Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Is the US going to commit another big error in the Middle East?

USS Barry launches a cruise missile at Libya in 2011. Navy photo
The USS Barry fires a cruise missile during the campaign against Libya in 2011 (Photo American Navy)

The American Secretary of State John Kerry gave an almost unveiled warning on Monday that the US is going to act against Syria.. "President (Barack) Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world's most heinous weapons against the world's most vulnerable people," Kerry said, while  White House spokesman Jay Carney the same day said the use of chemical weapons was undeniable and "there is very little doubt in our mind that the Syrian regime is culpable."
Kerry said Obama was consulting with allies before he decides on how to respond and military chiefs from the United States and its European and Middle Eastern allies were meeting in Jordan. The Washington Post cited senior administration officials as saying Obama is weighing a military strike against Syria that would be of limited scope and duration, while keeping the United States out of deeper involvement in that country's civil war. Such an attack would probably last no more than two days and involve sea-launched cruise missiles — or, possibly, long-range bombers — striking military targets not directly related to Syria's chemical weapons arsenal, the newspaper reported.
It said such a move is dependent on three factors: completion of an intelligence report assessing the Syrian government's culpability in the chemical attack, consultation with allies and the U.S. Congress and determination of a justification under international law.
U.S. warships armed with cruise missiles are already positioned in the Mediterranean.
There are a few remarks to be made about this news:  1) Assad has denied using chemical weapons and blamed rebels for staging the attacks. Will it be possible to establish beyond reasonable doubt that Syrian government forces were responsible for this attack? (On Monday the UN team that is going to investigate the source of the chemical attacks was taken under fire by unknown assailants)
2) How probable is it anyhow that Assad used chemical weapons, knowing that this almost certainly would lead to American an Western repercussions, and taking into account that the area of Damascus where the attack took place, had already almost entirely been retaken by government forces. It does not make sense. Or must we assume that some government units are acting beyond Assad's control?
3) Let me us add, in order to be 100% clear, that it is the rebels who are the ones that will win by an attack on Assad's resources. 
 4) Would it really be possible for the US to limit its action to something like one or two days of strikes? Wouldn't it be the beginning of an adventure from which is is not so easy to disentangle itself? What about regional repercussions, like strikes on Israel?  
5) The most alarming question of all: what if attacks on the Syrian government would weaken it in such a way that the rebels get the upper hand after all? Which rebels will then take the lead? Saudi backed Salafists? Qatari backed Muslim Brothers? Jebhat al-Nusra? Or alle of them a little bit, which would prolong the Syrian civil war even more?   

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Syria, Iran: proof that rebels were responsible for gas attack; Obama considers military options

Syrian state television said troops found chemical agents in rebel tunnels in a Damascus suburb on Saturday and some soldiers were "suffocating", intensifying a dispute over blame for a reported nerve gas attack that killed hundreds this week.
The top U.N. disarmament official arrived in Damascus on Saturday to seek access for inspectors to the site of the attack and the United States was realigning naval forces in the region to give President Barack Obama the option for an armed strike on Syria.
Syrian opposition accounts that between 500 and well over 1,000 civilians were killed by gas in munitions fired by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, and video footage of victims' bodies, have heightened calls in the West for a robust, U.S.-led response after 2-1/2 years of international inaction on Syria's conflict.
In a clear attempt to strengthen the government's denials of responsibility for the suspected chemical assault, Syrian state television said soldiers came across chemical agents in rebel tunnels in the suburb of Jobar and some were overcome by fumes.
 Iran, the chief regional ally of Damascus, said on Saturday there is "proof" Syrian rebels used chemical weapons in their conflict with the regime of President Bashar Assad.
"We are very concerned about information regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria, and we strongly condemn the use of such weapons," foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Araqchi said, quoted by ISNA news agency.
"There is proof terrorist groups carried out this action," Araqchi said in reference to Wednesday's allegedly deadly attacks in the Damascus area, without elaborating.
Iran also warned against any Western military intervention in the 29-month conflict, after the United States suggested it was weighing up such a possibility.

 Meanwhile US naval forces are moving closer to Syria as President Barack Obama considers military options for responding to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Assad government. The president emphasized that a quick intervention in the Syrian civil war was problematic, given the international considerations that should precede a military strike.
The White House said the president would meet Saturday with his national security team to consider possible next steps by the United States. Officials say once the facts are clear, Obama will make a decision about how to proceed.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel declined to discuss any specific force movements while saying that Obama had asked the Pentagon to prepare military options for Syria. U.S. defense officials told The Associated Press that the Navy had sent a fourth warship armed with ballistic missiles into the eastern Mediterranean Sea but without immediate orders for any missile launch into Syria.
Hagel said the U.S. is coordinating with the international community to determine "what exactly did happen" near Damascus earlier this week. According to reports, a chemical attack in a suburb of the capital killed at least 100 people. It would be the most heinous use of chemical weapons since Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein gassed thousands of Kurds in the town of Halabja in 1988.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Bombs in Tripoli (N-Lebanon) kill at least 42 people

 The damage inside one of the mosques in Tripoli. (Photo: The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

Two car bombs outside mosques in the north Lebanese city of Tripoli following Friday prayers killed at least 42 people and wounded more than 400, security sources said.The two afternoon blasts, one outside the Taqwa Mosque that was soon followed by another outside the Salam Mosque as hundreds of worshipers finished Friday prayers, highlighted the deteriorating security situation in Tripoli, the scene of repeated bouts of clashes linked to the war in Syria. In both mosques the sermons were delivered by Salafist preachers. Sheikh Salem al-Rafei in the Taqwa mosque, sheikh Bilal Baroudi in the Salam mosque.Both are staunch opponents of Syrian president Assad.
The violence in Tripoli comes eight days after a car bomb killed 30 people and wounded over 300 in the Ruwaiss area of the southern suburb of Beirut, which is 'Hezbollah-territory'. Hezbollah has accused 'regional intelligence services' of being behind these last attacks, with which the party was referring to Saudi-Arabia, according to the paper Al-Akhbar.
The statement from Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc on Thursday, August 22, did not take on the usual diplomatic tone, Al-Akhbar said, as it openly accused local and regional elements. "This terrorist blast was engineered by regional intelligence services that are benefiting from the policies of incitement adopted by some March 14 factions,” the statement read. “These groups are investing in terrorist takfiri organizations to carry out their plans.” The “catastrophic failure of these takfiri groups to achieve the goals set out for them in Syria ... has forced their handlers to use them inside Lebanon instead, in order to compensate for their losses elsewhere.”
The statement remarkably does not accuse the usual suspect in such acts – the Zionist enemy – but points the finger in the direction of Saudi Arabia and its chief of intelligence, Bandar bin Sultan. Sources close to Hezbollah go so far as to say, “There is a clear Saudi decision, backed by the US, to stir things up from Baghdad to Beirut.”

Tunisian Ennahda accepts mediation plan proposed by trade union

Tunisia's governing Islamist Ennahda party edged closer to negotiations with secular opponents on Thursday by agreeing in principle to a plan for a transition toward new elections proposed by the powerful trade unions.
Rached Ghannouchi, Ennahda's chairman, said negotiations would quickly resolve the standoff that has paralysed Tunisian politics for almost a month and led to major protests and calls for the government to resign.
"We will get out of this crisis very soon," Ghannouchi told journalists after meeting UGTT Secretary General Hussein Abassi. "We accept the UGTT initiative in principle to begin the dialogue" with the opposition.
The UGTT trade union federation, which is mediating between Ennahda and its critics, has proposed the government step down and let a neutral interim cabinet prepare new elections. Ennahda had rejected this in the past but changed course this week.
Tunisia's opposition parties declined to comment immediately on Ghannouchi's statement.
Both the Islamists and the opposition agree on the need for new voting once work on a long-delayed new constitution is completed, which could happen in the next few months. But the opposition does not trust Ennahda to hold a free and fair vote.
Ennahda, which governs in coalition with two smaller secular parties, is under increasing pressure from the opposition over accusations that is imposing an Islamist agenda, failing to deal with violent Salafi Islamists and mismanaging the economy.
Tunisia voted on October 23, 2011 for a constituent assembly which was to write a new constitution within a year, a deadline it failed to keep because of protracted wrangling between the Islamists and the secular opposition parties.
Four months were spent on debate just about whether to mention sharia, the Islamic legal and moral code, in the constitution. Ennahda finally agreed to leave it out.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The twisted reality of Egypt's revolution: Mubarak to be free, Morsi in prison


