Archive for July, 2011

Syria: One hundred days of struggle

Khalil Habas
Counterfire, June 30, 2011

A general strike and continued street demonstrations marked the passing of one hundred days of protest and repression in Syria. Khalil Habash writes on the popular protest movement for democracy, social justice and against imperialism.

The Syrian uprising has exceeded 100 days. Despite harsh repression, the protest movement is continuing and increasing. Since 15 March more than 1,500 civilians have been killed, including around 70 children, and about 10,000 people arrested, according to Syrian human rights groups.

Many Syrians have fled to neighboring countries. More than 11,700 are now housed or seeking shelter in Turkish refugee camps, while a few thousand are now in Lebanon. Demonstrations are still being repressed by security forces, thugs of the regime and a section of the army, despite various declarations of the regime that they will not shoot on protesters if they demonstrate peacefully.

In Jisr al-Shughour and other towns such as Homs, military forces used helicopters and tanks to shoot at protesters. Some 15,000 troops and 40 tanks have reportedly been deployed to the city and surrounding region.

The protest movement is nevertheless growing, with demonstrations nearly on a daily basis in various cities in Syria, while on the “Friday of Tribes”, 10 June, protests were reportedly held in 138 cities and towns across the country. Similar demonstrations happened on Friday 17 and Friday 24 June.

On Thursday 23 June a successful general strike marked 100 days of the revolution and was upheld in the governorates of Homs, Hama, Deraa, markets of Deir Zor, the city of Lattakia Banyas, Douma and the majority of Rif Damascus. Universities, especially in Damascus and Aleppo, have witnessed demonstrations from students against the regime.

President Assad tries to contain the revolt

President Bachar Al Assad, in his speech on Monday 20 June, did not say or give anything new to satisfy the protesters. He maintained a defiant position. President Assad acknowledged that a certain segment of the protest movement might have some legitimate demands and wished to participate in democracy, but claimed immediately after this short statement that as many as 64,000 “outlaws” are leading the havoc in Syria and that, alongside this “army” of criminals, the uprising in Syria is also being stirred by radical and blasphemous intellectuals, trying to infiltrate into Syria wreaking havoc in the name of religion.

The Syrian media, all controlled by the State directly or indirectly, have been portraying all protesters as terrorists controlled by foreign powers.
Assad adds that Syria’s image has been “smeared” internationally, and that some protesters are being paid money in order to film demonstrations and deal with media. He claimed that Syria is a victim of “political conspiracies” which he likened to “germs”. This conspiracy theory against Syria is used by the Syrian regime in each official speech.

These accusations against the protesters did not prevent him calling for national dialogue with the opposition and the protest movement. He also indicated that the greatest danger the country now faced is the weakness or collapse of the Syrian economy.

But how does this speech fit with the reality of the situation in Syria?
Firstly, the reality is very different from Assad’s depiction of a protest movement dominated by terrorists, salafists and opportunists linked to foreign conspirators. We are now witnessing in Syria a popular national movement struggling for democracy and social justice. The protesters include the different ethnic and sectarian components of the country, as well as all the governorates throughout Syria.

Major demonstrations have taken place in the two big cities of Aleppo and Damascus. In addition to protests in Aleppo University, the two last Fridays also saw protests in Aleppo neighborhoods such as Salahedeen and Seif al-Dawali. In the villages north of Aleppo, around 5,000 protesters had turned out across Tal Rifaat, Hreitan, Mareaa and Aazaz. In Damascus as well protests were presents in the suburbs as well as smaller ones in the city.

The opposition outside Syria has also started to organize, gathering in several conferences across Europe. A consulting committee of the Antalya conference from May 31 to June 3, the main coalition of the Syrian democratic opposition, was set up. The main promoters of this conference were the left and liberal forces around the Damascus Declaration (DD).

Out of 31 members of the consulting committee 4 members each are from the DD, Muslim Brotherhood (MB), the Kurds (who are predominantly leftist) and the tribes. The remaining 15 are independent personalities. These outside organized forces of the opposition are nevertheless very weak on the ground. The MB as well as the left has been driven out by decades of severe persecution.

One of the main points of the Antalya declaration was to oppose any foreign military intervention. The protest movement on the ground has also refused any foreign military intervention which would serve the regime and would probably lead the country to civil war.

The popular movement in Syria is in favor of the unity of the Syrian people and against division, with a developing feeling of national solidarity and social solidarity that transcends sectarians and ethnic divisions.

The regime is using sectarian issues to scare one community against the other and divide people. It built the army according to sectarian criteria to maintain loyalty. While the majority of the conscript soldiers are Sunni according to their population share, the officers’ corps is predominately Allawi and fidels of Assad’s family.

The sieges and military intervention against the rebellious towns were nearly all by the 4th brigade led by Maher al Assad and special units in which most of the soldiers are Allawi. President Assad does not dare to use normal soldiers as he fears mutinies. There have only been some individual defections so far.

