Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Military tribunal convicts Egyptian factory workers

This rather medieval looking gate is the only thing the Egyptian Company for Engineering Industries, aka military Factory 99, in Helwan. shows on its website.

An Egyptian military court handed down sentences Monday in the trial of eight civilian factory workers who led a protest against deteriorating safety conditions in a military owned factory in the city of Helwan, south of Cairo. Of the eight defendants three were acquitted. Two workers got a suspended prison sentence of a year and three others of a half year, while all five got a fine of one thousand pounds, for damaging parts in the factory. They were acquitted however of the accusation of assaulting the chairman of the company board, and refusing to work.
On August 3, 2010, after the explosion of Nitrogen tube (boiler) in the Military Factory 99 which led to the death of a worker, Ahmed Abdelhady, and the injury of six workers, the workers of the factory held a sit in at which they furiously protested against the factory's heads for neglecting safety conditions. After this protest the eight were arrested and accused of deliberately stopping production, vandalising company property, and assaulting a public official.  
The sentences were less severe thane expected, but rights groups nevertheless said that the trial should never have taken place and was unfair  from the start. Adel Zakaria, a spokesman for the Centre for Trade Union and Workers' Services (CTUWS) said that "civilian workers should not be prosecuted according to military law, which includes provisions that violate the legal and constitutional guarantees to which civilian defendants are entitled."
Even in Egypt it is highly unusual that military courts handle cases related to labour conflicts. The last time this happened was in 1952, when two workers from the northern town of Kafr el-Dawar were referred to a military court after participating in a strike to demand higher wages. The court declared the two guilty of attempting to topple the regime and ordered their execution. 
Rights groups fear the government may be using the threat of military trials to intimidate workers and eliminate the explosively growing labour movement.
The Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) recorded, only in 2009, no less than  478 labour protests, including 184 sit-ins, 123 strikes and 106 rallies and demonstrations. Most of the protests were over inadequate wages and deplorable working conditions.
"Thousands of protests, strikes and sit-ins have been staged by Egyptian workers in both the public and private sectors, protesting the rising cost of living and demanding better wages and working conditions. This latest referral before military courts of workers is therefore a disturbing step," Amnesty International said in a statement.

Palestinians not really satisfied with changes to Lebanese labour laws

 Palestinian refugee camp Ein al Hilweh near Saida (Sidon).

Recent amendments to Lebanese law grant work permits to Palestinians in the private sector, and some welfare benefits. According to UNRWA, the UN’s agency for Palestinian Refugees, they are a step in the right direction. Many Palestinians, however, are less happy with the changes.
The new law took effect on 17 August. It allows Palestinians to work in all professions open to foreigners. Also work permits, which hitherto cost US$ 300, are now free of charge. On top of that Palestinians can benefit from end of service payouts from a special account in the Social Security Fund and have the right to medical treatment in the event of work-related accidents.
A major grievance of the Palestinians is that they still cannot work in professions like medicine, engineering, law, real estate management, and accountancy. The new law has changed very little, said Layla el-Ali, head of Association Najdeh (AN), a Palestinian NGO in Lebanon. 

Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are regarded as foreigners and thus effectively excluded from civil and socio-economic rights. This is in part due to the fact that several rights are conditioned on the principle of reciprocity, which in the absence of a Palestinian state creates an insurmountable impediment. Although the new law has cancelled the reciprocity principle, El-Ali said it did not go far enough. “We wanted to cancel the reciprocity laws from social law, as well as lift the ban on becoming a member of professional syndicates,” thereby allowing Palestinians permanent residency, the right to own property and access to all jobs, she said. 

In Syria some 472,000 registered Palestinian refugees have the same rights and privileges as Syrian citizens, except citizenship. In Jordan the 1.9 million registered refugees have full Jordanian citizenship with the exception of about 120,000 refugees originally from the Gaza Strip who are eligible for temporary Jordanian passports. In Lebanon there are about 425,000 Palestinians in 12 camps, according to UNRWA estimates. They constitute 10% of the population. Their socio-economic conditions are quite bad, but changes to their status are very difficult to realize. A majority of  Lebanese politicians fear that granting the mainly Sunni Moslim Palestinians the right to residency and civil rights would lead to their permannt settlement in Lebanon, thereby upsetting the delicate balance between Christians and other groups in the country.    

Monday, August 30, 2010

Saadeddin Ibrahim shocks supporters: signs petition for candidacy 'Jimmy' Mubarak

How sad, how strange! Saadeddin Ibrahim on Sunday signed a petition in support of the presidential candidacy of Gamal Mubarak, president Hosni Mubarak's 47 year old son.
Ibrahim is head of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies in Cairo, and a sociology professor of the American University in Cairo. But on top of that he is a well known critic of the government who has lots of supporters in dissident circles . In 2000 he was jailed after having been accused of of having spent European funds meant for the Ibn Khaldun Centre for political purposes, in reality most probably because he had been warning for the possibility that Mubarak would promote his son as his successor. A court of appeal cleared him in 2003. In 2008 he was convicted - in absentia  - of defaming Egypt. Since then he stayed in the USA, till on 5 August he returned unexpectedly for a family visit. Or had there been made a deal?? One would start to suspect that much after his signing this petition of the 'Popular Coalition in Support of a Gamal Mubarak Candidacy“. Being a candidate did not, as he said, amount to an  'inheritance of the presidency', because 'every Egyptian has the right to run for elections that are free, fair and under international and local supervision'
And this is the same Saadeddin Ibrahim who in a series of articles in 2000 warned about the emergence of 'republican dynasties' in Arab countries like in Syria the Assad family, the Kadhafys in Libya, the Husseins (at the time) in Iraq and the Mubaraks in Egypt. It's also the same Saad Eddin Ibrahim, who in June in an OpEd in the Washington Post accused the American president Obama of being "too friendly with tyrants". Obama, he wrote, seemed to think that strengthening ties with Mubarak would encourage Egypt 'to become more proactive in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, but Mubarak had 'not advanced Israeli-Palestinian peace beyond what his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, accomplished in the 1970s.' Also, he argued, the green lights the Mubaraks regime received from Obama, had encouraged it to continue it's policy of  'wholesale imprisonment and harassment of political dissidents,' like for instance the crackdown on Egypt's 'brave young pro-democracy bloggers'. He called Obama's stance a great diappointment in light of his Cairo speech of one year earlier.
How could this have happened? It's almost unbelievable.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Jane Corbin, the impartiality of a BBC diva

