Citing Russian defense ministry, Israeli website says Egypt to send troops to Syria next week

January 10, 2017

The Russian defence ministry has reportedly announced that Egypt would send troops to Syria to observe the implementation of the truce reached between the Syrian regime’s forces and the armed opposition, according to the Israeli website Rotter.

The news website added that the Egyptian troops will arrive in Syria early next week, noting that a number of Egyptian officers had been already in Syria to pave the way for the troops’ arrival.

At the same time, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called on Egypt as a partner to join his country along with Turkey and Iran in the talks on Syria’s future and the implementation of the truce, according to Rotter.

Russia had decided to halt flights to Egyptian airports after a Russian plane crashed in October 2015 over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, killing all 217 passengers on board. The Metrojet flight crashed after its departure from the Egypt’s Sharm El Sheikh International Airport.

Rotter said that for Egypt to join the trio discussing Syria’s future would be a great Russian success, which is also interesting in light of Egypt’s tense relations with Turkey on the one hand and its relations with Iran on the other.

It will be also interesting to know the US response to this step, given that the United States and European countries are not taking part in the Syria talks, the Israeli website added.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170110-citing-russian-defence-ministry-israeli-website-says-egypt-to-send-troops-to-syria-next-week/.

Ex-war crimes prosecutor quits panel probing Syria abuses

August 07, 2017

GENEVA (AP) — Former war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte says she is resigning from the U.N.’s independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria, decrying Security Council inaction to hold criminals accountable in the war-battered country where “everyone is bad.”

In comments published Sunday by the Swiss magazine Blick, Del Ponte expressed frustration about the commission and criticized President Bashar Assad’s government, the Syrian opposition and the international community overall.

“We have had absolutely no success,” she told Blick on the sidelines of the Locarno film festival Sunday. “For five years we’ve been running up against walls.” Del Ponte, who gained fame as the prosecutor for the international war crimes tribunals that investigated atrocities in Rwanda and Yugoslavia, has repeatedly decried the Security Council’s refusal to appoint a similar court for Syria’s 6½-year-old civil war. Permanent member Russia, which can veto council actions, is a key backer of Assad’s government.

“I give up. The states in the Security Council don’t want justice,” Del Ponte said, adding that she planned to take part in the last meeting in September. “I can’t any longer be part of this commission which simply doesn’t do anything.”

Appointed in September 2012, Del Ponte was quoted by Blick as saying she now thinks she was put into the role “as an alibi.” “I’ve written my letter of resignation already and will post it in the coming days,” she said.

She did not immediately respond to a text message from The Associated Press seeking comment. In her comments to Blick, Del Ponte described Syria as a land without a future. “Believe me, the terrible crimes committed in Syria I neither saw in Rwanda nor ex-Yugoslavia,” she said. “We thought the international community had learned from Rwanda. But no, it learned nothing.”

At first in Syria, “the opposition (members) were the good ones; the government were the bad ones,” she was quoted as saying. But after six years, Del Ponte concluded: “In Syria, everyone is bad. The Assad government is committing terrible crimes against humanity and using chemical weapons. And the opposition, that is made up only of extremists and terrorists anymore.”

The commission issued a statement saying it was aware since mid-June of Del Ponte’s plans to leave and insisted that its work “must continue” to help bring perpetrators in Syria to justice. Del Ponte’s resignation shrinks the commission to two members after Thai professor and former human rights investigator Vitit Muntarbhorn left last year to become the first-ever U.N. independent expert investigating violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The commission was set up in August 2011 by the Human Rights Council to investigate crimes in Syria, no matter who committed them. Since then, it has compiled thousands of interviews and keeps a list of suspected war criminals under lock and key at the offices of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.

But Del Ponte said that as long as the Security Council didn’t put in place a special tribunal for war crimes in Syria, all commission reports were pointless. The issue of accountability for war crimes in Syria has largely taken a back seat to diplomatic efforts to end the war in recent months.

The commission’s relevance has also come into question after the U.N. General Assembly, acting in the face of the Security Council inaction, voted in December to set up an investigative body to help document and prepare legal cases to possibly prosecute the most serious violations in Syria’s war that is estimated to have left at least 400,000 dead.

