Thursday, November 29, 2012

Qatari poet gets life sentence for 'Jasmine' poem

A life sentence handed today to a Qatari poet has all the hallmarks of an outrageous betrayal of free speech, Amesty International has said.  Mohammed al-Ajami, also known as Mohammed Ibn al-Dheeb, was tried on charges of incitement “to overthrow the ruling system”, and “insulting the Amir”.He was arrested in November 2011 following the publication of his “Jasmine Poem”, which broadly criticized governments across the Gulf region, saying “we are all Tunisia in the face of the repressive elite”.
Mohammed al-Ajami
 “It is deplorable that Qatar, which likes to paint itself internationally as a country that promotes freedom of expression, is indulging in what appears to be such a flagrant abuse of that right,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director.A copy of the verdict obtained by Amnesty International makes no reference to the reasons for such a harsh sentence, but the organization understands that the charges on which he was convicted were based on the content of his poetry.
“All the information available points to Mohammed al-Ajami being a prisoner of conscience who has been placed behind bars solely for his words. Accordingly, he should be released immediately and his conviction quashed,” said Philip Luther.
The verdict has sent out shock waves among activists in Qatar and the Gulf region, who have told Amnesty International that the sentence feels like a threat to them all. 
Qatar is the headquarters of media organization Al-Jazeera, which has won plaudits for its reports on uprisings throughout the region in the last two years. However, Qatar has strictly controlled press freedoms and freedom of expression with regard to criticism of its own government.
Observers were not allowed to enter the court, and al-Ajami himself was not present at the sentencing.  He is expected to appeal.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Links for the past week

Jadaliyya about the former Moroccan opposition, now goverment party:
From Opposition to Puppet: Morocco’s Party of Justice and Development

Adam Shatz about the latest Israeli campaign in Gaza, Pillar of Cloud: 
Why Israel Didn't Win (originally written for the London Review of Books).

Nadia Hijab of Al-Shabaka over the outcome of 'Gaza':
Gaza Fallout Weakens Israel, Strengthens Nationalists

Gaza specialist Sara Roy in the Boston Globe:
Where’s our humanity for Gaza?

Jewish Peace activist Emily Hauser in The Daily Beast about all those years during which Irael made so many victims: 
Incompetence Or Indifference?

And about Syria and the advances the Rebel forces booked:
Will Assad Soon Abandon the North to Rebel Control 

And Alain Gresh about the Egyptian President Morsi's recent Constitutional Declaration (in French):
Egypte, vers une dictature des Frères?

And Issander el-Amrani in the NYtimes about thy mitakes of both Morsi and the opposition:
Morsi's Law
(I agree completely with his viewpoint).

Monday, November 26, 2012

Turkish president Özal may have been poisened

File photo of presidential honour guard carrying coffin of President Turgut Ozal as Turkish generals with drawn swords accompany them during a funeral procession in Ankara April 21, 1993.

An autopsy on the exhumed body late President Turgut Ozal, who led Turkey out of military rule in the 1980s, has revealed evidence of poisoning, a newspaper reported on Monday.
There had long been rumors Ozal, who died of heart failure in 1993 aged 65, was murdered by militants of the "deep state" - a shadowy nationalist strain within the Turkish establishment of the day. He had angered some with his efforts to end the Kurdish conflict and survived on assassination bid in 1988.
His body, dug up last month on the orders of prosecutors investigating suspicions of foul play in his death, contained the banned insecticide DDT and the related compound DDE at ten times the normal level, Today's Zaman cited sources from the state Forensic Medicine Institute (ATK) as saying.
"Ozal was most likely poisoned with four separate substances," the paper reported the sources as saying, also naming the toxic metal cadmium and the radioactive elements americium and polonium as substances found in Ozal's remains.
Forensic institute officials declined to comment. (The picture was taken at Özal's fueral in 1993)

he picture is of Özal's fueral in 1993)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Divisions in Egypt deepen

 Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi speaks to supporters outside the Presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. Opponents and supporters of Mohammed Morsi clashed across Egypt on Friday, the day after the president granted himself sweeping new powers that critics fear can allow him to be a virtual dictator. (AP Photo/Aly Hazaza, El Shorouk)
 President Morsi on Friday adressed followers in front of the presidential palace (AP).

The declaration which the Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi isssued on Thursday continues to divide the Egyptians. The president is faced by a strike by a part of the country's judges, while other judges expressed their support, (see below). At the same time the divide between the Islamists, mainly the Muslim Brothershood's Freedom and Justice Party which backs the president, and almost all other parties deepened further.    

These other parties on Saturday constituted a new 'National Front' in order to defeat Morsi's declaration. It stated that no dialogue with the president will be held until he has withdrawn the declaration.  The new Front includes the Constitution Party, the Egyptian Popular Current, the Social Democratic Party, the Free Egypt Party, the Wafd Party, the Free Egyptians Party, and the Coalition of Nasserist Parties amog others. The meeting was attended by people like former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi, Mohamed ElBaradei of the Constitution Party, former head of Arab league Amr Mousa , former MP Amr Hamzawy,.former Constituent Assembly Spokesperson Wahid Abdel-Meguid, President Morsi's recently resigned Presidential Advisor Samir Morqos. Also present were representatives of former presidential candidate Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh.
The reaction of the new National Front makes me, AbuP., wonder why the Front is not ready to consider a more conciliatory tone. Why, for instance, would the front not try to accept the measures aiming at as yet realising justice for the protesters who were killed during demostrations? While at the other hand try to find a compromise in the case of Morsi's block of juridical moves to disband  the Constitutional Assembly? 
In the meantime, however,  also the judges made themselves heard. Hundreds of judges held an extraordinary general assembly for the Judges' Club at the High Court headquarters in downtown Cairo to discuss measures against the constitutional decree which, they said, undermines their independence. Also Egypt's Supreme Judiciary Council (SJC) issued a statement describing Morsi's move as "unprecedented attack on judiciary independence."  The Courts and prosecution offices in the Delta governorates of Qalioubiya and Alexandrië announced that they went on strike.
At the other hand some hundreds of judges united in a  movenet called "Judges for Egypt" declared on Saturday their support for President Mohamed Morsi's newly issued declaration. They held a meeting in opposition to the general assembly.

The sacked Prosecuror geeral Abdel Meguid Mahmoud (AFP).

As a footnote to the 'dawshe' that Morsi caused with his decree, the ousted prosecutor-general Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud on Saturday attempted to rebutt accusations that his office was slow or ineffective in prosecuting those who killed unarmed protesters after the January 25 uprising. He pointed a finger at the ministry of the Interior for not referring any suspects to his office. "The ministry of interior has never referred any suspects to the office of the prosecutor general in the Two Saints church bombing in January 2010, Maspero massacre October 2011, Mohamed Mahmoud clashes in November 2011 and the cabinet clashes December  2011,' Mahmoud said. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Morsi's Constitutional Declaration causes uproar

Items ransacked from the office of the Muslim Brotherhood's FJP are burned outside the building, while the crowd is watching. Under: teargas is hurled at protesters in Cairo. (Photos Reuters).

The Constitutional Declaration that the Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi issued on Thursday with the professed  aim of 'protecting the revolution'  has had a divisive effect and put two camps heatedly against each other in the streets of several Egyptian cities. One side defended Morsi's measures and , consisted mainly of members of the Muslim Brotherhood. The opposite side strongly attacked the president. These were in fact all leftist, liberals en and  non-islamist factions that took part in the 25 January uprising. Both sides have been clashing with each other and with the security forces for two consecutive days, Friday and Saturday, and in several cities.
 It was difficult to estimate how may people participated in the protests. But in Cairo it were some tens of thousands who took to the streets on Friday, with the opposition forces calling Morsi the 'New Farao' and chanting slogans in which they demanded his downfall.
Morsi's declaration consisted essentially of two parts. In one part he demanded a purification of government agencies from figures who were linked to the former regime. Also he announced that Mubarak and other important members of the former regime will get a retrial of their cases, together with new processes for all people that were involved in harming or killing protesters. He appointed a new Prosecutor General. All of these, in fact, met demands by opposition figures who had complained time and again that punishments had been too lenient and in many cases even absent (the many police officers that were acquitted in cases in which they had been indicted for murder of protesters, for instance) due to lousy work of the office of the former Prosecutor General, a leftover from the Mubarak-era,  Abdel Meguid Mahmoud.

The other part of Morsi's declaration, however, was the part that was met with strong criticism. In it he declared that no decisions taken by him since he came to power could be challenged, legally or otherwise till after the adoption of a new Constitution and elections for a new Maglis as-shaab (lower house of parliament). Also he declared that the Shura Coucil (a kind of Senate) and the Constitutional Assembly that is writing a new Constitution, cannot be dissolved. The Assembly even got two more moths to do its work. It was these last two provisons that woke the anger of the leftist opposition. I must say that I under estimated the reaction in a country where the allergy for absolute power in the hands of  one person is still much alive after 30 years of 'faraonic' reign by Mubarak. Also the provision that the Costitutional Assembly cannot be dissolved raised strong protests, as the Assembly itself is quite controversial, dominated as it is by Islamists. Several people have left the Assembly over the past weeks, among them leftists, liberals and Christians. A court judgement over the question whether its composition was legally corect or not, was expected just one of these days.
Law professors, opposition leaders like Amr Moussa, the Nasserist Hamdeen Sabbahi, or Muhammed Baradei said that Morsi with the new declaration gave himself more powers than any other president ever before him. The president himself tried to calm the criticism dwo with a conciliatory speech, in which he said that he did not deny the right of the opposition to criticize him, and that he only issued the declaration out of necessity. His spokesman said earlier that Morsi only came with the declaration in order to put a end to legal wrangling and maintain stability. The unrest did not die down however. Morsi's adviserory team of 17 (of which two members are reported te have resigned out of protest), would convene on Saturday to find a way out of the crisis. Meanwhile there were concerned reactions from the United States, the United Nations and the European Union.“We are very concerned about the possible huge ramifications of this declaration on human rights and the rule of law in Egypt,” UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay's spokesman told a press briefing at the UN in Geneva. It is ironic that Morsi caused this uproar just one day after he upgraded greatly his national ad international prestige with the achievement of a cease fire in Gaza between Israel and Hamas.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Morsi orders retrial of people who were involved in harming Egyptian revolutionary protesters

 President Morsi sacks prosecutor-general
President Mohammed Morsi, right, swears in his new Prosecutor General, Talaat Abdallah, Photo  AP)

The Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi has issued a decree whereby he ordered a retrial of all those charged with killing or injuring protesters involved in revolutionary demonstrations since the January 25 Revolution, as well as all Mubarak-era officials responsible for terrorising protesters.
Also he gave himself the power to appoint a Prosecutor General for a period of four years. Immediately after issuing the decree he sacked Prosecutor General Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud and installed Talaat Abdallah as his replacement.
The presidential declaration began by stating that the January 25 Revolution ´had mandated the president with the responsibility to achieve revolutionary demands and to root out remnants of the old regime from Egypt's state institutions´. Apparently the decree is Morsi´s reaction to complaints that many police officers and others who had bee accused of killing a harming revolutionaries during the protests, have been acquitted in the past months. A similar problem is the fact that still many functionaries from the Mubarak-era are to be foun in key positions, particularly in the Interior ministry and the  state security. 
Another article decreed that the Constitutional Assembly that is writing a new Constitution gets two more months in order the accomplish its task. Originally the Constitution had to be finished by 5 December.
Also the president determined that no judicial body can dissolve the Constitutional Assembly or the Shura Coucil, and that all of the presidents decrees cannot be legally challenged or appealed until the Constitution has been approved and a new Maglis as-shaab (lower house of parliament) has been elected. 
Morsi´s  spokesman Yasser Ali told Al-Ahram Online that the decree in no way is meant to pave the way for a reinstatement of the former Maglis as-shaab which had been disbanded in July, but solely wants to put an end to legal wrangling and create stability.      

Hamas celebrates a victory

Gaza - Nabil Shaath during the celebration of the cease-fire and end of Pillar of Cloud massacre Photo by WAFA
In the Gaza Strip a large meeting took place on Thursday to celebrate the cease fire that ended the Israeli attacks. The agreement was hailed as a victory, what indeed it was, as all Hamas´ demands were met: an end to the Israeli blockade, no Israeli incursions or targeted killings anymore, an end to the policy of a security zone of several hundreds of meters inside Gaza and all of the afore mentioned guaranteed by Egypt (look here for the full text of the agreement)
Israel must  have come to the conclusion that, in spite of its many announcements that it hit ´rocket launch pads and ammunition storages´, the rockets kept coming, which left it no other options than accept these terms, or launch a ground offensive - with all the risks that would have come with it, like  loss of Israeli life, uncertainty about the outcome and near certainty that it would lead to yet more loss of goodwill around the world. So much for yet another futile but deadly and destructive Israeli campaign.
At the meeting all Palestinian factions were present as the flags in the photos more or less show. Several speakers urged the Palestinians now to start working in earnest at the reunification of Fatah and Hamas. One of the speakers (top picture) significantly was one of the leaders of Fatah, Nabil Shaath. (Photos Pal Today)   

Nov 22 2012 The victory of the resistance in Gaza that unites all Palestinians Photo by PalToday

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

West Bank demonstrated from day one against Israels onslaught in Gaza

Rushdi Tamimi's funeral.
The Alternative Information Centre inJerusalem writes about demonstrations on the West Bank: 

From the first moment of the attacks the Palestinians in the West Bank expressed their full solidarity with Gaza. Daily demonstrations are taking place throughout the West Bank and, unlike during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, all political parties are involved in the protest marches. This is also the first time in numerous years that Hamas has openly organized such demonstrations, including in the major cities of Nablus and Ramallah. Hamas flags are easily raised in the streets and waved by the demonstrators. Additionally, in many cities and districts throughout the West Bank, Palestinian protesters are going to checkpoints and passages, where they can  express their anger at the Israeli massacres in Gaza and also clash with Israeli soldiers. 
Every day since November 14, Palestinian youth have demonstrated in front of Israel’s Ofer Prison, located to the west of Ramallah, in Bab ElZawiya in the center of Hebron city, outside Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem and by the Qalandiya checkpoint to Ramallah. In cities such as Jenin and Nablus, Palestinians travel extensive distances to protest in relevant positions.
 Over a hundred Palestinians have been injured by Israeli soldiers in these West Bank demonstrations, mostly by rubber-coated steel bullets, tear gas and sound  bombs. In many cases Israeli soldiers opened fire and injured  demonstrators with live bullets, such as on Tuesday at the Beit Aynon junction,  where young Ommar Jamil Frouch was seriously injured.
 Rushdi Mahmoud Tamimi, age 28 from the village of Nabi Saleh, died after being injured with live bullets in a solidarity demonstration; Tamimi is considered the first martyr in West Bank protests against Israel’s current attacks on Gaza.  On Monday night Hamdi Al-Fallah, age 22 from Hebron, died after he was shot in the chest during clashes with soldiers in the city.A general strike in the West Bank has been announced for Wednesday by the national and Islamic political parties.

Did anybody hear a word of protest from the Palestinian Authority? Or from Mahmoud Abbas? 
PS: Ma'an News reports that Isarel arrested 28 people across the West Bak in raids during Tuesday night and Wednesday early morning. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

'Attacks on Gaza Unite Palestinians'

A Palestinian demonstration in Haifa in Northern Israel. Credit: Jillian Kestler-D’Amours/IPS. 
 Palestinians demonstrate in Haifa. (Photo Jillian Kestler-D'Amours)

 Jillian Kestler-D'Amours for Inter Press Service:

According to Jafar Farah, director of the Mossawa, the Advocacy Centre for Arab Citizens of Israel, the violence in Gaza is rebuilding solidarity among Palestinians who have for decades been divided by geographic location and daily circumstances.
Discussion between Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel about what’s happening in Gaza, however, is almost entirely absent, Farah said.
“People don’t talk about the issue, don’t talk about the situation. If you look at Israeli media, Jews are talking to each other and that’s it. They don’t want to listen to the voice of the Arab community, and this is also reflected on the street,” Farah told IPS.
( the whole article is here)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

