Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wikileaks: Israel obtained codes for Iranian air defense in horse trading deal with Russia

 Interesting stuff in the Wikileaks cables of Stratfor. It tells us a something about the way Israel, by wheeling and dealing, collected information about Iranian air defense systems. Useful information for a country that is weighing the possibilities of an attack on Iranian installations.
Between the lines it is also telling information about the lack of scruples countries apparently have, if their agencies feel that the national interest might be at stake. This goes as far as betraying military clients and delivering strategic secrets to the enemy..
 The document I'm referring to is an email from a Stratfor source who spoke with a Mexican friend/colleague who apparently was in the business of UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles -drones) and was an adviser to the Mexican military. He reveals that Mexico, which has its own firm capable of manufacturing UAVs, was contacted by Georgia during the crisis between Georgia and Russia in 2008. At least one of Georgia's UAVs had been downed and it urgently requested to buy Mexican UAVs, as it feared that its Israeli UAVs had been tampered with.  this source was an adviser of the Mexican military.
The author  of the email asked one of his Mexican military contacts about it:       

 ''I inquired more about the compromised Israeli UAVs. What he explained was
that Israel and Russia made a swap -- Israel gave Russia the 'data link'
code for those specific UAVs; in return, Russia gave Israel the codes for
Iran's Tor-M1s.''

 So Israel revealed the codes of the software that guided the Georgian UAVs - which would permit the Russians to down them whenever they saw fit - and as a trade off got the codes of the highly sophisticated Russian Tor M1 aerial defense system, that Moscow delivered to the Iranians. A system that is jamming proof, is able to trace aircraft and missiles from far away and to intercept both. Nice. Neither country apparently did respect the rights of their military clients for one second, as soon as their own national interest entered the picture. So much for morality in that kind of  business.
The Russian Tor M1

But apparently it was not the only example of horse trading in this industry. Because the same source had more interesting news:  

Besides, he said... Israel and Turkey have been collaborating very closely on the
S-300s. He explain (sic) how about 8 years ago when Russia sold S-300s to Greece
to base in Crete (which were supposed to protect Cyprus), Russia delivered
those with a carrier so that Turkey wouldn't try to sink them. (things got
a bit noisy so i may have misheard some of this). The gist of what he said
is that Turkey has been cracking the S-300 since the Crete sale and has
been sharing intel on the S-300 with the Israelis to ensure that they
retain an advantage over Iran should Iran get them from the Russians.

This was, of course, before the Israeli-Turkish relations cooled off considerably because of the Mavi Marmara (Free Gaza Flotilla) affair. So also the S-300 system the Iranians have does not have too many secrets for Israel anymore.
It is noteworthy, however, that the Iranians themselves sometimes show some initiatives a well. Not long ago they ware capable of downing an American spy plane that was flying over their territory. The Americans professed that the engine had been shot down,  but it is much more probable that the Iranians succeeded in cracking the codes of the UAV, so that they could it guide to a safe landing place and take it apart in order to inspect it. So, the might have been able to apply some changes to their Russian obtained systems in the meantime as well. Israel had better be careful.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Egypt's Shura council - dominated by Islamists - sworn in in

A newly elected Shura Council – Egypt's upper house of parliament – that is heavily dominated by Islamists, has been sworn in on Tuesday. Ahmed Fahmi, a leading member of Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party was elected as chairman. Two deputy speakers, one from the Salafist Nour party, the other from the liberal Wafd party, were also elected.

Entrance Shura Council
Islamists won an 80% majority of the 180 seats that were elected in an elections process that was completed on 22 February. The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) got 105 seats (58 per cent), the Salafist Nour party 45 seats (25%). Two liberal-oriented forces of the Egyptian Bloc came third and fourth, with just 14 seats (7.7 per cent) and 8 seats (4.4 per cent) respectively. Two offshoots of Mubarak's defunct National Democratic Party, the Freedom Party and the Democratic Peace Party, got four seats (2 per cent). Independents won the remaining four.
The Shura Council in this way mirrors the People’s Assembly, where Islamists got two thirds and liberals and independents won the remaining third of the seats. However, the total number of Shura Council seats stands at 270 – 180 of which are elected. The remaining 90 members will be appointed by Egypt's next president who is expected to take over from the army by the end of June.

 The two houses – the 678 elected members of the People’s Assembly and the 180 elected members of the Shura Council – will meet on 3 March to appoint the committee tasked with drafting the constitution. Out of a total of 678, the Islamist deputies in the two houses are numbered at 487 (337 in the People’s Assembly and 150 in Shura Council), thus forming around 70 per cent.
The Shura Council was created by late President Anwar El-Sadat in 1980 to take charge of regulating the national press and the formation of political parties. The speaker of the Shura Council used to be a de-facto head of the Higher Press Council and the Political Parties Committee. The Council was also entrusted with preparing reports on political and socio-economic issues facing Egypt.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Yemen on the way to the unknown as Saleh hands power to his second in command

 Saleh (r) and his successor during the ceremony in Sana'a.

 Outgoing Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Monday formally handed over power to his former vice-president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, to replace him after 33 years of one-man rule. 
It was the last act in a transition process that had been engineered by the Gulf states and the US, and that according to many is nothing but a farce. Saleh handed Hadi a Yemeni flag, which he called the "banner of the revolution" and wished him success. "The responsibilities on the shoulders of the new president are immense, but we are confident that with our support he will succeed," he said.
Hadi already took the oath of office on Saturday, after he had received 99 per cent of the votes cast in an election, earlier in the week,  whereby he was the only candidate. According to the government some 6,6 million Yemenis of the 14 million that were entitled to participate, took part. About 25,000 ballots were invalid, the government said.

While the ceremony took place, tens of thousands of Yemenis were protesting in San'a, demanding the prosecution of Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was granted immunity under the transition deal. "The people want to prosecute the murderer," they chanted in front of the house of newly inaugurated president Hadi.

The US has welcomed the transition as a new beginning for Yemen. According to most analysts, however, it is a transition to the unknown, or rather not even a transition at all. The democratisation of the country has yet to begin. The hard core of the army is still in the hands of the sons and other relatives of Ali Abdullah Saleh. The same goes for the security services. The country is highly divided, with a rebellion by the Houthis in the North and a strong movement in the South that seeks to divide the country anew, as it feels that the South is being exploited by the government in Sana'a. Some people pointed to the fact that Abd-Rabbu Hadi himself is from the south, which could be a an advantage when he seeks to restore the unity. They forget, however, that Hadi played his part as an officer in the 90-ties in delivering the south to Ali Abdullah Saleh. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Syria votes while fighting and bombardments are continuing

 Voting in Damascus. (AP)

Update, Monday afternoon: Syrian Arab News Agency SANA: Minister of Interior Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar on Monday announced that 8,376,447 citizens voted in the referendum on the new draft constitution, which constitutes 57.4% of eligible voters, with 89.4% of voters approving it. In a press conference, al-Shaar said that 9% of the voters didn't approve of the new draft constitution, while 1.6% of the ballots were invalid.

