Saturday, December 31, 2011

Egypt reassures US that it will stop raids on NGOs

 Raiding an NGOs (AFP).

Egypt has reassured the US that it will stop raids on the offices of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the US state department says.Officials said property seized in the raids would be returned to the groups, which include two based in the US.Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has spoken to Egypt's military ruler by phone to discuss the issue, they added.
Egypt raided the offices of 17 NGOs in Cairo on Thursday, after expressing concern over foreign funding.The country's ruling military council has said repeatedly it will not tolerate foreign interference in the country's affairs. But the US reacted sharply to the move, condemning it as an attack on democratic values and hinting that it could review the $1.3bn (£0.84bn) in annual US military aid to Cairo if such incidents continued.
In a press conference held at the premises of Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) on Thursday, 27 human rights organisations denounced the raids, which were carried out on Thursday morning by officials from Egypt’s public prosecution office, with back-up from police and military personnel.
The Arab Center for Independence of the Judiciary ‎and the Legal Profession (ACIJLP); the Budgetary and Human ‎Rights Observatory; and the Washington-based National ‎Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute and ‎Freedom House were among the NGOs that the government raided.
Head of Hisham Mubarak Law Center, Ahmed Saif Al-Islam, said that Egyptian NGOs are now exposed to attacks unprecedented in their magnitude at the hands of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).Saif Al-Islam pointed out that restrictions on public freedoms had been felt since the closure of Cairo’s Al-Jazeera Network office in September, along with the renewal of emergency law in the same month. Under the auspices of emergency law, freedom of expression is severely curtailed, and journalists and TV interviewers risk facing questioning or even prosecution.
Nasser Amin, head of the Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession, challenged state authorities by affirming that the center will continue with its work despite the closure.
‘Even if we are jailed, we will work from inside the jail,’ Amin declared.
Hafez Abu Saeda, head of EOHR, described the crackdown as “illegitimate” and expressed willingness to battle the raids through the courts.At the press conference, Abu Saeda welcomed any of the 17 closed NGOs to use the EOHR premises to resume their work.

Hundreds of thousands demonstrate in Syria in presence of monitors, at least 12 killed

Large demonstration in Hama on 30-12-2012

Syrian security forces have killed at least 12 protesters as hundreds of thousands demonstrated against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, opposition activists said. Five members of the security forces were also killed in a shooting in the city of Homs, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Friday.
The presence of Arab League monitors in hotspots across Syria since Monday has given a new impulse to the protests. Demonstrators wanting to show the scale of their movement to the monitors threw rocks at security forces in the Damascus suburb of Douma, where troops tear-gassed the chanting crowds.Five people were shot dead in the city of Hama and five in the city of Deraa, the Observatory reported, adding that at least two dozen people had been injured in Douma. In Idlib province security forces shot dead two people and wounded 37, according to the Observatory.

Activists in Idlib said the army had concealed its tanks in buildings on the outskirts or in dugouts.
The Arab League mission has met with strong scepticism from the outset over its makeup, its lack of numbers - due to rise from 60 to 150 - and its reliance on government transport. A first assessment by its Sudanese head that the situation was "reassuring" prompted disbelief in the West Wednesday, but Friday Syria's ally Russia accepted the judgement.
The United Nations said it was critical that the team's "independence and impartiality be fully preserved." Spokesman Martin Nesirky urged the Arab League to "take all steps possible to ensure that its observer mission will be able to fulfil its mandate in accordance with international human rights law standards." He said the United Nations was willing to give the League observers training on human rights monitoring.
The commander of the anti-government Free Syrian Army told Reuters he had ordered his fighters to stop offensive operations while the FSA tried to arrange a meeting with the monitors.
"All operations against the regime are to be stopped except in a situation of self defense," Colonel Riad al-Asaad said.The FSA, formed by thousands of defectors from Assad's army and financed by expatriate Syrians, has taken the offensive in the past three months, taking the fight to the state rather than simply trying to defend opposition strongholds.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Turkish airforce kills 30 smugglers by mistake

Turkish warplanes killed 30 people in an air strike in southeastern Turkey near the Iraqi border overnight, apparently mistaking smugglers for Kurdish militants, a local official told Reuters on Thursday.
Turkish warplanes strike militant targets regularly in the region in their battle against Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerrillas, and have stepped up raids after a PKK attack in August.
"We have 30 corpses, all of them are burned. The state knew that these people were smuggling in the region. This kind of incident is unacceptable. They were hit from the air," said Fehmi Yaman, mayor of Uludere in Sirnak province.
The Turkish government was not immediately available for comment.
"There were rumors that the PKK would cross through this region. Images were recorded of a crowd crossing last night, hence an operation was carried out," a security official said.
"We could not have known whether these people were (PKK) group members or smugglers," he said.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Arab observers enter Syria, 45 killed on Monday

Baba Amr neighbourhood in Homs under fire on Monday

Syrian army tanks were seen pulling out of Homs on Tuesday as a team of Arab League peace monitors headed for a first look at the protest hotbed city where 34 people were reported killed in the previous 24 hours.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights cited reports from opposition activists in Homs saying at least 11 tanks had left a district they attacked on Monday, and that other tanks were being hidden.
Opponents of President Bashar al-Assad say districts of Syria's third biggest city have been hammered by government troops and tanks in recent days, with the Baba Amr neighborhood taking a pounding from tank fire, mortars and heavy machineguns.

The arrival of the observers and 10 Arab League officials came as activists reported the deaths of at least 45 people around the country on Monday (34 of them in Homs).
An advance team of monitors arrived in Damascus on Thursday to lay the groundwork for the observer mission to oversee the implementation of the peace plan.
Burhan Ghalioun, head of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC), said some of the observers were in Homs "but they are saying they cannot go where the authorities do not want them to go".

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Troops loyal to Saleh kill 13 participants of Yemeni 'March of Life'

The participants of the 'March of Life' from Taiz to San'a on their way (AFP)

At least 13 anti government marchers were killed on Saturday during the “March of Life”. Protesters were attacked in the outskirts of Sana’a, near Dar Salm district. Eyewitnesses told the Yemen Post that pro government gunmen were on rooftops and shot directly at protesters. Among the 13 killed, seven were shot in the head. Medical staff in change square Sana’a told the Yemen Post that the total number of injuries exceed 200 while claiming that many of the injured were not reported to the camp due to the far distance between the attack area and the camp.
The attackers of the march of about 100.000 were forces under the command of relatives of president Ali Abdallah Saleh. 
 The march started five days earlier in the city of Taiz as an impressive means to convey the message to the international community that the participants refused the immunity that was granted to president Saleh and his relatives in the Gulf peace initiative for Yemen. The participants walked 250 kilometers passing cities in the governorates of Ibb, Dhamar and Sana'a. On the way they were joined by many. The march was heading to Sana'a Altaghyeer Square ('Change Square') at the center of Sana'a city where it was going to join the youth protesters who camp there since several months.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas, Chanukka sameach

I wih my Christian readers a merry Christmas!

