Tuesday, September 1, 2015

IS destroys the 'centerpiece' of the famous ruins at Palmyra

The Greaco-Roman temple of Bel at Palmyra before it was destroyed. 
The most famed temple in Syria's Palmyra has been blown up, the United Nations said, showing satellite images of the damage as the Islamic State group presses a campaign to tear down the treasured heritage site.
A powerful blast in the ancient city had raised fears the militants had escalated their push to rid Syria of what they view as un-Islamic artifacts after they destroyed the smaller Baal Shamin temple last week."We can confirm destruction of the main building of the Temple of Bel as well as a row of columns in its immediate vicinity," the UN training and research agency UNITAR said, providing satellite images from before and after the explosion on Sunday.The 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel was the centerpiece of Palmyra's famed ruins and one of the most important relics of the heritage site, which has been described by the UN's cultural arm UNESCO as of "outstanding universal value.

Monday, August 31, 2015

'Largest ever gas field in the Mediterranian' found off the coast of Egypt

Israel is pushing to get its new gas fields on line swiftly to make up the shortfall in supply caused by the collapse of imports from neighboring Egypt. (File photo)The Italian petroleum and gas gigant ENI has discovered gas reserves of up to 30 trillion cubic feet in the Egyptian part of the Mediterranean, making it the biggest gas discovery ever in the country, the Egyptian petroleum ministry said on Sunday. The newly-discovered well 'Zohr' holds a potential 30 trillion cubic feet of lean gas  (5.5 billion barrels of oil equivalent ) covering an area of about 100 square kilometres, according to a statement by ENI."Zohr is the largest gas discovery ever made in Egypt and in the Mediterranean Sea and could become one of the world’s largest natural-gas finds," ENI said in a statement.
The discovery was made in the Shorouk block that was awarded to ENI in January 2014 following an international bid, ENI said.
The well is located at a depth of 1,450 metres. Production of the new discovery should commence within 30-36 months, according to Abdel-Aziz. He added that the government expects to reach "self-sufficiency" within five years with the help of Eni's discovery, in addition to more expected findings.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Cairo court sentences Al-Jazeera journalists to three years

Mohammed Fahmy (l) and Baher Mohamed in court (Photo Reuters, April 2015).

A Cairo court has sentenced three Al Jazeera journalists to three years in jail after finding them guilty of "aiding a terrorist organisation".Egyptian Baher Mohamed, Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Australian Peter Greste were all handed three year jail sentences when the court delivered the verdict on Saturday, sparking worldwide outrage. Mohamed was sentenced to an additional six months for possession of a spent bullet casing.
The journalists had been initially found guilty in June 2014 of aiding a "terrorist organisation", a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, which was outlawed in Egypt after the army overthrew President Mohamed Morsi in 2013. Judge Hassan Farid, in his ruling on Saturday, said he sentenced the men to prison at least partly because they had not registered with the country's journalist "syndicate".He also said the men brought in equipment without security officials' approval, had broadcast "false news" on Al Jazeera and used a hotel as a broadcasting point without permission.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

''Saudi Arabia executes 1 person every 2 days, under a justice system that is deeply flawed''

Between August 2014 and June 2015 at least 175 people were put to death – an average execution rate of one person every two days, Amnestu International says in a new report. A third of all executions since 1985 were imposed for offences that do not meet the threshold of ‘most serious crimes’ for which the death penalty may be applied under international law. A large proportion of death sentences in Saudi Arabia – 28% since 1991- are imposed for drug-related offences.
Nearly half - 48.5% - of people executed in Saudi Arabia since 1985 were foreign nationals. Many of them were denied adequate translation assistance during the trial and were made to sign documents – including confessions – that they did not understand. Most executions in Saudi Arabia are carried out by beheading, or in some cases by firing squad. In certain cases executions are carried out in public and the dead bodies and severed heads are put on display afterwards. Often, families of prisoners on death row are not notified of their execution and only learn of their loved one’s fate after they have been put to death, sometimes through media reports.

Monday, August 24, 2015

''You stink'' campaign in Beirut postponed after one potester was killed and 402 people wounded

Mass protest in Beirut. The picture (Reuters) is from Saturday 22 August 2015

A protest planned for Monday afternoon in Downtown Beirut has been called off "You Stink" campaigners announced, as the toll from the weekend clashes between demonstrators and riot police stood at 1 dead and 402 hurt. Protests against the Lebanese government turned violent for a second day on Sunday, and Prime Minister Tammam Salam threatened to resign as public discontent brought thousands into the streets.
Anger at the Salam-led unity cabinet grouping Lebanon's fractious politicians has come to a head over its failure to resolve a crisis over garbage disposal that reflects the wider failings of the weak state.
Salam's cabinet has been hamstrung by political and sectarian rivalries that have been exacerbated by wider crises in the Middle East, including the war in neighboring Syria.
Salam, in a televised address, warned that Lebanon was headed towards collapse and that a bigger problem than the trash crisis was the country's "political garbage".

IS destroy Roman temple in Palmyra

The Temple of  Baal Shahin before its destruction.

