Friday, December 31, 2010

Tunisia: Day 15

Today: Lawyers demonstrate in Sfax. And in Tunis where they were assaulted by the police.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Tunisians continue their protest

(Updated) According to the blogging and twittering community the Tunesian authorities have succeeded to block Facebook in Tunisia and many other entries that hithterto functioned. That is the main reason that news of the uprising in Tunisia was rather fragmentarian on Thursday, if not absent from most media and sites.
One of the few sites that is still functioning (but not within Tunisia) is Nawaat de Tunisie. It produced some video's, three of which I copied here, as a kind of proof that the protests are continuing. The first is from a demonstration in Feriana, in the West of the country, it ends with the police shooting with live ammunition:

فيديو: مشاهد من عملية حرق مقر معتمدية فريانه #sidibouzid ((tagL video, sidi bouzid, feryana from tunisians on Vimeo.

The second is a protest in the northern Jendouba governorate:

The third is from Mahdia, where the people were chanting that they want work, freedom, dignity and patriotism. 

Nawaat also gave information. One protester, Chawki ben Lakhdar ben Houssine (44) died in hospital in Sfax. He had been hit several days ago by live ammunition at his spinal cord during a demonstration in Menzel Bouzaiène.  Thurday there were demonstrations at the URT, regional trade union headquarters in Sidi Bouzid. In Jebiniani a demonstration was interrupted by the police. A number of protesters was wounded, two of them seriously.  The same happened to a protest in Monastir. In Sousse a manifestation of lawyers was repressed. Some of the lawyers were wounded, some telephones were taken from them. There were also protests in Mehdia, Djerba , in Makhtar in the Siliana governorate and a protest that was announced on Facebook in Bab Jazira was prohibited by the police.

President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali sacked the governor of the region of Sidi Bouzid where the protests had begun. Mourad Ben Jalloul was dismissed on Thursday, as Ben Ali's government struggles to respond to the political crisis the protests have provoked. Three ministers and two governors have now been removed for reasons relating to the popular uprising, including Oussama Romdhani, the communications minister.

The protests are, it appears, still widespread and continuing. That is - when taking into account the amount of  repression under this dictatorial regime  - an event of immense importance, with possibly a huge impact on neighbouring countries  that hardly know more freedom. Some compare the events with Romania before the fall of Ceausescu and maybe that is no exaggeration. But that been said, it is important to give the protests the attention they deserve. The Tunisian people fight against a government that is seen as an ally of the West and a champion of free enteprise. Therefor they can't count on too much help. They need our attention and support.

Two killed in Baghdad in attacks targeting Christians

At least two Christians were killed and 12 people wounded in a string of six attacks on Christian homes in Baghdad on Thursday. The worst attack was in the central Baghdad district of Al-Ghadir, an area with a significant Christian population. A homemade bomb exploded around 8 in tnhe evening killing the two Christians and wounding three others, including one Christian.
The attacks started at 7:30 pm in six different parts of the capital. Nine Christians were injured.
The Christian community in Baghdad is still in a very gloomy mood after the massacre at the Baghdad cathedral Our Lady of Salvation on October 31. In the attack which was blamed on Al-Qaeda, 44 worshippers and two priests died.
The attack was later claimed by Al-Qaeda affiliate the Islamic State of Iraq, which threatened further attacks on Christians. Ten days later a string of attacks targeted the homes of Christians in Baghdad, killing six people and wounding 33 others.
(Picture: the attack on Our Lady of Salvation cathedral was not the first time a chruch was attacked. On 8 November 2004 two churches were blown up on one day, killing eihht people. On the photo one of them: the Orthodox Church in the Doura neighbourhood. the other one was St Georges Church, a catholic one).  

Fatah strongman Dahlan suspended from leadership

Muhammad Dahlan the former Fatah strongman who is rumoured to be out of favour with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), has been suspended from the Palestinian political leadership, following a meeting of Fatah's Central Committee chaired by Abbas on Tuesday.
Dahlan was banned from attending faction meetings, Ma'an News  reported, saying that he was being investigated by Fatah's highest decision-making body.One of the things the commission of inquiry is looking into is allegations that he attempted to establish a personal militia in order to stage a coup against the PA.
Prior to the ban, Abbas had ordered security guards to be removed from Dahlan's office and house in the West Bank city of Ramallah.In addition to suspending him, Dahlan was also relieved of of his role of overseeing Fatah's communications.

Iranian justice: an eye for an eye

Al Jazeera Engish today brings a story of a  rather disturbing Iranian court ruling. It says that that a man must  lose his eye and part of an ear after he blinded and burnt an ear of another man in an acid attack The man, who was only identified as Hamid, had been convicted of throwing acid on the victim, named as Davoud, Al-Jazeera says, quoting the hardline newspaper Kayhan of Wednesday.
According tt the story the judge also ordered Hamid to pay blood-money to Davoud, who was 22 at the time of the attack. The ruling it says was issued under the Islamic Republic's eye-for-an-eye justice code. Hamid told the court he had mistaken Davoud for a classmate who had bullied him in hfigh school, saying that even after moving, he remained tormented by the memory of the bullying.
The report, quoting other sources, including Iran's Fars news agency, did not say whether the authorities would, in fact, carry out the  punishment by using acid or via surgery.
Several acid attacks have been reported in Iran in the past few years. In November, the supreme court upheld a sentence of blinding with acid against a man only named as Mojtaba, who blinded his lover's husband in the holy city of Qom. In February 2009, Majid Movahedi was sentenced to be blinded in both eyes for having hurled acid in the face of a university classmate, Ameneh Bahrami, who refused his marriage proposal. There has been no reported confirmation that the sentences were carried out.
Various interpretations of the (originally) Babylonian law that specifies an eye-for-an-eye - a tenet under the Islamic Sharia code - exist in the region, often in cases involving less severe recompense. Judaic and Christian laws also hold similar tenets.
However, the limits of the law are sometimes tested, as in one case in Saudi Arabia in August, when a court investigated whether severing the spinal cord of a man found guilty of paralysing a man he attacked with a cleaver would, in fact, kill him.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tunisia: Ben Ali issues warning on tv, protests continue

Several hundred lawyers staged a demonstration in the capital Tunis on Tuesday calling, among other things,  for an abolishment of the 'dictatorship'. Two of them were arrested and molested, but they were set free on Wednesday. The protest followed a similar protest, one day earlier, of lawyers in Sidi Bouzid, the capital of the region where the unrest started on 17 December.

The Tunisian president Zine al Abedin Ben Ali held a televised adress to the nation Tueday evening in which he  expressed understanding for the plight of some people who can't find jobs, but in which he at the same time warned that the police will use all means possible to quell the unrest.
'It is not acceptable that a minority of extremists and agitators in the pay of others, and against the country’s interests, resort to violence and street disturbances as means of expression, whatever their form is in a State of law like ours, Ben Ali said. 'This is a negative and anti-civil behaviour that presents a distorted image of our country and impedes the flow of investors and tourists which impacts negatively on job creation, while we need them to curb joblessness. Law will be enforced rigorously against these people.'
The president also resorted to the well kinown tactics of balming outside powers and  'some foreign television channels which broadcast false and unchecked allegations and rely on dramatisation, fabrication and defamation'. The weakest part of his speech however were his remarks that ''the State will strive to find solutions likely to meet job applications which will carry on increasing in the coming years, as it will act in the meantime to further increase wages and household incomes and, in general, improve living standards of all Tunisians,' without offering any concrete solution.
A hilarious moment occurred when in the middle of his speech of seven minutes the telephone on his desk rang. The president did not answer and continued, only slightly distracted. But the incident led to a  many jokes and questions about who the hell might hav tried to reach him. One of his worried collegues from other dictatorial governed Arab countries who wanted to tell him to stand firm in order not to trigger any possible domino effect? Ben Ali's performance, in any case, was hardly convincing and therefor merely  served to underline the fact that the situation in Tunisia is, indeed, serious.
The president on Tuesday also payed a visit to the parents of Hassan Ben Salah Neji, the young man who electrocuted himself, and Mohamed Ammari, the 18-year old boy who was killed during the demonstration on Friday. On the same day he vsisited the hospital where Mohammed Bouazizi is taken care of, the fruit seller who set fire to himself, thereby  triggering the unrest in Sidi Bouzid. It resulated in the following rather strange picture of the president meeting a mummy.
Earlier the same day police in Gafsa blocked the way for a large protest demonstration, according to various sources. In Tunis some 300 laywers held aa protest demostration (picture on top) and also there was a demonstration in front of the ministry of education by the high school trade union. The authorities blocked the release of two opposition parties' papers, "Tareeq al-Jadid" and "al-Mawqif".
"They were censored because they wrote about the protests of Sidi Bouzid this week," blogger Lisa Ben Mhenni told Al Jazeera.

Update:As proof that violent clashes continue,watch this video taken this morning in Ferayna.

The site Nawaat de Tunisie published on Tuesday a map (see under) of places where protests had taken place or where taking place which showed that the unrest was nationwide. There was no way to verify this from other sources. 

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Iran hangs member of Mujahedin and man convicted of spying for the Mossad

Iran has executed a member of the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO) terrorist group and a man convicted of spying for Israeli intelligence service, Mossad.
Ali Saremi, a member of the MKO terrorist group, had been found guilty of charges of being a Mohareb (an enemy of God) and spreading propaganda against the Islamic establishment. He was hanged in the Iranian capital, Tehran, on Tuesday, IRNA quoted the Tehran Prosecutor's Office as saying. He was arrested in 2007 on charges of engaging in activities and taking part in events and establishments against the Islamic Revolution, as well as dispatching reports to the terrorist cell. Agents had also seized a number of CD's, films, photos and hand-written documents of the terrorist group from Saremi's house.

Ali Akbar Siyadat was also executed in Tehran on the same day after he was sentenced to death for working as a spy for Israeli intelligence agency since 2004. He had received 60,000 dollars to transfer classified information to the Israeli regime. Siyadat was arrested in 2008 while trying to leave Iran along with his wife.
The spy had confessed to his links with foreigners while trying to conduct trade activities before establishing contacts with one Israeli embassy overseas.
He also acknowledged his role in passing information about an Iranian military base to enemies. He had received a laptop computer and other equipment from his handlers three years ago to carry out his spying activities. Siyadat had admitted to meeting Israeli intelligence agents in public places such as hotels in Turkey, Thailand and the Netherlands. He also acknowledged receiving 3,000-7,000 dollars for submitting information about the number of Iranian operational planes, daily training and operational flights from different bases, the number of air accidents and their causes, as well as system information on different aircraft and missiles belonging to the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC).

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Unrest continues across Tunisia, Wikileaks gives insight in the reasons

(Protest in the Tunisian capital Tunis in front of th headquarters of the labour union. Photo's Nawaat de Tunisie)

Clashes continued on saturday night between Tunisian security forces and residents in Sidi Bouzid governorate. The clashes took place on Saturday night in the towns of al-Ragab and Maknasi. in central Tunisia.The skirmishes broke out when security forces staged overnight crackdown campaigns after social protests against unemployment spread to Tunis, the Tunisian capital. In Tunis hundreds of protesters had rallied in front of the Tunisian labour union headquarters.  The demonstrators called on the authorities to provide jobs for those with university degrees.
Lina Ben Mhenni, a blogger, said that  people are organising protests everywhere and that it is spreading across the country. "Last night there were clashes in an area called Souk Jedid. Today there are marches and protests in Gassa, in the south, and in  Fax, the capital of the south," she said. "I just heard about another protest in Ben Guerdane, also in the South." Also there were reports about a demonstration in Kairouan. 

The unrest started on 17 December in the governorate of Sidi Bouzid when a young university gruaduate who could not find a job and who was robbed by the police of the possibility to sell fruits in the street, set fire to himself.  The incident prompted demonstrations. On Friday clashes broke out in which one young man was killed, four people were wounded and some police cars were burned. 
 Demonstations are extremely rare in Tunisia, which is unkwnown to many, one of the worst police states in the region. Whether the unrest will continue is yet unknown. But the ruling family of president Zine al- Abidin ben-Ali and his hated wife Leila Trabelsi and their clan have to be worried. That there is unrest in spite of the heavy repression by police and secret services is telling enough about the widespread discontent with the unemployment, lack of freedom and widespread corruption .

In this respect it is interesting to take a look at Wikileaks devoted to Tunisia, already better known as Tunileaks, for some insight :   

JUNE 08 Classified By: Ambassador Robert F. Godec for Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
All in the Family
3. (S) President Ben Ali's extended family is often cited as the nexus of Tunisian corruption. Often referred to as a quasi-mafia, an oblique mention of "the Family" is enough to indicate which family you mean. Seemingly half of the Tunisian business community can claim a Ben Ali connection through marriage, and many of these relations are reported to have made the most of their lineage. Ben Ali's wife, Leila Ben Ali, and her extended family -- the Trabelsis -- provoke the greatest ire from Tunisians. Along with the numerous allegations of Trabelsi corruption are often barbs about their lack of education, low social status, and conspicuous consumption. While some of the complaints about the Trabelsi clan seem to emanate from a disdain for their nouveau riche inclinations, Tunisians also argue that the Trabelsis strong arm tactics and flagrant abuse of the system make them easy to hate. Leila's brother Belhassen Trabelsi is the most notorious family member and is rumored to have been involved in a wide-range of corrupt schemes from the recent Banque de Tunisie board shakeup (Ref B) to property expropriation and extortion of bribes. Leaving the question of their progenitor aside, Belhassen Trabelsi's holdings are extensive and include an airline, several hotels, one of Tunisia's two private radio stations, car assembly plants, Ford distribution, a real estate development company, and the list goes on. (See Ref K for a more extensive list of his holdings.) Yet, Belhassen is only one of Leila's ten known siblings, each with their own children. Among this large extended family, Leila's brother Moncef and nephew Imed are also particularly important economic actors.

Or this report about a visit the American ambassador payed to the luxurious house of  Mohammed Sakher and his tiger which is fed on four chickens a day. El-Matri is Ben Ali's son in law and seen as the preferred successor by Leila Trabelsi. He is married to Ben Ali's daughter Neshrine.

 JULY 2008 Classified By: Ambassador Robert F. Godec for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
El-Materi Unplugged: Home/Personal Life
 11. (S) El-Materi’s house is spacious, and directly above and along the Hammamet public beach. The compound is large and well guarded by government security. It is close to the center of Hammamet, with a view of the fort and the southern part of the town. The house was recently renovated and includes an infinity pool and a terrace of perhaps 50 meters. While the house is done in a modern style (and largely white), there are ancient artifacts everywhere: Roman columns, frescoes and even a lion’s head from which water pours into the pool. El Materi insisted the pieces are real. He hopes to move into his new (and palatial) house in Sidi Bou Said in eight to ten months.
12. (S) The dinner included perhaps a dozen dishes, including fish, steak, turkey, octopus, fish couscous and much more. The quantity was sufficient for a very large number of guests. Before dinner a wide array of small dishes were served, along with three different juices (including Kiwi juice, not normally available here). After dinner, he served ice cream and frozen yoghurt he brought in by plane from Saint Tropez, along with blueberries and raspberries and fresh fruit and chocolate cake. (NB. El Materi and Nesrine had just returned from Saint Tropez on their private jet after two weeks vacation. El Materi was concerned about his American pilot finding a community here. The Ambassador said he would be pleased to invite the pilot to appropriate American community events.)
13. (S) El Materi has a large tiger (“Pasha”) on his compound, living in a cage. He acquired it when it was a few weeks old. The tiger consumes four chickens a day. (Comment: The situation reminded the Ambassador of Uday Hussein’s lion cage in Baghdad.) El Materi had staff everywhere. There were at least a dozen people, including a butler from Bangladesh and a nanny from South Africa. (NB. This is extraordinarily rare in Tunisia, and very expensive.)
14. (S) They have three children, two girls and a boy. Leila is four and another daughter that is about 10 months. Their boy is adopted and is two years old. The youngest daughter is a Canadian citizen, by virtue of birth in Canada. The family’s favorite vacation destination spot is the Maldives Islands.
15. (S) El Materi said he has begun an exercise and diet regime. He has, he said, recently lost weight (it was visibly true). El Materi said he eats in a “balanced” way. He had just spent an hour on a bike, he claimed. Nesrine said she gets no exercise.
16. (S) Both El Materi and Nesrine speak English, although their vocabulary and grammar are limited. They are clearly eager to strengthen their English. Nesrine said she loves Disney World, but had put off a trip this year because of H1N1 flu. Nesrine has, for sometime, had Tamiflu nearby (even taking it on trips). Originally it was out of fear of bird flu. She packs it for El Materi too when he travels. Nesrine said she has visited several US cities. El Materi had only been to Illinois recently in connection with the purchase of a plane.
17. (S) Throughout the evening, El Materi (picture) often struck the Ambassador as demanding, vain and difficult. He is clearly aware of his wealth and power, and his actions reflected little finesse. He repeatedly pointed out the lovely view from his home and frequently corrected his staff, issued orders and barked reprimands. Despite this, El Materi was aware of his affect on the people around him and he showed periodic kindness. He was unusually solicitous and helpful to the Ambassador’s wife, who is disabled. Occasionally, he seemed to be seeking approval. One western Ambassador in Tunis, who knows El Materi, has commented that he has western-style political skills in his willingness to engage with ordinary citizens. It is an uncommon trait here.
18. (S) El Materi, in recent months, has been ever more visible in the local diplomatic community. He has clearly decided (or been told) to serve as a point of contact between the regime and key ambassadors. Nesrine, at age 23, appeared friendly and interested, but nave and clueless. She reflected the very sheltered, privileged and wealthy life she has led. As for the dinner itself, it was similar to what one might experience in a Gulf country, and out of the ordinary for Tunisia.
19. (S) Most striking of all, however, was the opulence with which El Materi and Nesrine live. Their home in Hammamet was impressive, with the tiger adding to the impression of “over the top.” Even more extravagant is their home still under construction in Sidi Bou Said. That residence, from its outward appearance, will be closer to a palace. It dominates the Sidi Bou Said skyline from some vantage points and has been the occasion of many private, critical comments. The opulence with which El Materi and Nesrine live and their behavior make clear why they and other members of Ben Ali’s family are disliked and even hated by some Tunisians. The excesses of the Ben Ali family are growing.

(Photo's in Tunileaks text from top down: President Zine al Abidin Ben-Ali, Leila Trabelsi Ben-Ali, Sakher el Matri (or El-Materi), Ben Ali's son in law and projected successor)  

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Outburst of social unrest in Tunisian region Sidi Bouzid

 A Tunisian teenager died on Friday and ten others were injured when protestors attacked a national guard post in a region gripped by tensions over youth joblessness, AFP reports based upon what was said by students and the government.
Mohamed Ammari, who was 18, died when he was shot in the chest during a confrontation with security forces in the town of Menzel Bouzaiene, in the central Sidi Bouzid region, said student representative Mohamed Fadhel. Several thousand people took part in the protest, which quickly turned violent, said Fadhel.
Protesters set fire to three police cars, a train locomotive, the local headquarters of the ruling Constitutional Democratic Rally party and a national guard post, whose guards had to seek shelter in a mosque, Fadhel said.
Police had surrounded the town and were not letting people travel in or out, and many arrests had been made, he said.
The government confirmed the incident, and said two members of the national guard were in a serious condition with burns.

 The blog The Moor next Door put things in perspective:
  An unemployed 26-year old man committed suicide sparking mass demonstrations by young people and other residents over unemployment and their quality of life. Police have attempted to block media coverage of the riots (and that the rioting is isolated and being exaggerated by the opposition), but bloggers and activists have posted pictures and video of the disturbances on the Internet. A mathematics teacher died (shot by police) today and others have been severely beaten and tortured. Lina Ben M’henni summarizes the background of Mohamed Bouazizi who had graduated with Mahdia University a few years ago, but could not find a job. Being the only breadwinner in his family, he decided to earn a living and with his family’s help, he started selling fruit and vegetable from a street stall. His venture gave him very little, enough to guarantee the dignity of his family. But city hall officials were on the look out, and have seized his goods several times. He tried to explain to them that what he was doing was not his choice that he was just trying to survive. Each time, his goods were confiscated, he was also insulted and asked to leave the city hall premises. The last time this happened, Mohamed lost all hope in this life and decided to leave it forever. He poured gasoline on himself and set himself on fire.
AFP again: Bouazizi was transferred to a hospital in capital Tunis with severe burns.
The incident prompted violent demonstrations in which protestors burned tyres and chanted slogans demanding jobs.
The government said the violence was isolated and had been exploited by the opposition.
Tensions heightened on December 22 when another young man, Sidi Bouzid, climbed up an electricity pylon and electrocuted himself on the cables, saying he was fed up with being unemployed.
The government would not confirm the suicide, but ordered a judicial investigation into the circumstances of his death.
Development Minister Mohamed Nouri Jouini travelled to Sidi Bouzid on Thursday and announced a new 15-million-dinar (7.5 million euros/10 million dollars) employment programme.
The opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which does not have a seat in parliament, called on the government to stop arresting young people and instead focus on dialogue and job creation.