Secondly, the so called dialogue called by Bachar Al Assad can’t be taken seriously while the killing, injuries, repression and arrests against protesters are still going on. No dialogue is possible when tanks and helicopters are sent against the people. The popular movement has refused any so called dialogue until demands from the protesters are implemented. The so called general amnesty granted by the President for crimes committed before 20 June did not see the liberation of the 10 000 protesters detained since 15 March.

The democratic demands of the popular movement for a democratic, civic, and free Syria are not being met by the regime, which has drafted a new political party law which proposes establishing a “Party Affairs Committee” chaired by the Minister of Interior. Its members will include a judge from the Court of Cassation, and three independents appointed by the President of the Republic. Any person wanting to establish a political party will have to apply for a license along with 50 founding members “over the age of 25.”

They have to be residents of Syria representing no less than 50% of Syrian governorates. Additionally, party founders need to have a clean legal record and cannot be members of any other political party simultaneously. Any party needs to have secured 2,000 members at the time of applying, along with premises for its headquarters.

Parties cannot use government agencies to market themselves, nor can they operate out of charity organizations, educational institutes, or religious venues (church or mosque). This is all designed to maintain the Baath party’s monopoly.

Economic problems in Syria

As well as Assad mis-representing the protest movement and failing to engage in real dialogue, a third problem is his remarks on the economy. In relation to the possibility of the collapse of the Syrian economy, the Syrian President did not understand that his economic model has already collapsed for many people. This is part of why they are protesting against the regime.

Syria doubled its GDP between 2003 and 2008, but the economic growth did not benefit the Syrian people. Economic liberalization policies started in the early nineties, which were accelerated and boosted since Bashar Al Assad’s arrival to power in 2000. These policies have benefited a small oligarchy and few of its clients.

Syria witnessed the emergence of private banks and foreign investment in the country’s market, alongside privatization and liberalizing of foreign trade.

Tourism has become a flourishing sector, accounting now for 12% of the Syrian GDP – it brings revenues of about $ 6.5 billion and employs about 11% of the workforce. Syria, which was self sufficient in the past and used to have a strong industrial sector, is now importing food.

This economic policy had severe consequences for the people. Per capita income remains well below the average for the Middle East, the economy is still “developing”, the welfare state is gone, controlled prices on first necessity goods have been abandoned in some cases and poverty affects one third of the population.

Extremely reliant on service, the economy is now not creating enough jobs, especially for the young graduates.

The regime has progressively abandoned the agriculture sector which represents 20% of the Syrian economy. The countryside has endured harsh conditions as a result of four years of drought. The government did not answer the plight of the farming population, a lot of them having to leave their rural areas to cities to find jobs. Today, the rural poor are providing the foot soldiers of the uprising.

The announcement that Rami Makhlouf – the cousin of President Bashar Al-Assad and focus of anti-corruption protests – is quitting business and moving to charity will not solve the problems of the Syrian economy and definitely not appease the protesters. Rami Makhlouf controls several businesses including Syriatel, the country’s largest mobile phone operator, duty free shops, an oil concession, airline company and hotel and construction concerns, and shares in at least one bank.

As the uprising continues, manufacturers and merchants of Damascus and Aleppo, who have been until now supporters of the regime, have started questioning their political loyalty to the regime. They are now confronting a difficult situation by closing facilities and laying off staff. The bourgeoisie and the merchant class might therefore question their political loyalty to the regime if the situation continues this way and no viable alternatives are found. There are even now signs that some elements of the business elite are thinking of switching side.

The popular movement has refused any foreign military intervention in Syria and personalities linked to foreign imperialist interests such as Abdel Halim Khadam, Rifaat Al Assad and Mahmoun Homsi. There are those who make excuses for the Assad regime, and castigate the protest movement as ‘pro-imperialist’ for opposing it, like Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. They should be reminded that it is the Syrian people who pressured the Syrian regime to support the resistance now and in the past. It is the Syrian population who welcomed Palestinians, Lebanese and Iraqis refugees when they were attacked and occupied by the imperialist powers such as Israel and the USA.

It is this Syrian regime which arrested the people of Syria who struggled for the liberation of the Golan and Palestine for the past 30 years. struggle for the liberation of the Golan and Palestine for the past 30 years. This is the same regime which crushed the Palestinians and the progressive movements in Lebanon in 1976, while participating in the imperialist war against Iraq in 1991 with the coalition led by the USA. The Syrian people are the true revolutionaries and anti imperialists, and not the regime of Bachar Al Assad. The victory of the Syrian Revolution will open a new resistant front against the imperialist powers, while its defeat will strengthen these latter.