Islamic State militants on Sunday blew up the temple of Baal Shamin, one of the most important sites in Syria's ancient city of Palmyra, said Maamoun Abdul Karim, the country's antiquities chief. The temple bombing would be the first time the insurgents, who control swathes of Syria and Iraq and captured Palmyra in May, damaged monumental Roman-era ruins.
A week ago, the militants beheaded Khaled Asaad, an 82-year-old scholar who worked for more than 50 years as head of antiquities in Palmyra, after detaining and interrogating him for over a month.
Before the city's capture by Islamic State, Syrian officials said they moved hundreds of ancient statues to safe locations out of concern that the militants would destroy them.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

''Israel was close to attacking Iran in 2010, 2011 and 2012

Barak, Netanyahu and the then chief od staff  Benny Gantz in 2012. (Foto Haaretz)

The former Israeli Prime minister and Defense minister, Ehud Barak, had revealed that Israel in 2010, 2011 and 2012 came very cloe to strike Iran. He also rvealed why it did not happen, despite his and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s desire to do so, according to interview excerpts aired on Israeli television Friday night.
Barak said that he and Mr. Netanyahu were ready to attack Iran each year but that in 2010, the then military chief of staff, Gaby Ashkenazy,  said Israel lacked the “operational capability”. In 2011 yje mw chief of staff, Benny Gantz, did not object, but then two key ministers waffled at the last minute. And in 2012, the timing did not work out because of a joint United States-Israel military exercise and visit by the American defense secretary. He noted that the two ministers who balked in 2011, Moshe Yaalon and Yuval Steinitz, “are the most militant about attacking Iran” today.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Israeli retaliations kill five or six people in Syria

Israeli tank on the Golan overlooks the Syrian city of Quneitra. (Reuters)

A new Israeli raid on Syrian-controlled territory in the Golan Heights killed at least five people Friday, Syrian state television said, describing the dead as unarmed civilians. An Israeli military source said the strikes targeted militants who fired rockets into Israel Thursday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based activist group monitoring the war, also confirmed five people had been killed, saying two pro-regime militiamen were among them.
Friday's strikes came after Israel said it had hit at least 14 Syrian army position in the Golan Heights Thursday in response to the rocket fire on the Galilee region in northern Israel.
An Israeli military source confirmed the Friday raids, saying "part of the squad responsible for firing the rockets yesterday was targeted and neutralized." The source said the raids were believed to have killed four or five people. He said the group targeted was "part of the (Palestinian militant group) Islamic Jihad in Syria, acting under the supervision of Iran."

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Car bomb near state security building in northern Cairo injures 29 people

A car bomb explosion in front of a state security building in Qaliubiya's Shubra El-Kheima district early on Thursday injured at least 29 people, the interior ministry announced. Among them were six policemen and seven conscripts.Shubra El-Kheima, north of Cairo, is considered part of Greater Cairo. Residents from around Cairo said the blast was very loud.
"A car exploded after the driver suddenly stopped in front of the state security building, exited the vehicle, and fled on a motorbike that was following the car," the interior ministry said in a statement.

''The dangerous terrorist who committed his crimes while he was in jail''

Suhayb Saad with other defendants in cages during their trial (Reuters.)

By Ahmed Aboulenein
CAIRO (Reuters) - Plainclothes Egyptian state security officers pounced on Suhayb Saad as he left a Cairo restaurant in June.
They blindfolded the activist and his two dining companions, a student and a photojournalist, and drove them away in a white minivan in what relatives and rights groups describe as enforced disappearances.
Five weeks later Saad, who officials said was lawfully arrested, appeared on television, looking dishevelled and weak and confessing to a role in what the military called a dangerous terrorist cell.
Such detentions and videotaped confessions are a new feature of a crackdown on dissent launched after the military toppled Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013 -- Egypt's first freely-elected president -- after mass protests, rights groups say.
"His spirit was broken. They shaved his head. Signs of torture had disappeared but he talked of being tied up, hung from his hands, and electrocuted," Saad's brother Osama told Reuters after a prison visit allowed weeks after his arrest.
Saad is one of nine young men who friends, family, and rights groups say were taken by security services and forced to confess on television to crimes they never committed.
Those friends and fellow activists say he in fact criticised the post-Arab Spring rule by Mursi's Brotherhood as well as the military-backed leaders who then outlawed the movement.
The nine are among a wider group of over 160 people who vanished between April and June, Freedom for the Brave, an Egyptian rights group documenting the disappearances, said.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Egypt adopts law that renders independent reporting effectively impossible

President Siss poses with members of the security forces (Photo Al-Ahram)

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has approved an anti-terrorism law that sets up special courts and provides protections to its enforcers.
The controversial law, published in the government's official gazette on Sunday, sets a minimum fine of 200,000 pounds (about $25,000) and a maximum of 500,000 pounds for anyone who strays from government statements in publishing or spreading "false" reports on attacks or security operations against armed fighters.
Critics say the steep fines may shut down smaller newspapers, and deter larger ones from independently reporting on attacks and operations against armed fighters.
It also shields those applying it, such as the military and police, from legal ramifications for the proportionate use of force "in performing their duties." The law also seeks prison terms for those found guilty of "inciting, or prepared to incite, directly or indirectly, a terrorist act".
Dalia Fahmy, an assistant professor at Long Island University and a member of the Egyptian Rule of Law Association, told Al Jazeera that any media "that defies the national narrative, will be fined. The law here is a system that is not protecting the citizenry, but rather protecting the state ... it is becoming indicative of the consolidation of power in the hands of the executive," Fahmy said from New York.

Alomost 100 people killed in airstrike on market in Douma near Damascus

Syrian activists sayid on Monday that at least 96 people have died in government air strikes on a marketplace in the rebel-held town of Douma, near Damascus. Around 200 people were reportedly injured in the attack. Government forces have been regularly attacking Douma and its surrounding areas in recent months with air strikes and helicopter barrel bombs.
Hundreds of civilians have been killed alongside opposition fighters.
Images of the aftermath of Sunday's strikes showed dead bodies lined up on the floor, including some of children.
The attack was one of the bloodiest single incidents of the four-year-long conflict, which has so far left more than 250,000 people dead.A Syrian military source told the Reuters news agency that the air force had targeted the headquarters of the rebel group, Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam).