Thursday, February 28, 2013

In memoriam Stéphane Hessel

(Earlier something seems to have gone wrong with uploading this video, my apologies for that) 

  "Stéphane Hessel, dead? It's hard to believe. He seemed to have become eternal, the French magazine Le Point wrote. But yes, Stéphane Hessel, former resistance fighter, diplomat and activist till the very last moment of his life, died this Wednesday. He was 95.
Hessel, born in 1917 in Berlin from a Jewish father (the writer Franz Hessel) and a protestant mother, moved with his family to France in the thirties.He became a resistance fighter and escaped from the Buchenwald concentration camp. Lateron he became a French diplomat and one of the authors of the Universal Declaration of Rights of Man.  
After a trip to the territories occupied by Israel in 1990, Hessel became a champion for Palestinian rights. With Elias Sanbar, poet and Palestinian ambassador to UNESCO, he wrote a book -   Le Rescapé et l'Exilé (The survivor and the exiled). He actively promoted BSD, he was particularly in favour of a boycot of products from the settlements. He also took part as a member of jury of the Russell Tribunal about Palestine, and last year October even presided over its fourth session in New York. Also he wrote, in 2010 the pamphlet (17 pages) Indignez-Vous!, which, although it was originally meant as a speech top commemorate the occupation of France by the Nazis, became immensely popular as a cry against injustice, the divide between arm and rich, the dominance by the financial markets and the injustice done to the Palestinians. The booklet - which in English got the title 'Time for Outrage' - was translated into over 30 languages and sold 4,5 million copies.
On the above video Hessel discusses the Palestinian question with Thomas Taubman. It gives a perfect impression of Hessel's calm and sympathetic way of reasoning. For that reason I chose this fragment, although it is in French.       

Turkey again arrests two generals for complicity in 1997 coup

The Turkish paper Daily Zaman reports:
  Ankara prosecutors on Wednesday referred five top commanders of the Feb. 28, 1997 postmodern coup for arrest after they testified as part of the investigation into the coup. The court ruled to jail two of the prominent generals.
Just one day before the 16th anniversary of the Feb. 28, 1997 postmodern coup, five retired generals, including former Land Forces Commander retired Gen. Erdal Ceylanoğlu and former Deputy Chief of General Staff Gen. Aslan Güner, and one active duty colonel were summoned to the Ankara Courthouse on Wednesday to testify as part of an investigation into the coup.Early on Wednesday, the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's Office demanded the testimony of Güner and Ceylanoğlu -- who were top commanders during the coup period -- as well as retired Maj. Gens. Mehmet Başpınar and Yücel Özsır and Col. Mehmet Cumhur Yatıkkaya. The prosecutors demanded the arrest of the top five generals for their alleged role in the Feb. 28 military intervention. Retired Gen. Erdal Ceylanoğlu and Yücel Özsır were sent to jail while the remaining three commanders were conditionally released by the court.
Gen. Aslan Güner (L) and  Gen. Erdal Ceylanoğlu. 

