Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Israel establishes two new settlements and plans 180 new homes for Jews only in East-Jerusalem

Nahalei Tal, between the settlements of Nerya (Talmon B) and Nahliel.

Peace Now reports: For the first time since 2005, new unauthorized outposts were established in the West Bank: “Nahalei Tal”, north-west of Ramallah, and “Tzofin North” (or “Tzofim North”), adjacent to the settlement of Tzofin, north of Qalqiliya. As opposed to the sporadic outposts that are created by the hill-top youth and evacuated every few weeks by the security forces, it is evident that the two new outposts are highly supported by the authorities. They include mobile homes, infrastructure, electricity, water and roads (and even air conditioning). From the civil administration’s response to Peace Now’s complaint it is apparent that at this stage there is no intention to evacuate the outposts.
Peace Now: “PM Netanyahu began his tenure with the Bar Ilan Speech promising to promote the 2-State-Solution, and is now ending his term, after breaching almost all his promises, with a discordant chord. After the government rewarded the lawbreakers that built on private Palestinian lands in Migron and the Ulpana with alternative homes and other benefits, the government continues to make a mockery of the rule of law and to allow a radical minority to establish new outposts, which create facts on the ground that harm the possibility of an agreement with the Palestinians”

Hagit Ofran of Peace Now reports on her blog 'Eyes on the Ground in East Jerusalem' The Israeli Land Administration announced last week the allocation of 180 new housing units in East Jerusalem for families of people from the Israeli security forces (the army and police). The decision was made in accordance with the Israeli Government’s decision from 20.5.12 to allocate units for security people in Jerusalem in “places with special characteristics that can justify such allocations, according to the ILA considerations”.
Since almost no Palestinians serve in the Israeli security forces, this decision is clearly intended to prevent from Palestinian families the possibility to buy homes in the new neighborhood, which is located between two Palestinian neighborhoods, Sur Baher and Um Lison.
The plan, number 7977A, is on lands that were confiscated by the Israeli Government back in 1970 as part of the confiscations for the East Talpiyot (AKA Armon Hanatziv) neighborhood. On July 2012, the plan was officially announced valid after the final approval by the regional planning committee.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Egypt starts struggle against sexual harassment in the streets

Volunteers in yellow vests with the words 'against harassment' on them patrol the streets of Cairo (AP).

An Egyptian movement started to thwart sexual harassment during Eid Al-Adha has recorded 300 attempted attacks during the first two days of the holiday. The initiative, dubbed 'Catch the Harasser', began on the first day of Eid, with volunteers working across central Cairo in a bid to prevent lewd attacks on women.
Also the Ministry of the Interior announced a few days earlier that surveillance cameras will be installed in streets and squares in Cairo to detect incidents of sexual harassment. The cameras will be used to catch the harassers and display their photos on public television and the Internet, according to a ministry representative.
Both steps came after the National Women Council started a national campaign, "Patrols Against Sexual Harassment," in August 2012 to combat sexual harassment in Cairo, specifically during Eid. Sexual harassment of women has been steadily on the increase in recent years in the Egyptian streets. And during the Eid, when crowds makes it easier for culprits to act unpunished, it is usually at its worst. .According to a survey issued in 2008 by the Egyptian Centre for Women Rights, 83 per cent of women in Egypt and 98 per cent of foreign women have been exposed to sexual harassment at least once.
Prime Minister Hisham Qandil stated on 21 October using his official Facebook page that his cabinet, along with the National Council for Women, are working on finding ways to wipe out sexual harassment in Egypt. Qandil revealed in the statement that a law is currently being drafted to combat harassment on the streets through imposing harsh penalties.

Lakhdar Brahimi does not give up in spite of failure of Eid al-Adha truce

In this Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012 photo, Syrian residents walk on a street among the debris of buildings damaged by heavy shelling in the southeast of Aleppo City. (AP Photo/Narciso Contreras).
Damaged buildings in the southeast of Aleppo (AP) 

Opposition activists in Syria said forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad had renewed their heavy bombardment of major cities on Saturday and Sunday, in spite of the four day truce that was reached by the envoy of the UN ad the Arab League, Lakhdar Brahimi, on the occcasion of the religious feast of Eid al-Adha.  Activists said at least 110 people were killed Sunday, a toll similar to previous daily casualty tolls.
The Syrian army said it had responded to attacks by insurgents on its positions on Friday, in line with its earlier announcement that it would cease military activity during the holiday while reserving the right to react to rebel actions.
In spite of the fact that the truce collapsed, Brahimi is expected to come to the UN Security Council in November with new proposals aiming to push President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian opposition into political talks, UN diplomats told AFP.
The former Algerian foreign minister will head this week for Russia and China -- the two leading doubters about international pressure on the Syrian rivals -- to discuss the crisis.
Just as with the attempted truce of Kofi Annan in April it did not take long to see that Syria is not yet ready for peace. Nineteen months of conflict has now left more than 35,000 dead, according to Syrian activists. Little is known of what possible negotiating tactic Brahimi is preparing. But behind the scenes, the United Nations is drawing up plans to quickly assemble a peacekeeping or truce monitoring force if a new ceasefire can be agreed.
It also had humanitarian teams and aid ready to go into the stricken cities of Aleppo, Idlib and Homs if the Eid ceasefire had worked.
Brahimi faces multiple challenges -- Assad's apparent determination to cling to power, the fractured opposition and arrival of Islamist fighters.
"He has to persuade key countries in the Middle East not to support the rebels with arms," told a senior UN diplomat, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity. "But if there is to be Security Council action there has to be agreement from Russia and China," added the diplomat. "If they don't agree to action then of course Turkey, Saudi Arabia and western nations will step up their help for the opposition."
Russia and China have used their powers as permanent Security Council members three times to block resolutions that could have led to Syria sanctions.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Human Rights Watch: Israel unlawfully stopped dozens of Eritrean refugees at the Egyptian border

 In September a group of 21 Eritreans was trapped at the Israeli border fence for more than a week, before they were chased away in the direction of Egypt. (See also here).

The Israeli military has since June 2012 prevented dozens of asylum seekers, most of them Eritreans, from crossing Israel’s newly constructed fence on its border with Egypt, Human Rights Watch, the Hotline for Migrant Workers, and Physicians for Human Rights – Israel said today. Israel has also unlawfully deported dozens more back to Egypt, the three groups said.
Israel should stop rejecting asylum seekers at the fence unless its officials determine in a fair procedure that they do not face threats to their lives or freedom or inhuman and degrading treatment because of that rejection. The 1951 Refugee Convention, to which Israel is a state party, customary international refugee law, and international human rights law require all countries to respect the principle of nonrefoulement, which prohibits the return of anyone to a place where their life or freedom would be threatened or where they would face the threat of torture or inhuman and degrading treatment. This means anyone seeking asylum may not be summarily rejected at the border and may not be deported unless their claim has been fairly determined.
At least seven times since June, Israeli forces patrolling Israel’s newly constructed 240-kilometer border fence with Egypt’s Sinai region have denied entry to dozens of Africans, mostly Eritreans, thousands of whom continue to flee persecution in their country every year.
 In July, Israeli forces also detained about 40 Eritreans just inside the Israeli border and then forcibly transferred them to Egyptian custody.