Associated Press writer Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.

Iconic girl from Gaza beach massacre graduates

July 28, 2017

Eleven years after the 2006 Gaza beach massacre that killed seven members of her family, Huda Ghalia has graduated after completing her undergraduate studies in Sharia and Law at the Islamic University of Gaza.

On the afternoon of 9 June 2006, the Ghalia family were picnicking on the Sudaniya beach near Beit Lahia in northern Gaza when Israeli artillery and naval shelling struck the beach, killing seven members of her family, including her father, stepmother and five siblings.

Huda’s heart wrenching cries for her father as she ran towards his dead body not long after the blast were broadcast around the world. The images of her collapsing besides his body, weeping have turned her into an icon of the Palestinian struggle.

Before handing Huda an honorary award, the head of the Islamic University of Gaza Adel Awadallah said:

Huda is not an average person; she is a piece of every Palestinian. She got into our souls and into our hearts, and it is our duty to take care of her and stand by her.

“I am particularly grateful for my mother who stayed up with me, did so much to take care of me, raised me and encouraged me to finish my education,” Huda said during her graduation ceremony.

Israel initially took responsibility for the bombing, saying it regretted the civilian deaths. Later, however, it retracted and said the Israeli army was not responsible, concluding that the bombing was caused by a bomb planted by Hamas on the beach.

Following the incident, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of mourning, describing the incident a “bloody massacre”.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170728-iconic-girl-from-gaza-beach-massacre-graduates/.

Jordan MPs demand closure of Israeli embassy

August 3, 2017

Some 78 Jordanian members of parliament have signed a motion demanding the closure of the Israeli embassy in Amman following an Israeli shooting that left two Jordanians dead last month.

The motion, submitted on Tuesday, also demanded that the Jordanian ambassador leave Israel immediately in order “to express rejection of the Jordanian government’s handling of the issue and returning the killer to Israel”, according to Ma’an news agency.

“Jordanian blood and Jordanians’ dignity are not cheap and the government was supposed to stand for the right of the blood that was shed and maintain their dignity strongly and firmly,” the motion read.

Read: Jordan should stop bowing to Israel

Deputy Khalid Ramadan Awada added that further action would be taken if the government did not respond to their demands.

The petition comes a week after hundreds of people protested outside the Israeli embassy in Amman calling for the cancellation of Jordan’s peace treaty with Israel known as “Wadi Araba”.

Tensions have been high since the Jordanian government returned the shooter to Tel Aviv, followed by the release of images of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcoming the soldier. Jordan’s King Abdullah has since demanded that the guard be tried for murder.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170803-jordan-mps-demand-closure-of-israeli-embassy/.

Jordanian parliament repeals ‘marry the rapist’ clause

August 01, 2017

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — The lower house of Jordan’s parliament on Tuesday scrapped a provision in the kingdom’s penal code that allowed a rapist to escape punishment if he married his victim. Cheers erupted from the spectators’ gallery as legislators narrowly voted for repeal, following an emotional debate.

The vote was hailed as a major step forward for women in the conservative kingdom. “This is a victory for the women’s movement and human rights movement in Jordan,” said Salma Nims, the secretary general of the Jordanian National Commission for Women.

Despite the country’s pro-Western political orientation and cosmopolitan urban elites, many areas of Jordan remain socially conservative, with entrenched notions of “family honor.” This includes the belief that having a rape victim in the family is shameful, and that such “shame” can be expunged through marriage.

In Tuesday’s debate, some lawmakers had argued that an amended version of Article 308 was needed to protect rape victims against social stigma by giving them the marriage option. In the end, lawmakers voted in line with the recommendations of the government and a royal committee on legal reforms.

Moussa Maaytah, the Cabinet minister for parliamentary affairs, said that Tuesday’s “progressive decision” capped years of debate in the Jordanian society. The decision must still be approved by parliament’s appointed upper house, or Senate, and by King Abdullah II. After the expected final approval, Jordan would join Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt which have canceled their “marry the rapist” clauses over the years.