'Stop pretending that the US is uninvolved in Gaza'

 Glenn Greenwald in The Guardian: 'Stop pretending the US is an uninvolved, helpless party in the Israeli assault on Gaza':

. If one wants to defend US support for Israel on the merits - on the ground that this escalating Israeli aggression against a helpless population is just and warranted - then one should do so. As I wrote on Thursday, it's very difficult to see how those who have cheered for Obama's foreign policy could do anything but cheer for Israeli militarism, as they are grounded in the same premises.
But pretending that the US - and the Obama administration - bear no responsibility for what is taking place is sheer self-delusion, total fiction. It has long been the case that the central enabling fact in Israeli lawlessness and aggression is blind US support, and that continues, more than ever, to be the case under the presidency of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

 (the whole article is here)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Israel opens a new front: cyber propaganda

Yuli Edelstein in the Situation Room
Minister Edelstein of the Propaganda ministry in the situation room

The rightist Israeli site Arutz 7 (radio and tv of the settlers)reports about another Israeli front, the hasbara (propaganda) front: 
  Besides attacking Hamas terrorists in Gaza and hampering their ability to harm Israeli civilians, Israel has been fighting Gaza Arab terror on the cyber front. With social media becoming more important than government announcements or even TV coverage, the government has set up a special “social media situation room” which will communicate to the rest of the world in real time what exactly is happening in the new IDF operation, Pillar of Defense.
 The opening of the situation room was presided over Wednesday night by Hasbara and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein. The situation room is working with the IDF, the Defense and Homefront Command ministries, and other official channels, taking the information from all streams and “translating” them for use on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media networks. Until now, the situation room has concentrated on messages aimed at diplomats and the media.
 Staff in the situation room are in touch with thousands of bloggers and other pro-Israel activists around the world involved in social media (Italics by me AbuP). The messages are sent to these activists, and forwarded on to social networks, blogs, web sites, and other internet outlets. The messages include statements from officials, testimonies from resident under fire, photos, videos, and links to news stories. The messages are sent out in a variety of languages.

Sources talked about 35.000 propaganda activists all over the world. Well, take it as a warning. 
 In the meantime one is reminded of the days that South-Africa was mobilizing all the forces it could muster around the world in order to defend the apartheid...

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The man who was killed by Israel may have held the key to a permanent truce, and Israel knew it

Funeral of the leader of the Ezzedin al-Qassem Brigades, Ahmed Jaabari (AP)

This is wat the Israeli newspaper Haaretz writes:
Hours before Hamas strongman Ahmed Jabari was assassinated, he received the draft of a permanent truce agreement with Israel, which included mechanisms for maintaining the ceasefire in the case of a flare-up between Israel and the factions in the Gaza Strip. This, according to Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin, who helped mediate between Israel and Hamas in the deal to release Gilad Shalit and has since then maintained a relationship with Hamas leaders.

So the attack on Gaza was in order to prevent the ceasefire to  take hold?

Baskin told Haaretz on Thursday that senior officials in Israel knew about his contacts with Hamas and Egyptian intelligence aimed at formulating the permanent truce, but nevertheless approved the assassination.

Baskin made Jabari’s acquaintance when he served as a mediator between David Meidin, Israel’s representative to the Shalit negotiations, (the negotiations to exchange the imprisoned soldier Gilad Shalit, AbuP)and Jabari. “Jabari was the all-powerful man in charge.  (...)
For months, Baskin sent daily messages in advance of the formulation of the deal. He kept the channel of communication with Gaza open even after the Shalit deal was completed.
According to Baskin, during the past two years Jabari internalized the realization that the rounds of hostilities with Israel were beneficial neither to Hamas nor to the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip and only caused suffering, and several times he acted to prevent firing by Hamas into Israel.

In recent months Baskin was continuously in touch with Hamas officials and with Egyptian intelligence as well as with officials in Israel, whose names he refused to divulge. A few months ago Baskin showed Defense Minister Ehud Barak a draft of the agreement and on the basis of that draft an inter-ministry committee on the issue was established. The agreement was to have constituted a basis for a permanent truce between Israel and Hamas, which would prevent the repeated rounds of shooting.

In the seventies Israel used to kill Palestinians who maintained contacts with Israeli peace activists. It seems that in 40 years nothing has changed.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood takes stand against Israeli agression in Gaza

The Muslim Brotherhood have called for a protest next Friday to denounce the recent Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip. Over weekend the Israeli army has attacked the Strip, killing seven Palestinians, including two children and two militants. Israel claimed the strikes were in response to an anti-tank missile fired at an Israeli jeep.
'Repeated Israeli raids on Gaza, killing people and destroying their homes and property are blatant violations of international law that vividly illustrate the lie of alleged Israeli peace,' a Muslim Brotherhood statement said. 'Israel is still flouting all resolutions, ignoring all international conventions and norms, and killing innocent people – following the only bloody policy it knows.'
'The killing of dozens of innocent Palestinians is only a link in the chain of oppression and Judaization which Israel seeks to impose on the ground, which will never come to be, God willing. We call on the whole nation to join the Muslim Brotherhood in announcing their wrath and condemnation of the Israeli attacks, and declaring full support for the Palestinian resistance, in popular protest marches and demonstrations, after Friday prayers, on 16 November 2012.'
The statement further called on Arab and Muslim leaders "to play their role in supporting the Palestinian cause and to help stop the bloodshed' Also it said that 'all national political forces must consider all ways and procedures to support our Palestinian brothers, such as economic boycott, popular rejection, increasing public awareness of the truth about the Palestinian issue, and supporting the resistance alternative and the right of return of all Palestinian refugees. All international institutions must play the roles they are tasked with, to protect innocent Palestinians.' added the statement.
On Monday, dozens of protesters gathered at Talaat Harb Square in Cairo to protest the attacks. The protest was orgaized by various political groups, including the Egyptian Popular Current of Nasserist Hamdeen Sabbahi.

