Archive for July, 2011

Italy upgrades Palestine’s diplomatic status

Monday 16/05/2011

RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said Monday that Rome would upgrade Palestine’s representation to a full diplomatic mission.

During a visit to Bethlehem, Napolitano said the head of the mission would have the status of an ambassador.

At a joint press conference, President Mahmoud Abbas thanked his Italian counterpart for upgrading Palestinian diplomatic status and for Rome’s commitment to a peaceful settlement in the Middle East.

France, Portugal, Norway, Greece, Spain and Ireland have all elevated Palestine’s diplomatic representation in their capitals.

Following his meeting with Napolitano, Abbas said that 63 years after Palestinians were forced from their homes in what is now Israel, there was still an opportunity for a historic solution.

But Palestinians could not return to negotiations while Israel continued to build illegal Jewish-only settlements on occupied Palestinian land, Abbas said.

The president said that Israel deepened the occupation by building settlements on land which would be a Palestinian state in a peace agreement.

The Palestinian leadership accepted the 2002 Road Map, which called on Israel to stop building settlements, and tried to move on after the Annapolis conference in 2007, reaching understandings with the previous Israeli government, Abbas said.

However, the current Israeli administration was “putting everything on hold,” he said.

Abbas said the Israeli government was launching a media campaign to discredit the recent reconciliation of Palestinian factions in Cairo. He noted that Israeli leaders had previously said that peace was impossible because of Palestinians’ division.

Israel must realize that “our people will not fade away,” even after decades of occupation, the president said.

Source: Ma’an News Agency.

Hezbollah Chief Says Hariri Court Has Ties with Western Intelligence Agencies


The leader of Lebanese Shiite armed group Hezbollah on Saturday described as “unjust” accusations traded against four members of his party of involvement in the assassination on Lebanese Sunni former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, adding that a prominent CIA agent was part of the team of investigators looking into the 2005 killing.

In his first reaction to the indictment, Hassan Nasrallah said the accusations will not stir Sunni-Shiite tension or another civil war in Lebanon.

“I tell the Lebanese…there is nothing to worry about,” he said in a televised speech.

Nasrallah said it would be impossible to arrest the alleged suspects, “not in 30 days nor in 30 years.”

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which is probing the Hariri assassination, submitted to the Lebanese authorities this week a sealed indictment. Judicial leaks said the indictment named four Hezbollah members, confirming earlier reports that the U.N.- backed court was bracing to point the finger at members of the powerful Lebanese group.

“This court is politicized and serves a specific purpose, which is to deal a blow to resistance movements against Israel,” said the Hezbollah secretary general, reiterating that the STL was an American-Israeli project.

“We are not concerned with this court or anything that comes out from it,” said Nasrallah, “We will not allow this court to drag Lebanon into civil strife.”

Nasrallah revealed that one of the advisers to STL Prosecutor Daniel Bellemare was a top CIA agent that was tasked with tracking Hezbollah’s slain top military commander Imad Mughniyeh.

Nasrallah also described investigators looking into the Hariri assassination and some of the STL staff as “biased and corrupted.”

Nasrallah also showed footage of Gerhard Lehmann, top investigator in the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC) to inspect the Hariri assassination, receiving a sum of money for information on the investigation he divulged.

The black-turbaned cleric questioned the reason why the UNIIIC shipped 97 computers to The Hague from Israel rather than regular routes such as the Lebanese port and airport. He also showed a voucher issued from the Israeli Customs to that effect.

Source: CRIEnglish.

Jordan King Approves Cabinet Reshuffle


King Abdullah II of Jordan on Saturday approved a cabinet reshuffle led by Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit, the state-run Petra news agency reported.

The reshuffle, the first since Bakhit took office in February this year, saw the entry of new eleven ministers, including ministers of interior, social development, state for media affairs and communications, health, culture, among others.

On Friday, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets demanding the sacking of Bakhit and his government.

