Thursday, August 30, 2012

Khamenei repeats: 'Iran is not after nuclear weapons'

 Ayatollah Khamenei during his speech at the opening of the summit of the Non Aligned Movement in Tehran. (Xinhua).

has no interest in nuclear weapons but will keep pursuing peaceful nuclear energy, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in the 16th Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit opened in Tehran on Thursday.
Khamenei said that "The Islamic republic is not after nuclear weapons" and will never slacken off its right to the "peaceful" use of nuclear energy, adding that Iran's slogan is "Nuclear energy for all, nuclear weapons for none."
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, attending the Tehran summit, urged Khamenei late on Wednesday to take concrete steps to prove Iran's nuclear work is peaceful.
It was not the first time ayatollah Khamenei said that Iran will not try to obtain a nuclear bomb. He said on several occasions that having a nuclear bomb is a sin according to islamic jurisprudence. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Car bomb against funeral of Syrian loyalists kills 27

A car bomb rocked the funeral of two government loyalists in a Damascus suburb killing 27 people on Tuesday as the army kept up its bombardment of rebel strongholds in the east of the capital.
The bombing hit Jaramana, a mainly Druze and Christian town on the southeastern outskirts of Damascus that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights described as generally supportive of the government of President Bashar al-Assad. "The number of people killed in a funeral held for two supporters of the regime has risen to 27," said the Observatory.
Earlier, state television had put the toll at 12, adding that another 48 were wounded.
"At around 3:00 pm (1200 GMT), a funeral procession was making its way to the cemetery, when a car parked on the side of the road exploded," an army official told AFP. The funeral was held for two supporters of Assad who were killed in a bomb attack on Monday, the Britain-based Observatory said.
The force of the explosion completely demolished the facade of one building and caused heavy damage to others nearby, an AFP photographer reported.
State media blamed rebel fighters for the bombing, which came amid an intensified bombardment by government troops of eastern districts of Damascus that shelter some of the Free Syrian Army's best organised battalions.
But the opposition Syrian National Council accused Assad's regime of staging the bombing against its own supporters in a bid to divert attention from the killings of hundreds of people during an army assault on a largely Sunni Muslim suburb of the capital last week.
"The regime wants to cover up for its massacres," SNC spokesman George Sabra said, alluding to the discovery of more than 300 bodies in the town of Daraya that sparked an international outcry.
"It also wants to punish residents of Jaramana -- who are of mixed religious backgrounds -- for welcoming people who were displaced from nearby towns." Sabra told AFP by telephone.
"It wants to turn the revolution... into a bloody civil war fought along sectarian lines," he said.

The Observatory reported fierce shelling of northeastern neighbourhoods of Damascus as the army pressed its drive to push rebel fighters out of the capital. Among the districts targeted was Qaboon where rebels from the Free Syrian Army claimed to have downed a military helicopter on Monday.
The rebels opened what they described as a new front in east Damascus at the weekend after a major offensive by the army last week against their positions southwest of the capital, including in Daraya.
Outside the capital, the army hit rebel positions in the second city Aleppo as well as in Idlib province, in the northwest close to the border with Turkey. A bombardment of the Idlib village of Kfar Nabal killed at least 13 civilians, two of them women, among at least 97 people killed nationwide.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Deraya (Syria) paid a heavy price for demanding freedom'

French President Francois Hollande stepped up pressure on Syria Monday, saying France would recognise a provisional government and warning of a foreign intervention if the regime uses chemical weapons.
In a speech to French diplomats, Hollande called for an "intensification of efforts for the political transition to take place quickly" and urged the Syrian opposition to form a "provisional, inclusive and representative" government.
"France will recognise the provisional government of the new Syria as soon as it is formed," he said.
Washington, however, reacted that before setting up a government the Syrian opposition first needed to coordinate with citizens inside and outside the country and set a democratic path.
 Hollande was on the same page with the United States and Britain when he warned the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that using chemical weapons would be a legitimate reason for a foreign intervention.

Deraya (Anadolu Agency) 

In what is unfolding as one of the deadliest and most focused short-term assaults by the Syrian military since the uprising started nearly 18 months ago, witnesses and activist groups say hundreds have been killed in Daraya in the past week alone. Residents described how the Syrian Army first closed off the city, keeping civilians from fleeing, then methodically began a campaign of heavy shelling and house-to-house searches ending with executions.

