Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Police Bahrain kill 14 year old boy during protest

A 14-year-old Bahraini boy has died after being hit by a tear gas canister during clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces, the Gulf kingdom's main Shia opposition group al-Wefaq has said.
Activists blamed the police for the death of Ali Jawad Ahmad, who was among the protesters in the oil hub area of Sitra on Wednesday.
A police official told the state news agency BNA that the incident was being investigated, without saying how the boy was injured.
Bahrain has been in turmoil for the past few months since protests by the dominant Shia community broke out, demanding great freedom and political rights.More than 30 people have been killed since the protests began in February inspired by other uprisings across the Arab world.
 More than 70 per cent of Bahrain's population is Shia but claim widespread discrimination by the ruling al-Khalifa Sunni dynasty. Small scale clashes between police and mostly Shia demonstrators have become a near nightly event in the tense Gulf nation since authorities lifted emergency rule in June.
Bahraini authorities released more than 140 detainees, including two former members of Parliament who belong to the oppositionl Al-Wefaq, and a prominent opposition lawyer.The measure - at the occasion of Ramadan - was menat to diminish tension. The two former MP's  resigned from Parliament in February over the killing of pro-reform protesters..Former Al Wefaq MPs Matar Matar and Jawad Fairuz were "tortured" while in the custody of Bahraini national security forces, Matar said.

Israeli justice: High Court rules that village of Walaja may be completely walled in

A recent decsion by the Israeli Supreme Court concerning the village of Walaja, between Bethlehem and Jerusalem,  is probably one of those decisions which is most telling about what in Israel erroneously  is perceived as justice. It is worth to give it some attention, because it illustrates to what extend the law in Israel can be bend in favour of 'security considerations'.
The decision in question was taken on 22 August and concerned the trajectory of the Separation Wall. The  Court ruled that the section northwest of the village can be completed in such a way that the Wall will completely enclose the village. As a consequence the 2400 people who currently live in the village will come to live in an open air prison. In order to get in and out they will have to pass a checkpoint.
The village municipality and residents in a 2010 petition  had reasoned that the Wall’s route also harms the old cemetery of the village and divides residents from the spring which has served them for hundreds of years. Apart from that the building of the Wall would also harm tens of dunams of agricultural land and result in the uprooting of olive and other trees and a cutting off of the village landowners from their land.
Israeli High Court justices Dorit Beinisch, Asher Gronis and Uzi Fogelman, however,  ruled that in matters of security and defense, it is important to give significant weight to the professional opinion of the military commanders on the ground.The justices ruled, according to Haaretz, that despite the damage caused to the agricultural lands of the villagers by the security fence, its extent is relatively limited compared to what the petitioners claim.The court also noted that during deliberations, the army clarified that two gates will be open for several hours, three times a day, which would allow relatively unhindered access to villagers wanting to work their land.
"Against these infringements one must weigh the security value stemming from the construction of the security fence," the justices wrote in their ruling."In view of this situation, we believe that the harm caused by the fence's route to the petitioners is reasonable and proportionate in comparison to the great security value that results from the fence along this route."  The Court did agree, however, that the natural water spring will remain in the village while a tunnel will be built to allow residents to reach the cemetery.
 The map illustrates Walaja's situation, on the 'green line' . annexed to Greater Jerusalem (although the inhabitants never got the status and ID cards of inhabitanst of the city, and at one side threatened by the steady encroachment of the settlemenets of Gilo and Har Gilo. The blocked red line is where the Wall is going to be when finished.

The Popular Committee against the Wall and Settlements of al-Walaja denounced the High Court ruling, contending in a statement that “the decision of the High Court provides a legal status to state violence”.
The Committee further denounced the court decision to accept the plan to put agricultural gates as a way to ensure access of the farmers to their land. During the trial the residents presented data gathered by the United Nations which demonstrate that in places where agricultural gates were constructed, less than 18% of the farmers succeeded in actually maintaining access to their land.

For Sheerin al-Araj, one the leaders of the popular resistance, the Israeli plan for the occupied West Bank village of al-Walaja is clear: make daily life impossible for its Palestinian residents in an effort to force them off their ancestral lands and empty the village entirely.
They cannot afford [to displace] people by force, in front of cameras with little children and women crying and screaming. So they have to do it more strategically. And the way to do it is by making life impossible for us, and making life impossible is actually building a wall, building a settlement, [building] a gate where we will all be hostage to one 18-year-old [Israeli soldier who] will decide for us when to leave and when to come in,” al-Araj, a member of the Walaja Village Council, explained.
We will eventually have nowhere to go because they are already taking [away] our natural growth areas. So if not [in] twenty years, it will be forty years and this place will be empty. It’s an ethnic cleansing process. It’s a clear-cut ethnic cleansing process,” she said.