Early February, King Abdullah II named Marouf Bakhit as the new prime minister, succeeding Prime Minister Samir Rifai.

Bakhit was born on 1947. In 1999, he retired from the army as a major general. He also served as the head of National Security and acting director of the king’s office. He served as a prime minister from 2005 till 2007.

Source: CRIEnglish.

Greece arrests Gaza-bound boat captain

Sunday, July 3, 2011

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek authorities have arrested the captain of a boat that is part of a Gaza-bound flotilla trying to deliver humanitarian aid to the Palestinian territory, officials said.

The 60-year-old captain, John Klusmire, was being held at Piraeus police headquarters and will remain there until a court hearing Tuesday.

“The conditions of his detention are terrible,” vessel spokeswoman Jane Hirschmann told The Associated Press on Saturday. “There is no bed. He is sitting on a bench.” Police weren’t immediately available for comment.

Greece’s coast guard said Klusmire, captain of “The Audacity of Hope,” faces charges of trying to leave port without permission and of endangering the lives of the boat’s passengers. The latter charge is a felony.

The boat was carrying 36 passengers, four crew and about 10 members of the media. Its attempt to sail Friday night from the port of Perama, near Athens, was thwarted by coast guard speedboats. On the same day, Greece had announced it was banning vessels heading to Gaza from leaving Greek ports.

The “Audacity of Hope” has been moored at a Greek naval station. Its crew of four, two British and two American citizens, was forbidden to leave the boat. The British Embassy intervened and while they were then allowed to leave the boat, the crew and the passengers chose to stay on board, Hirschmann said.

“Where is the American embassy in all this?” she said, adding that U.S. authorities had not responded to passengers’ calls for assistance. The U.S. Embassy wasn’t immediately available for comment.

In Jerusalem, Israel has denied claims it sabotaged ships trying to breach its sea blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Activists have accused Israel of damaging two ships docked in Turkey and Greece that were part of a flotilla attempting to reach the Palestinian territory.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor dismissed the sabotage charges as “ridiculous,” calling them “sad conspiracy theories.”

Selcuk Unal, a spokesman for the Turkish Foreign Ministry, said authorities had determined that there was no act of sabotage on an Irish vessel in the flotilla that docked in the Turkish port of Gocek on the Aegean Sea.

Israel says it imposed the blockade in 2007 to stop weapons reaching the Islamic militant group Hamas that rules Gaza. Activists describe the blockade as a form of incarceration for the Palestinians.

Nine activists on a Turkish boat were killed last year in an Israeli raid on a similar flotilla.

In a statement, the Middle East Quartet of Mideast mediators — the U.S., U.N., EU and Russia — said it remained concerned about the difficult conditions facing Palestinians in Gaza, but noted “a marked increase in the range and scope of goods and materials” entering Gaza over the last year.

It urged those wishing to deliver goods to Gaza to do so through “established channels,” which include Israeli and Egyptian crossings.

The Quartet “urges restraint and calls on all Governments concerned to use their influence to discourage additional flotillas, which risk the safety of their participants and carry the potential for escalation,” the statement said.

Christopher Torchia in Athens, Ian Deitch in Jerusalem and Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.

Greece bars boats leaving Greek ports for Gaza

Jul 1, 2011

ATHENS: Greece on Friday banned ships heading to the Gaza Strip from leaving Greek ports, and a vessel carrying several dozen Americans which left port without permission was asked to return.

A flotilla of nine Greek and foreign-flagged vessels and several hundred activists have said they want to break Israel’s sea blockade and deliver aid to the Palestinian territory.

Greece’s Civil Protection Ministry said coast guard authorities had been ordered to take “all appropriate measures” to implement the ban. It also said the “broader maritime area of the eastern Mediterranean will be continuously monitored by electronic means for tracking, where applicable, the movements of the ships allegedly participating” in the flotilla.