Ceylanoğlu was the commander of the Ankara Etimesgut Armored Division in the Feb. 28 period and is known as the one who ordered tanks into the streets of Ankara during the Feb. 28 period in a show of power against the government. Güner, who was at the helm of the General Staff's intelligence department during the coup era, is remembered for refusing to shake the hand of President Abdullah Gül's headscarved wife, Hayrünnisa Gül, during an official ceremony in 2007.
More than 10 generals and admirals have been arrested over the last month as part of the same probe. Currently, 72 people have been jailed as part of the Feb. 28 coup probe. The prosecutors have so far heard from 70 victims of the Feb. 28 coup.
On Feb. 28, 1997, the Turkish military forced the coalition government led by the now-defunct conservative Welfare Party (RP) out of power, citing alleged rising religious fundamentalism in the country. The Feb. 28 coup brought a series of severe restrictions on religious life, including an unofficial but widely practiced ban on the use of headscarves by women at university campuses and in positions of public service.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Poet who 'insulted' emir of Qatar sees life sentence reduced
The Qatari poet Muhammad Ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami,jailed for life for criticising the emir and attempting to incite revolt, had his sentence cut to 15 years on Monday.In his verses Ajami praised the Arab Spring revolts that toppled four dictators, often with the help of money and other support from Qatar, a close U.S. ally which also backs rebels in Syria. But Ajami also criticised Qatar's absolute monarch and spoke, for example, of "sheikhs playing on their PlayStations".
He was sentenced to life in prison three months ago. In the appeal he argued he should be freed as there was no evidence that he had recited the offending verses in public and so no basis for charging him with incitement. His term was reduced on Monday to 15 years. Al-Ajami shouted "There is no law for this" as he was led away by guards from Qatar's court of appeal. Defence lawyer Najib al-Naimi said the poet would now appeal to the supreme court, describing the unanimous decision by the three-judge appeal court as a miscarriage of justice.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Egyptian opposition against holding elections under the current circumstances

Egypt's parliamentary elections, previously scheduled to begin on 27 April, have been brought forward to start on 22 April, according to a statement issued by president Morsi's online media outlets. The Coptic Christian minority had criticised the planned timing of the elections because some voting would take place during Palm Sunday and Easter.
Baradei (l) and Sabbahi (epa)
 The elections wil be held in four stages, each time in different governorates. The last ropund will be held in June. If runoffs are necessary they will each time be held one week later.
Morsi got the he support for the planned election from Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood  and the ultra-conservative Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya's Construction and Development Party. Opposition forces, however, raised objections, because they were sidelined in talks over setting elections laws and timeframe. Mohamed ElBaradei, a founding member of the main opposition bloc, the National Salvation Front (NSF), called for a boycott,  saying he will not be "part of an act of deception." Other opposition figures have echoed similar sentiments, including liberal political analyst and ex-MP, Amr Hamzawy. He cited "unfair" political, constitutional and legal regulations that "are not compatible with democracy."
Before the presidential announcement the NSF demanded judicial guarantees and international oversight of the elections to ensure transparency. The Egyptian Popular Current, led by Nasserist politician Hamdeen Sabbahi, stated last week it will boycott the coming parliamentary elections, regardless of guarantees, in objection to the current "undemocratic regime." Sabbahi himself, a leading NSF figure, said that what would guarantee fair electoral competition is the formation of an "unbiased" government instead of the FJP-majority cabinet to supervise the elections, forming a committee that would redraft the disputed constitutional articles, dismissing the current president-appointed prosecutor-general, and empowering the judiciary to fully supervise the coming elections.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

New clashes in South Yemen

Ten people were wounded, one critically, in new clashes between Yemeni security forces and southern separatists in Aden on Saturday, Reuters reports, days after six were shot dead during protests.
The separatists want political autonomy or a new state in south Yemen. It is one of three insurgencies in the strategically vital Arabian Peninsula state where Washington fears political chaos is giving al Qaeda space to operate.
North and south Yemen were unified in 1990 after the Communist-led southern government collapsed. Northern forces won a brief civil war four years later after the south tried to secede from the union.
The secessionist movement gained strength during mass, nationwide street protests against former president Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011, which forced the veteran strongman from office a year ago.
On Thursday, security forces shot at dozens of secessionists in Aden as they staged a rally against Saleh's successor, President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, a northerner. There were also armed clashes in another southern town, al-Dalea.
Medical sources and witnesses said at least six people had been killed during the two clashes.
Southern Yemenis complain of discrimination by the government in the north. Yemen also faces a rebellion by the Shi'ite Muslim Houthi movement in the north and an insurgency in some southern areas by Islamist militants allied to al Qaeda.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Four dead as Yemeni security forces open fire at demonstration of separatist southerners

