Thursday, September 29, 2011

Yemeni ulema issue fatwa against resurrection, and Saleh says he will only leave as rivals go as well

Some of the Yemeni ulema (religious leaders) during their conference.


A group of Yemeni clerics loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Thursday issued a fatwa prohibiting protests demanding the removal of the regime, which have been going on for months. The clerics said in a statement at the end of a three-day meeting that armed rebellion is the worst form of revolt and stressed the importance of respecting the "pledge of allegiance" between the people and the president. The statement came after Mr Saleh had urged loyal clerics to issue such a fatwa on Tuesday.
Several clerics, civil-society organisations, tribal leaders and leaders of the youth protest movement have warned of the consequences of such a fatwa and said those who issued it would be considered partners in any attacks on the people calling for the departure of Mr Saleh. (For Arabic readers, click here for the text of the fatwa) 
"This statement is a military statement. It is a declaration of war that Saleh wants to launch against his people under a religious cover," said Mohammed Al Hazmi, a imam and an opposition member of parliament.
Despite the fatwa, protests calling for Mr Saleh's removal and fierce fighting continued yesterday.
Two people were killed and five others wounded in Sanaa when the house of Himiar Al Ahmar, deputy speaker of parliament, was shelled by government troops.
Mr Al Ahmar is one of the the brothers of Sheikh Sadeq Al Ahmar, leader of Yemen's most powerful tribal confederation of Hashid. Sheikh Al Ahmar's tribesmen and forces led by General Ali Mohsen Al Ahmar, who defected from the Yemeni military, battled government troops in Sanaa.

Update Friday 30/9: Saleh himself also placed new obstacles on the road to a possible transition. In a 20 minutes interview with the Washington Post and the New York Times Saleh said that he would only leave as his rivals also would go. According to the Washington Post he said that
'a political transition plan crafted by Yemen’s Persian Gulf neighbors made clear that “all elements” causing tensions in Yemen need to be removed. That meant his main rivals — Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who turned against Saleh and joined the nation’s now eight-month-old populist uprising, and the Ahmar clan, a powerful tribal family not related to the general — could not be allowed to run for elections or hold political office or a military command if he steps aside, Saleh said.
“Because if we transfer power and they are there, this will mean that we have given into a coup,” he said. “If we transfer power, and they are in their positions, and they are still decision-makers, this will be very dangerous. This will lead to civil war.”

 Saleh also hinted that Ali Mohsen and the Ahmar family were behind last month's attempt to assasinate him.  Saleh's demand that the Ahmar family, who are he traditional leaders of the powerful tribal confederation of the Hashid step down, is completely nuts. It only underlines that he is there to stay at any price. He could as well have asked fo the sun not to go under anymore.

Military courts in Bahrain convict doctors and uphold life senctences against opposition leaders

Graffiti in the shiite village of Malkiya depicts Bahraini opposition leaders Ibrahim Sharif (left) and Mohammed Habib al-Muqdad. (AP)

Amnesty International has voiced anger over the conviction, on 29 September, of 20 medics in Bahrain who got prison sentences of up to 15 years. The doctors and other health workers were found guilty by a military court in Manama of attempting to topple the government during protests earlier this year. Amnesty International calle the process a travesty of justice. 
At a seven-minute court session, the president of the military-run National Safety Court of First Instance read the names of the 20 defendants, announced the guilty verdicts and imposed prison sentences of up to 15 years. 
Bahraini authorities have accused the group of using Manama’s Salamaniya Medical Complex, where they worked, as a “control centre” for pro-reform protests at nearby GCC Roundabout (formerly Pearl Roundabout), in February and March. The defendants deny all the charges, which include incitement to hatred of the regime, occupying the hospital by force, stealing medicines and stockpiling arms at the hospital.
“These are simply ludicrous charges against civilian professionals who were working to save lives amid very trying circumstances,” said Philip Luther, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme. “It appears that the real reason for targeting these health workers was the fact that they denounced the government crackdown on protesters in interviews to international media.”
“We’ve repeatedly said that Bahraini authorities should never have used military courts to prosecute ordinary civilians, including doctors, teachers and human rights activists.

Other military trials in Bahrain this week have upheld guilty verdicts and harsh jail terms – including life sentences – for human rights activists and teachers on charges related to the protests earlier this year.

The paper The National reported that the eight activists sentenced to life whose verdicts were upheld, include Hassan Mashaima, head of the Shiite opposition Haq movement, Abdulwahab Hussein, who leads the Shiite Wafa Islamic Movement, and the Shiite human-rights activist Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, who is also a Danish citizen. Activist and Haq member Abduljalil Al Singace, who was released in February after six months in jail, was also sentenced to life.The other four are Mohammed Habib Al Muqdad, who holds a Swedish passport; his cousin Abduljalil Al Muqdad and Saeed Mirza, both of whom Wafa members, and Said Abdulnabi Shihab, who was sentenced in absentia.
Ibrahim Sharif, the Sunni leader of the Waed secular group, who played a prominent role in month-long protests for democratic reform that were crushed in March, received a five-year sentence.

On Thursday also one man got a death sentence. Bahrain's official news agency, BNA, said the protester sentenced to death, Ali Yusof al-Taweel, had killed a policeman in the Shia area of Sitra, south of Manama. Earlier, the security court had sentenced two other protesters to death for killing a police officer.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Egypt floods Gaza tunnel with sewage water: three dead

Three Palestinians were pronounced dead on Tuesday morning after Egyptian authorities pumped sewage inside a smuggling tunnel under the Gaza border on Sunday, Ma'an News reported.
The ambulance and emergency services committee in Gaza said the three victims were found alive inside the tunnel. They were evacuated to the Abu Yousef an-Najjar Hospital in Rafah but were pronounced dead 30 minutes after arrival.
Gaza medical spokesman Adham Abu Salmiya identified the victims as Fadi Mustafa Ash-Shaer, 20, Firas Ahmad, 18, and Anwar Abu Aradeh, 25. They were all residents of al-Salam neighborhood in Rafah in southern Gaza, Abu Salmiya said.
Egyptian security officials said in early September that they were cracking down on the network of tunnels used by smugglers from the coastal enclave.
Including Tuesday's victims, eight Palestinians have been killed while working in tunnels in September. Five Palestinians were killed in three separate tunnel collapses earlier this month. Medics say over 160 Palestinians have died in the network of underground tunnels since Israel imposed a siege on the Gaza Strip in 2006.
שנה טובה
I wish my Jewish readers a happy Rosh Hashana, a good and peaceful year 5772

Jonas rejeté par la baleine, la bible illustré par Gustave Doré.