Witnesses said one of the boats, dubbed the Audacity of Freedom and carrying several dozen Americans, had left port Friday afternoon. Activists said on their Twitter feed that they had been intercepted by the Greek Coast Guard.

A Greek government official said the boat had set sail without the permission required of all boats to leave port, and that the Coast Guard had asked it to return. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the situation was still evolving.

Israel has said it will thwart any effort to breach the sea blockade of Gaza, which was imposed on the Palestinian territory after Hamas overran it in 2007.

An Israeli raid on a similar flotilla last year killed nine activists on a Turkish ship and each side blamed the other for the violence.

On Thursday, an Irish ship, the MV Saoirse at the Turkish coastal town of Gocek, said it had to abandon plans to set sail because of what it called Israeli sabotage. Earlier this week, activists said Israeli agents damaged the propeller of a Swedish ship in the Greek port. Israel has refused AP requests for comment on the allegations.

Source: Arab News.

Jordanian protesters want PM jailed


Police clash with more than 100 demonstrators demanding downfall of government, parliament outside parliament.

AMMAN – Police on Thursday clashed briefly with Jordanian demonstrators outside parliament before dispersing an anti-corruption protest, which called for the “imprisonment” of the prime minister.

“The people want the imprisonment of (premier) Maaruf Bakhit. The people want to expel Bakhit,” more than 100 people, mostly youths, chanted in central Amman.

“The nation is a red line. We demand the downfall of government and parliament as well as the corrupt in the state,” read one of the banners they carried.

They were protesting a lower house decision this week not to impeach Bakhit for his alleged role in a suspected graft case about a multi-million-dollar deal that his government singed with a UK-based company to build a casino, between 2005 and 2007 when he first served as premier.

The lower house has cleared Bakhit despite a parliamentary committee report which has found Bakhit partially responsible.

“The police dispersed the demonstration because they did not want to hear what we say,” former MP Ali Ali Abu Sukkar, who took part in the protest, said.

The protesters wanted to hurl rotten eggs at the parliament building and MPs, but later threw them in the streets.

“We came from all parts of Jordan to protest the casino case farce by the government and MPs. We want them all out,” Hisham Hees of the southern city of Theiban said.

Three MPs have resigned in protest against the lower house decision, news reports have said.

The powerful opposition Islamist movement as well as other groups plan to hold similar demonstrations in Amman and other parts of Jordan on Friday.

Since January, Jordan has faced a protest movement demanding political and economic reforms and an end to corruption.

Source: Middle East Online.

Jordan cabinet reshuffled amid protests

Sat Jul 2, 2011

The Jordanian Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit has reshuffled his cabinet in a bid to ease the ongoing anti-government demonstrations in the country seeking his resignation.

Eleven new ministers received a Royal Decree from King Abdullah II on Saturday, the state-run Petra news agency reported.

Bakhit’s cabinet was formed in February 2011, and since then three lawmakers have resigned due to months long anti-government demonstrations.

King Abdullah II responded to the protesters’ demand when he dismissed former Prime Minister Samir Rifai and replaced him with Bakhit in February.

The protesters, however, continued their demonstrations, calling for Bakhit to be replaced with a democratic government. The Jordanians want the premier ousted and the parliament dissolved.

“Reform is demanded by the public and a crucial passage for survival. The regime must meet such demands and start genuine reform measures, not only cosmetic measures. The government should stop referring to parliament legislation that is categorized as military laws in a democratic dress. The government of Bakhit has expired. We are badly in need of a national salvation government,” Muslim Brotherhood leader Zai Bani said last week.

Moreover, there have been several violent clashes between security forces and anti-government protesters, who also are demanding an end to ties with Israel.

Source: PressTV.

Jordan’s Cabinet reshuffled amid PM scandal

Jul 2, 2011

AMMAN, Jordan: Jordan’s King Abdullah II endorsed a Cabinet reshuffle on Saturday in the wake of scandals and resignations that have tainted the country’s prime minister and ignited calls for his resignation.