Based on Israeli government figures, about two-thirds of those trying to cross the border are from Eritrea, where Human Rights Watch has documented widespread and severe abuses against people seeking to avoid mandatory and indefinitely prolonged national service on wages barely sufficient to survive, and against adherents of “unrecognized” religions and government critics.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says that more than 80 percent of Eritreans who claim asylum worldwide are recognized as refugees.
Recent interviews with Eritreans arriving in Israel confirm that many passing through Sinai to reach Israel are facing serious abuses, including torture and rape, by traffickers in Sinai who hold the Eritreans for ransom. Those who pay are allowed to travel onward to reach the Israeli border.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Human Rights Watch: 'Israel should stop harassing members of prisoner's rights group Addameer'

Ayman Nasser

Israeli authorities should stop harassing members of a Palestinian prisoners’ rights group. Israeli authorities should immediately lift a travel ban on the group’s chairman and release a recently arrested researcher, or present evidence justifying the measures against them., Human Rights Watch said on Friday. 

In August and September 2012, Israeli authorities issued orders prohibiting Abdullatif Ghaith, chairman of the board of the group, Addameer, from traveling abroad as well as from East Jerusalem, where he lives, to the rest of the West Bank, where the organization’s offices are located. On October 15, Israeli forces raided the West Bank home of Ayman Nasser, a researcher for the group, arrested him and questioned him about radio interviews he gave about prisoners and his membership in a youth organization.
At military court hearings on October 18 and 24, military judges extended his detention on the basis of evidence he was not allowed to see. The Israeli military has not charged either man with wrongdoing or allowed them to see any evidence against them. Addameer adds that the last time Nasser's detention was extended for nine more days. It also said that the main focus of his interrogation continues to be his civic activities relating to his role in advocating for the rights of Palestinian political prisoners and his involvement in the Handala Center, which is an educational, artistic center in Ayman’s village Saffa and of which Ayman is the Chairperson.
“It’s deeply ironic that Israel is arbitrarily detaining a researcher who has documented arbitrary detention, and violating the rights of the head of a human rights group,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Israel should provide valid justifications for its measures against Nasser and Ghaith or drop those measures immediately.”

Addameer itself adds that it is extremely concerned for Ayman’s health as he continues to be denied the appropriate medication. As previously reported Ayman suffers from a number of health issues including inflammation in his colon and back pain. Until his arrest he was receiving constant medical treatment by specialized doctors.

European Sakharov Awards for two Iranian dissidents

Nasrin Sotoudeh
The European Union's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought was awarded on Friday to two Iranian activists, filmmaker Jafar Panahi and rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh.
 Nasrin Sotoudeh is a prominent human rights lawyer who has represented imprisoned Iranian opposition activists and politicians following the disputed June 2009 Iranian presidential elections as well as prisoners sentenced to death for crimes committed when they were minors. Sotoudeh was arrested in September 2010 on charges of spreading propaganda and conspiring to harm state security. In January 2011 she was sentenced to 11 years in prison in addition to barring her from practicing law and from leaving the country for 20 years. 

Jafar Panahi is an Iranian film director, screenwriter and film editor of Azerbaijani descent, most commonly associated with the Iranian New Wave film movement Panahi first achieved international recognition with his debut The White Balloon which won the Caméra d'Or at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival. It was the first major award won by an Iranian film at Cannes. Other awards include the Golden Leopard at the 1997 Locarno International Film Festival for The Mirror, the Golden Lion at the 2000 Venice Film Festival for The Circle and the Silver Bear for Best Director at the 2006 Berlin Film Festival for Offside.
Iranian director Jafar Panahi is seen with the Silver Bear he won for his film Offside at the 56th Berlin International Film Festival ceremony in 2006. He has been sentenced to jail once again by Iranian authorities.
Panahi with Silver Bear, Berlin 2006
Panahi was arrested in March 2010 and charged with committing propaganda against the Iranian government. In December 2010 he was sentenced to a six-year jail sentence and a 20-year ban on directing any movies, writing screenplays, giving any form of interview with Iranian or foreign media and from leaving the country. This led to Panahi's last film to date: This Is Not a Film, a documentary feature in the form of a video diary that was made despite of the legal ramifications of Panahi's arrest. It was smuggled out of Iran in a Flash-Drive hidden inside a cake and was screened at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Eid said - happy eid, hopefully even in Syria

Syrian government 'agrees to ceasefire'
Fighter of the Free Syrian Army in Aleppo.  (AP)  Lakhdar Brahimi, the special envoy for Syria of the UN and the Arab League, succeeded in having Assad agree to a four day cease fire in Syria during the holiday of Eid al-Adha which starts on Thursday evening. The opposition forces also agreed, provided that 'the goverment forces hold their firing first'. Let's hope it will work out well, so that Syria - together with the rest of the muslim world - in a way will have a  happy Eid as well.

Sudan says Israeli planes bombed military factory in Khartoum


The Sudanese government says it believes Israel was responsible for explosions at a military factory in the capital Khartoum on Tuesday.
Culture and Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman said four Israeli planes attacked the factory and two people were killed. Israel has not commented.
Sudan has blamed Israel for such attacks in the past.
Correspondents say Israel believes weapons are being smuggled through the region to Gaza.
Leaked US State Department documents three years ago suggested that Sudan was secretly supplying Iranian arms to Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
In April 2011, Khartoum held Israel responsible for an air strike that killed two people in a car near the city of Port Sudan. A similar incident happened in May 2012. Israel was also blamed for a strike on a convoy in north-eastern Sudan in 2009. In all those cases it  neither confirmed nor denied involvement.
In the latest incident fire engulfed the Yarmouk plant and nearby buildings after the explosions, with flames visible over a wide area.
Residents reported seeing aircraft or missiles overhead before a number of explosions.

Morsi declares support for Palestinians

 Morsi during his speech for Eid al-Adha (Nile tv)

President Mohamed Morsi on Wednesday said Egypt would do its best to support Palestinians in their struggle against Israeli occupation "without declaring war against anyone."
Morsi spoke on national television to mark Muslim's four-day Al-Adha feast "We will never accept any assault or siege on the Palestinian people. Egypt provides Palestine with all its needs such as food and clothing," he said.
"The blood of Palestinians is our blood, their life is our life and their pains are our pains. However, supporting Palestine does not mean that we will declare war against anybody," he added in reference to Israel, which he stopped short of calling it by name, maintaining the same pattern he has followed in his speeches since his inauguration as Egypt president. His speech came on the same day that Egypt brokered a cease fire, after Israel killed four Palestinian militants in two days and the Palestinians fired about 80 projectiles into Israel.