The death toll, rising all week, grew again on Sunday. A day after two activist networks, the Local Coordination Committees and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that more than 200 bodies had been found in the town, activists said another 15 bodies were discovered in the basement of a home in the area. That put the death toll for the week at more than 630 in the city, said the Local Coordination Committees, including nearly 300 people reported executed.
“Daraya, a city of dignity, has paid a heavy price for demanding freedom,” the group said in a statement, adding: “The death toll has doubled in the past few days due to field executions and revenge killings.”

 Daraya, a city of several hundred thousand, has been reported as a mainstay of opposition support within the capital area since the start of the uprising. Its location is also critical: it abuts the Mezze military airport, a major base for Syrian forces. There are farms on the fringe of town, and small furniture factories dominate the city center.
When the government assault started, activists said that rebels had established a large armory inside the city. They said it had been rumored to hold missiles, a detail that could not be confirmed, perhaps to target helicopters at the Mezze airport.
The government operation began early last week. Troops first surrounded Daraya and set up checkpoints, blocking food and other supplies from entering, residents said. Electricity was cut, then Internet and phone service.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Israel stops 100 'Welcome to Palestine' activists who wanted to go to Bethlehem

Pro-Palestinian activists in Jordan ahead of their attempt to enter the West Bank.
The 'Welcome to Palestine' activists held a demonstration in Amman. (Reuters) 

More than a hundred activists from all over the world have been stopped Sunday evening by Israeli border guards when coming  from Jordan to the border crossing at the Allenby Bridge. The activists of the group 'Welcome to Palestine', were on their way to Bethlehem at the invitation of the Palestinian governor of Bethlehem and of civil society organizations there. They were carrying notebooks and school equipment for Palestinian pupils about to begin their school year.
The Israeli-controlled area of the Allenby Bridge was declared "a closed military zone" ad journalists were told to leave. The activists themselves were ot eve allowed to get off their busses.
"They collected our passports,' said Olivia Zemor of Paris, '' and a few minutes later returned them with each and every passport stamped 'Entry denied'.
It is the second time in a month that Israel denies access of visitors who have been invited by the Palestinian Authority. On 5 August Israel denied access to the Foreign ministers of Algeria, Bangladesh, Cuba, Indonesia, and Malaysia, who are members of the 13 country strong Palestine Committee of the Non Aligned Movement. The Israeli attitude shows that the Palestine Authority under the occupation has not even the authority to invite its own guests. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Swiss institute will examine remains of Yasser Arafat

Arafat leaving to France for treatment. He died shortly after that.

The radiological institute of the medical centre of the university of the Vaux in Lausanne (CHUV) is going to examine the remains of Yasser Arafat, a spokesman for the centre has confirmed after Arafat's widow, Suha has given her approval. The centre now awaits a written statement from Suha Arafat's lawyer a then plans to send a mission to Ramallah at the beginning of next month.
This first mission is to meet the Palestinian leadership and explore the possibilities at Arafat's place of burial. After that a second mission will be planned in order to look for traces of the highly radioactive and toxic  polonium in Arafat's remains. The centre earlier found abnormal concentrations of polonium when it examined some of Arafat's clothes and belongings.  
"Time is short, we can say that it is a matter of weeks, not months, since the traceability of polonium halved every 138 days," CHUV spokesman Darcy Christen said. Since the unexplained death of the Palestinian leader on November 11, 2004 more than twenty cycles have passed.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Morsi frees Egyptian journalist who was to stand trial on charge that he had insulted the president

