Archive for September 7th, 2011

Palestinian makes artistic mark on passports

May 31, 2011

RAMALLAH, West Bank: It is like no other passport control on earth. No stern official sitting behind a glass wall, no scanning of travel documents, no terse questions about where you are going. Instead, a lone artist greets arriving visitors and politely asks them if they would like an entry stamp.

Living in occupied territory, the Palestinians do not have the right to set up their own frontier controls. Anyone who passes through Israeli checkpoints is swiftly absorbed into the bustling streets of West Bank cities like Ramallah.

But art student Khaled Jarrar has decided to fill the institutional void with a dainty entry stamp of his own design, which he offers to foreigners as they tumble out of the buses.

“I believe in art that makes a difference, that talks about change. My art is making a political statement,” said Jarrar, spurning traditional galleries for Ramallah’s chaotic central bus station.

While many tourists arriving from nearby Jerusalem appear enthusiastic about the project, few are willing to hand over their precious passports for the sake of art.

Jeff Reynolds, a visitor from Canada, listens intently as Jarrar explains the idea behind the unofficial stamp, then politely declines, fearful that Israeli authorities will give him grief when he tries to fly home.

“I’m just worried about missing my flight at Tel Aviv airport if they question me for a long time about it,” he says, referring to security guards who grill passengers at length before they leave, asking where they went and whom they met.

Palestinians want to set up an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as their capital, on land the Israelis seized in the 1967 Middle East war.

Nearly 20 years of on-off peace negotiations have failed to secure an accord, and the Palestinians say they will now seek United Nations’ approval for a sovereign state in September.

Diplomats say this move stands little chance of success, meaning 35-year-old Jarrar might be the only Palestinian passport controller in the West Bank for some time to come.

His small, round stamp is circled with the words ‘State of Palestine’, written in Arabic and English. In the middle is a drawing of the Palestine Sun Bird flying near delicate flowers.

“In regards to the question of statehood, I think I have sent the message. I think I have done what I can,” says Jarrar, who has set up a Facebook page to promote his stamp — Live-and-work-in-Palestine.

After a string of polite rejections, Jarrar finally finds some foreigners eager to hand over their passports.

“I’m very supportive of the Palestinian cause, and I think this is occupation. So I find it outrageous that they don’t have the right to have their own authority,” says Morgana Benedetti, visiting the West Bank from Italy.

She asks Jarrar to put the stamp on page 9 of her passport — her favorite number — saying it is important for her to have both an Israeli and a Palestinian stamp.

“It’s silly, but it’s like a country. I get a stamp of Israel, but I don’t get a stamp of Palestine?” she says.

Source: Arab News.

Armed residents put up resistance to Syrian Army

May 31, 2011

BEIRUT: Syrian troops shelled a town in the center of the country Monday, and for the first time in the two-month-old revolt against the president, residents armed with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades put up fierce resistance, activists said. State media said four soldiers were killed.

Most of the opposition to autocratic President Bashar Assad has taken the form of peaceful protests by unarmed demonstrators, though authorities have claimed throughout the uprising that it was being led by armed gangs and propelled by foreign conspiracies.

Two activists in the area said residents of two towns under attack in central Homs province since Sunday had taken up arms against troops and members of the security forces and that there were new casualties, though they did not know how many.

The Local Coordination Committees in Syria, which help organize and document the protests, said two bodies were found Monday morning in the area of Bab Amro cemetery, raising the death toll from the two-day crackdown in the country’s turbulent heartland to 11.

“The army is facing armed resistance and is not able to enter the two towns,” said a Homs resident who has wide connections in the province. “The army is still outside the towns and I was told that army vehicles, including armored personnel carriers, were burnt.” The other activist said the army “is being subjected to stiff resistance” by residents using automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades in the two towns, Tabliseh and Rastan. He said many people are armed in Syria and over the past years weapons have been smuggled into the country from Lebanon and Iraq.