Morsi also spoke up for the Palestinians in his speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations on 26 September. He described himself as Egypt's first democratically elected leader the country  underwent what he called a ‘great, peaceful revolution’. Morsi said in the UN General Assembly that the first issue for the world body should be certifying the rights of the Palestinian people.
‘‘The fruits of dignity and freedom must not remain far from the Palestinian people,’’ he said, adding that it was ‘‘shameful’’ that UN resolutions are not enforced. He decried Israel’s continued building of settlements on territory that the Palestinians claim for a future state in the West Bank.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

King Abdullah: 'Ruling Jordan is a sacrifice'


  King Abdullah of Jordan his told his subjects on Tuessday that he or his family was never after the power, but that ruling Jordan was 'a sacrifice'.
 “Governing, for us Hashemites, was never at any point a gain that we sought, but rather a responsibility, a duty and a sacrifice that we have been carrying out in the service of this nation and in defence of its causes and interests — a cause to which we have offered many martyrs,” said the King.
“Governing was never for us about holding a monopoly over authority, nor about power and its tools, but about supporting state institutions run by Jordanians from all segments of society, according to the provisions of our Constitution.'
Abdullah said this on Tuesday in a speech for  more than 3,000 personalities in which he urged all political parties and forces to take part in the upcoming legislative elections of 23 January. Abdullah, who is not really the brightest of personalities, told his audience that 'the next Parliament will determine the formation of the new parliamentary government, and with it the future of political reforms and socio-economic policies'. To that he added more hollow niceties , to the tune of “If you want to change Jordan for the better, there is a chance, and that chance is the upcoming election, and there is a way, and that way is through the next Parliament.” 
All this was said amidst demonstrations that go on and off in Jordan since months, during which demands are heard for real reform and changes of the constitution towards real democracy. It's highly improbable that many people will have been impressed by his majesty's banalities. But that ruling Jordan in fact is a sacrifice may have been a revelation to many among them. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Links for the past week

Some links for articles I would recommend: 

Must read for anyone who still thinks that Israel 'always wanted peace but never found a partner at the other side'. In Foreign Policy Stephen Walt shreds the myth of the peace loving Israel to pieces.    What's going on in Israel? 
Egyptian blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad in a courageous piece -  also in Foreign policy:
 'Yes, I'm a blasphemer'

Joshua Landis gives a remarkable advise on his blog 'Syria Comment'
The US  must Supply anti-Aircraft Missiles to the Syrian Opposition

Writer/lawyer Raja Shehadeh in The New York Times about a meeting about the ;Nakba' organised by the Israeli Zochrot movement: The Nakba, Then and Now 
'Yerachmiel Kahanovich described how he had dug a hole in the wall of the Dahmash Mosque in   the center of Lydda, where more than 150 Palestinians had taken shelter, and shot an anti-tank shell through it. Asked what had happened to the Palestinians, he said they were all crushed against the walls by the pressure from the blast.' 

Al Monitor translated this from the Lebanese paper As-Safir (18 October):
Iran’s Man in Damascus Says Tehran Supports UN's Cease-Fire Initiative

And also this:
Syria Turns to Iran for Electricity, Leaves Regional Power Grid

As'ad Abu-Khalil (also known als Angry Arab) provides some sobering background information about a man who was turned into a hero after he had been killed by a car bomb. 
Car bom in Beirut: Wissam al-Hassan

Kuwaiti's protest against changes in electoral law

p1b2 Al Sabah family, tribes affirm loyalty to Amir   Pitched battles in streets as protesters defy policeMore than 100 protesters and 11 police have been injured in Kuwait after tens of thousands took to the streets against changes to the electoral law. 'The number of wounded protesters in hospital has exceeded 100 after riot police attacked them,' director of the Kuwait Society for Human Rights Mohammad al-Humaidi said on Twitter on Sunday. 
The opposition called the demonstration to protest against a decision by Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah to amend the electoral law. The Kuwaiti cabinet on Saturday amended a controversial electoral law and set a December 1 date for snap polls, sparking angry opposition calls for demonstrations.The cabinet acted on orders from the emir who on Friday said the voting system must be amended immediately to deal with shortcomings in the law and to safeguard national unity against sectarian, tribal and factional tensions.
The electoral constituency law, issued in 2006 after opposition-led protests, divides the country into five electoral districts, each electing 10 MPs to the 50-member parliament. Under that legislation, each eligible voter was allowed to elect a maximum of four candidates. The government's amendment reduces this number to one, the cabinet statement said.

The decision came despite a ruling by the emirate's constitutional court last month that the legislation was in line with the constitution, turning down an appeal by the government.
 The opposition claims the change is aimed at electing a rubber-stamp parliament. It has decided to boycott polls called for December 1.'The people want to abolish the decree,' chanted the protesters marching in the street.
The demonstrators were due to march on the Seif Palace which houses offices for the emir, crown prince and prime minister, but were prevented by police.
p1c2 Al Sabah family, tribes affirm loyalty to Amir   Pitched battles in streets as protesters defy police
As the clashes took place, the emir (second from right in the picture) received members of the Al-Sabah ruling family, in power for more than 250 years, who reiterated their loyalty to him, TheKuwait Times reported. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Settler attacks on Palestinian farmers harvesting olives continue unabated

Olive Trees Destroyed in Al-Mughayer - October 2012
Destroyed olive trees in Al-Mughayyer, October 2012
The Palestinian human rights organization Al Haq reports:
 Each year, the olive harvest in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) is characterised by settlers attacks which severely impact upon the livelihood and safety of Palestinian farmers. Since the beginning of October, Al-Haq has documented the destruction, burning, uprooting or damaging of at least 747 olive trees and more than 29 farmers have been attacked by Israeli settlers. Most of the incidents are concentrated in the areas of Nablus, Qalqiliya, Bethlehem, Ramallah and Hebron in proximity to the Annexation Wall or Israeli settlements and outposts. Between January and mid-October 2012, more than 7,500 olive trees belonging to Palestinians in the West Bank were damaged or destroyed by Israeli settlers. Between 8 and 14 October, Al-Haq recorded 14 settler attacks related to the olive harvest.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (UN OCHA), the olive oil industry currently supports the livelihoods of an estimated 80,000 Palestinian families, a decrease of 20 per cent compared to 2011. Thousands of Palestinian farmers are prevented from accessing their land by the Israeli military for most of the year, and as such are often unable to cultivate or harvest their olive crop. Farmers are often allowed access to their land for only very short periods of time, which sometimes come too late in the season, to harvest their olive crop.

Al Haq continues with the almost unbelievable story of the farmer Jawad Thabet Abu ‘Eisheh from Hebron whose olives were stolen by settlers. The military came to the aid of the settlers and stopped him from filing a complaint.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Protests in Lebanon after assassination of security man and ally of Saad al-Hariri

Wissam al-Hassan

A powerful car bomb which killed eight people in Beirut on Friday, was meant for Wissam Hassan, an important man from the security establishment who was linked with the 14 March coalition  of Saad al-Hariri. Politicians like Hariri, and the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt accused Syria of being behind the attack. Al Hassan had been the target of assassination attempts before. His death led to protests in several places in Lebanon like Tripoli (his birthplace) and Beirut. Roads to Syria and to the airport were closed.

 Who was Al-Hassan? Wissam al-Hassan was one of the most important security figures in Lebanon, Qifa Nabki writes on his blog. . He headed up the Information Branch of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces (fir` al-ma`lumat), and was recently responsible for arresting Michel Samaha, a former minister with close ties to Syria, for allegedly conspiring to have explosives blown up all around Lebanon in a bid to create havoc. The move was seen as very destabilizing in Lebanon because Wissam al-Hassan is very close to the March 14th coalition while Samaha had long been regarded as “untouchable” because of his connections to Damascus. And yet, none of Samaha’s Lebanese allies demanded his release. Many people were shocked at the ISF’s boldness and concluded that the evidence against Samaha (which allegedly included video and audio footage) was so compelling that he became politically radioactive to his allies.
Wissam al-Hassan has long been the target of March 8th ire. His branch of the police has been described as an independent fiefdom that is not under any real civilian control. Al-Hassan was a key security chief for former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri, and was accused by some of having played a suspicious role in the build-up to the assassination in 2005. From March 14th’s perspective, the loss of al-Hassan is a major blow.
Asa'ad al-Khalil (Angry Arab) adds that Al-Hasan has been tasked with Saudi intelligence of facilitating arming and funding of Free Syrian Army from Lebanon.  His name has been linked with the ship, Lutfallah II, which was intercepted as it carried arms to Syrian rebels in Lebanon.  This former bodyguard of Rafiq Hariri quickly rose in rank and became the head of a predominantly Sunni security apparatus (Shu`bat Al-Ma`lumat, or Intelligence Branch) which has received tens of millions in US covert funding.  Hasan was first suspected in the Hariri assassination because he was absent that day and because he had long-standing ties with Syrian intelligence.  He told the Hariri investigators that he was studying for an exam that day. Al-Khalil adds that Hasan's Intelligence branch also has been responsible for catching scores of Israeli spies and terrorists in Lebanon.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