Egyptian newspaper editor Islam Afifi was freed after a few hours in custody on Thursday, following a presidential decree scrapping preventive detention for alleged publishing crimes. It was the first time President Mohamed Morsi, who was inaugurated June 30, issued a decree with the force of law, presidential spokesman Yasser Ali said, according to the official MENA news agency.
Egyptian journalist Islam Afifi appears in court during his trial in Cairo. Afifi was freed after a few hours in custody on Thursday, a security official said, following a presidential decree scrapping preventive detention for alleged publishing crimes. (AFP Photo/Ahmed Mahmud)
 Afifi, editor of the small independent Al-Dustour newspaper, is the first journalist to go on trial since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in February last year. A judge at the Giza Criminal Court in greater Cairo ordered Afifi held, earlier on Tjrsday, until his next hearing, which was set for September 16. The charges against him were that he had "insulted Morsi."
The Egyptian Press Syndicate, The Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights and Reporters Without Borders all condemned the court's decision to hold Afifi in custody and pressed for his immediate release. The Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights said his trial "runs counter to the new Egypt, which has an elected president and where there is a commitment to respect public liberties."
The authorities on August 12 ordered copies of Al-Dustour seized after complaints that they contained remarks deemed insulting to Morsi. Another prominent case is that of TV presenter Tawfiq Okasha, who was accused of suggesting the murder of Morsi during a talk show aired on the private el-Faraeen TV station earlier this month. The network was taken off the air and Okasha was banned from travel pending his trial in early September. Lawsuits have also been brought against chief editors of el-Fagr and Sawt el-Umma weeklies on similar accusations. Apart from these cases there was a lot of noise after the appointment of a number of new editors by the Shura council, the body that under the still existing constitution is responsible for these appointments. According to many a number of the new appointees were sympathizers of the Islamists or members of the Brotherhood.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

At least ten killed in renewed fighting in Lebanese city of Tripoli

Smoke rises from a residential building at the Sunni Muslim dominant neighbourhood of Bab al-Tebbaneh in Tripoli, northern Lebanon, during clashes between Sunni Muslims and Alawites, August 21, 2012. REUTERS-Stringer
Residential building on fire on Tuesday 21 August, in Bab al-Tabbaneh, Tripoli (Reuters)

The death toll from fighting between Sunni Muslims and Alawites in Tripoli climbed to at least 10 overnight, medical sources said on Wednesday, in clashes that the city's residents described as some of the heaviest since Lebanon's civil war.
Reuters reported that more than 100 people have been wounded in the fighting which erupted this week along a sectarian fault line between the Sunni district of Bab al-Tabbaneh and the Alawite area of Jebel Mohsen. The sectarian tone of the fighting reflects the Syrian conflict that increasingly sets a mainly Sunni Muslim opposition against President Bashar Assad's Alawite minority.
After a lull, Tripoli was rocked by some two dozen explosions between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., apparently caused by rocket-propelled grenades, witnesses said. The fighters have also been using automatic machine guns.
The area is one of Lebanon's most volatile and chronic Sunni-Alawite tensions spilled into clashes that killed 15 people in early June. At least 10 soldiers have been wounded in efforts to stop the violence, the army has said.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Eid said!

Palestinians Prepare for Eid Al-Fitr Holiday in Gaza
Sweets in the market in Rafah, in the south of the Gaza Strip, as a preparation for Eid al Fitr. The feast, that comes at the end of Ramadan, starts Sunday.   (UPI)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Women in Tunis demonstrate against planned article in new constitution

Women prostesting for women's rights in Tunis.(Getty). The photo under is from an earlier demo in Tunis and was taken by blogster Lina Ben Mhenni   

Thousands of Tunisians demonstrated in the capital Tunis late Monday for women's rights as the Islamist-led government faces growing dissent, AFP reported. Two demonstrations were held, one authorised and the other not, to demand the withdrawal of a planned article in the constitution backed by the Islamists that refers to "complementarity" and not equality of the sexes. Thousands of people assembled opposite the parliament building in Tunis after the breaking of the Ramadan fast, while several hundred defied a ban to gather on the main city centre Habib Bourguiba Avenue. Another demonstration was attended by about 1,000 people in Sfax, 260 kilometers south of Tunis. The gatherings in Tunis were the biggest by the opposition movement since a banned march was violently broken up on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in April.
The demonstrators, mobilised by feminist groups, human rights and opposition organisations, were celebrating the anniversary of the promulgation of the Personal Status Code (CSP) in 1956 under Tunisia's first president, Habib Bourguiba. In the 1956 code polygamy, under which Muslim men are allowed to have as many as four wives, was abolished as well as the practice of repudiation, under which husbands could divorce simply by saying so three times. Also it instituted civil marriage. It was the first of its kind in the Arab world.
In the new article none of these provisions will disappear, but the wording of the raises fears that the ruling islamist Ennahda party is changing the game. The offending article stipulates that the state guarantees "the protection of women's rights... under the principle of complementarity to man within the family and as an associate of man in the development of the country." The wording is seen by many as an Islamist ploy to reverse the principle of gender equality that made Tunisia a beacon of modernity in the Arab world when it was introduced nearly six decades ago.