Syria has barred foreign journalists from entering the country and prevented coverage of the revolt, making it nearly impossible to independently verify accounts coming out of the country.

Monday’s accounts by the two activists, however, were the first credible reports of serious resistance by people who have taken up arms. It is not clear how widespread such resistance might be elsewhere in the country, but the government has claimed that more than 150 soldiers and policemen have been killed since the unrest began.

The Local Coordination Committees in Syria said military forces hit Tabliseh with artillery early Monday and that snipers were deployed on roofs of mosques.

Syrian troops, backed by tanks, have been conducting operations in Tabliseh and the nearby town of Rastan Teir Maaleh since Sunday.

Syria’s state-run news agency said four soldiers were killed and 14 wounded in Tabliseh.

Assad’s use of the military signals he is determined to crush the two-month-old revolt, despite US and European sanctions, including an EU assets freeze and a visa ban on Assad and nine members of his regime.

The uprising, which began in mid-March, is posing the most serious challenge to the Assad family’s 40-year rule. What began as a disparate movement demanding reforms has erupted into a resilient uprising seeking Assad’s ouster. Human rights groups say more than 1,000 people have been killed in the crackdown.

In Geneva, the UN’s top human rights official said Monday the brutality and magnitude of repression in Syria and Libya against anti-government groups is “shocking.” Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the crackdown in those countries is marked by an “outright disregard for basic human rights.” He urged the Syrian government Monday to allow a UN fact-finding mission to visit the country. The team has been awaiting Syria’s reply since requesting a visit on May 6.

Rights activist Mustafa Osso said troops have entered several towns in the restive Homs province and detained hundreds of people since Sunday. He added that since Sunday night, Rastan and Tabliseh have been subjected to heavy machine gun fire.

Residents of the Homs towns have held anti-regime protests since the start of the uprising. Those protests have increased recently, with crowds taking to the streets day and night to call for the fall of Assad’s regime, an activist said.

Osso said there were several demonstrations in different parts of Syria overnight, adding that there were no reports of security forces opening fire.

In recent days, many Assad opponents have been holding protests and candlelight vigils at times of the night when the security presence has thinned out.

Source: Arab News.

Jordan opposition calls for government’s resignation

May 31, 2011

AMMAN: Jordan’s main opposition party, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), and the country’s strongest pro-democracy coalition on Monday urged the resignation of Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit’s government for its failure to adopt the needed reforms.

“The way out of the deep crisis we experience lies in the formation of a national reform government, to be led by a national personality which believes in reforms and adopts a program with clear objectives, including the adoption of real, political and constitutional reforms,” the IAF said in a statement.

The IAF, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, considered last week’s resignation of two Cabinet ministers indicative of Bakhit’s failure to fight corruption and “the unprecedented political, economic and social crisis Jordan is grappling with.”

Bakhit said that the Justice Minister Hussein Megalli and Health Minister Yassin Hosban resigned on Thursday to concede responsibility for the ”mistakes” committed in their ministries that enabled the convicted businessman Khalid Shahin to flee from the country on Feb. 25.

In his resignation letter to the prime minister, Megalli said that he had decided to resign because he found the “path of reforms deadlocked.”

Local media on Monday expected more cabinet ministers to quit in connection with Shahin’s affair that dominated the thinking of the Jordanian public opinion over the past three months.

Shahin was serving a three-year jail term after the State Security Court found him guilty of bribery in his bid to obtain a 1.2-billion-dollar contract for the expansion of the country’s sole refinery.

The call for Bakhit’s resignation also came on Monday from the March 24 Youth group, which has set July 14 a date for a marathon rally to protest the failure to adopt the required political and constitutional reforms in the country, including an independent judiciary.

“We hereby promise our people that we will not back down in our struggle to accomplish radical reforms and disclose all corruption files and ensure punishment of those involved,” the gathering said in a strongly-worded statement.

Source: Arab News.