HRW: Lybian rebels killed Qadhafi, his son and 66 of his followers

Bodies of apparent execution victims found at the Mahari Hotel in Sirte on October 21, 2011.(Image from HRW report)
Bodies found at the Mahari hotel in Sirte, 21 October 2011 (HRW)

Libyan rebels abused and mass murdered Colonel Gaddafi, his son Mutassim, and 66 loyalists, after their capture a year ago, Human Rights Watch says. It calls for an investigation and prosecution of those responsible for what they slam as a war crime.
The 50-page report "Death of a Dictator: Bloody Vengeance in Sirte" details the last hours of Muammar Gaddafi’s life on October 20, 2011, when he was caught trying to leave the city with his remaining supporters.
HRW admits difficulty in reconstructing the final days of Libya’s ex-leader since “he was surrounded by a small circle of trusted confidants and bodyguards, most of whom were killed in the attempted escape from Sirte,” stated the report.
The report relies heavily on interviews with Mansour Dhao, a senior security official and head of the pro-Gaddafi People's Guard, and other surviving witnesses of the event. The interviews took place in Libya two days after Gaddafi’s death.
On October 20, Gadaffi’s son Mutassim deemed the situation unsafe and organized a 50-vehicle convoy for all to flee the city in the morning. The convoy consisted of 250 people, including civilians who supported Gaddafi.
As the cars were trying to make their getaway they were struck by a NATO air-fired missile, which exploded next to the car carrying Gaddafi. In defense, the convoy turned on to a dirt road, but was pinned down by militia fighters and then further bombed by NATO fighter jets.
After the bombings Gaddafi, accompanied by 10 other people, including his bodyguards, tried to take shelter by a drainage pipe, but was once again attacked by militia.
One of Gaddafi’s bodyguards reportedly threw three grenades at the rebels, but one of the grenades hit a cement wall and bounced back, injuring Gaddafi and leading to his capture.
“As soon as the militia fighters had custody of Gaddafi, they began abusing him. Blood was already gushing from the shrapnel wound in his head. As he was being led to the main road, a militiaman stabbed him in his anus with what appears to have been a bayonet, causing another rapidly bleeding wound,” described the report. Video clips taken of the capture suggest that after enduring abuses Gaddafi was shot by militia fighters.
A National Transitional Countil (NTC) fighter pulls Libya's former leader Muammar Gaddafi onto a miltary vehicle in Sirte in this still image taken from video shot on October 20, 2011 and released on October 22, 2011 (Reuters/Reuters TV)
Qadhafi just after his capture (still from video)

An HRW team on the ground counted that 103 pro-Gaddafi supporters died during that escape. Half of those were killed by NATO bombings, and the other half was either killed in combat or executed.
On top of that, 140 Gaddafi loyalists were taken prisoner, but instead of being transferred to prison authorities, 66 of them were executed in a nearby hotel.
Gaddafi’s son Mutassim was also captured alive, according to YouTube videos taken by his captors. However, by the afternoon of the same day, Mutassim was dead with a large new wound in his throat, suggesting he was murdered, HRW concluded.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Israel counted the calories for the people in Gaza

Border crossing Kerem Shalom betwee Israel and Gaza.

After a three-and-a-half-year legal battle waged by the Gisha human rights organization, the Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories  (COGAT) has finally released a 2008 document,  "Food Consumption in the Gaza Strip – Red Lines",  that detailed guidelines for food consumption in Gaza.  The document contains information about the Israeli policy of restricting the entrance of food to the Gaza Strip, which was in effect between 2007 and 2010.

It calculates the minimum number of calories necessary, in COGAT's view, to keep Gaza residents from malnutrition at a time when Israel was tightening its restrictions on the movement of people and goods in and out of the Strip, including food products and raw materials. The document states that Health Ministry officials were involved in drafting it, and the calculations were based on "a model formulated by the Ministry of Health.
 The "red lines" document calculates the minimum number of calories needed by every age and gender group in Gaza, then uses this to determine the quantity of staple foods that must be allowed into the Strip every day, as well as the number of trucks needed to carry this quantity. On average, the minimum worked out to 2,279 calories per person per day, which could be supplied by 1,836 grams of food, or 2,575.5 tons of food for the entire population of Gaza.

The calculations made in the presentation led to the conclusion that the "daily humanitarian portion" Gaza’s residents needed would require bringing in 106 trucks from Israel five days per week. In the first year following Hamas’ takeover of the Strip and the tightening of the closure (July 2007 to June 2008), an average of 90 trucks entered each scheduled working day. An earlier disclosure, in 2010, revealed already that Israel used a mathematical model to calculate the foodstuff it needed to distribute to Gaza in order to avoid a human catastrophy. 
The document was based upon a decision taken a few moths after the 2007 Hamas takeover in Gaza. The   Israeli cabinet, then headed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, decided in September of 2007 to tighten restrictions on the movement of people and goods to and from Gaza. The decision stated that "the movement of goods into the Gaza Strip will be restricted; the supply of gas and electricity will be reduced; and restrictions will be imposed on the movement of people from the Strip and to it." In addition, exports from Gaza would be forbidden entirely. However, the resolution added, the restrictions should be tailored to avoid a "humanitarian crisis." The "red lines" document was written about four months afterward.
Gisha notes that  the sharp decrease in the incoming quantities of food products caused supply to be unpredictable and contributed to a significant rise in food prices in Gaza, but did ot cause hunger. (..) however 'the severe economic crisis caused by the closure, particularly by restrictions on the entrance of raw materials and the marketing of goods outside the Strip led to a rise in the unemployment rate, resulted in increased dependence on aid. Between the second quarter of 2007 and the second quarter of 2008, the rate of unemployment soared by 72% (from 26.4% to 45.4%). A report by the United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) found that the number of Gaza residents receiving humanitarian aid rose from 63% of the population in 2006 to 80% in 2007. The main repercussions of the closure at the time were, as they largely continue to be today, increased poverty, increased dependence on aid and denial of opportunities for economic development, higher education and access to dignified work'.
Gisha states that these days, it is difficult to find a politician or security expert in Israel who would say that the closure policy of 2007-2010 benefitted Israel politically or in terms of security. For more than two years now, Israel has not imposed any restrictions on the entrance of food to the Gaza Strip. Yet, the two fundamental tenets of the policy, the legal position and the political-security rationale, remain the basis for the current policy, which the security establishment calls "the separation policy". This is not only in violation of international humantaria law, but Gisha says that it is also unclear at present 'which political or military actors formulated the "separation policy", what its objectives are and how it is monitored...