 Feminists concerns are not the only reason for discontent in Tunisia. In Sidi Bouzid, the place where more than one and a half year ago the protests started that led to the fall of president Ben Ali,  several protest demonstrations were held demanding the fall of the government, the 'Troïka'as it called since it rests on the support of three parties. The demonstrations were partly in reaction to harsh repression of earlier demonstrations against the high cost of living and lack of jobs.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Morsi fires Tantawi and Anan - presidential coup or deal with the army?

How it was: left to right: Marshall Tantawi, president Morsi, chief of staf Annan. (Al-Ahram Online) 

Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi cancelled the Constitutional Amendments on Sunday and sent the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and minister of Defense, Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, as well as  Chief of Staff general Sami Anan to retirement. 
His move left the whole of Egypt puzzled for a couple of hours as to whether this was a deal between Morsi and the army or rather a 'presidential coup'. Clear answers have still not been given. What was cofirmed however, is that at least the men that were appointed in their place kew beforehad what was going to happen.
As replacemet for Tantawi as miister of Defense Morsi appointed the head of the military intelligence, Abdel Fatah El-Sisi. Sedky Sobhy, the commander of the Third Army, was appointed as Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces.
Morsi also retired the Commander of the Navy, Mohab Memish, and appointed him as head of the Suez Canal Authority. Reda Hafez, the commander of the Air Force, was appointed as minister of Military Production. Mohamed El-Assar, the SCAF member in charge of armaments, was appointed as Deputy minister of Defence.
Fourth, Morsi appointed Mahmoud Mekki, the deputy head of the Cassation Court, as his Vice President.
Immediately following the announcement of their appointments, Mahmoud Mekki, Egypt’s new vice president, and Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, the new minister of defence, were both sworn into office before President Morsi shortly after 5pm on Sunday afternoon.
Both Tantawi and Anan were appointed advisers to the president. Tantawi received the Nile Medal, the highest state honor in Egypt, Anan got the State Medal.
Lateron president Mohamed Morsi issued a new constitutional declaration, granting the elected president all the powers detailed in article 56 of the 30 March 2011 constitutional declaration.
The powers Morsi enjoys as per this declaration includes full executive power and legislative powers as well as the authority to set all public policies in Egypt as well as signing international treaties.
The declaration also gives president Morsi the right to form a new constituent assembly to draft a new constitution for Egypt should any future developments prevent the current assembly from doing its duties.
Also this raises questions: all powers that per this Constitutional Declaration used to be in the hands of the military are now in the hands of the presidency. What happened, in fact, is that it shifted from SCAF to the presidet who beloged the Muslim Brotherhood. The big question here is: will he use it to lead Egypt to a new era of democracy or....?
 How it is now: Above El Sisi is sworn in before president Morsi as the new minister of Defense. Below judge Mekki becomes officially the vice-president.

Spies that are not loved by other spies

Jeff Stein of the Washington Post writes:
The CIA took an internal poll not long ago about friendly foreign intelligence agencies.
The question, mostly directed to employees of the clandestine service branch, was: Which are the best allies among friendly spy services, in terms of liaison with the CIA, and which are the worst? In other words, who acts like, well, friends?
“Israel came in dead last,” a recently retired CIA official told me the other day.
Not only that, he added, throwing up his hands and rising from his chair, “the Israelis are number three, with China number one and Russia number two,” in terms of how aggressive they are in their operations on U.S. soil.
As tensions with Iran escalate, according to former CIA officer Philip Giraldi, “Israeli agents have become more aggressive in targeting Muslims living in the United States as well as in operating against critics.”
“There have been a number of cases reported to the FBI about Mossad officers who have approached leaders in Arab-American communities and have falsely represented themselves as ‘U.S. intelligence,’ ” Giraldi wrote recently in American Conservative magazine.

Giraldi’s piece continued, “Mossad officers sought to recruit Arab-Americans as sources willing to inform on their associates and neighbors. The approaches, which took place in New York and New Jersey, were reportedly handled clumsily, making the targets of the operation suspicious.”
“These Arab-Americans turned down the requests for cooperation,” Giraldi added,”and some of the contacts were eventually reported to the FBI, which has determined that at least two of the Mossad officers are, ironically, Israeli Arabs operating out of Israel’s mission to the United Nations in New York under cover as consular assistants.”