Ten days after Rosh Hashana it is Yom Kippur. On that day Jews read the book Yonah, about the profet of that name who was assigned the task to warn the inhabitants of Niniveh that their city was on the brink of e d being destroyed. But Yonah fled instead. When the ship on which he traveled ended up in a  heavy storm, Yonah, as the man who had refused to fullfil the task bestowed on him by God, was thrown into the sea in order to save the other people aboard. He was then swallowed by a big fish. But after three days and nights the animalthrew him up - ashore - so that as yet he was able to fulfill what God had asked him to do.
I don't know whether the symbolism is immediately clear to everyone. But I for me hope that this - and coming - years will bring more Yonahs, who conclude that keeping quiet is not an option and that instead they'll have to warn gainst the dire consequences of an ill-boding path.  

Shin Bet urges Israeli government to stop funding yeshiva in settlement Yitzhar

Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira of the Od Yosef Chai yeshiva in the settlement Yitzhar during one of his brief detainments.

Haaretz reports that the Israeli Shin Bet security service is urging the Education Ministry to immediately halt funding to the Od Yosef Hai (Yosef still lives)Yeshiva in the settlement of Yitzhar, near Nablus. According to intelligence information senior rabbis in the yeshiva are encouraging their students to attack Arabs.

The head of the yeshiva, Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, was filmed in the past accompanying some of his students to a nearby Arab village; the students then threw stones while the rabbi looked on. Shapira is the author of the book 'The King's Torah', which, among other things, says that Jewish law permits the killing of non-Jewish children if there is a chance that they will grow up to be enemies of the Jewish people. Shapira was briefly detained and questioned in July 2010 in connection with the book, and then released. He was also briefly detained in December 2009 after he was suspected of links to an arson attack on a mosque. Yitzhar is one of the settlements which is constantly in te ne beacuase of attacks bvy its inhabitants on nearby Arab villages. The settlement is situated in between the villages Asira, Burin, Madama and Huwara.

Od Yosef Hai is a general name for several different institutions, among them a yeshiva high school, a yeshiva gedola (post-high school yeshiva), a kollel (yeshiva for married men) and the publishing house that issued "The King's Torah," among other works.
The institute gets funding from four different line items in the state budget. In 2009, the Education Ministry gave it NIS 468,000 for the yeshiva high school and NIS 847,000 for the yeshiva gedola. The yeshiva also got money from the Social Affairs Ministry for a project to rehabilitate ultra-Orthodox drop-outs (NIS 707,000 in 2009), plus NIS 156,000 to operate a dormitory.
The army's GOC Central Command, Major General Avi Mizrahi, recently issued restraining orders that forbid several students affiliated with the yeshiva to enter the West Bank. This decision was based on what security sources termed well-founded suspicions that these students had been involved in attacks on Arabs, including "price tag" attacks on Arab property (so called because they seek to deter the army from razing houses in the settlements ) and the torching of mosques in nearby Palestinian villages.
The New York Times went through public records in the United States and Israel last year and identified at least 40 American groups that have collected more than $200 million in tax-deductible gifts for Jewish settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem over the last decade. The money, The Times said,  goes mostly to schools, synagogues, recreation centers and the like, legitimate expenditures under the tax law. But it has also paid for more legally questionable commodities: housing as well as guard dogs, bulletproof vests, rifle scopes and vehicles to secure outposts deep in occupied areas.

Israel plans to add 1100 housing units to the Jerusalem settlement of Gilo

View from Gilo toward Beit Jala and Bethlehem. In the foreground Road 60 for Jews only (the Tunnelroad) and the Wall. (Photo David King). 

The Jerusalem District Planning Committee approved 1,100 new housing units in Jerusalem's contested Gilo neighborhood on Tuesday, despite past U.S. objections concerning any construction that expanded Gilo further across the Green Line.
The plan was submitted by a subsidiary to the Jewish National Fund, and must pass 60 days in which the public may oppose it before being finally approved by Jerusalem's planning authorities.
According to the proposal, 20 percent of the units in Jerusalem's southern neighborhood would be allotted for young couples, in compliance with a directive by Interior Minister Eli Yishai. The plan also includes the construction of a boardwalk, public structures, and a commercial center. 
The plan was met with a chorus of Western criticism. Britain and the European Union called on Israel to reverse the decision, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said new settlement building would be "counter-productive" to the efforts to revive peace talks.The so-called Quartet of international mediators -- the United States, the European Union, Russia and the U.N. -- has called for talks to begin within a month and urged both sides not to take unilateral actions that could block peacemaking.
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said the new housing units Israel wants to build represented "1,100 'noes' to the Quartet statement" urging a resumption of negotiations.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

One day after Saleh's return government troops kill at least 40 in Sana'a

 Government troops on Saturday killed at least 40 people in one of the bloodiest days of Yemen's uprising, so far, AP reported..Many were killed during an attack on a protest camp. The street were literally littered with bodies. It  seemed to reflect an attempt by president Ali Abdullah Saleh and his loyalists to crush their rivals after his return a day earlier from Saudi Arabia. 
After his surprise return to Sana'a, state television broadcasted a message from president Saleh in which he called for a ceasefire to stop violence. He said he was 'carrying the dove of peace and an olive branch' and he called for a dialogue between all parties because 'the solution was not going to be found from the mounds of rifles'. What is happening, though, is exactly the oppositie. One day earlier the Gulf Cooperation Council emissarry Abdul Latif al-Zayani gave up his attempts at mediating and left San''a empty handed.The UN envoy Jamal Bin Omar, however, insited to continue attempts to get the parties together
Major general Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, once an ally of Saleh, called for international help. He warned that Saleh is pushing the country into civil war and compared him to the Roman emperor Nero, burning down his own city. In a strongly worded statement, Ali Mohsen called Saleh a "sick, vengeful soul" who treats Yemen like his personal estate. "With his return, Yemen is experiencing sweeping chaos and the harbingers of a crushing civil war which this ignorant man is determined to ignite," said Ali Mohsen, who early on in the uprising joined the opposition along with the 1st Armored Division he commands.
Sanaa has become a city divided between rival gunmen, with barracks and roadblocks manned by men in different uniforms indicating their loyalties. The city's streets have become too dangerous for the residents to venture out. Many took cover in basements because of the ongoing thuds of mortars during fighting that has killed at least 140 people the past week.
 Here is a video with almost incredible images. The video is from 21 September. (Yemen Rights Monitor)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Yemenis march against Saleh in spite of renewed attack on protest camp

