Former Jordan PM calls to dissolve PA, Abbas’ resignation

April 13, 2018

The former Prime Minister of Jordan, Taher Al-Masri, has called for the Palestinian Authority to be dissolved and for its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, to resign.

Al-Masri explained during a seminar held yesterday at the Palestinian Center for Policy Research and Strategic Studies in Al-Bireh, central West Bank, that dissolving the Palestinian Authority or Abbas’ resignation are the most feasible option for the Palestinians.

He warned of the increasing dangers facing Jerusalem by the Israeli Judaisation plans and called to strengthen the steadfastness of the Palestinian people and their unity “especially in light of the decline of the Arab position regarding the Palestinian cause”.

He also called to make every effort to end Palestinian division and achieve reconciliation.

The Jordanian official praised the Marches of Return in Gaza and called for their expansion to include other parts of Palestine.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180413-former-jordan-pm-calls-to-dissolve-pa-abbas-resignation/.

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Israel launches widest Gaza daytime assault since 2014 war

July 14, 2018

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli military carried out its largest daytime airstrike campaign in Gaza since the 2014 war Saturday as Hamas militants fired dozens of rockets into Israel, threatening to spark a wider conflagration after weeks of tensions along the volatile border.

No casualties or major damage was reported on either side, and Israel said it was focused on hitting military targets and was warning Gaza civilians to keep their distance from certain sites. But it still marked a significant flare-up after a long period of a generally low-level, simmering conflict.

Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said the latest Israeli sortie, the third of the day, struck some 40 Hamas targets including tunnels, logistical centers and a Hamas battalion headquarters. He said the escalation was the result of the sustained Hamas rocket attacks, its fomenting of violence along the border and its campaign of launching incendiary kites and balloons that have devastated Israeli farmlands and nature reserves.

“Our message to Hamas is that we can and will enhance the intensity of our effort if needed,” he said. “What Hamas is doing is pushing them ever closer to the edge of the abyss … Hamas will have to understand that there is a price to be paid.”

Israel has been warning Hamas in recent weeks that while it has no interest in engaging in the kind of conflict that led to the sides fighting three wars over the past decade, it would not tolerate Gaza militants’ continued efforts to breach the border and its campaign to devastate Israeli border communities with incendiary attacks.

On Friday, thousands of Palestinians gathered near the Gaza border for their near-weekly protest. A 15-year-old Palestinian who tried to climb over the fence into Israel was shot dead. Later the military said an Israeli officer was moderately wounded by a grenade thrown at him.

Gaza’s health ministry said Saturday that a 20-year-old struck by gunfire Friday during the protests in the southern Gaza Strip had also died of his wounds. The Islamic militant group Hamas that rules Gaza has led border protests aimed in part at drawing attention to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed after Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007. The demonstrations have been fueled in large part by pervasive despair caused by the blockade, which has caused widespread economic hardship.

Over 130, mostly unarmed, Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since protests began on March 30. Israel says it is defending its sovereign border and accuses Hamas of using the protests as cover for attempts to breach the border fence and attack civilians and soldiers. Most recently, it has been struggling to cope with the widespread fires caused by the incendiary kites and balloons floating over the border.

In a statement, the military said Hamas’ activities “violate Israeli sovereignty, endanger Israeli civilians and sabotage Israel’s humanitarian efforts that aim to help Gazan civilians.” Sirens wailed overnight and throughout the day Saturday in southern Israel as waves of rockets and mortars were launched from Gaza amid the airstrikes. Israel said at least six of the projectiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome aerial defense system.

In a relatively rare admission, Hamas said it fired the rockets to deter Israel from further action. Most of the recent rockets from Gaza have been fired by smaller factions but Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said it was an “immediate response” that was meant to “deliver the message.”

Israel said more than 30 rockets and mortars were fired early in the day with fresh barrages resuming each time it attacked. As a precaution, the military shut down a nearby beach. The military said its jets targeted two Hamas tunnels as well as other military compounds, including those involved in the production of the kites and balloons. Tit said the Hamas battalion headquarters in northern Gaza was completely destroyed.