The move follows six months of street protests in Jordan — inspired by uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world — that have pressed for a wider public say in politics, the lowering of food prices and reduction of inflation rates.

The most significant official to go as part of the reshuffle was Interior Minister Saad Hayel Srour. He was replaced by Mazen Saket, seen as a moderate politician who may be more palatable to the public.

Srour was accused by the protesters of ordering the police to use excessive force to quell the demonstrations. He was also widely criticized for allowing businessman Khaled Shaheen — who was serving a three-year prison term for bribery and corruption — to leave Jordan.

Abdullah Abu Ruman, a newspaper columnist in charge of a government office that censors the media, was named information minister — a move signaling that the government will continue to control the press.

The reshuffle followed earlier resignations of three Cabinet members, two of whom stepped down in the wake of a public outcry over Shaheen’s departure from the country. The third quit over differences with the prime minister over draft laws he said restrict media freedoms.

Separately, Prime Minister Marouf Al-Bakhit has been tied to another scandal, during his previous 2005-2007 tenure, when his Cabinet approved the country’s first casino in violation of Islamic law that bans gambling.

But a parliamentary committee investigating the affair has acquitted Al-Bakhit while implicating a former tourism minister who served in his government.

It was not immediately clear if the reshuffle will placate protesters who have been demanding that Al-Bakhit, who took office Feb. 9, step down.

A royal palace statement said Saturday’s reshuffle brought in nine new ministers and raised by two portfolios the overall number in Al-Bakhit’s Cabinet to 29 members.

Source: Arab News.

Protesters urge Jordan PM ouster

Fri Jul 1, 2011

Thousands of people have demonstrated across Jordan to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit and the dissolution of the lower house of parliament.

About 1,500 Jordanians took part in a demonstration outside Grand Husseini Mosque in central Amman after the Friday Prayers to express anger over the chamber’s vote on Monday that cleared Bakhit of corruption charges in connection with a casino deal in 2007, DPA reported.

The protesters chanted “Down with Bakhit and his gambling government. A dishonest broker cannot protect the country.”

“The casino government should go. No to the casino parliament,” read one of the banners carried by the demonstrators.

“This house should be dissolved because it provides a cover-up for corrupts,” Murad Adayleh, a senior member of the Islamic Action Front (IAF), Jordan’s main opposition party, said.

Meanwhile, hundreds of people demonstrated in Tafileh, situated 180 kilometers (111 miles) south of Amman, and called for the ouster of Bakhit’s government.

Protest rallies were reported in the cities of Maan, Karak and Irbid, where participants demanded the “sacking of government and dissolution of parliament.”

On Monday, Jordan’s lower house of parliament cleared Bakhit despite a parliamentary committee report which has found the premier’s role in a suspected graft case about a multi-million-dollar deal that his government singed with a British-based company to build a casino in the Muslim state between 2005 and 2007.

At least three Jordanian lawmakers have resigned in protest to the parliament’s decision.

Source: PressTV.

Hamas denounces Greece’s Flotilla II ban

GAZA, July 2 (KUNA) — The Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) strongly condemned Saturday the Government of Greece for stopping the Freedom Flotilla II, which carries humanitarian aids, from sailing to the Israeli-sieged Gaza Strip.

Hamas said in a statement released here Saturday Greece’s decision to stop the humanitarian Flotilla is surely a result of Israeli pressure, something which violates all international laws.

Hamas called on the European Union (EU) and humanitarian organizations to pressure Greece to allow the Freedom Flotilla II to sail towards Gaza.

In its statement, the movement also urged all world countries to combat the Israeli siege on Gaza.

Greece had announced it would prevent Gaza-destined aid vessels heading to the Palestinian enclave, which outraged the organizers.

A US ship is part of the Freedom Flotilla II; carrying over 40 international activists.

Source: Kuwait News Agency (KUNA).