Saturday, April 28, 2012

El Baradei launches new Egyptian political party

Former presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei announced the birth of sa new party, the Constitution Party, on Saturday in a press conference at the Journalists' Syndicate in downtown Cairo. Co-founders of the party are international law professor Hossam Eissa, Ahmed Harara and Hala Shukrallah. Participating in the initiative is author and activist Alaa Al-Aswany, economist Galal Amin; TV host and activist Gamila Ismail; Kifaya protest movement founder, George Ishaq; film director Khaled Youssef; film producer Mohamed El-Adl; co-founder of the Revolutionary Youth Coalition, Shadi El-Ghazali Harb and Rami Shaath.
The party, whose name has changed from Revolution Party to Constitution Party, aims to be a broad-based movement that forms "the nucleus of a coalition that will include all secular forces" in Egypt, according to what ElBaradei's said in early April, when he announced that he was in the process of forming the new party.
ElBaradei withdrew from the presidential race in January in protest at the decision to elect a president before drafting a constitution. In 2010 he founded the National Association for Change.

Ex-chief Israeli security service lost confidence in Netanyahu and Barak

The former chief of the Israeli security service Shin Bet, Yuval Diskin, has lost all confidence in the Israeli leaders Netanyahu and Barak, and the way they are handling the 'case against Iran'. In a speech in Kfar Saba he said:
"Believe me, I have observed them from up close... They are not people who I, on a personal level, trust to lead Israel to an event on that scale and carry it off. These are not people who I would want to have holding the wheel in such an event," 
"They are misleading the public on the Iran issue. They tell the public that if Israel acts, Iran won't have a nuclear bomb. This is misleading. Actually, many experts say that an Israeli attack would accelerate the Iranian nuclear race," said the former security chief.  

Former chief of the spy agency Meir Dagan has been critical of Israel's attitude towards the Iranian nuclear project as well. In March he said on CBS's 60 minutes that an Israeli strike on Iran would lead to a missile attack on Israel that would have a "devastating impact" on the country.  Also he doubted whether an Israeli attack on Iran would effectively halt Iran's program. It would rather delay it, he said. Both Diskin and Dagan  were the subject of an investigation in November, ordered by Netanyahu, as it was believed that they had been leaking the news that Netanyahu and Barak were trying to obtain a majority in the Israeli cabinet for an attack on Iran.  

In his speech Diskin was also pessimistic about the political climate in Israel:
"Over the past 10-15 years Israel has become more and more racist. All of the studies point to this. This is racism toward Arabs and toward foreigners, and we are also become a more belligerent society."
Diskin also said he believed another political assassination, like that of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 by a Jewish extremist, could occur in the future. "Today there are extremist Jews, not just in the territories but also inside the Green Line, dozens of them who, in a situation in which settlements are evacuated… would be willing to take up arms against their Jewish brothers."

Friday, April 27, 2012

Shakespeare relates quite well to present day Arab revolts and upheavals

Shakespeare provides a contemporary Arab audience nice perspectives of  present day realities. Two examples:
Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad.Picture taken during a rehearsal. (AFP)

 Iraq, Romeo and Juliet
Romeo is Shia, Juliet Sunni, and they must contend not only with warring families but a country torn by conflict and sectarian strife: this is the story of “Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad”.
Pistols have replaced swords and some characters wear traditional dishdashas, abayas and keffiyah scarves, but the changes go far beyond props and costumes. One of the final scenes combines the general horror of suicide bombings in Iraq with a reference to a specific attack on October 31, 2010, in which militants killed 44 worshippers and two priests in Our Lady of Salvation church in Baghdad. Romeo flees to the church after killing the hot-headed Tybalt, and is later joined there by Juliet.
In the play’s biggest departure from Shakespeare’s original story, Juliet’s spurned suitor Paris enters the church wearing a belt of explosives and blows himself up, killing Romeo and Juliet.
Monadhil Daood, 52, who adapted and directed the play, said that Paris is a member of Al-Qaeda and is not an Iraqi – a reference to foreign fighters who came to Iraq after the 2003 US-led invasion.

Richard II by the Palestinian Ashtar Theatre. (Photo Globe Theatre)

Palestine, Richard II
The Ashtar theatre company, based in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, delivered "Richard II" in the open-air courtyard of a ruined 8th-century palace in Jericho. In classical Arabic but attired in the military fatigues and the republican regalia of the Arab dictators ripped from power last year.
"Are you contented to resign the crown?" the rebelling Lord Bolingbroke, leaning impatiently on the already usurped throne, asks the King.
"Yes, no. No, yes," Richard stutters, igniting a roar of laughter from the local audience too familiar with similar jibes aimed at Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh in their waning days.

Organizers said the Palestinian company's production was not about the Arab Spring per se. The original script and staging were left largely untouched, but a few changes rendered its modern references clear, as when a crowd of masked, flag-waving protesters storms the palace and shouts, "the people want Bolingbroke!" a variant of the slogan "the people want the fall of the regime" chanted in public squares from Tunis to Manama.

The troupe is set to perform next month in London's Globe Theatre.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Egyptian court drops cases against popular actor Adel Imam and other artists

Update: Egyptian comedy actor Adel Imam's three-month jail sentence for defaming Islam was dropped by a Cairo court on Thursday. Similar charges against filmmakers Nader Galal, Mohamed Fadel and Sherif Arafa and writers Lenin El-Ramly and Wahid Hamed were also dropped.

In Egypt the growing influence of political Islam threatens to lead to a clash of civilizations on a national level. Proof of this was delivered on Tuesday when  an Egyptian court sentenced the actor Adel Imam  to three months in prison and a fine of LE 1000 for defaming Islam in his films Morgan Ahmed Morgan, El-Erhaby ('The Terrorist') and El-Erhab Wel-Kabab ('Terrorism and Kebab').
Adel Imam
Adel Imam (72) is Egypt's best known comic actor who has made a long list of films, most of which were huge (cash) successes. At the same time Imam became controversial after he distanced himself last year from the uprising against president Mubarak. At the time he said that the protesters at Tahrir Square did not represent true Egyptians. Also he praised Mubarak for the wisdom with which he had ruled Egypte during 30 years. However, Imam's political stance did not keep colleagues and other members of Egypt's cultural elite to be alarmed by the verdict. This the more because the directors Sherif Arafa, Nader Galal and Mohamed Fadel and the writers Wahid Hamed and Lenin El-Ramly also face charges of "defaming" Islam. They will stand trial on 26 May. The Front for Creativity has organised a protest on 26 May outside the Agouza Court on Cairo's Sudan Street, when their trial begins.
Writer Alaa El-Aswany, whose book 'The Yacoubian Building' was filmed with Imam in one of  the leading roles, wrote on Twitter that he did not agree with Adel Imam politically, but nevertheless appreciated his art. Aswany condemned the sentence, saying Egypt was returning to the dark ages.
Independent filmmaker Ahmad Abdallah described the sentence was an "act of terrorism against artists" and a "slap in the face for serious cinema." And actor Amr Waked said that "the best you could do to an artist you don’t approve of is not watch him, but you don’t have the right to prevent him from working or jailing him."
Ashraf Abdel Ghaffour, the head of the Egyptian Actors Syndicate, said that the syndicate’s lawyers would appeal the conviction.
The case against Imam was filed in February by Asran Mansour, who accused the actor of offending Islam and its symbols, including the Hijab – head scarf  – and beards in his films.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Deployment observers in Syria will take at least another month