At least four people were killed and 40 wounded in south Yemen on Thursday when security forces opened fire to disperse a protest by secessionist activists in the port city of Aden. Witnesses said the security forces shot at dozens of separatists as they staged a demonstration against President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi on the anniversary of his election.
The separatists had gathered on Thursday to protest against the holding of celebrations by Hadi's supporters in the southern port city, the former capital of independent South Yemen, intended to mark the completion of his first year in power.
A witness said the military brought in armoured vehicles to Aden's Khor al-Maksar and Crater neighbourhoods where most of the protests were taking place.
The rights group Amnesty International called on the Yemeni government to immediately put an end to "such repression against southerners." Anne Harrison, Vice-President of Amnesty International for the Middle East and North Africa said in an address to the press "the southern movement and its followers have have the right to peacefully demonstrate ... The government should not impede on such right." She strongly condemned the use of live ammunition against unarmed and peaceful civilian, stressing the state should have refrained from dispatching so many Central Security Forces personnel in the streets of Aden.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Libya 'celebrates' anniversary of revolt by closing borders and setting up checkpoints

Mixed mood in eastern Libya on revolution anniversary
Soldiers manning a checkpoint in Tripoli on 15 February 2013.

Security forces were on high alert across Libya on Sunday as the North African nation marks two years since the start of the revolt that toppled Muammar Qadhafi. Borders have been closed and some international flights suspended amid fears of a new outbreak of violence.
The anniversary of the uprising that ended with Qadhafi's killing in October 2011 comes as Libya's new rulers battle critics calling for a "new revolution" and accusing them of failing to usher in much-needed reforms.
On Friday, thousands of people gathered in the main cities of Tripoli and Benghazi to celebrate the initial 15 February 2011 protest that ignited the revolt two days later. There is no official program for Sunday's anniversary, but the authorities have taken steps aimed at preventing any violence on a day when spontaneous celebrations are expected.
Libya's borders with Egypt and Tunisia were closed from Thursday for four days, and all international flights have been suspended except at the airports of Tripoli and second city Benghazi – the cradle of the "February 17 revolution."
Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said the measures were taken to avoid "any bid to undermine Libya's security and disrupt celebrations marking the anniversary of the revolution."
Checkpoints have also been set up across the capital and in Benghazi.
Opposition groups are demanding that former Qadhafi regime officials be barred from holding public office, and a leaflet circulated in Tripoli calls for a "popular revolt" and civil disobedience to bring down the current regime. It is unclear who is behind the leaflet and the calls for protests, but Libyan officials and several organizations, including Islamic groups, accuse remnants of the former regime of fomenting protests to "sow disorder and instability."
The authorities have said special permits will be needed for "peaceful protests," and have threatened force against anyone who tries to derail anniversary festivities.
Residents of Benghazi – which has been hit by Islamist-linked violence targeting international agencies and diplomatic missions – have set up neighborhood watches.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Links for the past week

Some people argue that economic cooperation is the key to Palestinian-Israeli reconciliation. Others are less convinced. This article asks the question who profits from stimulating the economy,. Palestiniasn or others?
 PA Industrial Zones: Cementing Statehood or Occupation?

In Iranian politics, as is well known,  not everything is as it should be. But this week was a week of clashes within the  upper echelons that was worse than the usual rivalries and infighting:
Khamenei Looks Off-Balance After Dramatic Week

Where did the antique treaures of Gaza go?
Pillaging of Gaza Antiquities - An Archaeological Tragedy

Tunisia, what went wrong between the fall of  Ben Ali and the murder of opposition leader Chokri Belaid?
Assassination, Resignations, and Reshufflings: Tunisia’s Latest Developments

Six human rights groups demand release from house arrest of Iranian opposition leaders