In conclusion, the Syrian popular movement is struggling for democracy, social justice and anti imperialism. The Syrian people will not go back to their houses despite the repression and the killings; they will continue to demonstrate until their demands are met. The Syrian people will not step down and attempts to divide the popular movement will not succeed – the Revolution will be permanent!

Source: Uruknet.
Link: http://www.uruknet.de/?s1=1&p=79134&s2=02.

Protesters in Jordan pelt parliament with eggs

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Dozens of Jordanians have pelted the parliament with eggs, demanding the dismissal of the prime minister and all parliament members.

The Associated Press
AMMAN, Jordan —

Dozens of Jordanians have pelted the parliament with eggs, demanding the dismissal of the prime minister and all parliament members.

The police briefly scuffled with the egg-hurling protesters, after which the rally ended peacefully.

Protests inspired by Arab uprisings have spread to Jordan but on a lesser scale.

Thursday’s protesters were angered that lawmakers this week cleared Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit of involvement in a casino scandal during his previous 2005-2007 term.

At the time, his Cabinet approved the country’s first gambling house in violation of Islamic law.

The parliament implicated al-Bakhit’s ex-tourism minister, but acquitted the premier. The protesters say al-Bakhit is also responsible. They plan more demonstrations for Friday.

Source: The Seattle Times.
Link: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2015470481_apmljordanprotest.html.

Sabotage of M.V. Saoirse in Turkey ‘an act of international terrorism’

Irish Ship to Gaza

June 30, 2011

The Irish-owned ship, the MV Saoirse, that was meant to take part in Freedom Flotilla 2 has been sabotaged in a dangerous manner in the Turkish coastal town of Göcek, where it had been at berth for the past few weeks. Visual evidence of the undership sabotage, which was carried out by divers, will be presented today at a press conference in Dublin at 11am in Buswell’s Hotel. Photographs and video footage of the damage are available from the Irish Ship to Gaza campaign.

Concerns for the boat first emerged on Monday evening following a short trip near the Göcek marina and an inspection was carried out by divers and by skipper Shane Dillon on Tuesday morning. Evidence was found that the shaft of the starboard propeller has been interfered with and it was decided to take the boat out of the water for a further visual inspection. On Wednesday, the boat was put on land at a local shipyard and the extent of the sabotage was immediately visible.

The propeller shaft had been weakened by saboteurs who cut, gouged or filed a piece off the shaft. This had weakened the integrity of the shaft, causing it to bend badly when put in use. The damage was very similar to that caused to the Juliano, another flotilla ship, in Greece. The consequent damage would have happened gradually as the ship was sailing and would have culminated in a breach of the hull.

The Irish Ship to Gaza campaign believes that Israel has questions to answer and must be viewed as the chief suspect in this professional and very calculating act of sabotage.

Commenting on the attack from Göcek in Turkey, Dr Fintan Lane, national coordinator of Irish Ship to Gaza, who own the vessel, said, “This is an appalling attack and should be condemned by all right-thinking people. It is an act of violence against Irish citizens and could have caused death and injury. If we had not spotted the damage as a result of a short trip in the bay, we would have gone to sea with a dangerously damaged propeller shaft and the boat would have sunk if the hull had been breached. Imagine the scene if this had happened at nighttime.”

“Israel is the only party likely to have carried out this reckless action and it is important that the Irish government and the executive in Northern Ireland insist that those who ordered this act of international terrorism be brought to justice. This was carried out in a Turkish town and shows no respect for Turkish sovereignty and international law.”

He continued, “One of the most shocking aspects is the delayed nature of the sabotage. It wasn’t designed to stop the ship from leaving its berth, instead, it was intended that the fatal damage to the ship would occur while she was at sea and this could have resulted in the deaths of several of those on board. This was a potentially murderous act.”

Dr Lane, who was on board Challenger 1 in last year’s flotilla, said, “The Freedom Flotilla is a non-violent act of practical and humanitarian solidarity with the people of Gaza, yet Israel continues to use threats and violence to delay its sailing. They attacked us in international waters last year, now they are attacking us in Turkish and Greek ports. There is no line that Israel won’t cross.”

“We will not be intimidated by attacks like this – it simply highlights the aggression that the Palestinian people of Gaza have to put up with on a daily basis. It strengthens our determination to continue until this illegal and immoral blockade is lifted.”

Calling on the government and northern executive to demand safe passage for Freedom Flotilla 2, Dr Lane said, “The Irish government needs to publicly condemn this dangerous act of sabotage but it also should insist on the flotilla being allowed to make it to Gaza unhindered. Israel has no right to interdict the flotilla and even less right to carry out attacks against vessels in Greek and Turkish ports.”

“It is important that everybody make their voices heard in solidarity with the people of Gaza and in support of the flotilla. The Israeli embassy should become a focal point for street demonstrations. These saboteurs came very close to killing Irish citizens.”