An Egyptian court on Wednesday ordered the release of ousted President Hosni Mubarak. The North Cairo misdemeanor appeals court came to accept a petition for Mubarak’s release in a corruption case in which he stands accused of illegally receiving gifts worth millions of pounds on an annual basis from Al-Ahram state media institution. The case was the last remaining legal ground for his temporary detention, after courts ordered his release in three other cases, the state news agency MENA reported. The court gave the prosecution 48 hours to appeal the release order. But the general prosecutor’s office decided not to appeal, which means Mubarak could be set free today, Thursday.
Ppime Minister Hazem al-Beblawi, using the special powers he has under the emergency law, on Wednesday evening ordered Mubarak to be placed under house arrest. A travel ban is also still in force. In this way the government avoided the situation in which Mubarak is free to go wherever he wants, but it did not change the twisted picture of a revolution that sets Mubarak free after two and a half yeras, while his successor Morsi and his associates are in prison.  
Mubarak will be retried on charges of ordering the killing of protesters during the 18-day popular uprising in 2011 that led to his removal. But since he has served the maximum amount of pre-trial detention permitted in this case, he can wait the retrial proceedings out of prison. Last year, he was sentenced to life in prison for failing to prevent the killing of more than 800 protesters, but later a court accepted his appeal for retrial. The next hearing in the case regarding the killing of protesters is set for August 25.
The course of events is illustrative for what the 25 January revolution has brought Egypt after all. Mada Masr quoted Yasser al-Hawary,  spokesperson of the Free Egyptians Party, in this respect. He said that Mubarak should have been tried in a political case, and not on charges of illegally owning property and receiving gifts from Al-Ahram, which are insignificant in compasrion and legally complicated. “None of the governments that have been in place since Mubarak’s trial have done anything to implement transitional justice laws and measures,” he said. “In the killing of protesters case, all the evidence is in general intelligence and state security (which are both still manned by the same people as in Mubarak's time, TheP.) so it will not be submitted.”
Mada Masr also quoted the Coalition of National Revolutionary Forces, which said that Mubarak should have been tried on charges related to decades of political corruption.

Syria: a chemical attack?

A picture of victims of what the Syrian opposition claims was an attack by government troops with missiles containing a chemical agent in pre-dawn bombardments of the Damascus suburbs of Ain Tarma, Zamalka and Jobar.   (Shaam News Network/AFP)

The oppositional Syrian National Coalition said on Wednesday that as many as 1300 people were killed during an attack with chemical weapons in districts of Damascus. The opposition said that this happened after government forces launched rockets with toxic agents into the Damascus suburbs in the Ghouta region early on Wednesday. The Syrian government has denied the allegations, describing them as "illogical and fabricated". The Syrian army said the opposition made up the claims to divert attention from the huge losses its forces had suffered recently.The official Syrian Sana news agency said reports of the latest attack were "baseless", describing them as "an attempt to divert the UN chemical weapons investigation commission away from carrying out its duties".
The UN Security Council on Wednesday said that clarity was needed over the attacks. Some 35 member states, including the US, UK and France, called for UN for the UN chemical weapons inspectors that are already probing three sites of alleged chemical weapons use in Syria to be dispatched immediately to the scene to investigate. The inspectors arrived in Damascus on Sunday with a mandate to investigate three locations including the northern town of Khan al-Assal, where some 26 people were killed in March.

However, China and Russia - which have repeatedly backed the Syrian government since the crisis began - blocked a stronger security council press statement supported by the 35 states. The Russian foreign ministry noted that the reports had emerged just as the UN chemical weapons inspection team had arrived in Syria, saying that "this makes us think that we are once again dealing with a premeditated provocation".

Opposition activists say the attack took place as part of heavy government bombardment in the region surrounding Damascus, with government forces trying to drive out rebel forces. The areas said to have been affected included Irbin, Duma and Muadhamiya. Activist footage showed dozens of bodies with no visible signs of injuries, including small children, laid out on the floor of a clinic. Other videos show people being treated in makeshift hospitals, with victims, including many children, having convulsions.
The BBC quoted a doctor treating the injured, Ghazwan Bwidany, who said the main symptom, especially among children, was suffocation, as well as salivating and blurred vision. A specialist quoted by the BBC, prof Alexander Kekule of the Institute for Medical Microbiology at Halle University in Germany, said that one of the videos - although of poor quality - was consistent with the aftermath of an attack with a chemical agent. But he added that none of the patients showed typical signs of sarin or other organophosphorous nerve agents, or signs of blistering agents.
The Obama administration expressed its "deep concern" over the alleged chemical weapons attacks on Wednesday and formally requested the UN to "urgently investigate" the incident. President Barack Obama recently warned the Syrian government that using chemical weapons would cross a "red line".
Both the rebels and government forces have accused each other of using chemical weapons throughout the 28-month conflict, but so far it has not been possible to independently verify the claims.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Tawfiq Saleh, director of the filmversion of Kanafani's Men in the Sun, 1926 -2013

A few days late, but certainly not too late, I want to pay tribute to the Egyptian filmmaker Tawfiq Saleh, who passed away in Gaza on 18 August. Saleh is considered to be one of the great names of Egyptian cinema. He was also one of the most politically engaged, which brought him in constant trouble with the censors.
He was born in Alexandria in 1926 and graduated from the English literature department of Alexandria University in 1949. When still in college, he directed a play: A Bullet in the Heart, hosted at the French Friendship organisation. He then received training in theatre and cinema in France and stayed there about two years.
Back in Egypt he wrote the scenario for a Fool's Alley (Darb al-Mahâbil) and made acquaintance with the writer (and later Nobel Prize winner) Naguib Mahfouz, which was the beginning of a life long friendship. Mahfouz, who at the time had already written some scenario's that had been filmed by Salah Abu Seif, wrote the final version of A Fool's Alley. The film was released in 1955 and resulted in a National Prize for Directing, but unfortunately failed to be a success with the public. It is, however, nowadays considered to be one of the most important Egyptian movies of the '50s.
After A Fool's Alley failed to be a financial success there were several years that Saleh was not able to make films, but in 1962, with the help of his collegue Ezzedin Zulfikar, he was able to make The Struggle of the Heros (Sirâa al-Abtâl), a story about a cholera epidemic in a village in the years '40. Some years later the Organisation of the Egyptian Cinema was created and thanks to this organism Saleh was able to make three films in four years. In 1968 'The Alleyway of mister Bulti' (Zuqâq al-sayyid al-Bulti), which as it was a very political film that consequntly was badly mutilated by the censors. In the same year he also produces an adaptation of Tawfiq al-Hakim's famous novel 'Diary of a Provincial Prosecutor (Yawmiyyât Nâ'ib fil-Ariâf). However 'The Rebels' (Al-Mutamarridun, 1967), based on a story by journalist Salah Hafiz that tackles the shortcomings of the 1952 July Revolution, was banned altogether in Egypt.
It was because of the constant quarrels with the censor that Saleh moved in 1970 to Syria. There he released in 1972 'The Dupes' (Al-Makhdu’un) produced by the Syrian National Film Organisation, based on the famous novel 'Men Under the Sun' by the Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani, a story of Palestinian workers who try to enter Kuwait clandestinely in order to find work, but on the way get suffocated in a tanker truck. This last film is considered one of Saleh's finest works and a masterpiece of the Egyptian cinema. It got many prizes on festivals, but was banned in several Arab countries as it was critical of the hypocrisie of Arab regimes.
 Later in the seventies Saleh moved on to Iraq. There he made The Long Days (Al-Ayyam al-Tawila, 1981), a film that looks into the youth of Saddam Hussein and was produced by the Iraqi Theatre and Film Organisation. Not much later Saleh returned to Egypt where he became a teacher at the Film Academy.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Israel supports the Egyptian generals

American Jewish groups are pretending that the massacre of Muslim Brotherhood supporters really isn’t a big deal. Why? Because, writes Peter Beinart on the Daily Beast, Israel wants Egypt’s military to remain in charge. 
Officially, however, Israel itself has not commented on Egypt’s internal affairs, either before or after this week’s events. Beacause, as Haartez, quotes an Israeli official:
 “Anything we say will be held against us,” said an Israeli official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of what he described as the “volatility” of the diplomatic situation. “If we condemn the violence we will be accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said, referring to rumors already circulating to that effect. “And if we say we don’t condemn it, then it looks like Israel is in cahoots with the Egyptian Army.”
In reality, however, according to Beinart, groups like Aipac capaigned in favour of  maintaining the American aid to Egypt. And according to the New York Times the generals in Egypt got the message from the Israel;i's that they doid not have to worry about that,. as Isarel itslef asked the American government to keep backing general Sisi and his collegues.
Apart from that former Israeli leaders made no secret of their sympathies:
“I think that the whole world should support Sisi,” Ehud Barak, a former prime minister and defense minister of Israel, said on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” last weekend. He was referring to Egypt’s military commander, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, who ousted Mr. Morsi, an Islamist, last month. 
 Danny Yatom,  former chief of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, told Israel Radio on Friday that “there is no question that Israel prefers the army to the Muslim Brotherhood and a secular regime over a religious regime” in Egypt. And in the Jerusalem Post, former Defense minister Benyamin ben Eliezer said that Morsi wanted to turn Egypte in a kind of Iran an that general al-Sisi was the one to prevent that. 
Israel has always shown a remarkable talent for making enemies in the Middle East. One would think that in the case of  Egypt it would at least refrain from taking sides, particularly after the mistake that it took sides with Mubarak, just before he got kicked out. Opting for the bloody course the generals took and for the ones who are clearly re-installing the police state in Egypt as opposed to an evolution towards democracy,  is a slippery course that once more demonstrates the destructive influence of the Zionist state in the Middle East. And in the long run it may alienate the Egyptians even further than is already the case.   

Egyptian police arrest leader of the Muslim Brotherhood

Mohamed Badie
Badie, the guide of the Muslim Brotherhood shortly after his arrest. (Phote taken from Facebook opage of the Egyptian police).

Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie was arrested shortly after midnight in northern Cairo on Tuesday, a significant development in the crackdown of Egypt’s army-backed rulers on Islamists.
 Spokesman Abdel-Fattah Osman of the Egyptina ministry of the Interior said in a television interview that Badie was hiding in a residential apartment in Cairo’s Nasr City district near Rabaa El-Adaweya Mosque.  Badie, the highest authority and spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, has become the latest leader of the Islamist group to be arrested. Brotherhood deputy leader Khairat El-Shater, former Supreme Guide Mahdi Akef and Saad El-Katatni, head of the group’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), are also in jail. Six They are facing trial on charges of inciting the murder of protesters at the group’s headquarters in the Cairo district of Moqattam.
Also the deposed persident Mohammed Morsi, who has been held incommunicado since his ouster, is in detention now pending investigations into charges of involvement in the violent attacks on demonstrators outside the presidential palace in December 2012. He is also facing charges of "collaboration with Palestinian Islamist faction Hamas to undertake aggressive acts" and "plotting attacks on a jail" where he was held during the 2011 18-day uprising which ousted his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak.
Other Brotherhood leaders, including Mohamed El-Beltagy and Essam El-Erian, are still at large. Some prominent Islamists were also arrested in Egypt, including Mohamed El-Zawahiri, brother of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman El-Zawahiri.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Killings continue in Egypt: 36 inmates suffocated, 25 policemen gunned down in Sinai

 Embedded image permalink

The privately-owned Sawt al-Umma newspaper on Sunday carried this sarcastic cartoon of Defense Minister General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on its front page. ´ll of Egypt is al-Sisi´the text reads. No further comment needed.

A security statement confirmed the death of 36 Muslim Brotherhood supporters in custody on Sunday as they reportedly tried to escape from a truck transferring them to a prison facility. 
In its statement, the Ministry of Interior explained that the deaths occurred of suffocation as police fired tear gas to prevent them from fleeing and to liberate an officer who was taken hostage by them inside the truck.
The prisoners were being transferred to the Abu Zaabal facility.The state-run Middle East News Agency reported that the escape attempt involved 612 inmates who were in the convoy as they were being handed to the Abu Zaabal prison facility in Qalyubia. The truck was reportedly attacked by an armed group.
In its narrative of the event, the Muslim Brotherhood said that the number of those killed exceeds 200 and that there was no attempt by the prisoners to escape.

Suspected militants on Monday ambushed two mini-buses carrying off-duty policemen in Egypt's northern Sinai, killing 25 of them execution-style and wounding three, Egyptian state television and news agencies reported.The militants forced the two vehicles to stop, ordered the policemen out and forced them to lie on the ground before they shot them to death, security officials told the Associated Press. The policemen were in civilian clothes, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to talk to the media. The killings took place near the border town of Rafah.

Egypt's army chief General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi said on Sunday that protecting the “people’s will” is a greater honour than ruling the country.
In a speech at a meeting with police and military leaders on Sunday, which was recorded and broadcasted shortly afterwards on Egyptian television, the leader of the armed forces said that he warned that political conflict would develop into religious fighting and drag Egypt down a "dark tunnel.”
On the dispersal of the main sit-in by Morsi supporters, which was situated in Cairo’s Nasr City district, El-Sisi said: “Those who were saying we should have dispersed the camp peacefully – we tried … But when army and police forces get attacked by snipers deployed on top of buildings, how do you expect them to react?”
''In such a massive sit-in, it is enough to have some 20, 30 or 50 armed men to turn it into a bloody event.”
''We were given a mandate by the public to deal with potential terrorism, and we acted accordingly … we are keen not to spill blood, but are they?” he continued.
El-Sisi went on to chide western allies and international media who "denied Egyptians their free will and genuine desire for a change," in their support to the army to fight "terrorism." "We have provided many chances…to end the crisis entirely peacefully." He said. "We invited the former regime to rebuild the country's path to democracy and a [have] role in the political process instead of violence and destroying the Egyptian state," he added.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sectarian violence in Egypt - whose responsibility?

The church of Mar Girgis (St George) in Sohag, 14-8-2013

The site Jadaliyya carries a report about the attacks on churches and other Christian porperty and buildings in Egypte. I quote:
Since the army removed MB’s Mohamed Morsi from power, sectarian attacks have continued to occur. These were, however, dwarfed by the destruction wave that started on 14 August.
While all eyes were on Cairo following the bloodbath in the Rabaa and Nahda Squares, reports started to emerge from elsewhere in the country that Christian institutions and properties have come under attack. Myself and Cairo-based physician and activist Mostafa Hussein started collecting, curating, and verifying the reports as they were coming.
A wide range of attacks have been reported on social media, and independently corroborated by citizen journalists, researchers from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), and local newspapers. Later on, various religious press releases confirmed the reports we had already gathered. Many of these are complemented with images and some – with raw footage.
Altogether, we collected evidence that during the day of 14 August alone the attacks affected:
  • Thirty-seven churches,
  • five schools,
  • three Bible societies,
  • four offices of Christian institutions,
  • and tens of homes and businesses
These premises were either burnt down or at least badly damaged. In none of these cases was there confirmation of the presence of police or security forcesin the vicinity of the buildings.
(For a list of damaged and destroyed buildings, click here)

Franciscan Church of St. Therese Assiut, 15-8-2013.

Of course, someone has to claim responsibility for these hate crimes. But who is to blame?
Virtually everyone besides the Muslim Brotherhood accuses the pro-Morsi crowds. (....) Contrastingly, the MB accuses the security forces of orchestrating the attacks to incriminate the group. Indeed, theMuslim Brotherhood leadership has been slow, at best, to condemn.(...)

