Sunday, January 31, 2010

The way to mesure a president

This picture seem to be circulating on the internet and as a poster out in the streets. It illustrates Egyptian recent history in a most eloquent way. It reads:
The high one built the higd dam,
the low one built the low dam... 

Yemeni government rejects Al-Houthi offer for cease fire

Rocket launcher of the Yemeni government troops. .

The Yemeni government has turned down a truce offer from the country's Houthi fighters, Al-Jazeera website  reports .A government official said on Sunday that the ceasefire deal should have included a pledge by the group not to attack neighbouring Saudi Arabia. The offerwas made on Saturday byHouthi leader
Abdel-Malik al-Houthi. It was also rejected because he demanded that the government end its military operations first, the official said.
"The government rejects al-Houthi's initiative to accept the five points of the government terms [for peace], because it does not include a sixth point, which demands a pledge from the Houthis not to attack Saudi territory," the Yemeni official said. Yemen laid down ceasefire terms in August that included removing checkpoints, ending banditry, handing over all military equipment and weapons, and releasing civilians and military personnel.Government officials said Houthi leaders twice rejected the terms, while al-Houthi said Saturday that his fighters had twice declared they wanted to end the conflict.
The jection of the cease for coincided with a renewal of the fighting. Clashes between government forces and Houthis left 24 fighters dead, military officers said on Sunday. The fighting broke out on three fronts near Saada in the north. Government jets were carrying out raids in the area, officials said. The Yemeni defence ministry news website said a Houthi leader, identified as Qaed Abu Malik, was killed along with 20 other comrades in the Safia area of Saada. Three others were killed elsewhere, the site added.

Abdel Malik al-Houthi made hisoffer for a case fire on Saturdau through an audio message posted on the internet site of the Houthis. In it he said the government must not allow the conflict to be used by "international and regional forces" as an excuse to drag Yemen into a wider war."It was these forces and the stupidity of the government that led them to launch attacks on its own people," he said. "Nevertheless, and for the fourth time, I announce our acceptance of the [the government's] five conditions [for an end to the conflict] after the aggression stops ... the ball is now in the other party's court."
Al-Houthi's statement came on the heels of an announcement from his group on Monday that they would withdraw from Saudi territory they had occupied since November.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The London attempt to bribe the Taliban

LONDON: World leaders meeting in London on Thursday agreed on a timetable for the handover of security duties in Afghan provinces starting in late 2010. In their final communique, the leaders also pledged funds for a plan aimed at persuading Taliban fighters to renounce violence, but offered no specific figures. The meeting backed Afghan President Hamid Karzai's plan to reintegrate Taliban willing to “cut ties with al-Qaida and other terrorist groups and pursue their political goals peacefully.'' It said handover of security responsibilities would begin this year, with the Afghan National Army “conducting the majority of operations in the insecure areas of Afghanistan within three years.” The conference was called to help world powers chart a roadmap out of Afghanistan amid rising U.S. and NATO casualties and falling public support.
The 70 nations say Karzai had promised to crack down on corruption and said a summit in Kabul later this year would offer specific plans to bolster his faltering government.
The text said discussions marked a “decisive step towards greater Afghan leadership to secure, stabilize and develop Afghanistan." 
 That is how the Pakistani newspaper 'The News' brought the news from the London Conference, where about 70 countries gathered at the invitation of  British prmie minister Gordon Brown to discuss the future, or rather their contribution to the future, of Afghanistan. Very short, very factual. Apparently the outcome was no too thrilling for the people in Islamabad.  And that is no surprise if you ask me. How would one stabilize a regime that consists of a president who was elected through election fraud and who, after more than  two months, had only seven of the 17 cabinet ministers approved by the parliament (ena that after a first attempt during which only seven out of 24 were approved). Can Karzai's government, can Afghanistan be saved, by bringing in the Taliban?
This is what Juan Cole wrote about the conference:

NATO to Provide $500 mn. to Bribe Taliban; Seeks Exit beginning 2011; Obama's Request for 10,000-troop NATO Surge Quietly Rejected

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown may have called the London Conference on Afghanistan for domestic political purposes, as a sort of publicity stunt. But the nearly 70 nations that gathered there unexpectedly took advantage of the meet to plot out a NATO exit strategy. Of course, how realistic it is remains to be seen. The London conference saw as many plans put forward for dealing with the low-intensity war against the Taliban there as there were countries in attendance. (...)
President Hamid Karzai asked for 15 years more of a substantial NATO commitment and heavy investment of foreign training and aid in the country. Karzai also offered to open talks with the top echelons of the Old Taliban of Mullah Omar in hopes of bringing them in from the cold.(....) NATO was generally very unhappy at Karzai's mention of "15 years", and instead began speaking of 2011 as the beginning of a withdrawal of NATO troops, with the expectation that over time more and more of Afghanistan's provinces would be patrolled by the Afghan military without foreign assistance. (..) France says it will send no more troops to Afghanistan and criticized Karzai's 15-year timeline. Germany is sending only 500 more troops. The Dutch may pull out their 2000 troops soon. Obama is highly unlikely to get his 10,000 quota from NATO, though that piece of the troop escalation was key to his plan. 