The - as  yet not completed - Wall in Walaja. 

It is not the first time that Walaja is a victim of Israel's politics of colonization. The village was originally, befoire 1948, located at a different place. This is what Palestine remembered memorizes:
  The village was occupied in October 1948, but Palestinian and Egyptian guerillas fought off the Israeli battalions and successfully defended their village. Several times they were able to force the occupation troops to withdraw, but in the end the village was occupied. (Al Khalidi, Walid 1992: All That Remains). The village was then destroyed, and Aminadav settlement was built on its lands along with an Israeli park. The people of Walaja, who numbered some 1200 people at that time, were expelled and turned into refugees. Some of them remained in lands of Al Walaja that were not occupied, while the rest left to Jordan, or moved into the refugee camps in Bethlehem. 
After 1967 the Occupation annexed the rest of Walaja to the Occupation municipality of Jerusalem, but without giving the people from Walaja the right to live in Jerusalem, who were then threatened with expulsion once again. Since the late 80sThe Occupation forces have been using various policies against the people to force them to leave what is left from the village, including house demolitions and repeated arrests against the 3000 people living now in the village, using the pretext that ؟they have West Bank identification cards and are living in Jerusalem. (...)
Abu Nidal, a farmer from the village, says: ''This not the real Walaja, this is part of its lands, and the original Walaja was between Battir and Malha. In 1948, it was destroyed by the occupation bulldozers more than once and its lands were confiscated. After 1967, the occupation confiscated the rest of its lands for the ''Gilo'' settlement, Gilo is built on more than one third of Walaja's lands. In the seventies the Settlers in Aminadav took over more lands from Walaja and began cultivating them, while the occupation forces sued the Walaja farmers, claiming that they were using the lands of the 'Stae of Israel' although the 'truce line' is far from us, but they considered these lands as 'n man's' lands. They [occupation forces] also planted a forest on the green line but they crossed it. After 1948 the people of Walaja moved to these lands here, they lived in mud houses, and caves, the ones who had money lived in stone houses, we had nothing here, no services, no roads, no water or electricity supplies. We created everything in the following years, but we still hoped we would return. The ones who settled here were part of the village؟s people, the rest went to Jordan, now there are twenty thousand refugees in Jordan camps from Al Walaja, another part are living in Bethlehem؟s refugee camps.(...) After the occupation of 1967, the Occupation decided to consider Walaja as a Jerusalem area. They claim that it was annexed in 1967, but they never informed us until 1987 when they came and started demolishing our houses under the pretext that we do not have building permits from the Occupation municipality in Jerusalem. Until now 15 houses have been demolished, 52 other houses are still waiting in courts. This is in addition to the fines the people have to pay, which are usually between 20 to 50 thousands NIS depending on the area where the house is located. The new policy they are using now is they invade people؟s houses in the night and arrest the men, accusing them of staying in Jerusalem while they do not have Jerusalem Identification cards, and they take them out from their beds. Five brothers were arrested last week [interview on April 28 2004] under the same pretext. The brothers are from Abd Sheikh Family, and another two brothers were arrested too, although their house has been there since the British mandate in Palestine. They are sending them to military courts; they want to uproot us from here. This is a policy of terrorizing and expulsion. They keep coming and warning the people to leave their houses, but not officially. The people here are afraid all the time that they will be arrested or to have their houses demolished. The Wall according to the maps is about settlements, there are several settlement projects on the lands they are confiscating, and most of Walaja lands have been surveyed for new settlements.  We do not know what our destiny will be, what they are planning for us, we will be refugees more than one time.

What is less known, is that the area around Walaja is of high archeological value. There are remnnats of settlemenst from the Roman era and ecavations of older setllements- going back 4000 years - still have to begin. Also the landscape is spcial, with several wells and terraces shaped for agriculataral purposes. Further reading here. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Happy Eid

I wish my Muslim readers a happy Eid al-Fitr

Monday, August 29, 2011

War crimes in Libya

 Still the Libyan rebels did not manage to liberate all of Libya. The news is Today (Monday) that they are closing in on Qadjahfi's hometown Sirte, and that they ar still hoping to find the brother colonel' himself. The e last pockets of resistance by pro-Qadhafi forces in Tripoli have been eliminated. In the meantime news about war crimes committed by Qadhafi loya;ls emerged. Bodies were foudn in a field near the Qadhafi's Bab al Aziziya compound, in a warehouse and in a hospital.
Human Rights Watch reported that: Evidence indicates that forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi killed at least 17 detainees in a makeshift prison as rebel forces began advancing on the neighborhood of Gargur in Tripoli around August 21, 2011, Human Rights Watch said today. According to one witness who survived the killing, Libyan security forces shot the detainees at the Al-Amal al-Akhdar building belonging to the Libyan Internal Security service. Click here for the rest.