Syrians were able to take part in a referendum on a new constitution on Sunday that could theoretically end five decades of one-party rule. Polls opened at 7:00 in the morning with more than 14 million people over the age of 18 eligible to vote at 13,835 polling stations. However it was unclear whether the ballot would be convincing. The opposition has called for a boycot and in many parts of the country fighting is going on, like in the Baba Amro district of Homs that was under assault for the 26the day in row. 
President Bashar al-Assad unveiled the proposed new national charter earlier this month in his latest reform pledge. The charter, written by a committee of 29 people appointed by Assad, drops Article 8 in the existing charter which stipulates that the Baath party is "the head of state and society". It thereby theoretically opens the way to a multi-party system (although parties formed along religious lines remain banned). However the president retains broad powers under the new charter. He would still name the prime minister and government and could, in some cases, veto legislation.Assad has promised to hold parliamentary elections within 90 days if voters approve the new constitution.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a military bombardment of opposition districts in Homs, now in its fourth week, had killed nine civilians, while rebel fighters had killed four soldiers in clashes in the city.
Meanwhile some 31 people were killed on Sunday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said new bombardments of opposition districts in Homs had killed nine civilians, while rebel fighters had killed four soldiers in clashes in the city. The British-based Observatory said eight civilians and 10 members of the security forces were killed in violence elsewhere in Syria.

American correspondent Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik, who were killed in the bombardment of Homs last week, and two journalists who got wounded, are still in Homs despite Red Cross efforts to extricate them. The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Saturday it was still unable to evacuate distressed civilians from Baba Amro. After a day of talks with Syrian authorities and opposition fighters, it said there were "no concrete results."

Saturday, February 25, 2012

'Friends of Syria' try to isolate Assad further

 British Channel 4 carried this blood chilling report about the siege and shelling of Homs on 22 February. The same day reporters Narie Covin (SndayTimes) and the French photographer Rému Ochlik were killed in Homs by a rocket.

Representatives of more than 70 nations in Tunisia for the "Friends of Syria" meeting have called for an immediate end to violence in the country and for new sanctions on the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
In a final declaration on Friday, the group also called to allow for humanitarian aid to be brought in.
It vowed to "press the Syrian regime to stop all acts of violence" by enforcing current sanctions and introducing new ones, including with travel bans, asset freezes, ceasing oil purchases, reducing diplomatic ties and preventing the shipment of arms.

"[Friends of Syria] demanded that the Syrian regime immediately permit humanitarian agencies to deliver vital relief goods and services to civilians affected by the violence," the declaration said.
The group also recognised the main opposition umbrella group, the Syrian National Council (SNC), as "a legitimate representative of Syrians seeking peaceful democratic change" but fell short of giving it exclusive recognition.
 The declaration did not fully endorse some Arab calls for peacekeepers to be deployed to Syria, with the declaration saying only that it "noted the Arab League's request to the United Nations Security Council to issue a resolution to form a joint Arab-UN peacekeeping force".
Prior to the declaration, Saudi Arabia and Qatar pushed for a more forceful intervention in Syria, with Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, saying he supported the arming of opposition fighters.
Faisal said Syrians had the right to defend themselves against a crackdown by security forces that has left thousands dead.
 US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton forcefully criticised Russia and China which did not attend the Tunis conference. "They are setting themselves not only against the Syrian people but also the entire Arab awakening. It's quite distressing to see permanent members of the Security Council using their veto when people are being murdered - women, children, brave young men -- houses are being destroyed. It is just despicable."
 Meanwhile Assad's forces killed 103 people in Syria on Friday in the bombardment of the besieged city of Homs and in attacks on the countryside of Hama and the east and north of the country, the activist group Local Coordination Committees said. Most of those killed were civilians, including 14 children and one woman, it said.

Earlier, the UN and the Arab League appointed Kofi Annan, a former UN secretary-general, to act as a joint special envoy on Syria. He "will consult broadly and engage" with all sides inside Syria and out, "to end the violence and the humanitarian crisis," a UN statement said.
Annan is backed by a UN general assembly resolution and Arab League resolutions that support the league's plan for Mr Al Assad to delegate power to a vice president while a national unity government is formed ahead of elections. He will try to "facilitate a peaceful Syrian-led and inclusive political solution that meets the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people," the statement added. Russia yesterday welcomed Mr Annan's appointment. A western diplomat said that efforts by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to find an Arab envoy had failed because of the difficulty in appointing someone acceptable to both Mr Al Assad and the opposition.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Protest on 18th anniversary of closure of main street in Hebron

Some 500 people, Palestinians, internationals and Israeli's, have demonstrated on Friday against the closure of Shuhada Street in Hebron (Al-Khalil in Arabic). Friday was the 18th anniversary of the attack by the settler Baruch Goldstein from the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba on people praying in the Ibrahim mosque, killing 29 people and wounding over 100. The demonstration led to clashed with the army, which used teargas, sound grenades and skunk water. Six people were arrested, some 70 people were treated for suffocation from the teargas..
 The 1994 killing by the settler Goldstein was the event that led to the closure of Shuhada Street,  following the familiar pattern that it was not the settlers' movements that got curtailed after an armed attack, but in stead those of the Palestinians. Before '94 Shuhada Street was the main street connecting the central and northern neighborhoods of the city with the southern ones. It used to be the place where Hebron’s central bus station was to be found, as well as taxi stations, the central vegetable market, an ancient Turkish bath, two wheat mills, a gas station, tens of different commercial shops, and some of the oldest schools in the city.
Its closure was just an additional step in a process whereby Jews gradually took over parts of the city and life for the inhabitants of Hebron became more difficult. Hebron was in 1968 the first place where a nucleus of settlers with the consent of the Israeli military decided to celebrate Pesah (the Jewish Passover) in a hotel. They never left, and the military put them after the celebrations on a military basis. In the early '70s, the Israeli government permitted them to establish the Kiryat Arba settlement on the Eastern Hebron hills, which has been since a hotbed of settler ultra-nationalism.
 In 1977, after the Likud started to dominate Israeli politics, the government allowed settlers even to move from Kiryat Arba into the heart of the city. In the '80s, the Israeli army demolished 12 buildings near the central vegetable market, gradually leading to the complete displacement of the shop owners. The Army also took over the central bus station, and turned it into a military base. For the past two years, the settlers have been allowed to stay inside this “base”. Today, nearly 450 settlers and 250 ultra-Zionist yeshiva students live in the six settlement enclaves that are located along the sides of Shuhada Street. Most of the settlers are involved in constant assaults on the residents of Hebron, making their life miserable. Moving from one place to the next in Hebron, that used to take Palestinian inhabitants a few minutes, now require long detours. The Palestinians who still live on Shuhada Street reach their homes by climbing onto their neighbors’ roofs and porches.
The human rights organisation B'Tslem conducted a survey in November-December 2006 during which it found that at least 1,014 Palestinian housing units in the center of Hebron have been vacated by their occupants. This number represents 41.9 percent of the housing units in the relevant area. Sixty-five percent (659) of the empty apartments became vacant during the course of the second intifada. Regarding Palestinian commercial establishments, 1,829 are no longer open for business. This number represents 76.6 percent of all the commercial establishments in the surveyed area. Of the closed businesses, 62.4 percent (1,141) were closed during the second intifada. At least 440 of them closed pursuant to military orders.