As c ould be expected the Taliban gave an angry response to the attempt to buy their services:  
"Les tentatives de l'ennemi d'acheter les moudjahidine en leur offrant de l'argent et des emplois pour qu'ils abandonnent le jihad sont vaines", s'est empressé d'indiquer le Conseil du commandement des talibans afghans dans un communiqué mis en ligne jeudi sur un site islamiste, selon le centre de surveillance de sites islamistes SITE Intelligence.

Tough Question for Obama: human rights and the Palestinians

Blogging, there's sometimes too much to keep up with. So I have to post this as yet:
One day after his State of the Union Obama was in Tampa Town Hall to answer questions. Fo those who thought that it would be only about job opportunities and health insurance there was a suprise:

Last night you spoke in your State of the Union address you spoke of America’s support for human rights. Then, why have we not condemned Israel and Egypt’s human rights violations against the occupied Palestinian people? And yet we continue supporting them financially with billions of dollars from our tax dollars?

The question was put to him by Laila Abdelaziz, a student at Tampa University, who worked on his campaign. Obama was clearly not at ease. His answer rambles, but a the same time is quite telling about how he really tninks about the Middle East:
"The Middle East is obviously an issue that has plagued the region for centuries (sic!), and it's an issue that elicits a lot of passions as you have heard. Here's my view. Israel is one of our strongest allies, it has...[applause] let me play this out. It is a vibrant democracy. It shares links with us in all sorts of ways. is critical...for us...and I will never waver from ensuring Israel's security, and helping them secure themselves in what is a really hostile region. I make no apologies for that."
"What is also true, is that the plight of the Palestinians is something that we have to pay attention to, because it is not good for our security, and it is not good for Israel's security if you've got millions of individuals who feel hopeless, who don't have an opportunity to get an education, or get a job, or what have you. The grievances on both sides of the issue. What I have said, and what we did from the beginning when I came into office, is to say we are seeking a two state solution."

In his answer he goes out of his way to stress the importance of Israel, this 'vibrant democracy' (o really, is it??) and the need for security, while at the same time saying almost nothing about the rights of the Palestinians. For a more detailed transcript of the meeting, click here.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Washington Post: Americans deeply involved in Yemen

Demonstration in South-Yemen on December 25 against an American bombardment which killed 30 people the preceding day. The raid was aimed at Anwar al-Aulaqi, a presumed leader of Al-Qaeda, who was not hit. The protesters claim that only civilians were killed.

The Washington Post yesterday published disturbing details about how deep the involvement of secret and not so secret American miklitary already is in operations in Yemen:  

