Sunday, September 30, 2012

More bad news for relations US-Iran: Mujaheddin e-Khalq removed from list of terrorist groups

The U.S. State Department on Friday formally removed the Iranian dissident group Mujahadin-e Khalq from its official list of terrorist organizations in a move which, according to political analysts is bound to deteriorate the relations with Iran even further. 
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took the decision, as the State Department stated, in view of the MEK's public renunciation of violence, the absence of confirmed acts of terrorism by the MEK for more than a decade, and their cooperation in the peaceful closure of their paramilitary base in Iraq, where several thousand members of the MEK got stranded in 2003 after their former mentor, Saddam Hussein, disappeared from the political stage. It seems the remaining MEK-members have agreed to be move to Camp Liberty, a former U.S. military base under UN-supervision in Baghdad, from where they are expected to be resettled overseas.
Portraits of the Rajavi couple at the entrance of Camp Ashraf (Getty, 1986)
Clinton's decision, which was expected for some time, was sharply criticized. “For my money, the chances of war with Iran only get a boost insofar as Iranians didn't already assume the worst of U.S. intentions,” wrote Ali Gharib at the Daily Beast already before the Sate Department made its announcement. Others pointed out that the decision to take the MEK from the list of terrorist groups could be used by the Iranian regime as a pretext to renew its crackdown on the opposition in general in Iran, by accusing them of having ties with the MEK. This the more so, since the group was reported to have been involved - in cooperation with Israel - in a recent string of sabotage acts against military objects and assassinations of nuclear scientists in Iran.

The group, which was founded in 1963 as an armed Marxist-Leninist opposition group to the shah, was already terrorist in the 70-ties, with assassinations of American diplomats and personnel, among other things. After the 1979 revolution in which it took an active part, it fell out with the Khomeini-regime and thereafter it became extremely violent. It committed bomb attacks against the Islamic leadership in which hundreds were killed. According to IPS in a thoroughly written profile of the group, this went on in the eighties at a rate of three killings per day. The leaders, the couple Massoud and Maryam Rajavi,  moved to Paris in 1981, but after France recognized the Islamic Republic, they went to Iraq, where the movement got tanks and heavy weapons from Saddam Hussein with which it made frequent incursions into the eastern Kurdish areas of Iran and caused havoc and destruction. Since that time the group is generally perceived by Iranians as a bunch of traitors and quislings.
The internal relations within the group deserve a special mention. I myself interviewed Massoud Rajavi in 1984 in Paris for the Dutch daily 'de Volkskrant' and was struck by the cult like way his followers talked  about the fact that his wife Maryam, shortly beforehand, had left her husband in order to marry Rajavi 'for the sake of the movement'. In later years I heard many stories about the way people were deceived or even duped in becoming members of the MEK. In the 7 June issue of the London Review of Books, Owen Bennet-Jones painted a detailed picture of the movement, including the incredible ways in which it deals with its members.

Rajavi meets Saddam (ca. 1986)

The lifting of the terrorist status by Hillary Clinton came after several years of lobbying by the MEK itself and a number of influential supporters. Among them, are according to the IPS, which published a profile of the MEK, two former CIA. directors, R. Jame Woolsey and Porter J. Goss; a former F.B.I. director, Louis J. Freeh; a former attorney general, Michael B. Mukasey; President George W. Bush’s first homeland security chief, Tom Ridge; President Obama’s first national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones; big-name Republicans like the former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and Democrats like the former Vermont governor Howard Dean; and even the former top counterterrorism official of the State Department, Dell L. Dailey.” Mitchell Reiss, a top foreign policy advisor to Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan presidential campaign, also spoke on behalf of the group.
 IPS notes: One potential explanation for this diverse list of supporters are the large speaking fees the MEK network has offered to big-name public figures. “Your speech agent calls, and says you get $20,000 to speak for 20 minutes,” said a State Department official quoted by the Christian Science Monitor. “They will send a private jet, you get $25,000 more when you are done, and they will send a team to brief you on what to say.” Pro-MEK individuals and organizations also reportedly donated thousands of dollars to the campaigns of several sitting members of Congress, including Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Bob Filner, Ted Poe, Mike Rogers, and Dana Rohrabacher.

