Thursday, May 30, 2013

Cairo Opera House on strike against minister of Culture

Artists and staff of the Cairo Opera House declared a strike on Tuesday 28 May to protest the recent dismissal by Egypt's new culture minister of Cairo Opera House head Ines Abdel-Dayem
The dismissal of Abdel-Dayem is the third in a series of sackings of senior officials by the new minister of culture since he took office three weeks ago, after Ahmed Mujahid, head of the Egyptian General Book Authority, and Salah El-Meleigy, head of the Fine Arts Sector.
Following the official announcement of Abdel-Dayem’s dismissal on Tuesday morning, the minister named Reda El-Wakil, currently head of the Artistic House at the Cairo Opera House, to be her successor. El-Wakil stated on his Facebook page: "I decline to accept the position…the entire Cairo Opera House family trusts Dr. Ines Abdel-Dayem, and wishes her success in resuming her post as head of the Cairo Opera House."
The Shura Council was discussing the budget on Tuesday of the opera house, and recommended that it be reduced. One of the members of the Islamist-dominated Shura Council also suggested that ballet performances should be cancelled, due to the "nudity" they entail. The suggestion, however, was not given further consideration.
Tuesday’s protest by the opera house’s staff and artists was of an unprecedented scale. Over the past few months, many within the artistic community had expressed their dissatisfaction with the changes taking place in the country and perceived attacks on cultural freedom. Egyptian staff and musicians at the opera house have said that they will continue to strike until the new cultural minister steps down. Artists strike outside the Cairo Opera House in Zamalek. (Photo: Ati Metwaly)
Artists also demonstrated outside the Cairo Opera House in Zamalek. (Photo: Ahram Online/Ati Metwaly)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Syrian opposition fails to broaden coalition in four days of talks in Istanbul

To the dismay of envoys of Western and Arab nations monitoring four days of opposition talks in Istanbul, the 60-member Syrian National Coalition thwarted a deal to admit a liberal bloc headed by opposition campaigner Michel Kilo.
Kilo's group received an offer of only five seats - instead of the more than 20 it had been looking for - after a session in Turkey that stretched nearly to dawn, coalition sources said.
The move left the Coalition controlled by a faction loyal to Qatari-backed Secretary-General Mustafa al-Sabbagh, and a bloc largely influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood. That group led resistance to the rule of Assad's late father in the 1980s, when thousands of its members were tortured and executed.
European Union foreign ministers have agreed not to renew the union's arms embargo on the Syrian opposition, due to expire on Saturday.
But there was no immediate decision to send arms to Syrian rebels and all other sanctions remained in force, the EU foreign policy chief said.
The decision came after lengthy talks among divided ministers in Brussels.
The failure to broaden the coalition, in which Qatar and a bloc largely influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood has been playing the driving role, could undermine Saudi Arabian support for the revolt and raise the specter of a rivalry among Gulf powers that could further weaken the opposition.
Its Western backers have pressured the Coalition to resolve its divisions and expand to include more liberals to counter domination by Islamists. The plan also had support from Saudi Arabia, which had been preparing to assume a bigger role in coalition politics and has been uneasy about the rise of Qatar's influence, coalition insiders said.
Its apparent failure to do so came hours before the European Union was scheduled at a meeting in Brussels to discuss lifting an arms embargo that could allow weapons to reach rebel fighters in Syria seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad.
With Lebanese Shi'ite guerrillas from Iranian-backed Hezbollah now openly fighting alongside government troops in Syria, Saudi Arabia is keen to play a greater role in backing the Sunni-led opposition, opposition sources have said.
Significant expansion of the 60-member Coalition would have diluted the influence of Qatar, the other main Arab player backing the revolt against Assad.
Coalition members who had campaigned for an organizational shake-up said the feeble offer to Kilo's bloc was an affront to Riyadh and would make Saudi Arabia balk at backing the opposition more forcefully.
"The only time the Saudis ask for something substantive from the opposition we turn them down," a coalition source said.
"Saudi Arabia before this meeting was on the verge of throwing its weight behind the revolt. It would have made sense for Qatar to take a role in line with its size and let Saudi Arabia take a lead role. Sabbagh, and apparently Qatar, got their way, but at what expense?"

