Monday, May 23, 2016

String of explosions in government hold provinces in Syria kill more than 100

Scene of one of the explosions in Tartous (Photo SANA).

More than 100 people have been killed in multiple attacks claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group in strongholds of President Bashar al-Assad's government in Syria, a monitoring group said.
Syrian state TV also reported the attacks, putting the death toll at 65.
Simultaneous car bombs and suicide bombers in bus stations, hospitals and elsewhere in the coastal cities of Tartus and Jableh in Latakia province on Monday appeared to severely breach Assad government defences, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Footage broadcast by the state-run Ikhbariya news channel of what it said were scenes of the blasts in Jableh showed several twisted and incinerated cars and minivans.
Pictures circulated by pro-Damascus social media users showed dead bodies in the back of pick-up vans and charred body parts on the ground.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Turkish parliament lifts immunity of HDP-members

The Turkish Parliament has approved a controversial constitutional amendment to lift the immunity of 139 MPs. Deputies from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) are now expected to be arrested on terror-related charges and an anticipated wave of social unrest.
Some 376 out of 550 deputies voted in favor of the motion in the second and final vote on May 20, comfortably passing the required 367 majority to have it approved without the need to go to a referendum. The first and second clauses of the amendment were accepted in the second round of voting, with 373 and 374 votes respectively.
Proposed by the 316-seat ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and heavily backed by the 40-seat Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the draft received 357 votes in the first round of vote as the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the HDP deputies did not vote in favor.
However, it is believed that around 20 lawmakers from the CHP voted in favor of the motion in the second round in order not to cause a referendum that would jeopardize the societal order.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Hezbollah commander Badreddine blown up in Syria

Hezbollah's top military commander Mustafa Badreddine has been killed in a blast at a base near Damascus airport, the Lebanese Shi'ite group said on Friday, one of the biggest blows to its leadership the Iranian-backed organization has ever sustained.
Hezbollah's deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem said there were clear indications of who was behind it, and the group would announce the outcome of its investigation within hours. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. At least one Hezbollah figure blamed the group's age-old enemy Israel, which has struck Hezbollah targets in Syria several times in the past. Israel declined to comment. Hezbollah also has many other foes in Syria, where it fights in support of the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
Thousands of Hezbollah fighters and leaders gathered at a mosque in Hezbollah's stronghold in southern Beirut and gave Badreddine a military funeral, waving Hezbollah flags. They chanted Shi'ite religious slogans, as well as "Death to America" and "Death to Israel". Speaking at the funeral, Qassem also vowed that the group would continue on the "path" of Badreddine.
In a letter, Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif extended condolences "for the martyrdom of this great jihadist.
Badreddine, 55, is believed to have been in charge of Hezbollah's military operations in Syria.
He is the most senior Hezbollah official killed since 2008 when his brother-in-law, long-serving military commander Imad Mughniyeh, was blown up by a bomb planted in his car in Damascus that Hezbollah blamed on Israel.

At least four prominent figures in Hezbollah have been killed since January 2015. A number of high-ranking Iranian officers have also been killed, either fighting Syrian insurgents or in Israeli attacks.

Hezbollah said it was investigating whether the explosion at the base was caused by an air strike, a
missile attack or artillery bombardment. It did not say when he was killed.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Heavy sentences for two Turkish journalists who reported weapons transport

Erdem Gül (left) and Can Dündar. (Foto Milliyet)
Two prominent Turkish journalists were sentenced to at least five years in jail for revealing state secrets on Friday, just hours after a gunman tried to shoot one of them outside the courthouse in Istanbul. Can Dündar, editor-in-chief of the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper, who was unscathed in the shooting, was given five years and 10 months. Erdem Gül, the newspaper's Ankara bureau chief, was sentenced to five years. They were acquitted of some other charges, including trying to topple the government.The case, in which President Tayyip Erdogan was named as a complainant, has brought widespread condemnation from global rights groups.
Hours before the verdict was handed down, an assailant attempted to shoot Dündar. In full public view, before a courthouse.The man shouted "traitor" before firing at least two shots in quick succession. A reporter covering the trial appeared to have been wounded. The assailant was detained by police. "We experienced two assassination attempts in two hours: one by firearms, the other by law," Dündar told reporters following the trial."

Friday, May 6, 2016

Syrian refugee camp bombarded, village near Aleppo taken

An air strike on a camp for internally displaced Syrians near the country's border with Turkey has killed at least 30 people, activists said. The attack on the camp in Idlib province on Thursday also left dozens injured. A number of those killed were children, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatoryfor Human Rights.
The Observatory said the dead included women and children and the death toll from the air strikes was likely to rise. Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr, reporting from the Turkish city of Gaziantep, said activists were split on whether Russian or Syrian planes were behind the attack.
"Many in the opposition believe that with strikes like this there's proof the government is not serious about the cessation of hostilities,"Khodr said.
In the night of Thursday to Friday rebels meanwhile seized a village from government forces near Aleppo overnight.