Also speaking from Göcek, the skipper of the MV Saoirse, Shane Dillon, said, “The damage sighted and inspected on the starboard propeller shaft on the MV Saoirse had the potential to cause loss of life to a large number of those aboard. The nature of the attack and malicious damage was such that under normal circumstances the vessel would most likely have sunk at sea. If the ship was operating at high engine revs, the damage done by the saboteurs would have caused the shaft to shear and the most likely outcome would be the rupturing of the hull and the vessel foundering. If, as was intended, the vessel had proceeded to Gaza at reduced revs, the stern tube would have been forced off line and a large and rapid ingress of water would have resulted, sinking the vessel.”

Mr Dillon continued, “The shaft was filmed and photographed when the vessel was lifted from the water on Wednesday afternoon in a shipyard in the Turkish coastal village of Göcek. A local marine engineer inspected the shaft and his opinion was that the interference was the work of professional saboteurs intent on disabling the Saoirse. However, the most shocking aspect of the attack was that its intention was to cause failure of the shaft when the vessel was offshore and this shows a total disregard for human life.”

He ended, “It is also worth noting that the damage inflicted on the Saoirse was identical to that that caused to the Greek/Swedish ship, the Juliano, which was sabotaged in the Greek port of Piraeus a few days ago.”

Pat Fitzgerald, a Sinn Fein member of Waterford County Council and chief engineer on the Saoirse, commented, “We were very lucky to discover this act of sabotage when we did. We felt vibrations from the shaft as we were returning to the berth on Monday evening following a short trip in the bay for refueling purposes. Close inspection by divers on Tuesday and then on land on Wednesday revealed a large man-made gouge on one side of the propeller shaft. The integrity of the shaft had been compromised and a very serious bend had developed. This could have caused fatalities had we set to sea and almost certainly would have sunk the boat when the engine revs were increased. It was an act of sheer lunacy and endangered the lives of all on board.”

The sabotage has been reported to the harbor master in Göcek and Irish Ship to Gaza are asking for a full investigation by the Turkish police.

The repairs have yet to be fully costed but could be more than E15,000 and they will take some time, meaning that the Saoirse cannot participate in Freedom Flotilla 2.

However, six of the 20 crew and passengers aboard the Saoirse will transfer to another ship in the flotilla. The six Irish who will join the Italian/Dutch ship are Fintan Lane, national coordinator of Irish Ship to Gaza and a member of the Free Gaza Movement, Trevor Hogan, former Ireland and Leinster rugby player, Paul Murphy, Socialist Party MEP for Dublin, Zoe Lawlor of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Hussein Hamed, a Libyan-born Irish citizen, and Gerry MacLochlainn, a Sinn Fein member of Derry City Council.

The MV Saoirse will be repaired and used in future flotillas to Gaza if they are needed.

Source: Uruknet.
Link: http://www.uruknet.de/?s1=1&p=79111&s2=01.

Jordan’s old guard thwart reform drive

30/06/2011

By Suleiman al-Khalidi

(Reuters) – Under a Bedouin tent in the dusty desert city of Maan, Western-educated King Abdullah pledges $20 million (12.5 million pounds) to build a hospital nearby to cheers from tribal chiefs who form the ruling Hashemite family’s power base.

Shouts of “Long live his Majesty,” ring out at the ceremony, one of an increasing number of royal visits to tribal areas where demands for state jobs and services have been piled on a king, torn between the desires of traditional Jordanians and addressing calls for reform inspired by the Arab uprisings sweeping North Africa and the Middle East.

Abdullah, who has ruled since 1999, has opted for timid steps towards democracy in response to regional turmoil, constrained by a tribal power base which sees reforms as a threat to political privileges and economic benefits.

Palace insiders say that more than ever during his reign, the monarch has been frustrated by the efforts of an old guard — entrenched in the state bureaucracy and intelligence apparatus — to block reforms.

They say the old guard have stepped up demands for favors and patronage since the protests began this year, threatening the finances of Abdullah’s resource-poor kingdom.

“Every time the king expresses pro-reform leanings they raise the ante and ask for unreasonable demands that only add to the already strained budget and aggravate the political scene. They put spikes in the wheel,” said Jawad Anani, a former royal court chief and prominent economist.

Jordan witnessed weeks of protests earlier this year calling for an end to corruption and wider political freedoms. In recent weeks hundreds of youths have also taken to the streets in the country’s tribal south demanding jobs and decrying what they term as inequality in favor of a more prosperous capital.

Critics dismiss the argument that the monarch is a reformist shackled by conservatives around him, seeing it as an excuse for a lack of progress towards greater democracy since Abdullah succeeded his late father, King Hussein, in 1999.

“Democracy has retreated to a degree that the regime, from the monarchy to the government to the security apparatus, treats Jordan as if it was a farm or a corporation they own to ensure the regime’s longevity,” said Musa al-Hadeed, a retired general in the Jordanian army and a leading advocate of a reduction in the executive powers of the monarchy.

