Archive for October, 2011

Syrian protesters attack US, French embassies

July 11, 2011 — BEIRUT (AP) — Hundreds of Syrian government supporters attacked the U.S. Embassy in Damascus Monday, smashing windows and spray-painting walls with obscenities and graffiti that called the American ambassador a “dog.” Guards at the French Embassy fired in the air to ward off another group of protesters.

The sharp escalation in tensions followed a visit last week by the American and French ambassadors to the city of Hama, a stronghold of opposition to authoritarian President Bashar Assad. Syrian authorities were angered by the visit and American Ambassador Robert Ford’s harsh criticism afterward of the government crackdown on a four-month-old uprising. Ford’s residence was also attacked on Monday.

The U.S. and France both accused Syrian forces of being too slow to respond and demanded the government abide by its international obligations to protect diplomatic missions and allow envoys freedom of movement. The U.S. formally protested, calling the attacks “outrageous,” and saying protesters were incited by a television station heavily influenced by Syrian authorities.

“Ford get out now,” protesters wrote on a paper hung on the U.S. Embassy’s fence. “The people want to kick out the dog,” read graffiti scrawled in red on the wall of the embassy, along with another line cursing America. The protesters smashed the embassy sign hanging over one gate.

The U.S. said it would seek compensation for damage. Syrian-U.S. relations have been mired in mutual distrust for years. But Monday’s attacks were the worst such violence since 2000, when a stone-throwing mob attacked and vandalized the U.S. Embassy and ambassador’s residence over American and British airstrikes against Iraq.

The attacks pose a renewed challenge to the Obama administration. The White House has criticized the Syrian regime’s violent crackdown on peaceful protests but has refrained from calling for an end to the Assad family’s four decades of rule, seemingly wary of pressing too hard as it tries to wind down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and faces criticism for being part of the coalition battling Moammar Gadhafi in Libya.

The U.S. said about 300 “thugs” breached the wall of the embassy compound before being dispersed by American Marine guards. No injuries were reported. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the mob got onto the roof of the chancery building, spray-painted graffiti and broke windows and security cameras. They lobbed fruits and vegetables at the compound.

A witness told The Associated Press that protesters scaled a fence, smashed windows and raised a Syrian flag at the embassy. Nuland said that Syrian security forces, who are supposed to guard the mission, were slow to respond.

After the crowd at the embassy was dispersed, the protesters moved to the ambassador’s residence and attacked it, causing unspecified damage, Nuland said. The ambassador’s residence is not inside the embassy compound but is nearby.

“We consider that the Syrian government has not lived up to its obligations … to protect diplomatic facilities and it is absolutely outrageous,” she told reporters. There were similar scenes at the French embassy, where guards fired in the air to hold back Assad loyalists who attacked the compound.

The French Foreign Ministry said three embassy workers were injured as “well organized groups” smashed windows and destroyed the ambassador’s car. “Faced with the passivity of security forces, embassy security agents were forced to make three warning shots to stop intrusions from multiplying,” a French government statement said.

The French flag was removed and replaced with a Syrian one. “God, Syria and Bashar. The nation that gave birth to Bashar Assad will not kneel,” read graffiti scrawled outside the embassy. One witness said three protesters were injured when guards beat them with clubs. The witness asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation.

Hiam al-Hassan, a witness, said about 300 people were at the French Embassy while hundreds targeted the American diplomatic compound. “Syrians demonstrated peacefully in front of the French embassy but they were faced with bullets,” said al-Hassan.

Another protester at the French Embassy, Thuraya Arafat, 58, said: “I am here to find out why the French ambassador visited Hama. Did he go there to meet armed gangs?” French Ambassador Eric Chevalier and Ford both made separate visits to Hama on Thursday.

Ford was greeted by friendly crowds who put flowers on his windshield and olive branches on his car, chanting: “Down with the regime!” The State Department said the trip was to support the right of Syrians to demonstrate peacefully.

Syrian authorities called the ambassadors’ visits to Hama interference in the country’s internal affairs and accused the envoys of undermining Syria’s stability. On Sunday, Ford attacked the government for allowing its supporters to demonstrate while violently suppressing anti-regime demonstrators.

“And how ironic that the Syrian Government lets an anti-U.S. demonstration proceed freely while their security thugs beat down olive branch-carrying peaceful protesters elsewhere,” he said. On Sunday, the State Department complained that pro-government demonstrators threw tomatoes, eggs and rocks at the embassy over the weekend to protest Ford’s visit to Hama.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday that the attacks demonstrated the Syrian president was not serious about reform, but stopped short of calling on him to step down. “From our perspective, he has lost legitimacy,” Clinton told reporters at the State Department in a joint news conference with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. “He has failed to deliver on promises he has made, he has sought and accepted aid from the Iranians as to how to repress his own people.”

