Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Arab League and Western countries pushing peace plan for Syria in Security Council

Syrian goverment troops seen entering a village at the outskirts of Damascus. (Reuters)
While Syrian government troops continue an offensive to retake areas that fell into the hands of opposition troops in the past weeks, the UN Security Council is going to debate a plan of the Arab League that calls on Assad to relinquish power to his deputy and prepare for elections. Secretary-General of the Arab League Nabil El-Araby and the prime minister of Qatar will make the case at the world body on Tuesday and try to overcome objctions from Russia and China.The Arab delegation will be supported in person by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, British Foreign Secretary William Hague and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe as the West presents a united front.
Meanwhile the violence in Syria continues. On Monday 96 people, including 55 civilians, were killed, mostly in the region Homs, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Tuesday. Also 25 soldiers were killed. Included in the 96 people killed were 10 dissident soldiers and six members of the security services. The organisation said in a statement received in Nicosia that 40 civilians were killed in Homs, nine in Syria's southern Dera'a region, five in outlying districts of Damascus (where Syrian govenment troops succeeded in retaking several areas from Free Syria Army-soldiers) and one in northwestern Idlib region. In addition, the bodies of a family of six killed last Thursday were found in the Karm Al-Zeitun neighbourhood of Homs, it said. On Sunday, 80 people were reportedly killed, equally divided between military and civilian deaths, in the most intense clashes of the uprising began, the Observatory reported.
A draft of the U.N. Security Council resolution, obtained by Reuters, calls for a "political transition" in Syria, and says the Security Council could adopt unspecified "further measures" if Syria does not comply with its terms. It endorses the Arab League power transfer plan. So far Moscow has shown little sign of being persuaded to let it pass. "The current Western draft is only a step away from the October version and can by no means be supported by us," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told Interfax. "This document is not balanced ... and above all leaves the door open for intervention in Syrian (internal) affairs."
Moscow said earlier that Damascus had agreed to its offer to host talks with opposition representatives.However, the Syrian opposition rejected this out off hand. The head of the Syrian National Council said that the opposition rejects all talks with the Damascus regime until Assad steps down. “The resignation of Assad is the condition for any negotiation on the transition to a democratic government in Syria,” Burhan Ghalioun told AFP. The second largest opposition grouping, the Syrian National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, followed suit. “Any negotiation or meeting is inconceivable in the shadow of the growing violence and killings, and the persistent arrests,” its leader Hassan Abdel Azim told AFP.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Syrian army kills 33 in border town

The New York Times took this picture from an officer of the Free Syrian Army talking to reporters in a house in  Rankous on Saturday.

Syrian government forces have killed at least 33 people in Rankous, a mountain town of 25,000 people, 30 kms north of Damascus, activists and residents of a nearby town said Sunday. Fighting has been going on since Wednesday in Rankous, when it was besieged by several thousand troops led by the elite Fourth Division, under the command of President Bashar al-Assad's brother Maher.But the worst apparently happened after the Arab League suspended its monitoring mission on Saturday. The New York Times reported from Rankous that day that hours after the observers left on Saturday morning, tanks appeared on the outskirts of town.
A resident of the nearby town of Sednaya said the 33 were killed since Wednesday. "We have managed to get through to people there who say the bombardment has brought down at least 10 buildings," he said, adding that tens of soldiers have defected and went in to help defend the town.  "A tented army camp has been set up near the entrance of Rankous. Most of the town's residents have fled to nearby villages," he added.

It was the second major attack on Rankous since November when it was stormed by troops after a demonstration demanding Assad's removal was broadcast on the Arab news channel al-Jazeera, activists said.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Russia blocks resolution on Syria in Security Council

 Pro government demonstration on Thursday 26 January 2012 in Damascus with huge posters of Bashar al-Assad.(AFP)

Russia has blocked a joint Western-Gulf Arab draft UN Security Council resolution on Friday, supporting the Arab League plan of last weekend, which demanded that President Bashar al-Assad hand over powers to a deputy so that new elections can be held. The draft, which was presented by Morocco had been drawn up by Britain, France and Germany with Arab states. The text demanded  an immediate end to the government violence and "encouraged" all states to follow sanctions imposed by the Arab League against Syria in November, but contains no mandatory action.
Vitaly Churkin, Russia's UN ambassador, said the Europe-Arab draft resolution was unacceptable in parts, but his country was ready to "engage" on it. Churkin was critical of the Arab League, accusing it of seeking to "impose" a solution on Assad before talks had started between the government and opposition groups. "Syria will not be Libya," he declared.
Days of tough talks loom before any vote is held. No action is likely before Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby and Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Al Thani brief the council on Tuesday.
Meanwhile the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights updated its death toll to 62 on Friday. Activists said Syrian forces raided the city of Homs, while a car bomb exploded at an army checkpoint in the northwestern town of Idlib.The Homs raid began in the Karm Al-Zeitoun neighbourhood, with the UK-based Observatory reporting 33 people killed.The Local Coordination Committees (LCC), which organize protests on the ground, said that by Friday regime forces had pounded the Bab Seba neighbourhood with heavy artillery and rocket fire. Fighting was also heard in Baba Amro district.
The Observatory said another flashpoint central city, Hama, also came under assault on Friday, with intense firing from heavy machineguns and loud explosions heard. In the outskirts of Damascus, an 11-year-old boy was killed at a checkpoint in Hamuriyeh, the Observatory said, and in Aleppo, the country's second-biggest city, two civilians were killed when security forces "fired indiscriminately."
And a car bomb hit a security checkpoint at the entrance to Idlib, the Observatory said, killing and wounding an unknown number of security people.
The attack comes less than a week after a roadside bomb killed 11 detainees being transported in a Syrian prison truck in Idlib province.
In a further development, armed Syrian rebels claimed on Thursday they captured five Iranians they accuse of being military officers working with the regime.The Free Syrian Army broadcast a YouTube video showing five men holding up what appeared to be Iranian passports.Iran denied the captured Iranians were military officers, but were rather pilgrims en route to the Syrian capital.
Update: The Arab League has suspended its monitoring mission in Syria due to what it called the escalation of violence and "critical deterioration of the situation" in the country. Nabil Elaraby, the secretary-general of the Arab League, announced the decision in a statement on Saturday. "It has been decided to immediately stop the work of the Arab League's mission to Syria pending presentation of the issue to the league's council," he said. The bloc said around 100 observers would remain in the country but would not undertake new missions. Activists in Syria say that at least 80 people have been killed in the past three days across the country.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Huge crowds on anniverary of ´25 January´ testify that Eypt´s revolution is not over yet

Tahrir Square at sunset yesterday, 25 January 2012. 