U.S. military teams and intelligence agencies are deeply involved in secret joint operations with Yemeni troops who in the past six weeks have killed scores of people, among them six of 15 top leaders of a regional al-Qaeda affiliate, according to senior administration officials.
 The operations, approved by President Obama and begun six weeks ago, involve several dozen troops from the U.S. military's clandestine Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), whose main mission is tracking and killing suspected terrorists. The American advisers do not take part in raids in Yemen, but help plan missions, develop tactics and provide weapons and munitions. Highly sensitive intelligence is being shared with the Yemeni forces, including electronic and video surveillance, as well as three-dimensional terrain maps and detailed analysis of the al-Qaeda network.(...)
As part of the operations, Obama approved a Dec. 24 strike against a compound where a U.S. citizen, Anwar al-Aulaqi, was thought to be meeting with other regional al-Qaeda leaders. Although he was not the focus of the strike and was not killed, he has since been added to a shortlist of U.S. citizens specifically targeted for killing or capture by the JSOC, military officials said.In a newly built joint operations center, the American advisers are acting as intermediaries between the Yemeni forces and hundreds of U.S. military and intelligence officers working in Washington, Virginia and Tampa and at Fort Meade, Md., to collect, analyze and route intelligence.
The combined efforts have resulted in more than two dozen ground raids and airstrikes. Military and intelligence officials suspect there are several hundred members of AQAP, a group that has historical links to the main al-Qaeda organization but that is thought to operate independently.  (...)
Both the CIA and the JSOC maintain lists of individuals, called "High Value Targets" and "High Value Individuals," whom they seek to kill or capture. The JSOC list includes three Americans, including Aulaqi, whose name was added late last year. As of several months ago, the CIA list included three U.S. citizens, and an intelligence official said that Aulaqi's name has now been added.
Intelligence officials say the New Mexico-born imam also has been linked to the Army psychiatrist who is accused of killing 12 soldiers and a civilian at Fort Hood, Tex., although his communications with Maj. Nidal M. Hasan were largely academic in nature. Authorities say that Aulaqi is the most important native, English-speaking al-Qaeda figure and that he was in contact with the Nigerian accused of attempting to bomb a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day.
Yemeni Foreign Minister Abubaker al-Qirbi said in Washington last week that his government's present goal is to persuade Aulaqi to surrender so he can face local criminal charges stemming from his contacts with the Fort Hood suspect. Aulaqi is being tracked by the country's security forces, the minister added, and is now thought to be in the southern province of Shabwa.(..)
What is so disturbing about it, is that the US seems to be selecting its targets in a highly arbitrary way, to say the least, as raids on December 19th and December 24th both led to demonstrations and public protests from local people who claimed that most of the dead, if not all of them, had been civilians (and in one case it was suggested that it concerned  a family with whom a local offcial wanted to settle a score). Another reasons - even more disturbing - is that the US in this way puts its weight behind a regime that is severely mismanaging several conflicts in the country  and for all we know might even be falling apart. Apart from that
In combating al-Huthi rebels in the north and disaffected populations in the south, Sana'a has violated many international human rights standards, for instance by placing civilians in the line of fire, denying relief to tens of thousands of displaced persons and harassing or shutting down independent newspapers. Some Yemenis and Yemen-watchers are concerned that framing the country's problems in terms of terrorist threats and the risks of state failure amount to a rationale for bolstering a police state. I hope the US doesn't provide assistance to create a more effective military dictatorship.”
 according to Sheila Carapico, Yemen-specialist and professor at the universities of Richmond and the American University in Cairo.  Yet, at a conference in London, held at teh invuiatation of British prime minister Gordon Brown, Yemen got a pledge of support from the US, Britain, Saudi Arabia and 20 other countries.According to The Guardian: 
The London meeting promised to support Yemeni counter-terrorist capabilities, enhance aviation and border security, and strengthen coastguard operations. Yemen pledged in return to pursue reforms and initiate discussions with the IMF. An existing 10-point plan includes scrapping fuel subsidies and public sector jobs.
"We look to Yemen to enact reforms to improve the lot of its people and reduce the influence of groups like al-Qaida," said Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state. "If conflict and violence go unaddressed they will undermine the political reform and reconciliation that are essential to Yemen's progress."
David Miliband, the foreign secretary, said: "Yemen faces a crisis that could have implications for the people of Yemen and the whole region."
Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, Yemen's foreign minister, said: "We want to implement our national reform programme, combat terrorism and create an environment that will help us find political solutions through dialogue." Saudi Arabia, seen by the US and Britain as the key to support of its southern neighbour, agreed to host a follow-up conference next month to look at "the barriers to effective aid" – diplomatic code for the Sana'a government's shortcomings in terms of capacity, corruption and lack of transparency.
 What really should have been done is exerting pressure on president Saleh and his government to put an end to his fight with the Houthis in the north, invite a commission of independent (foreign) observers to investigate the grievances of the south, let him mend his ties with the most important tribes in the country and prepare either a national reconcilaition conference or new elections under adequate international supervision.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Houthis offer peace to tthe Saudis

Houthi fighters on a captured tank. 

The leader of Yemen’s rebels has declared the war with Saudi Arabia over and says he will pull his fighters out of Saudi territory. In an audio recording posted on the Internet, the rebel leader, Abdul-Malik Al-Houthi, said this was a “real chance” for peace between the two sides and called on the Kingdom to accept his unilateral cease-fire.There was no official Saudi response to Al-Houthi’s statement, but Prince Khaled bin Sultan, assistant minister of defense and aviation, said Yemeni intruders would think several times before launching another attack on the Kingdom.
Speaking to reporters after opening a medical conference in Riyadh on Monday, Prince Khaled said: “All border regions (in the south) are under our full control for more than a month.” The minister added that the Interior Ministry’s forces would deal with drug and weapons smugglers and other infiltrators.
He said both Saudi and Yemeni forces are doing their job in protecting the border between the two neighbors. “What had happened was a group of intruders attacked our people. By the Grace of God, we have driven them away. There are still some more and we have surrounded them,” he explained.

The war between the Yemeni government and the Houthis in the north dates back to 2004, but flared up in August 2009 after president Ali Abdallah Saleh announced the beginning of a policy of 'Scorched Earth'. Saudi Arabia was drawn into the war in November after the Houthis killed two Saudi borderguards. The Houthis alleged that they had to enter Saudi territory after the Saudis broke a promise that they would not let Yemeni government troops into the area and attack the Houthis from there.
So far it is unclear whether prince Khaled bin Sultan is telling the truth that the Houthis are no longer inside Saudi territory. Rising Saudi casualty figures -- the last announcement gave the number of133 soldiers killed - seem to suggest that fighting is still going on.

The Houthis posted the video also for another reason: in order to refute Yemeni government claims that Abdel Malik al-Houthi was wounded in battle. He isn't and seems to be in good health. The government claimed twice before that Abdel Malik was killed.