Congressional Republicans have pressed the administration to withdraw Ford from Syria, an ally of Iran that supports the Islamic militant groups Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The U.S. did not send an ambassador to Damascus for five years in protest of Syria’s alleged role in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut.

Monday’s protests coincided with government-organized talks in Damascus on possible political reforms after four months of unrest. But the talks were boycotted by the main opposition factions and are unlikely to produce any breakthroughs to immediately end bloodshed.

The two days of meetings, however, were seen as a major concession by Assad’s regime after the most serious challenge to its rule. The talks did not stop Syrian forces from pressing their crackdown. Before the embassy attacks, Syrian troops stormed the country’s third-largest city of Homs with armored personnel carriers and heavy machine guns, a rights activist. At least two people were killed and 20 wounded, activists said.

Activists including the Local Coordination Committees, a group that tracks anti-government protests in Syria, also reported gunfire and a “massive wave” of arrests and raids in the Jabal al-Zawiya region in Idlib province, near the Turkish border.

Clashes between protesters and Assad’s supporters have resulted in the deaths of 1,600, in addition to 350 members of the security forces. Syria blames what it calls “armed gangs” and Muslim extremists for the violence.

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Assad supporters storm US embassy in Syria

2011-07-11

US official says embassy has sustained some physical damage, mob has then moved on to ambassador’s residence.

DAMASCUS – An angry mob stormed the US embassy in the Syrian capital on Monday, after Washington’s ambassador visited the flashpoint city of Hama, a hub for protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

“Today there was an attack by a mob on the US embassy,” a US embassy official said, adding that no embassy personnel were injured although the Syrian authorities were slow in providing additional security measures.

The official said the embassy sustained some physical damage and that the crowd then moved on to the ambassador’s residence.

Opposition protests were also staged overnight in several towns against Sunday’s opening of a “national dialogue” hailed by the regime but boycotted by the opposition, rights activists said.

Monday’s embassy attack comes four days after US Ambassador Robert Ford visited the central city of Hama, 210 kilometers (130 miles) north of Damascus, sparking outrage in the capital.

The embassy official said “no staff were injured” on Monday and were never in “imminent danger,” although the “Syrian government was slow to respond with extra security measures that were needed.”

“The Syrian government has assured us that it will provide the protection required under the Vienna Convention and we expect it to do so.”

He added that a Syrian television channel had “encouraged this violent demonstration,” which followed protests at the embassy on Friday and Saturday calling for the ambassador’s resignation.

A senior US official on Sunday accused Damascus of orchestrating the protests over Ford’s trip to Hama, which the authorities slammed as a “flagrant interference” in Syria’s “domestic affairs.”

Ford and his French counterpart Eric Chevallier both visited Hama on Thursday amid fears of a bloody crackdown after Friday prayers the next day by Assad’s forces, with tanks encircling the city.

France on Sunday summoned Syria’s envoy to Paris Lamia Shakkour over damage done to the French embassy in Damascus and a consulate in Aleppo on Saturday after Chevallier’s trip to Hama.

Foreign Minister Alain Juppe’s cabinet chief called her to the foreign ministry to receive a “vigorous protest”, ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said in a statement.

Tensions have been escalating for months between Damascus and Washington over the Syrian government’s fierce response to opposition protests that erupted in mid-March, seeking to oust Assad.

Human rights groups say that since the protests broke out, the security forces have killed more than 1,300 civilians and made at least 12,000 arrests.

In overnight protests, some 5,000 people demonstrated in Deir Ezzor in the east, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Monday, adding there were also protests in three districts of Damascus.

The army was also reported to be continuing a search and sweep operation in the Jebel al-Zawiya area of Idlib province in the northwest.

“Soldiers supported by tanks carried out searches in the villages of Kafarhaya, Sarjan and Al-Rami, and arrests were made in Kfar Nubol,” the Observatory said.

People were also detained in Hama and in the coastal city of Banias, where the rights group reported five arrests of people “for filming demonstrations.”

Shooting was also heard at around dawn in the central city of Homs.

A meeting of the “national dialogue” in the capital was due to take place later on Monday.

Sunday’s inaugural session saw some 200 delegates take part, including independent MPs and members of the Baath party, in power since 1963.

Opposition figures boycotted the gathering in protest at the government’s continued deadly crackdown on the anti-regime protests.

Meanwhile, the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey fell to around 8,500 as hundreds decided to return home over the weekend, Turkish officials in Ankara said on Monday.