Variety award for Yousry Nasrallah

Egyptian director Yousry Nasrallah was awarded the Middle East Filmmaker of the Year award at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival (ADFF) on Monday. He got the award by Variety, a leading American magazine, for his latest film, Baad El-Mawkea (After the Battle), which is about the aftermath of the Battle of the Camel during the Egyptian Revolution.
 The film stars Menna Shalaby and Baseem Samra.Yousry Nasrallah Yousry Nasrallah holds up the Variety Filmmaker of the Year Award on day five of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival 2012 at Emirates Palace on October 15, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Samra portrays impoverished Pyramids tour guide Mahmoud. He is coerced into taking part in the brutal attack on anti-government demonstrators in Tahrir Square. He is badly beaten by protesters and afterwards he and his family are taunted and ridiculed because the attack is widely thought to have been instigated by agents of the Mubarak regime.
Nasrallah, born in Egypt in 1952, said the men who took part in the attack, mostly tour guides from the Pyramids area, were easy targets for those who wanted to exploit them. "They were extremely worried about their livelihood. Revolution means no more tourists, it means hunger. So they were easily manipulated and pushed into battles that were not theirs," Nasrallah told Reuters.
 Baad El-Mawkea first debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in May, making Nasrallah the first Arab director to participate at Cannes' official competition after the late Youssef Chahine. Nasrallah's other works include the 2009 film Sheherazade, Tell me a Story and The City, which won the special jury prize at Locarno in 1999.  His first film, Sarikat Sayfeya (Summer Thefts), was shown in 1988 in the parallel director section of the Cannes festival.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Drone that overflew Israel 'beamed lots of secret information'


Iran showed an Iranian made drone during its Army Day parade on 18 April 2012. (AFP/Getty).

The Iranian-made drone shot down over the Negev last week beamed back "images of secret Israeli military sites" and images of the preparations of the joint Israel-US military exercise, the Israeli newssite YNet (Yediot Ahronot) writes on Sunday, quoting the British Sunday Times. It appears that the flight of the drone may have been a lot more damaging than  the Israeli military have been willing to admit.
Also it remains a mystery how the unmanned aircraft could have stayed as long in the air over Israel, as the Sunday Times reveals, before it finally was shot down. According to what the Sunday Times' correspondent Uzi Mahnaimi in Tel Aviv reported, the drone apparently was airborne for three hours before it was intercepted, and was able to relay "images of ballistic missile sites, main airfields and possibly the Dimona reactor.
The report also mentions a detail first reported by Yedioth Ahronoth, saying that the first interception attempt failed and that the drone was shot down at a second attempt.
Mahnaimi further cited an Israeli defense source saying, "How could we defend this country from thousands of rockets and missiles if we can’t block a single Iranian drone?"
Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, declared on Thursday that the drone had been assembled and piloted by his movement. He called the flight an unprecedented achievement in “the history of the resistance.” In a televised, 50-minute speech Nasrallah said the drone had been designed in Iran and assembled by Hezbollah experts in Lebanon.
“It is our right to send other drones whenever we want,” he said, noting that Israel frequently violated Lebanese airspace. “It was not the first time and it will not be the last.”

Syrian goverment forces use cluster bombs

New evidence has emerged that the Syrian air force has used cluster munitions in recent days, Human Rights Watch reported. Many of the strikes were near the main highway that runs through Ma`arat al-Nu`man, the site of a major confrontation between government and rebel forces this week.

Videos posted online by Syrian activists on October 9-12 showed cluster munition remnants reportedly in or near the towns of Tamane`a, Taftanaz, al-Tah, and Ma`arat al-Nu`man, in the Northern governorate of Idlib, Eastern Bouwayda and al-Salloumiyyeh in Homs governorate, Tel Rifaat in Aleppo governorate, the countryside in Lattakia governorate, and Eastern Ghouta, near Damascus. The cluster bomb canisters and submunitions shown in the videos all show damage and wear patterns produced by being mounted on and dropped from an aircraft.
Residents from Taftanaz and Tamane`a confirmed in interviews with Human Rights Watch that helicopters dropped cluster munitions on or near their towns on October 9. Human Rights Watch does not yet have any information on casualties caused by the recent cluster munition strikes.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Links for the past week

The following recent articles and reports are worth reading as far as I'm concerned:

David W. Lesch, author of a rcet book about the Assad family,  writes in Al Monitor about a war that more and more shows the same symptoms as we know from the civil war in Lebanon:
The Lebanization of Syria.

American Reconstructionist rabbi and blogger Brant Rosen, explains in an interview about his new book why he embraced BDS:
A Rabbi's Path to Palestinian Solidarity

Dutch Foreign minister Uri Rosenthal gained notoriety for his pro-Zionist stance. The Lebanese paper Al-Akhbar describes his lesser known attempts to get Hezbollah on the list of terrorist organisations:
A Dutchman's Vendetta against Hezbollah

A beautiful portrait by Al Ahram Online of a Coptic revolutionary who was killed during last year's 'Maspero demonstration':

Egypt's Mina Danial: The untold story of a revolutionary,

King Abdallah of Jordan appoints one new prime minister after the other in order to keep ahead of Arab Spring-like upheavals, but he is running out of tricks:
What's (Maybe) new in Jordan  

 The International Crisis Group (ICG) issued a report on the Salafist trend within the Syrian opposition:

Tentative Jihad: Syria's Fundamentalist Opposition

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Anger in Cairo after court acquits defendants in the case of 'The Battle of the Camels'

Battle of the Camels, 3 February 2011 (AP) 

An Egyptian court on Wednesday acquitted all 24 defendants in the case of the "Battle of the Camels", who had been  accused of killing protesters last year, during the uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak. The court said the witness testimonies were based on hearsay and grudges against the defendants over parliamentary elections, Al-Masry Al-Youm reported.
Twenty-one protesters were killed and hundreds injured during this Battle of Camel, which took place on 2 and 3 February 2011 and got its name after the fact that some of the  plain-clothed assailants who violently attacked a sit-in on Tahrir Square, rode horses and camels. Eyewitnesses said at the time that the armed forces stationed at key points around the square did not intervene to prevent the bloodshed. Snipers were also, reportedly, deployed on the tops of surrounding buildings shooting at the demonstrators.
Wednesday's court ruling was followed by angry reactions from many sides. The influential April 6 Movement demanded a retrial and called for protests on Thursday in downtown Cairo. Several political and human rights activists said they were disappointed by the verdict."All the parties who investigated the incident are to blame. They forced the judge to issue a farcical verdict," said Mohamed El-Beltagi, an official in the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) to Ahram Online. "The matter is now in the hands of president Morsi, who should retry the criminals and assign that responsibility to fair judicial bodies." Human rights lawyer Gamal Eid mocked the ruling on Twitter, pointing the finger at the investigative bodies rather than the judge. Presidential advisor Seif Abdel-Fattah told Al-Ahram Arabic that indeed the 24 could be retried. "President Morsi has drawn up a fact-finding committee to look into the cases of killing protesters and it acquired new information that will prompt it to demand a re-trial for those who were acquitted, " he said.