As Yemenis prepared to bury yet more of their “fallen soldiers of the revolution” as some protesters already dubbed the victims of the past few days’ massacres, the Opposition was calling for more demonstrations across the nation.
Despite the danger, a reported million people turned up today in the capital, Sana’a, all gathered under the tricolor flag, brandishing proudly the symbols of their revolution. Heads high and determined to honor their dead, Yemenis once again marched against Saleh’s regime.When asked if he feared the bullets, a young man answered that “only he feared God, not Ali [president Saleh].
The main opposition protest camp in Sanaa came under heavy mortar fire and sniper attack early on Saturday, just hours after President Ali Abdullah Saleh returned from a three-month absence calling for peace and an end to fighting in the capital.
witness and protesters said troops loyal to Saleh, including the elite Republican Guard and Central Security forces assaulted the southern end of "Change Square," the heart of an uprising where thousands have camped out for eight months calling for Saleh's overthrow.
Hundreds fled from the southern end of the camp, they said, as the attack continued from midnight on Friday into Saturday. Initial report said that 18 people were killed.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Saleh returns to Yemen

 The Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh returned Friday to Sana'a after more than three months of medical treatment in Saudi Arabia. He arrived amidst street battles and exchanges of shelling between the elite Republican Guards, led by Saleh's son, and tribesmen opposing Saleh as well as military units who had defected.Nearly 100 people have been killed in Sanaa and elsewhere in Yemen since Sunday.
Saleh left Yemen for Saudi Arabia in June after he was seriously injured in an attack on his presidential compound.During his absence, the country further slipped into chaos after the protests that erupted in February.
The violence took a serious turn this week after negotiations about a regionally-sponsored deal to transfer power took a new turn. Saleh had repeatedly refused to sign the deal, and has recently delegated his deputy to restart negotiations with opponents. It was considered another stalling tactic. What followed by a violent crackdown on protesters and the most violent bout of fighting between Saleh loyalists, among them prominentltly Saleh's son Ahmed who is a commanderof the Republican Guard and the Special Forces,  and his opponents.

The fighting continued even after Saleh returned at dawn Friday.Heavy clashes and thuds of mortars were heard throughout the night in Sanaa and into morning Friday. One person was killed overnight after mortars hit the square in central Sanaa where protesters demanding Sale's ouster have been camped out for months, a medical official said on condition of anonymity. Fifteen people were killed in several separate clashes on Thursday.
For the protest leaders, Saleh's return bode ill for the already explosive situation.
"His return means more divisions, more escalation and confrontations," said Abdel-Hadi al-Azizi, a protest leader, told The Associated Press. "We are on a very critical escalation."

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Renewed fighting in Sana'a in spite of ceasefire

Sana'a on Tuesday: the wounded are treated in a makeshift clinic

Update: Artillery fire and shelling rocked Yemen's capital Wednesday despite a truce aimed at ending fighting between rival military units and deadly attacks on anti-regime protesters, witnesses said.The fighting erupted in Achrine Street, whose residents include Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, who had declared the truce late on Tuesday, the witnesses told AFP.The gunfire gained in intensity after it began sporadically, while shells smashed into buildings where snipers had taken up positions, according to the witnesses.
The renewed fighting comes as protesters prepared to bury those killed in the three bloodiest days since mass protests calling for embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh to resign erupted in January. Medics said at least 76 people, mostly unarmed protesters, died and hundreds were wounded since Sunday in the clashes between dissident troops and those loyal to Saleh, during which security forces also used live fire to disperse crowds.

Earlier in the day  on Tuesday relative calm returned to Sana'a after a ceasefire was concluded. It was meant to bring to a halt three days of the most cruel bloodshed.that Yemen had sofar seen. The truce between opponents of the Yemeni regime and forces loyal to president Ali Abdullah Sa;leh was negotiated by the vice president Abed Rabu Mansur Hadi and several foreign envoys, including the US and British ambassadors in Sanaa. It came into ffect about 4 pm local time.

Earlier yesterday, street battles between the two sides had intensified, spreading to the home districts of senior government figures and other sensitive areas of the capital. At least nine more protesters were killed yesterday by shells and snipers.
Mortar shells and rockets were fired at the centre of the city where demonstrators have held a sit-in at a protest camp since the uprising began in February.Gunfire also rang out in areas near the home of president h Saleh and the office of his son, Ahmed, who leads the country's Republican Guards. Local media reported that the office was stormed and burnt by former government soldiers but the information was difficult to verify.
Dozens of pickup trucks and cars loaded with families and personal belongings headed out of the city yesterday after a night interrupted by loud explosions that shook neighbourhoods near the protest camp and the headquarters of a military division that defected from the regime to the opposition.
More than 30 were killed in attacks on Monday, mainly by snipers. On Sunday, pro-regime snipers killed at least 27 and injured 342 when tens of thousands of protesters demonstrated in Sanaa.

Yemen's protest movement had stepped up demonstrations in the past week, while president Saleh gave his vice president a mandate to negotiate further on a Gulf-mediated, US-backed deal under which he would step down in return for immunity from prosecution. Saleh in the past has turned down at least three earlier agreements at the very last moment.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

More deaths in Sana'a as fighting continues

While in Yemen heavy fighting was continuing, Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh on Monday was received by the Saudi king Abdullah. Meanwhile Yemeni policians and diplomats were meeeting to try and speed up a long overdue transition plan under which Saleh would hand over power. Among the mediators are UN representative Jamal bin Omar and Gulf Cooperation Council Secretary-General Abdullatif Al-Zayani. (Picture Saudi Press Agency) 

Government forces in Yemen have continued firing shells at a protester camp in the capital, witnesses say.
Explosions rocked Sanaa all night, and at least two people had died in the shelling, according to doctors.
Heavy shelling and machinegun fire rocked the city before dawn as the violence shifted from a crackdown on protesters to a military confrontation between troops loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the 1st Armord Division of general Ali Mohsen which has defected to the opposition. 
A rocket attack on a protest camp in Sana'a on Tuesday raised the death toll to at least 58 in some of the deadliest violence to hit Yemen in eight months of pro-democracy demonstrations.At least 56 people were killed on Sunday and Monday, said doctors and witnesses.
Witnesses told Reuters at least three missiles struck the camp just after morning prayers at around 5 a.m. (0200 GMT)."We were walking back from prayers. All of a sudden a rocket hit close by from out of nowhere, and some people fell down. And then a second one came and that's when we saw the two martyred," Manea al-Matari, a protest organizer told Reuters by phone.
Groups of protesters have occupied various parts of the capital for most of the year, calling for the ousting of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Almost 50 killed in Sana'a in two days