Update wednesday 27/1: Fighting between Saudi forces and Houthi fighters on the border with Yemen has ended, Saudi officials have said, according to Al Jazeera English. A Saudi general said that the Houthi's truce prompted the end of the fighting.   "The battle has ended by God's will. "After they announced the ceasefire they did not fire and we did not have any engagement," Major General Said al-Ghamdi, commanding general of first paratrooper brigade, told journalists in the border area. However prince Khaled bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia's deputy defence minister, said that his forces had achieved a "clear victory over the enemy" on the Yemen-Saudi border. "We cleansed the area ... Withdrawal was not an option for them," he said."They did not withdraw. They have been forced out."

Gaza power plant runs out of fuel

Ma'an News warns that Gaza's only power plant is threatened by fuel shortage and might close down next Thursday:

An EU contract paying for fuel shipments into the Gaza Strip for its sole power plant expired on 30 November 2009, according to Kan'an Obeid, deputy manager of the Energy Authority in the Strip.
While the EU had been providing the service after the contract expired, EU officials notified the Energy Authority that they would no longer pay for the fuel shipments unless the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah drafted a new agreement and payment scheme.
Obeid said that the fuel in Gaza will last until Thursday morning. If a new shipment does not arrive, Gaza's power plant will be forced to shut down, in turn affecting 70 percent of the population.

Ma'an adds that the Gaza Authority is still negotiating with the PA in Ramallah about a payment scheme and that the PA after reaching an agreement will hand the money over to the Israelis who then have to ship the fuel. Sounds very risky to me. The power plant has four generators, of which only one is operating during 16 hours a day, because of lack of diesel. Right now it is running on reserves.
Is anyone stepping in in order to help?
(And what about the Egyptian underground wall that is going to disrupt the tunnels? The tunnels which provide the needs of ordinary Gazan people as far as fuel is concerned?)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

There's too much water so Israel opens the floodgates unto Gaza - just like that

Maybe I should have paid more attention to the news of the flooding of Gaza on the 18th of January, due to the fact that Israel opened the floodgates in a dam that has been closed for years. The dam stops the natural flow of a wadi that runs south from Hebron through Gaza into the sea. Under normal circumstances the dam depletes the Gaza aquifer from (part of) its natural inflow.
This is what the human rights organisation Al Mezan had to say about the Israeli actiion::
For the second time in the past ten years, at approximately 6pm on Monday 18 January 2010, Israel opened the floodgates of one of the dams in the Gaza Valley, which flows into Gaza from the east. As a result, dozens of Palestinian houses and properties were damaged. Israel built this floodgate to prevent the rainwater's natural flow into Gaza, depriving the Gaza aquifer from its main natural source of underground water.

According to Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights field workers, the water flooded both sides of the Gaza Valley, causing harm to the Palestinian houses; agricultural land and other properties.
 Dozens of Bedouin families live in that area. According to Al Mezan's field workers, about 50 families live in tents in that area. Water reached about two meters above the valley's level and flooded their houses. Other families who have been living in the watercourse in the valley, which has been dry for many years due to the Israeli dams, had left the area two days before the flood occurred due to the heavy rain.  The mayor of the Gaza Valley village (Juhr Ad-Dik) told Al Mezan that about seventy houses were flooded, dozens of poultry and sheep died, and several personal belongings were damaged as people were surprised by the sudden flow of water.

  A similar situation had occurred when the so-called Nahal Oz dam suddenly collapsed nine years ago, on 26 March 2001. Hundreds of donams of agricultural lands; chicken and cow farms; and rural houses were damaged. Then, the Israeli authorities took precautions on their side of the border before the collapse; however, they did not inform the Palestinian authorities with whom they had regular coordination at the time.

 In the light of the above, Al Mezan asserts that the Israeli authorities bear the responsibility for the moral and physical damages resulted from this sudden water flow into the Gaza Valley.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Israel makes the blitz with help in Haiti, while WHO signals deteriorating situation in Gaza


 'This came through the wall of the hospital'. Picture Saryn Lock.

 It's not only me (on my Dutch blog), Ken Silverstein, or the blog Mondoweis who were struck by the cynical way in which Israel is going out of its way with providing rescue operations and medical and other services to Haiti, while around the corner the Palestinians in Gaza, beause of the Israeli blockade are at the brink of starvation, cannot rebuild the damage of the 'Cast Lead' attack of one year ago and lack medical services. 

Of course Haiti at this moment is much worse off than Gaza and needs all the help it gan get. But there are some serious doubts about how effective the Israeli help to Haiti really is (see Silverstein's blog) And the way Israel is using this opportunity to gain as much public relations profit from it is tasteless, to say the least.  While Gaza is lacking elementary equipment, training facilities and whatever is needed to perform complicated thorax and heart surgery, or cancer treatments, Israel sends a complete mobile hospital, including maternity clinic, two state of the art operation rooms and more, to Port au Prince - 'Port au Hasbara' in Mondoweiss's words. And at the same time that there - applauded by the Israeli media en big American networks -  a first baby is born (which after suggestions by the medics is called Israel - the poor thing), people in nearby Gaza are dying because they don't get a travel permit to get the care they need outside the hermetically closed Strip. 

