black Saturday fires.

For the future, a PWC report shows extreme heat in Melbourne could, without mitigation by 2050, kill more than 1000 people in a heat event. Climate change is likely to increase both extreme heat events and bushfire danger – as discussed in a recent Climate Institute briefing paper and by Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

What could change a large proportion of our reporting?

Numbers and threats like these seem to be losing salience with the Australian public, or at least our media. The lack of reporting certainly aligns with research that demonstrates “Fear Won’t Do It”. Could this be a reason why Australia 21’s Beyond Denial: managing the uncertainties of global change argues that “our leaders and the community at large are still in denial (or studiously unaware) of the realities of global change”?

Climate change and sustainability practitioners need to address these issues. This is where more of the same, more figures, statistics, research and evidence might be necessary but are not going to be sufficient. While statements like the Prime Minister’s are important we need to go further. Some of the standout interventions highlighting broader approaches include Futerra’s Rules of the Game (principles of climate change communications) and the American Psychological Association Task Force on the interface between psychology and global climate change.

What is also clear is that climate change is a complex, tangled problem. Moreover, unlike a public health campaign – such as one to stop smoking – it is difficult to talk about the evidence and avoid creating fear without agency. That is, people may worry about climate change, but feel there’s nothing they can do about it (unlike smokers, who can stop).

As this is a complex, multi-systemic problem, no short article like this one can offer a silver bullet solution. For general principles however we need to remember the strong call to avoid what philosophers and futurists, such as Ken Wilber and Richard Slaughter, call “flatland”. Flatland is a social perspective which insists that if we can’t measure it, it does not matter. In this “flatland” we lose sight of the fact that “values play a significant role in climate change debates”. Consequently, we often focus just on statistics, research and other directly measurable, objective evidence.

On agency, the German Advisory Council on Global Change tells us that far from being unable to make a difference:

Individual actors can play a far larger role in the transformation of social (sub)systems than the one that has been accorded to them for quite some time.

The council, a scientific advisory body to the German government, places individuals as one of four pillars for a sustainability “Great Transformation”. For more, see its beautifully written report: World in Transition: A social contract for sustainability.

Tying this together, and back to this week’s media, the call is to highlight what we care about. This might be the impact on the elderly, care for our gardens, our pets, as well as our awe of nature around us or adrenalin sports in it. We need to do so recognising that this is a narrow tailored approach for individuals and communities.

A good example of targeted peer-to-peer engagement is Al Gore’s climate ambassadors program that has now presented personally to 7.3 million people globally. Models like this – prioritising engagement around what we love and value – can narrowcast to individual cares. Ultimately this drives demand for good news coverage.

Personally, I’ll remember to talk, blog and tweet more on agency than fear.

Simon Divecha does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

DRC constitution voting ends

Voting officials estimated the turnout was high in a referendum across the vast central African country, which has been emerging since 2003 from its last devastating conflict, and is due to hold elections by the end of next of June.

The Independent Electoral Commission extended voting for a second day into Monday because of long queues at some of the 35,000 polling stations.

They reported few irregularities, as did some 5,000 domestic and 280 foreign observers.

No results were available late Monday due to the lack of “significant statistics”, electoral commission head Apollinaire Malu Malu told reporters.

“The integrity of the electoral process requires us to disappoint you this evening. It would be hazardous to put forward figures before the arrival of significant statistics,” he said without revealing when the first results would be announced.

The constitution paves the way for elections for a president, who will have a once-renewable five-year term, and a bicameral parliament, also for five years.

Most observers expect a “yes” vote at the national level, which has been encouraged by President Joseph Kabila, former rebels who fought his army in 1998-2003 but are now part of an interim government, and most politicians.

But the capital of Kinshasa, where the opposition is strongest, could reject the charter.

United Nations-supported Radio Okapi said results posted during counting at polling booths suggested the “yes” vote nationwide was outstripping the “no” by 72 percent to 16 percent.

“A ‘no’ in Kinshasa would be sad because it would give force to the divide between the capital, where people tend to overestimate their political clout, and the rest of the country, particularly in the east, which bore the brunt of the war and wants to be done with the transition at any price,” one local observer said.

The vote was the first of real significance since independence in 1960 for a nation rich in precious minerals and other natural resources which has endured a long, thieving dictatorship, two recent wars embroiling regional armies, and considerable foreign interference.

On Sunday, turnout was highest in eight provinces, according to the electoral commission, which declared itself “satisfied overall” with the vote on a text that would change the political system and also divide the country into smaller administrative districts.

In Kasai Occidental and Kasia Oriental, two central provinces where there is support for veteran opposition politician Etienne Tshisekedi, people appeared initially to have followed his boycott call, observers indicated.

Turnout was also low in Kinshasa, but people who said they had hesitated before rushed to cast their votes on Monday.