Hundreds of thousands streamed towards Tahrir Square in Cairo yesterday on the first anniversary of the beginning of the Egyptian revolution. The square was completely packed, surrounding places like Talaat Harb square or the Qasr el- Nil bridge were as well. Al-Ahram Online reported that some people thought that the day saw a bigger turnout than on 11 February of last year – the day that president Hosni Mubarak stepped down.
Like on 25 January 2011 marches to the square were held from places like Mostafa Mahmoud Mosque, Cairo’s Ramses, Ghamra, Shubra and Giza districts and even farther away, like Ma'adi. Again according to Al-Ahram Online it is believed that from these marches alone some  300,000 people entered Tahrir,  where also the Moslem Brotherhood with its Freedom and Justice Party which has become the dominant force in the parliament, was very much present. Also there were large crowds in Alexandria and other places like Suez.
 From the reports it was clear that this anniversary  was not solely a celebration, but also a reminder that the people that made the revolution are determined to continue Egypt's path to freedom and democracy. There were many slogans from the more leftist groups demanding the military to step down. The Freedom and Justice Party supporters though, by their huge presence, rather expressed their confidence that they are the biggest fraction in parliament now and that the military will keep their promise and withdraw from power in June.
Not everybody is even assured of the trustworthiness of SCAF. The April 6 youth movement and the National Front for Justice and Democracy, for their part, started an open-ended sit-in in Tahrir Square.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Gulf states follow example S-Arabia and pull observers out of Syria

Saudi Arabia's Gulf allies joined it on Tuesday in pulling out of an Arab League monitoring team to Syria, further damaging the credibility of the League mission.
The Arab League demanded on Sunday that Assad step down in favor of a unity government to end the bloodshed, but said Arab observers should stay in Syria for another month.
Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said at the time his country was quitting the mission because Syria had not implemented an earlier Arab peace plan. He urged Muslim states as well as Russia, China, Europe and the United States, to exert "all possible pressure" on Syria to ensure its compliance.
 "The GCC states have decided to respond to the decision of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia to withdraw its monitors from the Arab League delegation to Syria," the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council said in a statement.
It said the GCC was "certain the bloodshed and killing of innocents would continue, and that the Syrian regime would not abide by the Arab League's resolutions."

Monday, January 23, 2012

Syria rejects new plan Arab League

 Syrians demonstrated outside the Arab League headquarters on Sunday  (AFP)

Syria's state-run news agency says Damascus rejects a new Arab League plan aiming to end the country's 10-month crisis.The agency quotes an unnamed official as saying Syria considers the plan "a violation of its sovereignty and flagrant interference in its internal affairs."
Monday's announcement came a day after Qatari Foreign Minister Sheik Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabr Al Thani told reporters after an Arab Foreign Ministers meeting in Cairo that the Arab League was launching a new initiative to solve the crisis.
The new initiative calls on the Syrian government and the opposition to form a unity government within two weeks to lead to the country through a transitional period in which elections would be held and a new constitution written.
 The new plan was to go hand in hand with an extension by a month of an observer mission that originally aimed at overseeing a peace plan agreed by the Syrian government in November. Saudi Arabia, however, pulled out its observers because it said the regime was not honouring the accord.
 The new plan was also rejected by an opposition group, the Local Coordination Committees (LCC). The group, which organises anti-regime protests, said in a statement received in Nicosia that the plan  was "unattainable" and would allow President Bashar al-Assad's regime more time to pursue its bloody crackdown."The Syrian people have lost confidence in the Arab League's ability to stop the regime’s ongoing bloodshed," the LCC said. "It is clear that the regime has been pulling the country towards chaos and destruction while the Arab League remains stagnant."The LCC  said 795 people were killed in the first month of the mission, "making it a failure in accomplishing all of its initiatives."
The League on Sunday asked the UN to support the new plan that sees Assad transferring power to his deputy and a government of national unity within two weeks.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Egyptian brotherhood gets 47%

 Egyptian Islamists have won more than two-thirds of parliamentary seats, almost half only for the Muslim Brotherhood, according to official results of the first election since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak
The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), from the Muslim Brotherhood, is carving out the lion's share with 235 seats out of 498 in the race, approximately 47% during the elections held in phases since November 28. The Salafist fundamentalist party Al-Nour came in second with 121 seats (24%).
 The Liberal Wafd got about 9% of the seats. The Egyptian Bloc, a secular coalition of liberal parties, gets 7% of MPs in this election

Ten additional seats in Parliament, not elected, remain to be filled by the head of the Military Council that ruled the country, Marshal Hussein Tantawi.
The FJPJ has already announced it has chosen its secretary general, Saad al-Katatni, to chair the People's Assembly (Chamber of Deputies), following an agreement with other parties.
The first session of the People's Assembly to be held Monday in the presence of Marshal Tantawi.

The election of senators (The Shura Council) for its part should begin on January 29 and ends in late February. The future Parliament will be responsible for appointing a commission to draft a new constitution. The election of a presidet  is expected before the end of June, with the opening of nominations on April 15.