And as if it had to be that way, coinciding with Israels operation in Haiti, the World Health Organization issued a report about the health situation in Gaza. It says:
The closure of Gaza since mid-2007 and the last Israeli military strike between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009 have led to on-going deterioration in the social, economic and environmental determinants of health.

Many specialized treatments, for example for complex heart surgery and certain types of cancer, are not available in Gaza and patients are therefore referred for treatment to hospitals outside Gaza. But many patients have had their applications for exit permits denied or delayed by the Israeli Authorities and have missed their appointments. Some have died while waiting for referral.
1103 applications for permits for patients to cross Erez were submitted to the Israeli Authorities in December 2009. 21% had their applications denied or delayed as a result of which they missed their hospital appointments and had to restart the referral process.
Two patients died recently while awaiting referral - one in November and one in December. 27 patients have died while awaiting referral since the beginning of the year.


Fidaa Talal Hijjy, 19 years old, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease in 2007, and was treated at Shifa Hospital in Gaza. Her health deteriorated and she was told she needed a bone marrow transplant. This procedure is not available in Gaza. Her doctors referred her to Tel HaShomer Hospital in Israel on 20 August 2009 and she obtained a hospital appointment for 23 September 2009 for a transplant.

The District Liaison Office submitted an application for Fidaa to cross Erez on the date of her appointment but the Israeli Authorities did not respond to her application and she lost her appointment with Tel HaShomer Hospital. She secured a new appointment for 20 October 2009 and a new application was submitted to cross Erez. She had no response from the Israeli Authorities. Her health condition deteriorated further. She was given a new appointment at Shneider Hospital in Israel for 9 November 2009 and submitted an urgent application to cross Erez. No response was received.

Fidaa died on 11 November 2009. The Israeli Authorities approved her request on 12 November 2009, three days after her hospital appointment and one day after her death.

 Supplies of drugs and disposables have generally been allowed into Gaza. However, there are often shortages on the ground mainly because of shortfalls in deliveries.Delays of up to 2-3 months occur on the importation of certain types of medical equipment, such as x-ray machines and electronic devices. Clinical staff frequently lack the medical equipment they need. Medical devices are often broken, missing spare parts or out of date.

- Health professionals in Gaza have been cut off from the outside world. Since 2000, very few doctors, nurses or technicians have been able to leave the Strip for training eg to update their clinical skills or to learn about new medical technology. This is severely undermining their ability to provide quality health care. An effective health care system cannot be sustained in isolation from the international community.

Rising unemployment (41.5 percent of Gaza's workforce in the first quarter of 20092) and poverty (in May 2008, 70 percent of the families were living on an income of less than one dollar a day per person3) is likely to have long term adverse effects on the physical and mental health of the population.

The increasing salinity and high levels of nitrates in water supplies from the over-extraction of the ground water and the intrusion of salt water is a major concern for the safety of drinking water, particularly for children they are most vulnerable to high nitrate levels4. Salinity levels in water wells in most parts of the Gaza Strip are above the 250 mg/liter limit established by WHO, and nitrate concentrations exceed WHO guidelines of 50 mg/liter (up to 331 mg/l).

    - 16 health workers killed and 25 injured on duty
    - Damaged health services infrastructure:
      • 15 of 27 Gaza's hospitals
      • 43 of its 110 Primary Health Care services
      • 29 of its 148 ambulances
    - The lack of building materials is affecting essential health facilities: the new surgical wing in Gaza�fs main Shifa hospital has remained unfinished since 2006. Hospitals and primary care facilities, damaged during operation 'Cast Lead', have not been rebuilt because construction materials are not allowed into Gaza.
Maybe the right thing to do here is to quote Juan Cole's blog Informed Comment. Cole argues that the blockade of Gaza is meant to weaken Hamas, but
Collectively punishing 1.5 million Gazans in order to weaken Hamas is in any case strictly illegal in international law and is a war crime. According to Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949:

'Articl 33. No protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.

Pillage is prohibited.

Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.'
Not only is today's ongoing blockade a war crime, but it follows on and continues destructive policies of the Israeli military during the Gaza War, as the Goldstone Report for the United Nations concluded.

Saudi casualties in war with Houthis rise to 113

The number of Saudi soldiers that died fighting Yemeni infiltrators during the last three months has increased to 113, Al-Riyadh Arabic daily reported on Thursday, quoting Maj. Gen. Zaid Al-Khawaji, commander of the Saudi Armed Forces' Southern Region. He said the enemies captured six Saudi soldiers alive. "We have found the bodies of three missing soldiers in hilly areas," he said. Al-Khawaji said all intruders have been flushed out from the Al-Jabiriya border village in Jazan where heavy fighting took place between Saudi Armed Forces and the Yemeni infiltrators.
In a previous statement, Prince Khaled bin Sultan, assistant minister of defense and aviation for military affairs, put the number of Saudi soldiers killed in the fighting at 82 with 39 injured and 21 missing. He said 90 percent of the 470 soldiers who sustained minor injuries during the fighting were discharged from hospitals after receiving treatment.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