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Morsy fires spy chief, North Sinai governor and other security chiefs after attack on border guard

The Egyptian president Mohamed Morsy has replaced intelligence chief Mourad Mowafy with Abdel Wahed Shehata in the wake of the recent attack on the Egypt-Israel border in Sinai, said presidential spokesperson Yasser Ali on Wednesday.
Mowafy was quote in the Egyptian press as saying that Egypt had information that something was going to happen in Sinai, but that he did not think that Muslims would attack other Muslims during Ramadan. 
Spokesman Ali also announced that Hamed Zaki has been appointed head of the presidential guard, and that North Sinai Governor Abdel Wahab Mabrouk has been dismissed from his post. Moreover Mohamed Refaa al-Tahtawi was named as Morsy's new chief of staff. Tahtawi had been serving as the assistant foreign minister and is a former spokesperson for Al-Azhar.
Following orders to improve the central security department, Interior Minister Ahmed Gamal Eddin appointed Maged Nouh as assistant minister for central security and Osama al-Saghir as assistant minister for the Cairo security department. Ali also announced that Hamdi Badin, commander of the military police, would be replaced.

Egyptian troops kill 20 people in counter attack on Islamic militants in Sinai

 Funeral of the killed border guards (screenshot of Nile tv).

 Egypt's military killed 20 militants in a raid using helicopter gunships in Sinai on Wednesday, three days after 16 soldiers were killed in an attack by presumed  Islamic extremists on a base of  border guards near the border with Israel. 
Wednesday's he attack took place in a village named Tumah. Soldiers of he 2nd Infantry Division stormed the village. Air strikes were also reported near the town of Sheikh Zuwayid, close to Tumah. Gunbattles were reported around the Al Gura airport in North-Sinai close to the Israeli border. Military choppers destroyed 3 4x4s on ground. Meanwhile security forces massed near the Rafah border town for what according to military sources was to be a decisive confrontation with the militants.
Wednesday's attack seem to have been provoked by attacks by unknown assailants on security checkpoints near the town of El-Arish, the preceding night. It was clear eve before that, however, that Sunday's attack on a border post whereby 16 border policemen were killed and seven wounded, could not have passed without repercussions. The soldiers were killed when 35 people in Bedouin outfits, presumably Islamist militants, in two 4x4s raided a border guard base under the cover of mortar fire when the guards were having their iftar meal.The attackers commandeered two armoured personnel carriers (APC's). One exploded near the border with Israel under yet unclear circumstances (maybe as a divisive move), the other one managed to drive some two kilometers into Israel before it was destroyed by Israeli helicopters. Security sources said that mortars were fired from Gaza into Israel as the APC entered Israel near the border crossing Karam Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom).
The attack underscored the lawlessness in the Sinai, where numerous attacks on policeposts have taken place the past month and where the pipeline that provided gas to Jordan ad Israel have been blown up no less than 15 times in about as many months. What made the situation extra painful is that Israeli sources
said that Israel had had advance warning that something was going to happen in the area, which was the reason that it was able to deal as quickly as it did with the intruding APC.
The events must have increased the determination of the Egyptian military to deal once and forever with the anarchy around El Arish and the border with Gaza and its opaque cluster of tunnel smugglers and their providers. Egypt had closed the border with Gaza already on Tuesday ad security forces had raided homes in search of suspects in the attack, while they also prepared to close tunnels to the Palestinian Gaza Strip.
Although it is far from clear who were behind Sunday's attack ad the attempt to enter Israel, it is clear that the events have complicated the position of Egypt's president Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood supporters who are close to the Hamas government in Gaza. Morsi had supported to open the border with Gaza. But in light of what happened, he has no choice but to go along with demands of the army, which was underscored by the fact that he paid a visit to El Arish on Monday, together with minister of Defense Tantawi. And the army is less much less lenient towards Hamas to say the least, even though Hamas and other parties in Gaza went out of their way to distance themselves from what has happened. Morsi, who was also criticized for not attending the funeral ceremonies of the 16 killed border guards, will have to back away.
In the meantime the whole situation might also increase the tension between Israel and Egypt, as it is clear that the end result - closing off Gaza - is favorable for Israel. Also the situation is ripe for conspiracy theories. The Muslim Brotherhood gave an example in kid by declaring that the Israeli Mossad might have bee instrumental in organizing Sunday's attacks.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Steadily more cracks in the Syrian regime