Erdogan Vows to Extend Offensive to East Syria, North Iraq

March 19, 2018

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, buoyed by his army’s capture of a Kurdish stronghold in northwest Syria, threatened to extend the offensive against separatist Kurdish militants to eastern Syria and northern Iraq.

Turkey’s military will shift their campaign to several towns under the control of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, including Manbij, Kobani, Tal Abyad, Rasulayn and Qamishli, “until this terror corridor is fully eliminated,” Erdogan said Monday. Turkey’s threat to attack Manbij, where U.S. troops are based, has put Ankara at loggerheads with Washington, and talks between the NATO allies have so far yielded no agreement. The U.S. also has a diplomatic presence in Kobani.

Erdogan on Sunday claimed victory in the cross-border operation he launched in January to expel the YPG from Afrin, a town along the Turkish border. While the loss of Afrin delivered a major blow to the YPG’s hopes to establish a contiguous autonomous region, Turkey has resolved to clear the separatist fighters from other areas near its frontier.

Turkish authorities see the YPG as an extension of PKK militants who have used bases in northern Iraq as a springboard for attacks on Turkish targets in a decades-long war for autonomy.

Erdogan Threat

Turkey has served notice to the Iraqi government in Baghdad that its forces would attack the major PKK camp on Mount Sinjar near the Syrian border unless Iraq takes action.

“If you are going to handle this, you do it,” Erdogan said in remarks directed at Iraq. “If you can’t handle it, then we may suddenly enter Sinjar one night and clear out the PKKs there.”

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said earlier that Turkish and Iraqi armies would carry out a joint offensive against the PKK bases in northern Iraq, probably after Iraqi elections set for May 12.

Turkey has had hundreds of troops deployed at the Bashiqa training based near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul since the end of 2014. It has also had a tank battalion stationed near the Iraqi frontier town of Bamerni for about two decades, and has frequently sent planes and troops across the border to target the PKK.

The U.S., meanwhile, expressed deep concern over reports that many residents had fled Kurdish-majority Afrin under threat of attack from the Turkish army and allied rebel forces.

“This adds to the already concerning humanitarian situation in the area, with United Nations agencies reporting a displaced population in or from Afrin district in the hundreds of thousands, who now require immediate shelter and other assistance to meet basic needs,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in an emailed statement on Monday.

“We have repeatedly expressed our serious concern to Turkish officials regarding the situation in Afrin.”

Source: Bloomberg.

Link: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-03-19/erdogan-vows-to-extend-offensive-to-east-syria-northern-iraq.

Iran has no intention to leave Syria, top official says

July 13, 2018

MOSCOW (AP) — Iran has no intention of leaving Syria regardless of U.S. and Israeli pressure, a senior envoy to Iran’s leader said Friday, reaffirming a tough stance on the issue expected to top the agenda of the upcoming U.S.-Russian summit.

The statement from Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, came in the wake of his meeting in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin. A day earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Putin that Israel wants Iran to leave Syria.

The high-level talks precede Monday’s summit in Helsinki between Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump, who are set to discuss the Iranian presence in Syria. Both the U.S. and Israel want Iran to pull out of Syria, while Russia has warned it would be unrealistic to expect Iran to fully withdraw from the country.

A possible deal could see Syrian troops replacing Iranian forces and its proxy Hezbollah militia in the areas near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Velayati reaffirmed Iran’s firm intention to maintain its presence in Syria, but skirted a question about a possible pullback from the border, saying only that Tehran won’t bow to U.S. and Israeli coercion.

“We coordinate the Iranian presence in Syria with Russia and Syria,” Velayati said during a meeting at Moscow’s Valdai Club discussion platform. “We will be present there the way we consider necessary. Sometimes we will play our role in Syria open-handed, sometimes we will do it with our hands hidden.”

While Velayati maintained a combative tone, his careful response reflected the intense diplomatic maneuvering ahead of the Helsinki summit. He expressed skepticism about the outcome of the meeting, repeating tough criticism of the U.S. and saying he didn’t expect Trump to make any positive contribution to stabilizing the Middle East.