In the meantime there are more people who like me havae some doubts about the possible brightness of a liberated Libya:
The Libyan people deserve congratulations for overthrowing a dictator, but they deserve truthful warnings: that the new Libya may not fulfil the promises of freedom and prosperity. Western oil companies are scrambling to get a foothold in the new Libya, just as they competed to win favor with Qaddafi’s's regime. The Libyan Transitional Council does not bode well: it is headed by Qaddafi's Minister of Justice and his second-in-command is the former mentor of none other than Gaddafi’s son Sayf Al-Islam. The Gaddafi era may have ended, but with NATO in charge, it is likely that the new leader of Libya is another Hamid Karzai or an even more compliant client of Western powers. Mustafa Abd al-Jalil will be the weakest leader of any Middle East country; With NATO in charge, it is certain that Libya won't be free. For that to happen, the Libyan people have to rise up again, this time against the external forces of colonial powers, and against the reactionary ideologies that the new Libyan government will bring along with it.  'Angry Arab' Assad Abu Khalil in Al Akhbar

Fascism revisited: Wilders questions trip of Muslim converts to Egyptian 'hate camp'

Wilders at his recent trial, during which he was acquitted of hate mongering (Robin Utrecht)  

By now it may be generally known that we here in Holland got our share of islamophobia and far right exclusiveness, to put it mildly. Geert Wilders parliamentary group (it is not a party, only a 'movement') has 24 seats of the 150 in the lower Chamber and its presence in Dutch society. is quite obvious. His group does not take part in the present coalition,  but it is 'supportive' of the present Dutch government of liberals and christian democrats, that thereby is assured of a (small) parliamentary majority.  A most comfortable position for Wilders and his disciples, because  it generates maximum attention in exchange for a minimum of responsabilities and restraints. The polls show that his influence is rising.
Most Dutch will by now be familiar with typical Wildersian statements like that 'Europe is threatned by a tsunami of Muslims', that head scarfs should be taxed with a special 'head rag tax', that millions of Muslims have to be thrown out of Europe, that the Quran is 'more antisemitic than Mein Kampf' or that - like the nazis did - the ethnic background of the population should be registered.
Sometimes however the tone is that shrill that even the many in Holland who by now are more or less used to this kind of garbage, are appalled. Just hav a look at the parliamentary questions that Wilders and on other members of his faction put to the minister of the Interior after news broke that recent converts to Islam in Holland are preparing a trip to (a hotel in) Egypt in order to study islamic institions and pactices over there. It is as if we read Josef Goebbels.
(The translation is mine)  
Questions by the members Van Klaveren and Wilders (both of the FreedomParty, PVV) to the minister of the Interior about a trip of  Dutch Muslims to an Egyptian hate camp.

!) Are you familiar with the article ‘Geheime dienst volgt Egyptisch uitstapje van bekeerlingen nieuwe moslims naar haatkamp’ (Secret service follows Egyptian excursion of new converted Muslims to hate camp)?

2) How is the minisyer's reading of this trip of hatred and deceit?

3.) Will the Dutch converts who travel to this camp of hatred be watched more intensively in view of the threat of terrorist danger?

4.) Has the organisation ’Landelijk Platform Nieuwe Moslims’ (National Meeting Point New Muslims, LPNM) received any susidies in past or present? If affirmative,  would the minister share the viewpoint of the PVV that in that case the money received has to be payed back till the very last cent?

5) Is the minister, like the PVV, of the opinion that this hate trip could entail a possible danger for the safety of Dutch society? If not, why not? If affirmative, what measure will be taken to confront this danger?

6.) Could you take steps to the effect that, when said persons depart to the hate destination, they take a one way trip and will not (be able to) return to the Netherlands? If not, why not?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Recognition of a PA state: not a good idea

Handala, the little Palestinian boy who represents Palestinian aspirations and who was the creation of the immortal cartoonist Naji Ali, on the Wall on the West Bank.  

Ma'an News reported on 24 August 2011: An initiative to transfer the Palestinians' representation from the PLO to a state will terminate the legal status held by the PLO in the UN since 1975 that it is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. That is what a document says was prepared for the Palestinian Authority by Guy Goodwin-Gill, a professor of public international law at Oxford University and a member of the team that won the 2004 non-binding judgement by the International Court of Justice that the route of Israel's wall was illegal. .
According to the document there will no longer be an institution that can represent the inalienable rights of the entire Palestinian people in the UN and related international Institutions. Representation for the right to self-determination will be gravely affected, as it is a right of all Palestinians, both inside and outside the homeland, the opinion says. A change in status would severely disenfranchise the right of refugees to return to their homes and properties from which they were displaced.

