Archive for August, 2011

Activists plan solidarity trip to Bergesh Forest

By Hana Namrouqa

AMMAN – Environmentalists and activists will go on a solidarity trip next month to Bergesh Forest, the site selected for the construction of a military academy.

The activists are calling for the relocation of the academy, the construction of which could entail uprooting hundreds of centennial trees in one of Jordan’s few forests.

The solidarity trip, organized by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) and the Save Bergesh Forest from Execution Campaign, is one form of objecting to the construction of the project. Over the past five months, activists have held several sit-ins in different locations.

“Participants will come with their families to highlight that Bergesh Forest is one of Jordan’s last remaining breathing spaces. It is another stand against the construction of the project at the expense of our trees,” Omar Shoshan, head of the RSCN’s environmental policies section, told The Jordan Times yesterday.

Construction work on the military academy started in early January but was halted after several environmental NGOs and MPs objected to the site, situated in the heavily wooded Bergesh Forest.

If the project had gone ahead in the original site, located 90 kilometers northwest of the capital in Ajloun Governorate, it would have resulted in the uprooting of 2,200 oak, pistachio, hawthorn and strawberry trees, each over a century old, according to environmentalists.

Following deliberations between the Jordan Armed Forces (JAF) and a Lower House committee probing the academy’s construction, the project was relocated to another site where fewer trees would be cut.

Earlier this month, the JAF issued a statement announcing that the blueprints for the academy had been altered to limit the number of uprooted trees to 200 non-centennial trees.

The statement said that for each uprooted tree, 20 saplings will be planted in the area, and that 2 per cent of the 1,200-dunum area slated for use by the academy includes forest trees and will only be used for training purposes.

“The JAF has worked to ensure that the project does not include any industrial elements that could potentially harm the environment and [the project] meets green building requirements,” added the statement, which was carried by the Jordan News Agency, Petra.

But environmental NGOs, activists, MPs and local residents say they want to avoid cutting down a single tree – pointing to the Kingdom’s rapidly depleting green cover.

Forests constitute less than 1 per cent of the Kingdom’s area, while the green cover in Bergesh stands at 90 per cent, according to the RSCN.

The forest represents an integrated ecosystem that houses over 100 plant species – 13 per cent listed as rare, 4 per cent as locally or internationally threatened and 13 per cent as holding medicinal value.

Shoshan said an alliance of environmental NGOs operating in Jordan will this week send a letter to all decision makers involved in the project, including the JAF, the ministries of environment and agriculture and MPs among others.

“The letter will again clarify our point of view that we don’t oppose the project, but call for its relocation to avoid cutting down Bergesh trees. The letter will remind decision makers of the laws that will be violated if the project continues,” he added.

If the project goes ahead, it will be in clear violation of Article 35, paragraph B of the Agriculture Law, which forbids uprooting, damaging or violating any centennial or rare forest trees and threatened wild plants, according to the RSCN.

29 May 2011

Source: The Jordan Times.

Egypt permanently opens Gaza border crossing

By IBRAHIM BARZAK – Associated Press
Sat, May 28, 2011

RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Egypt lifted a four-year-old blockade on the Gaza Strip’s main link to the outside world Saturday, bringing relief to the crowded territory’s 1.5 million Palestinians but deepening a rift with Israel since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak earlier this year.

The Egyptian move will allow thousands of Gazans to move freely in and out of the area — heightening Israeli fears that militants and weapons could easily reach its doorstep.

Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade after the Islamic militant Hamas seized control of Gaza in June 2007. The closure, which also included tight Israeli restrictions at its cargo crossings with Gaza and a naval blockade, was meant to weaken Hamas, but it also fueled an economic crisis in the densely populated territory.

Hundreds of Gazans gathered early Saturday as the first bus load of passengers crossed the border at 9 a.m. Two Egyptian officers stood guard next to a large Egyptian flag atop the border gate as the vehicle rumbled through.

Rami Arafat, 52, was among the earliest arrivals. He said he hoped to catch a flight out of Cairo on Sunday to Algeria for his daughter’s wedding.

“All we need is to travel like humans, be treated with dignity, and feel like any other citizens of the world who can travel in and out freely,” Arafat said. He said he believed the relaxing of travel restrictions “will guarantee more support from all Arabs and Palestinians for the new Egyptian regime.”