The Iranian authorities should immediately release from house arrest two former presidential candidates Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, and his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, an author and political activist, the Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi and six leading human rights groups said today. The authorities should also stop harassing or detaining without cause the couple’s two daughters and Karroubi’s son.The appeal was co-signed by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, International Federation for Human Rights, League for the Defence of Human Rights in Iran, and Reporters Without Borders.
Mir Hossein Mousavi (left) and Mehdi Karroubi
Karroubi and Moussavi, Rahnavard, and Karroubi’s wife, Fatemeh, were placed under house arrest on February 14, 2011, after the two former presidential candidates called for demonstrations to support the popular Arab uprisings across the region. Fatemeh Karroubi has since been released.
Zahra and Narges Mousavi, daughters of Mousavi and Zahra Rahnavard, and Mohammad Hossein Karroubi, son of Mehdi Karroubi were arrested on February 11, 2013, two days before the second anniversary of the arbitrary house arrests of their parents. They were released later that same day.

Mousavi, former Prime Minister, and Karroubi, former Speaker of Iran’s parliament, took part in the 2009 presidential election in which the incumbent president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was declared the winner, amidst evidence of fraud. The announcement of his victory set off huge protests in Tehran and other cities, which were violently suppressed, followed by arrests and show trials of journalists, government critics, and opposition activists. After the election, the authorities also closed the newspapers of Karroubi and Mousavi, Etemad-e Melli and Kalameyeh Sabz.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A prisoner X who killed himself in an Israeli cell, and a story that the censor removed from the papers

(Updated, see below) The following is a very curious piece of information. something that the Israeli government apparently does not want to be covered in detail. What I here write is largely based oupon information from the site +972:  
In June 2010 Ynet, Israel’s largest online news site, posted a story on an unknown prisoner held in confinement in Ayalon Prison. The story was then removed from the site, but the account is still available in the Israeli blogosphere.
Ben Zygiern in Israeli military uniform

In December 2010 American blogger Richard Silverstein claimed that the prisoner was an Iranian general named Ali-Reza Asgari, supposedly abducted by the Mossad. (I copied this story on my other site, here.)
A couple of weeks later, on December 27 2010, Ynet published a short item on a prisoner who killed himself in his cell two weeks prior. Unlike similar cases of prisoners’ suicide, there was no official report of the death by the prison service. The item was also removed from the site but a screenshot and the account of the story is still available online.

Today, Tuesday, there was a follow-up. The Australian TV network ABC aired an investigative piece into the alleged identity of a prisoner who was held in Israeli without trial, before committing suicide. The report stated, based on information from correspondents, that the man was an Australian national, Ben Zygiern, whop was  34 at the time of his death and had moved to Israel about 10 years earlier. He was married to an Israeli woman and had two small children. It is understood Mr Zygier “disappeared” in early 2010, spending several months in the Prisoner X cell. Zygier’s arrest and jailing in Israel remains a mystery, but the ABC understands he was recruited by spy agency Mossad. According to ABC’s report, the man’s family refused to cooperate with the ABC investigation. The item, along with photos of the man, can be seen here.

+ 972 adds: The Israeli media published short stories based on the Australian piece this morning. Usually, the Israeli military censor allows Hebrew stories on secret issues if they are based on foreign sources. The assumption is that the information has already been made available, so there is little point in keeping it secret. Around noon the stories on the dead prisoner disappeared from the Haaretz, Globes and Walla sites.
An urgent meeting with the editors of the Israeli papers was later called by the Prime Minister’s Office. The so-called “editors’ committee” is an informal Israeli institution in which newspapers editors were given access to secret information in exchange for refraining from publishing it. According to a report in Haaretz, the meeting was called regarding an affair which “severely embarrasses” a government institution or person. Haaretz is not part of the “editors committee.”

Update: On Wednesday mroning the gag order was lifted and UIsareli papers published the report. Still the main question remain to be answered: what was it that Ben Zygier was so much of a danger to Isareli security that they put him - anonymously - away in a cell in teh Ayalon prison that beforehand had been built especially for the murderer of Yitzhak Rabin?  