I agree. Exactly one day before Ma'an came with this story I wrote on my other blog  (in Dutch) 'Erkenning van een PA-staatje op de Westoever is geen goed idee' - (Recognition of a PA statelet on the West Bank is not a good idea)
I gave three reasons: 1) Recognition of a mini-state won't end the occupation which makes it doubtful whether such a state will be able to function as such. 2) The PA is only representing the West Bank and not Gaza, but is not representative of even the West Bankers. In fact it is not even a  legal body in its present form. President Abbas's mandate expired in 2009, the government has never been chosen but was picked by him, the parliament (which was elected in 2006 and is in majority Hamas), has not been functioning for years, mainly due to obstrcution by Israel which put more than 40 Hamas representatives behind bars and made it impossible for members from Gaza to attend. And apart from that also its mandate has expired..
And 3) If the PA-state is recognized it means an upgrading of the PA itself, which then might supersede the PLO which till this moment is considered by the United Nations to be the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. It would mean that a body that represents not even the West Bankers, would take the place of a body (the PLO) which - at least in years past - used to give a voice to all Palestinians, be it inside the occupied territories or in Jordan., Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere in the diaspora . It might also mean that the duties and rights of the new state would replace Resolution 3236 of the General Assemblee of the UN of 1974, which outlined the 'iínalienable' rights (as it was called), of the Palestinians, i.e. the Right of selfdetermination and the Right of Return.
In other words: recognition of the PA-state is dangerous. It jeopardizes Palestinian rights. Luckily this message is spreading these days. See for instance the site Mondoweis or Ali Abunimah's blog. (And for Guy Goodman-Gill's legal opinion click here). 

The promotion of islamophobia in the US

Tape composed by the Center for American Progress to illustrate how it works. The video consists of fragments of  people warning against the so called 'danger that sharia becomes law in America'.

Do we know who are the people that promote islamophobia in the United States? (From where it spread to  other western countries?) Yes, we know.  It is in fact a rather small bunch of people and who they are has been common knowledge for quite some time. Also the impact of their activities is not unknown. In september 2010 a poll by the Washington Post/ABC News showed that 49% of Americans have an unfavourable view of islam, up from 39% in 2002. But who is funding the islamophobes was not so clear. We assumed that it could be quite profitable to be in their camp. But exactly how profitable was anybody's guess.
Till now. The Center for American Progress dug into it and released a 130 page report about the flow of money, and how it is being distributed. The total amount that was involved in the last decade was USD 42,7  million. The origin of this money was a couple of .foundations, charities, like there exist many in the US. And the receivers are also just a couple of institutions: Steven Emerson of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, Daniel Pipes of The Middle East Forum, David Horowitz of the Freedom Center, Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy, David Spencer's Jihad Watch, the Clarion Fund, and a lesser known Security Educationd and Research Foundation.
Most of the above names are the usual suspects. New is that the money has been traced. The Center for American Progress writes in its report that most of the money goes to five 'experts' or 'scholars'. They are the ones whose names I wrote in italics. To them the name of David Yerushalmi of the Society of Americans for National Existence has to be added.
These so called  experts are assisted by people who help them spread the message. These are - among others - David Horowitz of the Freedom Centre (who funds Spencer's Jihad Watch),  Brigitte Gabriel of the American Congres for Truth, and Pamela Geller of  'Stop the Islamization of America' and the blog 'Atlas Shruggs', These people disseminate the information through conservative organisations, politicians and news channels like Fox, says American Progress. More reading is provided in Think Progress (here) 
and through the many links that Think Progres provides it it is possible to get a good picture of who is who.

Whoever wishes to rea the whole report click here.
I have a few remarks: I'm not so sure that the division the report makes between 'scholars' and watercarriers or people who spread the message, is correct. Somebody like David Horpowitz with his 'Front Page Magazine' act in a double capacity.  He dissiminates the massage, but disposes also over very large amounts of money that he can distribute among other people. He is considered to be a spin the islamophobia web, as far as I know, and it is assumed that Horowitz also is one of the main sources of the funding of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands. Another important - and as it seems somewhat undervalued -  player is the Clarion Fund. Itr was Clarion that distributed no less than 28 million dvd-copies of the rabidly anti-islam film Obsession in the months preceding the presidential elections in so called 'swing states'  (states where the outcome of the elections was still in doubt). As yet it still has not been clarified who was responsble for the vast sums that were involved in this venture. Clarion is also noteworthy because it is a clear exemple of the links that somtime exist between the far right in Israel and American islamophobes. Clarion was established by rabbi Raphael Shore and his brother Ephraim, also a rabbi. Both brothers had also ties with the fundamentalist Jewish organisation Aish haTora, which in turn had ties with (and funded) colonisation projects in the territories occupied by Israel. The role of Clarion and the link with rightist Jews in general of the islamphobe community seems to be somewhat overlooked by the report.           