Without giving figures, the electoral commission put rough overall turnout at more than 60 percent.

The final outcome, in a country that stretches more than 1,300 kilometres from the capital in the west to the volatile eastern borders, is not expected for several days.

Lesbian couple ties knot in UK

The pair signed official partnership documents before a registrar and two witnesses in a private ceremony at the Belfast City Hall, to a recording of Dolly Parton’s 1872 hit, ‘Touch Your Woman.’

Ms Close, 32, grew up in a Catholic family north of Belfast.

She met her partner, Ms Sickles, a 27-year-old American, in New York four years ago.

They became engaged in a ceremony in New York in October, but chose to register their partnership in Britain to make it easier for Ms Close to eventually immigrate to the United States.

“For us, this is about making a choice to have our civil rights… acknowledged and respected and protected as any human being,” Ms Close and Ms Sickles said before stepping inside the hall.

“We feel very privileged and blessed to be here doing this. We look forward to having a wonderful day,” Ms Sickles said.

Afterwards, the couple brushed past a group of about 40 protesters on their way to a waiting ribboned Hackney taxi, saying they were “delighted” and hoped there would be “many more.”

Two other couples then followed Ms Sickles and Ms Close ‘down the aisle’.

But the UK’s first civil partnership was held in Brighton on December 5, just hours after the Civil Partnership Act became law.

A 15-day waiting period was waived to allow Christopher Cramp to formally recognise his relationship with Matthew Roche, suffering inoperable lung cancer, at his hospice bedside.

Mr Roche died the next day.

Scotland is due to hold its first ceremonies on December 20, with England and Wales following a day later.

At least 1,200 ceremonies have reportedly been scheduled across Britain, according to figures from councils compiled by BBC’s online news.

The long-awaited union of popstar Elton John with his partner David Furnish is set to be among the first wave of the British ceremonies.

Campaigners say the new civil partnership institution will end inequalities suffered by same-sex couples.

While not technically constituting a marriage, where the signing of a legal partnership must take place publicly and are not permitted in a church, civil partnerships offer gay couples similar rights regarding tax, inheritance and social welfare provisions.

Opponents, though, argue that the move goes too far.

“While the word marriage is not used in the ceremony, we do believe it is deemed and received by those taking part to be one thing only – marriage,” Free Presbyterian Reverend David McIlveen told BBC television from the protest picket line outside Belfast City Hall.

“Homosexuality in the Bible is described as an abomination. You cannot place something that is unnatural on the same level as something that is natural,” the Protestant minister added.

Britain now joins Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain in recognising some form of gay union by law.

London attack: student charged

Adel Yahya, a British national from the Tottenham area of north London, is due to appear before Bow Street Magistrates’ Court, central London, on Friday morning.

Yahya was arrested Tuesday at London’s Gatwick airport after arriving there on a plane from the Ethiopian capital, police said, adding that they believed he had been out of Britain since June.

He was the 43rd person arrested in connection with the failed attempt on July 21 to murder passengers on three London Underground trains and a double-decker bus.

The alleged plot came just two weeks after four presumed Islamic militant suicide bombers blew themselves up using explosives in rucksacks, killing 52 passengers on three subway trains and a bus on July 7.

The July 7 attacks, which coincided with a summit involving leaders of the Group of Eight richest nations in Scotland and a day after London secured the 2012 Olympic Games, were the worst terrorist attacks on British soil.

The trial of five other men accused of conspiring to murder passengers on July 21 has been provisionally set for September 2006.

They have been named as Muktar Said Ibrahim, 27, from Stoke Newington, north London; Ramzi Mohamed, 23, of North Kensington, west London; Yassin Omar, 24, of New Southgate, north London; and Manfo Kwaku Asiedu, 24, of Finsbury Park, north London.

A fifth man, Hussein Osman, 27, was extradited from Italy in September.

At their last appearance at England’s Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey, central London, judge Alexander Butterfield indicated their trial could last up to two months.

None of the men, who have been held in custody since August, has yet entered pleas.

The charge against Yahya was that he conspired with Osman, Said, Asiedu and Omar “to cause by an explosive substance, explosions of a nature likely to endanger life or cause serious injury to property.”

Four of the five set for trial in September have been charged with attempted murder directed at London public transport passengers, while the fifth is accused along with the others of conspiracy to murder.

Ten other people face lesser charges in connection with the July 21 case, including allegations that they failed to disclose information about suspects or their whereabouts. Their trials are due early in 2007.

Leftist victory in Bolivia

“We have won,” he told thousands of cheering supporters.

His right wing rival, ex-president Jorge Quiroga, conceded defeat.

Leftist Mr Morales, 46, highlighted that he will become the first indigenous president of South America’s poorest nation.

“The new history of Bolivia has started,” he said in his Cochabamba stronghold amid shouts of “Evo president!”