Protests across Jordan after anouncement of high price rises of fuel and cooking gas

Jordan's prime minister announced price hikes for gas and other fuel Tuesday, setting off demonstrations and calls for general strikes. Protesters blamed Jordan's problems on King Abdullah II.
Abdullah Ensour's announcement on state TV cited a need to offset $5 billion in state losses from a rising fuel bill.
The news sparked protests in the capital, Amman, and at least 12 other cities across Jordan.
"Revolution, revolution, it is a popular revolution," chanted about 2,000 protesters in an impromptu demonstration at a main Amman square, housing the Interior Ministry and other vital government departments. Also the slogan 'As-shaab yureed 'usqut al nizam - the people want the downfall of the regime - was heard, a very popular slogan during the demonstrations in Cairo that led to the fall of Hosni Mubarak. For wednesday a general strike is foreseen in which schools, universities and taxi drivers are to take part.    

Embedded image permalink
Blocking roads in Irbid. 

Ensour said a type of fuel used in public transport will rise in price by 14 percent, while kerosene oil used for household heating goes up by 28 percent.Cooking gas will jump 54 percent, he said. Many low-income Jordanians use the gas for heating.

Embedded image permalinkRoundabout in front of the ministry of the Interior in Amman.

In Mazar, dozens of protesters burned down the main court building after stealing documents. Further south in Maan, a hotbed for Jordanian Muslim militants, 500 protesters blocked the streets, burning tires and throwing stones at riot police, who were firing tear gas.The protests also spread to Jordan's north. In Sareeh, on the edge of the northern city of Irbid close to the Syrian border, angry protesters burned down a gas station, said witness Mohammed Amoura.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Israeli 'retaliation' in Gaza comes down to killing children who are playing football

A man died on Tuesday from injuries sustained in an Israeli attack on Gaza days earlier, a medical official said. Muhammad Zeyad Abdullah Quno, 20, was wounded when Israeli tanks fired shells at Gaza City on Saturday, killing four and injuring at least 25 people. He passed away on Tuesday from his injuries, Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesman of Gaza's health ministry, told Ma'an.


The attack on Saturday occurred after an Israeli commander ordered a jeep into the territory of the Gaza strip and the jeep was hit by an anti-tank missile, wounding four soldiers.  Israeli newspapers reported that after that Israeli forces 'hit terrorist targets inside Gaza'. It is worth reading the report that the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) wrote the other day, specifying the kind of  'terrorist targets' that were actually hit: 

Over the past 72 hours, the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) have escalated their aerial and ground attacks against the Gaza Strip.  Five Palestinian civilians, including 3 children, have been killed, and 52 others, including 6 women and 12 children, have been wounded.  Four of these deaths and 38 of the injuries resulted from an Israeli attack on a football playground in al-Shoja’iya neighborhood east of Gaza City.  Additionally, 2 members of the Palestinian resistance were killed, and some civilian facilities were destroyed or damaged.  According to investigations conducted by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), at approximately 15:30 on Saturday, 10 November 2012, Israeli military vehicles stationed at the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel fired an artillery shell at a number of Palestinian children who were playing football at al-Mentar Hill east of al-Shoja’iya neighborhood, which is east of Gaza City and nearly 1,500 meters away from the border.  As a result, 2 children were instantly killed:

1- Mohammed Ussama Hassan Harara (16); and
2- Ahmed Mustafa Khaled Harara (17).

Following this attack, a number of Palestinian civilians, who were gathered to mourn a bereaved in the house of the Harara family, rushed to the area, where the IOF immediately fired another 3 shells.  As a result, 2 Palestinian civilians were instantly killed:

1- Ahmed Kamel Al- Dirdissawi (18); and
2- Matar ‘Emad ‘Abdul Rahman Abu al-‘Ata (19). 

Additionally, 38 civilians, including 8 children, were wounded; the wounding of 10 of these civilians was described by medical crews as being serious. 

Funeral of 13-year old Ahmed Abu Daqqa, who was killed while playing football.
Earlier, on Thursday evening, 08 November 2012, the IOF killed a Palestinian child during an incursion in the ‘Abassan village, east of the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Yunis.  According to investigations conducted by PCHR, at approximately 16:30 on Thursday, as a result of the indiscriminate shooting by IOF military vehicles that had moved into the ‘Abassan village, 13-year-old Ahmed Younis Khader Abu Daqqa was seriously wounded by a bullet to the abdomen.  At the time he was shot, Ahmed had been playing football with his friends in front of his family’s house, located nearly 1,200 meters away from the area where the IOF were present.  He was evacuated to the European Gaza Hospital in Khan Yunis, but he was pronounced dead 15 minutes later. 

On Saturday and Sunday, 10 and 11 November 2012, Israeli warplanes targeted a number of members of the Palestinian resistance.  As a result, 2 members of the Palestinian resistance were killed in 2 separate attacks in the northern part of the Gaza Strip.  They were identified as:

1-Mohammed Fu’ad ‘Obaid (22), from Jabalya; and
       2- Mohammed Sa’id Shkoukani (18).  