OPPORTUNITY OF “ARAB SPRING”

Abdullah’s supporters insist an old guard who effectively run the country through the security forces stand in the way of deeper reform, seeing sweeping changes in the Arab world and Jordan’s moves towards a merit-driven economy as a threat to their decades-old grip on power.

Abdullah, in contrast to autocratic rulers elsewhere in the Arab world, has long complained about his frustration over the pace of reform and saw the Arab uprisings across the region as a chance to finally surmount resistance, palace insiders say.

“The Arab spring gave me, in a way, the opportunity that I’ve been looking for the past 11 years,” he said in an interview with the Washington Post on June 16.

Earlier this month Abdullah said that he was committed to pushing ahead with democratic reforms, but a vague promise he would devolve some of his executive powers to parliament failed to address wider political demands from Islamists — the country’s largest political force — and other groups.

In a country where the monarchy is a guarantor of stability among feuding tribes who seek his protection and acts as a balance between the country’s majority Palestinian and East Bank native Jordanians, no one wants to topple the king.
Jordan has largely avoided much of the turmoil that has swept through the Arab world this year and saw nothing on the scale of protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen or neighboring Syria. The demands of street demonstrators were limited to calls for an end to absolutism and corruption.

Politicians say Abdullah’s room for maneuver is limited and that the powerful mukhabarat (intelligence service) have even disregarded his calls to curb their involvement in politics.

They say security officials meddle in university appointments, harass and expel student activists, and play a role in revoking citizenship for Jordanians of Palestinian origin despite reprimands from the king.

QUEEN TARGETED

Even the monarch’s immediate family has not been spared the attacks of some ex-military members of the old guard who have criticized his high profile Palestinian wife Queen Rania. Irked by her high international profile, advocacy of women’s rights and image among westerners as the savvy face of Arab feminism, they say she is too vocal and interferes in politics.

“He is handcuffed and they have raised the ceiling of extortion to get more from him,” said one former official.

More significantly, the old guard continue to play on the long-standing fears of their East Bank and tribal allies that rapid political change would allow the country’s Palestinian majority to dominate Jordan’s national identity.

They have been accused of being behind the counter-mobilization of loyalist demonstrations across the kingdom to overshadow small opposition rallies.

This has not only helped fragment popular pressure for reform in recent months and undermined the monarch’s efforts to move faster, but also helped divert the reform discourse towards ethnic polarization, analysts and politicians say.

“Some agencies within the state have accentuated the fears of East Bankers and linked their demands for political reforms with losing their political gains,” said Mohammad Abu Ruman, a researcher at Jordan’s University Center for Strategic Studies.

But old guard figures argue the regime’s stability depends on thwarting any calls to empower Palestinians in Jordan under the guise of a democratic agenda.

“There are suspicious demands for reforms coming from some people that will not serve the interests of the Jordanian people and we oppose it,” said Nayef al-Qadi, a prominent conservative politician, tribal leader and former minister.

“Any reform that leads to the permanent settlement (of Palestinians) in Jordan would be a coup d’etat attempt that we will never allow,” Qadi added. “Anything that allows Jordan to become a victim of resolving the Palestinian problem at Jordan’s expense we would not accept.”

The kingdom’s powerful traditional political elite representing East Bank tribal groups have forced the monarch to lean more and more to their side.

Their biggest victory was to frustrate efforts for a more representative electoral law that was publicly backed by Abdullah as a key democratic reform
The law would have had to address the long-standing grievances of Jordanians of Palestinian origin, including their under-representation and discrimination by the state.

A proposed new electoral law charted by a government-appointed panel will ensure the East Bank power structure and status quo remains unchallenged.

The state already extracts more taxes from Jordanians of Palestinian origin, who remain pillars of the business community but feel increasingly abandoned by the state.

In contrast native Jordanians who depend on state jobs and are the backbone of the security forces and state bureaucracy have become the focus of government’s largesse.

A cabinet headed by conservative ex-security chief Marouf al-Bahkhit has raised civil servant salaries and created more jobs in an already bloated civil service that eats into the country’s $8.98 billion budget, threatening to sink Jordan into greater debt.

Some analysts say this will further polarize the country, as a government that is seen as serving East Bankers further alienates the country’s large population of Palestinian origin.

So far pliant and shunning politics, their continued exclusion from any future discourse on Jordan’s future bodes ill for the country’s long term stability, they say.

Source: Jordan Property.
Link: http://www.jo-property.com/aDetails.aspx?aid=1099&iid=31.

Freedom Flotilla Ready to Sail Despite Threats and Sabotage

By Bego Astigarraga

ATHENS, Jun 29, 2011 (IPS) – As the 10 ships of the Freedom Flotilla II – Stay Human make their final preparations to set sail for the Gaza Strip, purported acts of sabotage have been added to threats from Israel.