 Picture taken in Homs after shelling by government forces. (AP)

International peace envoy Kofi Annan has called for the rapid deployment of 300 ceasefire monitors in Syria, branding violence levels "unacceptable" 12 days into a promised truce, but a top UN official said it will take at least one month to get the first 100 in place. The council was told there are now 11 UN observers in place and the 30-strong advance party of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) is expected to be on the ground by the end of the week. But UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said it would take a month to get the first 100 of the 300-member full force into Syria.
 Ban's comments came a day after nearly 60 people were killed across the country in violence that continued Tuesday with a car bomb in the Marjeh district of Damascus that injured three.
Syrian state television blamed "terrorists", the government term for rebels, for the blast. It came as Un observers returned to the city of Hama's Arbaeen neighbourhood, which activists said suffered a "massacre" on Monday at the hands of regime troops. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 31 civilians were killed in this city, out of a total of 59 people including five soldiers killed in violence nationwide. Kofi Annan said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has still not fulfilled a promise to end violence and that the situation was "bleak" and "unacceptable". He said he was "particularly alarmed" at reports that government forces had entered Hama after a visit by UN monitors and killed "a significant" number of people.
"If confirmed this is totally unacceptable and reprehensible," he told the Security Council.
The Syrian League for Human Rights said that among those killed in Hama on Monday were nine activists who were "summarily executed" by government forces a day after they met UN observers in the city.
AP reports that the killing of Syrian high military at the hands of rebels continue. At least 10 senior officers, including several generals, have been gunned down in the past three months, many of them as they left their homes in the morning to head to their posts, according to AP.
The latest occurred Tuesday, when attackers shot and killed a retired lieutenant colonel and his brother, a chief warrant officer, at a home supplies store in another suburb of the capital, according to the state news agency. Elsewhere in Damascus, an intelligence officer was killed, opposition activists said.

Ahmed Shafiq first disqualified, but lateron as yet admitted as candidate for the Egyptian presidency

 Update: Egypt's Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission (SPEC) Wednesday in a surprise move accepted the appeal of Ahmed Shafiq, allowing him back into the presidential race, according to MENA.
 Shafiq was barred from standing for Egypt's top post on Tuesday under the newly ratified Disenfranchisement Law. On Wednesday, he had announced his intention to appeal the SPEC's decision.
The motivation of the SPEC|is not yet known.

Egypt's Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission (SPEC) on Tuesday evening has officially disqualified Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's last prime minister, from running in next month's presidential elections.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) had ratified late Monday the Disenfranchisement Law (officially called the Corrupting of Political Life Law), and sent it for a final vote to Parliament.
An official statement was issued in the state newspaper, Al-Gareeda Al-Rasmeya on Tuesday morning, thus allowing for the immediate implementation of the law.
The law was approved last week by the People's Assembly. The law excludes a number of individuals who served in top positions in the last ten years of Hosni Mubarak’s rule from entering the presidential race or other public posts for the next five years.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Egypt terminates contract for the delivery of natural gas to Israel

 Damage from one of the 14 attacks on the pipeline carrying gas from Egypt to Israel.

The head of the Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company said Sunday it has terminated its contract to ship gas to Israel because of violations of contractual obligations, Mohamed Shoeib, chairman of the Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company (EGAS), told Al-Masry Al-Youm.
He said  that EGAS is using its right to terminate the contract due to a breach of the gas supply agreement by the East Mediterranean Gas Company (EMG), which operates the pipeline.A source within the petroleum ministry told Al-Masry Al-Youm that the dispute is purely commercial and has no other connotations.
Israeli prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu downplayed the political significance of the Egyptian measure to cancel the gas deal. He said Monday that it did not stem from any sort of diplomatic developments or decisions, but was rather due to a business dispute between companies.
"The termination of the natural gas supply from Egypt is not motivated by political decisions, but is a business dispute between the Israeli and the Egyptian companies," Netanyahu said in a meeting with the heads of Israel Bonds. In earlier reactions, from minister of Finance Yuval Steinitz among others, Israel hinted at a breach of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

The gas deal has since long been a source of controversy. Egyptian militants have blown up the gas pipeline to Israel 14 times since the uprising.On the Israeli side, the East Mediterranean Gas Company (EMG), which operates the pipeline, sought international arbitration in October because of the Egyptian side's failure to supply the quantity of gas stipulated in the contract — because of the frequent bombings.  EMG, Ampal-American Israel Corporation, and two other companies have sought $8 billion in damages from Egypt for not safeguarding their investment.
Under the 2005 deal, the Cairo-based East Mediterranean Gas Co. sold 1.7 billion cubic meters of natural gas to the Israeli company under a 15-year fixed price deal15-year fixed price deal between a private Egyptian company, partly owned by the government, and the state-run Israel Electric Corporation.  Critics in Egypt charged that Israel got the gas much too cheap and that Mubarak cronies skimmed millions of dollars off the proceeds. A court of appeal last year overturned a lower court ruling that would have halted gas exports to Israel. The suit had been filed by opposition groups.
For the long term, Israel is developing its own natural gas fields off its Mediterranean coast and is expected to be self-sufficient in natural gas in a few years.

Daily News Egypt closed by the management

Very sad news:  Egypt's first independent English language daily newspaper Daily News Egypt will cease publication after seven years of reporting. The decision was made by the managing company, Egypt Media Services, in goes into effect immediately.
The editorial team published its final message on Sunday under the headline: 'Daily News Egypt: Final Words'. "After seven years of providing hard breaking news and analysis on Egypt, and being the only independent English-language printed daily in the country, we regret to inform our loyal readers that, as far as the current editorial staff was informed, the paper will no longer be published."

My heart goes out to the journalists at the Daily News, most of the enthusiast young women who did a good job and invested a lot of their powers and emotions in what was a newspaper that was in some respect a pioneer, and was always well informed and worth reading. I visited the paper last year and remember with pleasure the conversation I had with several of the people who worked at the Daily News.  I wish the staffers all the strength they need, as well as all the luck in the world in finding alternative jobs. And I do hope that their wish, to be able to keep at least their website even if it will be at their own expenses, will be fulfilled. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

UN Security Council agrees to increase number of monitors in Syria

The Syrian press agency Sana published this photo of  the UN observers visiting Homs on Saturday. 