In addition to the attacks that killed or wounded people, PCHR reports that Israel also hit and partially or totally destroyed: an office of the Electricity Distribution Company, the water tank of the Kuza community, a metal workshop, a poultry farm, a brick factory and an agricultural storage facility.  

Monday, November 12, 2012

Israeli police teargas school in Bedouin village: 29 children wounded

Some 2000 people from Bir Hadaj demonstrated in Beer Sheba om 18 October against house demolitions.

Israeli police stormed a school in a Bedouin village in the southern Negev desert on Monday, firing tear gas and bullets and causing 29 children to be taken to hospital. The incident occurred early in the morning at the village of Bir Hadaj, village council head Salman Abu Hamid told AFP.
"Forces from the interior ministry accompanied by police... entered the village to distribute demolition orders for homes, which led to clashes and stonethrowing," said Abu Hamid.
"The police used live and rubber bullets, and tear gas and stormed the school, injuring 29 students between the ages of eight and 12, who were taken to Soroka hospital."
A spokeswoman for Soroka medical centre in the southern city of Beersheva confirmed to AFP that "29 students suspected of tear gas inhalation were admitted to the hospital, treated and discharged."
Police spokeswoman Luba Samri confirmed there were clashes in the village, with youths throwing stones and burning tyres, but denied police had entered the school. "The police activity was about 300 metres from the school grounds," she said.

 It is not the first time Bir Hadaj is in the news. Some 2.000 people form the village held a demonstration on 18 October in front of government offices in Beer Sheba. That was in protest against a raid a week earlier, when representatives of the Jewish National Fund and a special police unit known as Yassam, Israeli interior ministry officials, raided Bir Hadaj at 9.30am on Thursday 11 October. The officials then handed out demolition orders against four houses, according to eyewitnesses.
A Palestinian Bedouin village located in the north-western Naqab (Negev) desert, Bir Hadaj was “recognized” by the Israeli government in 2004 after a daunting legal and popular struggle.
Under the jurisdiction of the Abu Basma Regional Council, Bir Hadaj is the largest village in the Abu Basma district, with a population of over 5,000. Despite formal recognition, Bir Haddaj hasn’t been spared the home demolition woes which haunt hundreds of “unrecognized” Bedouin villages in the Naqab.

Under pressure Syrian opposition as yet closes the ranks

Syrian anti-government groups struck a deal Sunday under intense US and international pressure to form a new opposition leadership that will include representatives from the country's disparate factions fighting to topple President Bashar Assad's regime.
The opposition has been deeply divided for months. The agreement, reached Sunday after more than a week of meetings in the Qatari capital of Doha and after an earlier US sponsored attempt to form a coalition failed,  will provide the outside world with a unified adress and will secure the continuation of international support and weapon deliveries.
Moaz al-Khatib
Moaz al-Khatib
The new leadership will be called the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces. Islamic preacher Mouaz al-Khatib was elected president of the new coalition. Leading opposition figures Riad Seif and woman activist Suheir al-Atassi were elected vice presidents. Mustafa Sabbagh was voted the coalition's secretary-general. The body will in time form a government in exile. It  includes a military council that will coordinate military activities inside Syria.   
The new coalition will include activists from inside Syria as well as rebel commanders. The largest current opposition group, the Syrian National Council, which initially resisted the idea of a new leadership council, viewing it as a threat to its claim of primacy, gets 22 of the 60 seats in the new coalition.
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner released a statement saying that America congratulates the opposition and looks "forward to supporting the National Coalition'.The US was instrumental in calling the meeting in Doha in the first place (see below). Other countries like Turkey, Qatar and France also uttered support. The mood in Syrian opposition circles was euphoric. To what extend the new body will be succesful in coordinating the opposition in practice remains to be seen.  

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Syrian National Council elects new leaders after US attempt to replace it failed

George Sabra
The opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) has elected George Sabra,a leading secular Christian opposition figure, for a six-month term as its leader. Farouq Tayfour, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was elected Sabra's vice president.
Sabra, born in Qatana near Damascus, is a leading member of the leftist Syrian Democratic People’s Party. He was arrested several times by Assad's government. Earlier, the SNC elected 11 members to its executive committee, having already elected a 41-member secretariat.
The elections, on Friday, took place after several days of discussions in Doha, Qatar, after an American initiative to replace the SNC with an alternative body had failed. The US no longer considers the SNC as the representative of the Syrian opposition, as divided as it is and as ineffective as far as the coordination of military activities is concerned. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week called the SNC unrepresentative of opposition forces on the ground and said it "can no longer be viewed as the visible leader of the opposition."
In the Doha conference the US this past week tried to erect a new body, called the Syrian National Initiative, consisting of an umbrella body of some 60 members, representing several groups active on the ground, armed groups, Muslim scholars and others. This body would in turn form a transitional government of some 10 members, and a military council. The SNC would be represented by 15 members in the new initiative. As the leader of the new group, the US put forward Riad as-Seif, a member of the SNC. The formation of the new body was coordinated by former US ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, and had strong backing from Great-Britain. (Britain's Prime Minister Cameron also suggested this week thet Britai would guarantee Assad immunity whe he would leave the country). France and the Gulf States were said to be favourable of the plan as well.
However, there was sytrong opposition of the SNC, which refused to be marginalised. It accused Washington of undermining the revolt and "sowing the seeds of division." Many members criticized the fact that the new initiative was in fact imposed by the US. Mockingly Al-Seif was called 'Ford's sword', a pun on the fact the Seif means 'sword'in Arabic.
As a result of the sever criticism Al-Seif on Wednesday lost his seat in the SNC and he withdrew. Also three of the dissident bodies seen as integral to the US-backed initiative said that they had refused to attend. That was the end of the plan, which was a severe setback for Hillary Clinton and the American attempts at reforming the Syrian opposition.