But more immediate than blaming a given religious movement is the question of securing these churches and whether it was the responsibility of the state. Independent English-language Cairo-based online news outlet MadaMasr reported on 14 August that, in Sohag, residents confirmed that the church was ransacked at around 9:30 am, and no visible police presence. Furthermore, eyewitnesses that MadaMasr cites reported that a number of nearby businesses were destroyed, and these were owned by both Christians and Muslims.
The military issued a statement on 14 August, ordering “the immediate reconstruction of all churches damaged” during the 14 Augustviolence, and promising that all the rebuilding effort will be undertaken by the military’s engineering department and that “all expenses will be paid by the Armed Forces.”
Copts have said it was state negligence in responding to these threats, and the MB have called it conspiracy. Whoever’s guiltiness it could be, the implications of the bloodshed and the past and ongoing sectarian violence  (see updated list) are deeply rooted. Moreover, although observers inside and outside of Egypt continue to issue hopeful calls for reconciliation, two important considerations are particularly important. First, based on past history it is fair to conclude that the biggest winners from sectarian tensions and violence are those who advocate for a more prominent role for a security state that could effectively “manage” such conflicts. In a context in which Egypt’s military rulers have been actively seeking to consolidate popular support for extraordinary “counter-terrorism” measures, this point could not be more pertinent. (Italics are mine, TheP.)

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Muslim Brotherhood calls for another week of protests

(Photo Mosa'ab elShamy)

The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has called for a week of protests across the country to begin Saturday 17 August following the latest deaths. At least 95 people were killed the day before in Cairo's Ramses Square when security forces fired on protesters trying to stage what they called Day of Rage marches against the military-led government.
Police also arrested more than 1,000 suspected Muslim Brotherhood supporters, including 558 in Cairo alone, on Friday, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi are trapped in a mosque near Cairo's Ramses Square, as military and police forces keep the area surrounded. The Fateh Mosque had been turned into both a morgue and a field hospital by Morsi supporters until the standoff with security forces began.
Also in the rest of the country there were many confrontations. In Alexandria at least 20 people got killed, according to Reuters.  Five people were killed and 70 injured in Fayoum in clashes between protesters and security forces, while seven were killed and 30 injured in violent confrontations in front of a police station in Damietta, state-run newspaper Al-Ahram reported. Three people have been killed in Port Said and 64 injured, according to Al-Ahram.
In Ismailia, Al-Ahram reported minor altercations between a Muslim Brotherhood march chanting against the Armed Forces and residents of the area carrying pictures of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Kafr el-Sheikh and Gharbiya also saw clashes between Brotherhood protesters and police as well as residents. In Gharbiya, four people were killed and 68 injured, according to state TV, while 21 people were arrested in clashes in front of the security directorate.Police also reportedly foiled an attempt to storm the place where Azhar Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb is said to be residing in Luxor, after gunfire was exchanged between both sides.  
Two churches were badly damaged in the Upper Egyptian town of Mallawi, in the Minya governorate. Islamists attacked an Evangelical church completely burning it out, while a nearby Catholic church also sustained significant damage.A museum in Mallawi, home to 1,089 antiquities, was attacked and looted on Wednesday. A total of 1,050 of those antiquities, according to Egyptologist Monica Hanna, were stolen. The 49 remaining pieces, too large to move and included sarcophagi, were badly damaged and burnt.
Many Western allies have condemned the way the government handles the protests and the killings, including the US, but Saudi Arabia threw its weight behind the Egyptian government on Friday, accusing the Muslim Brotherhood of trying to destabilise country.
Most international companies have halted their production and closed doors because of the unrest. Among them BP/Shell, General Motors, Electrolux, Suzuki, and Toyota.  

Friday, August 16, 2013

Joint Declaration Egyptian Rights Groups about events of 14 August

Nine Egyptian rights groups issued a declartation comdemning the actions of the government against the sit-ins in Cairo and the way the Muslim Brotherhood reacted to it. I quote:

Thursday 15 August 2013
The undersigned rights organizations condemn the use of excessive force yesterday by the security authorities when dispersing the sit-in by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and its supporters at Rabia al-Adawiya Square in the Cairo governorate and Nahda Square in Giza. The action left hundreds dead and thousands seriously injured, as well as dozens of bodies torched in still unexplained circumstances. We believe the security apparatus could have avoided this human tragedy if it had complied with international rules and standards for the dispersal of assemblies. Moreover, in the past weeks, the security authorities have failed to do their duty to take the necessary legal measures to protect public security and citizens, particularly residents and passersby in the aforementioned two areas, which in turn allowed weapons, ammunition, and fortifications to enter the sit-ins and led to killing, torture, and physical assaults on journalists with impunity.
That some participants in the sit-in, and it’s leaders committed criminal acts, were in possession of weapons, and engaged in violence does not give the security authorities a license to impose collective punishment and use excessive force when dispersing the sit-in, according to international standards for the right of peaceful assembly.. Moreover, decision makers, when choosing to use excessive force, did not show due consideration to containing retaliatory violence by the MB and its supporters, although retribution against Coptic Egyptians and public incitement to terrorism began several weeks ago. This raises additional concerns about the competence of political and security decision-making at this critical juncture, particularly regarding the consequences for human rights. Indeed, the policies and practices pursued by the authorities when faced with the two sit-ins, since the removal of President Morsy on July 3 and including the storming of the protests yesterday, represent an utter failure to apply the rule of law and respect citizens’ rights and the right to life and security, and an inability to comprehend the political repercussions of mismanaging this crisis over the last six weeks. As a result, largest number of people was killed in the shortest span of time in a political assembly since January 28, 2011, while people’s lives are now at risk in the coming months and years due to a potential increase in terrorist acts.
In response to the storming of the sit-ins, members and supporters of the MB terrorized citizens in the capital and other provinces and attempted to storm several government facilities and police stations, killing some officers. They also attacked churches in Upper Egypt and Sinai, destroying and torching several of them, and threatened Christian citizens with further physical violence in several cities. Although the undersigned organizations previously cautioned the MB against such deplorable conduct and asked it to stop its incitement against Christians, the group disregarded these pleas and showed no concern for the lives of citizens it claims to be legitimately empowered to govern.
The increased scope of these criminal acts indicate that the Muslim Brotherhood has decided to pursue political violence and terrorism for the time being; instead of engaging in self-criticism and recognizing its failure to maintain the trust of citizens who voted for it, the group seeks to spur the country toward a civil war, a possibility that first reared its head in November. In December, MB supporters killed their political opponents and tortured others, while Brotherhood leaders began fomenting anti-Christian sectarian incitement. The anti-Coptic incitement and threats continued unabated up to the demonstrations of June 30 and, with the removal of President Morsy on July 3, morphed into sectarian violence, which was sanctioned by the MB, both by their complicit silence and refusal to condemn these crimes and by the continued anti-Coptic rhetoric heard from the group’s leaders on the stage at Rabia al-Adawiya throughout the sit-in. Despite this, the security apparatus took no action to protect the lives of Christian citizens and their houses of worship, and therefore bear responsibility for failing to stop the violence.
The undersigned organizations fear that increased terrorism and the threat of civil war may lead the authorities to take further exceptional measures to protect citizens’ lives, but instead the state must immediately adopt a serious plan to contain the violence and restore the political process hijacked by security solutions in the capital and, before that, Sinai, where security has failed to protect even police stations and government facilities. Here we note that we reminded the new political authority after June 30 of the need to avoid the mistakes of previous governments that ignored demands for security and political reform.
We again urge members and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood to immediately cease violence and incitement to violence against Christian citizens and the group’s political opponents, denounce all MB leaders who incited to or practiced violence, accept the political outcome of the June 30 uprising, return to peaceful politics, and develop the group’s religious and political discourse. Finally, we renew our demands for independent investigations of the extrajudicial killing of citizens since July 3 and the prosecution of all those directly involved.
The undersigned groups also demand an accounting for the cause of the many deaths yesterday and the burning of dozens of corpses during the storming of the sit-in. We further ask for the investigation of MB leaders and supporters involved in incitement to religious hatred, violence, torture, killing, and attacks on journalists and the prosecution of any person involved in these crimes.
Signatory organizations

1.     Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.