And as yet a Happy Chanukka to my Jewish readers! (The picture is of an Arab house in the Sheikh Jarrah-area in Jerusalem that was taken over by Jews in 2008 - they immedately placed a gigantic chanukkiah (Chanukka chandelier) on the roof). 

Arab monitores arrive in Syria a day after suicide bombs kill 44 in Damascus

 People at one of the bomb scenes in Damascus.

Arab League monitors met Syria's foreign minister on Saturday, a day after suicide bombers killed 44 people in attacks Damascus blamed on al-Qaeda, but which the opposition said were the government's work.
Thousands of people in the Syrian capital took part in funerals, and mourners carried coffins draped in Syrian flags into the eighth-century Omayyad mosque.The funerals turned into pro-government rallies, with Syrians chanting "Death to America" during the processions in Damascus, the Reuters news agency reported.
The bombings, which hit two security buildings on Friday, were the first against the powerful security services in the heart of the capital since an uprising against Assad began in March.

An Arab League delegation met Walid Muallem, the Syrian foreign minister, on Saturday to discuss the arrival of a team to oversee a deal aimed at ending nine months of bloodshed.
Residents in the Syrian city of Homs told Al Jazeera on Saturday that army tanks were shelling the city. Activists in the Bab Amr district said they had been under seige for the last 48 hours. "There is heavy bombardments going on since early morning and there is non stop firing so far," a resident of Bab Amr told Al Jazeera on Saturday. "So many people are been killed, we have counted so far 16 people have been killed and we've got so many injured, so many houses have been destroyed and we don't know what to do. Everywhere from every side we can see tanks very clearly and different types of heavy machine guns have been used since morning."
Meanwhile, the bodies of four civilians who had been arrested were found on Saturday with signs of torture in restive Homs province, activists said. They also said at least 21 civilians were killed across the country on Friday.

Tens of thousands Egyptians 'reclaim honor'

Tens of thousands of Egyptians converged on Tahrir Square Friday for a rally dubbed "Friday of Reclaiming Honor" to protest against military and police forces' assaults on demonstrators over the past week. Marches around Cairo — including from Mostafa Mahmoud mosque in Mohandiseen and Esteqama mosque in Giza— arrived at the symbolic square to demonstrate anger with clashes that broke out on 16 December and in which at least 17 were killed and hundreds injured. The privately owned OnTV channel reported that a women's march from Abdel Moneim Riyad Street also joined the protest.Protesters could be heard chanting, "The people are the red line; down with military rule."

Hamas and other Palestinian factions 'on the way' to join the PLO

Palestinian factions, including Hamas, are "on the path joining" the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal said Thursday following unity talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas."This is a new departure on the path to joining the PLO of all Palestinian movements", Meshaal said following the talks in the Egyptian capital.
The Egyptian intelligence chief Murad Muwafi and Palestinian independents also took part in the talks. 
Independent MP Mustafa Barghouti (The Palestinian National Initiative, PNI) said the participation of unaffiliated delegates such as himself and businessman Munib al-Masri alongside representatives of Hamas and Islamic Jihad was "a historic event. It is the first time there is a unified leadership for all political and intellectual streams," he told AFP.
Thursday's meeting of the so-called provisional leadership, which was chaired by Abbas, included the leaders of all the Palestinian factions and members of the PLO Executive Committee.`It was the first time the provisional leadership body had met since it was formed in 2005 with the aim of providing a forum for debating reform of the PLO and allowing for the participation of factions such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
This meeting was "the first concrete application of the Cairo agreement, of the reconciliation and of the partnership between all the political forces," Fatah delegation head Azzam al-Ahmed told AFP earlier on Thursday. The aim of the three-day meeting was to "focus on the restructuring of the PLO leadership and of the PNC," he said, referring to the PLO's parliament-in-exile which has more than 650 members on its books but which has not met in full session for 15 years. He said the provisional leadership body would meet again in Cairo on February 2.
Earlier Thursday, Abbas signed off on the creation of a separate nine-member panel to chart a path forward for Palestinian presidential and legislative elections. Hamas said in a statement that the groups had decided to create an electoral commission, including members of every Palestinian faction, tasked with managing elections within the PLO. The commison wil be led by the speaker of the Palestinian National Council (PNC), Selim Zaanoun, and will meet in Jordan's capital next month. "A law concerning elections to the PLO was given to the participants for them to study and each movement is to give its response for January 15 so that it can be discusssed at the first meeting of the commission", the statement added.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Egyptian posecutor refutes claims by the military about use of violence

that the public prosecutor’s office has challenged statements made earlier this week by Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) in which the council claimed that military personnel were simply “defending themselves” during violent clashes in October in Cairo’s Maspero district and late last month on Mohamed Mahmoud Street.
General Emara
At a press conference earlier this week, SCAF member Major-General Adel Emara stated that both incidents were being investigated by public prosecutors.
Al Ahram Online reports that iIn a statement issued Wednesday, the public prosecutor’s office announced that it had wrapped up investigations of both incidents and had referred them to magistrates who would announce results of their own investigations to the public prosecutor’s office. Magistrates answer to Egypt’s justice ministry and not to the public prosecutor’s office.
Meanwhile lawyer Tarek El-Awadi, head of the Law State Support Centre, revealed that four minors who appeared in video clips shown at the SCAF’s recent press conference had been arrested from their homes on 14 December – two days before clashes began between anti-government protesters and security forces outside Egypt’s Cabinet building. The SCAF had earlier screened footage from Egyptian television of street children allegedly arrested during the clashes. In the footage, the boys confessed to having been paid to set buildings on fire and make Molotov cocktails.

Some 14 bombs go off in Baghdad

Update Friday: Two more blasts went off Thursday evening. The death toll now stands at 69 people killed. More than 200 are wounded. 
A wave of bombings ripped across Baghdad on Thursday morning, killing at least 57 people and injuring nearly 200 in the worst violence Iraq has seen for months. The death toll is likely to rise. The bloodbath comes just days after American forces left the country.The blasts also came on the heels of a political crisis between Iraq's Sunni and Shiite factions that erupted this weekend, after a arrest warrant for the Sunni vice president Tareq al-Hashemi was handed down. .
Iraqi officials said at least 14 blasts went off early Thursday morning in 11 neighborhoods around the city. The explosions ranged from blasts from sticky bombs attached to cars to roadside bombs and vehicles packed with explosives. There was at least one suicide bombing among the attacks.