Israeli diplomatic missions seem to have sent copies to their relations around August 18. I myself received one from one of my Israeli contacts: the documentary of BBC's Panorama about the attack on the Gaza Flotilla on 31 May. The film, 'Death on the Med' was made by Jane Corbin and I wonder how many people could have been pleased by it, apart from, obviously, the Israeli government and their friends.
Corbin, I have to tell, was never my favorite BBC journalist. In 1993 (or was it '94?) I got to review her book on the Oslo negotiations, called 'Gaza First'. The book was absolutely unbeatable in one respect. Iit gave an impeccable (or so it looked) account of what the negotiaters got fo diner during all those hectic days in that villa outside Oslo. She would write that this or tht days was concluded with a diner of salmon with cream sauce, baked potates and a cucumber slad, with strawberries for dessert.
As far as the less mundaine business of political wrangling was concerned, she was totally at the side of the Israelis. Her lack of impartiiality was in fact only matched by her unshakable belief in her own judgment.When I read at some points that the Palestnians seemed to be giving away valuable negotiating positions that were backed by internationally recognized resolutins and documents, Corbin remarked that at last they seemed to become 'a bit reasonable'. When on the contrary the Palestinians were holding on to points like the divison of Jerusalem, she called them 'stubborn' or even 'out ogf touch with reality'..
And here she was again. With a documentary about what happened aboard the Mavi Marmara, the flagship of the Freedom Flotilla, where on the 31st May a fight took place in which nine people got killed. Corbin could make use for her story  of material that the Israelis confiscated from the people aboard and never gave back, apparently with the intention to use it some time as a kind of testimonials against the participants of the Flotilla. Or even better, to have it used as such by a trustworthy third party.  Apparently where most other journalists would heve refused the honor, Corbin acceptd and appeared to be such a party.
Her film turned out to be a quest to find out whether the Gaza Flotilla people were genuinly trying to do something for Gaza, or had in fact other, less honorable things in mind. And yes, at the end of her documentary she turns towards the camera and gives us her verdict. With a stern look she tells us in a fir voice that 'this was not an attempt to bring aid to Gaza, this was a political move to put pressure on Israel and the internationale community'.
Oh really? Was it?
I thought nobody told ever otherwise. The Turkish IHH and the other organizers of this Freedom Flotilla were absolutely intent on delevering much needed medicine and other goods, but their main, declared goal had always been to put pressure on, and draw the attention of the international community to, the inhumane blockade of Gaza in order to have it lifted. I thought everybody would have known, but apparently Ms Corbin didn't. For her it was quite a discovery, and to that one that in her eyes seemed to degrade the whole Flotilla enterprise to the level of an ordinary political stunt ( - or maybe even an exercise in Israel bashing). At any rate it was clear that she strongly disapproved of it. To judge from the way she reached some remarkable conclusiin , after 20 minutes of  bad, uncomplete and biased journalism.
A few examples:
She refers to the Turkish charity IHH as an organisation which is suspected by many government of having links to  terror organisations. In fact not any government says that -  apart from Israel of course.
She interviews Giora Eiland, the main Israeli military investigator of the Flotilla episode, and gives him ample room to declare that there is proof  that  the activists at the Mavi Marmara had fire arms and did use them. But she does not ask him why there was not one of these fire arm found, even though the Israelis assembled almost all kitchen utensils and repair kits aboard to show how well armed the Mavi Marmara people were. Neither does she ask him why no Israeli soldier was wounded by gunshots, or why the Israeli's painted over and removed the traces on the Mavi Marmara before they returned the boat. Nor asked she any questions about the autopsies of several of the Turkish victims, which showed that most had been killed by more than one shot from close range and from different angles (and why one Turk, who was armed with nothing bjut a camera, was killed by a single shot - also at very close range - in his forehead).

Throughout the film Corbin constantly keeps asking the question what the real motives of the people aboard the Mavi Marmara were. And to illustrate the possibility that some may have had less noble goals, she uses, among other things,  a tape of the conversation between the Israeli command center and the ships. On this tape one can clearly hear phrases like 'Go back to Auschwitz', supposedly uttered by the men on the ships. But wait...., wasn't this a tape that had been doctored by the Israeli army spokesman's office? As the Israeli's themselves had to admit after the blogosphere proved it? Didn't Corbin know? Oh yes, she did. Iin the film she mentions that there was a controverse around it. Yet, she uses it,  falsification or not.
Amazing, eh? One really wonders how a person like herself could survive so long at the BBC, in an atmosphere were impartiality and an investigative kind of journalism are so much more the standard than her own way of doing things. Could it be that Corbin is kept as a kind of counterweight, so that the BBC vis a vis Israel creates a window of possiblity to occasionally tell the truth? Or has it more to do with the fact that she is married to the  conservative MP John Maples (since 2010 member of the House of Lords), who was quite influential in the party and has long held the position of president of the Conservative Friends of Israel?

Shame on Yale

I used to have this idea that Yale University was to be revered as a temple of knowledge and wisdom, but this perception has been shaken since I read that the 'Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antismetism' (YIISA) held a conference under the fancy title . 

'Global Antisemitism: a Crisis of Modernity'

The conference lasted from 23 - 25 August and is over by now. (I know I'm late with this news, but that's due to an automated machine of Google, the owner of the servers that host this blog, which took my pages for spam and temporarily deleted them). The conference should have been given more attention than it got, because of its odd character. What about a gathering that pretends to be scientific but hosts the following two keynote speakers:  
 Keynote: Professor Menahem Milson, Hebrew University and Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI): Video Clips from the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI

Keynote: Itamar Marcus, Director, Palestinian Media Watch: “The Central Role of Palestinian Antisemitism in Creating the Palestinian Identity

One, a former head of the Civil Administration of the Occupied territories at the time Ariel Sharon was minister of Defense, the other a settler. Both of them speaking on behalf of  organizations, MEMRI and Palestine Media Watch, which are as biased and anti-Arab as any organisation can be. But if that's not enough to put the scientific value in question, we also see the name of Anne Herzberg, of the Israeli 'NGO Monitor' watchdog which keeps relentlessly repeating that NGO's like B'tselem, Breaking the Silence, the Association for Civil Right in Israel (ACRI) and others, are out - and being funded by outside sources - with the sole purpose of causing harm to Israel. And indeed, Ms Herzberg figures in a cluster about  
  Lawfare, Human Rights Organizations and the Demonization of Israel
and yes, she talks about the new antisemitism of NGO's:
Anne Herzberg, NGO Monitor “NGOs and the New Antisemitism”
 together with 
Professor Ed Morgan, University of Toronto: “The Metastasizing of Anti-Israel Lawfare”
• Elisabeth Kübler, University of Vienna: “Durban II: Antisemitism in Cosmopolitan Global Democracy”
• Michelle Sieff, YIISA: “Human Rights Criticisms of Israel and Anti-Zionism”