2.     Arab Network for Human Rights Information.
3.     Arab Penal Reform Organization.
4.     Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression.
5.     Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights.
6.     Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
7.     Hesham Mubarak Law Center.
8.     Nazra for Feminist Studies.
9.     The Human Rights Association for the Assistance of the Prisoners.

Bomb in south of Beirut kills at least 22

Ruwais explosion Lebanese authorities are seriously considering the possibility a suicide bomber may have been behind the deadly car bombing a day earlier in the southern suburb of Beirut, caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said Friday. The other possibility, Charbel told the Voice of Lebanon radio station, is that the vehicle was detonated by remote control.

A car bomb ripped Thursday through the southern Beirut suburb of Ruwaiss, a stronghold of Hezbollah, causing many casualties and extensive damage in the area. Like a previous car bomb in the southern suburb of Bir al-Abed in July, Thursday’s attack is believed to be linked to crisis in neighboring Syria.
Charbel said the latest death toll stood at 22.Some seven people are still missing and there are about 300 wounded. Lebanese President, Michel Suleiman, called for a meeting for the Supreme Defense Council to be held at 10:30 am (Lebanese time) in the Presidential Palance in Baabda.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

State of emergency in Egypt after clearing Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins leads to massacre

 The scene at Rabbae al-Adawiya square (Photo Masa'ab el Shamy).

Updated. The Egyptian presidency has declared a state of emergency on Wednesday for the duration of a month, as well as a curfew from 7 in  the evening till 6 in the morning, as clashes intensified nationwide after the army earlier in the day came into action to clear the two sit ins of Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Cairo. The sit ins at the Rabbae al-Addawiya mosque and Nahda-Square near the university in Giza has been held for about a month in order to demand the reinstatement of president Mohammed Morsi.
Clashes erupted in a number of neighborhoods in Cairo and violence broke out around the country with numerous reports of attacks on churches in Upper Egypt, Suez as well as attacks on state buildings in Alexandria, Marsa Matrouh and elsewhere. There were reports the the church of the Virgin Mary in  Minya, dating back from the 4th century, was torched. The main Coptic church in Sohag was also attacked.
In Fayoum, southwest of Cairo, at least 26 people were killed in clashes with security forces.
In Minya province the number of dead was reported to be 41 people, including six policemen
 Hundreds of protesters blocked a main road in Upper Egypt's Assiut city after the pro-Morsi National Alliance for Supporting Legitimacy in the province called for protests at government offices there. Several protest marches got underway in Alexandria, intermittently blocking off main roads, according to Ahram's Arabic news website. Hundreds of pro-Morsi protesters blocked the main coastal road during the protests. Ahram Arabic also reported a demonstration in Upper Egypt's Aswan, where it said tens protested at the governorate offices, throwing stones in reaction to the attacks on the Cairo and Giza sit-ins. In Minya police vehicles were torched by angry protesters. In Luxor a hotel went up in fire.

Earlier in the day, the Central Bank of Egypt ordered all banks to close their branches at 12 pm while the trading on the stock market remained operational, incurring heavy losses. Also all train traffic had been brought to a halt.
Embedded image permalinkOne of the mortuary rooms in the hospital at Rabbae al-Adawiya Square (Photo Matthew Cassel)

 The Egyptian Interior ministry reported that the death toll stood (Thursday evening) at about 600 killed and more than 3500 people wounded nationwide. (The Muslim Brotherhood is talking about thousands killed). The Egyptian minister of the Interior, Mohamed Ibrahim, said at a press conference Wednesday night that also at least 43 members of the police were killed - 18 officers and 25 soldiers - and 211 injured. He added that 21 police stations were raided by supporters of the Brotherhood. Kerdasa police station in Giza was attacked using rocket-propelled grenades and two police officers were killed.
"Many protesters fired excessively from roof tops [at the Rabbae sit-in in Nasr City] on security forces," said Ibrahim, claiming that security forces "only used tear gas to disperse the protests." Ibrahim, who described pro-Morsi protesters as an "armed gang," said scores of weapons were confiscated during the dispersal, including grenades, guns and bullet-proof vests. He added that at least seven churches were destroyed or torched Wednesday by suspected Islamists. Also hundreds of peole were arrested. 
 Two journalists were killed in the violence at Rabbae al-Adawiya Square, the 26 year old  Habiba Ahmed Abdelaziz of Gulf News and Sky News camera man Mick Deane. Also the 17-year old daughter of one of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Beltagy, was killed. 
Vice president Mohammed AlBaradei resigned from his post. In his resignation letter he explained that he could not tajke responsiblity for one drop of spilled blood and that he from the beginning had been against (and had been warning against) taking action against the sit-ins of the Brotherhood supporters. Al-Ahram Online reports that Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Bahaa El-Din and Deputy Prime Misister Hossam Eissa are set to turn in their resignation as well.  
Needless to add to all this that this new bloodbath is bound to complicate matters further in Egypt. Once more the army has proven that it is totally incapable of dealing with opposition in an humane and orderly way. At the other hand the Muslim Brotherhood crossed all lines by attacking shops, churches and other property belonging to Christians (the identify Christians as allies of the West) and by attacking property like municipal offices or, as was also reported, the Alexandria library. How can this ever be reconciled?? Egypt is really in deep trouble.     

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Just before 'peace talks' Israel announces for 3rd time in a week building plans in occupied territory

Israel's Interior Ministry gave final approval on Monday to a plan to build 942 new apartments in Gilo, a settlement neighborhood beyond the Green Line in southern Jerusalem, just one day before Palestinian leadership is slated to make a final decision on whether to attend Wednesday’s scheduled negotiating session.
It was the third time in a week just before the restart of the peace negotiations that Israel made public large new building plans in occupied territory. The timing, this shortly before the restart of the negotiations with the Palestinians, cannot be a coincidence, one is led to think. On Sunday the Israeli  Housing Ministry announced plans to publish tenders for 394 housing units in the West Bank settlements of  Ariël, Beitar Illit and Efrat, plus 793 in East Jerusalem, including an additional 400 in Gilo. Last  Thursday the military administration of the West Bank gave the green light for almost 1.100 new houses in several settlements, including a settlement 'outpost', Nahlei Tal, that thereby de facto was 'legalized'.   . 
The last announcement is bound to put the peace negotiations between Palestinians and Israel, that are to begin on Wednesday in Jerusalem, further in jeopardy. On Monday Palestinian President Abbas consulted with senior Palestinian Authority officials on how to respond to the announcement Israel made on Sunday, issuing new tenders for construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Haaretz reports that Palestinian sources said Abbas also discussed the issue with Martin Indyk, America’s special envoy for the talks, as well as other Western diplomats, including German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, with whom he met in Ramallah. A senior Palestinian official said the dominant view among the Palestinian leadership is that there’s no place for resuming negotiations with Israel in light of the continued construction in the settlements. Abbas, however, on Monday seemed still determined to go on with the talks.

The plan approved by the Interior Ministry on Monday, known as Gilo – Southern Slopes, is one of the largest building plans Jerusalem has seen recently. It won final approval from the regional planning and building committee in December, but the developers then sought to make several changes in the plan. About a month ago, ministry planning officials approved the revised plan, and on Monday, the ministry finally signed off on it and allowed it to be published.According to Haaretz it pushes the boundary of the city (which was illegally fixed by Israel in 1968) further south, towards the Palestinians community of Beit Jala.  
Sources within the regional planning committee said the long lapse between the panel’s approval of the plan in December and the ministry’s final approval on Monday was due to pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office, which sought to delay the plan for fear of diplomatic pressure on Israel.


