Just when you thought Israel's PR couldn't get any worse:

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday that it had found at least 15 bodies and several children -- emaciated but alive -- in a row of shattered houses in the Gaza Strip and accused the Israeli military of preventing ambulances from reaching the site for four days.

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In my post on the transatlantic divide over Israel's Gaza operation, I referred to "America's virtually automatic support of Israel, even for actions that are not only outside the norms of international law but decidedly unhelpful to our own interests."

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As (somewhat) anticipated, Russia reduced the flow of gas to Ukraine on New Year's Day because of ongoing disputes over prices for 2009 and unpaid bills.  However, unlike the briefer affair in 2006, this spat has evolved into a full-scale crisis with news today that Russia has cut off gas to Europe entirely (see my colleague James Joyner's piece).  I've gathered some multimedia about the current gridlock.

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The semi-annual gas war between Russia and Ukraine has ratcheted up another notch, with the announcement that all gas headed from to the rest of Europe through Ukraine — which is to say, virtually all Russian gas headed to Europe — has now been halted. Maria Danilova for AP:

Ukrainian officials said Wednesday that Russia had cut off all gas supplies through pipelines crossing Ukrainian territory, the latest move in a devastating pricing dispute between the two neighbors that has already left a number of countries without gas. Valentyn Zemlyansky, spokesman for state gas company Naftogaz, said Russia's gas giant Gazprom completely stopped sending gas to European consumers at 7:44 a.m. (0544 GMT). Eighty percent of Russian gas is shipped via Ukraine. "Words fail us," Zemlyansky said of Gazprom's move.

Russia confirmed the cutoff but said it was Ukraine's fault because it had shut down the last pipeline carrying gas from Russia.

The Russia-Ukraine natural gas dispute has hit Europe with the force of a winter storm. It has affected at least a dozen nations. Tens of thousands of people were left without heat and governments scrambled to find alternative energy sources. Before Wednesday, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Croatia, Serbia and Turkey had all reported a halt in gas shipments, while France, Germany, Austria, Poland and Hungary had reported substantial drops in supplies from Russia.

Russia says it has limited supplies to Europe because Ukraine was stealing the gas. Ukraine blames Russia for the shortfalls. Russia stopped all gas shipments to Ukraine on Jan. 1 after the two countries failed to agree on prices and transit fees for next year.

Bloomberg's Amanda Jordan reports that "Slovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria were among European countries to restrict natural-gas supplies to consumers" as a result. BBC has a detailed country-by-country look at How Europe is Coping.

Writing at Foreign Policy's new blog, The Argument, Nick Gvosdev observes that something bigger is at stake: "Gazprom is in trouble."

To meet ever growing demand in Europe, not to mention in Russia itself, Gazprom has been forced to buy larger quantities of gas from outside the country, and it has significantly raised the price it is prepared to pay, particularly to Turkmenistan. Gazprom has done this to protect its Central Asian sources of natural gas from a growing and rapacious Chinese market for energy -- and to drive a stake through the heart of a proposed gas pipeline that would link Central Asia to Europe while bypassing Russia.

[...]

Gazprom may seem to be the confident energy arm of the Kremlin. But as the ongoing dispute with Ukraine unfolds, we are seeing Russia's energy behemoth revealed more for what it is: a gambler who knows its hand is about to be called.

If Robert Manning's predictions in "Energy Independence Fallacy" are correct — and I think they are — things are unlikely to get much better for Russia. The EU and the US will both be investing heavily in alternative technologies in order to avoid being held hostage by foreign suppliers. Once these come to fruition, the "energy weapon" will be obsolete.

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council. 

Sure as eggs is eggs, the arrival of a new American president heralds fresh fretting in the British press over the precise state of the so-called "Special Relationship". Today's text comes courtesy of Rachel Sylvester, writing in the Times. It's worth considering in some detail:

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We are seeing a familiar pattern repeating itself. A dispute between Naftohaz and Gazprom leads to an interruption in Ukraine's gas supply. Deliveries to Europe are affected. Russia is criticized for its use of "the energy weapon". Then, everything is patched up, the gas flows again and the West loses interest in the matter until the next dispute flares up.

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Our new poll asks, "Who is most to blame for the current violence in Gaza?"

Is it Hamas, whose refusal to stop terrorist rocket attacks on Israeli civilians provoked the attacks? Or is it Israel, for swatting at a gnat with a sledgehammer?

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First it was €40 billion.  Then it was €25 billion.  Now it may be as high as €50 ($68.1) billion.  The plan, which will reportedly focus on schools and public works, remains stalled by conflicting domestic political debates over tax cuts within Merkel's governing coalition. 

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In a post titled "Transatlantic Differences," Alex Massie muses about how differently Americans would react than Brits to news that two members of the shadow cabinet of the conservative party had entered (separately) into homosexual civil unions.

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A smart energy policy is one that successfully integrates energy security (adequate, reliable supplies of energy at reasonable prices), national security and climate change policies so that they are not pulling in opposite directions.  President-elect Barack Obama’s choices of former EPA administrator Carol Browner to coordinate energy and environment policies, and of Steven Chu, director of Lawrence Berkeley lab, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who has been on the cutting edge of trying to develop new, non-carbon energy technologies suggests such an intention. 

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