Donors Capital Fund $20,768,600 Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT), Middle East Forum (MEF), Clarion Fund (Clarion), David Horowitz Freedom Center (Horowitz
Richard Scaife foundations $7,875,000

Counterterrorism & Security Education and Research Foundation (CTSERF), Center for Security Policy (CSP), Horowitz

Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
$5,370,000 MEF, CSP, Horowitz

Russell Berrie Foundation
$3,109,016 IPT, CTSERF, MEF

Anchorage Charitable Fund and William Rosenwald Family Fund
$2,818,229 IPT,CTSERF, MEF, CSP, Clarion, Horowit
Fairbook Foundation $1,498,450
IPT, MEF, CSP, Jihad Watch, Horowitz, American Congress for Truth

Newton and Rochelle Becker foundations


Clarion, Horowitz, American Congress for Truth



Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Seif al-Islam, Qadhafi's 'captured' son, resurfaces miraculously in Tripoli

Seif al-Islam Qadhafi, shaking hand with supporters. 

Seif al-Islam Qadhafi, son of Muammar Qadhafi and regarded as his most likely successor, who rebels said they had captured,  made a surprise appearance in Tripoli Monday night. He visited the Tripoli hotel where foreign journalists are staying to declare that the government was winning the battle against the rebels. Seif al-Islam took journalists to his father's Bab al-Aziziyah stronghold. Television footage showed Saif smiling, waving and shaking hands with supporters, as well as holding his arms aloft and making the V for victory sign.
"We broke the back of the rebels. It was a trap. We gave them a hard time, so we are winning," Seif said.
"Take up arms today, take up arms today," Saif told loyalists.'Inshallah we will attack the rats today,' he said. His supporters cheered.
Both the rebels and the International Criminal Court in The Hague had reported that Seif had been arrested and would be sent to the ICC. His appearance before the foreign media raised questions about the rebels' credibility.
Seif said Tripoli was under government control and that he did not care about the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court seeking him and his father for crimes against humanity. Qadhafi himself has not been seen in public for several weeks before the rebels arrived in the capital at the weekend. But when asked if his father was safe and well in Tripoli, Saif told journalists: 'Of course.'
Lateron the rebels captured Qadhafi's former compound Bab al-Azizia. But also news surfaced that Qadhafi;s eldest son Muhammad, who was reported to have been captured as well by the rebels, had managed to escape. The news of his escape was made public by Libyan Ambassador Ali Suleiman Aujali with the Libyan rebel National Transitional Council (NTC). 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Iran cut back funding of Hamas after it failed to show support for Bashar al-Assad

Iran has cut back or even stopped its funding of Hamas after the Islamist movement, which rules the Gaza Strip, failed to show public support for Syrian President Bashar Assad, diplomats said Sunday. Hamas has denied that it is in financial crisis but says it faces liquidity problems stemming from inconsistent revenues from tax collection in the Gaza Strip and foreign aid.
The movement receives undisclosed sums of cash from Iran, which has acknowledged providing financial and political support to Hamas.One diplomat, who asked not to be identified, said intelligence reports showed that Iran had reduced funding for Hamas. Other diplomatic sources, also relying on intelligence assessments, said the payments had stopped over the past two months.
The diplomats cited Iran’s displeasure over Hamas’ refusal to hold rallies in support of Tehran’s ally, Assad, in Palestinian refugee camps in Syria after an uprising against his rule. Hamas’ leadership outside the Gaza Strip is headquartered in Damascus.
Hamas is also widely believed to receive money from the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s most popular and organized political force.Diplomats said that those payments may also have been reduced because the Muslim Brotherhood has diverted funds to support the so-called Arab Spring revolts. In a sign of a cash crunch, the Hamas government in Gaza has failed to pay the July salaries of its 40,000 employees in the civil service and security forces. Hamas leaders promised full payments in August, but not all employees received their wages as scheduled Sunday.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Qadhafi's days are almost over, but how trustworthy are his successors?