Egyptian marshall Tantawi: videos of military attacks were falsified

Jimmy Carter at a meeting during his trip with Muhammad Mursi, the lader of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Former USA President Jimmy Carter wrote a report about his recent visit to Egypte (8-14 January) during the elections that were overseen by, among others, people from his Carter Center. He met with several important figures and made some interesting observations. Below a quotation of some remarks  that seems to be quite revealing about the mentality and thinking of Egypt's military leaders: 

 ''Since the overthrow of King Farouk in 1953, Egypt has been governed by military leaders, who have accumulated and maintained full political and military power and substantial control over economic and commercial affairs. Despite the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, the military has retained an overwhelming portion of its historic authority. Only pressure from the revolutionary forces on the streets has resulted in grudging concessions.
 I was received with a friendly welcome as I congratulated the military leaders for what seemed to be a successful election, and then asked a number of questions. It seemed that the SCAF had full confidence that there would be accommodation to their demands by the Muslim Brotherhood and their coalition partners as the new government is formed. Instead of the reported 12,000 mostly political prisoners being held for trials in military courts, the Field Marshal stated that there were no more than 3,000, all of whom were guilty of criminal acts and being tried in civilian courts. He stated that the widely promulgated videos showing military attacks on demonstrators and a woman "with the blue brassiere" were all falsified. (My emphasis, AbuP) He said the soldiers were actually helping the woman re-clothe herself with what was provocative attire. I was assured that the emergency law would be lifted before the presidential election, no later than June.
 The military leaders could not imagine any constitutional issues being unresolved through dialogue. Full civilian control of the government was envisioned by June, but it was my impression that some key elements of historic autonomy and privileges would be retained. (See later comments.) They fully supported all facets of the peace agreement and would continue to be cooperative with Israel. When I asked about the raids on offices of NDI, IRI, and other NGOs, they stated that specific laws had been violated and that action had been taken by the Ministry of Justice as required. They realize that this is a matter of contention with the U.S. and are trying to resolve the issues.''
 (click here for Carter's full report)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Netanyahu visits Holland: agreement about regular common meetings of the Dutch and Israeli cabinets

Netanyahu and Dutch minister of Foreign Affairs Uri Rosenthal shake hands.

The Dutch government has realized at least one point from the agreement on the basis of which it was installed in 2010 by Liberals and Christian Democrats with the passive support of Geert Wilders' Freedom Party (PVV), the point that stipulated that Holland would strive to 'strenghten the bond with Israel'.
The wish became reality with the visit on 18 ad 19 January, at the invitation of the Dutch government, of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. It was the first visit by an Israeli PM in 15 years. Netanyahu met  his colleague, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, and the ministers Uri Rosenthal (Foreign Affairs) and Maxime Verhagen (Trade). He was also received by Queen Beatrix.
As one of the most concrete results of the visit it was  announced that Israel and the Netherlands will from now on hold yearly joint meetings of the Dutch and Israeli cabinets. The Netherlands joined the club in this respect: Israel already has similar agreements with Germany, Poland and Italy (countries that like Holland regularly vote against common EU-positions when they tend to be somewhat critical towards Israel, AbuP.)  
With Trade minister Verhagen it was agreed that a trade mission will soon visit Israel to increase mutual trade. Holland and Israel are important trade partners. Holland exported goods worth about 1 billion euros to Israel last year (mainly trucks and electrical appliances) and imported for 2.1 billion  (mainly medicine, computers and fruit). The Netherlands is Israel's second most important export destination in Europe.

In a speech for the Dutch Jewish community on Wednesday evening in the 17th century Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam, Netanyahu stressed that there is much in common between the Dutch and Israeli positions. In fact he made it clear that his visit was partly to thank the Netherlands for the positions it recently took in international fora. "The one issue in which we stand together is in opposing Iran's nuclear ambitions," he said to loud applause. He called Iran's nuclear programme "the greatest threat to Israel, the  region and the world and thanked the Dutch government for its 'strong stance on sanctions against Iran'.
A small number of people protested in front of the synagogue.

Other points that Netanyahu and Israeli officials mentioned, were the Dutch vote against the admittance of the Palestine to UNESCO, the rejection of the Goldstone report critical of the 'Cast Lead Operation' in Gaza in 2008-2009, Dutch opposition towards the Palestinian bid to be accepted as a member-state of the UN and the stance that Holland recently took against a common EU position in the UN-Human Rights Council.
So actueally it could be said that Netanyahu came to thank the Dutch for its anti-Palestinian stand. Geert Wilder's party, which had ties with the most radical parties in Israel like Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu and the National Union, can be quite satisfied. The same goes for minister Rosenthal who is by far the most Israel-friendly minister Holland has ever had. Rosenthal last year discarded a tradition of decades during which advocacy for human rights was one of the strongest pillars of Dutch foreign policy by saying that fo him it was not the number one issue, but that safety and stability in the world came first. (Interview in de Volkskrant, Dutch)   

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tension between Iraq and Turkey after Erdoğan criticised Al-Maliki