The American State Department did keep some distance from the MEK when it took the group from the terrorism list. For instance it commented that  "with today's actions, the Department does not overlook or forget the MEK's past acts of terrorism, including its involvement in the killing of U.S. citizens in Iran in the 1970s and an attack on U.S. soil in 1992." Also it implicitly recognized the sectarian traits of the MEK and the internal terror it exercizes in order to keep the group together when it said that ''the Department also has serious concerns about the MEK as an organization, particularly with regard to allegations of abuse committed against its own members." 
Also a State department official stated in a briefing that "We have no evidence and we have no confidence that the MEK is an organization that can promote democratic values that we would like to see in Iran.They are not part of our picture in terms of the future of Iran." This, however, does not neutralize the fact that the rehabilitation of the MEK is a new dangerous step in the ongoing confrontation between the West ad Iran.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Bahraini police kills teenager

A 17-year-old boy has been killed in Bahrain on Friday in clashes with security forces. More than 50 people have died, including protesters and police, in almost 20 months of near-nonstop unrest in the island nation, which is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. Saturday's statement from the political bloc Al Wefaq say security forces killed the boy the previous day during street clashes in Sadad village, southwest of the capital Manama, without providing details.Bahrain's Interior Ministry confirmed one person was killed in what it described as a "terror act" that included firebombs hurled at police.

Egyptian Defence minister reduces sentences against '8 April officers'

 File:Tahrir Square April 8 2011.png
 Midan Tahrir, 8 April 2011 (Jonathan Rashad)

Defence Minister General Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has issued an order on Saturday reducing the sentences against 21 "8 April" military officers, who have been arrested and prosecuted for joining demonstrations in April 2011 against the then ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), to a suspended one year prison.
At least 22 officers were arrested on 8 April 2011 during one of the square’s trademark million-man demonstrations against the SCAF, after which the pro-revolution and anti-SCAF detained military personnel became known as the "8 April" officers.
Revolutionaries and the officers' families have been campaigning for the officers' release in mass demonstrations, press statements and solidarity events.  (Al Ahram Oline)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Gaza and the tunnels, it's not a question of food anymore
 A Gaza tunnel (photo Moises Saman/New York Times)

Gaza Gateway wants to correct the perception that Israel is still stopping food items from entering Gaza:
 In a story published last week, Reuters reported about Hamas’s efforts to prevent Egypt from closing down the tunnels in the Sinai desert. The story includes quotes from “tunnel owners” who say that “80 percent of food sold in Gaza comes through the tunnels”. Since the reporter did not qualify these statements, we wish to clarify the facts, and it won’t be the first time.

Untrue, according to Gaza Gateway: 
There have been no restrictions on bringing food into the Gaza Strip via Israel since 2010, however, Israel continues to impose restrictions on sale of goods outside the Strip and on travel between Gaza and the West Bank. The myth that Israel is still preventing food from entering the Gaza Strip has to be shattered; if not for the sake of accuracy, then because it diverts attention away from Gaza’s real problems. Gaza may not have a food shortage, but employment is certainly in short supply. Israel may now allow coriander into the Gaza Strip, but it still makes it very difficult for Gaza residents to maintain normal family ties with their relatives in the West Bank, or take advantage of the higher education, employment and business opportunities available there. These problems are serious enough. They can and should be addressed, but it is difficult to have a serious discussion about them when the same myth needs debunking over and over again.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Innocence of Muslims

Moustafa Bayoumi in Merip (Middle East Research and Information Project) castigates East and West about the way the Danish cartoon controversy is being replayed, in an more explosive manner: 

What is true is that publics in Muslim-majority countries around the world would be well served to learn more about how American civil society operates. And it would be in the interest of Western publics to understand the many complexities and contradictions of Muslim-majority societies around the world so they can understand who exactly is protesting and why. In other words, what is really driving the current explosion is not really wounded religious sensibilities, or cultures of complaint, or atavistic Islamic rage. It is politics. And it is often a local politics of jockeying for power through mobilization of a religious base, whether in the United States or in Muslim-majority counties. The problem is that if you do not know the politics of the Muslim-majority countries involved, all you see are the screaming beards.
In the meantime, the only award for this terrible show goes to Alan Roberts, who, as the putative director of this insipid little video, has managed not just to direct his own actors but thousands of people around the world to act, and to act very badly indeed.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Sabra & Shatila, why didn't the Americans stop the Israelis?

(The picture was taken from the site of the Institute for Palestine Studies, which also carries several  articles about Sabra & Shatila for the occasion of this unhappy anniversary).