The UN Security Council has voted to increase the number of observers in Syria to 300 for three months. A small UN team is already in Syria to monitor the present ceasefire between government and rebel forces.
The UN resolution was unanimously approved by the 15-member council, as the monitors were allowed to visit the city of Homs, an opposition stronghold where bombardment by the army are said to be still going on. .
 The resolution was adopted following a debate about the conditions for deployment. European states had said the unarmed observers should be sent only when Syria implemented its pledge to send troops and tanks back to barracks. Russia, which is more friendly towards the regime in Damascus,  simply emphasised the need to send more monitors quickly. In the end, the resolution leaves it to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to decide how and when the monitors will be deployed.
Although overall violence has fallen since the truce was agreed by the UN and Syria more than a week ago, violations are still being reported. According to Reuters news agency, at least 23 people were killed on Friday, 10 of them in a roadside bomb targeting security forces. Most of the others fell in army shelling on the city of Homs
The resolution about an expansion of the monitoring team follows after Syria and the United Nations signed an agreement on Thursday on the terms the observers to monitor a ceasefire. The Syrian press Agency Sana quoted Ahmad Fawzi, Spokesman for the UN Envoy to Syria Kofi Annan, who said that the agreement defines the observers' missions and the responsibilities of the Syrian government.
The signing of the agreement with Syria coincided with a meeting of the 'Friends of Syria'' group in Paris on Thursday. Participating were senior officials from France,the United States, Britain and other Western states, as well as Middle East countries like Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. They agreed the Annan mission and the truce were the "last hope" of avoiding an all-out civil war. Russia snubbed an invitation.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

'Self Determination Friday' again underscores divisions within Egyptian opposition

 (Photo AFP/Khaled Dessouki)

 Tens of thousands (some say more than 100.000) demonstrated on Friday on Tahrir Square in Cairo against military rule and for a handover of power to civilian rule. The presence of Islamists like the Muslim Brothers and Salafists was heavily dominant, but 'civil' forces like the April 6 Movement and some liberal parties were also present. The participants made demands that went roughly in the same direction, but differed in the details. Al Ahram Online wrote - under the telling headline: On 'Self-Determination Friday' Egyptian political forces unite...somewhat':

Various demands were made from the approximately nine stages set up in the square from every spectra, including the liberal April 6 movement, the National Association for Change, Salafist Hazem Salah Abu Ismail supporters and a joint Mostameroon Movement (best to be translated by: Movement of those who don't give up).
Most banners on the different podiums addressed getting rid of former regime figures, primarily, presidential candidates military man, Ahmed Shafiq and ex-Arab League chief, Amr Moussa.One of the demands was the retreat of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) from the political scene and the importance of drafting a representative constitution.
Abu Ismail posters and banners flooded the square as if he was yet a presidential contender, despite having been eliminated from the race by the Supreme Presidential Elections Commission (SPEC) a week ago.
Another popular banner that was for the first time seen in Tahrir read: “Rigging will take place; Mubarak’s council continues to rule,” next to pictures of different SPEC judges.  
Liberal MP Amr Hamzawy addressed the protesters, demanding that the remnants of the former regime truly be purged from Egypt’s politics within the upcoming period.He further lambasted the Muslim Brotherhood for its “un-revolutionary” stances in the recent period and called on the group to withdraw its presidential candidate, Mohamed Morsi. In response a number of Brotherhood supporters in the square expressed their disagreement by claiming that the majority of the protesters are actually from Islamist forces.
Pro-reform Kefaya movement activist Karima Hefnawi stressed on the current constitutional crisis and the need for all forces within society to work towards ensuring that a truly representative constituent assembly is created, in order to allow for a truly legitimate constitution to be formed.
Muslim Brotherhood supporters, who had flooded the square on buses from around different governorates late Thursday and early Friday, started exiting the square after 4:00pm.  

Friday a week ago Islamists held a demonstration in which they protested the nominations of figures of the old regime in the presidential election. This week they returned to the street mainly because the Presidential Election Committee rejected their candidates, according to the cricticism of 'civil' figures, who reproach the Islamists that they use the revolution only in order to fulfill their own goals. Now the Islamists also demand the cancellation of  Article 28 of the Constitutional Declaration that gives immunity to the decisions of the Presidential Elections Committee.  

 Poster on Tahrir: ''No to the remnants' (of the former regime) with portraits of the presidential candidates Ahmed Shafiq, a former prime minister (r), and Amr Moussa, a former minister of foreign affairs. (Photo Daily News Egypt)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Bahrain's opposition is out on the street as all eyes are directed towards Formule 1 Grand Prix

Pictures circulated on Wednesday on Facebook of Bahraini protesters who had been shot with birdshot by the security forces during demonstrations in the vicinity of Manama. 

Bahrain's main opposition group, Al-Wefaq, has called for a week of daily protests to coincide with the Grand Prix, using the sports event to focus media attention on their longstanding demands for greater equality and representation in the kingdom, AFP reports.
"There is a desire to take advantage of the presence of (international) press, normally barred from entering the country," said Bahraini rights activist Nabil Rajab. "The Formula One... is a symbol of the regime, it represents its repression," said Rajab, noting that the Bahrain race was a personal project of the crown prince.
The government on Thursday barred Al-Wefaq from holding a protest in central Manama, an interior ministry statement said. The announcement came in the wake of several demonstrations in Bahrain's Shiite villages late on Wednesday, in which police and protesters clashed. Witnesses said police used tear gas and buckshot to disperse the crowds, wounding a number of people, with protesters hurling petrol bombs in response. The violent clashes followed calls by the February 14 Youth Movement on social networking sites for "three days of rage" to coincide with the event.
Earlier this week, hundreds of protesters marched carrying banners calling for a boycott and a demonstration was held near Bahrain's international airport as the teams began arriving, despite the arrest of about 80 leading democracy activists.
The Bahrain Grand Prix was cancelled last year in the wake of a Shiite-led uprising against the Sunni monarchy and the brutal government crackdown that followed in which a government commission said 35 people were killed.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Conflict between Sudan and its southern neighbour reaches dangerous levels

(Source BBC)

 The conflict between Sudan and South Sudan seems to have reached a dangerous stage, that could at any moment develop into full scale war. The BBC quotes Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir who during a rally of his National Congress Party, said his main goal is now to "liberate" the people of South Sudan from its rulers following recent border clashes.
Bashir described the former rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), which has ruled South Sudan since it seceded from Sudan in July 2011, as "insects" that needed to be eliminated.
Fighting between the two countries has now spread to another area, further adding to fears of all-out war.
South Sudan seized the Heglig oil field - generally recognised as Sudanese territory - eight days ago. On Tuesday fighting broke out north of Aweil in South Sudan, about 100 miles (160km) west of Heglig.

 The International Crisis Group (ICG) said about the background of the conflict: 
 The exact cause is vigorously disputed, but the flare-up is the predictable outcome of negative trends: conflicts in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile; lack of agreement on transitional economic and financial arrangements between the two countries; Khartoum’s seizure of Southern oil; South Sudan’s decision to stop oil production; and sporadic cross-border attacks and bombings. It occurs amid mutual recriminations: of Khartoum arming Southern rebels and the SPLA providing material support to its former brothers-in-arms now fighting for the Sudanese Peoples’ Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, as well as political support to members of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) seeking to topple President Bashir.

 In part to prevent the resupply of the SPLM-N, the Sudan Armed forces have also bombed refugee camps and towns in South Sudan and recently attacked Bentiu, the capital of Unity State. Complicating matters are divergent views within the capitals and hardliners seemingly working to undermine negotiated settlements, as demonstrated by the scuttling of the much anticipated North-South presidential summit on 3 April.
The end result is that, following renewed clashes, the SPLA has taken control of the disputed Heglig oil fields and stopped about half of Sudan’s 115,000 barrels-per-day oil output. 

According to the  ICG the economy of Sudan, which already suffered heavily from the cost of last year's separation and from Juba's decision in January to stop the export of Sudan's oil through its pipelines, cannot afford the losses the capture of the Heglig fields entail. But Juba, that lost almost 98% of its income since its oil production has all but stopped, is in much the same position.