Yemeni security forces killed 21 people in Sana'a in a crowd of demonstrators on Monday in the worst bloodshed seen since March against a protest movement demanding the removal of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Medics said a further 113 protesters were wounded.A day earlier 26 demonstrators a massive anti-government march were shot dead and more than 200 got wounded .
Violence has flared anew in Yemen in frustration after President Ali Abdullah Saleh dashed hopes raised by the U.S. last week that he was about to relinquish power after 33 years of autocratic rule. Government troops were firing into the air to scatter demonstrators, according to witnesses. But a Reuters reporter saw snipers shooting from rooftops and upper stories of buildings into the throng of demonstrators. Some of the deaths appeared to have been caused by rocket-propelled grenades.
The gunfire at protesters sparked a nearly one-hour firefight between General Ali Mohsen's First Armoured Division troops, which defected to the protest side some months ago, and government forces. Trucks full of Mohsen troops could be seen rushing from Change Square in the direction of the gunfire.
Monday's violence erupted as protesters tried to push further into areas of Sanaa controlled by government forces after extending their camp overnight to a junction known locally as Kentucky Roundabout.
The area had previously marked the dividing line between parts of Sanaa held by loyalist troops and defected forces.
AP said that protesters backed by Ali Mohsen's troops succeeded in running over a base by the Republican Guards without haveing a shot fitred. Initially on Monday, anti-Saleh troops under General Mohsen had blocked the protesters' efforts to advance, in an apparent attempt to defuse the situation, Reuters said. Some Mohsen soldiers wound up among the injured at hospitals. According to AP some hundreds of protesters were also marching on a base of the Special  Forces, in the south of the city. They stoppedat a distance nof som 100 meters.of the ase. Both he Republican Guards and the Special Forces are led by the president's son Ahmed. They are thought to be the regime's last line of defense and Monday's events could significantly help the protesters' cause against the regime.
  In Taiz, another revolutionary flashpoint, residents reported last night that Ahmed Saleh, the Head of the Republican Guards and the Saleh’s eldest son, ordered the Air Force to strike the city from the air, unleashing a level of destruction unprecedented.
In Aden, the government has cut out the electricity, leaving residents to suffer the 35 degree temperature. There as well, witnesses are reporting scenes of violence as government troops are using live ammunitions against the crowd gathered in solidarity to those fallen on Sana’a.
In Zinjibar in the province of Abyan, militants suspected of links to al Qaeda clashed with the army. Six militants were killed and three soldiers wounded.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

At least 24 killed in new onslaught in Yemen's capital Sana'a

The house of sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar hit by heavy weapons. 

Troops loyal to Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Yemeni president, have opened fire on Sunday on protesters in Sanaa.According to eywitnesses at least 24 people were killed and several hundreds injured. Many of the deaths and inmjuries had been caused by the use of heavy weapons. The 1st armored division of general Ali Mohsen, who walked over to the opposition some months ago, answered the firoing of the government troops. 
The crackdown came after days of heavy tension when thousands of protestors took to the streets, calling for an end to president Saleh's 33-year rule. Earlier on Sunday, government trooops fired mortars into Al-Hasaba district in Sanaa, home to an opposition tribal chief. Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar said his fighters did not return fire after they were shelled by the Republican Guard. Ahmar said he did not want to give Saleh any excuse not to sign a deal to transfer power.

The days before there had been several clashes between government troops and tribal fighters loyal to Sheikh Sadeq, during which also heavy artilery was used, making an unknown number of victims. Saturday night the 4th division of the regular army and security force also launched an attack on one of the entrances of Taghir Square near the university, where traditionally many protesters are gathered. At least eight of them got wounded.   
The rising tension and the new crackdowns on protesters new on protesters came as Abed Rabo Mansur Hadi, Yemen's vice-president, will sign a Gulf Arab initiative to arrange for a transfer of power in Yemen "within a week", a high-level Saudi official told reporters.Last week, Saleh authorised Hadi to negotiate a power transfer with the opposition.The initiative was proposed by the six-nation Gulf Co-operation Council and sets the path for a peaceful transition of power from Saleh, who has ruled Yemen since 1978. According to the Saudi official, "among the guarantees demanded by Saleh are that his son be kept in the next government'.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Syrian opposition meets and tries to get organized

Protest in Aleppo on 2.9.11 during funeral of man killed by security troops. (Photo AFP) . Security forces have killed at least 44 people on 16 September across Syria following Friday prayers, according to the Syrian Revolution General Commission, an opposition group. Clashes between security forces and protesters erupted mainly in the Idlib province, the outskirts of Homs, and in the Damascus suburb of Doumma, pro-democracy activists said.Opposition protesters had called for more rallies on Friday, undaunted by the crackdown the UN says has killed more than 2,600 people.

 More than 200 Syrian opposition figures have met on Saturday near Damascus in an effort to unite anti-government groups. The meeting was held at a private farm outside the capital. No arrests were made, although the opposition figures who attended were monitored by security officials. Saturday's meeting comes two days after opposition parties in exile formed the Syrian National Council in Turkey.
Dr Samir Aita, an opposition figure living abroad who attended the Damascus meeting, said the event was significant. "The importance of this meeting lies in the fact that it is happening in Damascus, on Syrian soil, in support of the protesters despite all the security difficulties," he said. Most of those present were politician who at one rime or other in the past had been arrested or in prison.Representatives of the protesters did not attend, fearing arrest, but they supported the meeting and their demands were read out. 

 At Thursday's meeting in Istanbul, members of Syria's opposition groups chose 140 people to form a "national council". Half of those selected are in Syria, with the remainder drawn from opposition figures in Syria's disapora.The idea behind it is to give the oppsoition 'a face' and to coordinate opposition efforts. The Syrian oppostion has always been extremely divided.