 Tension between Iraq and Turkey mounted on Monday other after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan criticised the Iraqi government led by Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite bloc a few days earlier.Iraq's deputy foreign minister summoned the Turkish envoy in Baghdad, Yunus Demirer, on Monday to call on Turkey to consider the "necessity of avoiding anything that might disturb" Iraq's good relations with Turkey. 
Turkey responded by summoning Iraq's envoy to the Foreign Ministry in Ankara. Diplomatic sources said Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu conveyed to the Iraqi ambassador that criticisms by Iraqi prime minister that Turkey is interfering in Iraq’s domestic affairs is “unacceptable,” and that it is absolutely normal that Turkey is closely interested in the stability of its neighbor, state-run Anatolia news agency reported.
The summons came a few days after Maliki slammed Turkey for allegedly interfering in its domestic issues 'as if Iraq was run by Turkey'.Maliki's outburst at Turkey over the weekend targeted Prime Minister Erdoğan's comments last week, when he talked about the what he called  “historic responsibility” of the Iraqi government to keep the country together, saying that those who would be responsible for a partition in Iraq would go down in history as devils, regardless of their sectarian or ethnic background.
Erdoğan's warnings followed the issuing of an arrest warrant for Iraq's most senior Sunni politician, Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, and a number of similar incidents that tried to push Sunni officials out of office in the coalition government.The Sunni officials, who feel threatened as their houses get blockaded by tanks for what they call politically motivated accusations, also contacted Turkish officials for support in averting a sectarian clash.
Hashemi, who is currently hiding out in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region to dodge the arrest warrant, repeated his claim on Monday in an interview with the Anatolia news agency that the law in Baghdad was controlled by certain forces. “I feel indebted to the prime minister for his comments regarding my cause,” Hashemi said. He also uttered words of gratitude for Erdoğan, who urged  Maliki in a phone call to take steps to reduce the tension and make sure his rivalry with other blocs does not turn into a political vendetta.
Turkey stays in touch with Iran and the US about the tensions in Iraq. Erdoğan said at a meeting of his party in early January, that he is concerned that without the buffer of US troops in the country, separate Iraqi blocs will fall under the influence of other regional actors (a reference to Iran and Saudi Arabia) and face partition in the long run. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

A façade has crumbled, the Israeli supreme court can no longer pose as defender of justice and democracy

No more is there reason to defend an institution that issued the shameful rejection of the petition against the amendment to the Citizenship Law. A court that vets this nationalistic and racist amendment, which discriminates against Arab citizens of Israel solely on the basis of their ethnicity, which in the name of security is prepared to deny basic rights and destroy the lives of thousands of Israeli families, which makes false use of security to try to cover up its racism - is an institution that must no longer be defended.
That is what Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy wrote on 15 January about the Israeli Supreme Court, after it had rejected by a 6-5 vote a petition by the human rights organisations Adala and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) to abolish the Citizenship Law. Actually the court did so for the third time. The same happened in 2005 and 2006. 
 The Citizenship Law prohibits inhabitants of Israel to live together with their spouses from the West Bank (or, for that matter, from 'enemy countries' like Iraq, or Syria). The law was adopted in 2003 after the Second Intifada. It was meant to be temporal, but was prolonged a few times.Thousands of couples - almost all of them Palestinians - suffer from it, among them a particular great number of inhabitants of East Jerusalem. The eastern part of the city was annexed by Israel in 1967, which had as a consequence that its Arab inhabitants came to live inside Israel. Since the city in recent years has become more and more cut off from its hinterland, the thousands of Jerusalemites who married partners from the West Bank are in big trouble. (For more information about the law and the discrimination of Palestinian inhabitants of Israel as far as family (re)unification is concerned, turn to the site of the organisation Miftah, which gives a good overview). 

 The Citizenship Law is, as the minority of the court indicated, a breach of Israeli constitutional rights. It is also discriminatory, als judge Dorit Beinisch, the outgoing president of the court noted, as it robs  almost exclusively Israels Arab population from their right to live together with the partner of their choice. The majority of the court concurred with the view that couples have the right to live together, but nevertheless uphold the law out of 'security considerations'.  Or as judge Miriam Naor put it, because 'it was not evident that 'the fulfillment of family life' had to take place specifically in Israel'.

Building of the High Court in Jerusalem.
 I wrote about the court's decision on my Dutch blog, but I want to repeat it here, as the decision about the Citizenship Law was the last in a string of events that ought to make it evident for even the most frantic defenders of the court - see what Gideon Levy wrote - that it cannot any longer pretend to safeguard justice and democracy. Just have a look, we go back step by step:
In the first week of January four new members of the court were nominated. Among them was m Noam Sohlberg (50), who is not only a rightist with a disputable record as a judge (for instance  he once acquitted a border policeman who killed a fleeing Palestinian by shooting him the back, on the ground that the officer rightly may have believed that his life was in danger), he is also an inhabitant of the settlement Alon Shvut. As such he is the first judge in the court who - according to international law - is committing a criminal act by living on land that is occupied.The court itself, however, was swift in rejecting objections against Sohlberg, brought by the organisation Yesh Gvul, on the ground that nowhere in Israel's Basic Laws is mentioned anything that indicates that the place where a judge is living might disqualify him for his function....

 On 5 January the court rejected a petition (again by ACRI and Adalah) against the so called Nakba-Law. The law gives the minister of Finance the authority to withdraw funding from institution sand associations that (among other things)
'commemorate (Israeli) Independence Day or the day of the establishment of the state as
a day of mourning'.
The court admitted that the law raised questions about its constitutionality (i.e. concerning the freedom of speech), but said that the time was not yet ripe for the court to take a decisions, as the meaning of the l,aw depended on its interpretation and it had not yet been applied. ACRI and Adalah commented - rightly so in my opinion - that of course the law had already an effect on the freedom of speech before it ever was implemented, as many institutions would censor themselves in order to avoid putting themselves at risk.

On 28 December 2011 in another strange decision the court ruled that the ten stone quarries on the West Bank which are in Israeli hands and mine stone almost exclusively (94%) for use in Israel, may continue their work. This goes against article 55 of the The Hague Convention, which states that occupying powers shall safeguard the natural resources of an occupied land. But the court gave the rather twisted opinion that the quarries employ Palestinians and also pay taxes to the Palestinian Authority and therefor work in the interest of the PA. (For the full text of the decision click here)

So, four highly disputable decisions in the time of no more than some two weeks.According to some it shows that the supreme court is rather toothless and afraid to go on a confrontational course with the government and the majority in the Knesset. I personally believe that it is in fact even more serious than that, since it is really a structural feature of this court. In the seventies it refused to rule against the settlements and went no further than declare that no settlement could be established on private Palestinian lands, which for a number of reasons (military requisitioning, non-recognition of Palestinian property deeds) was just no more than hollow words. In 2006 the court condoned targeted killings, under the condition that it was only allowed if there were no alternatives and if there were no others nearby who's lives would be put at risk (which in practice remained no less a dead letter). In 1999 the court refused to speak out against the use of 'psychological and physical pressure' during interrogations. These two last decisions put together mean that Israel is the only state in the world where torture and murder are legally permitted.
 Finally there were several decisions concerning the building of a 'Separation barrier' (better known as The Wall) deep in Palestinian lands, whereby explicitly also the decision by the International Court of Justice from 2004 was rejected, that the Wall had been built unlawfully on Palestinian land. 

