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I have a parallel blog in French at http://anniebannie.net

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March 8, 2009

Kepler Mission Rockets to Space in Search of Other Earths

Above: Liftoff of the Delta II rocket carrying NASA's Kepler spacecraft. Image credit: NASA/Jack Pfaller
Above: Liftoff of the Delta II rocket carrying NASA's Kepler spacecraft. Image credit: NASA/Jack Pfaller

March 6, 2009: NASA’s Kepler mission successfully launched into space from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II at 10:49 p.m. EST, Friday. Kepler is designed to find the first Earth-size planets orbiting stars at distances where water could pool on the planet’s surface. Liquid water is believed to be essential for the formation of life.

“It was a stunning launch,” said Kepler Project Manager James Fanson of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “Our team is thrilled to be a part of something so meaningful to the human race — Kepler will help us understand if our Earth is unique or if others like it are out there.”

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ALL CALM NOW AT AL ARISH

Viva Palestina Email Alert
18.00 (GMT) Sunday 8th March

Press TV have reported that this evening the convoy came under attack by a group of men claiming to be from a faction of Fatah. Stones were thrown and a number of vehicles were scrawled with anti-Hamas slogans. A few of the convoy members were slightly injured but, we would like to stress, none seriously. We have no way of knowing whether the claims of these attackers were true or not. However, George expressed his disappointment and concern at the turn of events – and pointed out that he had spent 35 years with the Palestinian resistance alongside Fatah and the late Yasser Arafat.

At 18.00 (GMT) I spoke with the convoy leaders who report that the area is now quiet and everyone is safe. They are disappointed that the Egyptian police did not protect the convoy as they should have done. But they do not expect a repeat of the earlier events.

Planning is underway for the crossing into Gaza, which they expect to take place tomorrow. The Gazan welcoming committee have re-scheduled their planned welcome for Monday.

We will keep you posted.

Clive Searle

FRUSTRATIONS AT RAFAH CROSSING

The Viva Palestina convoy is still stuck 40km from the Rafah border crossing at Al Arish after it was being prevented from progressing through the border gates to Gaza.

During the day new obstacles have been placed in the path of the convoy passing into Gaza via the Rafar crossing – to the amazement and disbelief of everyone involved.

However, the whole convoy is determined to stay united in purpose and in one piece – and that all vehicles and equipment including the convoy’s mascot, the red fire engine as well as the boat and the Bolton generator will enter Gaza together.

George Galloway and other convoy leaders have been involved in lengthy negotiations all day with the Egyptians to find a solution and remove these new obstacles. Negotiations will carry on for the rest of the day but it does look likely that the convoy will not cross into Gaza today. Indeed, Yvonne Ridley reports, from the Viva Palestina compound in Al Arish, that these is now a football match taking place between the British and Libyan drivers

Members of the convoy have found themselves extremely frustrated.

But everyone is hopeful that the humanitarian aid they have carried for 24 days over 10,000km, across seven countries and two continents, entering their third continent yesterday, will finally reach the needy and destitute people and children of Gaza without any further delays.

Will keep you updated.

On a brighter note, the Scottish Medical Aid convoy which passed into Gaza yesterday reports that they have distributed all their medical aid to the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza – including the keys to their trucks. They await the passage of our convoy and send their solidarity greetings.

Farid Arada and Clive Searle

NEWSFLASH

Viva Palestina Convoy Update
12.30 pm (GMT) Sunday 8th March 2009

News for the border reaches us where George Galloway and other convoy leaders, who have not crossed but are in negotiations with the authorities, confirm that they expect every vehicle to be allowed through the crossing today. There is some confusion as other reports in ther media suggested that the Egytians were not going to alllow the fire engine, boat and generator through.

We will keep you posted.

A SHOW OF SOLIDARITY

Viva Palestina Convoy Update
12 noon (GMT) Sunday 8th March 2009

They are all at the Rafah crossing point. All members of the convoy made it, joined by supporters of Viva Palestina who flew out from the UK yesterday.

Sadly, it was not the end of their gruelling journey as they are finding life difficult at the border.

Reports from Rafah only minutes ago confirm that a stand off is taking place due to the Al Arich governor’s decision to process only 25 vehicles a day.

Press TV reports that leaders of the convoy including George Galloway and deputy leader Talat Ali and Nazir are in intense negotiations with the Egyptians.