Amnesty raises voice against trial of Saudi protester who spoke out to the BBC

A 42-year-old Saudi who was arrested on 11 March 2011 for talking to BBC Arabic about the lack of freedoms in Saudi Arabia,  stood trial on Wednesday 22 February before the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh. Khaled al-Johani was the only protester who was courageous enough to speak out on the planned “Day of Rage” demonstration on 11 March 2011 in Riyadh.
 Amnesty International considers al-Johani to be a prisoner of conscience, held for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression and assembly. Amnesty learnt that another man is being tried at the same court on charges relating to the 11 March planned protest in Riyadh.
In the video below can be seen what Johani told his interlocutors of the BBC, that day in Riyadh:

Amnesty's Philip Luther, Interim Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme, said that  “Khaled al-Johani shouldn’t be standing trial in any court for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of expression and assembly. The fact that he is appearing before a court that was originally established to handle terrorism-related charges only adds insult to injury. This trial is utterly unwarranted. We call on the Saudi authorities to release him and others held on similar charges immediately and unconditionally.” 
At his trial the General Prosecutor read out the list of charges against him, which included his support of demonstrations, his presence at the location of a demonstration; and his communications with the foreign media in a manner that harmed the reputation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Since his arrest, sal-Johhani has not been represented by a lawyer, including in Wednesday's session. However, the judge said al-Johani may appoint a lawyer of his own choice within a week.
Khaled al-Johani, a teacher, has five children whose ages range between six months - a baby born while he was in detention – and 12 years old.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

At least 35 people killed by bombs in Iraq

Update:  The death toll rose to at least 50 later in the morning (Reuters).

At least 35 people have been killed and dozens injured in a wave of bombings and shootings across Baghdad. Officials said the attacks appeared to be targeting mainly police officers.
Nine people were killed in the worst attack, in the central Karrada district, which is mainly Shia. The blast, near a police checkpoint, shook buildings and damaged shops.
No group has yet said it was behind the violence.
Also on Thursday, a car bomb in killed six people in Kadhimiya, north of Baghdad, which is also Shia-dominated. Gunmen in the Sarafiya district of the capital also killed six at a police checkpoint, while
six people were killed and several wounded in four other attacks.

Also at least two people were killed in explosions in Baquba, the capital of Diyala province, north of Baghdad, police said.There are also reports of bombings in the provinces of Salahuddin and Kirkuk.
There are fears the death toll from Thursday's violence could rise.
Last week, at least 18 people were killed in a suicide attack near the Iraqi police academy in the capital.

Shia targets have come under increasing attack since the government of Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki moved against senior members of the predominantly Sunni Iraqiya political bloc.
The day after US troops withdrew, a warrant was issued for the arrest of Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi, who is accused of financing death squads.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Thousands of Libyans around Misrata prevented for going home

 Tawergha used to be inhabited by dark skinned Libyans.

Authorities in and around Misrata are preventing thousands of people from returning to the villages of Tomina and Kararim and have failed to stop local militias from looting and burning homes there, Human Rights Watch reported on Tuesday. The same goes for the roughly 30,000 displaced people from the nearby town of Tawergha, who have also been blocked from returning home for at least five months.
Displaced residents of Tomina and Kararim told Human Rights Watch that Gaddafi forces had ordered the civilian residents of both villages to evacuate their homes on May 12, 2011. The residents of Tawergha fled with retreating Gaddafi forces in mid-August.
Officials in Misrata have sought to justify the violations to Human Rights Watch, contending that people from Tomina, Kararim, and Tawergha fought with Gaddafi forces and committed atrocities against Misratans during the 2011 conflict. The National Transitional Council and transitional government have been unable to assert control over the hundreds of militias operating in Libya, Human Rights Watch said. But in Misrata local military authorities, including the military council, appear to have influence over many of the city’s 250 militias. The Misrata Military Council apparently operates checkpoints, including one 80 kilometers south of the city. According to HRW the Misrata authorities could definitely do a lot more to allow returns and to protect civilian property.

Fierce clashes between two tribes in Libya's remote southeastern desert have killed more than 100 people over the past 10 days, tribal sources said on Tuesday.
At least 113 people from the Toubu tribe and another 23 from the Zwai tribe have been killed in the town of Kufra since fighting erupted on 12 February, the sources said.
 A source from the National Transitional Council, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said control of lucrative smuggling routes was at the root of the conflict.  Kufra, with a population of about 40,000, is located in a triangle sharing borders with Egypt, Chad and Sudan. The Toubu tribe faced discrimination under Qadhafi's regime.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Palestinian Khader Adnan ends heroic hunger strike after 66 days

 Khader Adnan, the 33-year old baker from a village near Jenin op the West Bank, who was holding a hunger strike since his arrest on 17 December against the way he was treated and against  the so called 'administrative detention' provisions under which he was held, confirmed Tuesday evening that he ends his strike after 66 days. Adnan did so after his lawyers agreed with Israel that he will be released on 17 April,  some three weeks earlier than 8 May as was indicated in the original administrative order. According to a Justice Ministry statement, after that he will not be rearrested unless new evidence will be found against him in the meantime'.
 The prisoners society Addameer said in a statement:

 Khader previously stated to Addameer lawyers that though he was calling for his immediate and unconditional release, the minimum requirements he would consider for ending his hunger strike would be the guarantee that he would not receive a new administrative detention order and that his duration of detention would be considered from the date of his arrest on 17 December 2011 and not from the date that he received his administrative detention order on 8 January 2012. The provisions of the deal reached today as announced by the lawyer involved do meet these minimum requirements.

  A hearing at the Supreme Court that was scheduled to take place on Tuesday morning (it was brought forward from the original date on Thursday) was cancelled due to the fact that there was a deal. With the deal Israel averted the necessity to let the High court rule about the question whether administrative detention is admissible, which in itself would have been a precedent. Israel also averted the problems it would have been facing had Adnan died. Prisoners had announced a massive action beforehand and demonstrations d throughout Palestine were to be expected.
 Adnan, who is Ziv Hospital in Safed, held the strike longer than anyone before him in Palestine and was on the threshold of death (Bobby Sands the legendary hunger striker of the IRA in Belfast, died in 1981 after a hunger strike that was exactly as long as the period that Adnan held out, 66 days). Addameer voiced concern for his health situation, which still needs to be handled wit extreme care in view of his weakened condition. 

Adnan's pregnant wife Randa was overfilled with joy.   This is of course a victory,” she said in a telephone interview with the press agency AP. “The Israelis had no proof and that’s why they’ve agreed to these four months. He’s shown by his steadfastness that we can be victorious.”