Riad al-Seif (r) with the outgoing SNC-leader Abdel Basset Seda during the meeting i Doha(AP). 

However, the SNC adopted the plan in an modified form. On Friday it proposed to hold ''a national congress of 300 members in liberated territories" in order to add "revolutionary legitimacy" to any executive, according to SNC member Najati Tayara. Such a congress would form a transitional government that would run territories seized by the rebels, channel humanitarian aid and direct military operations, he said. Burhan Ghalioun, a former SNC chief, said any accord "could boost the uprising" as it would enable the opposition to unite the different military groups battling regime forces.

Joshua Landis reports o his blog that shortly before the Doha effort to put together a Syrian government in exile collapsed, Ambassador Ford, the State Department’s ambassador to the Syrian opposition, inisted to exiles that Syrians must find a “political solution and not a military solution to their problem.” He reportedly told Syrian Opposition leaders that the international community will not create a “no fly zone” over Syria and that it will not support the Free Syrian Army militarily.” “There is no military solution to the Syrian problem,” he insisted. There is only a political solution.” 

Friday, November 9, 2012

New Egyptian pope Tawadros II: 'We won't encourage Copts to visit Jerusalem'

Tawadros II

Al Ahram Online has put together a number of statements that the newly elected Coptic pope made in the last days in a few interviews with Egyptian TV-stations. Together they give an insight in how Tawadros II sees the role of the church in the years to come.
To begin with Tawadros stated that the church has "no political role." That is reserved for Egypt's political parties, the church, on the other hand, should only play a "spiritual and social role."
He also said that he backed the late pope Shenouda III's decision to ban Egypt's Copts from visiting Jerusalem until the issue of Palestine has been justly resolved. "There's a peace treaty between the governments [of Egypt and Israel], but the Egyptian public rejects the notion of normalisation with Israel," he said. "We won't encourage Copts to visit Jerusalem, as we can't accept the idea of Copts selling out the Arab cause."

The new pope is agaist  parliamentary quota for Coptic MPs. "Rather, we must gradually prepare Egyptian society, with the support of political parties, to accept Coptic parliamentarians – only 30 in the beginning, perhaps, before gradually increasing the percentage of Coptic representatives," he said.
Regarding Egypt's controversial draft constitution, he said: "The constitution should be written for all Egyptians, despite their religious affiliations. The church will oppose any constitutional article that only takes into account the interests of the Muslim majority."
Regarding the relationship between the church and the administration of President Mohamed Morsi, Tawadros II said: "The president was democratically elected by the Egyptian people, and is therefore the president of all Egyptians and a symbol of post-revolution Egypt. The church will deal with him with love as it always has." Tawadros II sees "no need to fear" Egypt's new Islamist leadership, as long as it "rules with justice." He added that Egypt's revolution was "not over," saying: "It's only been two years; revolutions require longer periods to achieve their objectives."
Asked about the church's controversial 1938 bylaws – which lay down rules governing Coptic divorce and remarriage – Pope Tawadros II asserted that "everything is open for discussion, especially since these bylaws were written by secularists and not clergymen. We must find solutions to satisfy critics, but not at the expense of biblical teachings."
On the issue of church-building, he said: "I don't understand why building churches is so difficult. I'm sure that passing a unified law for building churches will hinder extremists from trespassing on church lands as happened last Monday, when a group of Salafist Muslims occupied church land in Cairo's Shubra Al-Kheima district."

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Bahrain revokes citizenship of 31 Shi'ites

Bahraini authorities have revoked the citizenships of 31 Shiite activists, among them two former members of parliament, for having "undermined state security," state news agency BNA reported Wednesday.
The names of the 31 activists, including brothers Jawad and Jalal Fairuz, both ex-MPs who represented the major Shiite Al-Wefaq bloc, were listed in the report, which quoted an interior ministry statement.
Also named was Ali Mashaima, son of prominent activist Hassan Mashaima who is head of the radical Shiite opposition movement Haq and who is serving a life sentence for allegedly plotting against the monarchy.
The government move comes after Bahrain late last month banned all protests and gatherings to ensure "security is maintained," after clashes between Shiite-led demonstrators and security forces. Bahrain
has experienced unrest since March last year when the authorities crushed protests led by the Shiite Muslim majority. According to the International Federation for Human Rights, 80 people have died in Bahrain since the violence erupted on February 14 last year. Hundreds of people were arrested when the security forces, aided by troops from neighbouring Saudi Arabia, crushed the uprising, while many activists, including some whose names appear on Wednesday's list, were tried in special military courts set up at the time.
Another former MP and leading Al-Wefaq member, Matar Matar, told AFP that "many named (on the list) were acquitted by a military court" after being charged with harming state security. Others named on the list are currently living abroad, according to opposition sources.
The complete list of names was published  by the Bahraini ministry of the Interior (here). 

Iran again executes ten drug traffickers

Front entrance of the Evin prison in Tehran.