Riyad Hijab sworn in June 2012.
Yesterday the defection of the Syrian prime minister Riyad Hijab was big news. The minister escaped to Jordan with members of his family and is said to be on his way to Qatar, one of the countries that supply the opposition with weapons. The Syrian government hastily announced that Hijab, who had been installed only two months earlier (seen here on the photo)  had been fired and therefor fled, but the truth is different. An escape like that is not executed in a wink but has to be prepared carefully in advance. Hijab's spokesman Moahmmed Otari confirmed that the minister, who beforehand was minister of Agriculture (and before that governor of Lattakia and Quneitra provinces respectively) planned it a long time in advance., He also said that Hijab was put under pressure by Assad to accept the post. "The criminal Assad pressed him to become a prime minister and left him no choice but to accept the position. He had told him: 'You either accept the position or get killed,'" Otari told press Agency AP.
Shawkat and Bashar at the funeral of Hafez al-Assad in 2000.
The defection is without question a blow to Assad, as Hijab belongs to the Sunni majority and was a high cadre in the Baath party. But the importance should not be overestimated. He did not belong to Assad's inner circle and prime ministers in most Arab countries, and certainly in the Syrian constellation, are in fact no more than high placed functionaries who run the day to day business of the country. (Interestingly  Robert Fisk, the veteran correspondent of the Independent, tries to make us believe otherwise. He tells us that Hijab was a cousin of Farouq al-Shara, the vice-president. But he also tells us that Hijab was born in the governorate of Deraa, while in fact he was a native of Deir ez-Zor. So probably Fisk stayed true to his reputation as a journalists with a most lively phantasy).
In fact the defection of general Manaf Tlass, some weeks ago, and the killing of some four leaders of the security apparatus, including the minister of Defense and Assads brother in law Assef Shawkat on 18 July were far more severe blows to the regime.  Particularly the loss of Shawkat, who has always been close to Bashar and who was part of the small circle of people who decided about the ways to suppress the uprising in the country, was a big loss for Bashar.
Apart from that the the regime should also be concerned about the number of refugees and the defections from the army. The Turkish Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that  more than 1,300 refugees fled to Turkey to escape escalating violence in Syria overnight, among them a brigadier-general and another 11 military officers. The number of Syrian refugees in Turkey is now 47,500 people, at the end of July it amounted to 44,000. Large numbers fled also to Jordan and Iraq. Opposition sources say at least 18,000 people have been killed since the revolt began in March 2011.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Links for the past two weeks

Links for the past days:
The military is Egypt is not just an army, it is a Moloch with many important industrial assets. It is also deeply embedded in civil society in Egypt, as high ranking officers can be sure of getting an important new job when retiring from the army. Egyptian journalist Sarah Sirgany wrote about a recent project that  maps the multifaceted military involvement in all fields in Egypt.    

The blog Jadaliyya published the International Crisis Group's assessment of how with time the parties in the Syrian conflict have mutated and taken on a different shape. Even the government mutated from an authority into just a repressive apparatus and a party in the conflict. 

It has been said before, more than once in fact, but it seems to impress no one. Nadia Hijab in the Middle East Channel of Foreign Policy once again puts the facts together ad asks the question who in fact profits from international aid to the Palestinians. Not the Palestinians themselves, that is for sure. Which does not stop the EU, for instance, to again donate millions to a repressive security force. Rethinking Aid to the Palestinians.   

One man who acquired in no time a wide audience among the opposition in  Syria, but whose attitude is questionable to say the least, is sheikh Adnan Arour. Who is this sheikh who in no time rose from obscurity to notoriety?

The European Union on 27 July strengthened its relations with Israel in 60 areas. Amnesty International, however, criticized the EU for not putting human rights at the center of its relations with Israel and not living up to its own standards.  

Amnesty  also demanded that an investigation by the Free Syria Army into the death of 14 members of the 'Berry clan' in Aleppo who were supposedly pro-Assad and were murdered by the opposition, will be carried out in an impartial and comprehensive way and should be referred to the UN-Commission of Inquiry on Syria.  

Sultan Qassemi describes in Foreign Policy in what ways the Syria coverage of the two arabic tv-channels, Al-Jazeera and al-Arabiyya, is partial, biased and untrustworthy.  