Low turnout at demonstation against prolongation Egyptian emergency law

No to the emergency (Al-Masry al-Youm, Amr Abdallah)

An Egyptian court on Saturday began reviewing a lawsuit that calls for lifting Emergency Law. At the end of the session the court postponed the review until 16 October. Hamed Seddeeq, a researcher at the Egyptoian National Research Center, had filed the lawsuit. He said that since the parliament that approved Emergency Law has been dissolved, the law itself should be revoked, particularly since this was one of the most important demands of the 25 January revolution.

The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) decided after the disturbances at the Israeli embassy of 9 September that the Emergency Law should stay in force until June 2012. It also decided to expand the scope of the law to include the publication of false information, road blocking and incidents of thuggery. The al also covers attacks to the frdom to work. 
Many believe Egypt's penal code is sufficient to address such crimes and accuse the SCAF of following in the footsteps of the former regime by suppressing the media and freedom of speech.Amnesty International on Thursday slammed the decision as a "serious erosion of human rights.
Riday a protest demonstrrationw as held at Tahrir Square, but only hundreds of peole turned up. Many political powers refused to participate in the protests including April 6 Youth Movement and the Muslim Brotherhood, despite their rejection of the emergency law.  Some groups said they didn't have enough time to prepare for the protest.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Different reactions within Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood after Erdoğan calls for secular state

Erdoğan was welcomed by Egyptian prime ministers Essam Sharaf and cheered by thousands at Cairo airport. (Today's Zaman)

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.on Monday called on Egyptians to adopt a secular constitution, noting that secularism does not mean renouncing religion. A secular state respects all religions, Erdogan said in an interview with the private satellite TV channel Dream before heading to Egypt for a two-day visit.
“Do not be wary of secularism. I hope there will be a secular state in Egypt,” Erdogan said.
He stressed that people have the right to choose whether or not to be religious, adding that he is a Muslim prime minister for a secular state.
Erdoğan.said Egypt needs to meet some requirements for establishing a modern state, including better management of human resources, more attention to education, improved management of financial resources and eliminating corruption.

 At the Arab League. (Today's Zaman)

The Turkish daily Hürriyet said that Erdoğan's remarks had sparked a renewed debate over the applicability of Turkey as a model for Egypt and other countries in the region. “Turkey is a model for the other countries [in the region],” Mohammed Badie, the general guide of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview Wednesday after meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
“There are very emotional ties between Turkish and Egyptian people. These ties have been stressed during our meeting with Erdoğan. And we felt that these sentiments are mutual,” Badie said, adding that they are very proud of the Turkish presence and the way the Turkish economy is booming in the region.
Other factions in the group, however, criticized Erdoğan’s televised remarks, in which he called on Egyptians to adopt a secular constitution and said they should “not be wary of secularism.”
“We welcome Turkey and we welcome Erdoğan as a prominent leader, but we do not think he or his country alone should be leading the region or drawing up its future,” said Essam el-Erian, deputy leader of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party, Reuters reported.
“Arab states do not need outside projects. This has to come from the new internal systems of the Arab countries, which after the revolutions … will be democratic ones,” said Erian, who was jailed under former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak.
During his visit to Egypt, the first stop in an “Arab Spring” tour that is also set to include Tunisia and Libya, Erdoğan met with representatives of different political groups in Egypt, ranging from the Muslim Brotherhood to liberal revolutionary youth in Tahrir Square. The Turkish prime minister also held separate meetings with the candidates who will run for the Egyptian presidency in November, including Arab nationalist Hamadein Sabbahi, former Muslim Brotherhood leader Abul Foutouh and former Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa.
On Tuesday Erdoğan also gave a speech for the Arab Ligue “Our Palestinian brothers should be able to have their own state. It's time to raise the Palestinian flag at the United Nations. Let's raise the Palestinian flag and let that flag be the symbol of peace and justice in the Middle East," he told a meeting of the 22-member Arab League. Erdoğan also said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a “matter for humanity” and added that the current status quo can no longer be maintained. He reiterated that relations with Israel will not be restored unless Israel apologizes for the 2010 raid on the aid convoy, pays compensation for families of the victims and lifts the blockade of Gaza.
Erdoğan, who also concluded agreements with the Egyptians that are meant to bring trade at a level of $ 5 billion in two years,  went to Tunisia on Thursday. On Friday he is expected in Libya for the final leg of his tour.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Erdoğan in Cairo, coinciding with detoriation in Egyptian-Israeli relations

The Turkisch prime-minister Erdoğan said on Sunday that the Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara was in fact a 'cause for war. But befitting Turkey's grandness, we decided to act with patience,' Erdoğan said, according to excerpts taken from an interview he gave to Al Jazeera and published by the Anatolia news agency.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan arrived in Cairo on Monday, accompanied by a delegation of 200 Turkish businessmen who seek closer trade ties with their counterparts in Egypt. The volume of trade between the two nations has reached $3 billion annually, which is a 40 per cent jump from the last three years.  
Much of Erdoğan’s visit will focus on the establishment of a Strategic Cooperation Council between the two countries which will work to coordinate regional politicics.
Erdoğan’s visit to Egypt comes at a time when Turkey’s relationship with Israel and Iran is deteriorating. However, Turkey is expected to expand its role in the region by improving Turkish-African relations and also playing a bigger part in the Palestinian crisis, which will be solidified by Erdoğan’s meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas later in the week.

The wall in front of the Israeli embassy in Cairo is being brought down. (AFP)

Erdogan's visit also coincides with a detoriation in the relations between Egypt and Israel after Egyptian demonstrators on Friday broke down the wall around the Israeli embassy in Giza,  and broke in into the embassy itself, from where they removed the Israeli flag for the seond time in two weeks and threw papers out of the windows. Israel evacuated its embassy staff and their families, who said to fear for their lives. Israeli sources said that Israeli leaders were upset that Egyptian police only came into action after intruders were already in the embassy. Also Israel was angered by the fact that prime minister Netanyahu was unable to reach the leader of the Military Council SCAF, marshall Tantawi, after the news reached Jerusalem, and had to ask for help from US-president Obama, who himself also had to wait quite some time before he got Tantawi on the line. The storming of the embassy lateron led to fierce fighting between demonstrators and military police and utter chaos, that left three people dead and 1049 wounded.   
Both Egypt and Israel are saying that they are committed to the peace treaty and to continue the diplomatic relations on the same level as before, but it is obvious that the atmosphere has become cooler. Al Ahram Online reports that according to identical accounts offered by Egyptian officials and foreign diplomats in Cairo, Egypt had asked Israel before the developments of last Friday to keep the Israeli ambassador in Tel Aviv and to reduce the volume of its staff to the minimum, but Netanyahu insisted on sending the ambassador back only a few days before the latest protest.
"We are not expelling him, but we thought a long holiday for the Israeli ambassador in Egypt would be useful for all of us now; unfortunately, Israel thought otherwise and when anger erupted on Friday evening they had to solicit the intervention of the Americans who sent a plane to carry him and the rest of the staff out of Egypt," said one official.
Today, there is a tacit agreement between Egypt and Israel that the long holiday for the ambassador is in place and there are guarantees offered by Cairo to both Washington and Tel Aviv that stepped up security measures will be in place to prevent another attack on the embassy.
Meanwhile, Egypt is insisting that Israel should proceed faster with its investigation in the killing of Egyptian border guards – despite Israeli hesitation and complaints about the attack on its embassy.
"We are telling the Israelis that the authorities have to tell the public that it did not turn a blind eye to the killing of Egyptian soldiers," the same official added.