 The court based its verdict on the fact that it was  not comfortable with the testimonies, except that of Major General Hassan al-Ruwainy, a former member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces who was in charge of securing Tharir square during the revolt. In July 2012, general Ruwainy, testified that it was not clear who the intruders were. The court found the rest of the evidence insufficient and also pointed out that one of the prosecution witnesses against the defendants had been imprisoned before on charges of perjury.
 The trial, which began last year, included members of the disbanded National Democratic Party, businessmen and former lawmakers. A total of 24 defendants, all senior officials of the former regime,were acquitted.Among those on trial were former Shura Council Speaker Safwat al-Sherif, former People’s Assembly Speaker Fathi Sorour, and ceramics tycoon Mohamed Abul Enein, businessman and former leading NDP member Ibrahim Kamel, former Manpower and Immigration Minister Aisha Abdel Hady, former MP Mortada Mansour, and Hussein Megawer, former head of the Egyptian Trade Union Federation. The number of defendants was initially 25, but one of them, former NDP MP Abdel-Nasser El-Gabri, died last year.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Israel goes to the polls in two or three months

 Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference in Jerusalem (9 Oct)

Israel will go to the polls early. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Tuesday in a televised statement, that they will be held in two or three months instead of the end of next year. As his coalition government would not be able to agree on a national budget for 2013, he had "decided, for the benefit of Israel, to hold elections now and as quickly as possible," the Prime Minister said.
"In a few months, the tenure of the most stable government in decades will come to an end," Netanyahu said. "This stability has helped us achieve the two main objectives we promised the citizens of Israel – to strengthen security at a time when a dangerous upheaval is gripping the Middle East, and [to fortify] the economy during…a  financial turmoil."
"We must maintain a responsible economic and defense policy," Netanyahu added, "to ensure that Iran does not have a nuclear bomb." He said that early elections are a "national interest," and thanked the citizens of Israel for the privilege they have granted him.
 The prospect of early elections arose after minister Yishai (Interior) said his party, Shas, would not support wide-ranging budget cuts, particularly cuts to benefits for the elderly, single-parent families and the poor.
Observers agree that it is unlikely that Israel will attack Iran in the meantime. In fact Netayahu indicated already that much in his recent speech or the United Nations, when he positioned his 'red line' in the spring of just before the beginning of the summer. 

Morsi's 100 days, a performance which is viewed with mixed feelings

President Morsi greets the crowd at Cairo Stadium at a rally to commemorate the 6 October war. (AP)

On the 100th day of his presidency, Egypt's president Mohamed Morsi issued a blanket pardon, Monday evening, for all citizens arrested during protests held since the start of the January 25 Revolution until 30 June this year, when he was inaugurated. The pardon, according to the presidential decree, includes those who are currently facing trial as well as those already serving jail sentences.
"The blanket pardon applies to whoever been sentenced during the January 25 Revolution while trying to support the revolution," the presidential decree read, adding that the amnesty excludes those convicted of murder.
Morsi's legal consultant Mohamed Gadallah to Al-Jazeera Mubasha Misr, Monday evening, that the pardon will include military officers who were arrested for participating in pro-revolution protests.

A few days earlier, during a speech in the Cairo Stadium to commemorate the 1973 '6 October War', Morsi gave himself a performance review, looking back at the promises he made when taking office. 
“I take responsibility with you and before you for the 100 days and beyond the 100 days,” he said before offering statistics on how many goals he had achieved.
One of his promises concerned the improvement of the quality and availability of bread, which poor Egyptians had to queue for during former President Hosni Mubarak’s era. In some instances, deadly fights over bread broke out between people queuing. “Around 80 per cent of the goals have been achieved,” Morsi claimed, adding that quality still needs to be improved. A watchdog website, called “Morsi Meter”, which was set up to follow up on Morsi’s promises, tells a different story. Of the 13 promises Morsi made regarding bread, only three have been achieved and seven more were in progress, according to the site.
As for the availability of household gas and fuel at the pump, both of which have been in short supply and which was another one of Morsi's promises, Morsi said to have achieved '85 per cent of the household needs of gas cylinders'. He added that among the reasons for not doing better was the smuggling of fuel. “In just two months, 23 million litres of fuel have been seized,” he said. However, the Morsi Meter reported that of the five promises related to fuel, only the promise to implement deterrent punishments for smugglers has been achieved, while one of the remaining four is in progress.
Regarding security, Morsi said that 70 per cent of his goals have been achieved. He saluted the men of the Interior ministry for their efforts. The Morsi Meter claims that only one of the promises Morsi made regarding security has been met: to give promotions and benefits to police officers, commensurate with performance.
As far as traffic was concerned, Morsi claimed that he had achieved 60 per cent of his promises. The Morsi Meter estimates that only one of his 21 promises has been completed. And regarding the removal of garbage around 40 per cent of the promises were achieved, Morsi claimed. He said over 600,000 tons of garbage have been removed from the Greater Cairo region, 200,000 tons from Alexandria and 350,000 from other governorates. According to Morsi Meter, this is the only sector in which all of the president’s goals have either been achieved or are in progress.
traffic in Cairo

 In the political area there was more criticism. Ahmed Imam, a member of the National Front for the Portection of the Revolution (NFPR), dismissed the five presidential promises as "only electoral slogans which were unattainable in 100 days." Rather it was more important, he said, to focus on Morsi's failure to use the "historic revolutionary moment to change Egypt’s approach to its economy."
"Instead of forging economic policies in favour of the poor by setting a minimum and maximum wage, forcing progressive taxation and renationalising the country’s robbed companies, Morsi chose to side with the rich and follow the same path as the old ruling party in depending on loans," Imam opined, referring to the controversial $4.8 billion sum from the International Monetary Fund that Morsi's administration is currently negotiating.
On the level of freedom of expression there is concern about the position of journalists and the freedom of speech. Particularly worrisome is the rise of cases of "contempt of religion". Last month, Coptic Christian schoolteacher Bishoy Kamel was sentenced to six years in prison for posting cartoons on Facebook deemed defamatory to Islam, the Prophet Mohamed, President Morsi and Morsi's family.
Another case which sparked national and international uproar last week was the detention of two Coptic children charged with insulting Islam. The nine and ten year olds, who allegedly tore up verses of the Quran, were shortly released pending investigation.
 Hossam Bahgat of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) also complained that the return of the police had conversely increased instances of citizen rights violations. "Morsi and his government still adopt the view that if they reform the police institution [as rights groups have been demanding] they will not be able to regain control of the security situation, a view which we completely reject," Bahgat said. According to an EIPR investigation due to be released next week, Bahgat asserted, "the level of torture witnessed at the hands of police in the past month and a half is equivalent to that witnessed in the past 18 months."
A patient walks past striking doctors.(AP)

Rights activist Aida Seif El-Dawla of the Nadeem Centre for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence agreed, adding that over the course of the last few months the increase in police presence has contributed to the levels of violence during instances of social unrest. Student sit-ins have been violently dispersed, the rights advocate continued, for example when a month-long Nile University protest was forcefully evacuated by Central Security Forces (CSF) three weeks ago.  Workers' strikes were similarly attacked using "old [regime] tactics" such as police cooperating with the business owners' hired private security, Seif El-Dawla added.
An increase in employees taking industrial action has been one of the most significant developments during the last 100 days. Since early July, transport workers, doctors and teachers have all staged intermittent strikes and protests against low pay and deteriorating living standards.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Army failure allows Iranian drone to overfly more than half of Israel

Richard Silverstein blogs:
Israeli jets down the drone
The IDF displayed yet another embarrassing failure in defending the homeland yesterday regarding the Iranian drone launched under the auspices of Hezbollah from Lebanon.  Yediot’s Alex Fishman, one of the few forthright Israeli defense reporters notes (print only) that the aerial vehicle was allowed to fly over Israeli airspace for 20 minutes before it was downed.  If you take into account IDF spokesperson Avital Leibovich’s claim that the army was tracking the drone for 20 minutes, that means it hadn’t a clue about the drone until it crossed into Israeli airspace.  Imagine the most advanced army in the Middle East cannot track a slow-moving drone launched from Lebanon and flown for a long distance over the Mediterranean.  Among the Israeli sites it overflew were population centers and military bases.  It was only 18 miles (he calls it “spitting distance”) from Dimona when it was felled.  Several years ago, a Hezbollah balloon flew directly over Dimona before it too was shot down.  Note that this is supposed to be restricted airspace.
Fishman, whose IDF sources are excellent, reports that the drone was manufactured by the Iranian aviation industry and used Iranian technology.