What Adnan for certain has achieved with his action, is that the way Israel uses administrative detention, which is considered illegal under international law, against people it wants to have out of the way. Israeli officials, like spokesman Mark Regev and others, have called Adnan a 'terrorist',  based on the fact that he is a member of the Islamic Jihad. However, they could not hide the fact that Adnan has never been involved in any violent acts  and that Israel is simply unable to bring charges against him.  

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Israeli high court wil hear Khader Adnan case ...on day 68 of his hunger strike

Several Palestinians who took part in the weekly demonstrations against the Wall in the village of Bil'in this Friday had transformed themselves into 'Khader Adnans'. (Reuters)

 The Israeli Supreme Court will hear a petition on Thursday against the continued administrative detention of hunger-striking prisoner Khader Adnan. Lawyer Jawad Bulus of the human rights group Addameer was told that his appeal against Adnan's administrative detention order will go before the court in four days. 
Bulus said he had requested an emergency hearing due to Adnan's critical health condition, after he refused food for 64 days to protest his treatment by Israeli authorities and the practice of detention without charge. He said the court had failed to take this into account.
It is highly questionable that Adnan will still be alive on Tursday. A doctor from Physicians from Human Rights who examined Adnan said he would not survive beyond 70 days without food. It does not seem to be too far fetched to assume that by postponing the hearing till Thursday the court is hoping to avoid the necessity to rule at all in this matter.   
Adnan has refused food since his Dec. 17 detention in northern West Bank city of Jenin. It is the longest hunger strike any Palestinian prisoner has ever undertaken.

Adnan's wife Randa visited him on Sunday (day 64 of his hunger strike) together with their two children. Randa is pregnant of child number three.  (Ma'an)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Egyptian human rights groups: impending trial of 43 NGO workers politically motivated

 Egyptian human rights groups condemned Wednesday the impending trial of 43 democracy activists as politically motivated. In December, prosecutors and special forces raided 17 nongovernmental organisations' offices and confiscated their equipment. In January it was announced that dozens of Egyptians, Americans and activists of other nationalities had been referred to a criminal court.
The 29 rights groups, including the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, said the investigation and trials aim to suggest the existence of a "wide-ranging conspiracy targeting the stability and unity of the country and to paint international civil society groups as a danger to state security." This was done in order ''to distract attention from the catastrophic failure of the political administration and from the daily massacre of Egyptians without accountability,'' they said.
 The organisations said the ministry of justice, other government parties and the two investigating judges had been conducting already a kind of a trial by making vague accusations in the press for five months." They also said that the investigations had been conducted in an improper manner (in government ministries) and that the two investigating judges had been handpicked and had long been working with the now defunct State Security Service under Mubarak and had been covering up torture and other abuses.
 Minister Fayza Abul Naga of international cooperation, one of the few remaining ministers from the Mubarak era, is seen as the driving force behind the trials. She had told investigators that Washington funded the NGOs  to create a state of prolonged chaos in Egypt.
The affair has created soe tension between Egypt and the US, with American lawmakers warning the crackdown could jeopardise more than $1 billion in annual US aid to Egypt. This in turn drew a reaction from the head of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, Mohammed Morsi. He warned that the peace treaty with Israel could come under review if US aid were cut off. "American aid is a part of the Camp David accord between Egypt and Israel ... There is no place for discussing the aid outside the framework of that accord," Morsi said in a statement.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Teargas and birdshot at 1st anniversary of Bahrain uprising

Protesters throw stones at a police car on the outskirts of Manama om 14 February, the anniversary of last year's uprising. (AP)

Bahrain has celebrated its first anniversary of the - mainly Shiite - uprising with clashes that continued through Tuesday night and early Wednesday. Bahraini police fired tear gas and birdshot at pro-democracy protestersThe government meanwhile said in a statement it had deported six US citizens for joining the "illegal demonstrations," bringing the number of Americans expelled from Bahrain to eight since the end of last week.
 Witnesses said the clashes, which took place in Shiite neighbourhoods on the outskirts of the capital Manama, left many people wounded, but most received treatment in private homes. Wounded protesters in Bahrain avoid hospitals for fear of arrest or intimidation by the authorities. In a statement released Wednesday, the main Shiite opposition Al-Wefaq said "large numbers of injuries ... were caused by birdshot pellets, tear gas canisters, stun grenades," but gave no figure.
 Bahraini police made dozens of arrests while dispersing protesters attempting to march on the capital's former Pearl Square, the focal point of last year's 14 February uprising that was crushed a month later. "The total number of arrests ... is around 150, including women and children between the ages of 13 and 16," the Al-Wefaq statement said, adding that some were later released.
Prominent activist Nabil Rajab, head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, who on Tuesday led a demonstration towards the square, was also briefly detained by police, Al-Wefaq said in a statement on its Facebook page.
Thirty five people got killed in the crackdown that followed last year's uprising, according to an independent commission of inquiry into the violence. Amnesty International said in a statement last week that "at least a further 20 have died," in ongoing protests since the end of November when the report was released.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Forced eviction of Copts from village near Alexandria raises protests

 The Human Rights Committee of the Egyptian People's Assembly rejected, in an emergency meeting Sunday night, the forced eviction of eight Coptic families from their homes in Alexandria, stressing the importance of combating sectarian tension.
The Committee was called together at the request of representative Emad Gad of the Social Democratic party, who is a Copt himself. He said that the Human Rights Committee would issue recommendations that should be adopted by the PA and raised to the government to apply. He said that the expected recommendations are to stop the forced displacement and to hold the perpetrators accountable.
 The eviction of the eight families is one of the youngest incidents concerning tension between Copts and Muslims in Egypt. The place where it happened was the village of Sharbat in the Ameriya district of the Alexandria governorate. And the story was that hundreds of the village’s Muslim residents had attacked on 27 January the home and shops of a Coptic tailor, Murad Girgis, following rumors that he had an affair with a Muslim woman. Girgis, it seems,  was being blackmailed by a Muslim barber who accused him of having taken pictures of Muslim girls in the fitting room of his workshop. Fearing for his life, Girgis handed himself over to police, but to no avail. His properties, but also the homes and shops of his relatives were r set on fire.
Following these incidents a so called reconciliation meeting was held by the village elders, which was and attended  by the governor of Alexandria, Osama al-Fouli, the director of security and several MPs, affiliated with the Salafi Al-Nour Party. And at this meeting the eight Coptic families were forced to leave. They were told that their safety could not be guaranteed if they decided to stay. A committee was set up to sell their property.
The events were documented and forcefully rejected by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), which noted that ''the law does not permit customary reconciliation in cases of arson, and in sponsoring the customary agreement, governorate officials flagrantly violated the law, which necessitates a criminal investigation.
The EIPR utterly rejected this ''perpetuation of Mubarak-era policies that force victims of sectarian attacks—particularly those who have no stake in the original dispute—to accept the outcomes of illegal reconciliation processes and thus compel them to abandon their rights and accept the assaults on them—indeed, compel them to evacuate their homes and be expelled from their village—instead of the provision of protection and legal aid by state authorities.