Yvonne Ridley reports on Press TV that there are rumours that there is an attempt to move some of the convoy to Israeli controlled crossings. Members of the convoy are united in their determination to cross at the Rafah border crossing. The Libyan contingent, which comprises 100 trucks, is adamant that under NO circumstances they will cross through an Israeli controlled crossing.

Ahmed Al-Najjar, the deputy manager of the reception committee in Gaza confirms that the key to the opening of the Rafah crossing is with Egypt. The Viva Palestina convoy is another nail in the coffin of the siege according to Mr Al-Najjar.

A reception will take place at the gate of the Rafah crossing where the convoy will be greeted with flowers and flags. Then they will taken through the Salah Eddine main road to Gaza City where they will witness the destruction that the Israelis inflicted on the Palestinian people.
After a rest and gathering in Katiba Square, the convoy will be divided into groups, some staying in Rafah, some in Khan Younes and the rest in the North.

In the last few minutes, George Galloway, Lauren Booth and other activists crossed into Gaza.

Will keep you updated.

Prepared and translated by Farid Arada

Viva Palestina is your story

A message from the Viva Palestina website

Thirty years ago, as an 11-year-old boy, I remember eagerly awaiting 5.05pm on a Monday and Thursday for the start of Blue Peter. I, like millions of other children, was desperate for our first glimpse of the totaliser – the bright flashing lights showing us how much money we had raised between programmes for that year’s Blue Peter Appeal. The 1979 appeal, with it’s bring and buy sales, had been launched after the horrors of Cambodia’s ‘killing fields’ had been exposed to the world.

And it wasn’t just children who wanted to know – the weekly total was reported on the national news and in the national papers, journalists sought out heart-warming stories of those who had given up their toys, clothes and books to help the impoverished and destitute thousands of miles away in South East Asia.

Working on the website for Viva Palestina I have had the daily task of making our own appeal totaliser reflect the generosity of another generation. Each day I’ve been overwhelmed by the scale of the donations and the stories that accompany them – of a four year old child in Manchester who emptied her piggy bank for the children of Gaza and so spurred her family into raising over £1,600; of the four girls in Torquay who baked cakes to sell at their school, of the hundreds of children in Preston who packed shoeboxes with toys and presents for other children whom they had never met. These stories have been repeated up and down the country – and they are a shining tribute to Britain at its best.

And just as in 1979 they should have been reported – shouted from the rooftops and celebrated in articles in the Sunday colour supplements.

Here was a truly incredible story – of an aid mission that in just eight weeks had galvanised community after community to create a convoy of over 100 vehicles, laden with over £1 million of aid and then driven over 5000 miles and two continents to relieve the suffering in Gaza.

And it was a movement that was created from scratch, with no full time staff – just a website, a few blogs, text messages, public meetings and a million conversations. Surely this would be worth reporting; surely this was news….

But the sad reality is that the Viva Palestina convoy, carrying the love and human solidarity from the people of Britain to the people of Gaza has been deemed un-newsworthy by nearly all of the British media.

The BBC, who next week will entreat us all to do ‘something funny for money’ in aid of Comic Relief has felt fit to mention the Convoy just three times on its website (and once hidden away in the Africa pages). The Guardian, that bastion of ‘liberal Britain’ only reported it once it thought it had the makings of a nasty little smear. The Independent showed its ‘independence’ by spiking a column by Mark Steel, which discussed Viva Palestina.

We did get media coverage from abroad – from France and Spain, Italy, Canada and a host of other countries but in Britain we had to rely on the work of a few journalists on local newspapers who still recognise a good story when they see one.

One can’t help but wonder how the national media would have responded had the convoy been headed for Darfur instead of Gaza – or had not been supported so over-whelmingly by Britain’s beleaguered Muslim community. Perhaps we may have even have made it onto Blue Peter.

Depressingly, our most prominent publicity came when nine of our convoy members were arrested in the piece of pure political theatre on the M65 – the day before the convoy departed. Yet the same media outlets, that reported the arrests with such gusto on the day of departure, chose to ignore or downgrade the news that all nine men were entirely innocent and had been released without charge. Even the terrible damage to community relations in Blackburn and Burnley resulting from these arrests was not a news-worthy topic for Britain’s ‘quality’ press.

The Viva Palestina convoy has been a remarkable achievement; it has overcome a virtual media blackout, the cynical arrests of some of its members and the refusal of banks to allow us to open accounts.