Chadli Benjedid, president of Algeria during a fateful period, dies at 83

L’ancien président Chadli Bendjedid est décédé samedi à Alger à l’âge de 83 ans des suites d’un cancer. Il avait été admis, il y a plus d’une semaine, à l’hôpital militaire de Aïn Naâdja. 

Updated. Former president of Algeria, Chadli Benjedid died on Saturday, 83 years old of cancer.  Benjedid, who succeeded Houari Boumedienne in 1979, was the president who after widespread unrest in 1988 liberalized the constitution, and transformed the system from a one party to a multi-party system with a free press.  However, he got in trouble after the islamist party Front islamique du salut (FIS) in December 1991 won the first round of the general elections.  Benjedid declared that he was ready to adopt the  'cohabitation' model of government, after the example of France where a leftist president (Mitterrand) was forced to cooperate with a rightist government under Prime Minister Chirac. After all the president in Algeria was powerful enough, as he, according to the Constitution, was personally in charge of the key portfolios of the Interior, Foreign Affairs and Defense. Also Benjedid may have considered two other things: 1) that the FIS already during local elections two years earlier got a majority in most municipalities and had proven to be a responsible factor, and 2) that the majority for the FIS was not, according to many,  so much a sign of a massive shift towards islamism of the Algerian people, as more a clear protest against years of mismanagement by the governing FLN-party, which had led to a huge shortage of jobs, general poverty and an immense housing problem.      
Benjedid's declaration that he was willing to 'cohabitate', however, was unexpectedly followed by a announcement, made by himself on television a few days later, that he stepped down. Although this was never openly stated, it was clear that Benjedid, himself a general, was forced to do so by his military colleagues, who were (and still are in a way) the real Algerian rulers, albeit off stage.
After Benjedid left, the second round of the elections to be held in January 1992 was annulled, the FIS was declared illegal, and  Benjedid's liberalisation was effectively frozen. I was in Algiers and I'll never forget the immense tension that was felt universally in the city after Benjedid's resignation. The veiled military coup was the beginning of a bloody conflict between islamists and the military which lasted about a decade and during which hundreds of thousands of militants, military and civilians lost their lives. In a way I'm still proud that I had warned that exactly this - a bloodbath of immense magnitude - was going to happen, in the reports I wrote for the Dutch newspaper Het Parool, for which I was reporting at the time. Most  of my colleagues wrote exactly the opposite: that leaving the way open for a electoral victory of the FIS was a sure way to disaster and that there was no alternative than to  put a halt to the electoral process.      

Benjedid himself  lived a life far from microphones and camera's ever since his departure from the scene. He has never given his own record of the eventful years 1988-1990, nor has he uttered a word about the quiet coup d'état that was behind his dramatic decision to leave his post. In fact the exact course of events is still largely unknown. In present day Algeria it's still all but a taboo.
The newspaper Al Watan (French) carries a more detailed in memoriam and biography.      

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Imran Khan leads march through Pakistan against American droness

 Pakistani politician Imran Khan stands on a vehicle during a rally in Mianwali, northern Pakistan, as part of his protest march to South Waziristan.
Imran Khan, standing on a vehicle, adresses the participants of the 'march'.

Update: A thousands-strong motorcade rally against US drone strikes in Pakistan led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan has been stopped from entering restive tribal regions.
After negotiations near the frontier, Mr Khan turned back and decided to hold a rally in the nearby town of Tank. But he said he still intended to reached his intended final destination, in South Waziristan.
The authorities have barred him from the region, citing security
Imran Khan the Pakistani former cricketer who became a politician, has begun a march to Pakistan's restive tribal areas to protest against US drone strikes. The two-day protest, which isn' t really a march as the protesters move in cars,  started in Islamabad and is due to end in South Waziristan, a major focus of strikes.
The start was with a few hundred participants, but Khan said to hope in the end tens of thousands will take part. He said that the attacks kill large numbers of civilians and foster support for militants. "No-one should be allowed to be judge, jury and executioner," Khan said before setting off. "It's totally counter-productive. All it does is it helps the militants to recruit poor people. Clearly if they were succeeding, these drone attacks, we would be winning the war. But there's a stalemate."
US officials insist strikes by the unmanned aircraft rarely claim civilian casualties and are an effective weapon against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
Observers say  it is unclear how far the convoy of vehicles will be able to proceed and if  the Pakistani authorities will allow the march to reach the tribal areas. The Taliban have criticised both Mr Khan and the rally, but the politician told the BBC he was not worried about militant attacks. About 80 western peace activists are in the protest convoy.

 Recent research by the British Bureau  of Investigatig Journalism has found that since Obama took office three years ago, between 282 and 535 civilians have been credibly reported as killed including more than 60 children.  A three month investigation including eye witness reports has found evidence that at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims. More than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners. The tactics have been condemned by leading legal experts.
Although the drone attacks were started under the Bush administration in 2004, they have been stepped up enormously under Obama.
There have been 260 attacks by unmanned Predators or Reapers in Pakistan by Obama’s administration – averaging one every four days. Because the attacks are carried out by the CIA, no information is given on the numbers killed.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

King Abdallah of Jordan dissolves parliament

Abdallah II
King Abdallah II of Jordan has dissolved parliament, paving the way for early polls ahead of protests seen as his biggest challenge since the start of the Arab Spring. Jordanians have been pressing for a greater say in how their country is run and demanding corruption be tackled. Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood said in July its political party, the Islamic Action Front, would boycott the polls. The group has called for the monarch's powers to be curtailed, and for an overhaul of the parliamentary system in which the prime minister is appointed by the king rather than elected. It has said it would boycott polls until such measures were introduced.
King Abdallah said recently a new parliament would elect a prime minister early next year.
Ahead of Thursday's royal decree, the Muslim Brotherhood said its "Friday to Rescue the Nation" rally to demand reforms would go ahead in central Amman. "We are talking about a new phase after 20 months of continued popular protests and unwillingness to listen to our demands for reform," Zaki Bani Rusheid, the deputy head of the Muslim Brotherhood, told Reuters of the rally.
Jordanians have been participating in demonstrations demanding reform since the beginning of last year. However, the movement never reached levels like in Egypt, Tunisia or Yemen.
Update: Tens of thousands demonstrated on Friday 5 October i Amman for reform. The demostations ws organized by the Muslim Brotherhood. (Photo AFP).

Is Iran really refusing to cooperate on the nuclear issue?

 The site Al-Monitor gives some attention to what president Ahmadinejad (and his foreign minister) said in New York during their visit at the end of September to the UN-General Assembly, words that weren't really reproduced extensively in other media. It's worth to take note.  