Most of the attacks appeared to hit Shiite neighborhoods although some Sunni areas were also targeted.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Assad's army continues the killing

Funeral of a martyr in Khan Shaikhoun, province of Idlib

The death toll from an attack by Syrian forces in the northern province of Idlib on Tuesday has risen to at least 56, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Wednesday.
The British-based group said it had documented the names of 56 "citizens and wanted activists" who were killed, but that dozens more may have died. The Observatory's Rami Abdulrahman said one activist in the area reported 121 bodies had been taken to local hospitals.
One blog of a Syrian in the US gives a toll of no less than 182.  His Breakdown: 150 fell in Jabal Al-Zawiyeh region of the Idlib Province, 100 were said to be defectors, while the remaining 50 were civilians, 36 of whom fell in the village of Kafar Ouayd, including a local Imam whose body was mutilated post-mortem. Most defectors also fell in the areas between Kafar Ouayd and Fateerah. A further 6 were killed in the Dera'a province, 12 in Homs, and 14 loyalists got killed in Dera''a in retaliatiom for the killing og 100 defectors in Idlib on Monday.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Again clashes at Tahrir, women march against the army

Egypt continues to amaze. After five days of violence by the army, all of a sudden there appears thess women, marching unto Tahrir, strongly protesting the violence and demanding that the army relinquishes power.

Violent clashes between protesters and joint forces from the Egyptian Army and police re-erupted in Tahrir Square at the crack of dawn Tuesday, with four deaths reported. Security forces tried and failed to evacuate Tahrir.At some point, the security forces managed to force protesters back towards the Egyptian Museum. Eventually, however, the soldiers regrouped at their position behind the concrete wall erected across El-Sheikh Rihan Street, which leads to the Ministry of Interior.
Yamen El Genedy, a doctor at the Omar Makram Mosque field hospital, told Ahram Online that he saw four people admitted at 8 this morning. All of them had been shot dead. "The bullets had entered and exited their bodies, making it seem like the result of snipers. The force of the gunshots was very strong," said El Genedy. One of the deaths, he added, was a 19-year-old.Another field hospital doctor, Ahmed Saad, told AP that a 15-year-old protester was in critical condition after suffering a gunshot wound in the attack. No deaths have been officially reported.The Ministry of Health announced that 32 people were injured in the recent violence, four of whom were hospitalised. Ambulances, on standby throughout near the square, ferried the injured to nearby hospitals.
 Another picture of the march of the women. These ones carry the by now notorious picture of the young woman who was beaten, kicked and almost undressed by the military.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Syria will allow Arab observers in

Update: More than 100 people have been killed in Syria, rights activists said, as the Arab League announced an advance party would be sent to the country this week to pave the way for monitors who will try to help end nine months of violence. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Monday that more than 60 army deserters had been shot dead by machinegun fire as they tried to flee their base, citing accounts from wounded survivors. It also counted 40 civilians shot dead across Syria in the crackdown on protests. 
(End of update)

Syria signed an Arab League initiative Monday that will allow Arab observers into the country, Syria's  final acceptance of it was a response to mounting international pressure.
 Foreign Minister Walid Al-Moallem told reporters in Damascus that the observers will have a one-month mandate that can be extended by another month if both sides agree. They will be "free" in their movements and "under the protection of the Syrian government," he said, but will not be allowed to visit sensitive military sites.
Walid al Muallem
Last month Syria agreed to an Arab League plan to end the crisis. It called for removing Syrian forces and heavy weapons from city streets, starting talks with opposition leaders and allowing human rights workers and journalists into the country, along with Arab League observers. Despite its agreement, Syria then posed conditions that made implementation impossible.

As the agreement was signed, security forces shot and killed at least three people in the southern province of Daraa and a demonstration in Damascus' central neighborhood of Midan, where a child was wounded, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Three soldiers were also killed in a clash between troops and army defectors in the northern town of Maaret al-Numan, the observatory said. Another activist group said Monday's death toll throughout Syria was 14.

The Arab League had given Syria until Wednesday to sign the agreement, warning that if Damascus did not, the League would likely turn to the UN Security Council for action to try to end the President Bashar Assad's crackdown on the uprising.

Many regime opponents have in the past accused Assad of waffling on the deal as a way to gain time as he continues his crackdown. They expressed skepticism that the regime will cooperate even after signing the initiative.

Egyptian military of SCAF not only target protesters but also the media and the truth

 This picture of soldiers beating and dragging this nwoman whose blue bra and belly have been exposed, has already become an icon of the way SCAF deals with its fellow Egyptians. Egypftian novelist Ahdaf Soueif wrote a beautiful piece about it in The Guardian. 
Two versions have emerged of what has been happening these last days to the sit-in in front of the Cabinet building and on and around Tahrir Square in Cairo. One version was spread by the state media, the government and SCAF itself. It began with Prime Minister Kammal al-Ganzouri who on Saturday during a press conference denied that that the army used violence or live amunnition and 
called what was  “happening not a revolution, but [rather] an assault on the revolution”.
Next was the state media that described the protesters in the street as thugs, street kids, drug addicts and forces from outside Egypt. State television even broadcasted interviews with people who said that they were protesters who had been paid by liberal groups to attack the military. It was, as the New York Times wrote, an echo of the propaganda from the last days of the Mubarak government. 
After that SCAF repeated this story. There was the hair rising remark, by General Abdel Moneim Kato, an adviser to the military's Morale Affairs Department, who talked to the private newspaper Al-Shorouk about the events and the violence used by the army. People had better worry about the country's welfare, he said, in stead of being concerned about "some street bully who deserves to be thrown into Hitler's ovens".
 Kato's remarks were condemned by many. But on Monday afternoon a civilized version of what he said was presented during a press conference of General Adel Emara, one of the SCAF-leaders 'The armed forces,' Emara said, 'does not use violence systematically. We exercise a level of self-restraint that others envy. We do not do that out of weakness but out of concern for national interests.” 
General Emara

As reported by Al-Masry al-Youm of which the English section recently has been renamed  Egypt Independent), the general said that violence erupted on Friday when demonstrators who had been holding a sit-in in outside the cabinet’s headquarters for the last three weeks attacked a military officer. Military personnel guarding the cabinet’s building came to the officer’s rescue, but they were subjected to “deliberate humiliation and provocation,” continued Emara, who affirmed later that the armed forces had no intention of dispersing the protest.   
 According to activists and eyewitnesses, however, the version of what happened during the past few days is completely the other way round. Military personnel picked a fight with protesters with the intention of dispersing the sit-in, whose main demands were the firing of the newly appointed Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri and the transfer of power from the military to civilians.
The military started to throw stones and office furniture at protesters from the roofs of nearby buildings. Soldiers in military uniforms were even photographed urinating on protesters from the rooftops. In the meantime, gunshots were heard. The next day more ugly scenes emerged of soldiers beating up demonstrators with sticks and dragging a woman through the street, stripping her naked and kicking her. Also 14 protesters died so far, most of them by gunshots
 Emara didn't challenge the authenticity of photos and videos showing the woman, which have gone viral in cyberspace and in the foreign media.Yet he argued that the footage didn't prove that the military had resorted to excessive violence.“I say yes, this scene actually happened and we are investigating it,' bu he added that the circumstances should be taking into account as well.