According to the ICG the current conflict is fundamentally rooted in the unimplemented provisions of the 'Comprehensie Peace Agreement' (CPA) betwen the two counytries, such as the status of Abyei, the cancelled popular consultations in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile and disputed borders, as well as unresolved issues stemming from separation. The two countries must still reach detailed agreements on many divisive issues, such as the joint exploitation of oil, transitional financial arrangements, citizenship, security and trade. The ICG recommends that the UN Security Council put pressure on both presidents to set their differences aside and finalize the negotiations. Also it expresses the hope that friendly countries might try to convince Khartoum that it is high time to overhaul its political system and remodel it along more stable and democratic lines. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Election Comittee upholds ban on 10 Egyptian candidates

The Supreme Presidential Election Committee (SPEC) for the Egyptian presidency uphold its earlier disqualification of ten of the 23 candidates for the presidency, including the three candidates that appealed the decision the SPEC reached on Saturday. A source in the committee told Reuters News Agency Tuesday evening that the appeals of ex-spy chief Omar Suleiman, the popular Salafist lawyer Hazem Abu Ismail and the Muslim Brotherhood leader Khairat al Shater, had been rejected because nothing new was offered in their requests.
Abu Ismail was ruled out because his mother held US citizenship, the commission said, though he has fiercely denied this and has accused the authorities of conspiring against him. Suleiman, one of Hosni Mubarak's closest aides and his deputy in his last days in power, had been ruled out because he had too few of the voter endorsements candidates are required to present, according to the state news agency Mena.(Al-Ahram Online reported that a source in the SPEC told the paper that approximately half of Suleiman's signature petitions had been forged).
Al-Shater had been disqualified because of a past criminal conviction. Like many other Brotherhood leaders, Al-Shater had spent time behind bars for his association with a group that was officially outlawed under Mubarak. The Muslim Brotherhood said on Tuesday that Mohamed Mursi, the head of the group's political party, will run as its candidate in Egypt's presidential elections if Al-Shater is disqualified.

Egypt Independent reported that the committee also upheld its disqualification of Ayman Nour, a liberal who came a distant second to Mubarak in the 2005 presidential election. Nour, founder of the Ghad Al-Thawra Party, was excluded for having been convicted in 2005 on charges of falsifying party establishment documents.The commission also barred Mortada Mansour and Ahmed Awad al-Saidi from running due to a dispute for the presidency of Egypt National Party, as well as former intelligence officer Mamdouh Qutb, who was running under the Al-Hadara Party, because the party had no representatives in Parliament. Ashraf Baroma was excluded when the commission found out that he had evaded his military service, Ibrahim al-Ghareeb was barred for failing to collect the required endorsements and for carrying American citizenship, and Hossam Khairallah for running under the Egyptian Arab Socialist Party, whose presidency is also contested.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Gulf countries upset about visit Ahmadinejad to disputed islands

The Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad waves to supporters during his trip to the island Abu Mussa in the Persian Gulf. (AFP) 

 The United Arab Emirates has summoned Iran's ambassador to Abu Dhabi to denounce a visit last week by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to one of three disputed islands in the Persian Gulf, the state news agency of the UAE said on Monday. Abu Dhabi earlier recalled its ambassador to Tehran. The Saudi cabinet, meeting in Riyadh on Monday, branded the trip a "violation of UAE sovereignty." Foreign ministers of the six Gulf Cooperation Council states are to hold a special meeting in the Qatari capital on Tuesday to discuss the dispute.
On his controversial visit to the island last week, Mr Ahmadinejad, spoke to residents and insisted that the Gulf should be called the Persian Gulf and waved an Iranian flag before a crowd of people, also with flags in hand.
The Iranian foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, told the semi-official ISNA news agency yesterday: "Our legal right to these islands is not open for negotiation, and our ownership of these islands is something certain and registered."After 1971, some issues were raised that have led to misunderstandings, and we have announced numerous times that we are ready to discuss these misunderstandings, but not in the media.
The UEA foreign minister sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahayan said that the UAE considers Ahmadinejad's visit a violation of the agreement between Iran and the UAE". He said that the UAE wants to find a solution to the conflict, but that Iran's behaviour "might bring serious complications and implications", he said. "We have to have a clear agenda, a deadline for these negotiations." If necessary the parties should seek international arbitration or go to the International Court of Justice, Sheikh Abdullah said. "But we cannot keep this matter going on for ever."
Iran invaded the strategically situated islands, Abu Mussa, the Greater and Lesser Tunb in the Strait of Hormuz as Britain withdrew its forces from the Gulf on the eve of the UAE’s founding in 1971. A small force of Ras Al Khaimah police resisted. Three of them were killed. In an agreement between the UAE and Iran reached later that year, Iran was permitted to station troops on Abu Musa but the UAE retained sovereignty. Abu Dhabi says the Iranians have since taken control of the entire island which controls access to the oil-rich Gulf and have built an airport and military base there.

Monday, April 16, 2012

King of Jordan orders release of 19 activists

King Abdullah II of Jordan on Sunday ordered the release of 19 political activists charged with insulting him during pro-reform demonstrations last month, a palace official said. The decision was taken after the king met today with tribal leaders in th southern city of Tafileh, who urged the king to pardon the activists.
Six of the men were arrested in mid-March after a demonstration in Tafileh. The other 13 were detained after a protest outside the prime minister's office in Amman. Jordanian military prosecutors have accused the young activists of incitement against the regime, rioting and insulting the king. Jordan's Islamists and other political movements as well as international human rights organisations have repeatedly demanded their release.
In March, the military state security court freed an 18-year-old political activist from jail after the king pardoned him for burning a picture of the monarch.
Jordanians have been protesting since January 2011 to demand political and economic reforms.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Egyptian Election Committee disqualifies 10 presidential candidates

The body overseeing Egypt's presidential election, the Supreme Presidential Election Committee (SPEC) disqualified 10 candidates from the race on Saturday. They include some of the leading candidates, like the Muslim Brotherhood's Khairat al-Shater, former spy chief Omar Suleiman and Salafi sheikh Hazem Salah Abu-Ismail. Others are Ayman Nour and Mortada Mansour, Ahmed Saidi, Mamdouh Qutb, Ashraf Baroma, and Ibrahim al-Ghareeb.
 Out of the race? Left to right: Hazem Abu Ismail, Khairat al-Shater, Omar Suleiman (Al-Ahram Online)

"The commission has disqualified candidates because they do not fill one or more of the required conditions," the electoral body said in a statement, AFP reported. The candidates have 48 hours to appeal against the decision.
Abu-Ismail's candidacy has been in doubt since the election commission said it had received notification from U.S. authorities that his late mother had an American passport, a status that would disqualify him from the race. His followers have held demonstations against his possible disqualification in the past. It is not immediately what will happen now. Abu Ismail is the second most popular candidate. 
A spokesman for the Shater campaign said their candidate had already prepared his appeal. Shater's candidacy had been in doubt because of a criminal conviction in the Mubarak-era which was less than six years ago. Ayman Nour, leader of the Ghad al-Thawra Party, was banned under the same rule as the Muslim Brotherhood's Shater.
Hussein Kamal, a top aide to Omar Suleiman, told Reuters that Suleiman would also challenge the commission's decision.
.If the commission's decision stands, the remaining frontrunners will be former Arab League head Amr Moussa and former Muslim Brotherhood member Abdel Moneim Abu el-Fotouh.