Italian intelligence officials convicted for abduction of Egyptian imam in cooperation with CIA

The New York Times: 
Italy’s former military intelligence chief was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Tuesday for complicity in the C.I.A.’s abduction of an Egyptian Muslim cleric under a program begun after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
 The appeals court, in Milan, sentenced the former chief, Niccolò Pollari, to 10 years and his former deputy Marco Mancini to nine years for their role in the kidnapping of the cleric, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, from the streets of Milan in 2003. Three Italian secret service officials were also sentenced to six years each.
Twenty-three Americans, including Robert Seldon Lady, a former C.I.A. base chief in Milan, were tried in absentia in the Abu Omar case in 2009 and convicted. All but one of them were C.I.A. agents. Three other Americans indicted in the case, including Jeffrey Castelli, the former C.I.A. station chief in Rome, were given diplomatic immunity and acquitted in 2009, but earlier this month, the Milan court vacated the acquittals and convicted them in absentia. Mr. Castelli was sentenced to seven years in prison and the other two to six years. 
The cleric was abducted on Feb. 17, 2003, as he was walking to his mosque in Milan. Prosecutors said he had been taken to an American air base in Italy and flown to Germany and then on to Egypt, where the cleric has said he was tortured. 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

How a killer by remote control was branded a defender of American values

 Al Jazeera English carried an acerbic article about Obama's choice  of  the man who is going to lead the CIA. From torturer to specialist of the targeted killings programme to leader of the secret service. An interesting career. But at least the 3000 people that the USA has killed in this way and the expanding network of drone bases around the world are now widely discussed in the press:
 The timing couldn't have been coincidental. Just as a previously secret memo to Congress from the US Department of Justice's Office of Legal Council was released by NBC News and picked up by every major media outlet, the process of rebranding President Obama's pick to head the CIA, John Brennan, from enabler of torture and mastermind of the drone assassination, to a crusader for peace and civil rights began in earnest.
This is the second time Brennan has been nominated for the Directorship of the CIA by Obama. His first nomination, back in 2009, was scuttled because of his alleged involvement in the Bush Administration's torture program. He remained at the core of the President's intelligence and counter-terrorism coterie, however, serving as his Advisor for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security. In this capacity, according to the President, he “developed and has overseen our comprehensive counterterrorism strategy -- a collaborative effort across the government, including intelligence and defence and homeland security, and law enforcement agencies.”
As far as Obama is concerned, the strategy Brennan has designed and executed—including widening the use of drones for assassinations and continuing the extraordinary rendition program, has not only helped to “embed our efforts in a strong legal framework” but reflects a deep level of integrity and commitment “to the values that define us as Americans.”
Brennan, a twenty-five year veteran of the CIA, is routinely described as someone who well knows the Arab/Muslim world. He is “fluent” in Arabic, and even wrote an MA thesis on Human Rights in Egypt.
Interestingly, however, he argued that there is no such thing as “absolute human rights” that would be applicable to Egyptians, for example, which is why he supported censorship of the media and abuses of power, this at a time—the late Sadat era, when Egypt clearly was at a tipping point, as evidence by the assassination of Sadat soon thereafter. Such a rationale clearly has little room for supporting democracy, particularly if democracy contradicts US policies.
Not only does this attitude reflect US support for Sadat and then Mubarak, but it accounts for the untrammelled support for even more corrupt and venal client states like Saudi Arabia, where Brennan in fact served as station chief for several years, and where it now turns out--Surprise! Surprise!--that the US is operating a secret drone base.

Continue reading .. 

