Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Saudi toll in fight against Houthis is 73 dead

Saudi Deputy-Defense minister prince Khalid bin Sultan shakes hands with Saudi troops near theYemeni border. 

AL-KHOBA/JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia has given Yemeni infiltrators still hiding in the southern border village of Jabiriya 24 hours to vacate the area or face death. “They have 24 hours to surrender, or we will destroy them,” Prince Khaled bin Sultan, assistant minister of defense and aviation, warned Tuesday.
Speaking to reporters in this border town, Prince Khaled said 73 Saudi soldiers have been killed, 470 wounded and 26 missing since fighting broke out in November between Saudi forces and Yemeni infiltrators. “We believe that 12 (of the missing soldiers) were killed, while we do not know about the fate of the remaining 14,” the minister said.
He said the number of wounded had reached 470, adding that the majority of them had been treated and had left hospital, while 60 still remained in hospitals. He said the enemies had suffered heavy losses during the military operation.
This is the first time the Kingdom has given a death toll for the fighting between Saudi forces and Yemeni intruders, which began more than a month and a half ago. On Nov. 3, rebels killed a Saudi border guard and occupied two villages inside Saudi territory.
The following day, Saudi military jets began bombing enemy positions. Prince Khaled said that the main operation is now over. “The southern border is now under the complete control of Saudi forces.”
Informed sources told Arab News that the southern border area was calm on Tuesday.
Prince Khaled said Saudi forces would remain in the area until the last of the intruders are expelled.
“What we are doing now is bringing things to normal. We have also made arrangements to prevent infiltration and other crimes,” the minister told reporters.
He indicated that the infiltrators were backed by foreign parties. “It seems that their allegiance is not to their country.” He praised Saudi forces for their bravery and their efforts in driving away the intruders.

Egypt blocks Gaza Freedom March

Egyptian authorities rejected a request by international activists Monday to stage a scheduled march to the Gaza Strip through the Egyptian border town of Rafah to mark the one-year anniversary of Israel's three-week-long assault on the coastal enclave during which more than 1400 Palestinians were killed.
"Some international organizations have requested permission for a solidarity march--the 'Gaza Freedom March'-- into the Gaza Strip," the Egyptian Foreign Ministry declared in a statement. "Egypt finds it difficult to cooperate with this march in light of the sensitive situation in the Gaza Strip."

According to Codepink, an American rights group, march organizers had set November 30 as a cut-off date for registration in order to give Egyptian officials sufficient time to clear would-be participants for entry into the strip.

Egypt often acts sensitively--and, at times, aggressively--to international solidarity campaigns with the Gaza Strip, which has been ruled by Palestinian resistance movement Hamas since 2007. In October, the 'Miles of Smiles' solidarity group was denied entry into the territory for five weeks on the grounds that it had not obtained official authorization. The group came with 220 wheel chairs for Palestinians who had become disabled as a result of the Israeli attack.
 In February the German-Egyptian peace activist and blogger Philip Rizk waqs detained for four days for attempting to cross into the Gaza Strip 'illegally'. In the same month, Magdy Hussein, head of Egypt's frozen Islamist Labor Party, was sentenced to two years in jail by an Egyptian military court for illegally crossing into the territory during the assault. On the domestic front, meanwhile, the Egyptian government has been cracking down on Gaza solidarity protests, fearing that these might bolster the popularity of its foremost political rival, the Muslim Brotherhood opposition movement, which has historical and ideological ties with Hamas.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

US helped Yemen attack Al-Qaeda members but killed civilians instead

Tribal leaders from the Yemeni region of Arhab.

WASHINGTON — The United States provided firepower, intelligence and other support to the government of Yemen as it carried out raids this week to strike at suspected hide-outs of  Al Qaeda within its borders, The New York Times reports. The paper quotes American officials familiar with the operations. They said that the American support was approved by President Obama and came at the request of the Yemeni government. Yemeni officials said their security forces killed at least 34 militants in the broadest attack on the terrorist group in years. A range of Pentagon, military and intelligence officials declined to provide details of the reported attacks, which, according to ABC News, included American missiles.