The colour of the conference can already be deduced from these contributions alone. There were some speakers who talked about historical aspects or christian antisemitism as well, but the emphasis laid heavily on arabic/muslim antsiemitism together with what the organizers of the conference prefered to call the 'new antisemitism' or 'deligitimization' of  Israel. And oh,  I almost forgot , there was paid attention to  "Jewish self-hatred' as well. Here we go: 

Plenary: Self Hatred and Contemporary Antisemitism
• Professor Doron Ben-Atar, Fordham University: “Without Ahavath Yisrael: Thoughts on Radical Anti-Zionism at Brandeis”
• Professor Richard Landes, Boston University: “Scourges and Their Audiences: What Drives Jews to Loathe Israel Publicly and What To Do About It?”
• Professor Alvin Rosenfeld, Indiana University: “Beyond Criticism and Dissent: On Jewish Contributions to the Delegitimation of Israel”

And what to make of :

Professor Dina Porat, Tel Aviv University: “Are Events in the Middle East indeed the Source of Global New Antisemitism?”

The full programma is to be found here. 

I don't know how it works. Maybe it has to do with a certain type of sponsors who want value for their money. But one thing is for sure: This thing caused harm to the reputation of Yale. The university should be ashamed.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wave of bomb attacks in Iraq kill at least 50 and wound 200

Days after the American combat troops withdrew, Iraq was again hit by a wave of bomb attacks. The number of killed and wounded was at least 50 and 200 respectively. Nobody claimed the attacks, but it is safe to speculate that Sunni militant groups were behind them.   

In Baghdad, a suicide car bomb hit a police station in the north-east of the city, killing 15 people, with 58 injured, most of them police, while a parked car bomb in the centre of the city near the Muthana Airport Highway killed two people and injured seven.
There were three other explosions, in Haifa Street, in Karrada, and in Ahmeriya, injuring 11 people.
In other incidents:

- In Kut, south of Baghdad, a suicide car bomber attacked a police station, killing at least 26 people and injured 87,
- in Kirkuk, a car bomb killed one person and injured eight,
- in Basra, a car exploded as police towed it from a parking lot, killing one person and injuring eight,
- in Ramadi, a car exploded as alleged bombers were working on it, while a second car exploded about 1km away, injuring 12 people,
- in Kerbala, a suicide car bomb exploded at police checkpoint at the entrance to police station, injuring 30 people.

Amnesty asks clarification from US about targeted killings by drones in Yemen

Amnesty International said on Wednesday the United States appeared to have carried out or collaborated with Yemen in attacks that killed suspected al Qaeda militants. Yemen's killings of al Qaeda suspects, often in aerial bombings, are extrajudicial executions and are unlawful, Amnesty said. The organisation urged Washington to clarify the involvement of U.S. forces and drones in such attacks.
U.S. officials say only that Washington plays a supporting role by helping Yemen track and pinpoint targets. Yemen launched a major crackdown on al Qaeda after the movement's Yemen-based regional arm said it was behind an attempt to bomb a U.S.-bound plane in December.
Washington, fearing that al Qaeda was using Yemen as a base for attacks abroad, stepped up its training, intelligence and military aid to the state and sent special forces there. In May, Yemeni opposition media reported that a drone had carried out an air strike aimed at al Qaeda that mistakenly killed a government mediator, sparking clashes between government forces and his kinsmen.
"The U.S. government has deployed drones in Yemen to kill those it describes as 'high value targets', a practice that has been increasingly criticised as involving unlawful killings," Amnesty said, without mentioning specific incidents.  Amnesty said it had also obtained photographs apparently showing the remnants of missiles known to be held only by U.S. forces at the site of a December air strike against al Qaeda suspects that killed 41 people, half of them children.
Amnesty said Yemen was increasingly sacrificing human rights in the name of security. It is under pressure from Washington and Riyadh to deal with a range of threats -- al Qaeda, southern secessionism and a now dormant Shi'ite rebellion in the north. Amnesty said the latest fighting with the northern rebels, before a February truce brought relative calm, saw both Yemen and Saudi Arabia appear to violate international law when they apparently bombed homes and apartment blocks.
"Aerial and other bombardments of markets, mosques and other places where civilians gather, as well as of large residential properties, apparently killed hundreds of men, women and children not engaged in the fighting," the report said. In the south, Yemen has used "excessive and lethal force" against demonstrators and carried out arbitrary detentions, torture and unfair trials of southern activists, Amnesty said.

Ironically Today's Wall Street Journal carries the news that the US are stepping up their presence
in Yemen and countries around Somalia and are considering to expand their operations in Yemen. The WJS:
The U.S. military's Special Operation Forces and the CIA have been positioning surveillance equipment, drones and personnel in Yemen, Djibouti, Kenya and Ethiopia to step up targeting of al Qaeda's Yemen affiliate, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, known as AQAP, and Somalia's al Shabaab—Arabic for The Youth. U.S. counterterrorism officials believe the two groups are working more closely together than ever. "

Three killed in fight between Hizbullah en Sunni group in Beirut

 Three men were killed in Beirut on Tuesday in clashes between supporters of  the Shiite Hizbullah  movement and a Sunni faction, Al-Ahbash. Mohammad Fawaz, a Hizbullah official, his aide and a member  of Al-Ahbash were killed in clashes sparked by a fight in the mixed Sunni-Shiite Beirut neighborhood of Burj Abi Haidar in Beirut. Later on Tuesday Hizbullah and Al-Ahbash issued a joint statement following a meeting at the offices of the Lebanese Army Intelligence Unit in Beirut saying the clash was “an isolated one". However, Hizbullah later demanded the surrender of four persons involved in the killing of Fawaz, warning that it would interfere militarily if its demand was not met. The Association of Islamic Charitable Projects, better known as Al-Ahbash, is a pro-Syrian conservative Sunni Muslim group, rival to other Sunni groups in the country, including Premier Saad Hariri’s Future Movement and the hard-line Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya.