As Al Masry al-Youm/Egypt Independent wrote: The weekend’s violence brought back memories of earlier military brutality, including an attack on a Coptic-led protest in October and the dispersal of an anti-military rally in November. In the first incident, the military was held responsible for the killing of 27 people; in the second, both the armed forces and the police were blamed for the murder of at least 40.
 On both occasions, the military and the state-owned media invoked conspiracy theories, using the common refrain that “hidden” hands were fomenting chaos to ruin the state and thwart the transition to democracy.
On two sides walls built by the army of concrete blocs and in the middle the burnt out building of the Institute for the Advancement of Scientific Research. (Picture M Shestawy)
The problem with the two versions, however, is that many ordinary Egyptians - indeed most Egyptians - tend to believe the version of the state media and the SCAF, in which the protesters are depicted as criminals and thugs, influenced by foreigners, who try to undermine the government and the army and in the process destroy Egyptian property. 
 That in itself is bad enough, as it clearly has the effect that the pro-revolution forces are marginalised.  But it us not even the whole story. Al-Ahram Online reports that in the recent military raid on Tahrir Square, media personnel and cameras became a primary target. Men in military uniform, assisted by plainclothes men, confiscated cameras and smashed them.
Reporters and filmmakers on rooftops surrounding the square were not excluded from the attacks, Al-Ahram Online reports. Al-Jazeera English producer Adam Makary told the paper that 20 plain-clothed men stormed his hotel overlooking the square and smashed any camera they found.
Makary saw the men severely beating a French reporter and a female member of staff at the hotel, after which he hid in a closet and heard more people being beaten and equipment being smashed. According to Makary, the plain-clothed men who attacked the hotel – whilst protesters were being evicted from Tahrir – were “instructing each other and everything seemed very orchestrated.”
 Filmmaker Cressida Trew, who was filming from a friend’s flat overlooking the square, was visited by a military officer, assisted by three others, who confiscated her cameras. According to Trew, she tried to negotiate with the officer to take her memory card and leave the camera but her proposal was refused. Two more media personnel accompanying Trew also had their cameras taken in addition to all their lenses.
This was not the first time the media had been targeted since military took power. Makary explained that this was the third time he had been attacked while doing his job. It had happened twice before in Alexandria.
Masry Al-Youm photographer Ahmed Abd El-Fattah lost his eye while covering clashes near the Ministry of Interior in Mohamed Mahmoud Street where 40 people were killed and over a thousand injured. Abd El-Fattah said police officers shot at his eyes. Although activists have also lost their eyes and even their lives, Abd El-Fattah said his injury was no coincidence as media were being targeted. “Five Masry Al-Youm reporters, in addition to ten working for other media institutions, were injured that day and they all had cameras,” he said.
Moreover, Abd El-Fattah said media personnel often suffered accusations of spying while on the job. “People are affected by the military’s media and the military also has secret agents all around to stir such accusations,” he said.

At least another three people killed in Cairo on Monday

 (Photo AP)

Hundreds of Egyptian soldiers in riot gear swept through Cairo's Tahrir Square early Monday and opened fire on protesters demanding an immediate end to military rule. The Health Ministry said at least three people were killed, bringing the death toll for four days of clashes to 14.
Violence has been raging in Cairo since Friday, when military forces guarding the Cabinet building near Tahrir Square heavily cracked down on a 3-week-old sit-in to demand Egypt's ruling generals immediately hand power to a civilian authority.
The raid early Monday may have been an attempt by the military to keep protesters away from key government buildings near the square, including parliament and the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the hated police force.
Ahmed Saad, a field hospital doctor who witnessed the crackdown, said six people were killed by gunshots, giving a toll twice that of the Health Ministry's. He said troops stormed a mosque on the square, beating up protesters who spent the night inside.
"It was like a rain of bullets in the early morning," Saad said.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Fights continue for third day in Cairo

Fire consumes the Institute for the Advancement of Scientific Research in Cairo. The Institute, next to the Cabinet building, went completely up in flames. Many valuable books and manuscripts got lost. Among them the manuscript of 'Le désciption de l'Egypte' from the time of Napoleon's expedition.   

Protesters and security forces fought in Cairo on Sunday, the third day of clashes that have killed 10 people, while 505 people  were wounded (of whom 384 had been taken to hospitals). An army source said 164 people had been detained.There were no people, killed on Sunday.

Soldiers and police manned barriers on streets around Tahrir Square, with police (Central Security forces) appeared to have taken over the front line from soldiers.Clashes continued mainly on Qasr El-Aini Street and Sheikh Rihan Street.  
Several people tried to mediate a cease fire. The group included recently-elected members of parliament Amr Hamzawy and Mustafa El-Naggar, and prominent activist Wael Ghoneim. Other members of the delegation were parliamentary candidates Ziad Eleimy and Ziad Bahaa El-Din; political analyst and former advisory council member Moatez Abdel Fatah; filmmaker/activist Mohamed Diab; and Muslim preacher Moaz Masoud.According to El-Naggar, the delegation had approached the army and interior ministry in hopes of discussing a proposed ceasefire.

A building nearTahrir with historic archives, was gutted on Saturday by a fire. The Institute for the Advancement of Scientific Research was completely destroyed. The institute contained some 196.000 books, among them many irreplaceable manuscript of rare editions. Some 30.000 volumes were saved by protesters who helped to save as much as possible.Among the manuscript that got lost was the original of Le description de l'Egypte, the compilation of descriptions, engravings and maps by the group of scientists who were brought in by Napoleon when he invaded Egypt in the beginning of the 19th century (1798-1801) and started its modernisation.