Monday, May 27, 2013

Egypt and the sorry way it treats its monuments...

Egypt and the conservation of its antiquities.... Many things go wrong there. One of the latest examples is the destruction - reveiled through Facebook -  of  the medieval Bab al-Wazir  in Islamic Cairo (dating from 1341) which was bulldozed down by some contractor this past week.  Unbelievable! (h/t Zeinobia)
Before ..
 ...and after.

Another example was the inscription that a Chinese student recently left in one of the 3000 year old temples in Luxor: 'Ding Jinhao was here' in Chinese. It seems that there was no publicity about this graffiti in Egypt itself. In China however the media paid attention. It seems that Ding Jinhao's parents apologized.... 
The carving reads "Ding Jinhao was here." 

Two examples, one of the mindlessness with which builders, contractors and investors apparently get permission to tear down objects of invaluable worth (or even do so without permission), the other about lack of supervision over the many tourists that visit the Pharaonic monuments. We could also mention the speed with which 19th century monuments are demolished in neighbourhood like Garden City in Cairo, to make room for more profitable new buildings.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Grad rockets on 'Hizbollah' neighbourhood of South Beirut

Two rockets hit a Shi'ite Muslim district of southern Beirut on Sunday and wounded several people, residents said, a day after the leader of Lebanese Shi'ite militant movement Hizbollah, Hassan Nasrallah,  said his group would continue fighting in Syria until victory.
It was the first attack to apparently target Hezbollah's stronghold in the south of the Lebanese capital since the outbreak of the two-year conflict in neighboring Syria, which has sharply heightened Lebanon's own sectarian tensions.
One of the rockets landed in a car sales yard next to a busy road junction in the Shiah neighborhood and the other hit an apartment several hundred meters away, wounding five people, residents said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility and the army said it was investigating who was behind the attack.
A Lebanese security source said three rocket launchers were found, one of which had failed to launch, in the hills to the southeast of the Lebanese capital, about 5 miles from the area where the two rockets landed.
This is the speech Nasrallah held: 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Spillover of war in Syria: At least 23 dead in Lebanese city of Tripoli

 Armoured Personnel Carrier of the Lebanese army in the streets of Tripoli (Photo AFP)

During new fights this week in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli at least 23 people have been killed. 
Thursday was the bloodiest day, with at least 11 people killed in 24 hours.At least 167 people have been wounded. The clashes are between gunmen in the Jabal Mohsen neighborhood, who are Alawites and supporters of the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, against those in the adjacent Bab al-Tabbaneh district who are Sunni militants. The fighting began Sunday afternoon, after rumors spread that several young men from Tripoli had left for Syria to fight against President Bashar al-Assad’s troops and were now in Qusayr, killed, taken captive, or trying to escape.
The fighting in Tripoli, which has flared sporadically since the beginning of the Syria conflict in March 2011, has been largely confined to the two neighborhoods.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Syrian opposition tries to close ranks ahead of planned peace conference in Geneva
Meeting of the Syrian 'National Coalition' in Istanbul, 23 May 2013.  Behin the table (in the middle, looki ng down) Moaz al-Khatib. (Photo Xinhua) 

Syria's opposition leaders have failed to back a plan by their outgoing leader for President Bashar al-Assad to cede power gradually to end the country's civil war. The 16-point plan proposed by Moaz Alkhatib, who resigned as head of the National Coalition in March, urges Assad to hand power to his deputy or prime minister and then go abroad with 500 members of his entourage, Reuters reports.
Alkhatib's proposal appeared to win little support from other Syrian opposition figures at a three-day meeting in Istanbul which began on Thursday, and the aim of which is to decide how to respond to a U.S.-Russian proposal to convene peace talks involving Assad's government next month.
The coalition is under international pressure to resolve internal divisions ahead of this conference. Looming large over the Istanbul meeting  is the shadow of Saudi Arabia, the main Arab backer of the opposition, which according to coalition sources is pushing to have the transfer of power in Syria top the agenda in Geneva. "Saudi Arabia is not happy that Geneva does not look like it will lead with the exit of Assad on day one," a senior coalition source said.
Opposition leaders said the coalition was likely to attend the planned peace conference, which could take part in Geneva in the coming weeks, but doubted it would produce any immediate deal on Assad's departure. Assad has not confirmed his government would attend the peace talks, however Russia said on Friday his administration had agreed in principle to attend.