Leader Egyptian Wafd party buys newspaper El Dustour

The leader of the liberal Egyptian Wafd party, Sayed el-Badawy, bought the independent newspaper Al-Dustour, in a bid to enhance his party’s chances in the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.
Al-Dostour Executive Editor Ibrahim Mansour said Monday that el-Badawy signed the acquisition agreement with Ahmed Essam Fahmy, the newspaper publisher, after two months of negotiations
According to the newspaper Al-Masry al-Youm Badawy paid LE16 million (some 2,5 million dollars) to acquire both the daily and weekly editions of the newspaper.Mansour told Al-Masry Al-Youm that under the agreement, the new buyer will maintain the same editorial policy and retain all the current editors.
In a press statement, Al-Dostour announced that Coptic businessman Edward Reda is one of the new shareholders.
El-Badawy was quoted in the statement as saying he is keen to "maintain the paper as one of the most important platforms of freedom, courage and independent opinion.”
The purchase of Al-Dostour, one of Egypt’s leading dissident newspapers, is seen as another step in El-Badawy's plans to revive his party since he was elected as its new leader in May. El-Badawy, 60, has recently managed to attract a number of prominent public figures to his party, such as poet Ahmed Fouad Nigm, preacher Soad Saleh and business tycoon Ramy Lakah. He has also expressed his willingness to cooperate with the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s strongest opposition movement.

Al-Dostour ranks fifth among Egypt's dailies in terms of circulation, after Al-Ahram, Al-Masry Al-Youm, Al-Akhbar and Al-Goumhouriya. The newspaper's daily edition sells 45,000 to 55,000 copies, while its weekly sells 85,000. The paper is known for its harsh criticism of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, particularly through its Chief Editor Ibrahim Eissa. Eissa was sentenced to six months in prison in 2008 for publishing "false information” about Mubarak's deteriorating health, but was later pardoned by the president.
El-Badawy also owns Egypt’s biggest private television network, al-Hayat. However, he has sofar refrained from using his satellite channels to market his political ambitions. Apart from this tv-network and the now acquired Al-Dustour, there is also the party newspaper 'Al -Wafd'', with a small circulation and without much impact.   
In 2005, Egypt’s secular opposition parties together managed to obtain 14 seats, less than one percent of the parliament’s 454 seats. By contrast, the Muslim Brotherhood received 88 seats. Around 200 members of the Wafd party have expressed interest in running in the upcoming elections. The party's ruling board intends to choose 125 candidates by 7 September.

Monday, August 23, 2010


Writing in some dark internet café in a small French place called Pré en Pail , my glasses forgotten at home, which (particularly in a dark environment) makes that I'm half blind, and on top of that being in a hurry. What was the result? That clashes took place between al Qaeda and 'goeernemt' forces, and more of that kind of thing.
It's shameful and it should not have happened. Now I'm back at base again, my glasses right next tot the laptop and more time and possibilities to correct mistakes. Hopefully it's not going to happen again.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Fierce clashes between suspected al-Qaeda fighters and goverment forces in Southern Yemen

 Government forces are said to have killed at least five fighters of al-Qaeda's regional affiliate in the Lawdar distrcit of the southern Yemeni province of Abyan. The incident came a day after suspected al-Qaeda fighters attacked a Yemeni security patrol in a market in Abyan and killed 12 soldiers, while five suspected al-Qaeda fighters were killed as well and at least ten were wounded. Three foreigners were among the seven dead al-Qaeda fighters, including one man identified as Adham Shibani, the defence ministry said on Saturday.
 Local authorities of Lawdar district, on Saturday, gave 24 hours deadline for the militants of al-Qaeda and other militants affiliated to the southern movement to surrender themselves otherwise the houses they are taking as barracks would be bombarded.

Local sources said that civilians of Lawdar evacuated their homes on Saturday fearing a big battle between the government security and military forces and between the al-Qaeda militants and their militant allies affiliated to the so called Southern Movement, according to the Yemen Observer
The sources said that over 200 al-Qaeda militants supported by around 200 militants affiliated to the southern movement have been controlling the entrances of Lawdar town and its key centers. According to the local sources the military and security forces surrounded the town and hundreds of troopers were deployed to Lawdar after the fierce confrontations between al-Qaeda militants and their allies and the security forces on Friday and Saturday, which resulted in the killing of the 12 soldiers and at least five al-Qaeda fighters.
The sources said that the campaign launched by the government is lead by the Yemeni Minister of Defense himself.
In the city pf Zinjibar, also in the governorate of Abyan, the situation was tense as well, after suspected al-Qaeda (or Southern) fighters killed an officer of the intelligence agency on 16 August. It was the latest in a string of similar attacks that killed at least eight security officers.     

Iran unveils longe rang drone, day after start of fuelling Bushehr reactor

Iran unveiled a prototype long-range unmanned bomber on Sunday, the latest in a stream of announcements of new Iranian-made military hardware. On a stage in front of military officials, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pulled a sheet away from the aircraft, called the Karrar. Iran says it is its first long-range drone. With the United States and Israel not ruling out a military strike to stop Iran getting a nuclear bomb, the Islamic Republic has showed off new mini-submarines, a surface-to-surface missile and announced plans to launch high altitude satellites over the next three years.
 The presentation of the drone came a day after Iranian and Russian technicians began fuelling Iran's first nuclear power station, which Israel called "totally unacceptable."  In a speech at the unveiling ceremony, Ahmadinejad said Iran should seek the ability to make pre-emptive strikes against a perceived threat, although he said it would never strike first.
"If there is an ignorant person or an egoist or a tyrant who just wanted to make an aggression then our Defense Ministry should reach a point where it could cut off the hand of the aggressor before it decided to make an aggression," he said.  "We should reach a point when Iran would serve as a Defense umbrella for all freedom loving nations in the face of world aggressors. We don't want to attack anywhere, Iran will never decide to attack anywhere, but our revolution cannot sit idle in the face of tyranny, we can't remain indifferent."
The exact capabilities of the new drone were not disclosed, but it is supposedly able to carry bombas over a long distance.