Turkey's Davutoglu quits because of rift with Erdogan

Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey's prime minister and leader of the ruling AK Party, has said he will not seek a new term after last-ditch talks aimed at easing tensions between him and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Davutoglu held a news conference on Thursday after a gathering of the party's central executive committee. "I came to the conclusion [a change in] leader of the party and the Prime Ministerial position would serve a better purpose," he said. "This must be carried out in a peaceful way, keeping with the integrity of the party."
After a 90-minute crisis meeting on Wednesday that local media described as critical for Davutoglu's future, domestic news organisations CNN-Turk and NTV reported that an extraordinary congress would likely signal his exit. The congress will be held on May 22. Reports from Turkey suggest that Erdogan had demanded Davutoglu's resignation following yesterday's meeting. According to AKP convention, the posts of party boss and head of government always go to the same person.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Heavy prison sentences for 11 Egyptian homosexuals

The Agouza Criminal Court has sentenced 11 people to prison terms ranging between three and 12 years for “practicing, inciting and publicizing immoral practices,” reported the privately owned al-Watan newspaper.
The defendants were arrested from an apartment in Giza’s Agouza neighborhood in September 2015. Following the court’s ruling, six of them will spend nine years or more in prison. The court sentenced three of those accused to 12 years, while another three were sentenced to 9 years. One defendant received a six-year term and the remaining four have been sentenced to three years.
Head of the gender program at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights Dalia Abdel Hameed said the case was indicative of the state’s practices in its ongoing crackdown on LGBT individuals.
Abdel Hameed says that moral police targeted one of the accused using a dating application, reportedly entrapping the individual by posing as someone interested in a relationship. Through the app’s messaging feature, they acquired the accused’s address and then were granted permission by the public prosecutor to raid the apartment.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Palestinian writer Madhoun wins Arabic ''Booker Prize'' 2016

 Madhoun and his book.

Palestinian writer, Rabai Al-Madhoun (70), is the winner of the International prize for Arabic Fiction (the Arabic Booker Prize) for his novel Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba.
The announcement took place in an Abu Dhabi Hotel. In addition to winning $50,000, Rabai al-Madhoun is guaranteed an English translation of his novel, as well as an increase in sales and international recognition. The book is published by Maktabat Kul Shee (Haifa, Israel).
Al-Madhoun’s family came from Ashkelon, Palestine – now occupied by Israel – but went to the Gaza strip after the 1948 nakba exodus. Leaving Gaza to attend Alexandria University, he later became involved with the Palestinian liberation struggle as a member of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.He left activism in 1980 to focus on writing and has written a number of works of fiction and non-fiction. This is the 70-year-old author’s third novel.
His 2010 novel, The Lady from Tel Aviv, was shortlisted for the 2010 International Prize for Arabic Fiction. It was also published in English in 2013 (Telegram Books) and won the English PEN Writers in Translation award that year.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Saudi Arabia plans to become less dependent on oil

Saudi Arabia's cabinet has agreed on a broad-based economic reform plan, known as Vision 2030, revealing how the oil-reliant state plans to diversify its economy over the next 14 years.
Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the deputy crown prince, said on Monday that the country was building up its public investment fund to become a major player in global markets.
He said Saudi Arabia was restructuring its housing ministry to increase the supply of affordable housing, and creating a "green card" system within five years to give expatriates long-term residence.
Salman al-Ansari, founder and president of the Washington DC-based Saudi American Public Relations Affairs Committee (SAPRAC), told Al Jazeera the green card system gives more rights to expatriates to invest in the country.
Saudi Arabia will also sell shares in state oil giant Aramco and set up the world's largest wealth fund in line with the plan, Mohamed bin Salman said separately in an interview with the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya news channel.

Large majority of U.S. Senate pushes Obama to boost Israel aid

More than four-fifths of the U.S. Senate have signed a letter urging President Barack Obama to quickly reach an agreement on a new defense aid package for Israel worth more than the current $3 billion per year.Eighty-three of the 100 senators signed the letter, led by Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Chris Coons. Senator Ted Cruz, a 2016 presidential candidate, was one of the 51 Republicans on board. The Senate's Democratic White House hopeful, Bernie Sanders, was not among the 32 Democrats.
"In light of Israel's dramatically rising defense challenges, we stand ready to support a substantially enhanced new long-term agreement to help provide Israel the resources it requires to defend itself and preserve its qualitative military edge," said the letter, which was first reported by Reuters.
It did not provide a figure for the suggested aid. Israel wants $4 billion to $4.5 billion in aid in a new agreement to replace the current memorandum of understanding, or MOU, which expires in 2018. U.S. officials have given lower target figures of about $3.7 billion. They hope for a new agreement before Obama leaves office in January.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Yemeni troops enter Mukalla after al-Qaeda left


Yemeni government troops and allies from a Saudi-led coalition have entered a city held by al-Qaeda for a year. Local Yemeni officials and residents told the Reuters new s agency on Sunday that some 2,000 Yemeni and Emirati troops advanced into Mukalla, taking control of its port and airport and setting up checkpoints throughout the southern city.
The coalition said in a statement,carried by the official Saudi news agency SPA, that "more than 800 al-Qaeda elements" had been killed and that the rest of the fighters had fled the city, the provincial capital of Hadramout.
The death toll could not be independently verified.And Iona Craig, a journalist who was in Mukalla last month and who said she regularly communicates with residents there, described the coalition's claim as "ridiculous". "There weren't even 800 fighters left there," she told Al Jazeera by phone from the UK. "There was no fighting inside the city because al-Qaeda had already left."

Jerusalem police prohibit offering of baby goats at Haram al-Sharif

Federman and wife
Jewish activists pushing for a third temple in Jerusalem attempted to ascend the Temple Mount carrying baby goats intended to be used as Passover sacrifices on Friday afternoon, as they do every year. Jerusalem police detained ten suspects in the Old City for interrogation, and seized four sacrificial goat kids.
Among those arrested were Kach activist Noam Federman from Hebron (who, as I Abu Pessoptimist, saw on the internet, is arrested every year for this reason the last couple of years), who attempts make the sacrifice every year, and Rafael Morris, an activist in the Temple Mount Faithful movement. The two were banned from entering Jerusalem before the holiday and will be questioned about breaching the ban.