Syria's opposition in exile also aims to elect a coherent leadership during the talks in Istanbul. It has been rudderless since the resignation in March of Alkhatib, the former imam of the Omayyad mosque in Damascus, who has in vain pushed plans for Assad to transfer power and leave in peace. His latest plan, posted on his Facebook page, calls on Assad to step down in favor of Prime Minister Wael al-Halki or Vice-President Farouq al-Shara, a veteran politician who has kept a low profile since the revolt began in March 2011, prompting opposition claims last year that he planned to defect.
Alkhatib said Assad should respond within 20 days and that he should then be given a month to dissolve parliament. Once Assad had ceded power, his government should stay in office for 100 days and restructure the military before handing over to a transitional government "which should be agreed upon and negotiated within the framework of international assurances".
Opposition figures in Istanbul were dismissive.

Washington has pressured the opposition coalition to resolve its divisions and to expand to include more liberals who can act independently of Islamists.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Saudi-Arabia executes five Yemenis and displays their corpses

View image on TwitterSaudi Arabia on Tuesday beheaded five Yemenis and used cranes to hang their bodies in public for killing a national and forming a gang that committed robberies across several towns in the kingdom, the interior ministry said. The five were executed in the town of Jizan. The ministry later also announced, in statements carried by the official SPA news agency, that a Saudi was beheaded in the southwestern region of Assir for the murder of a fellow citizen.
In a picture on Twitter, five men are seen hanging from a rope tied to their waists on a horizontal bar between two cranes, in a public display which Saudi authorities refer to as "crucifixion." Their heads were placed in sacks and tied to their bodies.

The beheadings bring the number of people executed in the kingdom this year to 47, according to an AFP tally.

New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) slammed the punishment as "outrageous." In remarks emailed to AFP, HRW's Middle East researcher Adam Coogle said "Saudi authorities have once again made headlines for beheading five men and displaying their decapitated bodies in public. Regardless of the accusations against them, this outrageous punishment serves as a gruesome reminder of the deficiencies of Saudi Arabia's criminal justice system," he said. "If Saudi Arabia is serious about reform, as it has claimed, it should create a penal code, uphold fair trial rights, and cease using inhuman punishments."
In March, a Saudi firing squad executed in public seven men convicted of armed robbery despite last-minute appeals by rights groups at the time that their lives be spared.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Iran's Council of Guardians disqualifies Rafsanjani and Mashaie

The eight candidates that got the green light.

Today's Tehran Times, a conservative Iranian newspaper, reported that the Iranian Interior Ministry late on Tuesday announced that the Guardian Council has approved eight candidates for Iran’s June 14 presidential election. It named the following candidates: Saeed Jalili, Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, Mohsen Rezaei, Hassan Rohani, Mohammad Reza Aref, Mohammad Gharazi, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, and Ali Akbar Velayati. Of them Jalili (picture top extreme left) is a cionfidant of the supreme guide, Ali Khamenei, and the man who was till now Iran's top-negotiator in the last rounds of talks about nuclear issues with the West. Velayati (top extreme right) is a former Foreign minister under Rafsnajani and Moussavi. Rezaei (down, second form right) has been a former commander of the Revolutionary Guards (pasdaran) and Mohammed Reza Aref (down, extreme right) has been a minister of commucations and vice-president under ex-president Moahmmed Khatami. This last one man might be the most pro-reformist candidate.
The most important aspect of the announcement of the Iranian ministry of the Interior, however, was that two well known names were not mentioned, namely those of ex-president Ali Hashemi Rafsanjani, and of the aide of the present president Ahmadinejad, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie. Rafsanjani took sides in the past with the former reformist candidates Moussavi and Karoubi, who both were side lined during the last presidential elections and are still under house-arrest. Ahmadinejad's aide Mashaie is a man viewed with distrust by Khamenei's camp as it considers him to lead a current that seeks to set aside clerical influence. Both candidates were in fact the most interesting two of the whole lot, as they both Incorporated potential challenges to Khamenei and his leading conservative trend.  