The flotilla, which will attempt to break through Israel’s blockade of Gaza for the second year in a row, includes two cargo vessels carrying more than 5,000 tons of humanitarian aid, such as construction materials and medical and educational supplies.

One of the two participating French boats, the Dignity/Karama, is already in international waters, having set out from a port in Corsica on Jun. 25 to meet up with the rest of the convoy.

After the international coalition that is organizing the flotilla gave a news briefing Monday Jun. 27 in Athens to journalists from around the world to announce its plans to depart on Thursday or Friday, the passenger boat Juliano belonging to the Ship to Gaza movement was sabotaged in the southeast Greek port of Piraeus.

Divers cut the propeller shaft and destroyed the prop house, Ship to Gaza said, adding that its own divers had documented the sabotage on camera and that an initial inspection had been carried out with a view to repairing the damage before the planned departure date. “It’s one thing for a foreign power to press the Greek government to delay our voyage with red tape. It is quite another thing for enemy agents to operate on Greek territory,” said Ship to Gaza Sweden spokesman Mattias Gardell.

“It is high time for the international community to put their foot down and say: Enough!” he said in a statement issued by the group.

The Juliano, which is jointly owned by the Ship to Gaza organizations in Sweden, Norway and Greece, is named after Israeli actor and director Juliano Meir Khamis of the Freedom Theater in Jenin, who was murdered Apr. 4 in that West Bank city.

Israel started tightening its stranglehold on the Gaza Strip after the radical Hamas won the January 2006 Palestinian elections, and imposed a full blockade in subsequent years, especially after the Operation Cast Lead military offensive launched in late 2008.

Israel argues the blockade is necessary for security reasons, while human rights groups counter that the siege amounts to collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.5 million mostly civilian residents and that it is illegal under international law.

The Free Gaza Movement, which is organizing the second flotilla, said Monday that Israel’s threats will not stand in the way of the humanitarian convoy.

“We will not be frightened by Israel, and we are going to continue. Our friends from all around the world are with us, and we are all going to Gaza,” said one of the flotilla organizers, Dror Feiler, an Israeli-born activist and musician from Sweden.

Greece is under pressure from Israel to keep the boats from setting sail, at a time of great vulnerability for the southern European country due to the spiraling economic and political crisis.

Vangelis Pissias, an organizer with the Greek delegation, urged the Greek government in a statement not to “become complicit in Israel’s illegal actions by succumbing to this pressure.”

“Israel’s best efforts to stop our boats at port, including pressure on governments, threats against insurance and communications companies, intimidation of human rights defenders, frivolous lawsuits and other underhanded tactics, have thus far failed,” the Free Gaza Movement said in a communiqué.

On Monday, the Israeli security cabinet ordered the navy to stop the flotilla from reaching the Gaza Strip. However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement that forces would be ordered to do so “with minimal confrontation, as far as possible, with those on board the ships.”

Israeli public radio reported that the government had reached an agreement with Egypt to allow the flotilla to unload its cargo of humanitarian aid at the port of El Arish, to later be taken by land to Gaza after undergoing security checks.

Senior Israeli officials claim to have received information that there are “extremists” participating in the flotilla who intend to “shed the blood of IDF (Israel Defense Forces) soldiers” using chemical substances, when Israeli troops attempt to board the ships.

They also say that despite earlier reports, the ships will be carrying members of the Turkish Humanitarian Aid Foundation (IHH), which organized last year’s flotilla, and members of Hamas – both of which Israel considers terrorist organizations.

The Israeli government’s statements came the day after Foreign Ministry officials informed the cabinet that there was no information about members of “terrorist groups” planning to take part in the flotilla.

Israel used similar arguments before and after the May 31, 2010 assault launched by IDF commandos on the Mavi Marmara, the first freedom flotilla’s flagship, in international waters as it headed towards Gaza. Nine Turkish activists were killed in the military operation, and over 50 of the civilians on board were injured.

A representative of the relatives of the victims killed on the Mavi Marmara, which this year pulled out of the flotilla for “technical reasons,” will travel in the Spanish boat Gernika along with 45 Spanish activists, political representatives and journalists.

“Gernika will carry the spirit of our murdered companions,” Manual Tapial, coordinator of the Rumbo a Gaza initiative in Spain, told IPS. “It’s a show of solidarity with those who aren’t able to travel this year.”

Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Trinidad Jiménez urged the Israeli authorities to act with “prudence and restraint” towards the second flotilla.

The flotilla will carry 50 journalists from around the world – including this reporter – who were warned Sunday by Israel that they would face a 10-year ban on re-entering that country, although later the government backtracked on the threat.

The countries where participating activists are from include Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

A boat carrying participants from several Arab nations may also join from Jordan in the next few days.