 Street fights in bTripoli

The curtain seems to be falling for Muammar al-Qadhafi & sons & entourage) this weekend of 20 and 21 Agust 2011. It means that the Libyan dictator is leaving just a few days before the 42nd anniversary of the coup d'etat that brought him to power on 1 September 1969. 
Juan Cole (blog Informed Comment) has very good summaries of the events of the last few days, to which I refer because I have too much at hand on my Dutch blog (i.e.Israel-Egypt-Gaza) at the moment.
But one remark and a few lines about the possible consequences of Qadhafi's demise. Should we celebrate? Is it really the birth of a new democracy in the Arab world as some seem to think? Or is it merely the removal - with a lot of help from NATO - of an evil regime to be replaced by another whose quality is dubious to put it mildly? Do we really trust the leader of the Transitional National Council (TNC), Mustafa Abdel Jalil, who before Qadhafi named him minister of Justice in 2007 was the president of a higher court that twice confirmed the death sentence of the Bulgarian nurses who were accused of poisining Libyan children with HIV? Or must we put our trust in a council that contains monarchists, former Qadhafi trustees, islamists and of which 18 of its 31 members are not even known, because they live in territory that till yesterday was still in Qadhafi held territory?
Head of TNC, Abu Jalil
Read, for what I think will be a healthy dose of scepticism, the report that a French commission of inquiry issued in May (in French). For those who don't master French, there is an English summary here.         

Juan Cole on Sunday: 
As dawn broke Sunday in Libya, revolutionaries were telling Aljazeera Arabic that much of the capital was being taken over by supporters of the February 17 Youth revolt. Some areas, such as the suburb of Tajoura to the east and districts in the eastrn part of the city such as Suq al-Juma, Arada, the Mitiga airport, Ben Ashour, Fashloum, and Dahra, were in whole or in part under the control of the revolutionaries.
Those who were expecting a long, hard slog of fighters from the Western Mountain region and from Misrata toward the capital over-estimated dictator Muammar Qaddafi’s popularity in his own capital, and did not reckon with the severe shortages of ammunition and fuel afflicting his demoralized security forces, whether the regular army or mercenaries. Nor did they take into account the steady NATO attrition of his armor and other heavy weapons. (Further reading here)

Juan Cole on Saturday:
 The rebel forces are racking up an impressive series of wins, decisively taking Zlitan, Surman and Brega on Friday into Saturday morning. Qaddafi is increasingly surrounded and cut off from fuel and other supplies. NATO has visited substantial attrition on his heavy weaponry and armor, which he had used to attack his own people. Dissidents in the towns surrounding Tripoli and in the capital itself are reportedly beginning to take heart and to plan their own uprisings and guerrilla actions (....)
In a further sign of the times, former Qaddafi no. 2, Abdel Salam Jalloud, fled Tripoli for Zintan and defected to the rebel side. Jalloud was one of the makers of the 1969 coup in which Col. Qaddafi came to power. (Further reading here)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Death toll in Latakia stands at at least 35 after four days of bombardments and shooting

Smoke rises up from explosions in Latakia. (Reuters).
The death toll in the Syrian port city of Latakia rose to 35 on Tuesday as a result of an assault that now is in its fourth day. The offensive on Latakia is part of a military crackdown with tanks that the Syrian regime launched at the beginning of the month of Ramadan. It started with an assault on Hama, followed by crackdowns on the eastern city of Deir el-Zour and  the central city of Homs, and now it is the turn of Latakia, where not only tank but also gunboats take part in the operation.
Most of the shooting early Tuesday was in Latakia's impoverished al-Ramel, al-Shaab and Ein Tamra areas, AP reported. Part of Latakia is populated by Alawites, the heterodox Shiite community to which president Assad and the bulk of the Syrian leadership belong, but these neighbourhoods ar Sunni. Al-Ramel is home to a crowded Palestinian refugee camp where many low-income Syrians also live.The U.N. agency that aids Palestinian refugees has said more than 5,000 refugees have fled the camp after Assad's forces shelled the city in an operation that began Saturday. Syria has denied firing from gunboats, despite widespread witness accounts. The regime insists its crackdown is aimed at rooting out terrorists fomenting unrest in the country. State-run news agency SANA said Tuesday that troops were pursuing "armed terrorists" from al-Ramel, arresting a number of gunmen and dismantling explosives and mines they had planted.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of people on the ground, said at least 17 people were killed Monday, six of them in Latakia. The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, said a 22-year-old Palestinian mother of two died Tuesday.  The deaths bring the total of people who have died in Latakia since Saturday to more than 35. The other deaths took place in Homs and Houla in central Syria, when security forces opened fire on protesters. A man who had been shot earlier in Deir el-Zour died of his wounds Tuesday, according to the Observatory.
Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called Monday on Syria to immediately end the bloodshed and threatened unspecified "steps" if it fails to do so. "If the operations do not end, there would be nothing more to discuss about steps that would be taken," Davutoglu said, without elaborating.Turkey, a former close ally of Syria, has been increasingly frustrated with Damascus' crackdown. Davutoglu traveled to Syria last week and urged Assad to end the bloodshed. But Turkey, Syria's neighbor and an important trade partner, has not joined the U.S. and Europe in imposing sanctions.
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said  the U.S. would be looking to apply further sanctions against Assad's government. The New York-based Human Rights Watch called on the European Union to freeze the arrests of Syrian national oil and gas companies and the Central Bank of Syria "until the Syrian government ends gross human rights abuses against its citizens." Oil and gas are among Syria's main exports.