Monday, August 12, 2013

'More than 165 Egyptians killed in one month because of failure of security forces to act'

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) reports:
 The EIPR today asked the public prosecutor to open an independent, urgent investigation into the failure of the security forces to assume their legal duty to secure demonstrations and protect the lives of demonstrators and others. This had led to the death and injury of hundreds of citizens in civil clashes or armed attacks targeting demonstrators, journalists and residents or others who happen to be present during clashes.
 According to a preliminary count by the EIPR, more than 165 people were killed and hundreds more injured in political violence from 27 June to the end of July in 16 governorates: Cairo, Giza, Qalyoubiya, Alexandria, Daqahliya, Sharqiya, Assyout, Fayyoum, Beni Soueif, Kafr Sheikh, Ismailiya, Minya, Suez, Beheira, Port Said and Gharbiya. (These numbers do not include the casualties of clashes and attacks by police and army forces, like at the Republican Guard Club on 8 July or al-Nasr Street on 26 July).
In all incidents of political violence over the past weeks—whether armed attacks on local residents by demonstrators, violent clashes between supporters and opponents of the deposed president or assaults by criminal elements on peaceful demonstrations—testimony from the injured, survivors and eyewitnesses consistently says that police forces vanish during the attacks, arrive hours after the outbreak of violence and the first deaths or are present near the scene of the crime but take no action to protect lives, stop the violence and arrest armed elements.”
 EIPR researcher Karim Ennarah said. Under Article 3 of the police law, security forces are legally responsible for preserving public order, security and morals and protecting lives, honor and property, in particular preventing crimes and apprehending offenders. Security forces must also uphold the peace and security of citizens in all cases and carry out their duties as prescribed by law.  Ennarah added, “Despite the security forces’ bloody record of confronting peaceful demonstrators and protecting property with excessive force, they fail to intervene to protect the lives of citizens and demonstrators when such intervention is legal and necessary to save lives and prevent crimes.”

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Sectarian clashes near Egyptian city of Beni Sueif

Mada Masr reports:
Clashes erupted between Muslim and Christian residents in a village near the upper Egyptian city of Beni Suef, the privately-owned Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper reported on Sunday
The clashes started when a Christian woman tried to build an artificial road bump in front of her house in the Diabiya village in Beni Suef, which angered her Muslim neighbor, the newspaper reported. The fight between the two women extended to the two families, the paper continued, citing Ibrahim Hadeeb, head of the Beni Suef Security Directorate. 
The fighting led a group of men to burn the facade of a church in the village and to burn four houses belonging to Christian families, the newspaper reported. 
The privately-owned Sada al-Balad website reported that the fighting started on Saturday and renewed on Sunday when a man stopped near the bump and started insulting the Christian family. 
Upper Egypt has seen several incidents of sectarian violence in the last month, particularly after the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi by the military on July 3, a move which angered his Islamist supporters across the country. 
In the Upper Egyptian city of Minya, hundreds of Christians and Muslims clashed for days in several villages last week following what started off as a verbal altercation between a Christian and a Muslim man. 
Sectarian violence has also been experienced elsewhere, notably in Cairo and Sinai, in recent weeks. 
Last week, 16 human rights organizations expressed their concern in a statement over the violent targeting of Christians and their churches since June 30
The statement called on the state to pursue its responsibility of protecting Christian citizens. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Explosion kills five militants in Sinai, Egypt denies it was an Israeli drone

Egyptian troops in Sinai
Egyptian tank in El Arish, North Sinai. (Getty)

An explosion destroyed a rocket launcher set up near the border to launch attacks against Israel on Friday  and at least five Islamic militants were killed, Egypt's official MENA news agency reported. Residents of south Rafah at Egypt's border said they heard the sound of a loud explosion on Friaday afternoon, coming from the Ajraa area some three kilometers south of Rafah. Egyptian helicopters were seen flying over the area during and after the blast.
Egypt's military spokesman Ahmed Ali denied reports of an Israeli drone attack on Egyptian soil. He also denied reports of  Egyptian-Israeli coordination, requesting media to verify their  information before publishing.In a statement on his official Facebook page he said thet was still in the process of examining the area around the explosions and collecting evidence. Earlier reports by AP quoted two senior Egyptian officials stating that Israel fired a missile into the northern Sinai Peninsula, killing five suspected Islamic militants and destroying a rocket launcher. An  Israeli army spokeswoman declined to comment,  according to Reuters.
On Thursday, the Israeli military ordered the cancellation of all flights in and out of the Red Sea resort of Eilat for a brief period following a security assessment. Last month, Israel deployed a battery of its Iron Dome missile defence system near Eilat, which abuts the border with Egypt's troubled Sinai Peninsula, AFP reported.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Argentinian prosecution based indictment of Iran for 1994 bombing on claims of Mujaheddin e Khalq

IPS's Garthe Porter with some (very interesting) news on Iran's cupability for the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires:

Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman based his 2006 warrant for the arrest of top Iranian officials in the bombing of a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires in 1994 on the claims of representatives of the
armed Iranian opposition Mujahedin E Khalq (MEK), the full text of the document reveals.
The central piece of evidence cited in Nisman’s original 900-page arrest warrant against seven senior Iranian leaders is an alleged Aug. 14, 1993 meeting of top Iranian leaders, including both Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and then president Hashemi Rafsanjani, at which Nisman claims the official decision was made to go ahead with the planning of the bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA).

But the document, recently available in English for the first time, shows that his only sources for the claim were representatives of the MEK or People’s Mujahideen of Iran. The MEK has an unsavoury history of terrorist bombings against civilian targets in Iran, as well as of serving as an Iraq-based mercenary army for Saddam Hussein’s forces during the Iran-Iraq War.
The organisation was removed from the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorist groups last year after a campaign by prominent former U.S. officials who had gotten large payments from pro-MEK groups and individuals to call for its “delisting”.
Nisman’s rambling and repetitious report cites statements by four members of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which is the political arm of the MEK, as the sources for the charge that Iran decided on the AMIA bombing in August 1993.

(For the rest of the article click here).

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Israel in a show of its peaceful intentions, is building 1096 new houses in the settlements

Kochav Yaakov: 38 new houses retroactively approved.

The higher planning committee of Israel's Civil Administration (the misleading name for the military administration of the occupied West Bank) met yesterday (7-8-13) to discuss the promotion of 1096 housing units, divided into 21 plans inside 11 settlements, the NGO Peace Now  reports. The newspaper Haaretz tells us that that planning was temporarily frozen due to the efforts of the US Secretary of State Kerry to get Israel and the Palestinians at the table again. But apparently, now that Kerry succeeded, it is again business as usual.

Peace Now reports that the plans also include 'the legalization of an outpost'(i.e. a settlement that even under Israeli law was illegal).  The outpost in question is Nahlei Tal, established in 2012) ( and first reported by Peace Now ). The plan for Nahlei Tal includes 225 housing units. Currently there are merely a half dozen illegal mobile homes. This is a massive expansion of this illegal outpost, de-facto creating yet another new settlement. (The Israeli government did something similar in April 2012 concerning the illegal outposts Bruchin, Sansana and Rechalim).
Peace Now calls the location of the 1096 plans 'alarming', as only one of the settlements that is on the list to receive additional units is inside the separation barrier (which means that it falls in the terms for 'a land swap' during talks with the Palestinians). Seven others are east of the barrier and three are within the planned route of the barrier.
The settlement of Shiloh gets 95 new residential units on a site in a southern neighborhood that now holds chicken coops. The settlement Talmon gets 304 new houses in northern neighborhood of Zayit Raanan, some of which are retroactively approved. There are about 30 buildings in that neighborhood at present, only 10 of them legally constructed. In Kokhav Yaakov a plan for 38 residential units was retroactively approved, and on Kibbutz Gilgal in the Jordan Valley another 78 units have been added to the 156 already in place. In Almog, which is near the Dead Sea, 31 units were approved, and in Alon Shvut in Gush Etzion a plan for 60 units was advanced.  Several of these plans were intended to be discussed last month, at the previous meeting of the HPC, (17-7-13). However, press coverage of these plans and the HPC's agenda for the meeting, pushed the HPC to remove these plans from the agenda. The plans formerly removed but, promoted yesterday are for 234 units in Gilgal, 38 in Kochav Yaakov, 31 in Almog and 17 in Shilo.
 Of the 1096 housing units, 949 were discussed for depositing and 147 for validation.   