The Moor:
It deserves mention that Tunisia, often cited as one of the most prosperous and “open” economies and societies in Africa and the Arab world, is also one of the most efficiently run police states on the Mediterranean basin (Issandr el-Amrani once described it as a country run by the police and for the police, or something like that). But Tunisians are generally well educated, industrious if relatively mild mannered; they suffer the same stereotype that is often applied to Egyptians in regard to political passivity. Tunisia’s government mixes clientelism with swift repression and the finest Euro-American public relations consultancies (and they have Christopher Hitchens and many in the French media on their side, too) to keep tight control over political life and to project an image of pacific moderation overseas. (And their friends on the Internet are expert at lashing out at critics, as noted regarding the comments this recent Economist piece.) While the country has achieved remarkable success in the economic and social spheres, Ben Ali’s family has tight control over key sectors in the domestic economy and in recent years many progressive social policies (particularly with regard to gender) have been scaled to account for religious trends. While economic growth has been strong, social tensions brought on by unemployment have grown more intense in recent years. Many young people, as in the rest of the Arab world, suffer chronic unemployment and humiliation from often predatory state authorities.
It's an excellent description. I cannot think of much that I'd like to add. Except that what happens in Sidi Bouzid is important. It could spread to other areas. We'll see.

(The picture is taken from the Tunisian blog Nawaat)

Egypt uncovers Israeli spy-ring with ramifications in Syria and Lebanon

Syrian reactor destroyed in 2007. Satellite pictures, above taken before, and under after the bombardment.  Wikileaks revealed a cable this week, sent in 2008  by then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in which she confirmed that it was a nuclear reactor which was being built with help of North Korea and that it was destroyed by the Israelis.   

The confessions of an Egyptian accused of spying for Israel have led to three espionage cells being dismantled in Lebanon and Syria, where an agent was executed in November, Cairo newspapers said Friday.
Tareq Abdul Razzak, the 37-year-old owner of an import-export business, is accused of having spied for Israel together with two wanted Israelis.
Egypt, which has a 1979 peace treaty with Israel, informed Lebanon and Syria of his activities in recruiting agents after Abdul Razzak's arrest in May, Al-Masri newspaper said, quoting a security source close to the investigation.
The suspect has allegedly confessed that his two Israeli contacts had tasked him with making visits to Damascus with a fake passport and identity under the guise of business trips.The aim of the missions was to deliver sums of money to a Syrian holding a "sensitive" post with the security services.
Al-Shuruk daily said Abdul Razzak has provided investigators with copies of reports he had passed on to Israeli intelligence from a Syrian chemist working for the security services in connection with a Syrian nuclear programme.
The Syrian expert had been spying for Israel for 13 years, according to the confessions. He was executed in Syria last month, said Al-Shuruk, which did not give sources for its report.
On Sept. 6, 2007, Israel launched an air raid on northern Syria that destroyed an alleged secret nuclear reactor.
The Egyptian trader is to be tried in Egypt's High Security Court on charges of spying for Israel and recruiting agents to report on telecoms secrets in Egypt, Lebanon and Syria, a judicial source said on Monday.
Arrest warrants have been issued for his two Israeli accomplices, the source said, without giving a trial date.

Abdul Razzak is accused of supplying Mossad between 2007 and 2010 with the names of potential recruits employed in the telecommunications sectors in Egypt, Lebanon and Syria. According to a court statement, Abdul Razzak's first contact with Mossad was in 2007, when he received an email while looking for work in China. The same year he met the Israeli agents in Thailand, where the Egyptian was asked to set up an import-export business back home as a cover for his real work with Mossad.
Abdul Razzak also set up a website that offered telecommunications jobs in Egypt, Syria and Lebanon, with the aim of looking for more potential recruits, the statement said. In Lebanon, more than 100 people have been arrested on suspicion of spying for Israel since April 2009, including telecoms employees, members of the security forces and active duty troops. (AFP).

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Iran hangs 11 Jundallah supporters and sentences filmmaker to 6 years

Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi won in 2006 the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for his film outside. On Monday he was convicted to six years in prison and also a ban to make films or travel abroad in the next 20 years. 

Iran has hanged 11 people with alleged connections to Jundallah, a Sunni Muslim opposition group that was responsible for a double suicide attack on a mosque on 15 December that killed 39 people. The Justice Ministry said on Monday that those executed were all supporters of Jundallah, which claimed a double suicide bombing of Shia worshippers in the southeast on December 15. "The people of Sistan-Baluchestan province, in their continuing campaign against the elements of cruelty and insecurity, hanged 11 people at Zahedan prison," the ministry said in a statement on the semi-official Fars news agency.
Iran has said that Jundollah members, who say they are fighting for the rights of the ethnic-minority Baluch people, find shelter across Iran's southeastern border with Pakistan. According to Iranian state television,president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad  held a telephone conversation with his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari, urging Pakistan to arrest "identified terrorists" and hand them over to Iran. Iran hoped it had neutralised Jundollah when it executed its leader, Abdolmalek Rigi, last June. Iran says that Jundallah has ties with Al-Qaeda, which the group denies.

Meanwhile, an Iranian court has sentenced Jaraf Panahi, an internaitonally renowned film director, to six years in prison on Saturday, according to Farideh Gheyrat, his lawyer.  The court has also ruled that Panahi cannot make films, nor travel abroad for 20 years. Gheyrat said that he was convicted of gathering, colluding and propaganda against the Iranian government.
"Mr Panahi has been sentenced to six years in jail for acting and propaganda against the system," Gheyrat was quoted as saying by the Isna news agency. "He has also been banned from making films, writing any kind of scripts, travelling abroad and talking to local and foreign media for 20 years."

Panahi, 49, supports Mirhossein Mousavi, Iran's opposition leader, in last year's disputed presidential election. He was arrested in Iran in early March and detained for 88 days, when he went on hunger strike due to his treatment. Panahi has 20 days to appeal against the verdict.

Monday, December 20, 2010

New Human Rights Watch report: systematic discrimination in West Bank and East-Jerusalem

Cover of the Human Rights Watch report. The picture shows Bedouin children walking towards their homes outside the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim. Israel almost never recognizes the right of Bedouin property.

Well. sometimes it is good to hear it from other sources. Human Rights Watch has issued a new report about Israels policies in the West Bank, partcularly area C and East Jerusalem. It stipulates that Israeli policies in the West Bank harshly discriminate against Palestinian residents, depriving them of basic necessities while providing lavish amenities for Jewish settlements, and that without any security reason or other justification  Human Rights Watch said.