Altogether the result is not exactly a picture of a court that is a strong bastion against the erosion of justice and democracy. Rather a court that - gradually - mirrors the changes in the Israeli social and political landscape towards more exclusivist attitudes, and a court that always bends justice to serve the magic word 'security' whenever the authorities throw it on the table. An institution that must no longer be defended, as Gideon Levy wrote. Or, like B.Michael, another columnist wrote after the settler Sohlberg had been appointed a judge in the court:  the State of Israel no longer deserves a Supreme Court without Sohlberg. It deserves a court in its own image. Someone "representative," as the MK Zeev Elkin types are loudly demanding. We should do as they wish. Because from now on, the court really is far more representative of the State of Israel. It suits the state far better.      

Israeli students for hire and other hasbara stories

El Al employees are being informed about the evil nature of judge Goldstone. Hasbara is everywhere in Israel it seems. In September it also hit the skies, after it was decided that the employees of El Al would be trained by the ministries of Foreign Affairs and Hasbara and the organisation Stand with Us to represent the beautiful face of Israel''. (Photo Stand with Us)

'The wave of anti-Israeli criticism sweeping across many countries, including in North America' has prompted the Jewish Agency to significantly increase the number of Shlichim (emissaries) abroad, s Ynet writes this Monday. These emissaries, who engage in advocacy for the State of Israel have been a central part of the Jewish Agency's vision during the past two and a half years.
Jewish Agency's chairman Natan Sharansky believes sending more shlichim to campuses in North America will tilt scales in the fight against de-legitimization of Israel. Nowadays some 400 Jewish Agency emissaries are spread across the globe, out of which some 250 are stationed in North America. Until recently, the shlichim fulfilled a more educational role in the Jewish communities to which they were sent. However, according to Ynet, 'events in the past few years, including the Second Lebanon War, Operation Cast Lead, the Gaza blockade and the flotilla raid, compelled the agency to change direction'. A Jewish Agency official noted that the political affiliation of the emissaries is irrelevant in this case: "We don’t care whether they vote Likud or Meretz. What's important is that they love Israel and fight against the movement that denies the Jewish people's right to exist and its right for its own country."

That not all. Recently Ali Abunimah revealed on his blog that The National Union of Israeli Students (NUIS) has become a full-time partner in the Israeli government’s efforts to spread its propaganda online and on college campuses around the world. NUIS has launched a program to pay Israeli university students $2,000 to spread pro-Israel propaganda online for 5 hours per week from the “comfort of home,” he writes.  The union is also partnering with Israel’s Jewish Agency to send Israeli students as missionaries to spread propaganda in other countries, for which they will also receive a stipend.

Abunimah also found out that the NUIS receives funding from the ministry of Foreigh Affairs, the ministry of Hasbara, the Jewish Agency  and the organisation StandWithUs to carry out  hasbara activities abroad. Such is stated in NUIS’s 2011-2012 workplan and budget. Quote: Plan: using students who go on delegations abroad on behalf of the Union (approximately 250 students a year) for hasbara purposes. Before each delegation the students will undergo a hasbara workshop on behalf of the Ministry of Hasbara, which will give them the tools and information to contend with the questions and the critical salvos and the ability to present in their stead “a different Israel.”
Abunimah reveals that the hasbara training is compulsory for students who want to be sent abroad.
Furthermore in its workplan, the NUIS Foreign Relations Department sets as a target: “Explaining Israeli policy in the European Student Union” (ESU). Abunimah quotes that it will do this by:
Sending a quarterly report to the ESU about the situation in Israel, relying on reports issued by the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Hasbara, the SWU [StandWithUs] organization, and others.

 According to its budget, NUIS receives the following grants:
  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs scholarship project: NIS 180,000 ($47,000)
  • Jewish Agency scholarship project: NIS 100,000 ($26,000)
  • Nefesh Yehudi org: NIS 300,000 ($78,000)
On the expenditure side, the Foreign Relations Department budget includes a payment of NIS 5000 ($1300) to StandWithUs.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Israeli Mossad posed as American CIA in recruiting Iranian dissidents who executed terror attacks

The leader of Jundallah, Abdolmalek Rigi, was arrested in February 2010 by Iranian commandos after the plane on which he was traveling from Karachi to Kyrgyzstan had been forces to land in the Caspian region of Iran.    

Mark Perry of Foreign Policy reports that Israeli Mossad agents posing as CIA operatives recruited Iranian Sunni dissidents affiliated with the organisation Jundallah in Iranian Baluchistan to engage in acts of terror inside Iran.
The Mossad officers recruited operatives belonging to Jundallah by passing themselves off as American agents. According to two U.S. intelligence officials, the Israelis, flush with American dollars and toting U.S. passports, posed as CIA officers in recruiting Jundallah operatives — what is commonly referred to as a “false flag” operation.
 It is a new amazing revelation concerning theft of identity, but not the first of its kind as far as the Mossad is concerned.In an operation that was widely publicized  a squad of Mossad operatives killed Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, an official of the Hamas movement in charge of buying weapons in a hotel in Dubai in January 2010. It turned out that the Mossad agents used false pasports belonging to citizens from the UK, Ireland, Germany, France and Austria.
Perry's revelation is based on conversations with several former and active CIA operatives. The recruiting of the Jundallah members by the Mossad occurred in 2007 and 2008. It is not known if Israel is still using contacts with Jundallah. One of them said: "It's amazing what the Israelis thought they could get away with. Their recruitment activities were nearly in the open. They apparently didn't give a damn what we thought."