The sattacks occurred on Thursday in the governorate of Abyan in the Arhab region. Residents of Abyan said that there was no al-Qaeda training camp in the area and that the raids had destroyed several homes.
Abbas al-Assal, a local human rights activist who was at the scene, said 64 people were killed, including 23 children and 17 women. 'The government wants to show the world that it is serious in pursuing al-Qaeda elements and that the south of Yemen is a refuge for al-Qaeda. That is not true at all,'  al-Assal told the Associated Press by telephone. Ali Mohammed Mansour, an inhabitant of the area, gave similar casualty figures, and said that he helped bury the dead in a mass grave.

Mohammed Hazran, Abyan's deputy governor, said that 10 al-Qaeda suspects were killed in the attack, including Mohammed Saleh al-Kazemi, a Saudi who had resided in the country since fighting in Afghanistan.
He was imprisoned in Yemen for two years before being released in 2005. But a provincial security official said that 'grave mistakes occurred in the operation due to failures of information, which led to a large number of civilian deaths'.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Ashton said what had to be said

'East Jerusalem is occupied territory together with the West Bank. The EU is opposed to the destruction of homes, the eviction of Arab residents and the construction of the separation barrier.'

Well, finally some firm words from a European dignitary,  in this case the newly appointed European Foreign Minister Jane Ashton baroness of Upholland. (Upholland !?). She said it in her maidenspeech for Members of the European Parlement on Tuesday in Strassbourg.

The baroness called Israel's recent decision to temporarily freeze settlement growth outside Jerusalem a 'first step', a cooler qualification than the EU foreign ministers who last week took 'positive note' of the move.
She also said that 'we're deeply concerned about the daily living conditions of people in Gaza', and added that 'Israel should reopen the crossings without delay' in order to let food and other much needed goods through.

On top of that she had some veiled criticism of  Tony Blair, the special representative of the Quartett (consisting of the US, EU, UN, and Russia) to Israel and the Palestinians, who has not achieved anything in the two years or so that he is active in this function. 'The Quartet must demonstrate that it is worth the money, that it is capable of being reinvigorated,' se said. ' I have talked about this with both sides in Jerusalem, to Mr Blair and the [US] secretary of state.'
Ms Ashton's office said that she plans to travel to the Middle East to meet leaders in late January or early February, with Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iran also high on her agenda.

So, what is so remarkable about these words? That nobody expected  this from her, who previously was a minister of Commerce in the Commission and was considered to be rather inexperienced as far as 'big' politics were concerned. That she said what should have been said much earlier by the EU and this same clear way. And that she left out niceties towards Israel like it being the only democracy, threatened by terrorists, that the Palestinians should immediately return to the negotiating table, and so on  Had not she, but someone like our Dutch minister Maxime Verhagen been sitting in her chair it would have been otherwise, be sure of that. So let 's rejoice  that it's Upholland and not Holland (as Anja Meulenbelt today more or less suggested on her blog).

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Olmert, last year, offered a state without Jerusalem

Haaretz  Today published the “map for a permanent solution with the Palestinians” that was proposed by the former Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, to the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas in September last year. The “peace plan”, Olmert presented does not include any withdrawal from Jerusalem, annexes all settlements surrounding Jerusalem, and also annexes all settlement blocs to Israel, writes Saed Bannoura of  IMEMC. The plan was never made public.
Olmert offered areas in the Negev desert and some areas near the Gaza Strip, in addition to a passage between Gaza and the West Bank. According to the plan, Israel annexes 6.3 %  of West Bank areas and evacuates isolated settlements located deep in the West Bank.
It keeps the settlement blocs of Maaleh Adumim, Ghush Tzion, Ariel, and all settlements located around the Old city of Jerusalem, and considers East Jerusalem and its settlements as part of the state of Israel.
 Noteworthy is that the implementation of the Olmert plan would have required the evacuation of tens of thousands of settlers and the removal of hallmarks of the West Bank settlement enterprise such as Ofra, Beit El, Elon Moreh and Kiryat Arba, as well as the Jewish community in Hebron itself. 
 The former Prime Minister offered  the Palestinians 5.8% of  Israel’s lands in return,  mainly desert areas, in addition to offering a ‘safe passage’ between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.  He offered transferring 327 kilometers of “Israel’s land’ to the Palestinian Authority; the areas are in the Beit She'an Valley near Kibbutz Tirat Tzvi; the” Judean Hills” near Nataf and Mevo Betar; and in the area of Lachish and of the Yatir Forest.
For the map belonging to the plan, click here.
As for the refugees issue, the plan rejects the internationally guaranteed Right of Return, and only offers allowing a limited number of refugees into the Palestinian territories, and not to their cities and towns wiped out in 1948 by the creation of the state of Israel. Haaretz said that Olmert and the former United States administration, under George Bush, reached an understanding for the development of the Negev and the Galilee in order to house the settlers who would be evacuated from some West Bank settlements. Some of the settlers would be moved to West bank settlement blocs.