Some 500 activists and civil society personalities are ready to sail. But there are worries that the Israeli forces will assault the boats using tear gas, water cannons, taser guns, stink and sound bombs and attack dogs.

Source: Inter-Press Service (IPS).
Link: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=56274.

Jordan, US to perform joint military drill

2011-06-25

AMMONNEWS- Units and formations from the Jordan Armed Forces will conduct this month a joint military drill with the US side, the Jordan Armed Forces Moral Guidance Directorate said.

The drill will be attended by units from the land, maritime and air forces in line with Royal directives to upgrade capabilities of the armed forces and within the annual training plan of the armed forces.

Activities of the drill will also include seminar and courses in a number of fields.

Invitations were extended to 20 Arab and foreign countries to attend part of the drill as observers.

Source: Ammon News.
Link: http://en.ammonnews.net/article.aspx?articleNO=12561.

Arab-Israeli imam faces deportation from Britain

2011-06-29

British Home Secretary says unaware how Sheikh Raed Saleh – who was due to speak at House of Commons alongside three Labor MPs – entered UK.

LONDON – Arab-Israeli Islamist leader Sheikh Raed Saleh faced deportation from Britain on Wednesday after being arrested for entering the country despite a government ban.

Home Secretary Theresa May said arrangements had begun to remove Saleh, the leader of the northern wing of Israel’s Islamic Movement, and an investigation had been launched into how he managed to enter the country.

But Saleh’s lawyers said he had no idea he was subject to an exclusion order and vowed to “strongly challenge” attempts to deport him.

Saleh was arrested in London at about 11:00 pm (2200 GMT) on Tuesday after returning from a public event in the central English city of Leicester, one of several he was attending during a week-long visit, his lawyers said.

He had been due to speak at an event at the House of Commons organized by the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (PSC) on Wednesday evening, alongside three opposition Labor lawmakers.

“I can confirm he was excluded and that he managed to enter the UK. He has now been detained and the UK Border Agency is now making arrangements to remove him,” May said in a statement.

“A full investigation is now taking place into how he was able to enter.”

The Home Office could not confirm when or why Saleh was placed on an exclusion list, although press reports said it happened a week ago.

One of Saleh’s British lawyers, Tayab Ali, said his client had been arrested under a deportation order, which was issued “because the secretary of state considers the deportation to be conducive to the public good”.

He said Saleh had had no idea that he was barred when he flew in to London Heathrow at the weekend.

“He traveled to the UK using his valid Israeli passport through perfectly normal means. He came to the United Kingdom to attend a number of lectures and give a couple of talks in a perfectly normal and lawful way,” Ali said.

“We are instructed to strongly challenge the deportation order,” he added, on the basis that the original exclusion order had no merit, and because the deportation interferes with Saleh’s right to freedom of expression.

Sheikh Kamal Khatib, a spokesman for the Islamic Movement, blamed “the Zionist lobby in Britain” for pushing police into arresting him.

The detention was also denounced as political by another of Saleh’s British lawyers, Farooq Bajwa, who has been instructed to pursue defamation proceedings against two British newspapers who accused his client of anti-Semitism.

Bajwa said: “He feels that this is a campaign by the Israeli government and people sympathetic to them to exclude him even though he’s not a violent person.”

Saleh has had multiple run-ins with the law in Israel, including most recently being arrested at the border with Jordan after allegedly striking an interrogator.

In 2010, he spent five months behind bars for spitting at an Israeli policeman, and he has been detained on a number of other occasions, including in connection with an alleged arson incident.

He was also held after taking part in a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that Israeli naval commandos stormed on May 31, 2010 in a botched operation that left nine Turkish activists dead.

The Islamic Movement is tolerated in Israel but is under constant surveillance due to its perceived links with Hamas, as well as with other Islamist groups worldwide.

PSC director Sarah Colborne defended inviting Saleh to their event Wednesday, admitting that he had faced “horrific allegations of anti-Semitism” in the past but had “completely refuted” them.

Israel’s Arab community numbers 1.3 million, about 20 percent of the population. It is made of the Palestinians who remained after the 1948 establishment of Israel, and their descendants.

Source: Middle East Online.
Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=46999.

Arab activists buy $800,000 boat for Gaza flotilla

2011-06-29

Boat is expected to join aid flotilla aimed at breaking Israel’s five-year blockade on Palestinian territory.

AMMAN- Arab activists have purchased a boat to join a Gaza-bound aid flotilla aimed at breaking Israel’s five-year blockade on the Palestinian territory, a leading Jordanian unionist said on Wednesday.

“Arab contributors have bought in Greece a 560,000-euro ($805,000) boat that can take up to 200 passengers to join the aid flotilla to the Gaza Strip,” Wael Saqqa, former head of the Jordan engineers’ union, said.