UN Security Council decides to send observers to monitor truce in Syria

 Demonstration on 13 April 2012 in Douma (Damascus). (AFP - image taken from video)

The UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution Saturday to send observers to monitor the truce in Syria. Russia and China which earlier twice stopped resolutions about Syria with a veto, this time backed the vote, ensuring the first Security Council resolution on Syria since an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad broke out 13 months ago.
UN Resolution 2042 approved sending the first 30 unarmed military monitors to the conflict-wracked state as soon as possible. The first five or six of them are expected to arrive on Sunday, officials said.
The resolution called for both the Syrian government and opposition forces to bring a halt to "armed violence in all its forms." It also urged the government to "implement visibly" all commitments under UN-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan, including the withdrawal of all troops and heavy guns from Syrian cities. Assad and the opposition must also "guarantee the safety of the advance team without prejudice to its freedom of movement and access," and the "primary responsibility" for observers' safety will rest with the Syrian government.
A new resolution with a full mandate will be required to ensure a full monitoring mission of more than 200 observers.
Meanwhile the violence did not yet stop. Even as Saturday's vote took place, forces loyal to Assad killed four civilians when they opened fire on a funeral procession for a demonstrator in Aleppo, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Five more civilians, two soldiers and a policeman who had deserted were killed elsewhere in the country. State television aired footage of youths burning tyres and hurling stones in the Aleppo district of Izaa, and accused gunmen of fanning out in the area and opening fire at random. The death toll, however, was far lower than the dozens of people killed on a daily basis before the ceasefire entered into force at dawn on Thursday.
The latest deaths came after six civilians were killed on Friday as tens of thousands of people protested across Syria, heeding calls by the opposition to test the UN-backed truce. The Local Coordination Committees activist group said there were 771 demonstrations throughout Syria on Friday, a number that is larger than the protests of the weeks before.The rallies, described as some of the largest in months, stretched from the suburbs of Damascus to the central province of Hama, Idlib in the north and the southern province of Dera'a, where the uprising began in March 2011.

Egyptian Islamists demonstrate against candidacy Suleiman and Shafiq

A slogan put up by the islamists on Tahrir reads: ''Justification of the Square is Revolution + Parliament''. (The Daily News)

Hundreds of thousands of mostly Islamist protesters filled Tahrir Square on Friday to show their opposition to remnants of the former regime. A demonstration was also held in Alexandria. The protests were jointly organised by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist Front. Members of the Nour, the Wasat, Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya's Building and Development party and the Fadila party also participated. The protest was named “the Friday of Protecting the Revolution" under the slogan of "the only demand – together against the remnants of the former regime."
The main grievance is the 11th-hour presidential candidacy of former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who was also Hosni Mubarak’s last minute choice for vice president before his ouster. Suleiman is seen by many as the candidate of the military Supreme Council, SCAF. But Ahmed Shafiq, appointed prime minister during the uprising against Mubarak, and former foreign affairs minister and former secretary-general of the Arab League — are also among the presidential who the protesters wished to see scrapped.
Alexandria protesters marched after Friday prayers from Al-Qaed Ibrahim Mosque to the Northern Military base, denouncing the candidacy of figures from the former regime. They chanted against military rule and shouted, “No Shafiq, no Suleiman, this talk was in the past” and “Yes, we’re chanting against the army, down with army rule.”

Friday, April 13, 2012

Egypt: candidates in or out, and the constitutionial assembly in limbo

It is time to list some important developments in relation to Egypt's forthcoming presidential election and the making of a new constitution:

1) The Egyptian parliament's decision to approve a law that bans members of ousted president Hosni Mubarak's regime from standing for public office. The parliament decided this on Thursday by adopting an amendment to the political activity law that "bars any president, vice president, prime minister or leader or (senior member) of the dissolved National Democratic Party from exercising political rights for 10 years."  The law was adopted quite fast after former intelligence chief, and short lived vice-president under Mubarak, Omar Suleiman, put forward his candidacy for the presidency. The new law would effectively bar this former torture master and faithful aide to the former president, from returning to the political stage. However, the law still needs to be ratified by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). 

Hazem Salah Abu Ismail (Al-Ahram)
2) The surprise decision by an Egyptian judge that there is not enough proof that the mother of candidate Hazem Abu Ismail had the American nationality. Earlier the Foreign ministry issued a declaration that the mother of Abu Ismail, a lawyer and a fairly popular Salafist candidate, obtained an American passport shortly before her death. If proved this could effectively bar Abu Ismail from participating in the elections as the law stipulates that a presidential candidate must have only one nationality, the Egyptian one,  and be born from parents with only the Egyptian nationality. The judge's decision, which was cheered by a crowd of thousands of Abu Ismails' supporters, is not the final word, however. The judge of the State Council merely ruled that the Interior ministry now has to come forward with a document stating that Abu Ismail's mother was Egyptian and nothing else.

3) Not only  Abu Ismail's candidacy is in doubt, also the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, Khairat al-Shater is not sure that his candidacy will be approved. His case is still pending in an administrative court, that has to rule whether he qualifies in spite of the fact that six years ago, under Mubarak, he was convicted of 'money laundering and contacts with an illegal group' (i.c. the Muslim Brotherhood). The Brotherhood has named Mohammed Mursi as a 'spare' candidate in case the candidacy of Al-Shater will be barred.    

Amr Moussa
4) In the meantime the Ahram Strategic Center published the outcome of an April survey concerning the most popular candiates. Mubarak's foreign minister and former Arab League chief, Amr Moussa, remained on top with 30.7 percent. This is down only 1.2 percent from last month, when Moussa secured 31.5 percent. Salafist Abu-Ismail remained in second place, with 28.8 percent, improving on last month when he received 22.7 percent. (Questioned about their second choices, the supporters of Abu-Ismail said that if he withdrew from the race, 32 percent would vote for Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, and 29.3 percent for Amr Moussa,  the rest would vote for others).
Apart for that Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, who is a 'liberal islamist'' and a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, came third this week, two steps ahead of last week, with 8.5 per cent. Mubarak's right-hand man, Omar Suleiman came next with 8.2 percent, down from 9.3 percent last month.   
Surprisingly, Khairat El-Shater, the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate scored only 1.7 percent.   

5) A highly remarkable development was that the High Administrative Court on Tuesday blocked Egypt's constituent assembly after ruling in favour of a lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of the formation of this 100-member body. 
 The case was referred to the Commissioner's Office at State Council, which would then have the authority to move the lawsuit to Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC).
The lawsuit against the way the assembly had been formed had been filed by a number of prominent lawyers, including Gad Nasser, professor of constitutional law at Cairo University, Mohamed Shehata, head of the Arab Centre for Transparency and Integrity, Sameh Ashour, the head of the Lawyers' Syndicate and presidential hopeful Khaled Ali. They reasoned that the assembly, which consists for 50% of  members chosen from parliament, cannot be elected in this way as it is impossible for members of parliament to elect  themselves according to a 1994 SCC ruling.
The Islamist-dominated parliament voted on 17 March to allocate 50 seats in the assembly to Members of Parliament (MP) as well as allowing MPs to choose the remaining half from outside the legislative body.
The final member list sparked uproar after it appeared  that Islamists had secured over 65 per cent of the assembly seats.After that all the liberal and leftist representatives walked out, as well as members of Egypt's official Islamic authority, Al-Azhar, and the Coptic Curch.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Cease fire in Syria appears to be holding

 The Syrian state press agency Sana published this picture of a bus ferrying troops to Aleppo which allegedly had been bombed by rebels, killing an officer en wounding 24 others.

UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan said a ceasefire in Syria appeared to be holding on Thursday.
"I am encouraged by reports that the situation in Syria is relatively calm and that the cessation of hostilities appears to be holding," Annan said in a statement released as he briefed the UN Security Council on the crisis.
Annan added, however, that the Syrian government must carry out a withdrawal of troops and heavy weapons from cities, which is included in the plan. United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, said plans were being drawn up to send observers to Syria, starting with the dispatch of a UN peacekeeping general as early as Friday. "We are working to send an observer team as promptly as possible," Ban told a news conference in Geneva."The world is watching however with sceptical eyes," he added, since previous promises made by the Syrian regime "have not been kept."
Renewed bloodshed on Thursday killed at least four people, putting to the test the hard-won ceasefire plan. The opposition said regime forces killed three civilians and arrested dozens more in defiance of its undertaking to Annan to halt all military operations and withdraw troops from towns and cities by 6 a.m.
The opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) said the epicentre of Thursday's bloodshed was the central region of Hama. Spokeswoman Basma Qodmani called for peaceful demonstrations across Syria to test the government's readiness to accept public shows of dissent. "The real test will be if there is shooting or not when people demonstrate," she said.
State media charged that it was the opposition who were jeopardising the long-awaited truce, accusing rebel fighters of bombing a bus ferrying troops to their base in Syria's second-largest city Aleppo.
"An armed terrorist group used an explosive device to target a bus transporting officers and non-commissioned officers to their unit in Aleppo. It killed a lieutenant colonel" and wounded 24 others, state news agency SANA said.
The interior ministry urged tens of thousands of people who fled the violence both inside and outside the country to return home and offered an amnesty to opposition gunmen without "blood on their hands."
The rebel Free Syrian Army, for its part, insisted it was "100 percent committed" to the ceasefire in a conflict which monitors say has killed more than 10,000 people since March last year.
Hours before the deadline expired, the military unleashed a lethal offensive against protest centres, killing 25 civilians on Wednesday, including 10 in the rebel stronghold of Rastan, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
 Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey could seek NATO's help in case the Syrian troops violate its borders again. Syrian forces opened fire across the Turkish border on Monday, killing two people in a Turkish refugee camp.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Number of casualties increases in Syria as Annan's deadline nears

 Mass burial in Naftnaz (provincen of Idlib) on 4 april 2012. The photo was provided by the Local Coordination Committees (LCC). (AFP)

Nearly 130 people were reported killed across Syria on Saturday, 86 of them civilians, as regime forces pressed a protest crackdown three days ahead of a deadline to cease fire and pull back. At least 40 civilians died "in bombardment and shooting on the town of Latamna," in Hama province, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group. Five civilians were killed in Tibet al-Imam, also in Hama, while another 18 died in the neighbouring province of Homs, where Rastan town was bombed, 22 in Idlib to the northwest, and one in Aleppo in north Syria.
A Lebanese bus carrying Shiite pilgrims was caught up in a deadly clash between rebels and troops inside the Syrian border on Saturday, the Observatory and a Lebanese television station reported. Al-Manar television of Lebanon's Shiite movement reported one person killed and three wounded when a rocket hit the bus carrying pilgrims from Syria to Iraq. This occurred near the rebel town of Qusayr.
The latest reported deaths came after President Bashar al-Assad's forces launched an overnight assault on Latamna and clashed with members of the rebel Free Syrian Army.

Also the rebels went into action. On Saturday they attacked a military intelligence headquarters in the second city of Aleppo, the Observatory said. Army deserters launched a dawn assault on Ming air base in the same province. Fighting was also reported between troops and deserters in districts of Hama city.
"Regular forces launched an assault early on Saturday on the Al-Qussur district, where they burned down the house of an activist," said an activist on the ground, Abu Ghazi al-Hamwi.
 The Local Coordination Committees group, which organises protests at a local level, on Saturday posted online videos of tanks and armoured cars deploying in Douma, just north of the capital.
Thousands of people demonstrated in Damascus on Saturday in support of the ruling Baath party on the 65th anniversary of its creation, an AFP journalist said.
The official SANA news agency reported similar demonstrations in other cities that "expressed the Syrian people, army and leadership's steadfastness in the face of the conspiracy hatched against Syria."

 UN Secretary general Ban Ki Moon said on Friday that the increased attacks by Assad's forces on cities "violate" a UN Security Council statement demanding an end to hostilities by Tuesday's truce deadline. "The April 10 timeline to fulfill the government's implementation of its commitments, as endorsed by the Security Council, is not an excuse for continued killing," Ban added.
But Syria said on Friday that the number of what it calls "terrorist acts" has risen since the deal was reached with Annan. "The terrorist acts committed by the armed terrorist groups in Syria have increased during the last few days, particularly after reaching an understanding on Kofi Annan's plan," it said in a letter to Ban. At the same time, Damascus lashed out at the UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, accusing her of turning a blind eye to "terrorism" funded from abroad.
Damascus has also demanded a written commitment that the opposition will not seek to exploit the troop withdrawal to make territorial gains.Meanwhile, Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Muallem is scheduled to travel to Moscow on Monday for talks.
Elsewhere, Turkey said on Saturday nearly 700 Syrian refugees poured across the border in 24 hours, bringing to more than 24,000 the total number of Syrians seeking haven there.
And the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation said at least one million people inside Syria affected by violence need urgent humanitarian aid worth $70 million, following a joint OIC-UN visit to assess the country's needs.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Bahraini activist Khawaja in hospital after hungerstrike of nearly 60 days

 The jailed Bahraini activist Abdulhadi Khawaja, who has been on hunger strike for 58 days, was moved to a hospital and fed intravenously on Friday after his health deteriorated sharply, his lawyer said.Protesters clashed with police at a gathering of more than 5,000 demonstrators in the north of the capital Manama to demand the release of Khawaja, one of 14 men in prison for leading "Arab Spring" pro-democracy protests last year. One Bahraini man died on Saturday after being shot during an anti-government march. Ahmed Ismail (22) was taking pictures of a demonstration when what he described as "militia members" in an unmarked car opened fire on him.
Khawaja's lawyer, Mohammed al-Jishi, said Khawaja had been moved from an Interior Ministry clinic to a military hospital which was better equipped. The authorities had said on Wednesday he had been moved to the Interior Ministry clinic after losing 10 kg."His condition has worsened ... his blood pressure is down, and he is getting an IV (intravenous) drip," Jishi told Reuters by telephone.
Khawaja was arrested last April following the uprising centred on the Pearl Roundabout in the capital Manama. He was convicted in June of trying to overthrow the Bahraini royal family. Amnesty International says Khawaja's conviction was based on a confession made under duress, and no evidence was presented showing he had used or advocated violence during the mass protests. According to testimony Khawaja gave to the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry - a panel of human rights experts asked to look into the unrest by King Hamad following the international outcry over his handling of the protests - Khawaja suffered prolonged torture while in detention.