Read also: Where the Drones Are, Mapping the launch pads for Obama's secret wars, by Micah Zenko and Emma Welch, about the expansion of the drone programme in the last few years.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Crisis in Tunisia deepens after murder of Chokri Belaid

 Mis à part quelques drapeaux du parti de Chokri Belaïd seul le drapeau tunisien a été brandi - Crédit image : Amine Boufaied
Tunisia's political crisis is deepening after the assassination of a leading opposition leader earlier this week.
The killing of anti-Islamist politician Chokri Belaid sparked violent protests. The prime minister then announced plans for a new, technocratic government.
But the ruling Islamist party Ennahda rejected the move, saying Hamadi Jebali "did not ask the opinion of his party".
Meanwhile, police have fired tear gas to disperse protesters in Tunis and in the central town of Gafsa.
The Gafsa demonstrators, who were observing a symbolic funeral for Chokri Belaid, rallied outside the governor's office, throwing stones and petrol bombs at the police.
As riot police fired tear gas towards angry youths on Bourguiba Avenue, the scene was disturbingly reminiscent of what happened on this very avenue two years ago. Even the chanting was the same: "We want the downfall of the regime."
 Au cours de l'après-midi les affrontements entre les forces de l'ordre et les manifestants se sont intensifiés et se sont déplacés rue de Paris - Crédit image : Amine Boufaied
Earlier, four opposition groups - including Mr Belaid's Popular Front - announced that they were pulling out of the country's national constituent assembly in protest.
The country's largest trade union, the General Union of Tunisian Workers, called a general strike for Friday.
Reacting to the escalating crisis, France said it would close its schools in the capital Tunis on Friday and Saturday.
Mr Belaid's killing has brought to a new pitch a long-simmering political crisis in Tunisia, with secularists and liberals accusing the Islamists of amassing too much power, the BBC's Sebastian Usher says.
Ennahda denies opposition claims that it was behind the assassination in Tunis.

Crédit image : Kais Zriba |
Credit first two photos Amine Boufaied, third one Kais Zriba/Nawaat 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Unknown assailant kills leader of the Tunisian opposition Belaid

Figure de l'opposition tunisienne, Chokri Belaïd a été assassiné à Tunis
Chokri Belaid

A leading member of the Tunisian opposition Popular Front (Jebha Chaabiyya)  party, Chokri Belaid, was shot dead outside his home on Wednesday. He was hit by four bullets in his head and chest and was declared dead upon arrival in the hospital.
 Prime minister Hamadi Jebali called the murder 'a political assassination and the assassination of the Tunisian revolution'. ''By killing him they wanted to silence his voice," said Jebali, who heads the government led by the Ennahda party, which won Tunisia's first post-Arab Spring election in 2011. Jebali said the identity of the killer was unknown.
 President Moncef Marzouki cut short a visit to France and canceled a visit to Egypt scheduled for Thursday after the killing, which brought around 1,000 protesters onto the streets outside the Interior Ministry.

Ennahda won 42 percent of seats in the first post-Arab Spring elections in October 2011 and formed a government in coalition with two secular parties, President Moncef Marzouki's Congress for the Republic and Ettakatol. Belaid was a staunch opponent of the 'moderate islamist' government. Leftist and secular opponents of the governing parties have complained many times in the past months about  harassments by islamists.

How the U.S. administration itself spread terrror on a global scale

Waterboarding as it was used already in 1968 in Vietnam.

The Nation about a new report on the CIA's war on terrror: 
When President George W. Bush launched the “war on terror” in the wake of the Al Qaeda attacks of September 11, 2001, he famously defined the enemy as “terrorist groups of global reach.” But an important report released February 5 by the Open Society Justice Initiative shows that a central element of the Bush administration’s response was itself to spread terror—on a global scale. The report, “Globalizing Torture,” reveals that while the United States was the progenitor of the CIA program that abducted, rendered, disappeared and tortured terror suspects, at least fifty-four other nations are implicated in the program. The report, the most comprehensive to date on the rendition program, names names—from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe—and calls for the accountability that has thus far been almost entirely missing.
Some nations, such as Poland and Thailand, allowed the CIA to establish secret prisons, or “black sites,” on their territory. Some, like Syria, Jordan, Pakistan and Egypt, tortured suspects the CIA rendered to them. Some, like Macedonia, Georgia and Sweden, delivered suspects to the CIA, essentially handing them over to be tortured. Some, like Canada and Britain, provided intelligence that the CIA then used to capture, render or interrogate suspects. Some, like Germany and Britain, participated in the interrogations themselves. Many, including Belgium, Iceland, Greece and Denmark, allowed rendition flights to use their airports and airspace. And nearly all have failed to conduct serious investigations of their complicity in the US turn to the dark side.
What are we to make of these worldwide tentacles of the extraordinary rendition program? The involvement of so many other nations in a program that, once it became public, was almost universally condemned suggests that hypocrisy is not the exclusive domain of Bush officials (who claimed they did not “torture” even as they secretly authorized Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to be waterboarded 183 times). The widespread global condemnation of the rendition program voiced by other countries, it turns out, often masked quiet support for the program by those very same countries. It almost seems as if the United States affirmatively sought to implicate as many other nations as possible, to reduce the likelihood that anyone would call it out.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Israel arrests Hamas-affiliated Palestinians