Nearby, 28-year-old Khaled Halaweh said he was headed to Egypt to study for a master’s degree in engineering at Alexandria University.

“The closure did not affect only the travel of passengers or the flowing of goods. Our brains and our thoughts were under blockade,” said Halaweh, who said he hadn’t been out of Gaza for seven years.

Until Saturday, the Rafah border terminal had functioned at a limited capacity. Only certain classes of people, such as students, businessmen or medical patients, were eligible to travel and the crossing was often subject to closures, leading to huge backlogs that forced people to wait for months.

Under the new system, most restrictions are being lifted, and a much larger number of Palestinians are expected to be able to cross each day.

Inside the border terminal Saturday, the atmosphere was orderly, as Hamas police called up passengers one by one to register their travel documents.

After 5½ hours of operation, terminal officials said 340 people had crossed from Gaza into Egypt. None were forced to return, a departure from the past when Egypt had rejected passengers found to be on “blacklists.” Another 150 people crossed from Egypt into Gaza.

“Today is a cornerstone for a new era that we hope will pave the road to ending the siege and blockade on Gaza,” said Hatem Awideh, director general of the Hamas border authority in Gaza. “We hope this facilitation by our Egyptian brothers will improve travel and will allow everyone to leave Gaza.”

One after another buses crossed Rafah, pulling blue carts behind them with luggage piled high. Inside the terminal, many waited with high hopes.

One woman, who gave her name as Aisha, said she was headed for a long overdue medical checkup in Cairo. She underwent surgery for blocked arteries at a Cairo hospital in October, but Egyptian authorities had prevented her from returning for checkups because a distant relative was caught — and killed — operating a smuggling tunnel on the Gaza-Egypt border. During the four-year blockade, a thriving smuggling business has grown along the border.

Salama Baraka, head of police at the Rafah terminal on the Gaza side, said travel has been limited to about 300 passengers a day under the old system. He said it was unclear how many people would pass through Saturday, but that officials hoped to get about three days’ worth of people, or roughly 900, across.

About 100 Hamas supporters marched with Palestinian and Egyptian flags outside the border terminal in a gesture of gratitude to Egypt.

“This courageous step by Egypt reflects the deep historic relations between the Palestinian and Egyptian nations,” said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zahri. “We hope this will be a step in the long process to end the blockade imposed on Gaza.”

The new system will not resolve Gazans’ travel woes completely.

While Egypt has dropped its restrictions on who can travel, bureaucratic obstacles remain. Men between the ages of 18 and 40 will have to apply for Egyptian visas, a process that can take weeks. Women, children and older men need easier-to-obtain travel permits, which can be obtained in several days.

Israel, which controls Gaza’s cargo crossings, allows most consumer goods into Gaza, but it still restricts exports as well as the entry of much-needed construction materials, saying they could be used by militants. Israel also enforces a naval blockade aimed at weapons smuggling.

Israeli and American officials have expressed concerns that Hamas will exploit the opening to bring weapons and fighters into Gaza. In January 2008, masked militants blew open the Rafah border wall, allowing thousands of people to pour in and out of Egypt.

Egyptian officials say they have security measures in place to keep weapons from crossing through Rafah.

Hamas has long used tunnels to get arms into Gaza. Gaza militants now have military-grade rockets that have hit cities in southern Israel.

Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli Defense Ministry official, told Channel 2 TV Friday that Israel’s primary concern is that military training personnel could cross to instruct Hamas fighters.

“One trainer who tells them how to set up the rockets and how to use them is equal to a large quantity of weapons,” Gilad said.

Egypt’s decision to open the border is also meant to boost an Egyptian-mediated unity deal between the rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah. Hamas has governed Gaza since routing Fatah forces in 2007, leaving the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority in control only of the West Bank.

Last month, the Egyptian regime brokered a reconciliation deal. With details still being worked out, Hamas will be in charge of the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing, but Egypt coordinated the opening with the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank, said Yaser Afnan, Egypt’s ambassador in the West Bank.

Jordanians protest, demanding government change

AFP, Friday 27 May 2011

Friday protests in Jordan draw thousands to the streets as demonstrators call for the fall of the government and an end to corruption.