HRW: More people have been tried by military courts under SCAF than in 30 previous years

 Egyptian military trials (Carlos Latuff).

Human Rights Watch has done its arithmics. As Egypt’s military has arrested almost 12,000 civilians and brought them before military tribunals since SCAF took over in february 2011, HRW concluded that this is more than the total number of civilians who faced military trials during the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak.  “Nearly 12,000 prosecutions since February is astounding and shows how Egypt’s military rulers are undermining the transition to democracy,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The military can end these trials today – all it takes is one order to end this travesty of justice.”
In a September 5 news conference Gen. Adel Morsy of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) said that between January 28 and August 29, military tribunals tried 11,879 civilians. The tribunals convicted 8,071, including 1,836 suspended sentences; a further 1,225 convictions are awaiting ratification by the military.
Under the Mubarak government, such trials were reserved for high-profile political cases, such as the 2008 conviction of the former deputy guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Khairat al-Shatir, and 24 others; cases in which the defendants had been arrested in a military zone such as the Sinai; or bloggers who criticized the military.

Human Rights Watch said that the proceedings before miliary courts do not protect basic due process rights and do not satisfy the requirements of independence and impartiality of courts of law. Defendants in Egyptian military courts usually do not have access to counsel of their own choosing and judges do not respect the rights of defense. Judges in the military justice system are military officers subject to a chain of command and therefore do not enjoy the independence to ignore instructions by superiors.
Morsy also said the referral of civilians to trial before military courts for violations of the Egyptian penal code would end as soon as the state of emergency is lifted. SCAF generals previously have said that the Code of Military Justice gives them the jurisdictional grounds to bring civilians before tribunals. This law provides overly broad jurisdiction to the military justice system in articles 5-6, which allow for civilians to be brought before military tribunals for crimes under the penal code if the crime takes place in an area controlled by the military or if one of the parties involved is a military officer. Since taking over the government, the military appears to consider the whole country “controlled by the military” and therefore everyone is potentially subject to military trials.
“The military should end the state of emergency immediately, but even that will not be enough to end military trials of civilians,” Stork said. “The Egyptian authorities should amend the Code of Military Justice in line with its obligations under international law to limit military jurisdiction to military offenses.”

International human rights bodies over the last 15 years have determined that trials of civilians before military tribunals violate the due process guarantees in article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which affirms that everyone has the right to be tried by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal. Egyptian human rights lawyers have filed two cases before Egypt’s administrative court, the Council of State, appealing against SCAF’s administrative decision to bring civilians before military tribunals, which the court will hear in September.
Military courts have acquitted only 795 of the nearly 12,000 cases they have tried, a conviction rate of 93 percent, Human Rights Watch said.
In July, the SCAF issued statement number 68 in which it announced that it was limiting the use of military tribunals to three categories of crimes: “thuggery,” rape, and assault against police officers, a limitation of little practical relevance since these categories cover the vast majority of cases before tribunals over the past months. The vast majority of those sentenced by military tribunals are not political cases but involve individuals arrested in connection with alleged regular criminal activities. Those sentenced included a 16-year-old child, Islam Harby Raga, currently in Tora prison serving a seven-year sentence after a military trial in February in which he was convicted on charges of assaulting a public official.
Blogger Maikel Nabil, currently on hunger strike, is serving a three-year prison sentence for “insulting the military establishment” and “spreading false information” – in fact, for peaceful expression of his views on his blog and on Facebook. Nabil’s lawyers have appealed his sentence and another military court will hear his appeal on November 1. On September 5, Morsy insisted that there were no cases regarding freedom of expression before the military courts, saying that Nabil was a case of “insulting the armed forces.”
In response to growing public calls for an end to military trials of civilians, the military has chosen instead to criticize the media for its coverage of the trials. In a news release on September 7, Morsy warned the media to stop commenting on military trials and spreading “false” information about proceedings.

Friday, September 9, 2011

SCAF orders government to give workers on strike a cold sholder

It looks as if  the ruling military council in Egypt (SCAF) is running out of wisdom. AhramOnline reports that the SCAF and the government-Sharaf met on Wednesday to discuss what a cabinet spokesperson described as a “deteriorating security situation' and took some very restrcitive measures. .
The meeting came at the end of a tumultuous week. Thousands of workers have begun a series of economic strikes, others are planning to join the strike wave at the beginning of next week. Revolutionary youth groups like the 6 of April Movement continue to mobilize for a massive rally to take place in Tahrir square today, Friday, to challenge the continuing processes of civilians by military courts and çorrct teh path of the revolution'. Annd then there was the clash, last Tuesday, of fans of the country’s largest football team, Ahly, with the police that left 133 people wounded.
As a consequnece, the SCAF issued six directives for Sharaf to follow immediately.
1. The cabinet will use all legal means to prosecute what the council described as all and any acts of thuggery. 2. The cabinet will support all police efforts to maintain peace. 3. The cabinet will intervene to halt all strike actions, and it will enforce a law it passed last spring, which criminalizes certain strikes that disrupt public life. 4. Sharaf will not negotiate with strikers over any demands until workers halt their workplace actions. 5. Sharaf will suspend issuing new licenses to Satellite television stations. 6. The cabinet will start legal procedures to review licenses it issued to any Satellite television network that incites violence and protests.
The minister of information, Osama Haikal, said at the end of the joint meeting that the military council remains committed to freedom of expression and media. But unfortunately the measures against strikes and tv-channels tells otherwise.
Postal workers on strike. They carry a banner witn the name of their union: The Independent Union of the Workers of the Egyptian Post.