  These days we remember that exactly 30 years ago, on 16,17 and 18 September 1982, a massacre took place in the Palestinian camps Sabra and Shatila in West-Beirut. The slaughter occurred at the end of Israeli invasion of that year with the purpose of driving the Palestinians and Syrians out of Lebanon and installing an Israel-friendly regime in Beirut.
 The Israelis started the war on 6 June. On its way north they destroyed a number of Palestinian camps in Tyrus, Sidon and south of Beirut, and began a siege of West-Beirut that lasted from July until September. Then, after much destruction and a death toll among Lebanese and Palestinians that may well have been over 10.000, the Americans stepped in. Special envoy Philip Habib negotiated a departure of the Palestinian fighters. The Palestinians ad Syrians chased away, it seemed as if Israel would have its way. Bashir Gemayel, leader of the Christian Phalangist militia, an ally of the Israelis was poised to become Lebanon's president in a few weeks time.
But on 14 September,  Gemayel was killed by a  bomb in his headquarters. The next day, in spite of the  Habib agreement Israel occupied West-Beirut. One day later it led Phalangist forces into the Sabra and Shatila camps, who - with the help of the Israeli's who provided food, and at night flares in order to illuminate the dark alleys in the camps -  in the about 60 hours that followed killed some 3000-3500 people, most elderly, women and children. That at least was the number of victims that Israeli journalist Amnon Kapeliouk, in his book 'Sabra & Shatila, Inquiry ito a Massacre' came to consider as the most plausible.        
 Many questios have been asked over the years as to why the Americans did not stop the Israelis from entering West-Beirut and did not protect the Palestinians as they promised in the agreement of Habib. However, today  Seth Anziska provides some interesting answers in The New York Times: 

While Israel’s role in the massacre has been closely examined, America’s actions have never been fully understood. This summer, at the Israel State Archives, I found recently declassified documents that chronicle key conversations between American and Israeli officials before and during the 1982 massacre. The verbatim transcripts reveal that the Israelis misled American diplomats about events in Beirut and bullied them into accepting the spurious claim that thousands of “terrorists” were in the camps. Most troubling, when the United States was in a position to exert strong diplomatic pressure on Israel that could have ended the atrocities, it failed to do so. As a result, Phalange militiamen were able to murder Palestinian civilians, whom America had pledged to protect just weeks earlier. 
Read the full article here.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Shana Tova

This Sunday evening it is Rosh Hashana, the start of the Jewish New Year 5773. I wish my Jewish readers a Shana Tova. May it become a sweet and happy year, with hopefully a little more justice in the Middle East.  

Islamic militants attack army and police in North-Sinai

Egyptian troops in action in the Sinai (AFP).
Islamic militants clashed for more than two hours Sunday with army and police in the Sinai Peninsula, wounding seven people in fighting touched off by a security operation, Egyptian officials said.
 The fighting broke out after police backed by the military staged dawn raids on a number of homes in Sheik Zuweyid, a desert village about 30 kilometers from northern Sinai's main city of el-Arish. Officials said four men suspected of belonging to extremist militant groups were arrested.
The raid was part of a major security sweep in Sinai in response to a brazen attack by suspected Islamic militants on a military outpost near the Egypt-Israel-Gaza border on Aug. 5 that killed 16 Egyptian soldiers. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.
During Sunday's fighting a group chased down 13 armored personnel carriers that had conducted the raids, firing on them and at a helicopter involved in the security sweep. Three policemen, two soldiers and two civilians, a 10 year-old girl and an elderly Bedouin woman, were wounded in two hours of fighting in Sheik Zuweyid, officials said.
Later the same morning, militants in Land Cruisers fired rocket-propelled grenades and bullets at northern Sinai's main security headquarters in el-Arish, two police stations in the area and a checkpoint. No one was wounded in those attacks.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

American missions in Cairo and Benghazi stormed, ambassador to Libya and 3 diplomats killed

Protesters destroy an American flag pulled down from the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012. Egyptian protesters, largely ultra conservative Islamists, have climbed the walls of the U.S. embassy in Cairo, went into the courtyard and brought down the flag, replacing it with a black flag with Islamic inscription, in protest of a film deemed offensive of Islam. (AP Photo/Mohammed Abu Zaid)
Protesters on the wall surrounding the American embassy in Cairo are destroying an American flag. (AP) 

Third update Friday 14/9. 
At least seven people were killed on Friday in demonstrations over a film made in the US that mocks Islam - as protests spread around the world. Three people were killed when the US embassy in Khartoum was attacked, Sudanese state radio said. In Tunisia, two people were killed and 29 wounded after crowds breached the US embassy compound in Tunis. There was one death in Egypt and one in Lebanon. Protetst spread to at least 20 countries, inlcuding Yemen, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nigeria.
 The New York Tikes in the meantime reported that the name Sam Bacile for teh supposed maker of the film was almost certainly a fake name. The maker's real name seems to be Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. He is he owner of a gas station and someone convicted of fraud.  