Israeli military court rejects appeal of hunger striker Khader Adnan

 ´´My husband is dying inside an Israeli jail. The world should make sure I am able to see him. And it should pressure the Israeli government to release him before it’s too late.” 

That is what Randa Adnan, the wife of Khader Adnan, 33, said yesterday,  the day that an Israeli military judge rejected his appeal against his administrative detention. Today, Tuesday 14 February Adnan enters the 59th day of his hungerstrike.
Demonstration, Sunday, forAdnan at the Ofer prison
This is how the human rights organisation Addameer described the situation :

The Israeli Military Appeals Court dismissed the appeal against Khader Adnan’s administrative detention order today, 13 February 2012. The court decision orders Khader to remain detained for the full duration of his four month administrative detention order, to be expired on 8 May.  Today’s decision follows the inconclusive Appeals Court hearing that took place on 9 February in a hospital room at the Zif Medical Center in Safad due to his critical medical condition. The decision comes as Khader Adnan persists in the 58th day of his ongoing hunger strike and his health continues to deteriorate.   
 In the Appeals Court decision confirming Khader’s administrative detention, Judge Moshe Tirosh stated that according to the secret material available to the judge but not available to Khader or his lawyers, the court decision was “balanced”. He also commented that the secret material confirms that Khader Adnan is a political leader in the Islamic Jihad party.  In his decision, Judge Tirosh completely disregarded Khader’s lawyers’ numerous arguments, including the lack of evidence that Khader Adnan has carried out any activities providing grounds for detention; that administrative detention is used in an arbitrary manner; and that affiliation to a political party is aligned with the right to freedom of expression, assembly and political association.
Furthermore, in response to Khader’s statement during the appeals hearing on 9 February, which outlined the details of the torture, inhuman and degrading treatment to which he was subjected by Israeli Occupying Forces since his arrest, the military prosecutor stated that these allegations were exaggerated and did not take place in the way Khader described.  In commenting on Khader’s life-threatening health condition, Judge Tirosh stated that only Khader is to blame for his physical health condition as a result of his choice to continue his hunger strike and that his medical condition will not influence the administrative detention decision. 
File photo of Khader Adnan
 Addameer lawyer Samer Sama’n was also able to visit Khader in Zif Medical Center in Safad today. According to Khader, Israeli Prison Service (IPS) forces carried out an extensive search of his room on 10 February, despite the fact that throughout his stay in the hospital room, IPS forces have continued to shackle one arm and his opposite leg. Khader also stated that yesterday, 12 February, IPS personnel threatened to shackle all four of his limbs for reasons that were unclear to him.
Physicians for Human Rights-Israel doctors were permitted to visit Khader today and conduct medical examinations. This examination is only the third since he began his hunger strike. His medical condition, already at a life-threatening stage, continues to deteriorate and he is experiencing extreme pain. For more details on his current medical condition, please refer directly to Physicians for Human Rights.

Addameer holds Israel accountable for the life of Khader Adnan, whose health has entered an alarmingly critical stage that will now have irreversible consequences and could lead to his fatal collapse at any moment. Addameer also holds the international community responsible for not taking action to save Khader’s life.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Again clashes between Houthis and tribesmen in N-Yemen

Violent clashes continued on Sunday evening between Shiite al-Houthi rebels and Sunni tribal armed men in the northern Yemeni province of Hajjah, leaving at least 30 killed. "After a short-lived ceasefire agreement was broken, fierce clashes occurred in Ahm and Kashir districts, Hajjah, leaving at least 30 killed and many others wounded from the two sides," a tribal source told the Yemen Post.
Al-Houthis have reportedly prevented a team of mediators, which was formed of tribal chiefs in the area, from supervising the implementation of the agreement that was struck late last week.
The sectarian clashes broke out some two week ago in Sa´adah and Hajjah provinces, when al-Houthis tried to expand their dominance in the area, according to the Yemen Post. According to the paper at least 55 people were killed (40 Houthis and 15 tribesmen) during these earlier fights and an unknown number got wounded. The tribesmen managed to repel the attack, local sources told the paper.
Al-Houthi rebels have reportedly come in large number to Hajjah to reinforce their fighters based in the province. In the fall of last year the Houthis laid siege to the Salafi bulwark Al-Damaj in the Sa´ada governorate after clashes with the Salafis. The Houthis took over the city Sa´ada in March last year, taking advantage of the recent unrest the fragmented-state is currently experiencing.

Abbas get support of Arab League for the dusted off idea of an international conference

 Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas on Sunday got the support of the Arab League for the old idea of an international peace conference for the Middle East. Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo on Sunday supported his request and stressed in a statement "the importance of holding an international peace conference on the Palestinian issue." That meeting would seek "an end to the occupation of Palestinian territories and to reach a comprehensive solution to the issues of borders, security, Jerusalem and refugees based on the Arab peace initiative." 
Secretary general Al-Arabi and Abbas.
The last international conference took place in Madrid in 1991 and was convened at the request of  James Baker III, the Secretary of State under Bush sr. It led to talks in sub-committees that weren´t very successful and were eventually overtaken by the secret talks in Oslo that resulted in the Oslo-Agreements between Israel and the PLO.
Before the League took its decision, Abbas told the Arab League's Follow-Up Committee, which tracks Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, that he will not resume peace talks with Israel before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will agree to a building freeze in the Israeli settlements including Jerusalem, as well to the demand to accept Israel's pre-1967 war frontier as the basis for a border with a future Palestinian state. Abbas said he is sending a letter to Netanyahu with these demands. In case of a negative response, Abbas said he will resume the campaign for recognition of a state of Palestine by the U.N.
Abbas also warned that the continued deadlock could have dire consequences for the Palestinian Authority. "The current situation cannot continue as it is, that of an Authority without power," he said.
Abbas is under pressure, particularly  from the so called Quartet (the USA, UN, EU and Russia) , to resume low-level border talks that began last month. His request for support for the dusted off idea of an international conference is meant to give him backing in his refusal to give in.
The League statement also called on its members to contribute financially to support the Palestinian Authority with $100 million a month. The statement said the funds were needed "in light of the financial strain on the Palestinian leadership and Palestinian people, with Israel not transferring the rightful money of the Palestinian Authority."