Two separate exit polls showed Mr Morales getting 51 percent of the vote, and a 20-point lead over rival Jorge Quiroga.

Before the election polls had given him about 35 percent of the vote.

“We already have 50 percent plus one,”
said Mr Morales in a reference to the
majority needed to win outright in the first round.

Even if official results show he failed to hit that mark, the leftist leader of the coca farmers movement still looks certain to become president.

If the election goes to a second round, the newly elected Congress will pick in January between the two top vote-getters.

Exit polls show Morales’ Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party would
control enough congressional seats to defeat his rival.

Radical change

Mr Morales has promised a radical shake up of the country.

The leftist lawmaker has headed popular protests that played a key role in the collapse of two governments since 2002. His campaign was marked by anti-US slogans.

On voting day, he reiterated his pledge to increase state control over Bolivia’s natural gas resources and to protect coca plantations.

Bolivia is the world’s third largest producer of coca, the base ingredient of cocaine but also a medicinal plant popular with indigenous people.

Mr Morales insists he opposes cocaine trafficking but defends the right to
grow the coca leaf. He said under his administration, “there will be zero cocaine, zero narco-trafficking but not zero coca.”

Speaking after he cast his ballot in Villa Tunari, Mr Morales said his government would cooperate closely with other “anti-imperialists,” and reiterated his admiration for Cuba’s communist President Fidel Castro.

In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez, also a virulently anti-US leader, hailed the election, saying in a television address that Bolivia “is writing a new page in its history.”

Israel threatens retaliation

Although there were no Israeli fatalities in the firing of the so-called Qassam missiles, five soldiers were slightly wounded and the country’s sixth largest city also came under attack.

The main Palestinian militant groups have been observing a ceasefire since the start of the year while Israel had largely held off arrest operations in the West Bank except against members of the small Islamic Jihad movement.

The unofficial deal however appears to be unravelling fast, with Israel voicing fears of an explosion in Palestinian violence ahead of legislative elections in five weeks’ time.

Five soldiers wounded

It was not immediately clear which Palestinian factions were behind the latest rocket attacks into southern Israel, launched from northern Gaza.

One of the Qassams, which take their name from the armed wing of the Islamist movement Hamas, lightly wounded the five Israeli soldiers when it landed on their base near the border.

That attack came just hours after another of the missiles exploded near an industrial zone in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, which lies around 10 kilometres north of Gaza.

The rocket landed next to a fence around a major electricity station which supplies a large part of southern Israel.

It is the third time in less than a week that a Qassam has landed on the outskirts of Ashkelon.

Three more Qassam rockets fired from the Gaza Strip landed in southern Israeli desert territory late Thursday causing no injuries or damage, an Israeli military source said.

Finance Minister Ehud Olmert was quoted as saying by Israeli public radio on Thursday night that “Israel will retaliate severely to Qassam rocket fire, by a land military offensive if needed.”

Transport Minister Meir Sheetrit, a close ally of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said the population of Gaza must be taught a lesson.

“There is no justification for the continued fire on us. We must respond with severity,” Mr Sheetrit told the Ynet website.

“We must force the concentrated Palestinian population that resides near the border to leave their homes and move out. If we can’t sleep in peace, they won’t be able to sleep peacefully either.”

Mr Sharon has previously pledged that he would not allow Ashkelon to become a “frontline” city in the conflict with the Palestinians and respond with an iron fist to attacks now that Israel has left Gaza.

Deputy defence minister Zeev Boim confirmed that the idea of severing electricity supplies had been discussed recently. All of Gaza’s electricity is supplied by Israel.

Tough measures

Israel has so far responded to the rocket attacks by firing artillery into uninhabited areas and launching air strikes on remote rocket launch sites but chief spokesman Avi Pazner said the response would now be much harsher.

“We will take much tougher measures than in the past to stop this action,” he said. “Terrorist groups must understand they cannot bomb Israel with impunity.”

The government has so far rejected any idea of re-invading Gaza but calls for such action are growing.

Ehud Yatom, a former head of the internal security service Shin Beth and now an MP for the right-wing Likud Party, said it was time to send troops back in.

“The state of Israel should order the IDF (army) to hit the terror infrastructure in a combined aerial and ground operation to bring back security to Israeli citizens,” Mr Yatom said.

While Israeli troops have all withdrawn from Gaza, they continue to operate in the West Bank, including the largest city of Nablus where three militants were killed on Thursday.

The local military leader of the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and two members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an offshoot of the ruling Fatah faction, were shot dead as they tried to break out of a building besieged by Israeli troops.

A Palestinian was also killed in an explosion in northern Gaza. The
Palestinian interior ministry said it was investigating whether the 21-year-old was a victim of Israeli fire or if he had been killed when a device that he had been handling exploded.