The loading of the reactor in Bushehr began on Saturday, when technicians of Russia's state-owned Rosatom nuclear corporation began loading 80 tonnes of fuel. The loading is the last step before the completion of a project 35 years. The long-delayed delivery prompted John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the United Nations, to warn that Israel nhad only days to destroy the reactor before the arrival of fuel would create a danger of nuclear fallout in the event of a bombing. But the reactor at Bushehr - likely the first functioning nuclear power plant in the Middle East outside of Israel - has been in the works since the time of the shah, and non-proliferation experts say it is the least of their concerns in Iran.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Support for Israel weakening in US

Less than half of all Americans believe that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government is committed to peace, according to a new survey commissioned by Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg.
Greenberg, who has previously conducted polls for Labor chairman Ehud Barak, carried out the poll for The Israel Project, a pro-Israel advocacy NGO based in the United States. Last week, Greenberg and a few of the organization's executives visited Israel, where they presented officials here with the findings. They met with President Shimon Peres and Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, and the poll results were also believed to have been shown to aides in the Prime Minister's Bureau.
Forty-five percent of American survey respondents said in July that they thought the Netanyahu government was intent on striking a peace deal with the Palestinians, while 39 percent said they didn't believe the government was committed to reaching an agreement.
The proportion who think Israel is committed to peace has dropped precipitously since December 2007, just a few weeks after the Annapolis peace conference, when 66 percent of respondents said the coalition headed by then-prime minister Ehud Olmert was committed to peace.
In June 2009, a month after Netanyahu's first visit to the Obama White House, 46 percent of Americans said they thought the government was committed. That number rose to 53 percent in May and June of this year but dropped back down, to 45 percent, in July.
The poll also found a steady drop in the proportion of Americans who think the United States needs to support Israel. In August 2009, 63 percent of American respondents answered in the affirmative. In June of this year, just 58 percent said the United States needs to back Israel. In July, the percentage dropped to 51.
Greenberg said the decrease could be attributed to the weakening of Israel's standing in the eyes of American liberals.
Among the German respondents, just 19 percent said they felt either warm or very warm toward Israel, and half said they felt cool or very cool toward Israel.
The Germans view the Palestinians in a softer light, with about a quarter (26 percent) saying they felt warm toward Palestinians and 39 percent saying they felt cool.
In France, 24 percent said they felt warm toward Israel and 31 percent said they did not.

New deadly bomb attacks in Baghdad as US troops are leaving

 American military vehicles on thir way out of Iraq. The last US combat units have left Iraq. Their departure was accompanied by a new wave of bomb attacks. (Photo Reuters)

Attacks in Baghdad have led to the deaths of at least 68 people with scores more injured.
In one strike early on Tuesday in a mostly Shia neighbourhood of the Iraqi capital, a bomb attached to a fuel truck exploded, killing eight people and wounding 44 more. The tanker, which was filled with kerosene, was blown up in the northwestern Ur neighbourhood.
Earlier in the day, at least 60 people were killed in a suicide bomb attack at an army recruitment centre in the Iraqi capital. Iraqi officials said at least 125 other people were wounded in that blast, when a suicide attacker detonated a bomb as men queued outside the centre in central Baghdad. The attack occurred at the historical site of the country's defence ministry, a building that was turned into an army recruitment centre and military base after the 2003 US-led invasion.
Al Jazeera's Omar Al Saleh, reporting from Baghdad, said the centre was busy on Tuesday because the defence ministry had recently called on new recruits to join the army."According to a police source they were standing in the hundreds," he said. "Then a suicide bomber wearing an explosive belt [and] wearing an army uniform was talking to those recruits, pretending that he was trying to get their names, so people gathered around him and he detonated his charge.This is the deadliest attack since the start of [the Muslim holy month of] Ramadan, and the deadliest perhaps in the last month or so."
Security forces have been frequent targets of attack since the start of army restructure after the US-led invasion.
Tuesday's attacks come two weeks ahead of a US deadline to cut its troop numbers to about 50,000 and a day after Iraqi lawmakers suspended talks on forming a new government.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Obama speaks out in favour of the right to build a mosque near Ground Zero

 President Obama finally has taken a stand. On 13 August, during the traditional iftar diner at the white House, he spoke in favour of the construction of the Cordoba Muslim Center:

Recently, attention has been focused on the construction of mosques in certain communities — particularly New York.  Now, we must all recognize and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of Lower Manhattan.  The 9/11 attacks were a deeply traumatic event for our country.  And the pain and the experience of suffering by those who lost loved ones is just unimaginable.  So I understand the emotions that this issue engenders.  And Ground Zero is, indeed, hallowed ground.
But let me be clear.  As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country.  (Applause.)  And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances.  This is America.  And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable.  The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are.  The writ of the Founders must endure.
We must never forget those who we lost so tragically on 9/11, and we must always honor those who led the response to that attack — from the firefighters who charged up smoke-filled staircases, to our troops who are serving in Afghanistan today. And let us also remember who we’re fighting against, and what we’re fighting for.  Our enemies respect no religious freedom.  Al Qaeda’s cause is not Islam — it’s a gross distortion of Islam.  These are not religious leaders — they’re terrorists who murder innocent men and women and children.  In fact, al Qaeda has killed more Muslims than people of any other religion — and that list of victims includes innocent Muslims who were killed on 9/11.
So that's who we’re fighting against.  And the reason that we will win this fight is not simply the strength of our arms — it is the strength of our values.  The democracy that we uphold. The freedoms that we cherish.  The laws that we apply without regard to race, or religion, or wealth, or status.  Our capacity to show not merely tolerance, but respect towards those who are different from us –- and that way of life, that quintessentially American creed, stands in stark contrast to the nihilism of those who attacked us on that September morning, and who continue to plot against us today.
It was high time. But at least he did speak out in favour of the traditional American values.

What to make of the stand the Anti Defamation League's now takes that Dutch ultra-rightist politician Geert Wilders had better stay home instead of  giving a speech on 9/11 against the construction of the Cordoba Centre? The ADL itself  spoke out against the construction (thereby foregoing all the principles that Obama defended in his Iftar speech and that the ADL itself professes to stand for as well. And now it denies Wilders the right to err in the same way. Sheer hypocrisie. The ADL should be ashamed of itself.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Lebanon defiant after US suspends military assistance

The Lebanese defence minister  Elias Murr has said on Wednesday that the country will refuse military assistance from the US should any aid come with conditions that weapons not be used against Israel. Murr said this after it was revealed that $100 million in US military assistance to Lebanon had been suspended last week.
The aid was halted due to fears that Hezbollah would manage to get hold of any arsenal provided. After Israel and Lebabon clashed at the border on 1 August. Concern was raised that Hezbollah holds influence over the Lebanese military and that the weapons could be used against Israel.
"If someone would like to help the army without restrictions or conditions, he is welcome," Murr said.
"But those who want to help the army on condition that it doesn't protect its territory, people and border from Israel, should keep their money - or give it to Israel instead," Murr said. "We will confront [Israel] with the capabilities that we have."

Howard Berman, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said on Monday that he had suspended assistance to Lebanon on August 2 amid growing concern in Congress. A day after the decision, fighting on the Lebanese-Israel border led to the death of two Lebanese soldiers, a Lebanese journalist and an Israeli officer. Berman, a strong supporter of Israel, said that the incident reaffirmed the concerns of Congress. Berman had used his legislative prerogative to place a suspension on the money. It remains to be seen how long the suspension will last.