Copts demonstrated in front of Morsi's palace against unsolved problems in Dahshur village

Dozens of Copts protested in front of the Presidential Palace in Heliopolis, Cairo, on Sunday against the forced migration of Christians from Dahshur, Giza. The protesters chanted: "Where is Dahshur's right?" and held banners with the slogans: "Where is justice? Why did they kick out the Christians?" and "What does Morsi want? Does he want us to kiss his feet?" 
The Christians left Dahshur village after clashes that started last week, when a Coptic launderer burned the shirt of one of his Muslim customers when he was ironing it. The fight escalated and one Muslim, Moaz Mohamed Mohamed, got seriously wounded. All accounts agree that the injured was a passerby, and that the fight started as a regular not sectarian argument. The village used to boast of a happily integrated Muslim and Christian community with growing business prospects that encouraged Copts to move there from neighbouring villages.
The fight turned sectarian when the Muslim man died in hospital on Wednesday 1 August. Then new clashes erupted, leaving nine people, including the Director of Criminal Investigations of Giza Security Directorate Mahmoud Farouq, injured. This is also when all Christian families felt threatened and were pressured to leave their hometown by everyone from the police — who reportedly advised them to go, claiming they would not be able to protect them — to neighbours that promised to protect their properties, and even the local priest, who urged them to take their children and flee. Protester Nader Magdy told the Al-Ahram Arabic website: "I had to leave my village because they threatened us with murder and they said any Christian will be shot dead."
 Several houses belonging to Christian residents in addition to two businesses in the town were burned down by crowds angered by Mohamed's death. There was also a failed attempt to set the Mary Girgis Church on fire before security forces used tear gas to disperse angry crowds. A special security team was appointed to secure the church and Copts' homes in the village.
 According to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), who were monitoring the situation from the beginning and released a report 31 July urging the police to protect citizens and properties, "A mob tried to attack the local Mari Girgis Church, but a group of Muslims prevented them and protected the church until a police force came and dispersed the crowd. The mob later burned a Christian man's house and police failed to intervene." The report warned against escalating violence and collective punishment of citizens who are not part of the argument. It also warned that in similar cases the police have remained passive. What EIPR warned against then happened. Police failed to protect Coptic citizens and properties and watched as violence escaled and hundreds fled their homes.

President Morsi's office has condemned the attacks. His spokesman Yasser Ali said on Saturday that Dahshur's Copts have not been forced to migrate following recent clashes, but did so out of fear for future clashes. Ali also said that Copts who have suffered material damages will be compensated, and that Morsi contacted Al-Azhar's grand imam and the acting Coptic pope to intervene to end the crisis.
Also the Islamist group Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya released a statement on Friday stating that it is unlawful to assault the lives and properties of Christians under any circumstances.
Apparently, however, the problems in Dahshur seem to be far from over. Egypt Independent reported that a reconciliation session will be held soon. Sessions like that were traditionally held in the Mubarak era when sectarian clashes broke out. They usually did not solve the problems, as both sides used to be put under pressure to agree to terms that had been laid out beforehand by the authorities.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Two dead in fight in slum area of Cairo around the luxurious Nile City towers

Violence broke out in Cairo's  Boulaq district on Thursday  leaving at least two dead. Witnesses reported that the Central Security Forces (CSF) used teargas in the residential slum area. After a brief lull in fighting during iftar (the fast-breaking meal in Ramadan), gun fire resumed, with reports that bird shot and possibly also live ammunition was used. A young girl died as a result of the gas,  residents said.
The violence broke out when the first victim, Amr al-Bunni, was refused pay he had earned at the towers doing temporary security work. Tower security guards shot the Boulaq resident, witnesses from the nearby slum told Egypt Independent. Boulaq residents smashed the windows of the luxury complex and unidentified people could be seen on top of the towers throwing rocks. Cars were also set ablaze on the Corniche outside the towers. Fire trucks arrived on the scene to put out the fires and have since left.
The tower has previously come under attack from area residents angry over the death of a five-year-old boy on 27 June, when the tower staff reportedly refused to supply water to put out a fire in one of the shacks.
The protests come amid resident's ongoing struggle to keep their homes as both developers and the state seek to buy up land in the neighborhood close to the Nile. The past two months have seen the use of shotguns and petrol bombs in attacks on residents of the area. 