Twice Updated. Protesters angered over a film that ridiculed Islam's Prophet Muhammad fired gunshots and burned down the U.S. consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, killing the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other embassy staff. In Egypt, protesters scaled the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, tore and replaced the American flag with an Islamic banner.
Ambassador Christopher Stevens and the other Americans died after the gunmen attacked the lightly fortified U.S. consulate and a safe house refuge in Benghazi on Tuesday night. The U.S. consulate was overrun and torched in a military-style assault, the ambassador left lost and dying alone in the smoke while rescuers ran into a deadly ambush as they sought to save survivors. The attackers used guns, mortars and grenades. U.S. and Libyan officials said the attack may have been planned in advance.

The protests in Libya and Egypt were sparked by outrage over a film ridiculing Muhammad produced by an American in California and being promoted by an extreme anti-Muslim Egyptian Christian campaigner in the United States. Excerpts from the film dubbed into Arabic were posted on YouTube.
A 14-minute trailer of the movie that sparked the protests, posted on the website YouTube in an original English version and another dubbed into Egyptian Arabic, depicts Muhammad as a fraud, a womanizer and a madman in an overtly ridiculing way, showing him having sex and calling for massacres.
Sam Bacile, an American citizen who said he produced, directed and wrote the two-hour film, said he had not anticipated such a furious reaction. Speaking from a telephone with a California number, Bacile said he is Jewish and familiar with the region. Bacile said the film was produced in English and he doesn't know who dubbed it in Arabic. The full film has not been shown yet, he said, and he said he has declined distribution offers for now. "My plan is to make a series of 200 hours" about the same subject, he said.
Morris Sadek, an Egyptian-born Christian in the U.S. known for his anti-Islam views, told The Associated Press from Washington that he was promoting the video on his website and on certain TV stations, which he did not identify. Both depicted the film as showing how Coptic Christians are oppressed in Egypt, though it goes well beyond that to ridicule Muhammad - a reflection of their contention that Islam as a religion is inherently oppressive.
For several days, Egyptian media have been reporting on the video, playing some excerpts from it and blaming Sadek for it, with ultraconservative clerics going on air to denounce it.

This is the trailer of the piece of junk Sam Bacile produced:

The Israeli newspaper YNet adds that following the spasm of attacks, filmmaker Sam Bacile who identifies himself as an Israeli Jew, has gone into hiding. Speaking on the phone from an unidentified location he remained defiant, saying Islam is "a cancer" and he wanted his film to make a political statement. He said believes his video will help his native land by exposing Islam's flaws to the world.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Bacile said he raised $5 million from about 100 Jewish donors, whom he declined to identify. Working with about 60 actors and 45 crew members, he said he made the two-hour movie in three months last year in California.
The film has been promoted by Dr. Terry Jones, the Florida pastor whose burning of Qurans previously sparked deadly riots around the world, who said Tuesday that he planned to show a 13-minute trailer that night at his church in Gainesville, Fla.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Iraqi vice-president sentenced to death, attacks across Iraq claim 92 lives

Site of a car bomb attack in Basra in the south(AP)

The courtroom at Baghdad's criminal court was silent Sunday as the presiding judge read out the verdict. It convicted al-Hashemi and his son-in-law, Ahmed Qahtan, of organizing the murders of a Shiite security official and a lawyer who had refused to help the vice president's allies in terror cases. The two defendants were acquitted in a third case of the killing of a security officer due to a lack of evidence.The court sentenced both men in absentia to death by hanging.