The SCAF and the government alike don't seem to know very well how to deal with the growing discontent, like the anger over the military processes, the general dissatisfatcion about the course of the revolution, the increasing number of strikes, an the growing criticism by different media like the new tv-channel Tahrir for istance. Of these particularly the strikes should bother them.  Since the end of the month of Ramadan a new wave of labour strikes and protests in the public sector have spread across Egypt. In dispute after dispute, workers focus on two main issues: raising wages, and purging different government-owned factories and institutions of corrupt officials from the Mubarak era.
The recent action seems to reflect a sense that many workers in the public sector have run out of patience with Sharaf’s government, which made a number of promises when it first took office last March, but has not adequately delivered. For example, Sharaf’s cabinet refused to honour a three-year-old court order that mandated that the government raise the national minimum wage for workers to LE1,200 per month. Instead, Sharaf told workers that his government could only commit to raise wages for everyone to LE700, and promised to do so by July, but failed to deliver even on this much lower figure. Moreover, Sharaf’s cabinet has also failed so far to put a cap on the excessive salaries it pays to top officials in the public sector, a widely popular demand among public sector workers. To add insult to injury, many workers think that Sharaf has, for the most part, treated Mubarak-era officials with kid gloves, and dismissed only a handful from high positions.

In fact, most Egyptian workers across the country come to work every morning, seven months after they played a key role in toppling the former dictator, to be greeted by the same old bureaucrats and authoritarian figures from the Mubarak years. A case in poit are the workers at the Egyptian Postal Services Authority. Thousands of low-paid postal workers are now on strike for the second week. They demand that Sharaf purge the publicly owned Postal Services of dozens of corrupt managers and over-paid consultants. Also they want a 7 per cent annual pay increase to keep up with inflation and a 200 per cent bonus for meeting annual production goals.
The recently-formed independent unions of postal employees called for the strike.Hisham Abdel-Latif, the president of the Cairo branch of the independent union, told Ahram Online that postal workers feel bitter due to the astronomical differences between their meagre salaries and out-of-control compensation packages that top officials in the services receive. For example, Abdel-Latif said that the salary of an employee after 15 years does not exceed LE 1500, whereas the director of the Postal Services pays 26 of his top consultants an average of LE25,000 per month. These consultants are mostly retired police and army generals who are friends of the director and do not contribute anything, but simply drain the resources. Three of the Postal Authority’s director's four top deputies get even the sum of LE168,000 per month. Abdel-Latif said, whereas the slaray of the Authority’s director himself remains a total secret.
Last winter, in the weeks immediately after the ousting of former president Mubarak, postal workers organised several strikes and protests in order to pressure the ruling military council into dismissing top officials in the Postal Authority who were part of Mubarak’s entourage, as well as dismissing some external consultants. In response, the SCAF sent army soldiers to break a number of strikes, but also promised that it would take note of workers’ demands. However, as months went by, Sharaf’s government dragged its feet on the issue of meeting postal workers’ wage demands.
For years now, according to Abdel-Latif, postal workers have felt that they have created a massively successful operation that brings in billions to the government, without seeing any of the fruits of their labour.In fact, the Egyptian government generates a considerable amount of cash from its Postal Authority.he Authority not only uses post offices to deliver regular mail services to the public; it also runs savings accounts for millions of citizens and handles the distribution of pension cheques to millions of retirees.
“The Postal Authority is not only a solvent entity, it is actually quite profitable. Their savings accounts operation brings in LE62 billion annually, which the authority invests in banks,” Abdel-Latif told Ahram Online. “They can easily afford to improve the living standards of their hard working employees.”

Other workers are theatening to follow the same course as the postal workers. Among the 22,000 workers at the country’s largest textile factory in Mahalla, in the Nile Delta, the Egypt Weaving and Textile Company.  Doctors, teachers and university professors are also preparing actions. The employees of Cairo Airport ar already striking, and the list is far from complete.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Syrian raids in Homs continue, visit Arab League secretary postponed

 Security forces intensified their crackdown in the city of Homs in central Syria on Wednesday, killing and wounding several people.There was no definitive total of how many people were killed, but the London-based Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of activists across the country, said seven died.
For days, security forces have been pursuing activists and anti-government protesters in Homs. "All through the night, there was shooting. The gunfire didn't stop," a resident of the city told The Associated Press by phone Wednesday. "I can't tell exactly what is going on because it's dangerous to go out," he added, requesting anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Syria asked the head of the Arab League to put off his visit to Damascus, the state-run Syrian News Agency SANA reported Wednesday. 'Syria asked the Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Araby to postpone his visit to Damascus for objective reasons he was informed of,' SANA said.
Nabil al-Araby
The report did not elaborate but sources close to Syrians in Beirut told the German Press Agency dpa that Damascus was 'unhappy' with an initiative al-Araby was preparing to take with him.
The proposal reportedly calls for an end to the bloodshed, the introduction of political pluralism and free elections in 2014.
On Tuesday, security forces opened fire from a checkpoint in Rastan, just north of Homs, killing two people, including a 15-year-old boy, activists said. They said five unidentified corpses, including that of a woman, also were found dumped around the city center.
Mobile telephones, land lines and Internet connections in some parts of Homs were cut off. Many people were staying home because of roads blocked by security forces. Others were too scared to leave.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Libyan army units cross border with Niger amidst rumours of secret deal

The troops of the National Transitional Council (NTC) are still closing in on Bani Walid and Sirte. Here a tank of the NTC taking position on the front at Umm al-Khanfousa, some 100 km east of Sirte. (Reuters).
A convoy of between 200 and 250 Libyan army vehicles has crossed the desert frontier into Niger in what may be a secretly negotiated bid by Muammar Qadhafi to seek refuge in a friendly African state, military sources from France and Niger told Reuters on Tuesday.
The convoy was given an escort by the army of Niger, a poor former French colony to the south of Libya. It might, according to a French military source, be joined by Qadhafi en route for neighboring Burkina Faso, which has offered him asylum. It was not clear where Qadhafi was. He has broadcast defiance since being forced into hiding two weeks ago, and has vowed to die fighting on Libyan soil. His son Saif al-Islam, heir apparent before the uprising, also was considering joining the convoy, the French source added. Such a large Libyan military convoy could hardly have moved safely without the knowledge and agreement of NATO air forces. Sources told Reuters that France may have brokered an arrangement between the new Libyan government and Qadhafi.