"Palestinians face systematic discrimination merely because of their race, ethnicity, and national origin, depriving them of electricity, water, schools, and access to roads, while nearby Jewish settlers enjoy all of these state-provided benefits," said Carroll Bogert, deputy executive director for external relations at Human Rights Watch. "While Israeli settlements flourish, Palestinians under Israeli control live in a time warp - not just separate, not just unequal, but sometimes even pushed off their lands and out of their homes."
By making their communities virtually uninhabitable, Israel's discriminatory policies have frequently had the effect of forcing residents to leave their communities, Human Rights Watch said. According to a June 2009 survey of households in "Area C," the area covering 60 percent of the West Bank that is under exclusive Israeli control, and East Jerusalem, which Israel unilaterally annexed, some 31 percent of Palestinian residents had been displaced since 2000.

Human Rights Watch looked at both Area C and East Jerusalem and found that the two-tier system in effect in both areas provides generous financial benefits and infrastructure support to promote life in Jewish settlements, while deliberately withholding basic services, punishing growth, and imposing harsh conditions on Palestinian communities. Such different treatment on the basis of race, ethnicity, and national origin that is not narrowly tailored to legitimate goals violates the fundamental prohibition against discrimination under human rights law.

The whole report,  Separate and Unequal, 166 pages, can be found here.  

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

At least 39 killed by suicide attack in Southeast Iran, claimed by Jundallah

A suicide attack has killed at least 39 people and wounded more than 100 others near a mosque in the southeastern Iranian city of Chabahar as Shias marked the aproach the climax of Ashoura, the commemoration of the death Hussein, of the grandson of the prophet Mohammed.
Arabiyya tv reported that two suicide bombers were involved. One detonated himslef in front of the mosque, the other one attacked inside it.
According to Al-Arabiyya tv the attack has been claimd by an armed Sunni group, Jundallah, or Soldiers of God, which has waged earlier attacks to fight alleged discrimination against the area's Sunni minority in overwhelmingly Shia Iran. In July, two suicide bombers blew themselves up at a mosque in the same province, Sistan-Baluchestan, killing at least 28 people. Jundallah said that attack was revenge for the execution of its leader, Abdulmalik Rigi, who was hanged in June. The Iranian authorities captured him in February by diverting the plane on which he was traveling from Dubai to Kyrgyzstan. In May also Abdulmalik's younger brother Abdol Hamid was hanged.
Iranian officials claim Jundallah, which has operated from bases in Pakistan, receives support from Western powers, including the United States. Washington denies any links to the group, and in November the State Department added Jundallah to a U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations.
The group has also targeted members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, the country's most powerful military force. In its deadliest attack, a suicide bomber hit a meeting between Guard commanders and Shiite and Sunni tribal leaders in the border town of Pishin in October 2009, killing 42 people, including 15 Guard members.

Monday, December 13, 2010

At least 31 killed because of bad weather in Egypt

sandstorm kills 31
A six floor textile factory collapsed in Alexandria. (Reuters)
Rain and sandstorms that battered Egypt at the weekend killed at least 31 people. Officials said Monday, that the toll could rise as rescue workers were still sifting through two collapsed buildings.
The bodies of six workers were pulled out Monday of the debris of a six-storey textile factory that crumpled on Sunday  in Alexandria. Earlier three bodies had been found. One worker among 10 who had been wounded also died of his injuries. About a dozen workers are still missing.
In the Nile Delta city of Tanta, a child was killed and nine people hurt when a five-storey residential building came down on Sunday. One person is still trapped under the rubble.

Twenty people were killed and more than 40 injured in road accidents Sunday across Egypt blamed on poor visibility from heavy rains and sandstorms, officials said.
Meanwhile, a tug boat was trying to pull to safety on Monday an Italian cargo ship stranded off Egypt's northwestern coast with 21 crew on board and 38 containers of toxic paint and resins. Egypt's main ports in Alexandria and the Red Sea reopened on Monday a day after authorities closed them. Also traffic at the Suez Canal was restored after north-bound traffic had been limited.

Ahmadinejad fires foreign minister

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, has fired Manouchehr Mottaki, his foreign minister, the official IRNA news agency has reported. The announcement came on Monday, while Mottaki was in Senegal on a visit. No reasons were gven
Ahmadinejad appointed the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, Ali Akbar Salehi, a close ally to the president, as caretaker for the ministry, state television reported.
Sadegh Zibakalam, a professor in political science at the Tehran university, told Al Jazeera that there had been rumours of tensions between Ahmadinejad and Mottaki.
"The relationship between the ex-foreign minister and Ahmadinejad hasn't been going that well," he said. "When he was appointed, five years ago, there were a lot of rumours that Mottaki had been imposed on Ahmadinejad and he wasn't pleased to have him. Since then, on half a dozen occasions, there had been rumours that Ahmedinejad had either sacked Mottaki or asked him to resign."
Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera's chief political analyst, said that there had been rumours of discord between the two men.

Americans shift back to indirect peace talks

Video of the speech of Hillary Clinton at the Saban Centre on Friday. She arrives at the more interesting points at about 10' into her talk.

The Americans go on as if  not much has changed. After the approach failed to get the Israelis and Palestinians at the table for direct talks, due to Israeli refusal to extend the building freeze in the settlements,  U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced Friday that Washington would fall back on the indirect approach, whereby the U.S., will have talks with both parties seprartely from each other.  During those talks the United States would push to resolve core issues of the conflict, she said, including borders, security, the  future of Jerusalem, and the issue of the Palestinian refugees.
"Like many of you, I am frustrated that we have not gotten farther, faster," Ms Clinton said in a speech at the Saban Forum, a Middle East policy seminar sponsored by the Brookings Institution think tank.
Stressing that a negotiated solution remained the only way forward, she said the US would resume the role of broker, opening talks with both parties on vital issues. "We will push the parties to lay out their positions on the core issues without delay, in good faith, and with real specificity," she said.
Ms Clinton's speech was the first Middle East policy address after the US on Tuesday announced it had abandoned  its efforts to persuade Israel to halt construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Ms Clinton had talks with Israeli and Palestinian envoys before her speech. Special U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell on Monday went  to the region for talks with Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday hailed the U.S. decision to drop efforts to achieve a building freeze in Jewish settlements. "I welcome this American decision. It is good for Israel. It is good for peace," he told an economic forum."To reach peace, we have to discuss the issues that are truly delaying peace ... I welcome the fact that we will now begin discussing these issues and try to narrow gaps," Netanyahu said.

Palestinian officials have voiced concern that Israel would try to undermine any indirect negotiations by avoiding discussion of future borders of a state they intend to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Netanyahu Netanyahu's speech was proof that their concern was not unfounded, as the prime minister cited issues such as his demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, security arrangements and the future of Palestinian refugees.
One day earlier, on Sunday, Netanyahu had as well made it clear that he is against a division of Jerusalem. His office communicated that  that comments by the country's defence minister, Ehud Barak, in favour of dividing Jerusalem between Israelis and Arabs were not the policy of the Israeli government. They represent the long-held views of the defence minister but do not represent the views of the government as a whole," his spokesman said.
Addressing the Saban Center for Middle East policy in Washington on Friday, Barak, a former prime minister from the Israeli Labour Party, had said Jerusalem's Jewish neighbourhoods should remain part of Israel, but Arab sectors should come under the sovereignty of an independent Palestinian state.
The comments were in line with the "Clinton parameters" - proposals for the city's future outlined by Bill Clinton, the former US president, in 2000, after the failure of the Camp David peace summit, which would see Jerusalem as the capital of both Israel and a future Palestinian state.