The fact that the Israelis were posing as CIA-agents led to several Iranian accusations vis à vis the USA and the CIA that it was backing terrorist operations by Jundallah. Jundallah carried out a string of high-profile attacks in Sistan-Baluchistan in 2008-2009, including a suicide bombing near the Pakistani border that killed 42 people, including six senior Revolutionary Guards commanders, and a bombing in a Shia mosque in Zahedan that killed 25 people.
The leader of Jundallah, Abdolmalek Rigi, was captured by the Iranians in february 2010 after Iran had been tipped by Pakistan that he was on a flight from Karachi to Kyrgyzstan. The plane was forced to land in Iran and Rigi was taken. He was hanged in June 2010. One month earlier his younger brother Abdolhamid, who had been extradited to Iran by Pakistan, was also hanged. The younger Rigi told his interrogators that his brother had had several meetings in Islamabad and Karachi and even in Europe with American agents.

Perry writes in Foreign Policy that the Iranian accusations led to a number of memos in which CIA involvement was denied and the blame was put on the Mossad. Perry's sources reveal that president Bush, the then American president, was enraged about the reports. "The report sparked White House concerns that Israel's program was putting Americans at risk," one  intelligence officer told Perry. "There's no question that the U.S. has cooperated with Israel in intelligence-gathering operations against the Iranians, but this was different. No matter what anyone thinks, we're not in the business of assassinating Iranian officials or killing Iranian civilians." However, in the end nothing was done, although Perry's source tells him that there were clearly two camps in the administration as to what to do about it. Probably it is not too far fethched to assume that the conservative pro-Israeli camp within Bush's troops (Perle, Wolfowitz, Feith and others) was simply too strong...
 According to Perry Israel's relationship with Jundallah continued to roil the Bush administration until the day it left office, this same intelligence officer noted. Israel's activities jeopardized the administration's fragile relationship with Pakistan, which was coming under intense pressure from Iran to crack down on Jundallah. It also undermined U.S. claims that it would never fight terror with terror, and invited attacks in kind on U.S. personnel.
 The debate over Jundallah was resolved only after Bush left office when, within his first weeks as president, Barack Obama drastically scaled back joint U.S.-Israel intelligence programs targeting Iran, according to multiple serving and retired officers.

ElBaradei withdraws candidacy out of protest against Egyptian military

Mohamed ElBaradei pulled out of the race for the Egyptian presidency on Saturday, saying "the previous regime" was still running the country. “I have decided not to run for the post of the president of the republic,” the former head of the UN nuclear watchdog said in a statement distributed by his electoral campaign.
ElBaradei said the conditions for a fair election are not in place, and denounced what he called the military's failure to put the country on the path to democracy. "My conscience does not permit me to run for the presidency or any other official position unless it is within a democratic framework,” he said.
The Nobel laureate praised the revolutionary youths who led massive popular uprisings that ousted Mubarak last year but said "the former regime did not fall."

Suicide bomber in Basra kills at least 53 Shi'ites

A suicide bomber disguised as a policeman killed at least 53 people and wounded scores in an attack on Shi'ite Muslim pilgrims at a checkpoint in the southern Iraqi city of Basra on Saturday.The attack at the end of Arbain, one of the main religious observances on the Shi'ite calendar. 
The pilgrims had been on their way to a major Shi'ite mosque to the west of Basra, police said. A provincial health official who asked not to be named put the toll at 35 dead and 90 wounded. Scores of people have been killed in attacks on pilgrims in the last few weeks, including a suicide bombing which killed at least 44 people. Attacks on Shi'ites have killed dozens of people since Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government issued an arrest warrant for a Sunni vice president, triggering a political crisis that risks scuttling a power-sharing agreement.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Azhar-declaration confirms it new independent stature

Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb and Pope Shenouda III. The picture was taken in May 2011, during a visit by the Grand Sheikh to St Marc's Cathedral in Cairo. (AP)

The Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar Ahmed El-Tayeb hosted a meeting on Wednesday devoted to “regaining the spirit of the revolution and completing its goals”, in the presence of some sixty political and religious figures. Among them were Coptic Pope Shenouda III; Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie; Prime Minister Kamal El-Ganzouri; potential presidential nominees Amr Moussa and Mohamed Selim El-Awa; the leaders of the Social Democratic, Wafd, Adl, and Free Egyptians parties; and representatives of the Jamaa Al-Islamiya; and Salafist and Sufi trends.
After the meeting a statement was released that was underwritten by all present at the meeting, that confirmed Azhar's commitment to a democratic society with equal social, religious and political rights for all citizens. It also included 12 points concerning the desired next steps of Egypt's revolution. The statement called among other things for the need to respect the parliamentary election results; the necessity that the military swiftly hand over power to an elected civilian authority and return to its  role of defending the country’s borders; a halt to military trials of civilians, the speedy prosecution of former regime figures, full compensation for the families of slain protesters, an independent Egyptian foreign policy and an end to dependency on foreign powers.
Al-Azhar previously issued a document in July 2011 outlining its support for the establishment of a civil – non-religious – state. On Tuesday, the Grand Sheikh also issued a statement reiterating Al-Azhar’s stand on freedom of expression in both the political and cultural arenas. Presidential candidate Amr Moussa said after the meeting that the declaration showed that Al-Azhar was on its way to regaining its leading role among Muslims on an international level.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Lecture Sara Roy at Amsterdam and Groningen Universities

Dr. Sara Roy, Harvard University, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, the expert on the political-economic and humanitian crisis in Gaza, speaks on:
 Gaza de-developed: Policy or collateral damage?

18 januari 2012, 20:00, Groningen: Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, Academiegebouw, Broerplein 5

19 januari 2012, 19:00, Amsterdam
: Universiteit van Amsterdam, Oudemanhuispoort 4-6, zaal F0.01 
Roy discusses what brought about the economical crisis in Gaza. Was it an unavoidable result of the conflict between Israël and the Palestinians or rather Israel's intention to create poverty and dependence?  