Monday, May 20, 2013

Al-Jazeera takes down Israel-critical article by Joseph Massad

Al Jazeera-English has taken the unusual step of taking an article from its site shortly after its appearance. In it Joseph Massad describes the parallels between zionism and anti-semitism and the cooperation that (occasionally?) took place bewteen zionists and nazis. The article surely was controversial and - as so often when something critical is said about zionism or Israel - it was called ´antisemitic´ and worse by the pro-Israeli ´hasbara-claque´. Luckily it was copied and pasted by the site Jews Without Frontiers, from which is took the following paragraphs. Massad, who often ruffles feathers here and there, teaches Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History at Columbia University in New York.

Joseph Massad



The last of the Semites

Jewish opponents of Zionism understood the movement since its early age as one that shared the precepts of anti-Semitism in its diagnosis of what gentile Europeans called the "Jewish Question". What galled anti-Zionist Jews the most, however, was that Zionism also shared the "solution" to the Jewish Question that anti-Semites had always advocated, namely the expulsion of Jews from Europe.
It was the Protestant Reformation with its revival of the Hebrew Bible that would link the modern Jews of Europe to the ancient Hebrews of Palestine, a link that the philologists of the 18th century would solidify through their discovery of the family of "Semitic" languages, including Hebrew and Arabic. Whereas Millenarian Protestants insisted that contemporary Jews, as descendants of the ancient Hebrews, must leave Europe to Palestine to expedite the second coming of Christ, philological discoveries led to the labelling of contemporary Jews as "Semites". The leap that the biological sciences of race and heredity would make in the 19th century of considering contemporary European Jews racial descendants of the ancient Hebrews would, as a result, not be a giant one. 
Basing themselves on the connections made by anti-Jewish Protestant Millenarians, secular European figures saw the political potential of "restoring" Jews to Palestine abounded in the 19th century. Less interested in expediting the second coming of Christ as were the Millenarians, these secular politicians, from Napoleon Bonaparte to British foreign secretary Lord Palmerston (1785-1865) to Ernest Laharanne, the private secretary of Napoleon III in the 1860s, sought to expel the Jews of Europe to Palestine in order to set them up as agents of European imperialism in Asia. Their call would be espoused by many "anti-Semites", a new label chosen by European anti-Jewish racists after its invention in 1879 by a minor Viennese journalist by the name of Wilhelm Marr, who issued a political programme titled The Victory of Judaism over Germanism. Marr was careful to decouple anti-Semitism from the history of Christian hatred of Jews on the basis of religion, emphasising, in line with Semitic philology and racial theories of the 19th century, that the distinction to be made between Jews and Aryans was strictly racial.
The whole article can be found here.

Al-Jazeera rectified its decision after lots of criticism, anmong them Glenn Greenwald in The Guardian. His artcile is interestingan can be found here.   
Massad's article, now republished by Al-Jazeera accopmpanied by an editorial nota, can be found here. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