Mohammed Bouazizi, who started the Arab Spring one year ago, honored in his birthplace Sidi Bouzid

Festivities in Sidi Bouzid (TAP)

(Updated) On Saturday 17 December, it was exactly one year ago that Mohammed Bouazizi, 26, a fruit seller from Sidid Bouzid in Tunisia, set fire to himself. He thereby started the uprisings in the Arab world that people later on started to refer to as 'The Arab Spring' (Tunisians prefer the name Ýasmine Revolution'). It seemed a good moment to honor this man who gave the sign for revolutions in several countries of the Arab world, not least his own, where recently the first elected parliament, president and government were installed.
In Bouazizi's city Sidi Bouzid festivities were held that lasted the whole weekend, with the paticipation of several pesonalities like Nobel Prize winner Tawakkol Karmon from Yemen. The newly elected president Moncef Marzouki unveiled a monument for Mohamed Bouazizi, representing his fruit cart.
The new - unfortunately rather ugly - monument for Mohammed Bouazizi. (AFP).

"Sidi Bouzid, that suffered from being marginalised, has the Tunisians given back their dignity,''  president Marzouki said in his speech. ''Now we have taken it upon ourselves to return to these regions their 'joie de vivre'. The president was referring to the economical situation, which has become worse after the revolution, as it has chased away tourists and investors.The past weeks there has been unrest in several places, among them Sidi Bouzid itself, because of the unemployment rate, which, according to the Tunisian Central bank, has gone up since the revolution from 13% to 18,3%.

Three times Mohammed Bouazizi. Left: setting fire to himself, top right: in the hospital, where he was visited by Ben Ali, who was still president at the time, and where he later died. Below right: one of the few portraits that are known of him.    

Upon looking back on my blog, I dicoverd that I did not pick up the news right from the beginning. My first report about the uprising in Sidi Bouzid  - almost entirely based on what was reported by Tunisian bloggers - was on 25 December (which was still some three weeks earlier than the bulk of the 'official' media, though). Below the first picture of the protests in Sidi Bouzid itself 
that I put on this blog.  By then the unrest was already spreading to the rst of Tunisia. One of the impressive events of these first weeks was the country wide protest of the lawyers at the end of December. One of the videos of the event - singing lawyers in Sfax - which I put on my blog, is resposted below.

Arrest warrant for Iraqi vice-president when last American troops cross border with Kuwait

 The last carriers leaving via Kuwait. (Reuters)

The last convoy of U.S. soldiers pulled out of Iraq on Sunday, ending nearly nine years of war that cost almost 4,500 American and tens of thousands of Iraqi lives and left a country grappling with political uncertainty.They leave behind some 17.000 American personnel and some 200 troops attached to the American embassy in Baghdad. 
The final column of around 100 mostly U.S. military MRAP armored vehicles carrying 500 U.S. troops trundled across the southern Iraq desert from their last base through the night and daybreak along an empty highway to the Kuwaiti border.
For President Barack Obama the military pullout is the fulfillment of an election promise to bring troops home from a conflict inherited from his predecessor, the most unpopular war since Vietnam and one that tainted America's standing worldwide. For Iraqis, though, the U.S. departure brings a sense of sovereignty tempered by nagging fears their country may slide once again into the kind of sectarian violence that killed many thousands of people at its peak in 2006-2007.
Iraq's political uncertainty was underscored when late on Saturday an arrest warrant was issued against the Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi for being the mastermind behind the recent bombing targeting the parliament.The car bombing which took place on November 28, was an attempt to assassinate one of the members of the parliament.
Tareq al-Hashimi
According to the Iraqi government, evidence pointed at al-Hashimi’s embroilment after deriving confessions from four arrested Islamic Party members. An official from the interior ministry announced earlier Saturday that they will show confessions indicating the involvement of a higher rank official in terrorist activities.

Hashimi was the head of the Islamic Party, a political party representative of the Muslim Brotherhood in Iraq, in 2004, but in 2009 he announced that he is no longer a member of the party. Instead, he created the Tajdeed movement, which is considered to be one of the political parties component of the secular Iraqiya block.
The allegations against Hashimi came hours after the Iraqiya bloc which won most of the votes of Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority, walked out of parliament. The bloc, led by former premier Iyad Allawi, said it was suspending its participation in parliamentary business in protest at what it charged was Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s monopolization of all decision-making. “We can no longer remain silent about the way the state is being administered, as it is plunging the country into the unknown,” said the bloc, which holds 82 of the 325 seats in parliament, second only to Maliki’s National Alliance.
The bloc accused the Maliki government of “placing tanks and armored cars in front of the homes of Iraqiya leaders in the Green Zone,” the heavily fortified central Baghdad district that houses the official residences of leading politicians and government ministers as well as the British and U.S. embassies.
A spokesman from Iraqiya said that the allegations against Hashimi is an attempt by the Maliki to create a one-party system, thwart opposition and to gradually target and defile national Iraqi figures.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Egyptian army acts with extreme violence against protesters

Cairo witnessed another day of violence on Saturday. From the above video it is crystal clear what kind of violence the brave Egyptian soldiers applied to the protesters. It's just unbelievable. Watch, and you'll know that there's no need for further comment.
At least nine people have been confirmed killed and more than 344 reported injured in the past two days. A building belonging to the Ministry of Transport that caught fire during the clashes continued to burn as military police launched a fierce attack on Tahrir Square. Tents in the square’s central island and near the Mugamaa state complex were burnt down and demonstrators were severely beaten.
Abou El-Ela Madi, head of Al-Wasat Party and a member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces' (SCAF) Advisory Council resigned from the council in protest over the army’s crackdown on the Cabinet sit-in.
Sheikh Emad Effat
Saturday two funerals were taking place. One of Sheikh Emad Effat, a member of the Dar Al-Ifta, the section of al-Azhar that is responsible for issuing fatwa's, who was shot in the chest during the military’s attack on the Cabinet sit-in. He was commemorated in a funeral that started at Al-Azhar Mosque and marched to the Sayeda Aisha cemeteries.
Elsewhere students from Ain Shams University attempted to march to the ministry of defence to protest the loss of their lost colleague, medical student Alaa Abd El-Hady, who was also shot dead during the military’s attack on the Cabinet sit-in, but were prevented from doing so by the military police. Both marches chanted against the SCAF and against the head of the military council Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi.
Prime Minister Kamal El-Ganzouri held a press conference Saturday denying that violence was used against demonstrators, adding that the military did not use live ammunition to disperse protesters. Also that is just unbelievable. People die from gunshot wounds, there are even video's to confirm that, and the prime minister says that no live ammunition has been used.