 Roy: The people of Gaza know they have been abandoned. Some told me the only time they felt hope was when they were being bombed, because at least then the world was paying attention.

After the lecture you'll be able to buy Roy's most recent book (only currency, price about €35,-): Hamas and civil society in Gaza (2011).

Entry free, no registration needed. 
In case of questions please e-mail info@nipi.nl.
(Organized by NIPI, Studium Generale Groningen and Stichting Groningen-Jabalya).

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Building boom on the West Bank in 2011 and E-Jerusalem, according to Peace Now

The demolition of the Shepherd Hotel in Sheikh Jarrah in East-Jerusalem. In its place an appartment complex is under construction, called Beit Oron.

 Peace Now, that quite actively monitors the movements and building activities in th settlements on the West Bank, has registered and alarming increase in construction during the past year 2011. In a report issued this week it points to a 20% rise. For at least 1,850 housing units the building has started, 35% of them (650 units) in isolated settlements east of the planned route of the Separation Barrier. All in all 
some 3,500 units were under construction during 2011 (started to be built or continued construction from previous years)

As far as Jerusalem is concerned, Peace Now counted that the number of planned new housing units has reached the highest level in a decade. Also the building of 55 new housing units
started in the middle of Arab neighbourhoods, while a brand new settlement (neighbourhood) was started under the name of Givat Hamatos.  Peace Now counted plans for 3,690 housing units which were approved for validation and another 2,660 housing units which were deposited for objections. Among the plans that got the final validation are the new neighborhoods of Har Homa C with 983 units and Givat Hamatos (stage 1) with over 2,000 units.
In addition, at least 823 construction permits were issued by the Jerusalem Municipality. After a permit is issued the contractor can start to build, and the number of permits can be a good indication for the number of actual construction starts.
The settlements at the heart of the Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem reached a new level with the beginning of the construction of new housing complexes for 55 families. 18 units in A-Suwane, 20 units in Sheikh Jarrah (the Shepherd Hotel) and 17 units in Ras El-Amud (the old police station). Furthermore, in 2011 the construction of stage 2 of the Maale Zeitim project in Ras al-Amud was completed with 60 housing units, some of which have already been populated.
Former police station in Ras al-Amud, now an appartment complex called Ma'aleh David.

Apart from these increases in building activities the State also informed the court in 2011 of its intention to officially establish 11 new settlements by legalizing illegal outposts which are home to some 2,300 settlers in 680 structures. At the same time the State informed the court of additional delays of the evacuation of three outposts on private Palestinian land. In addition, the State announced the promotion of plans to legalize hundreds of units of illegal construction in the settlements (119 housing units in Shilo, 86 housing units in Kiryat Netafim, 27 units in Halamish and additional hundreds in Nofim, Hemdat, Rotem and Sansana.)

Settlement Rechelim.. will probably be 'legalized'.

The E1 area – the area between Jerusalem and Maale Adumim is critical for creating territorial contiguity of a Palestinian state from south to north and for the connection of East Jerusalem with the rest of the Palestinian state. It was recently reported that the Netanyahu government is promoting the realization of the plan to build thousands of housing units in E1 by evicting the Bedouins from the area and completing a system of roads.

See for the complete report the Peace Now site 

Again nuclear scientist killed in Tehran

 The damaged car of Ahmadi Roshan

An Iranian university professor and nuclear scientist was killed in a bomb attack in a Northern neighborhood in Tehran on Wednesday morning, the Iranian Fars News Agency reports. Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, 32, supervised a department at Natanz uranium enrichment facility in Isfahan province.
The magnetic bomb which was planted by an unknown motorcyclist to the side of the car of Ahmadi Roshan, a professor at Tehran's technical university, also wounded two other Iranian nationals in Seyed Khandan neighborhood in Northern Tehran.
The blast took place exactly one year after Majid Shahriari, a well-known Iranian nuclear scientist, was killed on January 11, 2010. On that day the same method of attaching magnetic bombs to the side of their cars was used against Shahriari and his colleague, the then university professor, Fereidoun Abbassi Davani. Davani survived and is now the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization. Another Iranian university professor and nuclear scientist, Massoud Ali Mohammadi, was also assassinated in a terrorist bomb attack in Tehran in January 2010. The attacks are widely blamed on Israel, possibly in cooperation with agents of the Iranian opposition group Mujaheddin e Khalq.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Olivier Roy: Muslim Brothers and Ennahda are no longer islamist parties

les matins - Olivier Roy door  franceculture

Not long ago I paid attention to Olivier Roy's comments on the results of the elections in Tunisia. Where most French commentators were upset by the gains of the islamist Ennahda party, Roy remained rather relaxed. He pointed to the fact that Ennahda took a distance from its once radical islamist past already some 20 years ago. Consequently the fact that it won some 40% of the votes did not stem from a project to islamize the country, but from the fact that it is a conservative party that stresses the importance of cultural and family values, something that corresponds with a Tunisian society that is more conservative than its former rulers liked us to believe.