New 'Rebel' movement in Egypt aims at the fall of president Morsi

A report was filed on Wednesday to the Supreme State Security Prosecution accusing the Tamarod campaign of attempting to overthrow the regime. (Photo courtesy of Tamrod Facebook Page)
Copies of the Tamrod petition
Thousands of protesters converged on Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday to join a planned rally in solidarity with the recently-launched Tamrod ("Rebel") campaign, which aims at "withdrawing confidence" from Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and bringing about early presidential elections.
Hundreds of marchers coming from Sayyeda Zeinab Mosque and Mostafa Mahmoud Mosque arrived in the square, before hundreds more arrived from Shubra, carrying mock coffins and raising aloft crosses in a symbolic gesture of remembrance of recent victims of sectarian violence.
The Tamrod movement is a new phenomenon in Egypt, but the word Tamrod is the new buzz word in opposition circles. It all started with three activists from the Kefaya movement, an opposition group which has been calling for political reform since 2005. The movement wanted to organize a strong street action against the deteriorating political and economic conditions. The founders recruited volunteers from different political backgrounds, drafted a petition and declared the birth of the movement on May Day. Since then, it has been a huge success. In a news conference last week, Tamarod claimed that in less than 10 days it collected more than 2 million signatures through the efforts of its volunteers in the streets, and via the online form of the petition.
The movement has headquarters in Cairo, organizers in every governorate, and a strong network of volunteers, whose numbers significantly increased after the National Salvation Front, the April 6 Youth Movement, the Constitution Party, the  Egyptian Conference party and many other Muslim Brotherhood adversaries officially joined the movement.
Legally the significance of collecting signatures is doubtful to say the last, according to the constitution it will remain without results as far as Morsi's term as president is concerned. But the impact of a mass campaign like this one may book results in another way. Hasan Nafa'a, professor of political science at Cairo University, is an outspoken supporter of Tamarod and he points at a petition in 2010, the National Awareness Campaign, which in vain tried to influence then president Mubarak to organize free elections and political reform. The campaign of 2010 didn’t topple the regime, but it did spread unprecedented levels of involvement and awareness in the streets, according to Nafa'a. ''And today the opposition must use all and every peaceful means of resistance against a regime that betrayed the values of the revolution".   

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Rafsanjani and Mashaie challenge Khamenei's grip on Iran in upcoming presidential elections


Former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani threw himself into Iran's election race on Saturday as a flurry of heavyweight candidates rushed to beat the registration deadline in the most unpredictable contest for decades.Rafsanjani, 78, who was president from 1989 to 1997, is expected to draw some support from reformists because he backed the opposition movement whose protests were crushed after the last, disputed election in 2009.
The election comes at a critical moment, as Iran reels from international sanctions over its disputed nuclear program and faces the threat of attack by Israel if it attempts to acquire a nuclear weapon - an intention it strenuously denies. A vast field of more than 400 candidates have thrown their names into the ring as potential successors to outgoing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Shortly before Rafsanjani's announcement, Saeed Jalili, a hardline conservative who is seen as close to Khamenei and has led rounds of so far unsuccessful nuclear talks with world powers, entered his name as a candidate. Soon afterwards, ISNA news agency reported the registration of Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, an aide to Ahmadinejad and a man viewed with intense distrust by conservatives. Khamenei's camp sees Mashaie as leading a "deviant current" that seeks to set aside clerical influence in favor of a more nationalistic doctrine.
The presidential vote is the first since Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election in 2009, when mass "Green movement" protests erupted after the (engineered) defeat of reformist candidates Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi. Dozens were killed in the worst unrest since the 1979 revolution. Mousavi and Karoubi are still under house arrest.
With Iran's economy reeling from international sanctions over the nuclear dispute, the outcome of the contest on June 14 will signal the extent of Khamenei's control at the summit of power in the Islamic Republic.

At least 31 executions in Iran in past two weeks

Public execution in Kermanshah on 6 May 2013 of three men convicted of murder. (Photo Iran Human Rights).

Iran carries on with its executions. According to the organization Iran Human Rights in the past two weeks at least 31 people have been executed through hanging. Four prisoners were hanged in Semnan Province (northern Iran) early in the morning of 9 May, reported the Iranian state media. According to the Iranian state broadcasting one prisoner, who was not identified by name, was hanged in the prison of Semnan. He was convicted of carrying 72 kilograms of heroin, said the report. The state run Iranian news agency Fars reported that three prisoners were hanged in the prison of Shahrud (Semann Province, northern Iran) on the same day. These prisoners were identified as "A. S." convicted of possession and trafficking of 2900 grams of heroin, "M. Kh." and "H. R." for participation in possession and trafficking of 3894 grams of heroin.
Three prisoners were hanged in the prison of Isfahan (Central Iran) early on 7 May. According to the Iranian state broadcastin the prisoners were convicted of possession and selling and buying of 77 kilograms of heroin and crack. None of them was identified by name.
Four prisoners were hanged in the prison of Arak (central Iran) on 2 May. They were identified as "M. Y." born in 1988 convicted of buying and possession of 4 kilograms of crack, "M. H." for possession of 780 grams of concentrated heroin, "A. A." for possession and attempt to sell 243 grams of crystal, 3 kilograms of Hashish and 2900 grams of opium, and "M. J." for possession and buying of about 800 grams of crystal, said the report.
On 26 April the Iranian state news agency Aftab reported that four prisoners were hanged in the prison of Kerman, all of them had been convicted of drugs smuggling. Four other prisoners convicted of drug related charges were hanged in the prison prison of Kerman a week earlier. On Sunday 28 April two prisoners were hanged in the prison of Varamin (near Tehran), according to the state run news agency Fars. They were identified as Ghasem B. charged with possession and trafficking of 400 grams, and Hadi Kh. charged with possession and trafficking of 547 grams of crack.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Was it (in part) Israeli fears that caused the US to change its mind on Syria?