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addresses diplomats during the high-level meeting of the General Assembly on the Rule of Law at the United Nations headquarters in New York September 24, 2012. REUTERS/Eduardo MunozOn Iran’s nuclear program, Ahmadinejad said in New York that his previous offer for Iran to end its production of 20% enriched uranium if the enriched uranium was provided to Iran for its nuclear medical-research reactor is “still on the table.” He repeated the offer at a press conference in Tehran on Oct. 2, saying “anytime they give us this fuel we will feel no need to produce the costly fuel of 20%.”
This is the same offer he made during the UN General Assembly meetings in 2011, but this initiative was overtaken by the accusations of the Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States and was ignored by Washington.
 In March I wrote in Al-Monitor that the US should test Iran’s intentions by taking up this offer. Getting Iran to halt 20% enrichment is not the endgame, but it is an essential first step. The talks will go nowhere until Iran halts enrichment at this level.
Ahmadinejad gave further clues as how to break out of the impasse in the nuclear negotiations. He reaffirmed last week that the Tehran Declaration, agreed by Iran, Turkey and Brazil in May 2010, in which Iran agreed to ship 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium to Turkey in return for 120 kilograms of 20%-enriched uranium fuel, under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the US, France and Russia, is also still on the table and welcomed US participation in building an Iranian civilian nuclear power plant.
On Syria, I wrote last week that Ahmadinejad had undertaken a new diplomatic initiative to end the ‘tribal warfare.' My colleague Laura Rozen reported that Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has held a flurry of top-level diplomatic meetings in New York on Syria, including with Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN/Arab League Special Envoy for Syria. Most significantly, Salehi said Iran supports Brahimi’s mediation efforts, adding, “We are cognizant of the fact that Iran cannot take the lead” in mediation efforts on Syria … "so as the case with other countries that have taken the other side. So we stressed that we have to support Mr. Brahimi’s initiative and mission.”

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Car bombs in Aleppo kill at least 40 people

(Pictures Syrian news agency  SANA)

Four blasts ripped through a government-controlled district close to a military officers' club in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, killing at least 40 people and wounding more than 90 on Wednesday, opposition activists said.
The attacks within minutes of each other struck the main Saadallah al-Jabiri Square and a fifth bomb exploded a few hundred meters away, state television said, on the fringes of the Old City where rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have been fighting.
20121003-135602.jpg"Five minutes after the first explosion a second bomb exploded. A third exploded ten minutes after that," a state television reporter said. "There was a fourth car bomb which exploded before engineering units could defuse it." 
The station also broadcast footage of three dead men disguised as soldiers in army fatigues who it said were shot by security forces before they could detonate explosive-packed belts they were wearing. One appeared to be holding a trigger device in his hand.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Iran's currency in free fall

Iran's currency, the rial, fell as much as 18% on Monday to a record low against the US dollar, according to media reports. It dropped to as much as 35,000 to the dollar, according to agencies citing currency exchange sites in the country.The currency has reportedly lost 80% of its value since the end of 2011.
The fall suggests economic sanctions imposed over its disputed nuclear programme are hitting economic activity ever harder. The rates were not available on the exchanges' websites later in the day, supposedly because Iran did ot want to make known the full extend of the fall.
20,000 Rials, 2000 To'man, Do Hezar Towman, Iranian Currency
20.000 Iranian rial
Iran is all but frozen out of the global banking system as a result of US-led sanctions, which are related to Iran's presumed ambition to obtain an atomic bomb. The sanctions, which are backed by the European Union, include a ban on the trade of Iranian oil, which means Iran is unable to sell its oil to most other countries. Analysts think it may also have to accept lower prices from countries still willing to trade with it.
 According to a recent report by the Iranian newsagecy Fars, which was translated by BBC Monitoring,  "Iranian technological analysts" said in an open letter to the president that most of the country's economic problems had been caused by the weakness of the currency - as imported  raw materials used by manufacturers need to be paid for in hard currency. A weaker domestic currency makes imports more expensive and is expected to raise prices for people inside Iran.Latest figures indicate that inflation is running at an annual rate of 24% in Iran.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Eric Hobsbawn 1917-2012

Eric Hobsbawm, one of Britain's most eminent historians, has died in the early hours of Monday morning at a hospital in London where he had been suffering from pneumonia. "He'd been quietly fighting leukemia for a number of years without fuss or fanfare," his daughter, Julia Hobsbawm, said. "Right up until the end he was keeping up what he did best, he was keeping up with current affairs, there was a stack of newspapers by his bed."
Hobsbawm, a historian in the Marxist tradition and a lifelong member of the communist party, wrote more than 30 books. Among them his  'quartet'  is probably the most famous. It consists of books about the French revolution (The Age of Revolution: Europe 1789-1848), the British industrial revolution (The Age of Capital: 1848-1875), the period leading to the First World War (The Age of Empire: 1875-1914) and a history of the 20th century (The Age of Extremes: the short twentieth century, 1914–1991). This last book  has been translated into 40 languages.
Hobsbawn in 1976 (WSJ)
Apart from that, for me he will always remain the man who coined the term 'the invention of tradition' in a book with the same title that he edited in 1983, together with Terence Ranger. Invented traditions are traditions that ostensibly have a long past, but in fact have been  invented quite recently in order to strengthen  the identity of a nation or group. In the introduction to the book Hobsbawn wrote:  

'Invented tradition' is taken to mean a set of practices, normally governed by overtly or tacitly accepted rules and of a ritual or symbolic nature, which seek to inculcate certain values and norms of behaviour by repetition, which automatically implies continuity with the past. In fact, where possible, they normally attempt to establish continuity with a suitable historic past.... However, insofar as there is such reference to a historic past, the peculiarity of 'invented' traditions is that the continuity with it is largely fictitious. In short, they are responses to novel situations which take the form of reference to old situations, or which establish their own past by quasi-obligatory repetition." 
The concept has since been adopted by representatives of numerous disciplines from political scientists to anthropologists, as it can be applied to understand the practices of fundamentalists of different beliefs (Christian, Islamic or Jewish), or the common discourse of a young state like Israel which bases its existence on biblical texts.
Hobsbawn (an error by a cleric is responsible for the name - his father's name was Obtstbaum) was born in 1917 in Alexandria (Egypt) to a British father and an Austrian mother, both of them Jewish. When he was two the family moved to Vienna. At age 14 Hobsbawn became an orphan and he was take care of by relatives in Berlin. There he was confronted with the rise of Adolf Hitler, which, as  he said, left a mark for the rest of his life as was the case with anybody who experienced it. Also during that period he discovered the Communist Manifesto and communism. He would always remain a communist, although in the 70s he became more enthusiastic about Antonio Gramsci and Eurocommunism. In an interview with the BBC in 1995 he said that he had become disillusioned with the Soviet Union after the death in 1953 of Josef Stalin and after 1956 'recycled himself as a sympathizer rather than a militant'.      

Hobsbawn moved in 1933 to London. In 1947, he became a lecturer in history at Birkbeck (University of London). He became a reader in 1959, and was a professor from 1970–82. He was a fellow between 1949–55 at King's College, Cambridge, a visiting professor at Stanford in the and other American universities. He was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1971. In 1978 he became a Fellow of the British Academy
Hobsbawn retired in 1982 but stayed as visiting professor at The New School for Social Research in Manhattan between 1984–97. He was until his death the President of Birkbeck and Professor Emeritus in The New School for Social Research in the Political Science department. He spoke German, English, French, Spanish and Italian fluently, and read Dutch, Portuguese and Catalan.

Apart from his historical works he wrote in 1959 "The Jazz Scene," using the pseudonym Francis Newton. He continued to write about jazz under this name for the New Statesman. 
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The secret Iranian bomb

h/t Angry Arab