Now here is - for the French speakers among us - another interesting comment by this expert on Islam and islamism. Roy is a professor at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. He was previously a research director at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and a lecturer for both the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS) and the Institut d'Études Politiques de Paris (IEP). His most famous book is  L'Echec de l'Islam politique (1992), which appeared two years later in an English translation (The Failure of Political Islam).
Here, in this video he is questioned on the French tv-channel France culture about the chances that the Arab Spring will bring an islamisation to the Middle East. Roy contends that
- parties like Ennahda in Tunisia or the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt are no longer the radical islamist parties they used to be. Out of necessity they shelved the hard core, much like the socialist parties in the West had to shelve Marxism. Right now they opt for democracy and are parties which in many respects are to be considered just conservative parties, stressing conservative values, like the family, chastity etc. In some ways they resemble christian democrats in the West, that as we tend to forget, made their first appearance not earlier than last century.
- About Libya and the call for a return to the sharia that could be heard, Roy argues that the future of Libya will not be a matter of sharia yes or no. It is a country that falls outside the scope of the Arab Spring, as it was outside intervention that got rid of the regime. Now its problems are not sharia, but tribalism and divisions and it's to be expected that not politics but weapons will decide its future.
- On the matter of the combined victory of Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists, like in Egypt, Roy again makes a comparison with the West. He compares the Salafists with the far right in some Western countries. And like Western conservative parties in some countries the Muslim Brothers now have the choice to align themselves with more liberal parties against the Salafist trend, or to have - as happens in some other countries - a coalition with the far right, in this case the Salafists.
(h/t Arabist) 

Law granting immunity to Saleh in the making

Yemen's cabinet proposed an immunity law Sunday under a Gulf-brokered plan to end months of protests that have paralyzed the country. The bill would give immunity to president Ali Abdallah Saleh ...''and those who worked with him in all civilian, military and security state bodies and institutions during his rule," the state news agency Saba reported.
Saleh's sons and nephews hold key posts in military and security units and were responsible for the death of hundreds of protesters during 11 months of demonstrations against Saleh's 33-year rule.

Yemenis are angry at the offer of legal immunity. Demonstrators have been taking to the streets, and a march has been held from Taiz to the capital Sana'a, calling for him to be put on trial.
The United States and Saudi Arabia are keen for the plan to work, fearing that a power vacuum in Yemen would destabilize the country even more and open opportunities for militants to gain more territory. However, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Friday any guarantee of immunity to Saleh would violate international law.

Friday, January 6, 2012

At least 25 killed by suicide bomber in Damascus

(Photo AP)

An explosion ripped through a busy intersection in the Syrian capital Friday, hitting a bus carrying police and killing up to 25 people. The bus was left riddled with shrapnel. The blast came exactly two weeks after twin bombings targeting intelligence agencies in the capital and killed 44 people.Interior Minister Mohammed Shaar said a suicide bomber "detonated himself with the aim of killing the largest number of people."
Syrian television showed residents and paramedics carrying human remains, holding them up for the camera. The explosion damaged a nearby police station, shattering its glass, and left blood and flesh in the streets, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene. Police cordoned off the area with yellow police tape.
Syria's state media, SANA, said the initial death toll is 25 people. The figure includes 10 people confirmed dead and the remains of an estimated 15 others, whose bodies had yet to be identified. SANA said many of the dead are civilians.

The genefral secretary of the Arab League, Nabil al-Arabi, meanwhile, asked Khaled Meshaal, the head of the Palestinian Hamas Movement to carry a message to the Syrian regime and to mediate in order that the Syrian government keeps its commitments vis à vis the mission of the Arab observers.The mission arrived in Syria on 19 December and will stay till 19 January unless its mandate is renewed by both the Arab League and Syria.
Meshaal and Al-Arabi during their talk. (Reuters)

Meshaal and Al-Arabi spoke about one hour with each other and afterwards gave a press conference. According to El-Arabi’s statement, members of the mission are not having an easy time and the Syrian regime is yet to honour its commitments towards the Arab League in terms of ending the violence, pulling military vehicles out of urban areas, releasing political prisoners and pursuing political reforms.
“They are not having an easy time and their task is difficult. I am sending a message via Khaled Meshaal to ask the Syrian authorities to honour their commitments,” El-Arabi said.
The talks between Meshaal and Al-Arabi came less than 24 hours after El-Arabi met with the US Assistant Secretary of State Jeffry Feltman to discuss developments in Syria, in anticipation of an Arab League meeting on Syria on Sunday and a UN Security Council meeting on the same issue on Tuesday.
The has been a lot of criticism of the mission of the observers, who according to many were not professional enough and not up to their task. Syrian opposition figures have asked the Arab League to withdraw the mission and admit that it has failed in its task, as sharp hooters still remain on the roofs and troops are still in the streets. Opposition figures put the number of casualties since the observers began their mission at at least 390 dead.
Among those who asked the mission to be withdrawn was colonel Riyadh al-Asaad, the head of the Free Syrian Army, who said that troops carriers are painted blue in the colors of the police and political prisoners are being transferred to army barracks where the observers don't have access. The Qatari Prime Minister sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani discussed the matter with secretary Ban Ki Moon of the United Nations and asked UN-assistance. Syria on Thursday released 552 prisoners, last week a number of 755 prisoners was released.

Bombs kill at least 73 in Iraq

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Bomb attacks in mainly Shi'ite Muslim areas of Iraq killed at least 73 people and wounded scores on Thursday, police and hospital sources said, raising fears of an increase in sectarian strife.
The biggest attack was beside a police checkpoint west of Nassiriya in the south, where a suicide bomber targeting Shi'ite pilgrims killed 44 people and wounded 81, Sajjad al-Asadi, head of the provincial security committee in Nassiriya, told Reuters 
Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki created the worst political crisis in a year on December 19 when he sought the removal of two senior Sunni politicians, a day after the last U.S. troops left Iraq. On December 22, bombs in predominately Shi'ite parts of Iraq's capital killed 72.
Maliki asked parliament to have his Sunni deputy Saleh al-Mutlaq removed and sought the arrest of Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi on charges he ran death squads.
On Tuesday, members of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc boycotted the parliament and cabinet, accusing Maliki's bloc of governing alone in a power-sharing coalition that was supposed to ease sectarian tension.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

ON THE ROAD TILL 6 JANUARY.  Don't expect too much blogging.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy 2012

Tunis Hurra, Free Tunisia. That wrote students at the beginning of 2011 in Tunis with their bodies. Tunisia freed itself of the dictator and is on its way to full democracy.  May 2012 bring the same to Egypt and other Arab countries struggling for a better future.