 Update Sunday 15/8: Lebanese Defensie minister Elias Murr said that Lebanon has opened a special bank account to receive donations with which weapons can be bought to equip the Lebanese army.  Murr said that he and he father already donated $ 670.000.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Nasrallah incriminates Israel but does not deliver proof

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizbollah, during his press conference of Monday night, made quite an impression, but failed to deliver evidence that Israel was implicated in the killing of Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005. He himself admitted that it was not convincing proof.
People had been looking forward to Nasrallah's presentation., as he had promised to deliver indications for Israels guilt. And quite a press conference it was with visual effects, music videotapes. Nasrallah spoke at length about the extensive network of Israeli spies in Lebanon that recently has been uncovered and gave examples of how these spies not only have Israel complete access to Lebabon's telecomunications wetworks and their data, but were also implicated in several attacks on and (failed) attempts on the lives of Lebanes leaders, like for instance Nabih Berri, the speaker of parliament.
The most interesting of Nasrallah's revelations was that Hizbollah hs found a way to intercept and decode the images of Isareli (unmanned) spy planes. In his press conference Nasrallah showed several of these pictures, one of which had to do with the murder of Hariri. It was footage of Hariri's home in Saida (Sidon), and some of the itinery his motorcadewith hus armoured limousine usually took. Nasrallah said that at least part of the footage showed places wewre Hizbollah has no presence at all, which was an indication that the Israeli's were taking these pictures for quite different purposes. He pointed, for instance at the way the Israeli's seemd to be particlarly intrested in places were Hariri's motorcade had to slow down because it had to take turns etc. At these spots the planes took pictures from different angles.
Again, it was no proof that Isarel had to do with the murder, but it seems quite an acchievement that Hizbollah is able to break in into these communications of the Israelis. That Nasrallahs findings will influence tthe Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) about the murder of Hariri (and 22 others) is highly unlikely. The STL will deliver its conclusions shortly. It is expected, as Hasrallah had made known earlier, that members of Hizbollah will be implicated. Nasrallah has said that Hizbollah will not accept these conclusions. He has called the STL an instrument of Israel.

Update 11/8 The Internationale Tribunal has asked Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah to share the information he has on the murder of Hariri with the tribunal. reports the Daily Star.   

Monday, August 9, 2010

Iran, the US and scapegoats

Gary Sick has -as usual - some remarks on his blog about Iran (and Obama's dilemma with Iran) that are morethan worthwile to think about:

The key question about Iran today is not whether it will be attacked or collapse under sanctions. It is whether Iran is capable under its present leadership to take a sober decision about how to deal with the outside world. The Revolutionary Guards have established a dominant position in Iran’s military, its economy, and its politics. Iran increasingly comes to resemble the corporatist states of southern and eastern Europe in the 1920s and ‘30s that we call fascist. Iran is conducting an interior battle with its own demons, from the millenarians on the far right who choose to believe that Khamene`i  is the personal representative of God on earth, to the pragmatic conservatives who simply want a more responsible leadership, to the reformists of the Green movement whose objective is to put the “republic” back into the Islamic Republic by giving the people a greater voice.

This is a yeasty and unpredictable mix. No one knows what is going to happen next.

And this is the reality that the Obama administration must deal with. The danger is not that the administration will back the wrong horse in Iran. The real danger is that the Obama administration will be so preoccupied with domestic American politics and its constant demand to look tough when dealing with Iran that it will inadvertently rescue this cruel but hapless regime from its own ineptitude by providing a convenient scapegoat for everything that goes wrong in Iran.

Th whole article is to be found here 

Friday, August 6, 2010

Mosque at Ground Zero: That's bullshit

Dutch parliamentaran and islam basher Geert Wilders is going to protest the building of the mosque at 9/11 on 9/11. He's been invited by  'Stop the Islamization of America' of the loonies Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer and will be in the convenient company of Republican bigots and Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League who seems to have lost his way.
Bullshit, yes, definitely. More bullshit.

Brookings poll: majority in Arab world in favour of Iran obtaining nuclear arms

Whoever claims to reflect the feelings  of people in the Middle East in general, should first read the latest results of the yearly poll of the Brookings Institute in cooperation with the University of Maryland. The poll is a yearly event and most of the results are more or less consistent with results obtained in the years before. But some are remarkable nonetheless. Take the fact that Israel and the US have repeatedly stressed how the Arab world presumably is afraid of an Iranian nuclear bomb. The exact opposite is the case: 57% of the respondents think that the situation in the Middle East would improve if Iran obtained the bomb (up from 29% in 2009). A large majority (77%) thinks that Iran has a right to pursue a nuclear program anyhow, and 92% thinks it has peaceful purposes.

The poll was taken  in July 2010 among 3.976 respondents spread over Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan and Lebanon. Less spectacular than the answers concerning Iran as far as I'm concerned, but in spite of that more widely quoted, was the drop in popularity of US president Obama. I for me could hardly be suprised that by now 62% turns out to have a negative picture of him, as opposed to only 23% last year. The reason is - no surprises here - his policy towards Israel-Palestine (61%). Iraq takes only second place with 27%. (I wrote 'no surprises here'', but for some this outcome might have the function that it reminds them that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict still plays a major role in shaping Arab public opinion. In this respect  it is ironic that just last week The New York Times gave the opportunity to the third rate Israeli historian Ephraim Karsh to write an OpEd wherein he revived the old contention that nobody in the Arab world cared about the Palestinian case so that they did best to accept whatever Israel these days offered them).

Other results: Hamas is slightly more popular than Fatah in the Arab world, but both don't score very high (13 and 7% respectively), whereas Palestinian unity is favoured by 70%. About half of the respondents (46%) think that the Palestinians need an independent, continguous state. A majority is prepared for peace if Israel gives up the1967 territories including East-Jeruzalem, but most think that this is likely going to happen in a near future.
Somewhat shocking might be the response to a question, newly introduced to the poll, about what the average Arab feels when he is watching a program or film about the Holocaust: 59% said to resent it, as it brings sympathy towards th Jews at the expense of Palestinians and Arabs, 29% said it had mixed feelings. It, no doubt, is a response to what has become known among critics as 'Israel playing the holocaust card'. What is noteworthy, is that the resentment is highest in Morocco (85%), only to be beaten by the respondents in the UAE: 99%.
For the complete results of the poll click here. 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Two residents from Golan and one from Galilee charged with attempted kidnap and spying for Syria