Arab League now opts for a peacekeeping force in Syria

Tanks around the Baba Amro neighbourhood in Homs, 12 February 2012. (Reuters)
The Arab League has formally abolished its observer mission in Syria and has moved on to another stage. In a meeting in Cairo on Sunday it decided to ask the ´´UN Security Council to issue a decision on the formation of a joint UN-Arab peacekeeping force to oversee the implementation of a ceasefire."
Also Arab League diplomats "will open channels of communication with the Syrian opposition and offer full political and financial support, urging (the opposition) to unify its ranks," said a League statement obtained by AFP.  Of the League member states only Algeria and Lebanon expressed reservations about the resolution. 
By getting rid of the observer mission the Arab League also definitively bid farewell to its ability to act as a mediator. For a peacekeeping force to be installed, the cooperation of the Syrian government is indispensable. But as could be expected Syria immediately rejected the League´s decision. "The Syrian Arab Republic categorically rejects the decisions of the Arab League," which "reflects the hysteria of these governments" after failing to get foreign intervention at the UN Security Council, said Yusef Ahmed, Syria´s representative with the League.
Opposition campaigners meanwhile said that the  Syrian army continued its shelling of Homs. The tank fire was concentrated on two large Sunni Muslim neighborhoods that have been at the forefront of opposition to Assad. They said 23 people were killed on Sunday, prompting street demonstrations across the country in support of Homs. A lull in the bombardment earlier in the day prompted anti-Assad rallies in Qusour, Bayada and Khalidua and Bab Houd districts of Homs. Demonstrations also broke out in Houla in the nearby countryside, which has also been under bombardment.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Hungerstriking Khader Adnan is fast approaching death

Demonstration in Tel Aviv in front of Red Cross office, 12-2-12 (Active Stills, Oren Ziv)

Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called on Israel last week to either bring charges against him or immediately release Khader Adnan, 33, is - what is unlawful -  kept in administrative detention and is in hunger strike since his arrest in December.   

 As the human rights organisation Addameer stated:

Khader was arrested on 17 December 2011, when Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF) raided his home outside Jenin at 3:30 am. Before entering his house, soldiers used the driver that takes Khader’s father to the vegetable market, Mohammad Mustafa, as a human shield by forcing him to knock on the door of the house and call out Khader’s name while blindfolded. A huge force of soldiers then entered the house shouting. Recognizing Khader immediately, they grabbed him violently in front of his two young daughters and ailing mother.

The soldiers blindfolded him and tied his hands behind his back using plastic shackles before leading him out of his house and taking him to a military jeep. Khader was then thrown on his back and the soldiers began slapping him in the face and kicking his legs. They kept him lying on his back until they reached Dutan settlement, beating him on the head throughout the 10-minute drive. When they reached the settlement, Khader was pushed aggressively out of the jeep. Because of the blindfold, Khader did not see the wall right in front of him and smashed into it, causing injuries to his face.

Demonstration last week of schoolboys in Ramallah.

Adnan, who is a leader of the Islamic Jihad on the West Bank, started his trike under the motto ´´My dignity is more precious  than food´´.  Today is his day no 57. Adnan is extremely weak, his health is deteriorating rapidly. He is kept shackled against his bed in an Israeli hospital in Safed. He only takes water and some pills. His hunger strike is the longest ever held by a Palestinian. It brings to mind the case of Bobby Sands of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and 10 of his comrades who in 1981 maintained their hunger strike till the very end. Bobby himself died after 66 days. The strike and subsequent death of the participants gave a fresh impulse to the struggle of the IRA

Syria-related clashes in Tripoli continue for third day

Armed citizens gather in Tripoli. (Photo The Daily Star)

Gun battles in the north city of Tripoli, which killed two people and wounded 17 Saturday, resumed Sunday between the pre-dominantly Alawite neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen and the mainly Sunni district of Bab al-Tabbaneh in the northern city of Tripoli. The two neighbourhoods,  both rather poor, are notorious for the frequent.clashes that have been taking place between them.  There were fights in 2008 and 2011, for instance. The present fighting, like the fighting in 2011, is directly related to the tensions in Syria. The Alawites of Jabal Mohsen are supporters of the Assad-regime, while the Sunnis of Bab al-Tabbaneh side with the opposition. 
One of the wounded from Saturday’s clashes included a teenage girl who is in critical condition.
The Lebanese Army, which stepped in Friday to stem the violence, saw at least six of its members wounded.
Heavy shooting was heard on Sunday throughout the rival neighborhoods. Security sources told Lebajese newspaper The Daily Star on Saturday that the Lebanese Army had been ordered to arrest on sight anyone carrying weapons.

Malaysia deports Saudi journalist who 'insulted Muhammad'

Malaysia on Sunday deported the 23 year old Saudi journalist Hamza Kashgari, accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad on Twitter, in spite of warnings of rights groups that he will be persecuted at home. 
Hamza Kashgari
Kashgari, a journalist from Jeddah,  was detained Thursday upon his arrival in Malaysia. Amnesty International had called Kashgari a "prisoner of conscience" and called for his release. Human Rights Watch had urged Malaysia to allow him to seek asylum. On Sunday he was flown back to Saudi Arabia.

Kashgari wrote on the birthday of the prophet Muhammed:
On your birthday, I will say that I have loved the rebel in you, that you’ve always been a source of inspiration to me, and that I do not like the halos of divinity around you. I shall not pray for you,”
In another tweet he said: “On your birthday, I find you wherever I turn. I will say that I have loved aspects of you, hated others, and could not understand many more.”
And in a third: “On your birthday, I shall not bow to you. I shall not kiss your hand. Rather, I shall shake it as equals do, and smile at you as you smile at me. I shall speak to you as a friend, no more.”

Two Saudi clerics deemed him an apostate because of this. He then fled the country. Kashgari may face the death penalty.
Shame on the Malaysian (and Saudi) authorities.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Armed resistance and the Syrian dilemmas II

A Syrian oil train was derailed by an explosion on 15 January 2012. (SANA)

More food for thought on Syria: Many things have been said about the Arab League observer mission, but strangely enough the official report of this mission was not really brought into the open by the League, let alone by Western powers. Below are some excerpts. And from them it is not too difficult to grasp why it was suppressed. The picture that arises from it is rather different from what we were used to read in most accounts by the press.
Divisions within the Arab League about the path to be taken must have been the reason why it was kept somewhere in a drawer - the Saudis who are in favor of taking the toughest possible line against Assad will hardly have been pleased with its content. While others, who were aware that it's not only a question of  a regime butchering its subjects but that the situation is more complex, were inclined to seek ways to find a negotiated solution.
The full report is worth reading - it can be found here.  

 The excerpts are followed by fragments of an interview that the Tunisian blog Nawaat held with a Tunisian former member of the observer force, Ahmed Manaï. He was happy with the Russian- Chinese veto (it spared Syria the sort of Iraq and Libya), but foremost he is extremely critical of the way the Arab League handled the matter.

26. In Homs and Dera‘a, the Mission observed armed groups committing acts of violence against
Government forces, resulting in death and injury among their ranks. In certain situations, Government forces
responded to attacks against their personnel with force. The observers noted that some of the armed groups
were using flares and armour-piercing projectiles.
27. In Homs, Idlib and Hama, the Observer Mission witnessed acts of violence being committed against
Government forces and civilians that resulted in several deaths and injuries. Examples of those acts include the bombing of a civilian bus, killing eight persons and injuring others, including women and children, and the
bombing of a train carrying diesel oil. In another incident in Homs, a police bus was blown up, killing two
police officers. A fuel pipeline and some small bridges were also bombed.
28. The Mission noted that many parties falsely reported that explosions or violence had occurred in
several locations. When the observers went to those locations, they found that those reports were unfounded.
29. The Mission also noted that, according to its teams in the field, the media exaggerated the nature of the
incidents and the number of persons killed in incidents and protests in certain towns.