The international rights group Human Rights Watch said Lebanon’s parliament is also considering repealing such a provision. The clause remains on the books in several other countries in the Middle East and Latin America, as well as in the Philippines and Tajikistan, HRW said.

In a statement issued before Tuesday’s vote, the New York-based watchdog said that scrapping Article 308 “would be a positive step to strengthen the rule of law and end impunity for violence against women.”

Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, several dozen activists rallied outside the parliament in Amman, the Jordanian capital, calling for repeal. They held up banners reading “Article 308 is a disgrace to the Jordanian justice system” and “Article 308 does not protect honor, it protects the culprit.”

Nims said before the vote that many of the lawmakers had been undecided. She said some saw the provision as a form of “protection” for women who can demand marriage rather than suffer further social stigma for having been raped.

The need for such “protection” indicates a fundamental problem in how Jordanian law and society perceive women, said Eva Abu Halaweh, executive manager of Mizan for Law, a human rights group. “The law still looks at women as bodies, linked with ‘honor,'” Abu Halaweh said.

Earlier this week, parliament took another step toward legal reform, closing a legal loophole that had given courts the discretion to impose sentences of as little as six months on those who killed female relatives in the name of “family honor.”

Under the new amendment, killing “in a fit of rage” can no longer be considered a mitigating circumstance in such cases.

Associated Press writer Reem Saad in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.

Despite Arab anger, Qatar to continue support for Gaza

July 11, 2017

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Qatar will continue to support development projects in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, a Qatari envoy said Tuesday, defying a boycott by powerful Arab neighbors imposed in part over its support for the Islamic militant group.

Mohammed al-Amadi, the head of Qatar’s Gaza Reconstruction Committee, made his promise as U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in the region pressing for an end to the Gulf crisis. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed ties with Qatar last month, accusing the energy-rich sheikhdom of supporting Islamic extremists, including Hamas, across the region. Qatar denies the charges.

“My current visit is to emphasize to the Palestinian people that we are still here to continue projects and launch new ones,” al-Amadi said at a ceremony to sign a contract for building eight residential buildings. He stressed that the timing of the visit was “calculated.”

One of the main goals of the Saudi-led isolation of Qatar is to convince it to cut ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, the historical parent of the militant Hamas group. Qatar has been the largest single donor to Gaza over the past five years, disbursing about $500 million for housing, reconstruction, infrastructure development, and health projects.

Al-Amadi stressed that his country doesn’t support Hamas, but the massive projects are widely seen as indirectly aiding the group. Qatar also hosts exiled Hamas leaders. Qatar notes that its aid to Gaza is coordinated with Israel, which controls most land crossings into the blockaded territory, and the rival government of President Mahmoud Abbas, who still claims authority over Gaza after losing control of the territory a decade ago.

Nickolay Mladenov, a U.N. envoy who attended the ceremony, thanked Qatar for its role in alleviating the humanitarian crisis. His office released a report predicting a bleak future for Gaza, 10 years after the Hamas takeover and a subsequent blockade by Israel and Egypt. The countries say the restrictions on the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza are needed to prevent Hamas from arming.

The U.N. had warned five years ago that Gaza would be “unliveable” by 2020 due to the deterioration of the economy and natural resources. Tuesday’s report says things have only gotten worse. “Today’s update shows that unfortunately things have speeded up and have deteriorated more quickly than expected,” Mladenov said.

Al-Jazeera denounces Israel’s decision to close its bureau

August 07, 2017

JERUSALEM (AP) — Al-Jazeera has denounced Israel’s decision to close the Jerusalem bureau of Qatar’s flagship satellite network, saying that the measure is “undemocratic” and that it will take legal action.

Israel’s move follows in the footsteps of four Arab countries that are aligned against Qatar as part of a months-long political dispute over Doha’s politics and alleged support for extremists. The channel and its affiliate sites have been blocked in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain.

On Sunday, Israel announced it would revoke the press credentials of Al-Jazeera journalists, effectively preventing them from working in Israel. The news organization, in turn, denounced the decision it said came from a country claiming to be “the only democratic state in the Middle East” and said it would take legal action.