Two residents of the Golan and one from northern Israel will be indicted by a Nazareth court on Thursday on charges they  spied for Syria, Haaretz reports. Fada Sha'ar (27, picture with 'oud) , his father Majd Sha'ar (58, picture in court building)) from Majdal Shams on the Golan and Mahmoud Masarwah from Bakaa al-Gharbiyeh will be charged with spying, contact with foreign agents and passing information to the enemy.All three were arrested last month in a case whose details have been kept under a gag order which has now been lifted. Also the mother of Fada Sha'ar, Mona, was arrested in connection with the case, but was later freed.
Fada Sha'ar was arrested at Ben Gurion Airport on July 10 when he returned from Paris. When police arrived to search his house in the Druze village of Majdal Shams clashes broke out between the residents of the village who attempted to prevent the police from entering the Sha'ar family's home. His father, Majd, was arrested a few weeks later. Masarwah is a well-known political activist from Baka al-Gharbiyeh, who has been active over recent years on behalf of political prisoners jailed in Israel. He has been arrested in the past and has spent some time in prison.
The indictment, filed by the State Prosecution's northern branch with the Nazareth District Court, claimed that Majed and Fada Sha'ar had been in contact with former Majdal Shams resident Madhat Salah, who moved to Syria, held a number of positions within the administration in Damascus and was in contact with local intelligence sources.  According to the indictment, Masarwa disclosed information on a Syrian pilot who had defected to Israel currently resides in Baqa el Gharbiya. Majed Sha'ar and Masarwa allegedly met Salah in Jordan, where they drew up the plan to kidnap the pilot, who they nicknamed "the bride", in exchange for a financial reward. The two returned to Israel and tried to locate the pilot. During another meeting with Salah and a Syrian agent, this time in Cairo, Sha'ar and Masarwa were asked about military bases in Israel. Salah gave Masarwa $1,000 and promised to give him more money.
The prosecution claims this activity, including efforts to track down the Syrian pilot, began in 2007 and continued through 2009.
In 2009, according to the indictment, Fada, who studied music in Damascus from 2002 to 2008, began relaying information regarding "the bride". Majed Sha'ar even obtained a sedative and syringes he planned to use in the kidnapping.
The second indictment provides details on how Majed and Masarwa filmed IDF bases located just a few kilometers from Baqa el Gharbiya. They planned to transfer the tapes to Syria.
A third indictment claims the defendants passed on to their Syrian contact a sketch "marking the movement of IDF forces towards Syria in the event of a war.
According to the indictment, the drawing was meant to "mark the positioning of IDF tanks and planes in the Golan Heights."
The indictment further claimed that towards the end of 2009 or the beginning of 2010, while Majed was in Haifa, he spotted a submarine making its way north. He relayed the information to Fada and warned of a possible Israeli attack on Syria.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Nasrallah blames Israel for Hariri murder and promises to present evidence on Monday

Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on Tuesday accused Israel of the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri  and said he would  present evidence to that effect at a news conference next Monday. The promise to come with such evidence was the most important remark during his prescheduled speech, which was broadcasted via tv-screens in South-Beirut.
The speech was meant to mark the fourth anniversary of the 2006 war in Lebanon which ended on 14 August, and was held somewhat earlier because of the beginning of Ramadan next week.
Nasrallah's remarks about the killing of Hariri had to do with  the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) about the 2005 murder of Hariri, which is going to deliver its verdict soon. Nasrallah  said in a spress conference in July that he is aware of the fact that the STL will indict members of Hizbullah. According to Nasrallah this is unacceptable and he pointed at the fact that there are serious doubts about the trustworthiness of several witnesses. Also he made the point that the recent arrests of  several spies for Israel who were working int he telecom sector (which took place in the franmework of a wave of the dtection of more than 70 spy cases) casts serious doubts on the outcome of the STL, as telecom data played an important role in its findings. According to him the STL in this way was an instrument of Israel.
The probability that Hizbullah will be indicted in the Hariri case caused a new wave of tension in Lebabon. It was for that reason that king Abdallah of Saudi-Arabia together with president Assad of Syria payed  a  visit to Lebanon last weekend. The entente between the two leaders, of which the Saudi king is an ally of the Lebanese prime minister Hariri jr and the Syrian president has strong ties with Hizbullah, was an exercise to calm the emotions in Beirut, to save the cabinet of which Hizbullah is a member, and to block the way for a new outburst of armd onflict like in 2008. An exercise, by the way, that seems largely to have worked.
In his speech. Nasrallah again raised the point that the witnesses in the STL should be scrutinized a second time. But the main theme of his speech on this day of clashes between the Lebanese and Israeli armies was about the relations between the army and the 'resistance'.
Nasrallah praised the Lebanese army warmly for its efforts, but made clear that Hizbullah fighters had been ordered to stay out of the fighting. He told his audience that if Hizbollah would have participated some could have thought that it was an instument in the hands of president Assad who on Sunday warned for the possiblity of a new war, or that it  wanted to outshine the Lebanese army, or distract the attention from accusations in the STL. 'We were ready to fight and defend … but the wisdom, interest and loyalty meant that the resistance put itself at the disposal of the army which was dealing with the confrontation,” Nasrallah said. 'We informed the president that we will take no action and similarly informed the prime minister and the speaker,” he added.
Nasrallah made clear, however, that Hizbullah is ready for  future cooperation with the army to protect the country against Israeli threats. 'The army protects the resistance and the resistance protects the army; this is the formula that protects Lebanon,' Nasrallah said.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Israel and Lebanon clash at border, three Lebanese and one Israeli killed

According to Hezbollah's Al-Manar tv one Israeli lieutenant colonel was killed and two Israeli soldiers were wounded in todays's clashes. For hours there was no Israeli confirmation. However,  AFP published this photo of a helicopter evacuating casualties.  

Is this the opening act of a new round of fighting? Israeli and Lebanese troops exchanged fire on Tuesday on the Israel-Lebanon border, Reuters reported. Two Lebanese soldiers were killed, as well as Assaf Abou Rahhal, a Lebanese journalist with the newspaper Al-Akhbar. Hezbollah's tv Al-Manar reported that one its journalists, Ali Cheaib, was injured. Al-Manar tv also reported that an Israeli lieutenant colonel got killed as well, and others wounded. Hours later the Israeli army confirmed the death of the lieutenant colonel Dov Harari (45), while a reserve captain was seriously wounded.  
According to Israeli sources the clashes started when Israeli army engineers came under fire from Lebanese soldiers while working along the frontier. The troops then shot back, according to Israel.  Lebanse security sources said that it started when the Israelis wanted to cut down a tree on Lebanons side of the border.  The Lebanese army fired warning shots with light weapons and the Israelis answered by shelling the Lebanese border village of Adaysseh, thereby wounding one Lebanese soldier and one civilian. Lateron also rockets were fired from an Israeli helicopter that overflew the village, thereby killing two soldiers and the journalist, while four others were wounded and military vehicles were destroyed.
 Photo Reuters

This picture lateron emerged which clearly shows that the Israelis were working on the Lebanese side of the border. The question is: Why? The Lebanese army at a press conference, covered by Patrcik Galey of the Daily Star, stated that the Israelis were working over the 'blue line' around Adaysseh and ignored attempts of Unifil to stop them, as well as warning shots the Lebanese army fired.