Iraq's fugitive Sunni vice president Tariq al-Hashemi, was sentenced Sunday to death by hanging on charges he masterminded death squads against rivals in a terror trial that has fueled sectarian tensions in the country. The verdict coincided with an onslaught of bombings and shootings in 13 cities across Iraq, killing at least 92 people in one of the deadliest days this year. There are, however, no indications that there was a connection between the two. 
FILE - In this Tuesday, April 17, 2012 file photo, Iraq's vice president Tariq al-Hashemi speaks in Istanbul, Turkey. An Iraqi court found the nation's Sunni vice president guilty Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012, of running death squads against security forces and Shiites, and sentenced him to death in absentia. (AP Photo, File)
Tariq al-Hashemi
Al-Hashemi fled to Turkey in the months after the Shiite-led government accused him of playing a role in 150 bombings, assassinations and other attacks from 2005 to 2011 — years in which the country was mired in retaliatory sectarian violence that followed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein's Sunni regime. Most of the attacks were allegedly carried out by al-Hashemi's bodyguards and other employees, and largely targeted government officials, security forces and Shiite pilgrims.
The vice president declined to immediately comment on the verdict after meeting with the Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Ankara. He said he would "tackle this issue in a statement" in coming hours.
The politically charged case — which was announced the day after U.S. troops withdrew from the country last December — sparked a government crisis and fueled Sunni Muslim and Kurdish resentment against al-Maliki, whom critics say is monopolizing power.

The countrywide attacks began before dawn, with gunmen killing soldiers at an army post in the central Iraqi city of Dujail. A few hours later, a car exploded in a lot where police recruits waiting in line to apply for jobs outside Kirkuk in the country's north. Both Dujail and Kirkuk are former insurgent strongholds. Over the day, at least 92 people were killed and more than 360 wounded in at least 21 separate bombings and shootings, according to reports from police and hospital officials. No group immediately claimed responsibility, but Iraq's Interior Ministry blamed al-Qaida in Iraq.
 The carnage stretched into the country's south, where bombs stuck to two parked cars exploded in the Shiite-dominated city of Nasiriyah, 320 kilometers (200 miles) southeast of Baghdad. The blasts were near the French consulate and a local hotel in the city, although the consulate did not appear to be a target of the attack. A string of smaller attacks Sunday also struck nine other cities. It was one of the worst outbreaks of violence in Iraq in 2012, although the single deadliest day was July 23, which saw at least 115 people killed — the most in more than two years.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Syrian troops storm Palestinian Yarmouk camp in Damascus

Syrian government troops stormed into a Palestinian refugee district and raided its hospital on Saturday after a four-day artillery assault on the southern suburb where rebels have been hiding out, opposition activists said. President Bashar al-Assad's forces have preferred to use air power and artillery to hit areas where rebels are dug in, deploying infantry only once many have fled.
Syrian activist Abu Yasser al-Shami said that his friends living in Yarmouk, a densely populated Palestinian refugee camp where 10 people were killed on Friday in shelling, had fled the area on Saturday morning after government troops swept in. "Assad's forces stormed al-Basel hospital in Yarmouk Camp and arrested many of the injured civilians," he said over Skype.
When insurgents thrust into central parts of the capital in July, they were swiftly pushed back to southern districts, like Yarmouk, where there is a thinner state security presence.
Activists say Assad has been reluctant to use infantry as the army is made mostly of conscripts drawn from the Sunni Muslim majority, many of whom seen as desertion risks. Some defected soldiers say morale is low in the barracks and that only officers from Assad's Alawite sect are giving orders.
Residents complain that the army uses indiscriminate artillery and air strikes. Palestinians have been divided over whether or not to support Assad, but there are signs that more and more are now starting to back the uprising.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition watchdog based in London, said shells rained down on Hajar al-Aswad district, which neighbors Yarmouk, on Saturday.
It said 170 people were killed in bloodshed on Friday across the country, many of them in Damascus and northern Aleppo, where rebels say they control more than half of what is Syria's most populous city and commercial centre.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Group of Eritreans trapped between borders, Israel adopts new, harsher policy towards refugees