This video (taken yesterday) gives an idea of the intensity of the fire. Al-Jazeera English report that also thousands of people in the city are being rounded up and held in a sports stadium.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Nearly 70 dead in Iraq in worst day of violence in months

Nearly 70 people were killed and dozens others wounded on Monday in a string of violent attacks around Iraq, one of the deadliest days in the country so far this year. In the worst incident, two bombs exploded in a busy jewellery market in the city centre of Kut, killing at least 34 and injuring more than 50, officials said. Car bombs also detonated in the northern city of Kirkuk and Mansour district of Baghdad. Elsewhere, AK-47 wielding assailants targeted leaders in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad.
The attacks came after a period of relative quiet in the country, which had descended as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began in early August. Lt. Col. Hachem Neama Abbas, an Iraqi army commander in Baghdad, said the military had been bracing for a new round of violence after the calm. The attacks, he said, are proof that insurgents still posed a threat to the country’s stability. They also raise questions about the government’s ability to maintain security as US troops prepare to leave the country by December.
The day’s worst violence happened in Kut, a large city in central Iraq about 150 miles from Baghdad. Insurgents detonated a bomb at about 8.30am in a crowded area near a jewellery market, according to Dhiaa Al Deen Al Aabudi, the city’s health director. About 10 minutes later, a car bomb detonated. In all, 34 people were killed and about 70 injured, some critically.
In Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, 13 people, including four army officers, were killed in a string of car bombs, explosives and shootings. A police official said he believed the commanders of the group Sons of Iraq were targeted by insurgents.
Elsewhere, at least two were killed in a series of bombings, and eight died in attacks on police facilities in Najaf and Karbala. Nine people died in Tikrit after two suicide bombings there, including one by a man dressed in a traffic police uniform who blew himself up at the main gate of the city’s counter-terrorism facility.
In Kirkuk, a bomb and an motorcycle rigged with explosives exploded outside a church, killing one.

Monday, August 8, 2011

One week after Hama Syrian forces kill scores of people in Deir az-Zor

President Bashar al-Assad extended a tank onslaught in Syria's Sunni Muslim tribal heartland on Monday, residents said, after the army stormed the city Deir az Zor in the east of the country on Sunday, crushing makeshift barricades, opening fire and seizing the central square, residents said. 
King Abdullah of Saudi-Arabia broke Arab silence after the bloodiest week of the almost five-month uprising in Syria, demanding an end to the bloodshed and recalling the Saudi ambassador from Damascus."What is happening in Syria is not acceptable for Saudi Arabia," Abdullah said in a written statement read out on Al Arabiya satellite television. "Syria should think wisely before it's too late and issue and enact reforms that are not merely promises but actual reforms," he said. "Either it chooses wisdom on its own or it will be pulled down into the depths of turmoil and loss.'' His statement followed similar messages since Saturday from the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