NGO-Monitor sues European Commission

NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based watchdog group, announced at a press conference today that it has brought suit against the European Commission (EC) for failing to fulfill EU transparency obligations regarding the distribution of funding to non-government organizations (NGOs).
NGO Monitor President Professor Gerald Steinberg said that his group resorted to legal recourse after 13 months of attempts to secure documents detailing non-governmental agency funding by the EC, the executive branch of the European Union. Under the European Freedom of Information law, such funding details must be made available upon request. However, the EC cited “public security,” “privacy,” and “commercial interests” in denying NGO Monitor’s information request.
NGO Monitor legal counsel, Trevor Asserson  of Asserson Law Offices, dismissed these reasons as “absurd” and “essentially unsupportable.” He described the EU activity as “typical of the types of obfuscation that one gets when someone does not want to do what they are meant to do.”

The lawsuit, filed yesterday at the European Court of Justice, seeks “to obligate the European Union, which claims to be a law-abiding institution and committed to looking out for the interests of world peace and security, to act according to its mandate and reveal these documents and the full extent of their funding.”
NGO Monitor disclosed that its researchers identified 177 million shekels provided by the EC since June 2005 to NGOs active in Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Many of these organizations are active in the strategy of demonization which seeks to isolate Israel, using lawfare and boycott campaigns.

 Professor Gerald Steinberg of Bar Ilan University (left) gives a presentation about the Goldstone-report during a meeting of the Jewish Agencency. To his right th Agency;s chairmen Nathan Sharansky. The meeting was devoted to the study of antisemitism.

Oh yes,  may the Commission follow the example of NGO-monitor itself  when we are speaking about transparancy and the interests of world peace and security. Or of the Israeli government in the case of the budgets for settlemenst building, for that tmatter. World peace and security, the chutzpah.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood elects new leader

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood named on January 16 a new leader, who vowed to promote moderation and respect of pluralism in the country.
"Mohamed Badei has been chosen by majority vote by the Shura Council as the new leader," former Brotherhood leader Mohammed Mahdi Akef announced at a press conference cited by Reuters.
The 67-year-old a veterinary professor at a Beni Sueif University was also approved by the 30-member international council. Badie, the group’s eighth supreme guide, will replace Akef who refused to run for a second six-year term. The election of the new Brotherhood leader came after a dispute between Conservatives, who place an emphasis on strengthening the group’s ideological outreach and reformists who advocate a more active public role.
In an internal election last month, conservatives won the majority of seats in the 18-member executive body, in which the group's deputy chief Mohammed Habib and reformist leader Abdel Moneim Abul-Futuh lost their seats.

Iraqi election committee bans 500 Sunni candidates

On Thursday Iraq's independent electoral commission banned about 500 candidates from running in the 7 March poll. More than 80% ofthyem appeared to be Sunni nominees, which led to proytsts and fears that .the Sunnis could withdraw from the elections altogether.
The ban comes almost seven years after the US introduced 'de-Ba'athification', and has been portrayed by some as a fresh push to rid Iraq of any remaining Saddam Hussein loyalists. Among those banned are prominent figures including the defence minister, Abdul-Kader Jassem al-Obeidi, and Saleh al-Mutlak (picture), who is the head of the National Dialogue Front.(11 seats).The commission's motive is that the banned nominees have ties to the banned Baath party.

The ban has angered Mutlaq’s supporters and his Sunni Arab and secular allies in the Iraqi National Movement, INM, list, who threatened to pull out of the race if he was not reinstated.
"If Mutlaq is banned, the whole list will boycott elections. We will also consider withdrawing from the entire political process in Iraq," said Haider al-Mulla, spokesman for the INM.
Sunni Arab participation in politics is deemed especially critical for Iraq’s stability and national reconciliation. A Sunni Arab boycott of the 2005 elections undermined the credibility of the government and was followed by widespread sectarian violence.
The INM is led by Mutlaq, former prime minister Ayad Allawi, who is considered Iraq’s most influential secular leader, and two of Iraq’s most powerful Sunni politicians, vice-president Tariq al-Hashemi and deputy prime minister Rafie al-Essawi.
The elction commission followed an advice by the Accountability and Justice Commission, an organisation that emerged from the once omnipotent De-Ba'athification Commission. The new body is directed by Ali Faisal al-Lami, a close aide to former deputy prime minister and one-time American ally, Ahmed Chalabi, who is again a candidate in the upcoming poll.ami defended the decision to ban Mutlak, claiming the government had been too weak to move against "Ba'athist remnants". It is believed that all 500 names of those banned were provided by Lami's commission.
The decision by the government’s Accountability and Justice Commission provoked protests in Ramadi, Fallujah and Garma, predominantly Sunni areas west of Baghdad. In Ramadi, 300 demonstrators chanted slogans accusing the commission of sectarian bias.
Mahmud Othman, an independent Kurdish MP, said that decision would harm efforts towards national reconciliation, seen as key to reducing instability in a country that was engulfed in sectarian bloodshed in 2006 and 2007.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Terrible week in the territories

Scenery from Khirnet Tana near Nablus after house demolitions 

On 10 January 2010, Israeli forces, accompanied by a number of bulldozers, moved into the Kherbat Tana area northeast of Nablus. They demolished the elementary school, 11 mud brick houses, 10 animal sheds, one greenhouse, and one tent. At least 120 Palestinian civilians, mostly children, became homeless.