John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov shake hands in Moscow (7 May 2013)

The most remarkable news of this week was without doubt the volte face that the US has made with respect to the uprising in Syria. So far the US stand has always been to refrain from direct intervention. But at the  same time it demanded that president Assad must go and it supplied the rebels with arms, in cooperation with Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Also it was at odds with Russia and China, who both refused a to let Assad down a priori and campaigned for a negotiated settlement. 
This week these differences were solved at once. The American Secretary of State John Kerry payed a visit to Moscow, during which he held lengthy meetings wit both President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. And Tuesday evening at the of the visit, both Kerry and Lavrov announced that Russia and the US have agreed to work towards convening an international conference to find a political solution to the conflict in Syria.
The conference should be convened at the end of May and must try to convince both the Syrian government and opposition to accept a solution based on the core elements of the final communique issued on 30 June 2012, after the UN-backed Action Group for Syria meeting. This meeting of a year ago called for an immediate cessation of violence and the establishment of a transitional government that could include officials serving under President Bashar al-Assad and members of the opposition. Kerry said that the conclusion e of this meeting, which was never carried out, as yet was ''the important track to end the bloodshed in Syria." And he added that 'it must not be a "piece of paper" but rather "the roadmap" for peace."The alternative is that there is even more violence," he added. "The alternative is that Syria heads closer to an abyss, if not over the abyss and into chaos."
So all at once the US dropped the demand that Assad must leave beforehand (although American offcials said that the US still prefers that he steps down)  and left the military option. Russia at the other hand is no longer so adamant that Assad stay. "We are not concerned by the fate of any individual,'' minister Lavrov said. ''We are concerned by the fate of the Syrian people." .
Apparently the US have realized that continuing this war and pushing for the fall of Assad is not bringing the desired solution. What changed the US-diplomats' mind? Was it the fact that the war - which so far already cost some 70.000 people their lives and has caused millions to flee their homes - does not seem to lead to a conclusion soon? Far that islamist factions in the end would be the winners? That Syria was on its way to become a second Iraq?   

At any rate, Abdel Bary al-Atwan, the editor in chief of the Arabic daily Al-Quds al-Arabi had an answer (I quoted this from Juan Cole's blog):
What is the secret word that caused this big change in the US stand and imposed this sudden retreat and shift from the military options that were put on the table before to diplomatic options to reach a political solution through negotiations between the rival parties that have resorted to weapons and bloody confrontations throughout the past two years?
This secret word is made up of seven letters, Israel, in addition to the fear for Israel’s existence within safe and stable borders, ridding it of the specter of war, removing the biggest danger that faces it, which is chaos, and the fear that Syria might become a base for Al-Qa`ida.
And although I doubt that this was the only reason behind the US decision to back down, Al-Atwan may have a point. Take a look for instance at these recent comments (In Foreign Affairs) on the Syrian situation by the former director of the Israeli secret service Mossad,  Efraim Halevy:

 Israel knows one important thing about the Assads: for the past 40 years, they have managed to preserve some form of calm along the border. Technically, the two countries have always been at war -- Syria has yet to officially recognize Israel -- but Israel has been able to count on the governments of Hafez and Bashar Assad to enforce the Separation of Forces Agreement from 1974, in which both sides agreed to a cease-fire in the Golan Heights, the disputed vantage point along their shared border. Indeed, even when Israeli and Syrian forces were briefly locked in fierce fighting in 1982 during Lebanon’s civil war, the border remained quiet.
Israel does not feel as confident, though, about the parties to the current conflict, and with good reason. On the one hand, there are the rebel forces, some of whom are increasingly under the sway of al Qaeda. On the other, there are the Syrian government’s military forces, which are still under Assad’s command, but are ever more dependent on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah, which is also Iranian-sponsored. Iran is the only outside state with boots on the ground in Syria, and although it is supporting Assad, it is also pressuring his government to more closely serve Iran’s goals -- including by allowing the passage of advanced arms from Syria into southern Lebanon. The recent visit by Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Salehi to Damascus, during which he announced that Iran would not allow Assad to fall under any circumstances, further underscored the depth of Iran’s involvement in the fighting. It is entirely conceivable, in other words, that a post-Assad regime in Syria would be explicitly pro–al Qaeda or even more openly pro-Iran. Either result would be unacceptable to Israel.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

'Jerusalem Day'

On 8 May it is Jerusalem Day, the day on which Israelis celebrate the 'unification' of Jerusalem. ACRI, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, published a fact sheet for the occasion, which lists all the 'benefits' that the Palestinians of East-Jerusalem experience since Israel annexed their part of the city after it was conquered in 1967: 

East Jerusalem – Facts and Figures

Population: 371,844 Palestinians, comprising 39% of Jerusalem’s total population.[1]

Poverty Rate: 79.5% of East Jerusalem residents and 85% of East Jerusalem children live below the poverty line – the worst rate of all time.[2] 

Welfare Offices:  3 offices in East Jerusalem serve more than one third of Jerusalem’s population while 18 such offices operate in West Jerusalem; a fourth East Jerusalem office is expected to open; individual social worker’s caseloads in East Jerusalem are approximately double those of West Jerusalem.

Children at Risk:  In 2012, welfare services identified 7,748 at-risk children in East Jerusalem; 86 children who suffered from violence and neglect were taken out of their homes over the past three years; because of the shortage of welfare workers, not all cases are fully and speedily attended to.[3]

Shortage of Classrooms: Only 46% of students study in official municipal schools; there is a chronic shortage of over 1000 classrooms in East Jerusalem; despite commitments made by Israeli authorities to the courts, only several dozen classrooms are built annually.[4]

Shortage of Pre-Kindergartens: There are 10 municipal pre-kindergartens in East Jerusalem as compared to 77 municipal pre-kindergartens in West Jerusalem for the secular sector and 96 for the national-religious sector; a government decision to apply the Free Education Law to children aged 3-4 cannot be implemented across East Jerusalem.

Secondary School and University:  The drop-out rate for 12th graders in East Jerusalem is 40%[5]; students who pass the Palestinian high-school matriculation tests (“Tawjihi”) find it difficult to gain acceptance into Israeli universities; some of the degrees offered by Palestinian universities, including the local Al-Quds University, are not recognized in Israel.

The rest is to be found here on ACRI's site.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

UNRWA very worried about fate of Palestinians in Syria

The UN-organization for the Palestinian refugees UNWRA is very worried about what is happening to the different Palestinian refugee camps inside Syria. UNRWA estimates the Palestinians refugee population in Syria at almost a million people. According to a communique UNRWA issued on 30 April, about a quarter of them are now on the run:  Residents of the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmuk in the Syrian capital Damascus return to their homes on December 20, 2012 after fighting had sent them fleeing. AFP PHOTO / CAROLE ALFARAH
Refugees living in the Yarmouk camp in Damascus return home after they temporarily had to leave because of fighting. The picture is from December 2012. Many Palestinians had to leave for good since then. (Photo AFP).

Palestine refugees in Syria are being killed, injured and displaced in greater numbers than ever before, as the armed conflict continues to overwhelm refugee camps across the country.  The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) now estimates that approximately 235,000 Palestine refugees have been displaced inside Syria and is particularly concerned about news that was confirmed today on the displacement of some 6,000 Palestinians from Ein El Tal on 26 April, a Palestine refugee camp some 12 kilometres from Aleppo in northern Syria.