 A recent a short documentary film, Bulaq: Among the Ruins of an Unfinished Revolution, shows the struggle for social justice that the inhabitats of Boulaq have to wage. The twenty-five minute film by Davide Morandini and Fabio Lucchini documents a deteriorating residential district where residents have faced police brutality and forced evictions for decades. Residents speak directly to the camera, sharing their ordeals and personal experiences. Although those voices speak for the specific case of Bulaq, they also reflect a wider struggle by an entire class of citizens the Egyptian government has long disregarded. As a recent Amnesty International report states, the government has used the longstanding Emergency Law to legitimize its repressive policy of forced evictions targeted at populations in areas such as Bulaq. The repeal of the Emergency Law and the demand for social justice, including housing rights, have been cornerstones of the Tahrir movement. Bulaq threads together these many strands, along with providing a rare look into the everyday lives in popular neighborhoods such as this one.

Annan quits as special UN-envoy for Syria as a further sign that the time for negotiations has passed

Former UN chief Kofi Annan said on Thursday he was stepping down as international envoy for Syria. He complained that his April peace plan had not received the support it deserved. 
Annan's resignation is a further sign that attempts to reach a negotiated solution to the Syrian crisis have definitely failed.
Annan regretted the "increasing militarisation" of the 17-month conflict and bemoaned the lack of consensus on the UN Security Council. "I did not receive all the support that the cause deserved," he told a press conference in Geneva, that was hastily organized  after UN chief Ban Ki-moon announced his resignation from the UN headquarters in New York.
"Continuous finger-pointing and name-calling" in the Security Council had hindered his attempts to implement his six-point peace plan, Annan said,  that was supposed to start with a ceasefire from April 12 that never took hold.
"The increasing militarisation on the ground and the lack of unanimity in the Security Council fundamentally changed my role," he said. But he suggested that his successor may have better luck. "The world is full of crazy people like me. So don't be surprised if Secretary General Ban Ki-moon can find someone who can do a better job than me," Annan said.
Syria expressed regret that Annan was going. Russia also said it regretted the decision, while Britain, which wants Assad to resign, said it showed that the mediation process was not working. The White House said Annan's decision to quit had highlighted Assad's failure to meet his promise to abide by the ceasefire plan, and added that it continued to believe that "Assad must go".

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

New Syrian opposition alliance will try to form transitional government

Re A group of exiled Syrian activists announced a new opposition alliance on Tuesday that aims to form a transitional government inside Syria - a challenge to the Syrian National Council (SNC).
This undated picture shows Syrian Haytham al-Maleh
Haytham al-Maleh
Haytham al-Maleh, a lawyer and former judge, told a Cairo news conference called to unveil the new body: "I have been tasked with leading a transitional government." Maleh added that he will begin consultations "with the opposition inside and outside" the country.
Maleh said the new alliance would act as an alternative to the SNC which he said "had failed to help the Syrian revolution". It would work to get more help to rebels, he said.

Maleh, a long-standing dissident against the Assad family, resigned from the SNC in March, saying he had given up trying to make the group more effective.
"We are not asking for military intervention, such as an invasion, but international protection, such as stopping Syrian planes," he said.
The Council for the Syrian Revolution comprises 70 opposition figures and will be based in Cairo, with branches in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq. Al-Maleh, 81, is a laywer and human rights activist who has spent several years in prison in his homeland. He was jailed in October 2009 and released in March 2011 by presidential pardon, just days before the revolt against Assad erupted. Maleh has worked for Amnesty International since 1989 and helped found the Syrian Association for Human Rights.
He was also imprisoned in 1980 for six years along with a number of trade unionists and political dissidents.
The formation of the Syrian National Council is just one of several initiatives. On Monday, the Syrian rebel Free Syrian Army  (FSA) distributed what it called a "national salvation draft" proposal for a political transition, bringing together military and civilian figures. The draft by the joint command of FSA proposes the establishment of a higher defence council charged with creating a presidential council, which in turn would bring together six military and civilian figures to lead a future transition. The Joint Command is based in Homs and headed by Colonel Kassem Saadeddine. It has emerged as an increasingly influential coordinating body.

Syria's civil war has entered a far more violent phase since July 18 when a bomb killed four top members of President Bashar al-Assad's inner circle. Serious fighting reached Aleppo over the past week and rebels also launched an assault on the capital Damascus in July but were repulsed. The battle for Aleppo, Syria's largest city, has become a crucial test for both sides in the 16-month-old rebellion. Neither Assad's forces nor the rag-tag rebels can afford to lose if they hope to prevail in the wider struggle for Syria.