Yemenis demonstrate against immunity for Saleh

Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis demonstrated Friday across the country rejecting an amnesty given to President Ali Abdullah Saleh  in a deal that eases him out of office. "A trial is a must and amnesty is rejected," chanted demonstrators in Sanaa's Sitin Street, close to Change Square—the focal point of protests that broke out in January demanding Saleh's departure after 33 years in power.
Similar demonstrations were staged in 18 cities and towns across Yemen in response to a call by the central organising committee of protests, as protesters insisted Saleh and his top lieutenants should face justice over the killing of demonstrators.
Last month, Saleh signed a Gulf-brokered deal aimed to end the political crisis in the impoverished country. Under the deal, he handed authority to Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, and the opposition formed a national unity government.
Saleh serves now as an honorary president until polls are held in February to elect his successor.

Egyptian military again clash with protesters, 8 dead, hundreds wounded

 While others throw stones from  the roof of the Parliament building, a soldier pisses on the protesters. Literally. (Photo Mostafa Sheshtawi)

Updated Saturday: The Egyptian Health ministry on Saturday morning reported that eight people died and 300 were injured Friday during the clashes between the military and the people that manned the sit-in in front of the government offices at Qasr al-Einy Street in Cairo. Among the dead were a member of the 6 April Youth Movement, Ahmed Mansour, and Sheik Emad Effat, a cleric of Al-Azhar. Both had been shot.    
The fight between troops and demonstrators was the worst violence since Egypt began its elections. They broke out on Thursday night and seems to have been triggered by the fact that the people of the sit in
were playing a game of football and a ball went through a window inside the building of the Parliament. One of  the players went inside the building to retrieve the ball and was reportedly beaten. After that a fight broke out during which military police burned the tents of the protesters and pelted them with stones, broken china and trash from the rooftop of the Parliament building. Later on some thousands took part in a protest march in a nearby street. The crowd was met with teargas, rubber bullets and live ammunition. By early afternoon, ambulance sirens were wailing as troops tried to disperse around 10,000 protesters with truncheons and what witnesses said appeared to be electric cattle prods.

Clashes raged on after nightfall. On Saturday a new round of fighting started with troops and protesters pelting each other with stones. The army had sealed off the area around the government buildings in the meantime and driven the protesters back in the direction of Tahrir Square . 
Th sit-in was a left-over from the protests against the appointment of Kamal al-Ganzoury, a former Prime Minister from the Mubarak-era, at the head of a new government. The protesters from then on blocked his ministerial office.
The ruling military council, in a statement read on state television, denied troops had tried to disperse the sit-in. It also denied troops had used fire-arms and said the violence started when one of the officers maintaining security outside parliament was attacked while on duty. The public prosecutor would investigate that incident, the council said.
According to the protesters these were all plain lies. And a new civilian advisory council that was set up to offer guidance to the army generals on policy said it would resign if its recommendations on how to solve the crisis were not heeded. Presidential candidate Amr Moussa, who is a member of the civilian council, told an Egyptian satellite television station, the council had suspended its meetings until the military council meets its demands that include an end to all violence against demonstrators.

Reports of beatings of well-known pro-democracy activists buzzed across social media and politicians from Islamists to liberals lined up to condemn the army's tactics.
"Even if the sit-in was not legal, should it be dispersed with such brutality and barbarity?" asked Mohamed ElBaradei, a presidential candidate and former U.N. nuclear watchdog head.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Erroneous report on Dutch tv about Marinab starts playing nasty role in Egyptian politics

The above is a remarkable report on the events in El Marinab (near Edfu) on 30 September that led to the march on 9 October from Shubra to Maspero. Which in turn ended in bloody repression leaving 24 people dead and many wounded. The report was broadcasted on Dutch public television on Saturday, November 26 and the maker is a roving Dutch reporter by the name of  Lex Runderkamp, who was recently turned into a ´Special Middle East reporter´ by his bosses of Dutch NOS-tv, after having reported earlier from Libya about the events that led to the overthrow and death of Kadhafy. 
 As is clear from the video, Runderkamp, who stayed two days in Marinab, reached the remarkable conclusions that the church in Marinab that was supposedly set on fire, was not a church, that there live almost no Copts in Marinab (only some 25, according to him), that the Copts in Marinab did not have a proper permission to renovate or expand the building, and that it was not clear who ignited the fire. Under the motto ´things are not always what they seem to be´, he in fact suggested that it had been the Copts themselves who set fire to the building.
His report miraculously concurred in many ways with the things the governor of Aswan, Mustafa Al-Sayed, who is responsible for Marinab, said on the question. Like Runerkamp Al-Sayed, who sided with the Muslims in the conflict, denied that the church was a church, he also said that there live only a handful Copts in Marinab and he said that the Christians did not have a permit for the renovation of the building. The only thing in which El-Sayed differed with Runderkamp, was that he did not deny, that it was the Muslims who started the brawl. His refusal, however, to let the Copts continue the work on the church led to a sit-in of several days in Aswan of some 1500 angry Copts, which was followed by the protest in Cairo on 9 October. 