Forces loyal to ex-president Saleh shut down Sana'a airport

The airport in Yemen's capital was shut down on Saturday after forces loyal to a sacked general close to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh surrounded it and threatened to shoot down planes. The troops surrounding the airport were backed by members of the Hamdan tribe that supports former strongman Saleh.
The airport has been encircled by forces loyal to air force chief General Mohammed Saleh al-Ahmar, Saleh's half brother, who has refused to step down after being sacked by President Abed Rabbo Mansur Hadi. The men were led by Naji Jamaan, a Hamdan tribal chief. 
President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi
Ahmar has refused to go unless the defence minister and other senior officials also leave, a military source said. In a message to his troops, Ahmar said Hadi's decree would not be implemented until Defence Minister Mohammed Nasser Ahmed, General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar -- head of the First Armoured Brigade that protected anti-Saleh protesters last year in Sanaa -- and chief of staff Ali al-Ashwal left their posts. He also demanded that several members of the powerful Hashed tribe, which backed defectors during last year's anti-regime protests, be forced into exile.
In addition to Ahmar, Hadi also sacked on Friday Saleh' nephew, General Tareq Mohammed Abdullah Saleh, who heads the presidential guard. Tareq also refused to quit and had turned down an offer to command of the 37th Battalion of the Republican Guard in the southeastern province of Hadramawt.
Gulf Cooperation Council chief Abdullatif al-Zayani, who led mediation efforts to convince Saleh to step down, said the six-nation group "supports" Hadi and "backs all measures he takes to help Yemen exit its current crisis." Zayani also "urged all political power players in Yemen and all those involved to support the Yemeni president to move forward in implementing the principles stipulated by the Gulf Initiative." The initiative, under which Saleh resigned after 33 years in power in exchange for immunity from prosecution, includes a restructuring of the army as one of several conditions.
Saleh's son Ahmed still heads the elite Republican Guard, while a nephew, Yehya, commands central security services.

Last month Hadi named General Salem Ali Qatan to head the 31st Armoured Brigade in southern Yemen. He replaces General Mahdi Moqala, known for his close ties to Saleh and accused of corruption.
Two days later, Al-Qaeda militants attacked troops in the southern city of Zinjibar and killed 185 soldiers of them. Survivors accused some army leaders who had served under Saleh of "collaborating" in the attack.
Saleh retains the leadership of the General People's Congress, and aides have not ruled out his standing in a contested presidential election due to be held alongside new parliamentary polls in 2014.

USA trained units of the Mujaheddin e Khalq, although it's is on the list of terror groups

  Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, the Iranian nuclear scientist who was killed in Tehran on January 11. Ahmadi Roshan, who was the last of the five Iranian nuclear scientists who got killed, is here pictured with his little his son, Alireza. AFP/Getty Images

An interesting report by Seyour Hersh in The New Yorker about secret training that the Bush administration provided to the Mujaheddin e Khalq, an Iranian opposition movement, that fell out with Khomeiny in 1979, murdered scores of people linked to the government of the Islamic republic and fought against Teheran with the troops of Saddam Hussein from a base (Al-Ashraf) within Iraq:

The US Department of Energy maintains a secret site in Nevada, some sixty-five miles northwest of Las Vegas, which was once used for nuclear testing, and now includes a counterintelligence training facility and  private airport 
It was here that the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) conducted training, beginning in 2005, for members of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, a dissident Iranian opposition group known in the West as the M.E.K.
 In spite of the fact that the MEK is still on the US-list of terrorist organizations,
''they got “the standard training,” he said, “in commo, crypto [cryptography], small-unit tactics, and weaponry—that went on for six months,” the retired general said.

Khodabandeh told me that he had heard from more recent defectors about the training in Nevada. He was told that the communications training in Nevada involved more than teaching how to keep in contact during attacks—it also involved communication intercepts. The United States, he said, at one point found a way to penetrate some major Iranian communications systems. At the time, he said, the U.S. provided M.E.K. operatives with the ability to intercept telephone calls and text messages inside Iran—which M.E.K. operatives translated and shared with American signals intelligence experts. He does not know whether this activity is ongoing.

 These last years however it seems that Israel has become the main sponsor of the M.E.K:
Five Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated since 2007. M.E.K. spokesmen have denied any involvement in the killings, but early last month NBC News quoted two senior Obama Administration officials as confirming that the attacks were carried out by M.E.K. units that were financed and trained by Mossad, the Israeli secret service.

It is not the first time that the MEK has been mentioned as working for the Mossad. Also attacks on a basis of the Pasdaran and a missile base near Tehran have been ascribed to collaboration of the MEK and the Mossad. But it's the first time someone reports about the secret training in the USA of units of this group, which among other things is known for its quite frightening personality cult for the leaders Massoud and Maryam Rajavi.    

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Amnesty criticizes prosecutor ICC to not investigate Operation Cast Lead in Gaza

The International Criminal Court will not investigate Israel's conduct during its December 2008 offensive on Gaza because Palestine is not a state, the world prosecutor said Tuesday.
In a statement, the ICC prosecutor acknowledged that over 130 countries and some UN bodies recognize Palestine as a state. But, Palestine still holds observer status in the UN, and so the ICC cannot at this time investigate allegations of war crimes committed on Palestinian territory, the prosecutor said.

Amnesty International said the ICC's decision meant victims of Israel's war on Gaza were likely to be denied justice. The prosecutor's decision opened the ICC to accusations of political bias, it added.
The rights group said ICC judges should decide on the court's jurisdiction. It said the prosecutor had "dodged the question," after considering it for three years.
"For the past three years, the prosecutor has been considering the question of whether the Palestinian Authority is a "state" that comes under the jurisdiction of the ICC and whether the ICC can investigate crimes committed during the 2008-9 conflict in Gaza and southern Israel," said Marek Marczynski, head of Amnesty International’s International Justice campaign.
"Now, despite Amnesty International’s calls and a very clear requirement in the ICC’s statute that the judges should decide on such matters, the Prosecutor has erroneously dodged the question, passing it to other political bodies," he added.
Most of the 1,400 Palestinians killed in Operation Cast Lead were civilians.
According to UN figures, Israel's military destroyed over 3,500 residential homes and made 20,000 people homeless during the 22-day assault.
A UN fact-finding mission tasked with investigating allegations of war crimes found that Israel committed "grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention in respect of willful killings and willfully causing great suffering to protected persons."

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Mayor Barkat will put through the establishment of yet another settlement in Jerusalem

 Kidmat Zion is situated down and at the far right in this map that was provided by Ir Amim. (click on map for bigger picture)

The mayor of Jerusalen, Nir barkat, plans to establish a new Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem, according to news reports Tuesday. Around 200 new homes are planned for the area, which lies between Abu Dis and Jabal al-Mukkabir. 
The settlement, referred to as Kidmat Zion, will be built on land purchased by Irving Moskowitz, a Florida businessman and patron of Jewish settlers. 

  Kidmat Zion is on the edge of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber, near the wall that separates Jabel Mukaber and Abu Dis. The area of Kidmat Zion first was purchased in 1925 by ultra-Orthodox Jews from Mea Shearim known as the "Tenants' Association,"  but a Jewish neighborhood was never built there. From 1948 to 1967 the land was under Jordanian rule. After the 1967 war and the establishment of the new municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, most of the land bought by the Tenants' Association remained outside of the boundaries of Jerusalem and is currently on the other side of the separation wall in Area B. Sixty dunams remain inside the boundaries of Jerusalem.