Yet despite all this we are now just a few hours away from taking our aid into Gaza. The vehicles and their contents represent the hopes of millions and the solidarity of whole communities: of families, mosques, churches and schools. Whatever happens at the Rafah crossing today – and we hope and pray for a swift and smooth crossing into Gaza – Viva Palestina has been a remarkable story.

It is a story that has only just begun. Its first chapter lasted just one hectic month from an inspired idea hatched by George Galloway in early January to the departure on Valentine’s Day in London’s Hyde Park. Its second chapter, the journey itself, is almost over and we hope it will soon be told in a film, report back meetings and, it has been suggested, perhaps a book as well.

The story will now continue into its third chapter with the distribution of the convoy’s aid and the purchase and delivery of even more – from water-purification systems for schools and neighbourhoods to a field hospital and medical equipment for the injured, tents for the homeless and much more. Convoy members will return with the names of clinics, schools and communities with which to twin their local communities in Britain.

If our media, whose own cynicism has been so badly exposed by their silence, continue to write Viva Palestina out of the news then we must do all we can to spread the news ourselves. We have shown that what ordinary people do can make a real difference – and perhaps that is what the editors and news-chiefs hate most of all. Or maybe we just didn’t have enough celebrities driving the fire engine!

So in the quiet moments before the crossing I would like to thank all those who have worked so hard for this project. Those who collected the aid, sorted it, packed it and filled the vehicles; those who donated online – from over thirty five countries across the globe – and who filled the collecting tins and buckets; the drivers with their legendary endurance and those who found time to blog their stories; the local newspaper journalists who reported the convoy and the journalists who wrote stories that their editors refused to print: to the people who sent in their pictures and video clips to the website – and finally to Farid Arada who kept us all up to date with his daily reports on the convoy’s location. The Viva Palestina story is your story.

The investigative journalist John Pilger, who broke the news of Cambodia’s ‘killing fields’ three decades ago, has made a film called ‘Palestine is still the issue’ – and he is right. The convoy story is but one bright spark in the ongoing tragedy of Palestine and its courageous people. The issue remains to be resolved but Viva Palestina has taken us one step closer to a solution – a solution based on solidarity, co-operation and love.

Clive Searle

Viva Palestina website

Viva Palestina : GAZA – WE ARE ALMOST THERE

Viva Palestina Convoy Update
22.30 (GMT) Saturday 7th March

The Souad Viva Palestina convoy is entering the town of El Arich after a long trek of 10 hours on the roads and motorways of Egypt.

Gaza is within touching distance and the dreams and aspirations of so many members of this magnificent adventure will be realised tomorrow when they enter Gaza carrying not only aid, but also the hopes of the millions to see the siege broken.

Today, the convoy members had to endure a hard journey as they were escorted throughout by the Egyptian authorities who dictated a pace that was extremely frustrating. They only stopped on a couple of occasions after setting off from Jamsa – and did not stop as planned at the El Salam Bridge.

The convoy is now being taken to their accommodation. A press conference and speeches were planned but as it is very late in the night, this may be shelved.

According to the Palestinian Information Centre bulletin this evening, the ‘Justice for Palestine’ Scottish convoy managed to get into Gaza late this afternoon after the Egyptian authorities gave permission for the crossing to take place at Rafah.

To our knowledge the convoy includes 20 members in 10 vehicles carrying vital medical aid and equipment for the people of Gaza.

This convoy crossed into Gaza after 60 female American peace activists managed earlier to cross the Rafah gate to show their support to the women of Gaza, on the eve of International Women’s Day, and to call for the lifting of the siege.

Many news agencies and reporters are awaiting the arrival of this phenomenal convoy. Al Jazzera reports that their crew has been prevented from reporting the arrival of the convoy at El Arich.

Tonight, El Arich will experience something special when the people of this town will witness at first hand the arrival of the saviours of Gaza. They will see lorries, vans, cars, driven by humble human beings coming in peace – carrying vital aid and supplies – and answering the critics and sceptics who doubted the aims of this noble mission.

Tonight, the western mass media remains silent in its coverage of this massive story, a story created by the people of Britain, with aid coming from the people of Britain.

By ignoring the cries of the people of Gaza, once again, Gaza exposes the hypocrisy, double standards and opportunism of the British media.

But the British people can see through this injustice, and like never before, Gaza has broken into many British homes and has touched many British hearts.

Prepared and translated by Farid Arada

Syria’s First Lady on Gaza

The interview was published on January 10, yet, things have not changed much for the daily lives of the people in Gaza

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