44. In Homs, a French journalist who worked for the France 2 channel was killed and a Belgian journalist
was injured. The Government and opposition accused each other of being responsible for the incident, and both sides issued statements of condemnation. The Government formed an investigative committee in order to determine the cause of the incident. It should be noted that Mission reports from Homs indicate that the French journalist was killed by opposition mortar shells.

74. In some cities, the Mission sensed the extreme tension, oppression and injustice from which the Syrian
people are suffering. However, the citizens believe the crisis should be resolved peacefully through Arab
mediation alone, without international intervention. Doing so would allow them to live in peace and complete
the reform process and bring about the change they desire. The Mission was informed by the opposition,
particularly in Dar‘a, Homs, Hama and Idlib, that some of its members had taken up arms in response to the
suffering of the Syrian people as a result of the regime’s oppression and tyranny; corruption, which affects all
sectors of society; the use of torture by the security agencies; and human rights violations.
 Arab observers in action (EPA).

 And here is part of Nawaat's interview:
Nawaat: By continuing to work with the Syrian regime and the divided Syrian opposition, the Arab League seems to believe in a possible ‘political solution’ to the Syrian crisis, in a way President Bashar Al-Assad delegates his powers to Vice President to form, within two months, a government of national unity that would lead the country to free elections.
The Sino-Russian veto blocks the resolution, what kind of pressure you feel is necessary to get   Bashar Al Assad on his knees?

AM: The Arab League is entirely discredited by burying the report of its own observers’ mission and its appeal to the Security Council. It missed the opportunity to participate in the settlement of the Syrian affair. All it can offer in the future will be worthless.
Now it’s Russia’s turn to play the lead role but also to the Syrian leadership required to accelerate and implement the reforms.

Nawaat: In your opinion, what is the true weight of the CNS (pro military intervention) and the National Coordinating Committee for Democratic Change (against intervention and which is rarely we hear from it in the international media)?

AM: The CNS does not have a good reputation in Syria precisely because it calls for armed intervention. The Syrians have a long tradition of patriotism and a high history of resistance to foreign domination. By cons, abroad, it is a media darling and favorite partner of politicians, who support and finance.
Besides the CNS does not have representatives inside the country and one of its components, the Kurds, has just left it.
It’s different in the case of the Coordination Committee, because its representatives are almost all activists within the country, and have no spokesman abroad, Haytham Manna. It is quite normal that we do not speak of this Committee in the propaganda and disinformation’s Medias that support the intervention.

Nawaat: How do you assess the actions taken by deserters from the Syrian army? Do you have evidence to prove that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) commits acts of barbarism?

AM: The report of on the Arab observers’ mission reported the existence of FSA and other armed groups who attack governmental forces, carry out the abduction of civilians who are released only against payment of ransom, murder, sabotage oil facilities, civil buildings, trains and railways…

Nawaat: Last question: can we be for or against the regime of Bashar Al Assad and the Syrian president himself?

AM: Those who believe that the departure of a president would solve all the problems of the country, are simply idiots. We were unable to learn from the examples of Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen and agree that the aftermath of dictatorship are often harder to manage than the dictatorship itself because oppositions have not yet learned to govern!

Armed resistance and the Syrian dilemmas I

 Checkpoint manned by the Free Syrian Army in the Baba Amro district of Homs, picture taken in December 2011, (Der Spiegel). 

 Somebody who uses the alias 'Ehsani', writes On Joshua Landis' blog Syria Comment from within Syria about the frightening direction the Syrian opposition has taken by more and more resorting to armed resistance. It is not Ehsani's first contribution on Landis' blog, but this one is the most sobering:  

Since Hama, Syrian opposition members have begun increasingly to  call to demand weapons and a military response to overpower the regime. For the next 6 months, Syrian streets and neighborhoods became armed enough that the mighty Syrian army had to think twice before entering the developing mini enclaves ruled by the opposition within its cities. Not surprisingly, taking up arms suddenly became the accepted modus operandi of the opposition and the uprising. Those cautioning against such strategies were referred to as ignorant or regime supporters.

Young opposition activists who followed the advice to arm and fight the regime are now being left to fend for themselves against the military Goliath of the Syrian Army. As I wrote following my return from the country, many assured me that the armed forces were yet to use more than 20% of their capacity. As I listened to pronouncements by opposition leaders about the necessity to arm, I could not help but wonder what would happen when Damascus would unleash its full  military might. We will now find out.


Sadly, following the double veto at the U.N., many capitals have announced that they are willing to further arm the rebels. This is a travesty. The fact is that no amount of arms in the hands of such untrained rebels will come even close to defeating the Syrian army. This insanity must stop. The Syrian National Council and regional powers must come up with a different strategy if they truly care about the Syrian people who are now dying on the streets and in their homes.  Some have argued that had it not been for the veto at the U.N., the Syrian army would not have responded this way over the past 48 hours. This is false. The decision to storm Homs and Zabadani was made before the vote. The central government decided to restore its control
over all its cities before a Syrian Benghazi could be established.
At the beginning of this crisis, I was skeptical that the opposition was as armed as the government media claimed. By the end of Ramadan, I had no doubt that armed elements were indeed committing violence against government forces and others. 

Food for thought in some Western capitals? 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Free Syrian Army denies responsiblity for explosions in Aleppo

On of the sites of the blasts in Aleppo. 

The Free Syrian Army denies responsibility for two deadly bombings in Syria's second largest city Aleppo, according to a French news channel. Syrian state television says 25 people died in the explosions, which targeted the Military Security Branch and headquarters of law enforcement forces in the city.
It said the death toll, which included civilians and members of the security forces, was based on preliminary information but gave no further details. The number of wounded was said to be 175.
Early in the morning Colonel Arif Hamood of the Free Syrian Army, talking to FRANCE 4 claimed responsibility for the two blasts. However a message posted on the group's Facebook site later on denied they had planted the bombs, which killed at least two dozen people.
"The Free Syrian Army denies any connection or involvement with the bombing in Aleppo," the statement said.
 Friday's blasts were the biggest since two suicide bombings in the capital Damascus, one of which killed 44 people in December and the second 26 people in January.
More than 80 people were killed in Syria Thursday, most of them in a new regime blitz on the city of Homs, an attack US President Barack Obama decried as "outrageous bloodshed".
Shelling erupted at daybreak, killing more than 50 civilians in the besieged central city and burning several bodies beyond recognition, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Troops trying to crush opponents of President Bashar al-Assad have killed at least 400 people in a relentless six-day onslaught on Homs, opposition activists say.
"The shells are raining down on us and regime forces are using heavy artillery," said Ali Hazuri, a doctor in the Baba Amr district reached by telephone from BeiruTanks stormed a neighborhood in the flashpoint city near the Lebanese border on Friday morning as soldiers launched a house-to-house sweep of the area, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
"The tanks entered the neighborhood of Inshaat overnight," the Observatory's Rami Abdulrahman said.
Inshaat is next to the protest hub of Baba Amr in Homs, which has been subjected to a bombardment by regime forces since Saturday that has killed several hundred people, activists say.
Abdel Rahman said that the government forces were in the main streets of Inshaat, while tanks were firing on Baba Amr from a bridge positioned between the two neighborhoods.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Ghetto Israel

Fencxe along the Israeli-Egyptian border. The project is partly finished, at the end of 2012 the work should be done. Cost:  $ 360 million.