In this picture from December 2012 a Palestinian man talks to a ICRC staffer in front of a poster concerning people Israel arrested or banned from Jerusalem. Second from left on the poster is Ahmad Attoun, who was rearrested last night  (AFP)

Israeli forces conducted an arrest sweep of Hamas-affiliated officials in the West Bank overnight Sunday, including two Palestinian MPs. An Israeli military spokeswoman said 25 Palestinians were held overnight, but would not elaborate on the identity of the detainees.
Locals identified the legislators detained as Hatim Qafisha from Hebron city and Ahmad Attoun, a lawmaker from Jerusalem who was exiled by Israel to Al-Bireh in the West Bank. Thirteen other Hamas officials were seized in the raids, according to local sources.
Israel holds 4,743 Palestinians in its prisons, including 12 Palestinian MPs and 178 held without charge, according to latest figures from prisoners group Addameer.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Did the Saudi king move his son closer to the throne?

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has appointed his half-brother Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, one of his special advisers, as second deputy prime minister, potentially placing him second in line to the throne. Muqrin, born in 1943, is a former air force officer who trained in Britain. Lateron he served as governor of the Hail and Medina regions of Saudi Arabia, before becoming chief of intelligence.
His appointment by royal decree comes amid speculation over succession in the world’s largest oil exporter where the king, who will turn 90 next year, has had recent operations, including back surgery in November.
Saudi's then intelligence chief Prince Muqrin bin Abdul-Aziz, brother of Saudi's King Abdullah, gestures during a news conference in Riyadh November 24, 2007. Foto:  Ali Jarekji / Reuters
Prince Muqrin
King Abdulaziz Al Saud. King Abdullah, who came to the throne in 2005, is the 13th son of the founder of the state, king Abdel-Aziz bin Saud. In June 2012 Abdullah named his defense minister and half-brother Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, born in 1935, crown prince, making the traditionalist former governor of Riyadh next in line to become king.
The second deputy prime minister is usually next in line to become crown prince, pending approval by the Allegiance Council. This commission of appointed princes,was installed in 2007 by the king an got the power to select a new ruler and crown prince.
The appointment of Muqrin, who is King Abdulaziz's 35th and last son, gets special significance in light of the fact that Prince Salman, the number one in line for the throne, suffers from Altzheimer disease.
The Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar thinks that the appointment of Muqrin, who was earlier dismissed fro his post as intelligence chief because of his drinking habits and lack of competence, may indicate that King Abdullah wants to clear the path to the trone for his son Mutaib, currently the commander of the National Guard. The paper writes:
The famous Twitter activist @mujtahidd told Al-Akhbar, “Abdullah is seeking to put his son Mutaib on the throne. If he waits for the long line of Abdul-Aziz’s sons [to pass], then his son will never reach the throne. But the king wants his son to take the crown while he is still alive.”
@mujtahidd added, “Muqrin has two characteristics that allow the king to exploit him to get what he wants. First, he is the youngest and last son of Abdul-Aziz. Second, he is extremely weak-willed to the extent that he perceives his brothers as his masters, because his mother was a black slave.”
Concerning the timing of the announcement, @mujtahidd said, “Abdullah wanted to appoint him now because, in a while, it will become unequivocally clear that Salman’s Alzheimer’s will force his departure, after which Muqrin would be appointed as the crown prince. The king will then appoint his son Mutaib as his second deputy.”