Houthi rebels say US planes took part in bombardments

Demonstration in a southern Yemeni town. The  crowd is holding a poster with a picture of a protester who was killed in a previous demonstration.

Houthi rebels in the north of Yemen reported on Tuesday air strikes on several different areas of Sa’adah by American warplanes. The attacks lasted from Sunday evening until early Monday morning and killed 120 pople, according to the Houthi's.
The accusation came one day after the rebel forces accused Saudi Arabia of sending their own air force into Yemeni airspace, killing 70 people in an attack on a market in Razeh.
"The American warplanes completed over twenty-eight air raids on Razeh, Shada, Dhyah, and Ghamer, from Sunday evening until dawn. The aircraft were extremely advanced, carrying huge ordinances. They (the Americans) have been following our positions through the use of satellites,” a statement released by the Houthi' s said.
"In addition to the American attacks, more than 375 missiles have been launched from Saudi territories into al-Malahaid, al-Mamdood, al-Dukhan and al-Rumaih Mountains,” the statement emphasized.

General David Petraeus, who now heads the United States Central Command, gave an exclusive interview to Al Arabiya on Sunday where he discussed Washington's support of Yemen and Iraq and the country's relationship with Syria.
The general said the U.S. is providing security support to Yemen within the framework of military cooperation provided by Washington to its allies in the region. He emphasized that U.S. ships found in Yemeni waters are not only there for monitoring but for also for stopping the flow of arms to the Houthi rebels. He stopped short however of admitting that the US is actively heping the central Yemeni government.
Human Rights Watch condemned Yemeni security forces for abuses in the country's south, including the killing of at least 11 unarmed protestors during the past two years, in a report released on Tuesday.
Yemeni forces had "carried out widespread abuses in the south -- unlawful killings, arbitrary detentions, beatings, crackdowns on freedom of assembly and speech, arrests of journalists, and others," said the global rights group.
On six occasions in 2008 and 2009, "security forces opened fire on unarmed protesters, often without warning and aiming at them from short range. At least 11 people were killed and dozens were wounded," said the HRW report.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Bedouin 'not yet ready' for democracy, 61 years after birth of the state

Amram Kalani (in the middle with kipa and microphone), appointed chairman of regional council of Abu-Basma, visits a school in one of the villages. 

Six years ago the Israeli government established the regional council of Abu- Basma for a number of Bedouin villages near Beer el-Sabe (Beer Sheva) in the Naqab (Negev) desert. This happened after a long batlle of these villages to be recognized. Ten of them got their official recognition, several others are still waiting te be made official. The council was put under the leadership of an appointed Israeli mayor. The council  is responsible for providing certain services for residents of the unrecognized villages as well. Approximately 30.000 people fall within its jurisdiction.
One of the tasks of the mayor was to prepare elections that were to be held one year later. They were postponed instead, till December 2009, supposedly because the inhabitants of the Abu Basma region were not yet sufficiently prepared. But just one month before they finally were going to take place, the Israeli Knesset on 16 November adopted a special amendment to the Regional Authorities' Law, which again postponed the elections.This time for an indefinit period.
The new law will maintain the government-appointed council, which is comprised of a majority of Israeli Jewish members and chaired by Amram Kalani, someone close to the orthodox right-wing Shas party, to which the Interior minister, who initiated the amendment of the law, also belongs. 
The new law gives the Interior minister absolute power to declare the postponement of the first election of a Regional Council after its establishment. No period of time is specified. Prior to the new amendment, the law stipulated that elections must be held within four years.
 The Human Rights Organization Adalah, which is mainly concerned with the right of the minorities in Israel, will challenge the law. Adalah attorney Ala' Mahajneh sent an urgent letter on 9 November 2009 to the Interior Minister, Eli Yishai, and Knesset Speaker, Reuven Rivlin, demanding that they reject the proposed amendment and remove it from the Knesset's voting agenda. The letter also demanded the holding of elections. Now that the amendment has been adopted, Adalah is petitioning the High Court.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Israels genuine efforts to get the Palestinians back at the table