More than 1,000 Jordanians demonstrated in the southern town of Tafileh Friday, demanding the fall of the government and urging an end to corruption, protesters said.

Rallied by a group calling itself “The Youth of Tafileh”, protesters chanted slogans such as “People want the government to fall”, “We will not be silent and continue to expose corruption”, and “Destiny will help the people who want to survive.”

The Friday protests come as King Abdullah II urged the government Wednesday to “protect the innocent victims of slander and hatred”, including members of his family.

Prime Minister Maaruf Bakhit said Thursday that “the government will take the necessary legal measures against all those who accuse officials of corruption without proof.”

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

In response, King Abdullah on April 26 created a commission to propose constitutional reform.

Source: Ahram.

Turkey: Israel should avoid flotilla face-off

May 27, 2011

ANKARA: Turkey’s foreign minister says he hopes Israel will avoid confrontation as a new aid flotilla prepares to depart for the Gaza Strip.

Ahmet Davutoglu said in an interview aired on Ulke TV late Thursday that he believes Israel “has gained sufficient experience” after last year’s Israeli raid on a flotilla that killed eight Turks and one Turkish-American and sparked international outrage. Each side accused the other of starting the violence.

A coalition of pro-Palestinian groups say a flotilla will set sail in the third week of June. Israel has vowed to stop any attempt to breach its sea blockade of Gaza.

A Turkish Islamic aid group said it expects the convoy to be at least twice as big as the one that attempted to reach Gaza last year.

Source: Arab News.

As toll mounts, Syrians opt for nighttime protests

May 27, 2011

BEIRUT: Syrian security forces opened fire on anti-government demonstrations Friday, killing at least eight people as thousands took to the streets, human rights activists and witnesses said.

The casualties included three people in Qatana, a suburb of the capital, and four in the southern village of Dael, according to local coordination committees in Syria, which helped organize the protests. One person was also reported killed near the border with Lebanon.

The 10-week protests have evolved from a disparate movement demanding reforms to a resilient uprising that is now seeking President Bashar Assad’s ouster. On Friday, protests erupted in the capital, Damascus, and the coastal city of Banias, the central city of Homs and elsewhere.

Human rights groups say more than 1,000 people have been killed since the revolt began in mid-March.

Many activists have been opting for nighttime demonstrations and candlelight vigils in recent days, aiming for a time when the security presence has thinned out. “We refuse to let them sleep,” a 28-year-old Dael resident said of the security forces. “We drive them crazy, as soon as they come to the neighborhood we go quiet and they get lost. And then we start again when they leave,” he told The Associated Press.

Source: Arab News.

Jordan premier under fresh pressure to resign

May 27, 2011

AMMAN: Hundreds of Jordanians demonstrated in Tafileh, 180 km south of Amman, on Friday demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit’s government, eyewitnesses said.

The protesters also urged the dissolution of the lower house of Parliament and severing diplomatic ties with Israel.

“The people want the resignation of Bakhit,” one of the slogans chanted said. Another read “You should step down, Bakhit, because you have no intention of conducting reforms”.

The demonstrators celebrated the resignation on Thursday of the Justice Minister Hussein Megalli and Health Minister Yassin Hosban.

Bakhit told a press conference on Thursday the two ministers resigned in connection with the illegal departure from the country on Feb. 25 of the convicted businessman Khalid Shahin.

However, the two ministers indicated in remarks to the local media that their quitting from the Cabinet had nothing today with Shahin’s affair which dominated local politics over the past three month.

Shahin, who is currently in London, was serving a three-year jail term when the authorities caught the public opinion with surprise by declaring that he was allowed to travel abroad to receive medical treatment which he lacked locally.

Bakhit apparently had ordered the two ministers to submit their resignation after King Abdallah sent him a strongly-worded letter ordering him to take “transparent legal steps” to punish those were involved in corruption cases that surfaced recently, political sources said.

In his resignation letter to Bakhit, Megalli said he had decided to step down “after he found the government’s priorities in disarray and the path of reform deadlocked”.

The demonstrators in Tafileh also burned an Israeli flag and urged the abrogation of the peace treaty with Israel.