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Violent protests in Egypt on 'Friday of Deliverance'

Report by Al-Jazeera English, including the scene whereby a protester is stripped and beaten outside the palace. 

Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets on Friday – in Cairo and across the country – to demand the dismissal of the current government of Prime Minister Hisham Qandil, the amendment of Egypt's newly-approved constitution and the appointment of a new prosecutor-general.
Towards the evening, the protests – called for by 16 Egyptian opposition parties and movements – turned violent, especially near the Presidential Palace in Cairo's Heliopolis district. At one point, protesters hurled Molotov cocktails at the building, resulting in a limited fire in the palace garden.
In response, security forces fired volleys of teargas at demonstrators and later torched several tents that had been part of a sit-in. By 9pm, the Egyptian Health Ministry announced that the total number of injured in Friday's clashes had reached 30, at least 24 of whom had been wounded outside the palace.
At around 9:30pm, a video surfaced online showing security forces deployed near the Presidential Palace stripping and beating a protester before throwing him in the back of a security vehicle. At around 10pm, it was reported – and later confirmed – that 23-year-old protester Mohamed Hussein Korani had been killed during clashes outside the palace. According to hospital officials, Korani had sustained gunshot wounds to the neck and chest.
The situation escalated further when the presidency issued a statement condemning the assault on the palace and holding opposition "political forces" responsible for instigating the violence.
Several of the opposition groups that had called for the protests released statements shortly afterward condemning the use of violence and urging their members to withdraw from areas around the palace.
"The National Salvation Front urges young activists at the palace to refrain from committing acts of violence and to employ exclusively peaceful methods,” NSF spokesman Khaled Daoud told Al-Ahram's Arabic-language news website.
Protests took also place in Port Said, Alexandria, Fayoum, Kafr Al-Sheikh, Qena, Suez and Arish. In the Nile Delta city of Kafr El-Sheikh, 18 people were injured – from both sides – in clashes between protesters and security forces, according to Al-Ahram's Arabic-language news website.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Ehud Barak pushes through another 346 houses in Gush Etzion settlements, outside 'security barrier'

 Gush Etzion settlement Nokdim.
The settlement Nokdim. (Wikimedia)

The Defense Ministry has advanced plans to build 346 housing units in the West Bank’s Gush Etzion region, area council head Davidi Perl reported on Thursday. The plans for 200 new homes in Tekoa and 146 in Nokdim were pushed forward a few weeks ago, but he and the council only publicized the information on Thursday, he said. The news broke at the same time that the UN Human Rights Council lifted its embargo on a report condemning Israeli settlement building and calling on Israel to withdraw from the West Bank.
Israel considers Gush Etzion to be a settlement bloc that will remain part of the country in any final-status agreement with the Palestinians for a two-state solution. But the Nokdim and Tekoa settlements are located in the eastern part of that region, outside the boundaries of the security barrier.

Earlier this month, the Construction and Housing Ministry issued tenders for 114 apartments in the Efrat settlement, also in Gush Etzion. It also issued tenders for 84 units in the Kiryat Arba settlement adjacent to Hebron, right outside Gush Etzion. This follows a December decision to advance plans for 523 homes in a new neighborhood of Gush Etzion’s Alon Shvut settlement known as Gevaot.
Hagit Ofran of Peace Now said that Barak had advanced plans for more than 8,000 units during his tenure in office. He has now chosen to leave his job, by pushing forward another harmful set of plans in isolated settlements beyond the security barrier, she said. “It’s a testimony to his true legacy as defense minister,” she declared.