Human Rights Watch: Attacks by Iran and Turkey on Kurdish insurgents in N-Iraq target also civilians

Inspecting the damage after a Turkish bombardment.

Human Rights Watch sounded the alarm on 2 September over attacks by Turkey and Iran on Kurdish rebels operating from North Iraq. Iran is targeting militants of the Party for a Free Life of Kurdistan PJAK, Turkey attacks the KurdistanWorkers Party PKK, which is associated with the PJAK.
Human Rights Watch asserted  that apart from the fighters of these groups who were killed, Iran en Turkey did not spare the civilian population of the border areas and may even have had in  mind to depopulate these areas. The organisation asserted that Iran and Turkey’s cross-border attacks in Iraqi Kurdistan have killed at least 10 civilians and displaced hundreds since mid-July 2011. And as HRW put it, 'some of the attacks may have been carried out without sufficient attempts to ensure minimal impact on civilians', .

The attacks are aimed along the northern and eastern borders of Iraqi Kurdistan. When Human Rights Watch visited those areas in August, Iraqi residents and officials said that many of the targeted areas are purely civilian and are not being used by the armed groups. Evidence suggests that the regular Iranian bombardments may be an attempt to force Iraqi civilians out of some areas near the Iranian border, according to HRW.

Iran started its cross-border attacks in northern Iraq in mid-June. Since mid-July, Iran’s operations against PJAK inside or near villages close to the Iranian border have led to the displacement of hundreds of families, caused the deaths of at least three villagers, and wounded an unknown number of people, according to international humanitarian aid organizations, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) officials, and media reports. Farmers from the border regions told Human Rights Watch in early August that the shelling had damaged their homes and that they saw Iranian soldiers cross the border into Iraq and kill farmers’ livestock. The attacks on civilians and their property that they described were similar to attacks documented by Human Rights Watch in June 2010.

Turkey started its operations on August 18.  On August 21, according to Iraqi officials, Turkish warplanes bombed a vehicle carrying civilians. The attack killed seven members of the same extended family according to relatives of those killed, local officials, and media workers. Turkey denied its planes were responsible.

The family group, which included four children, was driving on a highly travelled main roadway in a white 2011 Nissan pickup truck from the village of Bole to Rania to visit relatives. Shamal Hassan told Human Rights Watch on August 29 that the attack instantly killed his wife, Rezan, and his daughters, Solin, two months old, and Sonya, 18 months old. The attack also killed his wife’s parents and two other children.
An emotional Hassan told Human Rights Watch, “The attack was so destructive that we couldn’t recognize their bodies. I want the international community to hold Turkey accountable. They ruined my life.”
 While the Turkish military said that it has killed more than 145 suspected PKK militants with artillery fire and airstrikes in northern Iraq since August 17, it has denied that its warplanes killed the family, saying only that news footage of the destroyed vehicle was not consistent with damage caused by Turkish aerial bombardment. However, Turkish officials have stated that Turkish warplanes were bombing multiple military targets, such as anti-aircraft guns and ammunitions caches, in the area at the time.

Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said that cross-borders attacks in northern Iraq is a recurrent phenomenon in northern Iraq. “Year after year, civilians in northern Iraq have suffered from these cross-border attacks,' Stork said, 'but the situation right now is dire. Iran and Turkey should do all they can to protect civilians and their property from harm, no matter what the reason for their attacks in Iraqi Kurdistan.'

Friday, September 2, 2011

'Building in Israeli settlements up 660%'

 Betar lllit, belonging to the Gush Etzion block of settlements.

With the end of the building freeze, construction has started up in Judea and Samaria (Yesha) communities. In fact, said the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), building jumped 660% in Judea and Samaria during the first half of 2011, as compared to the previous year.

While the statistic was certainly breathtaking, the actual numbers on the ground were less impressive: Construction started on 546 new homes in Yesha communities during the period. Still, it was a sharp improvement over the number of housing starts in the first half of 2010, when only 72 housing starts were announced.
Officials of the Yesha Council said they were pleased with the increase, but that clearly many more new homes were needed. "We need at least 500 new homes a month, not just in half a year, in order to accomodate all the families who want to live in Yesha." Last week, Arutz Sheva reported on how dozens of American families who sought to buy or rent homes in Efrat were unable to do so because of the lack of housing there.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Hama attorney general resigns amid new revelations of atrocities by Syrian troops

'Reform Operation'. cartoon by the Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat. Ferzat was attacked by government thugs recently and was hopitalized with broken bones in arme arm, hands and fingers. The cartoon under is - it is assumed - his reaction to the government of president Assad.

The Syrian tragedy continues unabated. According to the UN more than 2,200 people have been killed since pro-democracy demonstrations began in mid-March. The human rights group, Amnesty International published on 30 August details about 88 people it believed had died in police detention. It included videos of corpses with signs of beatings, burns, electric shocks and other abuse. On Thursday - amidst report of new raids by government troops in Hamaa - the attorney-general of the governorate of Hama, Adnan Bakkour, resigned from his post. In a video released by opposition circles Bakkour gave as reason the atrocities committed by the government troops. He said he had evidence of:
  • The killing of 72 prisoners in Hama's central prison on 31 July 2011, including peaceful protesters and political activists
  • The burying of more than 420 victims in mass graves in public parks by security forces personnel and the pro-regime shabiha militia; he said he was told to report that the victims were killed by armed gangs
  • The arbitrary arrests of peaceful protesters; he said there were approximately 10,000 prisoners in total
  • The torture of prisoners at branches of the security services; he said approximately 320 people had died under torture
  • The demolition by the army of homes with people still inside in his district of Hama, al-Hadima
 Bakkour said he would make documents supporting his allegations available later, but in the meantime would name "criminals" who he said had massacred unarmed protesters.They included the local heads of the interior ministry, police, military intelligence, air force intelligence, and the General Security Directorate. He also accused several named officers of torture.
 Residents of Hama meanwhile told Reuters  that security police and state militiamen, known as shabbiha, raided the city on Thursday for the second consecutive day. The night before they raided houses in the al-Sabouniya and al-Marabet districts, after troops backed by tanks arrested dozens in two other neighborhoods of the city on Tuesday. night. In an earlier operation at the beginning of August, Syrian forces mounted a 10-day operation in the city and arrested hundreds of people.