Maybe Runderkamps report would not have been worth further comment, had it not en for the fact that the video of  the broadcast, as can be seen above, has been picked up by Salafists-  and other Egyptian media as can be seen here - to show that the whole story in Marinab was just another of those Christian conspiracies.
Here in Holland Runderkamp´s report had mainly the ffect that it raised some eyebrows, as it went against all logic and all that people thought they knew. about the question. And apart from that there was some serious opposition, initially only from the blogosphere, later on also from some Christian circles. Particularly blogger Jan Dirk Snel was very detailed in his criticism, not only quoting the excellent piece that Sherry al-Gergawi wrote in Al-Ahram Online, but also - as it happened -  another Dutchman living in Cairo, Cornelis Hulsman, who went with a pupil to El-Marinab one day after the events there, and who´s  organisation, ArabWest, published a detailed report about what happened. Snel succeeded in getting some attention from other media, forcing Runderkamp to reply.  The NOS-reporter however stuck to his version on his blog, during a radio interview, and in a second blog post, where he wrote:
Were Muslims responsible for the arson, as everyone assumes? Six judges from Cairo researched the facts  in Al Marinab in October (Commission Omar Marawan). The commission concludes that it is impossible to prove that Muslim villagers set fire to the building. In the first place, according to the commission, because the the little church shows hardly traces of burning! That sounds strange, but check out my video and you´ll see that indeed only clean walls, pillars and floors are visible in the church:
 Second, the six judges concluded that the Copts have no corroborating evidence for their claim that Muslims have started the fire. The commission ran into a (Muslim) witness who claimed that he had seen how a Copt set fire to a tire in the building next to the church. The Muslim was even going to help extinguish the fire.
I'm not sure from where Runderkamp got his claims about this commission Marawan. After reading here what Human Rights Watch on October 24 wrote about the findings of a commission that immediately after the events to Marinab had been sent to Marinab, a commission that had been established in May after sectarian violence in Imbaba - in other words: the Commission Omar Marawan:
Background to the Protest: The Burning of Mar Girgis Church in Marinab, Edfu, September 30, 2011
On September 30, a group of Muslim residents in the village of Al Marinab, near the town of Edfu in the south of Egypt, set fire to the Church of St. George (Mar Girgis) as it was undergoing reconstruction, destroying the walls, domes, and columns. Those involved in the attack believed the property was a “rest stop” and that Christians did not have a permit to worship there and objected to the height of a steeple that bore a cross and bell.
However, a cabinet-appointed “Justice Committee,” set up in the aftermath of the earlier sectarian violence in the Cairo district of Imbaba in May, confirmed that local church authorities had a church license for the property, according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), which said it examined documents showing the Copts had government permission to build the church.
The local church authorities had met with Muslim residents at the instigation of a security official, and had agreed to lower the height of the building and take down the cross and bell, EIPR said. Before the alterations were complete, however, mobs attacked the church.
Mustafa El Sayed, the SCAF-appointed governor of Aswan governorate appeared to justify the Muslim attack on the grounds that the original building was not a church but a service center for local Christians. The cabinet Justice Committee conducted a fact-finding mission to Edfu and submitted its report to the cabinet on October 4, recommending the governor’s removal, prosecution of people who destroyed the church, and the reconstruction of the church at state expense. No action has been taken in response.
 Seems clear, doesn´t it? The commission concluded that the church was a church, that the Copts had a license, that the Muslims lit the church, that the Governor of Aswan was wrong and should have been replaced and that the culprits should have been punished. Runderkamp just lied a couple things together in order to save his skin. He´d done better thought a tactical retreat or whatever. I must say I find it incredible. What are these people thinking at public NOS-tv? Is this racism? Dutch television knows better than the primitive, little brown Egyptians? Total lack of understanding of how it works in Egypt? Plain stubbornness? It´s outrageous. Anyway, Dutch tv is not going to rectify its blunder, and least of all Lex Runderkamp himself. Maybe someone in Egypt should take up the matter??

Perhaps - as a kind of a Postscript - some comments on how this could happen. How Runderkamp could have been misled. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), an Egyptian human rights organisation which was already entioned above, followed sectarian clashes in Egypt during many years. In a report on sectarian violence between 2008 and 2010, in which it doccumented 53 cases, the EIPR described the way the Interior Ministry in Egypt in such cases usually proceeds. EIPR´s description explains why those involved -  it victims as well as perpetrators - after clashes most of the time are not really motivated anymore to be too explicit about what exactly had happened.

 Imposing quiet is the goal of the Ministry of Interior in all incidents of sectarian violence, and this is often done against the will of the parties involved in the clashes. In order to achieve this goal, the Interior Ministry often takes a series of routine— and illegal—measures. Sectarian violence often ends in a reconciliation meeting sponsored by the Interior Ministry and brought about by the use of all means of pressure it possesses, both legitimate and illegitimate. The end objective is to restore the situation to the status quo, as if nothing has happened. 49. The direct intervention of the Interior Ministry—which can be rapid in some cases or take hours in others—usually involves the use of excessive violence by police forces to disperse crowds, even when they are peacefully assembling and even if they are assemblies organized by victims protesting assaults on them. Indeed, EIPR researchers have documented cases in which policemen themselves are involved in violence against Christians and attacks on their property. Such was the case in the events in Izbat Bushra al-Sharqiya, located in the Fashn district of Beni Soueif, on 21 June 2009. A number of testimonies collected and corroborated by EIPR researchers stated that security personnel were involved in breaking into Christian homes and smashing their property. In Saft al-Laban, in the Boulaq al-Dakrour area of Giza, on 13 May 2009, some victims said that policemen were vandalizing the property of Christians while arresting them inside their homes. 50. In cases of sectarian violence, the police are unable and sometimes unwilling to intervene to protect the homes and property of Copts, particularly in attacks that take the form of collective retribution and involve large numbers of Muslims. In some cases this may be due to the fact that the assailants outnumber security forces, making the latter fearful of engaging them and risking losses in their own ranks. A clear example of the inability or unwillingness to engage is seen in the violence that took place in Dayrout in the Assyout governorate on 24 October 2009. In that case, the violence began at 10:30 am and security forces refrained from intervening until 3 pm, leaving Muslims free for five hours to attack five churches and numerous pharmacies and shops. The same happened in Shouraniya, located in the Maragha district of Sohag, from 28 to 31 March 2009, when local Muslims attacked the homes and property of their Egyptian Baha’i neighbors. As a result of police inaction, five -19- Baha’i-owned homes were burned nearly to the ground. This has been repeated in several other instances of sectarian violence. 

Mar Girgis, Marinab
 So send troops in, forces all parties to remain calm. Initiates reconciliation talks - even if the victims do not want that - and puts prssure on all sides to restore the status quo. Runderkamp writes in his second blog post 'Fire in Coptic church:  the facts' the following: It's true that reconciliation talks were held, because it was insufficiently clear who was at fault. The accusations went back and forth. There wasn´t any complaint deposited,  not even by the Copts, the lawyer of the Muslim inhabitants said. 
So, apparently, the Egyptian Interior Ministry had been true to its habits. If Runderkamp had had any experience with Egypt he would have asked himself why on earth the story of the Copts sounded so unlikely and if it might have been possible that they had been were intimidated with all those Central Security troops still around. But as it is, it´s all too clearc that this is something he hasn´t done. 

Military court sentences Egyptian blogger Maikel Nabil to two years in retrial

An Egyptian military court on Wednesday reduced the sentence of  blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad to two-years, much to the disappointment of his family and supporters who had hoped that he would be freed. Nabil had been sentenced on 10 April to three years for insulting the military in a blog post. Yesterday´s  verdict, which was reached after weeks of postponements and jockeying by the court, cannot be appealed.
Maikel Nabil Sanad
“Maikel Nabil Sanad should be released immediately and unconditionally,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director. “He is a prisoner of conscience who should never have been prosecuted in the first place,” Sahraoui said.

Nabil holds controversial views concerning Israel, including calling for normalization – which has left him outside the massive “No Military Trials” campaign started by a group of local activists.  He got, however the support of Samira Ibrahim, the female activist who has filed a lawsuit against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces over their “virginity tests,” who came to show her solidarity.
Maikel Nabil has been on a hunger strike since August 23. His brother Mark  told at the court last week that his brother is facing liver and kidney problems but that he is determined to continue his hunger strike if he is sentenced to prison.

Palestinian film wins at Dubai festival

Director Susan Youssef with Mohammed bin Rashid Maktoum, the son of the ruler of Dubai.