Velayati argued that Iran along with Russia helped stem fighting in Syria and prevented the country from falling to the Islamic State group and other militants, scoffing at the U.S. demands to leave. “We have come there without the Americans’ permission and we won’t heed their demands to leave,” he said.

Velayati also strongly warned Russia against listening to the U.S. arguments about the Iranian presence in Syria. “I told the Russian officials: Now the Americans are telling you that the Iranians must leave Syria and tomorrow they will ask you what you are doing in Syria,” he said. “They are trying to split our alliance.”

Russian talks with rebels over south Syria collapse

June 30, 2018

BEIRUT (AP) — Negotiations between the Russians and Syrian rebels to end days of violence in the country’s south collapsed Saturday after opposition forces rejected surrender conditions proposed by Moscow, a rebel spokesman and a war monitor said.

Shortly after the collapse of negotiations over southern Syria, airstrikes intensified on rebel-held parts of Daraa province that borders Jordan. Saturday’s talks came on the heels of similar negotiations which took place Friday, in which the Russians tabled their conditions to halt a Russian-backed government offensive to capture rebel-held areas along the borders with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

“The talks collapsed because the Russians insisted on their conditions that want us to surrender,” said rebel spokesman Ibrahim Jabawi. “The (rebels’) negotiating team refused to surrender and refused to accept the Russian conditions.”

Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, also confirmed that the talks collapsed adding that shortly afterward Syrian and Russian warplanes intensified their airstrikes.

Syrian state media said earlier Saturday that more areas in Daraa province had been captured and in others rebels had agreed to hand over their weapons and reconcile with the government. The government offensive that began June 19 has killed scores of people, wounded hundreds of others and forced more than 50,000 to flee to areas close to the borders with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Jabawi, spokesman for the rebels’ joint operations room, said the insurgents set up a delegation that met with Russian officials Friday and again Saturday. He added that there are currently more efforts to hold a new round of talks to avoid further violence.

Jabawi told The Associated Press that Russia, a strong ally of President Bashar Assad’s government, wants the rebels to hand over their weapons followed by a return of government forces to rebel-held areas.

Speaking by telephone from Jordan Jabawi said that the meetings with the Russians took place in an area near where the provinces of Daraa and Sweida meet. “The Russian conditions are that rebels hand over everything and in return all areas will come under Bashar Assad’s control,” Jabawi said. “All people who carried arms will be put on trial.”

Jabawi had said earlier Saturday that the Russian conditions “cannot be accepted” adding that to pressure the rebels, intense airstrikes have been targeting southern villages and towns that have until now largely evaded the violence of Syria’s seven-year conflict.

The Observatory said the negotiations between rebels and the Russians were aimed to find “a full solution” for the future of Daraa. It said negotiations aimed to reach a cease-fire as well as have rebels hand over their heavy weapons then later their light weapons. It added that in return for Russian guarantees, the rebels would hand over the Naseeb border crossing with Jordan and return state institutions to rebel-held areas in the south.

The Russians would also compile lists of rebels’ names to work on securing them amnesty with the Syrian government. The Observatory said that since the offensive began 11 days ago, 116 civilians have been killed including five on Saturday.

Jordanian government spokeswoman Jumana Ghunaimat said Amman is communicating with most of the parties to the Syrian crisis, mainly Russia and the U.S., in an attempt to reach a cease-fire. “Jordan insists on its position that a political solution must end the Syrian crisis and it deals with relief organizations to help the displaced inside Syria,” she said late Friday.

Associated Press writer Akram Fares in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.

Ireland to discuss bill banning Israel settlement produce

June 28, 2018

Ireland’s parliament will discuss a bill promoting a ban on Israeli settlement goods next month, after a postponement in January, reported Haaretz.

In a tweet posted yesterday, Irish Senator Frances Black announced “on July 11th, my bill to ban illegal #SettlementGoods is in the Seanad”.

Black added: “We’re close to a historic move for justice in #Palestine, but I need your help! Plz take 2m to ask your TDs & Senators to support the bill.”

The senator also posted a video urging Irish citizens to tell their lawmakers to back the initiative to boycott produce made in Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory.