“The boat has been registered under the name of Nur company, established for the purpose of purchasing the boat,” said Saqqa, adding 35 Jordanian activists would join the flotilla.

The vessel was expected to set sail for Gaza on Thursday, along with other ships.

“But it might be delayed because there is a general strike in Greek ports,” Saqqa said, adding the boat would carry medical aid and construction material.

Israel has repeatedly said it is determined to stop the 10-boat flotilla — recalling a similar attempt to reach Gaza in May last year that ended in violence when Israeli troops stormed the lead vessel, killing nine Turks.

Nearly 300 pro-Palestinian activists from 22 countries including Canada, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy and Spain are set to join the flotilla, among them a good number of middle-aged as well as elderly Americans and Europeans.

They are to be joined by 35 journalists from around the world, according to organizers.

Source: Middle East Online.
Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=46996.

UNESCO endorses Jordan-Arab proposal over Jerusalem’s Bab Al Magharbeh

AMMAN (JT) – UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee on Monday voted in favor of a Jordanian and Arab decision on the city of Jerusalem and Bab Al Magharbeh.

The decision was made during the 35th session of UNESCO’s executive board, which was held yesterday in Paris with the participation of a Jordanian delegation, the Jordan News Agency, Petra, reported.

In yesterday’s decision, UNESCO voiced its “deep” concern over Israel’s continued excavations at the old Jerusalem’s gate and the area surrounding it, in addition to Israel’s failure to provide the World Heritage Center with information on these excavation works, according to Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mohammad Kayed.

Under the decision, UNESCO also called on Israel to stop its works in the Old City immediately and requested that the World Heritage Center detail in its periodic reports to the World Heritage Committee all obstacles placed by the Israeli side and its justifications for not providing the center with the required information in this regard.

Bab Al Magharbeh, or Moroccans Gate, was listed, as part of East Jerusalem, upon a Jordanian request on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list in 1981 and the list of endangered world heritage sites in 1982.

Kayed said the unified stance by participating Arab states in yesterday’s session facilitated adopting the Arab proposal, noting that the Jordanian delegates have cooperated with their Arab counterparts tand other peers to reach an accepted formula for the decision, according to Petra.

He voiced regrets over the failure of reaching an agreement with some concerned parties due to the Israeli “intransigence” on some of the articles included in the decision regarding its unilateral measures on the land, which led the committee to adopt the resolution by voting instead of making the decision unanimously.

The spokesperson noted that the Arab decision has succeeded in extending UNESCO’s monitoring mechanisms to include all Jerusalem after it was limited to Bab Al Magharbeh, which leads to Al Aqsa Mosque.

Kayed said the decision was worded with a “a new level of rhetoric” in tackling the Bab Al Magharbeh issue in a way that addresses some of the major Jordanian concerns, noting that UNESCO also expressed its regrets for Israel’s plans to excavate the gate and build a bridge next to it before the committee’s meetings.

In May, the Israeli occupation’s municipal authorities in Jerusalem started with advanced steps to demolish the upper bridge that connects Bab Al Magharba, the gate that leads to Al Aqsa Mosque.

Jordan has rejected the move and came up with alternative plans that entail the renovation of the old bridge. UNESCO accepted the Jordanian blueprints.

Furthermore, the agency renewed yesterday its support for Jordan’s plan to renovate the bridge and thanked the Kingdom for its cooperation to safeguard the site as part of its role in safeguarding Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, where the Kingdom has jurisdiction.

Kayed said the Jordanian decision entails expanding its authority to monitor the gate and demands Israel to stop its archaeological excavations in Bab Al Magharbeh bridge, Petra reported.

28 June 2011

Source: The Jordan Times.
Link: http://www.jordantimes.com/index.php?news=38927.

Africa first aid convoy heads for Gaza

Sun Jun 26, 2011

Amid much anticipation and after almost a year of planning and coordination, Africa’s first overland aid convoy to Gaza is ready to embark on this historic journey.

The convoy comprises a dozen vehicles carrying much needed aid, including medical supplies, basic essentials, milk powder, generators and materials to build 10 houses. All of the vehicles will also be donated to the Gaza municipality. Organizers believe, emanating from the southern tip of Africa, the convoy bears particular significance.

The Africa to Gaza road convoy will cover over 10-thousand kilometers, passing through 8 African countries and stopping in communities along the way to distribute aid as well. But their biggest obstacle yet does not appear to be the second-grade African road network; Egyptian authorities have already said they will not allow the convoy onto Egyptian thoroughfares. But the organizers say they will not back down.

The organizers of the convoy say the aim is not only to take aid to Gaza, but also to raise awareness across Africa about the plight of those in the Gaza Strip. The convoy is expected to reach Gaza by the end of July.

Source: PressTV.
Link: http://www.presstv.ir/detail/186376.html.