"Armored vehicles are shelling the al-Hawiqa district heavily with their ... guns. Private hospitals are closed and people are afraid to send the wounded to state facilities because they are infested with secret police," Mohammad, a resident, told Reuters by telephone. The al-Joura neighborhood of Deir al-Zor, which straddles the Euphrates River, was also hit hard by Assad's forces and thousands of residents of both districts had fled, he said with crump of heavy-caliber weaponry audible in the background. He said at least 65 people had been killed since tanks and armored vehicles barreled into the provincial capital, 400 km (250 miles) northeast of Damascus, on Sunday, crumpling makeshift barricades and opening fire.
The assault on the city, in an oil-producing province bordering Iraq, took place a week after tanks stormed Hama, where residents say scores have been killed.
Syrian authorities denied that any Deir al-Zor assault had taken place. The official state news agency said "not a single tank has entered Deir al-Zor" and reports of tanks in the city were "the work of provocateur satellite channels".
Syria has barred most journalists, making it hard to confirm events reported by either side in the conflict.
The Syrian Revolution Coordinating Union said 50 people had been killed in Deir al-Zor on Sunday and at least 13 had been killed in a separate, tank-led assault on villages in the central Houla Plain, near the city of Homs.
"The numbers of casualties are escalating by the hour," activist Suhair al-Atassi, a member of the Coordinating Union, said by phone from Damascus on Sunday.
Syrian authorities say they have faced armed attacks since the protests first erupted in March, blaming armed saboteurs for most of the civilian deaths and accusing them of killing 500 security personnel. State television broadcast footage on Sunday of mutilated bodies floating in the Orontes river in Hama, saying 17 police had been ambushed and killed in the city.
Human rights groups have reported some cases of gunmen attacking security forces, but say Assad's forces have killed at least 1,600 civilians taking part in overwhelmingly peaceful protests. The United States says the figure exceeds 2,000.
Assad, who has repeatedly described the uprising as a foreign conspiracy to divide Syria, defended the army's campaign. He was quoted by the official national news agency on Sunday as saying his forces were fulfilling a national duty by "dealing with outlaws and convicts ... who seal off cities and terrorise the population".
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who cultivated close ties with Assad but has sharply criticised the crackdown, said Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu would visit Syria on Tuesday.
"Our message will be decisively delivered," he said, drawing a rebuke from an Assad adviser, who described the Turkish statement as unbalanced.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke to Davutoglu on Sunday, the State Department said, asking him to "reinforce" Washington's position that Syria must immediately return its military to barracks and release all prisoners of concern.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told Assad by phone on Saturday he was alarmed by the escalating violence and demanded he rein in the army. He repeated his appeal on Monday during a visit to Japan.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Syrian army kills 80 in Hama alone in one of the bloodiest days of the uprising

Update 2 August

Hama on Sunday

Syrians began the Muslim Ramadan fast in somber mood on Monday after troops stormed Hama, in one of the bloodiest days of a five-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. Rights activists said 80 civilians were killed in Sunday's tank-backed assault on this city where Assad's father crushed an armed Muslim Brotherhood revolt 29 years ago by razing neighborhoods and killing at least 10.000 people.Tanks shelled a northeastern district of Hama on Monday, killing at least four civilians, two residents said.
Footage posted on social media showed large parts of the city covered in smoke, and panic-stricken groups around dead or wounded people in the streets as gunfire rang out. Reuters could not independently verify the content of the videos.
Other footage purporting to be from the city of Homs showed crowds chanting: "Hama, we are with you until death, Deir al-Zor, we are with you until death." Residents said at least 11 civilians had been killed in a weekend crackdown in the eastern province of Deir al-Zor.
The Syrian leadership blames "armed terrorist groups" for most killings during the revolt, saying that more than 500 soldiers and security personnel have been killed.In a letter to the military, Assad reiterated that Syria was facing a foreign conspiracy to sow sectarian strife designed to "tear Syria into small statelets that compete to satisfy those who worked to slice them up."
"All of Syria's honorable people are sure that we will emerge stronger from the crisis," Assad said.
"They wanted to wreak sectarian strife that destroys everything. We managed to prevent sectarian strife and examine ourselves to find out the errors and treat them."
 President Barack Obama said he was appalled by the Syrian government's "horrifying" violence against its people in Hama and promised to work with others to isolate Assad.  "Syria will be a better place when a democratic transition goes forward," Obama said in a statement.
Several European countries condemned the Hama assault. Italy and Germany called for a U.N. Security Council meeting, but Britain ruled out any foreign military intervention.The council was expected to hold closed-door consultations on Monday, a spokesman for Germany's U.N. mission said.
"We do want to see additional sanctions," British Foreign Secretary William Hague told the BBC. "We want to see stronger international pressure all round. Of course, to be effective, that can't just be pressure from Western nations, that includes from Arab nations, it includes from Turkey."
Seeking military action against Syria, even with U.N. authority, was "not a remote possibility," he said.
Russia and China have previously opposed any condemnation of Syria in the council, where they hold veto powers.
The European Union plans to extend sanctions on Monday by imposing asset freezes and travel bans on five more Syrians. EU sanctions already target Assad and at least two dozen officials, as well as Syrian firms linked to the military.
Turkey, one of Assad's main allies until the uprising, felt "great disappointment and sadness" over Sunday's death toll, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said, blaming the use of tanks and heavy weapons for the high number of casualties.
"Such a start to Ramadan for Syrians is not acceptable. We condemn the attack," Davutoglu said. "Our advice to Syrian officials has been the same all along: the promised reforms should be carried out right away."
The Syrian human rights group Sawasiah put the civilian death toll in Hama at 80. Some reports gave higher figures.