Haaretz notes that “the discussion at the Irish senate regarding the bill was postponed in January after Ireland’s Ambassador to Israel, Alison Kelly, was summoned for a talk at the Foreign Ministry to clarify the legislative initiative at the demand of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”

Read: Ireland’s book of condolence for Palestinians killed in Gaza blocked by pro-Israel groups

Kelly told Netanyahu that the Irish government actually opposed the bill, and subsequently informed Rodica Radian-Gordon, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s deputy director-general for Western Europe, “that the bill was not a Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment movement-linked initiative”.

At the time, slamming the bill, Netanyahu said its sole purpose was to “support the BDS movement and hurt the State of Israel”. The Prime Minister’s Office stated that the bill “backed those who wish to boycott Israel and completely opposes the guiding principles of free trade and justice”.

As recalled by Haaretz, “a group of Israeli activists, among whom were former Knesset members, lawyers, former ambassadors, artists and academics, penned a letter asking Irish lawmakers to support the bill” in January.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180628-ireland-to-discuss-bill-banning-israel-settlement-produce/.

Pro-Palestine candidate step closer to Congress after New York vote victory

June 29, 2018

The US Democratic Party was sent into shock this week when a 28-year-old former organizer for Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid ousted a party veteran from his perch in Congress on a campaign of social justice, equality and support of the Palestinian people.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the daughter of working-class immigrants, won the Democratic primary in New York’s 14th Congressional District on Tuesday, beating ten-term incumbent Joe Crowley, who was one of the favorites to become the party leader. The result sent shockwaves with politicians and pundits asking what the victory of a progressive social justice campaigner means for incumbents everywhere.

Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign, which connected with grassroots communities and was being run on a platform for social justice and equality, has received plaudits. Some democrats have described her approach as the recipe to get the Democrats back into power.

Ocasio-Cortez’s view on Israel and Palestine also received extensive media attention. The Democratic candidate expressed her support for the Palestinians during the Land Day protests in Gaza in which 135 Palestinians were killed by Israeli occupation forces and a further 13,000 were injured.

“This is a massacre,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.

“I hope my peers have the moral courage to call it such.”

“No state or entity is absolved of mass shootings of protesters. There is no justification. Palestinian people deserve basic human dignity, as anyone else.”

Glenn Greenwald, a pundit with the Intercept, said the tweet got a lot of attention because it’s rare to see someone in mainstream politics talking in “such clear moral terms denouncing the Israeli government’s military aggression in that way”.

Greenwald observed that it was politically suicidal for candidates to take an anti-Israeli position. Successful candidates, he said, needed to demonstrate “unyieldingly loyal to Israel”. Asked by Greenwald if she felt she needed to take such a tough stance against Israel despite the political cost, Ocasio-Cortez said she was compelled to take the position she took regarding Palestine on moral grounds.

“My background is as an educator, an organizer and an activist,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “And I think I was primarily compelled on moral grounds, because I can only imagine if 60 people were shot and killed in Ferguson, or if 60 people were shot in killed in the West Virginia teacher strikes” referring to civil rights and labor rights protests held in the US in recent years.

Ocasio-Cortez noted that her family is Puerto Rican, a US territory “that is granted no rights or civic representation”. “If 60 people were shot in protest of the United States’ negligence in FEMA [The Federal Emergency Management Agency] and kind of keeping us on that island, I couldn’t even imagine if there was silence on that,” she added, referencing the slow federal response to devastation wrought to the island after Hurricane Maria hit last year.

The Democratic candidate also noted the diversity of her congressional district, and said that many Jewish and Muslim constituents had thanked her for the stance she took on Twitter.

“People say in New York City this is political suicide, and so on, but I had a lot of my own constituents thanking me for taking that position,” Ocasio-Cortez continued. “I think that in the same lens that I looked at it, people, I think, are separating the actions and the status of the Palestinians from the greater geopolitics of the area. I think people are starting to just look at the humanitarian state of the Palestinian people through a humanitarian lens.”

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez’s former boss, has also taken similarly hard lines against the Israeli government.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180629-pro-palestine-candidate-step-closer-to-congress-after-new-york-vote-victory/.

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