It is really moving to see how serious Israel is about the ten months building freeze on the West Bank (Jerusalem excluded) and not touching the building of schools, kindergartens, politice, administrative, community buildings and buildings like gas stations, pumping stations for water and sewerage, electricity, etc.,
For the settlers this is an unusual situation, or should we use the word that Hillary Clinton used, 'unprecedented'. In order to cool their anger over the unprecendentedness of this hardship they took to the streets, demonstrated, quarreled with policemen (picture) and stopped inspectors who are charged with the task to oversee the measure, even though the government at the last minute okayed 84 new buildings containing 492 housing units on top of the 2500 that already had got the green light beforehand. There were only 20 inspectors to check the mesure,  much too few for the task, and therefor Defence minister Ehud Barak took it upon himself to urgently hire an additional 40 of them. Also Barak visited a number of settlements to try and cool the stirred emotions.
Meanwhile the leaders of Yesha, the organization of settlements, visited the prime minister to protest the unusual measure. It was going to harm them economically, they argued, and would frustate younger settlers who wanted to start a family for themselves, as it was going to frustate 'natural growth'. Netanyahu received them with a stern face and tol them the following which I took from his website, the stress of some passages included:
  "The Cabinet decision is the optimal decision for the State of Israel in the complicated diplomatic situation in which we presently find ourselves, and given the various challenges facing us.  We made this tough decision in order to advance Israel's broader interests.  This step makes it clear to the main elements around the world that Israel aspires towards peace and is serious in its intention to achieve peace, while the Palestinians refuse to begin peace negotiations.  This step makes it clear who is refusing peace."

Prime Minister Netanyahu added: "This order is one-time only and it limits the duration of the suspension.  There are nine months and three weeks left.  Once the suspension has expired, we will continue to build.  I want to make it clear: The future of settlement will be determined only in a permanent peace agreement."
In this way we know that the freeze is really a one time thing which is not going to be repeated under whatever circumstances, and that serves only one purpose, namely to make clear to the world who is peace loving and who is not.
Whether the world really will be impressed, remains to be seen. However inside Israel it is a different matter.  There it is -at least to judge from the press - the talk of the day. Ari Shavit of Haaretz heaped praise on the prime minister in way one might rather exspect from a Saudi journalist than an Israeli one. He made us believe that Netanyahu has come more to the left than the late Yitzhak Rabin.. At the other end of the spectre the leftist Yossi Sarid (Meretz) wrote an op-ed in Haaretz in which he vented his anger over the fact that Netanyahu had calld the settlers 'our brothers'. We are not relatives, he wrote:

''When I see how they are burning with desire to use improper means, setting fields afire, chopping down olive trees, hitting children on their way to school, beating soldiers and chasing away inspectors, I immediately look at myself to make sure that they are not me.'' Sarid also referred to an incident on Thursday, in which a settler ran over a Palestinian a few times with his Mercedes (picture), after the Palestinian had entered a settlement with a knife in his hand and had been shot. The Palestinian miraculously survived, the settler was released after questioning.
However, the Yesha leaders scored their point during their visit to Netanyahu. A special ministerial committee was set up, comprising among others the ministers Barak and Benny Begin, to oversee that the freeze is performed with the least possible harm to the settlers.
 Very moving, all these efforts to secure a lasting peace.