Also on 10 January 2010, Israeli occupation authorities forced Khaled Yousef Abu Shousha to demolish his 35-square-meter house in al-Tour village near East Jerusalem. A notice was delivered to him on Thursday, 07 January 2010, ordering him to demolish his house within 24 hours.

On 11 January 2010, Israeli settlers from "Gilad" settlement, northeast of Qalqiliya, attacked a number of Palestinian farmers who were farming their lands. Two farmers were injured.

On 13 January 2010, Israeli forces, citing security reasons, razed a 3-donum area of agricultural land planted with olives belonging to the Abu Maria family in Safa village, north of Hebron.

The above are excerts from the weekly report of the Paestinian Centre for Human Rights, regarding the week from 6-13 .January. It was an unusual violent week. During the reporting period, Israeli warplanes launched 7 air strikes against targets in the Gaza Strip. As a result of these strikes, 6 Palestinians were killed, two houses were completely destroyed and another one was heavily damaged.One other Paestinian died of wounds he sustained earlier.Also 8 Palestinians in the Gaza strip and the Westbank were wounded by Isareli gunfire.There were 23 incursions into Palestinian communities, 16 Paletinians were arrested, among them 9 children. Troops at the checkpoints arrested 9 people.
More excerpts from the report:
 On Thursday evening, 07 January 2010, Israeli soldiers violently beat 6 Palestinian civilians and abducted one of them in al-Litwana area to the south of Hebron.

Two Palestinian civilians, including a child, were wounded by Israeli troops stationed at military checkpoints. On Friday morning, 08 January 2010, Israeli troops stationed at a military checkpoint at Beit Fajjar intersection on the Hebron-Bethlehem road stopped a Palestinian civilian car. They forced the driver to exit his vehicle and violently beat him. They then abducted him.
On Monday noon, 11 January 2010, Israeli troops stormed the Um al-Khair area to the south of "Carme'el" settlement, south of Hebron. They attacked Palestinian shepherds, including women and children. As a result, 15-year-old Mahmoud 'Eissa Hammad, sustained bruises.

Also in the West Bank, 6 Palestinian civilians, including 3 children and a journalist, were wounded when Israeli forces used force to disperse peaceful demonstrations organized by Palestinian civilians and international and Israeli human rights defenders, in protest of the construction of the Annexation Wall in the West Bank.

On 12 January 2010, two Palestinian children were wounded when Israeli troops fired at a number of children who demonstrated against them in Safa village, north of Hebron.
 For the full report click here. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Who killed professor Ali- Mohammadi?

Dr. Masoud Ali-Mohammadi, a professor of physics at the University of Tehran, was assassinated in front of his home in northern Tehran on Tuesday. Reports indicate that a motorcycle parked next to his car held a bomb that was set off by a remote control device.
State media, including the Islamic Republic News Agency and Fars immediately declared that professor Ali-Mohammadi was a nuclear physicist and a supporter of Velayat-e Faghih (the  guardianship of the Islamic jurist, i.c the supreme leader, ayatollah Ali Khamenei), and blamed Israel, the United States, and "their lackeys" for orchestrating the assassination.
Students, friends and colleagues, however, said that the professor's views had changed of late. In 1979, while studying at the university of Shiraz, he had supported  the Iranian revolution. But lateron he became a supporter of the reformists. He had said that he voted for the reformists in the elections for the 8th Majles (parliament) in 2008, and also in the in fall 2006 elections for Tehran's city council. More recently, he was one of 240 academics who signed a declaration of support for Mir Hossein Mousavi before the June 12 election. Muhammad Sahimi writes on his blog Tehran Bureau:

A former student of his said that on June 15 (when the huge demonstrations against the rigged presidential election of June 12 broke out) he was at the gathering of the members of the Muslim Student Association of the Faculty of Sciences. At that time, someone from Mousavi's headquarters had called to caution them that security forces had orders to shoot demonstrators, if necessary. He said that Professor Ali-Mohammadi told him, "Young man, do not be scared. We must resist them [the hardliners]. A bullet hurts only at the beginning." According to this student, Professor Ali-Mohammadi then arranged for a bus to take him and many of his students to the demonstrations.
According to a statement that was issued by a group of physics students at the University of Tehran, Professor Ali-Mohammadi was one of the leading academics who stormed the University Chancellor's office to demand an investigation into the June 15 attack on the university when several students were murdered and many more were injured.
Several other students have stated that Professor Ali-Mohammadi had organized debates on the national crisis at the University of Tehran. He had apparently told his students that "they" [the hardliners] had ordered him to put an end to such activities, but that he was going to press on despite their demands. The last of such debates had occurred on January 5, in which he had urged students to come up with a scientific and practical solution to the Iranian crisis. All of his speeches have reportedly been recorded and can be used as evidence to refute the hardliner's propaganda that he was one of them.
A source in Tehran told the author that Professor Ali-Mohammadi had worked with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) on several projects in the past. This source said that given Professor Ali-Mohammadi's extensive knowledge of the IRGC's activities and his recent new-found support for the reformists and Mousavi would have made him a potential target for the IRGC.
 This last fact, his past involvement with the Revolutionay Guards, makes it less likely that Israel was behind the murder. The more so, since professor Mohammadi was specialized in quantum physics and had no links with the Iranian nuclear program. In the past Israel was linked to a number of assassinations of nuclear physicists or ballistic experts in Arabic an Middle Eastern countries,  the site Four Winds cites scores of cases. In the case of Iran there was in 2001 the murder of Mahmoud Mimand, the man in charge of Iran's ballistic missile program, who was shot in his office in Tehran, and in 2007 the murder of the nuclear scientist Ardeshir Hassanpour. Both were ascribed to the Israeli Mossad. But Ali-Mohammadi? It seems highly unlikely.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Four more Saudis killed in fight against Houthis

 Saudis patrolling in the Jizan province, near the border with Yemen


Four Saudi soldiers have been killed in clashes with Shia rebels near the Yemen border, Saudi state television reports.Citing Assistant Minister of Defence Prince Khaled bin Sultan, it said the overall death toll of Saudi soldiers in the border conflict now stood at 82.
Houthi rebels have fought a sporadic insurgency in the region between Sanaa and the Saudi border since 2004.
Riyadh joined the fighting against the rebels in November, after one of its soldiers was killed along the border.
Prince Khaled bin Sultan said "hundreds" of Yemeni rebels had been killed on Saudi soil in the latest clashes, the Reuters news agency reports.He said the rebels had ignored a 48-hour deadline to quit their positions in the border village of al-Jabiri."The infiltrators have been eliminated from al-Jabiri and the whole district has been taken under control," he told state-owned al-Ekhbariya television, adding that 21 Saudi soldiers were missing.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Yemen: not al-Qaeda but the regime itself is a threat

 President Ali Abdallah Saleh (front row, second from left) at a parade.

It was predictable, but I was nevertheless amazed to see to what extend Yemen became hot news after the failed attempt at X-mas by the underpants bomber' to bring down an airplane over Detroit. The mere fact that this young Nigerian, Umar Farouq Abdelmutallab, had been trained by al-Qaeda in Yemen was enough to raise the interest.
It's logical, When the threats are directed against the West, we get interested. But Yemen generated lots of news amply before this Detroit incident.  Fighting in the north, mass demonstrations in the south and raids (with the help of the USA) on suspected hideouts or training centres of Al-Qaeda. Indeed, raids that were the cause that Al Qaeda sought revenge in Detroit.
These raids on villages in several areas of Yemen in which numerous civilians got killed, while it remains questionable whether they really hit Al-Qaeda cells, were by  themselves not enough to draw the attention (see for some news about the raids further down in this post and also here). Neither were stories about the fighting in the north against the Houthis big news (until the Saudis stepped in in November, that is). Also a wave of protests and separatist demonstrations in the South of Yemen passed almost unmentioned.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Clashes in Naga Hamady after killing of Copts

Clashes have broken out on Thursday near the morgue of a hospital in Naga Hamadi in Upper-Egypt, one day after an attack on a Coptic church that killed six churchgoers and a security guard. At least 1000 family members and friends of the dead gathered around the morgue and clashed with police, shouting that the government should act against the perpetrators of the attack. After some time though , they accepted the dead bodies and took them to their funeral.
The killing took place Wednesday evening after the mass that initiated the Coptic Christmas that falls on January the 7th. People that were leaving the church were sprayed with bullets by three men who afterwards drove cars.The violence against the church came after numerous threats had been made and after 
earlier clashes, late in November, in the nearby town of Farshout.
The paper Masry al Youm wrote that they broke out in village Farhout near Naga Hamadi
...on the evening of 21 November, the area around the church, where most Christians in Farshout are based, was the scene of much violence as Muslim gangs started breaking into and looting shops and pharmacies owned by Christians, then torching them after taking what they wanted. They went from store to store with batons in hand and, according to some reports, fire arms, wreaking havoc.
The violence came after 21-year-old Girgis Barouny Girgis, a Copt, was charged with assaulting and raping a 12-year-old Muslim girl. Girgis, a resident of Kom el-Ahmar, is currently in police custody pending trial. The incident, however, has spurred continuous protests in addition to the violence – the worst of which happened in Farshout, the hometown of the girl which lies a few kilometers away from Kom el-Ahmar.
 Stories like this happen time and again in Upper-Egypt, which in many places has an important Coptic population and several churches and monasteries which are hundreds of years old. Unfortunately the goverment most of the time fails to act in time to suppress these sectarian outbursts. (Nag Hamady, in the governorate of Qena, lies about 60 km north of Luxor).