(Photo PalToday)

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Egyptian troops ''apprehended 227 people in Sinai and closed 102 Gaza-tunnels''

The Egyptian security forces in the Sinai have in the period 5 July to 4 August apprehended 227 individuals, army spokesman Ahmed Ali has reported in a statement on his Facebook page. Hundred three of these, from across Sinai, were held and are are currently being interrogated; from 124 others 60 were killed in clashes and 64 were injured.
Sinai suffered security problems since Hosni Mubarak's regime was toppled in January 2011. The situation escalated with the ouster of  the islamist president Mohamed Morsi on 3 July. Militants attacked police and security forces on a daily basis in response to Morsi's overthrow.
Spokesman Ahmed Ali also announced that 102 tunnels between Egypt and the Gaza Strip have been destroyed. According to the statement, the tunnels were used as 'an entry point by terrorists', as well as for smuggling weapons, drugs and cars, among others things. Also 40 petroleum tanks containing 2.7 million litres of gas and diesel, intended to be smuggled into Gaza, have been destroyed. according to Ali.  The armed forces destroyed four houses as well. that reportedly sheltered terrorists. Some 38 cars have been seized by authorities. The UN warned in late July in a statement that the crackdown on the tunnels, which were also used to bring in basic necessities, is worsening "the already difficult economic and humanitarian conditions in Gaza''.
On Wednesday a Mubarak-era parliamentarian was murdered by unknown assailants in Sinai. Abdel Hamid Silmi, 58, was killed by bullets fired from a moving car as he left a mosque early Wednesday after dawn prayers. Members of Silmi's prominent Fawakhreya tribe gathered at Al-Arish General Hospital, where Silmi was moved following the shooting.

Tunisia: thousands demonstrate, Constituent Assemblee suspended

Protest in Tunis, 6 AugustTens of thousands of people poured onto the streets of the Tunisian capital to demand the resignation of the government as the political crisis in Tunisia deepened. The country has been wracked by political unrest since the July 25 murder of opposition lawmaker Mohamed Brahmi and Tuesday's protests marked the biggest anti-government demonstration since the assassination. A police official estimated that 40,000 people crowded the streets of Tunis to call for the government led by the moderate Islamic movement Ennahda to step down. Opposition leaders put the figure at 100,000-200,000.
 Brahmi's murder, as well as that of another opposition politician, Chokri Belaid, have been blamed on radical Islamists, with the Ennahda-led cabinet criticised for not doing enough to prevent them. The demonstration attracted a mixed bag of opposition parties, ranging from extreme left to centre-right, and was timed to mark six months since Belaid was gunned down outside his home. Protesters carried pictures of both Belaid and Brahmi and shouted slogans such as "The people want the regime to fall" and "The government will end today". The march passed off peacefully.
Also on Tuesday, the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) -- a body elected in 2011 to forge consensus on drafting a new constitution -- was suspended. Assembly speaker Mustapha Ben Jaafar said the ANC's work would be halted until the government and opposition opened negotiations to break the deadlock "in the service of Tunisia". Brahmi's killing had already prompted several opposition members to boycott the ANC and its suspension was a key demand of the protesters on the street. The stalemate showed no sign of ending, however, with the opposition refusing to hold talks with the government until it steps down and Ennahda ruling out any dialogue conditional on its ouster.  Since the ANC was elected in October 2011, political leaders have failed to find a consensus on a new constitution following a revolution that ousted longtime president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. The suspension of the assembly's work throws into question Prime Minister Ali Larayedh's target of the ANC adopting a new constitution and electoral law by October 23 ahead of a December 17 election. Larayedh has refused to quit, offering instead to broaden the coalition.

Ennahda chief Rached Ghannouchi, quoted in La Presse newspaper on Tuesday, said the government will not step down under pressure from the street, while Larayedh charged that demonstrators were hampering efforts by security forces to root out gunmen linked to Al-Qaeda. "There are excessive demands at protests for the dissolution of the elected government," Ghannouchi told La Presse. "In democratic regimes, protests don't change governments. It's under dictatorial regimes that a demonstration is able to topple a regime."
Earlier Tuesday, before its work was suspended, the ANC had gathered to discuss the "terrorist crisis" as security forces pressed on with a vast operation to hunt down militants holed up in the rugged Mount Chaambi region near the Algerian border. Speaking to the assembly, Larayedh had harsh words for the demonstrators, saying their activities meant security forces "are obliged to be in the streets when they should be participating in the battle against terrorism". Defence Minister Rachid Sabbagh told the ANC that the armies of Tunisia and Algeria would "reinforce their cooperation, particularly to arrest the Chaambi terrorists.".

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Ahmed Maher warns about the present political climate in Egypt

 Ahmed Maher, one of the founders of the Egyptian 6 April Movement wrote an OpEd in the Washington Post:
Our support for the transitional road map to new elections was predicated on the military’s pledge that it would not interfere in Egypt’s political life. The expanding role of the military in the political process that we are nonetheless witnessing is disconcerting.
The escalation in hateful rhetoric in the media against the Muslim Brotherhood and liberals also concerns me a great deal. Rhetoric that encourages the extermination of a whole political faction or calls for imprisonment of its members, regardless of their views, is wholly unacceptable. We refused to treat members of Mubarak’s regime this way after they were ousted from power. How can we support such treatment of the Brotherhood now?
No one can defend the mistakes committed by Morsi or the Brotherhood. But is it not my right to question, with great concern, the deaths of more than 100 Morsi supporters, many of them by bullets to the head and chest?
Despite my support for the June 30 revolutionary wave, and despite the fact that it was a people’s movement before it was a military intervention, I now see much to fear. I fear the insurrection against the principles of the Jan. 25 revolution, the continued trampling of human rights and the expansion of restrictive measures in the name of the war on terror — lest any opponent of the authorities be branded a terrorist.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Tunisia: mass demonstrations and military action against 'terrorists'

Tunisian security forces operating near Chaambi Mountain, June 2012. Image courtesy Maghrebia via Wikimedia Commons
Tunisian troops in action near the Chaambi mountains.

Tunisia is facing a what may be the deepest crisis since the toppling of former president Ben Ali, two years ago.The opposition has accused the ruling party Ennahda, which is the main party in the leading coalition,  of being linked to or tolerating Islamist militant attacks.Demonstrations swept Tunisia after the assassination of Mohamed Brahmi, a member of the Arab nationalist Popular Front party, on July 25, a killing that followed the assassination of party leader Chokri Belaid in February.Ennahda has denied the accusations. Tens of thousands of Tunisians came out in a show of force for the ruling Ennahda party on Saturday. "No to coups, yes to elections!" they shouted, in one of the biggest demonstrations since the 2011 revolt.The opposition pledged to rally even more supporters in its own demonstrations. It held rallies on Sunday and it is planning a mass protest on Wednesday to mark the six-month anniversary of Belaid's assassination.
Prime Minister Ali Larayedh told journalists on Sunday a man suspected of ties to the Belaid assassination was captured by security forces. He called on militants being hunted by security forces to turn themselves in. There is no future in terrorism," he said, speaking outside the Interior Ministry, where he had been meeting officials.
Reuters reported that two soldiers were killed in a blast near the Algerian border on Sunday. This happened after the Tunisian army started early on Friday air and artillery strikes in the Mount Chaambi area, where on Monday eight soldiers had been killed in an ambush. The bombing will continue until all fighters are driven from the area, Ministry of Defense spokesperson Tawfik Rahmouni said in an interview Friday with the radio station Mosaique FM. He said that the military was assisted in its operations by Algerian intelligence. State Tataouin radio and other local media reported on Sunday that Tunisian forces had killed 10 militants in Chaambi and arrested three others. I
Also on Friday morning, the Anti-Terrorism Unit, a specialized division of the Tunisian police, arrested twelve “religious extremists” inside the Ettawba mosque in Kasserine, according to Mosaique FM.
In the capital Tunis, Interior Ministry official Lotfi Hidouri said police raided a house where militants were hiding weapons in the Kabaria district. "The police killed a terrorist and arrested five others," he said. Witnesses said police also arrested several hardline Salafists suspected of ties to militant groups in the town of Sbitla, north of the capital. One witness said dozens of Salafists then gathered at the police headquarters in Sbitla to protest against the arrests and that the police fired in the air to disperse them.