They said that they were responding to a move by the extremist member of the Israeli Knesset, Arieh Eldad, who on Monday approached the Jordanian Embassy in Israel with a petition calling on King Abdallah to set up a Palestinian state in Jordan instead of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The Jordanian diplomatic mission refused to receive the document and called Israeli police who removed Eldad, a member of the National Union Party, from the area.

A similar demonstration was also staged after Friday prayers in the city of Maan, 210 km south of Amman.

Source: Arab News.

Palestinians hail reopening of Rafah crossing despite Israel’s reservation

by Emad Drimly, Saud Abu Ramadan

GAZA, May 26 (Xinhua) — The Palestinians on Thursday welcomed an Egyptian decision to ease restrictions of passengers movements, which had been imposed on the Rafah crossing on its borders with the Gaza Strip four years ago after the Islamic Hamas movement seized control of the enclave in 2007.

On Wednesday, the Hamas Ministry of Interior announced that Egypt had decided to permanently reopen the Rafah crossing point with the Gaza Strip and ease the restrictions imposed on the movement of the population of the coastal enclave, which had been under an Israeli blockade for four years.

Egyptian media reported Thursday that the country’s authorities decided to extend the working days at the Rafah border crossing from 9:00 a.m. (0700 GMT) to 5:00 p.m. (1500 GMT) six days a week instead of five days, adding “this measure was made to help end the internal division.”

Yasser Abed Rabbo, an official of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), told Voice of Palestine Radio that the Palestinian leadership encouraged the Egyptian officials to hurry up in reopening the Rafah crossing as soon as possible and ease the restrictions imposed on people’s movement.

“Reopening the Rafah crossing is so necessary because it will end the suffering of the Gaza Strip people in accordance with the agreements and laws that were used in running the crossing before the internal Palestinian division has begun in 2007,” Abed Rabbo said.

He added that the Egyptian decision “goes in harmony with creating a proper opportunity to finalize the implementation of the reconciliation agreement and also it would help the Palestinians to be able to confront the upcoming difficulties with better conditions.”

However, Abed Rabbo denied that reopening the crossing “is part of the reconciliation agreement,” which was signed in Cairo on May 4 between Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the Islamic Hamas movement, adding “the decision to ease the restrictions is a pure Egyptian decision.”

Meanwhile, the Hamas movement hailed the Egyptian decision. Hamas has been ruling the coastal enclave since it seized control of it by force in June 2007. Fawzi Barhoum, Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said in a press statement that the Egyptian decision is brave and responsible.”

“Egypt has been guarding the highest interests of the Palestinian people and the Arabs,” Barhoum said, adding “this decision is a step forward towards ending the unfair siege that the whole international community should follow Egypt and help completely end the siege.”

The less-influential Islamic Jihad (Holy War) movement also welcomed the Egyptian decision. The movement’s spokesman Dawood Shihab said in a press statement that his movement welcomes the decision, adding that they hope all restrictions will be lifted.

“I believe that easing the restrictions at the Rafah crossing is one of Egyptian revolution’s achievements,” Shihab said. Other Palestinian NGOs had praised the Egyptian decision, calling on the international community to exert more pressure on Israel to end the ongoing blockade.

Meanwhile, the Popular Committee to end the Israeli Siege said in a press statement that in addition to easing restrictions on people’s movement, “we hope that the measures will include soon mutual commercial cooperation between the Palestinians and Egyptians.”

Hamas Minister of Agriculture Mohamed al-Agha said he hopes that the Egyptian decision would develop and includes opening a commercial crossing between Egypt and Gaza to enable Gaza farmers to export their products to the outside world and encourage commercial cooperation with Egypt.

Chief of Gaza Chamber of Commerce Maher Tabba said it is necessary and important to reopen the Rafah crossing for the Gaza Strip. However, he said “the Rafah crossing can never be an alternative crossing, where other crossings with Israel must be also reopened permanently.”

Meanwhile, Israel expressed reservations after Egypt decided to ease the restrictions imposed on the Rafah crossing. Israeli Radio quoted Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Mattan Vilna’i as saying that “easing the restrictions at the Rafah crossing would resolve some of the problems with Israel.”

Meanwhile, Israeli security sources expected that reopening the Rafah crossing “would be helpful to Israel.” The sources told Israeli Army Radio that “the Egyptian decision may help transfer Gaza responsibility to Egypt.”

Source: Xinhua.