Palestinian negotiators and analysts said Washington's failure to win a new settlement freeze was a sign of Israeli intransigence and US weakness, and that they held out little hope for the future of negotiations.
Speaking to Al-Hayat newspaper, Yasser Abed Rabbo, an aide to the Palestinian president, said it made no sense to resume so-called proximity talks, and suggested that the Palestinians were considering abandoning negotiations altogether in favor of a unilateral declaration of statehood.
"The old way did not achieve any results and we will not accept a return to it," he said.
"We want to know, will the US side return to the old approach [of proximity talks or direct negotiations], or will they recognize a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital?"

The Elders, agroup of former statesmen and women, founded by Nelson Mandela and including people like Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, Mary Robinson and Kofi Annan, gav a declaration unde the title: We need peace in the Middle East, not just process. According to the Elders what is needed is:

  1. Universal human rights and respect for international humanitarian law must apply equally to all.
  2. The occupation must end, and the aim of negotiations should be to define the boundaries of a future Palestinian state based on 1967 borders, including its capital in East Jerusalem. Such an accord could entail, if agreed, a one-to-one land swap to allow for minor adjustments. Initial negotiations should also aim at security arrangements in which both Israelis and Palestinians have confidence.
  3. The remaining final status issues can be addressed more effectively once there is an agreement on borders and security.
  4. Israeli settlements are illegal and all settlement activity must halt throughout the occupied Palestinian territory including in East Jerusalem.
  5. Israel must lift its illegal and inhumane blockade of Gaza and stop the demolition and seizure of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
  6. Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and Gaza must end all human rights violations against political critics and rivals.
  7. Israel's right to exist must not be denied. Incitement and calls for the destruction of Israel must not be tolerated.
  8. The Arab Peace Initiative must serve as the basis for normalisation of relations between Israel and the Arab world.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Egyptians protest outcome rigged parliamentary elections

Protest in Cairo (Photo AP)

Hundreds of Egyptian activists and members of opposition groups protested on Sunday against what they said were violations during a parliamentary vote that handed the ruling party a huge victory last month.
Opposition and independent monitors said the elections were fraught with ballot stuffing, voter intimidation and other abuses.
"Void, void, void," the protesters chanted, referring to the parliament vote, during the demonstration by several hundred people in downtown Cairo. And:'This is not a council, it is a cabaret."

Meanwhile president Hosni Mubarak neglected all signs that the voting had been massively rigged. In a speech before the NDP Parliament Bureau on Sunday he said that the the elections had been fair in spite of some irregularities. 'As chairman of the National Democratic Party (NDP) I was pleased with the majority secured by the party, but as  president of Egypt I would have preferred to see more representation by the opposition," he said.In his speech Mubarak acknowledged that irregularities took place, but said they only occurred in a few electoral districts and were promptly addressed by the Higher Committee for Elections.

The protesters on Sunday included members of opposition movements Kifaya (=Enough) and April 6, as well as Egypt's two biggest opposition groups in the outgoing parliament, the Muslim Brotherhood and the liberal Wafd party.
In a press conference held on Saturday at the headquarters of the National Democratic Front party in Mohandisin, the MPs that represented the Brotherhhood, the Wafd party, the pan-Arab would-be El-Karama party and some independents said they will "go international” with evidence of wide-scale vote rigging and election irregularities. The speakers also said they will start by going to local courts, including the constitutional court, to dissolve the parliament.
“We’ll resort to every legal and political means to dissolve the parliament,” former MP and El-Karama party founder Hamdeen Sabahi told Ahram Online, “That also includes calling on president Hosni Mubarak to do so.”
The Brotherhood boycotted the second round of the vote after winning no seats in the first stage, and refused to acknowledge the seat it won in the run-off.
Wafd also withdrew and refused to acknowledge the six seats it won after the second round. It called on successful candidates to choose between the party or parliament.
Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party secured about 80 percent of seats, the oppostion got only 15 seats and independents won 65 seat. Analysts say that many of the independent candidates in fact have links to the ruling party, so that the NDP victory is about 96 or 97%.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Alexandria police makes victim for third time in a year

'De martelaar'  Mustafa Attia

Blogster Zeinobia has the facts. After Khaled Said  and  Ahmed Sha'aban
the police in Alexandria has tortured yet another victim to death, the third in less than a year. Police in the district Mina al-Basal arrested the taxi-driver and former owner of a small shop Mustaf Attia. Shortly after that Attia was dead. According to the police he just dropped dead in the street. Two witnesses of what may have happened have been arrested. Mustafa's family was asked to bury Mustafa, a father of three (the oldest 4 years old) quicly, without ceremony. Nobody was allowed to see his body, except a brother, who got only a partial view. 
Zeinoba adds that the police, and some papers, now describe Attia as someone who had committed several crimes. She, however, tells the story that he was indebted after his shop got broke and took a loan from a bank in order to start a life as a taxi driver. He was late in paying back the debt and was sued. Two days before his death he paid the loan off, but unfortunataley the Alexandria police was not informed. It seems that the attorney general in Alexandria, after the story broke, has asked for an autopsy. We'll see.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The real meaning of 'easing' the blockade of Gaza

Strawberries in Gaza. Thye Israeli military agreed to a limited amount of strawberries and flowers, cultivated with the help of Holland, to be exported to Europe. Israels supporters were delighted by this show of Israeli leniency.

Whoever interpreted the news that Israel let through a limited amount of strawberries and flowers for exportation to the European market  as a sign of lifting the pressure and improving the situation in Gaza, should read the recent bitter article that Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International in the UK, contributed to the Middle East Channel of Foreign Policy.

Referring to the fact that the Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli prime minister Netanyahu, constantly keeps repeating how much the blockade of Gaza has been ''eased'' since the summer, she writes:
As a recent report from 26 humanitarian and human rights organizations shows, six months of a less-oppressive blockade regime has made only a minimal difference to the lives of Gaza's 1.5 million inhabitants. Here are a few headline findings:
  • Imports into Gaza are still at 35 percent of pre-blockade levels
  • Israel has granted approval in 7 percent of projects submitted by the UN's Refugee and Works Agency (UNRWA) for constructing clinics and schools (though only a fraction of the number green-lighted has actually had materials sent through)
  • There is still no free movement of people in and out of Gaza (movement levels are 1 percent of those in the year 2000, for example)
  • In the past six months there have been almost no exports allowed out of Gaza (true, a Europe-bound consignment of strawberries and flowers was allowed out in late November, but this is a mere fraction of what is needed)
Or, to cite another telling figure: the U.N. has estimated that Gaza needs 670,000 truckloads of construction materials to rebuild its shattered roads and buildings; in the past half year Israel's "easing" has allowed in a grand total of 4,290. At this rate it will take another 78 years to get those materials in (fresh destruction from any future Israeli military assaults on Gaza would, of course, set even this hopelessly postponed date back still further).
Not surprisingly the figures tell the story far more accurately than the rhetorical device of referring to an "easing." If we're going to employ these concepts realistically, we'd actually be better talking about a noose that‘s been loosened very slightly, but better still would be to avoid misleading use of politicized metaphors and have recourse to the figures themselves.
That said, even when the data is cited by commentators there seems to be evidence of Israel's things-are-getting-better message subverting the truth.
So on the very day that NGOs were publishing their latest bleak (but factually-based) assessment of the continuing harm and deprivation caused by the blockade, Tony Blair's Quartet office was accentuating the positive with a highly selective run-through of import-export data).(....)
Israel's own response to detailed criticism has had a predictable quality: the selective provision of figures that ignore the pre-blockade situation to focus on the good news supposedly heralded by the "easing" story. Plus, when the blockade has been condemned, there's been the standard-issue criticism of NGO bias.