Months of sporadic armed engagements intensified last week, culminating in armed opposition groups occupying Ein El Tal camp in the early morning hours of 26 April and immediately declaring it a “military zone”.  Exchanges of fire ensued with forces loyal to the government who were present inside the camp. Mortars and small arms were reportedly used, damaging and destroying refugee homes and contributing to dozens of fatalities and injuries, including among Palestinian civilians. In the aftermath of the fighting, a number of young Palestine refugee men were reportedly taken away by the armed opposition groups who now remain in Ein El Tal camp, where a situation of high tension prevails.
Events in Ein El Tal mirror the tragic experience of other Palestine refugee camps – Dera’a Camp, Yarmouk in Damascus City and Husseiniyeh, Khan Eshieh, Sbeineh, and Seida Zaynab Camps in the wider Damascus area. Ein El Tal is the latest manifestation of a cycle of catastrophic violence in which the conduct of all parties has transformed Palestine refugee camps into theatres of conflict in which heavy weapons are used, resulting in severe suffering for Palestinian civilians. 

Israel carries out second airstrike in Syria

Israel carried out its second air strike in days on Syria early on Sunday, a Western intelligence source said, in an attack that shook Damascus with a series of powerful blasts and drove columns of fire into the night sky.
Israel declined to comment, but Syria accused the Jewish state of carrying out a raid on a military facility just north of the capital.
The explosions came soon after an Israeli official confirmed his country had carried out an air strike earlier in the week targeting missiles in Syria intended for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.
The target of Sunday's attack, according to Syrian media, was the same Jamraya military research center which was hit by Israel in another assault in January. Jamraya, on the northern approaches to Damascus, is just 15 km (10 miles) from the Lebanese border.
This photo released on the official Facebook page of Syrian President Bashar Assad, shows Syrian president Bashar Assad, right, surrounded by bodyguards as young people, wave at him during the inauguration ceremony on Saturday of a statue dedicated to "martyrs" from Syrian universities who died in the country's two-year-old uprising and civil war, in Damascus, Syria, Saturday, May. 4, 2013. Assad's second public appearance in a week came as Israeli officials confirmed the country's air force carried out a strike against Syria, saying it targeted a shipment of advanced missiles bound for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. (AP Photo)
President Assad on 4 May visited  Damascus University for the inauguration of a statue dedicated to the 'martyrs of Syrian universities'. It was his second public appearance in a week. He was greeted warmly by a large number of supporters. 

Video footage uploaded onto the Internet by activists showed a series of explosions. One lit up the skyline over the city, while another sent up a tower of flames and secondary blasts.
The Western intelligence source told Reuters Israel carried out the attack and the operation hit Iranian-supplied missiles which were en route to Hezbollah. "In last night's attack, as in the previous one, what was attacked were stores of Fateh-110 missiles that were in transit from Iran to Hezbollah," the source said.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights saidthe blasts hit Jamraya as well as a nearby ammunition depot. Other activists said a missile brigade and two Republican Guard battalions may also have been targeted in the heavily militarized area just north of Damascus.
Syria's state television said the strikes were a response to recent military gains by President Bashar al-Assad's forces against rebels. "The new Israeli attack is an attempt to raise the morale of the terrorist groups which have been reeling from strikes by our noble army," it said.

Uzi Rubin, an Israeli missile expert and former defense official said the Fateh-110 missile "is better than the Scud, it has a half-ton warhead". Iran has said it adapted the missile for anti-ship use by installing a guidance system, he added.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Israel bombed target inside Syria

Israel has conducted an airstrike in Syria, apparently targeting a building, a U.S. official said on Friday.  Israeli officials confirmed Saturday the country's air force carried out a strike against Syria and say it targeted a shipment of advanced missiles bound for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.
The officials said the attack took place early Friday and targeted sophisticated "game-changing" weapons. One official said the target was a shipment of advanced, long-range ground-to-ground missiles.
It was not immediately clear where the airstrike took place, or whether the air force carried out the strike from Lebanese or Syrian airspace. CNN quoted two unnamed U.S. officials as saying Israel's warplanes did not enter Syrian airspace.
In January this year,Israel bombed a convoy in Syria. It is believed this concerned a shipment of advanced SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles bound for Hezbollah. Israel has not formally admitted to carrying out that airstrike, though officials have strongly hinted they were behind the attack.