Under the title 'Israel overcome by paranoia' the military correspondent of the Israeli newspaper Ynet (Yedioth Ahronot), Alex Fishman, writes about the strange way Israel is fencing itself in:  

In the year 2000 we built a smart, electronic fence on our northern border. It made sense; after all, Hezbollah is a dangerous and unpredictable foe.
In the past decade we started to erect the West Bank barrier: A cement wall along with an electronic fence equipped with sensors and cameras. We’re still building it today. This made sense; we must curb the suicide bombers and illegal aliens. In 2005 we also built a sophisticated fence around the Gaza Strip. It monitors the area, fires on its own, and can even sing our national anthem if you want. It made sense; Hamas is also a dangerous foe. After that we also had to curb terrorism and infiltrators from the Sinai. There is no argument that we need a fence. We also need one on the Golan Heights, after Palestinian refugees crossed the border and rushed into Majdal Shams. So we came up with a proud Zionist response – a sophisticated 15-kilomter fence. In a few years, once the fence on the Jordanian border is built, we shall complete our disengagement from the Middle East. Who would believe that once upon a time we spoke about integrating into the region? By now we are a tiny state with a large fence. How did it happen to us? 

He himself gives some of the answers to his last question:
''Apparently this is deeply entrenched in our DNA: A persecuted people who seeks cover.'' And 'We are again Diaspora Jews in our own country. There is no wonder that the polls show a religious revival; after all, it is God who shall protect us.' 
I'don't agree with all that Fishman says. For example: "Such society, which loses its self-confidence, does not convey deterrence. With all the bombs and advanced aircraft, this is not a society that conveys a sense of strength. The Americans and Iranians can sleep well; this is not a society that will decide to strike in Iran and pay the price.'' is not a text I could easily get out of the keyboard of my laptop.     
But the rest: yes. Somewhere on my Dutch blog I once wrote that it is a remarkable experience for someone who descended from a family that once -literally - lived in the ghettoes of both Frankfurt and Venice, to see how the whole of Israel is turning itself into a fortress that in a creepy way ressembles a gigantic contemporary ghetto.  

Human Rights Watch sounds alarm over executions in Iraq

Executions in Iraq are mostly done by hanging. Leaked images of the hanging of Saddam Hussein in 2006 offered a rare view of the procedure.  

Human Rights Watch has sounded the alarm about a mounting number of executions in Iraq. Since the beginning of 2012, Iraq has executed at least 65 prisoners, 51 of them in January, and 14 more on February 8, for various offenses, the organisation says. 
Human Rights Watch is particularly concerned that Iraqi courts admit as evidence confessions obtained under coercion. The government should disclose the identities, locations, and status of all prisoners on death row, the crimes for which they have been convicted, court records for their being charged, tried, and sentenced, and details of any impending executions, HRW says.
A Justice Ministry official confirmed to HRW on February 8 that authorities had executed 14 prisoners earlier in the day. “You should expect more executions in the coming days and weeks,” the official added.
According to the United Nations, more than 1,200 people are believed to have been sentenced to death in Iraq since 2004. The number of prisoners executed during that period has not been revealed publicly. Iraqi law authorizes the death penalty for close to 50 crimes, including terrorism, kidnapping, and murder, but also including such offenses as damage to public property.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Russian FM obtains promises in Damascus but their effects remain to be seen

Bashar Assad welcomes Russia's top spy Mikhail Fradkov (m) and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Russia won a promise from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday to bring an end to bloodshed in Syria. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who visited Syria accompanied by Russia's top spy, said Russia now wanted to resolve Syria's crisis in line with an Arab plan Moscow and Beijing vetoed in the U.N. Security Council.
"The president of Syria assured us he was 'completely committed to the task of stopping violence regardless of where it may come from'," Interfax quoted Lavrov as saying after his meeting with Assad. Russia has supported an Arab League peace proposal for Syria floated last November envisaging a withdrawal of troops from cities and towns, release of prisoners, and reforms. It was not clear from Lavrov's remarks whether Russia was now also backing the League's call on Assad to step down.
Lavrov said Assad assured him he was committed to halting bloodshed by both sides and that he was ready to seek dialogue with all political groups in the country. However, the question remains what Assad's promise is worth. Assad made similar promises in the past, which have been brushed off by opposition forces as missing any substance. Opposition activists also said that government forces renewed shelling of the central city of Homs on Tuesdapry just before Lavrov's arrival, killing some 19 people in this city, where according to them over 300 have been killed in the last five days. There were also reports from residents of shelling and fighting on Tuesday between government and rebel forces in Hama, another urban stronghold of anti-Assad sentiment.
The United States shut its embassy and said all staff had left Syria due to worsening security in the country, which has also been hit by suicide bombings in Damascus. Also the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) said its members were recalling their ambassadors from Damascus and expelling Syrian envoys from their own capitals.European Union states followed up their denunciation of the veto by preparing a new round of sanctions on Syria, EU diplomats said on Tuesday, with the focus on central bank assets and trade in precious metals, gold and diamonds. Also France, Italy, Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain recalled their ambassadors from Syria. Japan was considering reducing the number of its diplomatic staff in Damascus.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, an ex-ally who has turned against Assad, described the U.N. vetoes as "a fiasco for the civilised world" and said Ankara was preparing a new initiative with those who oppose the Syrian government.
U.S. President Barack Obama said that, however hard Western countries are prepared to lean on Assad diplomatically, they still had no intention of using force to topple him, as they did against Muammar Gaddafi in Libya last year."I think it is very important for us to try to resolve this without recourse to outside military intervention. And I think that's possible," he told NBC's Today show.

Deplorable Russian veto?

 The reaction of the US (Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, Obama) to the Russian/Chinese veto in the Security Council of the resolution against Syria was that it was disgusting, shameful, deplorable and a travesty.
Oh was it?
In order to balance the anger a bit, the site Jadaliyya published a complete list of US vetoes over the years. It it includes among other thing, vetoes against the following resolutions:  

1972 Condemns Israel for killing hundreds of people in Syria and Lebanon in air raids.
1973 Affirms the rights of the Palestinians and calls on Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories.
1976 Condemns Israel for attacking Lebanese civilians.
1976 Condemns Israel for building settlements in the occupied territories.
1976 Calls for self determination for the Palestinians.
1976 Affirms the rights of the Palestinians.
1978 Urges the permanent members (USA, USSR, UK, France, China) to insure UN decisions on the maintenance of international peace and security.
1978 Criticises the living conditions of the Palestinians.
1978 Condemns the Israeli human rights record in occupied territories.

The whole list is to be found here. Don't be surprised to find that it is much longer. Most concern Israel and the Palestinians, but there are also a few against Apartheid South Africa.