In the 1990s, the land was purchased by American millionaire Irving Moskowitz, the patron of the Ateret Cohanim settler organization. (Moskowitz also bought the landmark Shepherd Hotel in Sheik Jarrah, whose historic Palestinian owners -- the Husseini family -- lost a legal case to recognize their title to the property on Monday). At the end of the 1990s the Jerusalem municipality initiated a plan to build an Israeli residential neighborhood for 250 families on the land remaining with Jerusalem's boundaries. Then-Mayor Ehud Olmert encouraged Ateret Cohanim, which initiated and advanced the plan, and the plan was approved by the Local Building and Planning Committee in 2000.

 Today a number of Jewish families live in two houses, bought from Palestinians, in Kidmat Zion. Some of the homes consist of additions built without permits.  The settlement is next to a small Palestinian neighborhood called Abu Mjeira, which is home to two extended Palestinian families, Qunbar (160 people) and Surhi (200 people). Since the construction of the Separation Barrier was completed in this area, the access roads from Abu Mjeira to Abu Dis have been disconnected; the only transportation route that remains available to these families' homes is through the road adjacent to the Barrier. That road is blocked on both ends with permanent checkpoints: the Sawahreh checkpoint in the south, which is permanently closed to them, and the former Cliff Hotel checkpoint, through which passage is permitted only to members of the Qunbar and Surhi families registered with the Border Police; guests, public transportation or service providers are not able to pass through.

Netanyahu overrules evacuation of settlers in Hebron

 The lighter coloured house is the one taken over by settlers. (AP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu overruled the planned eviction on Tuesday of Jewish settlers from a Palestinian house in Hebron near the Ibrahimi mosque. Some 20 settlers moved into the Hebron building last Thursday at night, seeking to expand a settlement of some 500 families in the heart of the ancient city.
 The settlers say they bought the two-storey structure from its Palestinian owner. But the Palestinian police denies this. Ramadan Awad, chief of Palestinian police in the city, denied the validity of any such deal, saying the building had more than 50 owners. "One of its owners sold his share to a Palestinian from Gaza presently in the West Bank, who was detained and held by the (Palestinian) security forces to investigate whether he sold it to settlers," Awad told Reuters. "Even if he sold that share, it represents only a small part of the whole house."
 Citing the need to maintain calm, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered the settlers out by three o'clock on Tuesday. However, an Israeli official said that "the prime minister has asked the defense minister to give the settlers in the building time to allow them the possibility of pursuing legal proceedings." Asked when the settlers in the disputed Hebron building might now face eviction, a Barak aide declined to provide details, saying there were "operational considerations".

Under Palestinian law it is forbiden to sell Palestinian property to Jewish owners. But the settlers said they purchased the property legally. Their representatives showed records of the deal on Sunday, including money transfers, to Military Advocate General staff.
Disputes like this are not uncommon, as settler organisations usually use middlemen or fake companies to purchase property from Palestinians. Haaretz reported that in this case a key role was played by Assaf Nehmad, a former Shin Bet security service man, who speaks Arabic and helps settlers purchase land from Arab owners.Nehmad owns 99 percent of the company that purchased the house, Al-Aydun al-Akarat, which he founded in 2010 when the settlers first started trying to buy the house.
According to material presented Sunday to the Military Advocate General's staff, the house was registered to two Palestinians, one of whom bequeathed it to a Palestinian man by the name of Hosni al-Tamimi. Tamimi sold it to a front man for the settlers, Mohammed Abu-Shahala, who sold it to Al-Aydun. Sources in Hebron said that Abu-Shahala, who is originally from Gaza, was an officer in the Palestinian Authority security forces, which is how he got to the West Bank.He made a number of property deals over the past few years and is now detained in a PA investigation facility.

Syria accepts Annan's deadline, but West is sceptical and Arab wold divided

Free Syrian Army rebels in a suburb of Damascus. (AP)

Syria has agreed to "immediately" start pulling troops out of protest cities and to complete a troop and heavy weapon withdrawal by April 10, Arab League and UN envoy Kofi Annan said Monday. US ambassador Susan Rice told reporters after a UN Security Council meeting on the Syria crisis that
the Syrian foreign minister, Walid Muallem, had written to Annan on Sunday agreeing to the new deadline.
 She added that Annan's deputy Nasser al-Qudwa is in contact with Syrian opposition groups to get them to halt hostilities within 48 hours of government forces carrying out their commitments.
 The Syrian ambassador to th UN, Bashar Jaafari, said there were no preconditions for the April 10 accord with Annan. But he added: "We are expecting Mr Annan and some parties in the Security Council to get the same kind of commitments" from the opposition.

The US ambassador said the United States and other countries doubted that Assad would carry out the new commitments.  "Past experience would lead us to be skeptical and to worry that over the next several days, that rather than a diminution of the violence we might yet again see an escalation of the violence. We certainly hope that is not so," Rice said.
During the meeting Annan also called on the council to support the April 10 deadline and to start considering the deployment of a UN-backed observer mission in Syria if fighting is halted. Members of Annan's team are to go to Damascus this week to discuss a possible observer mission.
 The Syrian government has largely recaptured most rebel-held areas in recent months, but still faces sporadic clashes from poorly equipped rebel fighters.
The UN estimates that over 9,000 people have died in the year-long uprising while the government says over 3,000 of its forces have been killed.

Arab, Western and other nations at a Friends of Syria meeting on Sunday in Istanbul called for a deadline to be set, but Russia, Syria's last major ally and a permanent member of the Security Council, has rejected the calls. "Ultimatums and artificial deadlines rarely help matters," Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday. Lavrov said the peace plan would not work unless rebel forces also agreed to halt hostilities.

Some countries at the conference – notably Saudi Arabia and Qatar – have been openly calling for the arming of insurgents in Syria. The US, Europe and Turkey, however, are more cautious, fearing it could fuel an all-out civil war. But the US will send non-lethal material to the rebels, like "communications equipment, US Foreign minister Clinton announced. Also Burhan Ghalioun, president of the Syrian National Council (SNC) announced that the SNC will take upon itself to pay the salaries of members of the Free Syrian Army. The SNC in turn, receives most of its money through contributions from the Gulf countries.
 The hardline stance of Qatar and Saudi Arabia has sharpened the differences in the Arab world. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Sunday sharply criticized the Qatari and Saudi position, as well as the ''Friends of Syria'' conference.
 Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, at the opening of the Arab summit in Baghdad on 29 March.  (Reuters)

The Syria issue has split the Arab world, with hardline states including  advocating arming Syrian rebels and calling for Assad's departure, while others including Iraq want to see a political solution.
"We reject any arming (of Syrian rebels) and the process to overthrow the (Assad) regime, because this will leave a greater crisis in the region," Maliki said at a news conference after the
"The stance of these two states is very strange," he said in apparent reference to Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
"They are calling for sending arms instead of working on putting out the fire, and they will hear our voice, that we are against arming and against foreign interference."
"We are against the interference of some countries in Syria's internal affairs, and those countries that are interfering in Syria's internal affairs will interfere in the internal affairs of any country," the Iraqi leader added. He also predicted that Assad's regime will hang on, saying: "It has been one year and the regime did not fall, and it will not fall, and why should it fall?"