Allen points out that - at last - the EU's Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton has voiced critiscism of the 'unsatisfactory' nature of what the easing measures have achieved, and that it is high time that the internationale community takes action vis a vis the infringement of international and humanitarian laws that the blockade in fact is. Her article is worth reading in full.  .

Rift in Fatah, did Dahlan plan another coup?

Dahlan (Photo Al-Masry Al-Youm, Hossam Fadl)

 Muhammad Dahlan, former assistant Palestinian minister for the Interior, former Fatah police chief in Gaza and nowadays chief of the Palestinian presidential guard that protects president Mahmoud Abbas, is again in the news. In 2007 he was the main character in the dramatically failed attempt to seize the Gaza Strip from the hands of Hamas (with help from the US, see David Rose's story 'The Gaza Bombshell' in Vanity Fair)
This week he was spotted in Cairo where, on Monday, he had talks with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, after news had leaked out about a rift between him and Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas. Dahlan, who currently is also a member of the Central Committee of Fatah, told reporters, according to Al-Masry Al Youm, that his relationship with  president Abbas was one of "friendship'' and ''nothing but respect". He expressed "surprise" over what he called the "leaks referring to a problem between me and President Abbas." Such leaks, he added, "are only intended to sow confusion."

However, last months press reports suggested the existence of a serious disagreement between Dahlan and Abbas due to Dahlan's criticism of Abbas' policies regarding negotiations with Israel. Here is what The Palestinian Information Centre (close to Hamas) on 21 November reported (in Arabic): 

"A Palestinian leader close to Fatah has revealed new details of what has become known in the Fatah milieu as the "Dahlan case," the incessant accusations against him for being the architect of a comprehensive plan to control Fatah and succeed Mahmud Abbas as president.
Two weeks after the Palestinian Information Centre disclosed the content of the plan sent by Fatah Central Committee [CC] member Muhammad Dahlan to the US Administration, which contains security proposals to topple the Palestinian government in Gaza and to control the Gaza Strip, the source related to our correspondent the existence of a connection between the abovementioned security document and the developments within Fatah, after Dahlan and other Fatah leaders, including CC member Nasir al-Qudwah, appeared before a commission of inquiry set up by the PNA presidency and headed by Fatah leader Abu-Mahir Ghunaym. The source explained that the investigation of Dahlan and a number of Fatah leaders followed on the heels of Al-Qudwah's harsh criticism of Mahmud Abbas, which was published in The Wall Street Journal and was later confirmed to be instigated by Dahlan.
 Yet, the most serious thing that the sources disclosed goes beyond disagreements and verbal criticisms to practical action on the ground that Dahlan and a number of leaders supporting him are preparing. The source revealed that the US Administration received a letter from Muhammad Dahlan, Nasir al-Qudwah, Sultan Abu-al-Aynayn, and Tawfiq al-Tirawi stating that "Abbas is now unable to make peace but we are able to, and that he must be substituted by a personality that has the ability to achieve this." Moreover, and as proof of the seriousness of the offer, the letter suggests assigning the Interior Ministry in the Fayyad government to Dahlan and pledges to regain control of the Gaza Strip from Hamas according to the plan sent earlier. The source also noted that the US response has not arrived yet.  According to the source, the recent letter coincided with the rise in the pace of alignments within Fatah between a group supporting Dahlan and another comprising historic leader who oppose him, especially after the return of large numbers of Dahlan's supporters to Palestine after their exit from the Gaza Strip in the aftermath of the decisive military action that was carried out by Hamas." 
Source BBC Monitoring Service  (quoted by The Angry Arab News Service)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Egypt gets parliament with at least some opposition, after massive vote rigging and some horse trading

Protest by unhappy oppostion members

Official results of the 2010 parliamentary elections in Egypt are somewhat of a surprise after all: the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) clinched almost 86.4 percent of the 508 seat People's Assembly, with 424 MPs . Some 65 went to independents, who for the most part are also NDP candidates albeit in disguise. The opposition won a meagre 16 seats, or around 3 percent, in contrast to their 23 percent representation in the outgoing parliament.
The liberal Wafd party won six seats. The left-wing Tagammu five (as opposed to only one in the outgoing parliament), the Muslim Brotherhood won only one seat (down from the 88 it won in 2005) and the Ghad (Tomorrow), Geel (generation), Adalah (social justice), and Salam (social peace) parties, won one seat each. The total number of  "opposition" in the new parliament is now 15.

Four seats are still up for grabs, following clashes in the constituencies. The Higher Election Committee has said another election round for those four seats - which constitute a little less than one percent of the parliament - will be scheduled at a later date.
Both the Muslim Brotherhood and Wafd had withdrawn from the elections two days after the 28 November vote last Sunday, citing “blatant” and “widespread” rigging in favour of the ruling party, and after both parties had alsmost no seats won in the first round.
It seems, however, that the NDP backtracked on the way it handled this first round and for the second round on Sunday made some last-minute backroom deals with opposition candidates to guarantee a few independent victories after all. According to observers the NDP in this way pushed some independent candidates to join parties that had no run-off candidates.
In the Aga district of Daqahliya Governorate, NDP candidate for the professionals seat Abdel Fattah Diab announced his withdrawal from the election in protest over alleged fraud aimed at facilitating a win for his leftist Tagammu Party competitor. The NDP pushed Mohamed al-Kharweeli, an independent candidate in the Mahalla Governorate, to join the Geel Party, according to a report published today by the Egyptian Association for the Development of Societal Participation.
Also one Muslim Brotherhood contender was forced to run in the second round in order to guarantee Brotherhood parliamentary representation, according to rights reports. In this way MB-affiliated parliamentary candidate in Al-Nozha district of Cairo, Magdy Ashour, won the group’s sole parliamentary seat this year. It is as yet  unclear whether he will choose to relinquish the seat or not. “It’s totally up to [Ashour],” Saad El-Katatni, head of the 2005 MB parliamentary bloc, told Daily News Egypt. “We are not pressuring him to withdraw. He can choose to do whatever he sees fit. But if Magdy Ashour decides to [accept the MP position], he will be considered an independent candidate who does not represent the Brotherhood.”
Also the Wafd announced, in line with the party's decision last Wednesday to pull out of the elections, that it will suspend candidates who participated in the election runoffs on Sunday. “The Wafd is not going to have any parliamentary representation,” party Secretary General, Mounir Fakhry AbdelNour. 
After the first round Safir Nour and Mosaad El-Meligy emerged as the only victorious Wafd candidates. ats. A week later, during the runoff round, the party surprisingly won four additional seats which went to Atef El-Ashmouny, Tareq Sebaq, Mohamed El-Malki in Cairo and Magda Neweshi in Ismailia  
Initially the party expected it would win more than 20 seats, but members were shocked when only two seats were secured in the first round and in a reaction to what they argued was "widespread rigging", the party decided to pull out of the elections.
At the other hand, the leftist Tagammu, which decided to stay in the elections, won one in the first round and four seats in the second one. It is not expected that the party is going to renounce these seats, but te position of party secretary general Rifaat Said has been considerably weakened after the decision not to withdraw, which was critisized by large factions  in the party. 