Israëls minister of Defense Ehud Barak later in the day in a declaration said that Israël is not going to tolerate attacks on its patrols within its borders. General Gadi Eizenkott, the commander of Israels northern sector, called it an 'ambush on an IDF unit operating inside Israeli territory'. It is noteworthy that there is a differnce between what is called the 'technical border' (the fence) and what is called 'the blue line' (a demarcation of  the actual border executed by the UN in 2000). So Israel may have been operating on its side of the blue line, but that still does not explain why it did so, in spite of  the fact that both Lebanon and Unifil deny Israeli claims that it coordinated the trimming in advance. Patrick Galey of the Daily Star specifically asked Unifil about this Israeli claim and got the aswer that Unifil was unaware of it. Even more telling was Ynet which revealed, quoting Al-Jazeera, that Israel two days earlier tried to coordinate the bush trimming operation with Lebanon, only to be met with a refusal to do so..
The more the story continues, the more it becomes apparent who's to blame for this event.

Update wednesday 4-8-10: Unifil today ruled that the tree Israel wanted to cut was on the Israeli side of the blue line. Dutch public radio, known for its near total lack of a critical approach towards Israel,  repeated this news several times, as if this exonerated Israel from all culpability. The radio thereby left out that Lebanon disputes the tracé of the blue line at this spot, 'as Israel does at others'. (Beirut said this in a declaration).
It remains an open question why not too many western media posed questions like whether Israel shouldn't have tried harder to coordinate its trimming operation with the Lebanese. The way it acted had all the characteristics of a provocation. Is it too far fetched to suspect that Tel Aviv wanted to test the Lebanese reaction? More specifically that of Hezbollah? (for this reaction see my post on Nasrallah's speech, held the same day).
 In any case the way the newspaper Haaretz brings the news today as if Israel was completely in its right,  seems to miss the point. Israel in the meantime, decided to return to the spot on Wednesday in order to finish the tree cutting job, thereby demonstrating for the xth time its total lack of respect for its neighbours.

Update 2 wednesday 4-8-10: Patrick Galey again, on twitter:  ''1) Just been leaked an internal British embassy memo: IDF informed UNIFIL of needing 2 cross beyond the technical fence 2 cut down bushes...
2) UNIFIL had relayed the message to the LAF. The LAF said they needed 24 hours notice before allowing the IDF to cross... 3) the IDF chose to cross anyway and were spotted by LAF patrol. Hence the incident." 

Israel says it's willing to cooperate with UN-inquiry into flotilla attack

A forum of senior Israeli ministers agreed Monday to a UN inquiry into the commando raid of an aid flotilla which left nine civilians dead, Israeli media reported. UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon described the approval as “unprecedented,” and said it will be the first time Israel has ever participated in a UN investigation of its military.
Negotiations will decide the mandate and composition of the official committee. Ban suggested that a panel headed by New Zealand’s former prime minister Geoffrey Palmer reviews Turkish and Israeli investigations before an official committee is established. Palmer’s deputy would be outgoing Columbian President Alvaro Uribe, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported.
Israel had sofar resisted international pressure calling for an external inquiry into the incident. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it is in Israel's national interest “to ensure that the factual truth regarding the flotilla incident would be exposed for the world to see,” Haaretz reported. The decision followed Ban’s meeting with Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak in New York on Friday.
The question that has to answered in the future is: is this just another tactical manoeuvre? Will there be endless  negotiations about the composition of the commission and the modalities of the inquiry till everbody is too tired to continue, or is this going to be genuine? Who dares a bet?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Houthis and Yemeni government on the brink of new round of fighting

There is growing concern that another round of fighting between the army and Houthi rebels in the northern governorates of Saada and Amran is imminent. Clashes have escalated in recent days and an 11 February ceasefire has all but broken down. The Houthis had captured 200 of the army’s Republican Guards, taken control of army sites and forced government staff to leave various Saada districts, said Sheikh Yahya al-Jaradi, chief mediator in the conflict, on 27 July.
"Houthis transferred the captured soldiers from Harf Sufyan District in Amran to Matra and Naqaa in Saada," he said. "They don't want peace. They are forcing civilians to leave their homes; they have started digging in again in mountain-top positions." Al-Jaradi said the rebels had exploited the five-month truce to buy more weapons and dig more trenches. 

Local independent news website marebpress.net reported on 27 July that 17 corpses of Houthi gunmen were found near the house of pro-government tribal leader Sheikh Saghir Bin Aziz. "The house was bombed by Houthis on 26 July and Bin Aziz was injured,” it said. 

A Yemeni political analyst, who asked not to be named, described the situation as the worst since the February truce. "Alarm bells are ringing. We have witnessed too many violations and too much violence. A seventh round of clashes is looming,” he told IRIN. "Neither side wants peace. The government supports Bin Aziz tribesmen against Houthis and the latter never hesitate to kill.´
Yahya al-Houthi, political leader of the Houthis, brother of rebel leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi and in self-imposed exile in Germany since 2005, admitted that his followers had captured troops. "They [the soldiers] came to kill our women and children. Twenty members of my family, mostly women and children, were killed by the government’s soldiers," he said in a live interview with Al Jazeera TV on 27 July.
Yemeni President Ali Saleh said the government did not want another war and accused the Houthis of violating the ceasefire agreement on a daily basis. "Stop jeopardizing security and stability in Saada Governorate," he said at a 25 July military ceremony in Sanaa. "The Houthis are defying the state and don't want the ceasefire to hold."
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that only about 14,000 of the 324,000 people displaced by the six-year war - most since the sixth round of clashes began in mid-August 2009 - have returned to their places of origin. 

Update Tuesday 3/8: The Houthis have released the more than  200 captured soldiers. Also  in view of the approach of Ramadhan they are expected to release most of their remaining 100 or so prisoners, among which are wounded soldiers. However, they still block the main road between the northern city Sa'ada and the capital, Sanaa. Also they remain in two military strong points they have overrun, Al-Labda and Murshid Mountain.