´Habibi´, the tale of two Palestinian lovers in Gaza, on Wednesday won the top prizes at the eighth Dubai Film Festival. The film, directed by Susan Youssef, got the  first prize in the category Best Arab feature film, and the film's star, Maisa Abdel Hadi, won the prize for the best actress, while the film also won the best editor award.
Habibi is based on the ancient Arabic romance of Majnun Layla, and tells the story of young Gazan lovers who are prevented from seeing each other by family, social tradition, and politics. The idea came to writer-director Susan Youssef while shooting Forbidden to Wander in 2002, a documentary that recounts her own romance with a theater director in Gaza. Nine years and numerous grants later, Habibi is set to seduce audiences worldwide. Youssef, a New Yorker of Lebanese descent, lives part of the year in Amsterdam. The film is funded by the  Netherlands, the US, the Palestinian Authority and the United Arab Emirates.
Youssef cried upon receiving the award, and in her acceptance speech said: "I hope we can show the film in Gaza." She said she began shooting the film in Gaza, but was forced to relocate after Israeli authorities blocked her from travelling to the territory.

Official trailer of the film

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Syrian troops storm Hama

 Hama on Wednesday 14 December.

Syrian troops swept into the city of Hama on Wednesday to break a three-day strike by opponents of President Bashar al-Assad. According to activists they killed at least 10 people but faced resistance from armed insurgents who destroyed two armored vehicles.
Outside the city, army deserters attacked a convoy of military jeeps, killing eight soldiers, they said, adding to a death toll of at least 30 people across the country on Wednesday.
The assault in Hama was the first armored incursion there since a tank offensive in August crushed huge protests in the city. Activists said troops fired machineguns and ransacked and burnt shops which had closed to mark a mass, open-ended "Strike for Dignity" called by the opposition.
 Update Thursday: In the southern province of Dera´a army deserters killed at least 27 soldiers and security force personnel in a series of clashes on Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The British-based group said the deserters fought forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in two locations in the city of Dera´a itself, as well as a checkpoint at a crossroads about 25 km (15 miles) to the east of the city. Rami Abdulrahman of the Observatory said in the fighting near Musayfrah, east of Dera´a, all 15 personnel at a joint army and security checkpoint were killed.
Al Jazeera English reported on Wednesday:: In other parts of Syria, the Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC) activist network reported that at least 10 people were killed in the central city of Homs, three in the northeastern province of Idlib, two in the capital Damascus, two in Deir al-Zor, two in Deraa, one in the northeastern province of Qamishli, one in the northern city of al-Raqqa and one in the town of Zabadany near Damascus.

Twenty human rights groups sound alarm over Israel´s violations of international law

 Demolition in East Jerusalem.

An international coalition of 20 aid agencies and human rights groups, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Oxfam International, stated on Monday that Israel has stepped up unlawful demolitions in the West Bank including East Jerusalem over the past year, displacing a record number of Palestinian families. They also said that this sharp rise in demolitions has been accompanied by accelerated expansion of settlements and an escalation of violence perpetrated by settlers.
The statement of the 20 groups  coincided with a meeting of Middle East Quartet in Jerusalem in its latest effort to revive peace talks. The 20 criticised the approach of  the Quartet and said it should hold all parties to the conflict to their international law obligations. The Quartet should, therefore, press the Israeli government to immediately reverse its settlement policies and freeze the demolitions that violate international law.
Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director of Oxfam Internationa said: “The increasing rate of settlement expansion and house demolitions is pushing Palestinians to the brink, destroying their livelihoods and prospects for a just and durable peace. There is a growing disconnect between the Quartet talks and the situation on the ground. The Quartet needs to radically revise its approach and show that it can make a real difference to the lives of Palestinians and Israelis.”
Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, added:  “The Quartet should call ongoing settlement expansion and house demolitions what they are: violations of international humanitarian law that Israel should stop.´´
And Phillip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Interim Programme Director of Amnesty International, called “Israel’s escalating violations´´ an illustration of  ´´the fundamental failure of the Quartet’s approach. It’s time for the Quartet to understand that they cannot contribute to achieving a just and durable solution to the conflict without first ensuring respect for international law.”

The evidence of rapidly deteriorating situation on the ground, the organisations said, includes:
  • Doubling the number of people displaced by demolitions: Since the beginning of the year more than 500 Palestinian homes, wells, rainwater harvesting cisterns, and other essential structures have been destroyed in the West Bank including East Jerusalem, displacing more than 1,000 Palestinians, UN figures show. This is more than double the number of people displaced over the same period in 2010, and the highest figure since at least 2005. More than half of those displaced have been children for whom the loss of their home is particularly devastating.
  • Accelerating settlement expansion: Plans for around 4,000 new settler housing units have been approved in East Jerusalem over the past 12 months - the highest number since at least 2006, according to Peace Now. In November, moreover, Israel announced plans to speed up construction of 2,000 new units in the West Bank including East Jerusalem.
  • Sharp increase in settler violence: violent attacks by settlers against Palestinians have escalated by over 50% in 2011 compared to 2010, and by over 160% compared to 2009, the UN reports. 2011 has seen by far the most settler violence since at least 2005. Settlers have also destroyed or damaged nearly 10,000 Palestinian olive and other trees during this year, undermining the livelihoods of hundreds of families. The perpetrators act with virtual impunity, with over 90% of complaints of settler violence closed by the Israeli police without indictment in 2005-2010.
  • Impending threat of forced displacement of Bedouin: Up to 2,300 Bedouin living in the Jerusalem periphery could be forcibly and unlawfully relocated if Israeli authorities follow through with their reported plans in 2012, which would destroy their livelihoods and threaten their traditional way of life. Rural communities in the Jordan Valley are also facing the prospect of further demolitions as settlements continue to expand.
The following organisations signed the statement: Amnesty International; Avaaz; Broederlijk Delen; CCFD-Terre Solidaire; Church of Sweden; CNCD – 11.11.11; Christian Aid; DanChurchAid; Diakonia; Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network; FIDH; FinnChurchAid; GVC Italia; Human Rights Watch; Medical Aid for Palestinians; medico international; Norwegian People’s Aid; Oxfam International; Polish Humanitarian Action; Trócaire.

It was time that human rights organisations sounded this alarm and called on the Quartet to stop pretending it was trying to create an atmosphere in which one could talk peace, as far as I´m concerned. What, however, is missing from this statement is adhesion by Israeli and Palestinian organisations. The only thing I discovered that goes in the same direction is an observation by the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) that Israel has been speeding up its demolitions and expulsions during this year 2011. One wonders why the Israelis and Palestinians aren´t there.