Iran executed 10 drug traffickers in a prison in Tehran on Wednesday, a statement on the website of the prosecutor's office said. The men sent to the gallows were convicted of trafficking "hundreds of kilos" of narcotics, the statement said.

Two weeks ago, an announcement by Iran that it had hanged 10 convicted drug traffickers prompted expressions of concern from the United Nations and the European Union. According to Iran Human Rights these executions took place on 22 October in Tehran’s Evin Prison early that day. According to the Iranian IRIB NEWS, the prisoners  belonged to two different narcotic leagues: Farshid Rostami, Farhad Mashhadi Abolghasem, Ali Darvishi, Abbas Abbasi Namaki, Saeed Sedighi, Hami Rabiei and Mohammad Ali Rabiei belonged to a group that had been convicted of possession of one ton of Shishe (synthetic heroin) in Tehran. The other group was convicted of trafficking more than one ton of opium from one of the southern harbors to Tehran. They were identified as: Alireza Molaei, Eshagh (Isac) Lorgi, and Yousef Parmar.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton at the time said she was "appalled" by the executions while the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, said he was "shocked." Shaheed said at the time more than 300 people had been recorded executed in the first eight months of the year but the figure was probably much higher as Iran was restricting information on the number of people hanged.
He reported 670 executions in 2011 in Iran, which has the world's highest per capita use of the death penalty.
Iran, where murder, rape, armed robbery, drug trafficking and adultery are punishable by death, is among countries with the highest annual record of executions in the world, along with China, Saudi Arabia and the United States.
Iran's geographical location along an important transit route for narcotics destined for Europe and the Middle East makes it victim to a severe drug problem.
Around two million people, out of a population of 75 million, are drug addicts, 400,000 of them heroin users, according to official estimates.
Some 3,656 deaths related to drug use were recorded during the last Iranian year (March 2011 to March 2012), according to official figures from the health ministry.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Yarmouk-camp in Damascus shelled: at least 20 people killed

The Syrian army shelled rebel positions inside a Palestinian refugee camp on the edge of Damascus on Sunday killing at least 20 people, opposition campaigners said.
The Yarmouk camp, adjacent to the capital's southern entrance, has been shelled before.The reasons is tensions between the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), headed by Palestinian Ahmad Jibreel and other factions. The PFLP-GC supports the regime of president and patrols the camp with armed units. Some rebels said last week they had begun arming sympathetic Palestinians to fight the PFLP-GC, which has helped Assad in his crackdown on the 19-month-old revolt. Apparently the Syrian army responded to this development.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Coptic church has a new pope

Bishop Tawadros has become Egypt’s 118th Coptic Pope. The new Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa succeeds Pope Shenouda III, who passed away last March. 
Bishop Tawadros is auxiliary bishop for the governorate of Beheira and auxiliary to ِArchbishop Pachomios, who is serving as acting Pope till Tawadros will be installed on 18 November. The new pope was born in 1952 and studied pharmaceutical sciences at Alexandria University.
Bishop Tawadros Following a mass at eight o'clock on Sunday in St Mark's Cathedral in Abbasiya, Cairo,  acting pope Bishop Pachomios led a blindfolded altar boy to the altar in order to take the name of the new pope from a  box containing three names. The other finalists were Bishop Rafael, bishop of Central Cairo and Heliopolis, and the monk Father Rafael Ava Mina.
The road to choosing a new pope began immediately after Pope Shenouda’s death, when 76-year-old Pachomios' was appointed as interim pope. The Church formed a committee to draw up a shortlist of five nominees to become Shenouda's successor, and another committee to form a body of  people who had the right to vote from among (arch)bishops, lay council members as well as prominent Copts like newspaper editors-in-chief and members of the Egyptian Journalists' Syndicate. On  29 October these electors, 2406 in total, chose the three finalists from among the five nominees. Bishop Rafael garnered 1980 votes (32.36 %), while bishop Tawadros got 1623 votes (26.53 per cent) and Father Raphael 1530 votes (25%).
The new pope will have to task to reposition the Coptic church in the changed political climate of Egypt after Mubarak with a Muslim Brother at its helm. At the other hand he has to modernise the church and third he has to cope with demands for changes to the civic laws inside the church, like for instance the law that forbids divorce and remarriage. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Syrian Cartoonist Ali Farzat plans to relaunch satirical magazine in Egypt

Issue of Al-Domari

 Ali Farzat, possibly Syria's best known cartoonist plans to relaunch his independent magazine Al-Domari, meaning the Lamp Lighter, in Egypt. The magazine, which was founded in 2000 during a brief period of media freedom, was forced to shut down by Assad's government in 2003.
Farzat who is currently in Egypt, told  this in an interview with Reuters press agency.  "The magazine's purpose is to gradually remove the darkness that befell our Arab world," he said.
Farzat told the agency that he hopes to form a symposium with young artists and cartoonists in Egypt to support the art movement that grew out of Egypt's uprising. "These cartoons stem from the sorrows of people. They give them courage and determination," said Farzat.

A little more than a year ago Farzat was kidnapped, beaten and burned in an attack that was apparently the work of the Syrian security agencies in a attempt to silence him. His hands were smashed and he suffered facial burns, a temporary loss of his eyesight and multiple broken bones. Farzat escaped to Kuwait to recuperate, but recently came to Egypt.
Farzat earned recognition in the Arab world and beyond for stinging cartoons of Arab leaders such as Libya' Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein of Iraq and finally Bashar Assad.

Farzat: self portrait after the attack