Israeli cabinet puts some 20 settlements on list of communities that will receive extra benefits

 A picture taken on April 24, 2012 shows the Jewish outpost of Bruchin, near the West Bank city of Nablus
 The recently 'legalized' settlement of Bruchin near Nablus was one of the places that is to receive exta benefits.  

The Israeli cabinet on Sunday approved a new map of national priority areas, which includes an additional 20 West Bank settlements and communities inhabited by former Gaza settlers.The list of national priority areas features hundreds of towns and villages that are entitled to government benefits in housing, infrastructure, education, culture and security. The list was last updated in 2009 to include dozens new West Bank settlements.
Fifteen out of 20 communities to receive national priority status are strongholds of Habayit Hayehudi, one of the coalition partners and the party of minister of Economy aftali Bennett. Conversely, two orthodox  communities have been removed from the list. The Israeli government denies, however, that the decision is politically motivated, it claims that the reason for including settlements on the list has to do with security.
Four ministers abstained in Sunday's vote, including Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz of the Tenuah party. They blamed the government for promoting a partisan agenda at the expense of a national one."It is unacceptable that [northern Negev towns] Kiryat Gat and Kiryat Malachi are not on the list due to so-called proximity to the center, despite their difficult socioeconomic state, and at the same time include remote settlements, that were until recently illegal outposts, under the guise of 'security needs,'" Peretz said.
Some of the newly prioritized communities are outside the large settlement blocs, like Eshkolot and Negohot in the southern Hebron Hills. Other settlements on the list include Rehelim, Sansana and Bruchin, which were considered illegal outposts until several months ago, but were legalized by the cabinet before the last elections. Other settlements on the list are the West Bank settlements of Nofim, Geva Binyamin, Ma’aleh Michmash and Elon Moreh.
Several communities populated by former Gaza Strip settlers, who were evacuated from their communities in 2005, were also added to the list. These are Be’er Ganim, Bnei Dekalim, Ganei Tal, Netzer Hazani and Nitzan.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Moroccans protest against royal pardon for convicted pedophile

(Update: Morocco's king on Sunday revoked his pardon of a Spanish pedophile, after hundreds rioted in front of parliament on Friday to protest the decision. A statement from the palace carried by the state news agency on Sunday said the king revoked the pardon, taking into consideration the gravity of the crimes committed. The pedophile, Daniel Vino Galvan, was later arrested in Spain. A spokesman for Spain's Interior ministry said he was arrested by police in Murcia in south-eastern Spain on Monday.  Galvan, who once worked at the University of Murcia, will be taken to Madrid where he will be brought before Spain's top criminal court, the National Audience, which will decide his fate, the spokesman added. The news came as King Mohamed VI of Morocco announced that the country’s director of prisons has been sacked after an inquiry blamed his department for Galvan’s release).

Riot police broke up a protest by hundreds of Moroccan demonstrators late on Friday against a royal pardon for a Spanish pedophile serving a 30-year sentence for raping and filming children as young as 4.
In running clashes with the demonstrators, baton-wielding police prevented them from gathering in front of the Moroccan parliament in the centre of the capital Rabat, injuring several people including journalists.
The convicted pedophile is among 48 jailed Spaniards who were pardoned by King Mohamed VI on Tuesday at the request of Spain's King Juan Carlos, who visited Morocco last month.The demonstration followed an online campaign by outraged activists. Protests were also reported in several other cities in Morocco. Protesters demanded that the royal pardon be revoked and the Spaniard be brought back to jail. The government said the man had been expelled to Spain.
Hamid Krayri, a lawyer for families of the victims, named the pedophile as Daniel Vino Galvan and said he had been convicted 18 months ago by criminal courts in Kenitra, near Rabat, of raping and filming children aged between 4 and 15. "He is a retired Spaniard who owns two flats here in Kenitra," Krayri, who is a member of Morocco's Human Rights Association, told Reuters. He said he had filed a complaint against Galvan three years ago when activists showed him discs containing footage of the Spaniard and his victims.
The royal palace made no immediate comment, but the Justice Ministry said in a statement on Friday that the pardon had been issued based on Morocco's national interests under the friendly relations between the two countries."That person is banned in Morocco's territory, he cannot return," Justice Minister Mustapha Ramid told Reuters on Thursday.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Bahraini parliament 'legalizes human rights violations'

The Bahraini parliament

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights is concerned about what it calls actions of the he Bahraini authorities’ ''to legalize human rights violations and the crackdown on activists and protesters in anticipation of “Bahrain Tamarod” on August 14th.
On Sunday 28 July, 2013, the National Assembly held a special session during which 22 recommendations were agreed upon which  restrict freedoms of expression and assembly.  They were issued in just 20 minutes of the ending of the session, which gave the impression that they had been previously prepared. Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa as head of the ruling family, readily accepted all recommendations and called for them to be promptly implemented (read more here http://bahrainrights.org/en/node/6263).
(See below for the complete list of 22 recommendations).
In less than 72 hours since the recommendations were made, on 2 July,  two royal decrees were issued to amend laws on the Protection of Society against Acts of Terror and Charity Fundraising regulations. The amendments on laws of protection from terror acts have provisioned harsher punishment of up to 15 years’ imprisonment, the death penalty or life, or revocation of citizenship according to the Terrorism Law.

During the extraordinary session held here today in line with Royal Order 33 for this year issued by His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa on July 25, members of the National Assembly agreed on the following recommendations:
1. Issuance of Decree Laws during parliament's summer recess in order to toughen penalties in the terrorism law and, if necessary, to implement such recommendations, in order to face any event requiring expediting the adoption of measures that brook no delay, and need swift actions to protect national security and stability, in line with Article 38 of the Kingdom’s Constitution.
2. Revoking the citizenship of those who carry out terrorist crimes and their instigators.
3. Inflicting tough penalties on those who incite all forms of violence and terrorism.
4. Inflicting severe punishment on all kinds and forms of violence and terror crimes.
5. Drying up all sources of terrorist financing.

6. Banning sit-ins, rallies and gatherings in the capital Manama.
 7. Taking all necessary measures, including the declaration of the State of National Safety, to impose civic security and peace whenever law is violated, the security of the citizens is compromised and private and public property is under threat.
 8. Taking legal actions against some political associations which incite and support acts of violence and terrorism.
 9. Amending Law 58 of 2006 with respect to protection of the community of against terrorist acts so as to inflict punishment on those who instigate and support terrorism.  
10. Granting the security bodies all required and appropriate powers to protect society from terror incidents and prevent spreading them.
11. Requesting Ambassadors to Bahrain not to interfere in the kingdom’s domestic affairs, in line with International Law and regulations.
12. Toughening penalties on those who involve children and exploit them in acts of terrorism and vandalism of private or public facilities.
13. Total commitment to applying all punitive laws related to combating violence and terrorism. 
14. Adherence to a balanced moderate discourse in order to preserve the social fabric of the Bahraini society.
15. Direct relevant state bodies to activate the necessary legal action against those who use social networks in an illegal way, and toughening penalties against those who use those networks to disseminate false information to foreign sides which plot against the country’s security and stability.  
16. Basic liberties, particularly freedom of opinion, should be affected so as to strike a balance between law enforcement and human rights protection.
17. Examination of the educational policies of the kingdom and review and change educational curricular in a way that protects society from violence and terrorist actions and improves the behavior of students.
18. Using the media to shed light on the dangers of terrorism and its negative impacts on national stability and economy.  
19. Backing the loyal efforts of HM the King to encourage national dialogue and push it forward, as serious national dialogue is the best means to resolve all issues and maintain national cohesion.
20. Those involved in terrorist acts shall not be covered by Royal pardon on crimes.
21. Devising an integrated national security strategy in order to be able to face all developments and supporting the efforts of those in charge of it and ensuring their protection.
22. Launching programmes to rehabilitate youths who were exploited in various crimes.