African refugees sit on the ground behind a border fence after they attempted to cross illegally from Egypt into Israel as Israeli soldiers stand guard near the border with Egypt, in southern Israel, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012. Israel is staunching the flow of African migrants who have poured into the Jewish state by the tens of thousands, rapidly building a border fence and implementing a new policy of detaining Africans upon arrival. Israel’s army says over the past few days, a group of African migrants has waited on the Egyptian side of the fence. Israeli soldiers are providing the group with water, but not allowing them into Israel.(AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Israel  has apparently decided to take an even harsher line against refugees that try to enter the country from the south. About a week ago it  stopped a group of 21 Eritrean refugees from entering and consequently the group, including two women and a teenager, according to activists and an AP photographer who was at the site Tuesday, are trapped between the two borders. As can be seen on the picture taken by AP, they are sitting beside Israel's new border fence, shaded by blue-striped plastic they hoisted above themselves. 
Israel's military has since sealed off the area. A spokesman said soldiers were giving the group water and food. But the site +972 reported that the soldiers initially only gave the Eritreans a little water and that it took six days before some food was also distributed.
The envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Israel has called on Israel to grant immediate entry to a group. In an interview to Haaretz last night William Tall called on Israel to "step up to its responsibilities," saying that it could not "simply shut the door" and must allow them in and process their claims for asylum.
However, Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai has said that the Eritreans will not be allowed in, because that would encourage more African migrants to make the trip. "If there were no fence there, and we were not determined (to stop the influx of migrants), then that number would become 1 million people," he said.
Israel has almost completed a barrier along 200 kilometers (125 miles) of its border with Egypt to block African migrants and militants from the Sinai. It is also in the process of expanding the capacity of detention centers to ensure that those entering are immediately held. Most of the Africans are from Sudan and Eritrea. Under international law, Israel cannot return people to those two countries because of their poor human rights records. Many of the Sudanese ad Eritreans have settled in Tel Aviv.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Sharp increase in number of Syrian refugees in August

Syrian refugees in a camp in Jordan, close to the Syrian border.
More than 100,000 Syrians fled their country in August, the highest monthly total since the crisis began in March 2011, the U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday. That exodus sharply increased the number of Syrians now living in neighboring countries, bringing the total number of refugees to 234,368 in the past 17 months, the agency said.
Along with activists' reports that the death toll in August was also the highest in the civil war with 5,000 killed, all signs are pointing to unprecedented levels of misery in a country where President Bashar Assad's regime is fighting an increasingly violent rebellion.
"If you do the math, it's quite an astonishing number," U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said of the number of people who fled in August, speaking to reporters Tuesday in Geneva.
"And it points to a significant escalation in refugee movement and people seeking asylum, and probably points to a very precarious and violent situation inside the country," she said.
But even the August figure only counts refugees who are registered and those awaiting registration. Officials acknowledge the real number of Syrian refugees is likely way higher.The uprising began with largely peaceful protests of Assad's regime but has turned into a civil war that activists say has killed at least 23,000 people.
According to the U.N. refugee agency, there are now more than 80,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey, where the borders remain open, and there is a backlog of 8,000 Syrians waiting to be processed at the border, Fleming said. Jordan has more than 77,000 Syrian refugees; Lebanon has more than 59,000; and Iraq nearly 18,700, according to the agency.
Inside Syria, the fighting has spread to the two largest cities — the capital of Damascus and the commercial hub of Aleppo. The U.N.'s World Food Program spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said more than 264,000 people are taking shelter in public buildings in the Aleppo region — about 200,000 in rural areas and more than 64,000 in the city. Byrs said her agency is scaling up operations to provide food urgently needed by 1.5 million people this month, mainly in areas where there has been fighting and people have been made at least temporarily homeless.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Syrian National Council will be expanded

The main opposition Syrian National Council has agreed to expand to include more groups opposing President Bashar al-Assad and will reform to be more representative, a spokesman told AFP on Sunday.
At a meeting in Stockholm late on Saturday, the SNC agreed to expand its membership and to hold a vote later this month to elect its leadership, spokesman George Sabra said.
Sweden to give Syria refugees nearly two mln euro, SNC leader says
Abdel Basset Sayda
The move follows criticism from both within and outside the group that it is failing to unite the diverse opposition forces working against Assad, after more than 17 months of brutal conflict.
"New currents of the opposition will join the SNC. There will be at least five or six new groups from inside and outside Syria" joining the organisation, Sabra said.
The group's general assembly will grow from 300 to 400 members and each opposition group will be represented by 20 members, Sabra said.
Under a reform agreed in Stockholm, the assembly will elect a general secretariat that will then choose an executive bureau and leader for the SNC.
Leaders have previously been chosen by consensus in the group, which brings together diverse regime opponents ranging from liberals to Islamists.
The mandate of current SNC leader Abdel Basset Sayda, which was due to expire on September 9, has been extended and he will stay on until the vote is held in late September, Sabra said.
There were no plans, however, for the SNC to expand to include another prominent opposition grouping, the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change (NCC), which favours a non-violent overthrow of the regime and opposes foreign military intervention.