Who bit tourists at Sharm el-Sheikh? Sharks with Israeli GPS-devices or just sharks?

 A Sharm El Sheikh marine biologist slammed the conspiracy theory circulating around the country that last week's shark attacks off the South Sinai resort of Sharm El-Sheikh were part of an Israeli conspiracy, but the South Sinai governor supports it.
Mahmoud Hanafy, a professor of marine biology at the Suez Canal University, told Ahram Online that it is "sad," that Egyptian national TV helped perpetuate the theory that the shark attacks, which resulted in one death and four serious injuries this week, may have been controlled by Israel.
One of the rare sharks that were caught and killed. Apparently the wrong ones.  

Speaking on the public TV program "Egypt Today" yesterday, a specialist introduced as "Captain Mustafa Ismail, a famous diver in Sharm El Sheikh," said that the sharks involved in the attack are ocean sharks and do not live in Egypt's waters. When asked by the anchor how the shark entered Sharm El Sheikh waters, he burst out, "no, it's who let them in?" Urged to elaborate, Ismail said that he recently got a call from an Israeli diver in Eilat telling him that they captured a small shark with a GPS planted in its back, implying that the sharks were monitored to attack in Egypt's waters only.  "Why would these sharks travel 4000 km and not have any accidents until they entered Sinai waters?" asked Ismail.
Earlier today, General Abdel-Fadeel Shosha, the governor of South Sinai, backed Ismail's theory. In a phone call to the TV program, he said that it is possible that Israeli intelligence, Mossad, is behind the incidents and that they are doing it to undermine the Egyptian tourism industry. He added that Egypt needs time to investigate the theory.
Marine biologist Hanafy refuted the allegations, saying that the Oceanic White Tip, blamed for the attacks, does indeed exist in Egypt's waters. He also added that the existence of a GPS inside the shark does not mean there is a conspiracy at play, adding that these "tracking devices" are often used by marine biologists to study sea life. ''It is sad that they made a person whose only knowledge of sharks comes from the movie Jaws go on national TV to propagate this mumbo-jumbo,." he said.
This morning, a team of Egyptian and foreign divers and photographers started surveying the popular diving spots of Sharm El-Sheikh, the Ras Mohamed Protectorate, and Tiran. According to General Shosha, the surveillance will be conducted for 72 hours in diving areas and 24 hours in swimming and snorkeling areas.
A 70-year-old German woman was killed on Sunday, just days after three Russians and a Ukrainian were injured.  Egypt's environment ministry caught and killed two sharks - an Oceanic White Tip and a Mako.But divers and conservationists who compared the pictures with one taken shortly before a previous attack, said it was not the same shark
Shark experts and local observers have offered a number of possible explanations for the attacks. Some say overfishing in the Red Sea may have driven sharks closer to shore. Others said the sharks could have been drawn to the area after a ship carrying Australian sheep and cattle for sacrifice during last month's Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha dumped the carcasses of animals which had died during the voyage.

Monday, December 6, 2010

GOD helps to uproot the Bedouin from the Negev

By Neve Gordon
Despite the fact that it was the seventh demolition since last July, this time the the destruction of the Bedouin village of El-Araqib in the Iraeli Negev  was different. The difference is not because the homeless residents have to deal this time with the harsh desert winter; nor in the fact that the bulldozers began razing the homes just minutes before the forty children left for school, thus engraving another violent scene in their memory. Rather, the demolition was different because this time Christian evangelists from the United States and England were involved.

I know this for a fact because right next to the demolished homes, the Jewish National Fund put up a big sign that reads: “GOD-TV FOREST, A Generous donation by God-TV made 1,000,000 tree saplings available to be planted in the land of Israel and also provided for the creation of water projects throughout the Negev.” GOD-TV justifies this contribution by citing the book of Isaiah: “I will turn the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into springs.”
The JewishNational Fund's objective, however, is not altruistic, but rather to plant a pine or eucalyptus forest on the desert land so that the Bedouins cannot return to their ancestral homes. The practice of planting forests in an attempt to Judaize more territory is by no means new. Right after Israel’s establishment in 1948, the JNF planted millions of trees to cover up the remains of Palestinian villages that had been destroyed during or after the war. The objective was to help ensure that the 750,000 Palestinian residents who either fled or were expelled during the war would never return to their villages and to suppress the fact that they had been the rightful owners of the land before the State of Israel was created. Scores of Palestinian villages disappeared from the landscape in this way, and the grounds were converted into picnic parks, thus helping engender a national amnesia regarding thePalestinian Naqba
For several years, I thought this practice had been discontinued, but thanks to the JNF’s new bedfellows and the generous donation of  Rory and Wendy Alec, who established the international evangelical television channel GOD-TV, within the next few months a million saplings will be planted on land belonging to uprooted Bedouins.
God-TV can afford such lavish gifts, since it boasts a viewership of nearly half a billion people, with 20 million in the United States and 14 million in Britain. The television channel regularly features evangelical leaders such as Joyce Meyer, Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland and John Hagee, at least some of whom espouse Christian Dispensationalism and believe that all Jews must convert to Christianity before the Second Coming.
The viewers are asked to open their wallets in order to “sow a seed for God.” In this case, the donations seem to have actually been allocated toward sowing seeds, but these seeds are ones of hate and strife. They are antithetical to Isaiah’s prophecy about the people beating their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Indeed, if Isaiah were alive today, he would probably be among the first to lie in front of the bulldozers in an effort to stop the destruction of the Bedouin homes.

After Brazil also Argentina recognizes state of Palestine

Kirchner and Abbas.

After Brazil's decision to recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, the President of Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, confirmed on Sunday, that she would also recognize an independent Palestine with the same parameters.
Kirchner made the announcemeent in a phone call to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in which she added that her recognition was not just a political gesture, but a moral stand.
Brazil announced its official recognition of a Palestinian state on December 3, responding to a request sent by Abbas on November 24, through a letter from the Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to Abbas. Isarel has said it deplored the deciiosns of both countries. More than 100 countries have already recognized an independent Palestine within its '67 borders, including all Arab countries, most African nations and part of the new Asian economic powers, such as China and India. 

Update: Uruguay announced soon afterward that it would recognize a Palestinian state next year. “Uruguay will surely follow the same path as Argentina in 2011,” Deputy Foreign Minister Roberto Conde told AFP.