The number of refugees fleeing the government crackdown and entering Turkey peaked at 11,739 at the end of June, when Syrian troops stormed border villages where many displaced people had massed.

Source: Middle East Online.
Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=47149.

Iraqis who sought refuge in Syria, now returning

2011-07-11

Deadly unrest in Syria force Iraqi refugees who fled 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq to return home.

By Sammy Ketz – BAGHDAD

When his six-year-old son was killed in a 2006 Baghdad gun battle, Seif Rashid decided to flee with his family to Syria, but the deadly unrest there forced him to return to Iraq last month.

“When I saw the lifeless body of my little Abdel Rahman I decided to leave with my wife and two girls. I could not stand my country, which was overwhelmed by hatred,” Rashid said.

The boy had been killed by a stray bullet in Baghdad’s Adhamiyah neighborhood.

Rashid moved to Kafar Batna, on the outskirts of Damascus, because he had no work and the rent and life was cheaper.

But the wave of protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that began in March once again upset their lives.

“There were protests, they burned public buildings, posters of Bashar al-Assad — and there have been arrests — the situation was untenable,” Rashid said. “So, we took our bags and left again.”

Rashid, a 30-year-old shoe designer, mingled in Baghdad with a crowd of other returnees like him, all waiting to sign up at the National Registry office for refugees.

Registration entitles displaced Iraqis like him to a government installation allowance of four million dinars ($3,400/2,380 euros) per family, to help with the costs of resettling.

Many lost everything they had when they fled the violence that followed the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled leader Saddam Hussein and triggered an insurgency and Shiite-Sunni bloodletting.

Rashid, unemployed since he fled Iraq, has been living on his savings.

In Iraq, after the turmoil of the invasion and the extreme violence that began in 2004 and peaked in 2006 and 2007, neighboring Syria quickly became the preferred escape for many Iraqis.

It was next door, not very expensive, and it had open borders. Between 300,000 and one million Iraqis are estimated to have fled to Syria during the violence.

Security is better than in Syria

In 2004, 45-year-old Yaqub Khalaf Nussayef was shot in the abdomen and leg during a settling of scores between Sunni and Shiite groups.

Nussayef is a Sunni and former soldier who was living in the Shiite neighborhood of Abu Ghraib, which gained worldwide notoriety after publication of photographs showing American soldiers humiliating and torturing prisoners.

A father of five, he first fled to Jordan and then to Damascus, where he collected and sold empty soft drink cans for recycling in order to feed his family.

“The Syrian capital was quiet, but elsewhere there was chaos. I have tasted the bitter taste of sectarian war and bloodshed, and I did not wish to be part of a new wave of violence,” he said.

“I am convinced that what is going on over there is a sectarian war,” said Nussayef, who arrived only days ago in Baghdad, searching for a home before he brings his family.

Syria is majority Sunni, but the Alawites, who comprise only 12 percent of the population, have been in power since 1963.

Hayat Saad, legal officer at the Baghdad refugees center, said “every day we deal with between 60 to 70 cases of families who have returned to the country.”

“Daily, about 20 come from Syria — the largest contingent — followed by Egypt, Jordan, Yemen and Libya,” she added.

Since the beginning of May, 1,171 families — about 7,000 people — have returned from Syria, and three-quarters have taken up residence in Baghdad province, the International Organization for Migration said.

“We still do not have any evidence of a large ‘wave’ of return in the past few months due to unrest,” said the IOM’s Nuray Inal.

In addition to assisting in housing, the ministry of refugees also helps in settling utility bills such as for water, electricity and telephones that may have accumulated over the years that owners were absent from their homes. It also helps in recovering homes that may have been taken over by squatters.

Qahtan Sabri, a 61-year-old carpenter, went to Damascus in 2005. “The situation was getting worse day-by-day. The confessional killings were increasing, and I had to stop working.

“I decided to return to Iraq when I realized that security is better in my own country than in Syria. I have resumed my business and will never leave my country,” he said.

Source: Middle East Online.
Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=47133.

Jordan opposition leader claims security apparatus controls government

Jamal Halaby, The Associated Press
Jul 08, 2011

AMMAN, Jordan – Jordan’s Islamist opposition leader Friday issued a rare public denunciation of the country’s feared security apparatus, accusing it controlling government policies and seeking to limit free expression.

“Enough is enough,” shouted Hamza Mansour of the Islamic Action Front in a speech to 300 protesters outside the prime minister’s office to press for his dismissal.

The broadside by Mansour underlines growing frustration with the tight security grip in this pro-U.S. Arab kingdom. In street protests over the past six months — inspired by the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia — Jordanians accused police and intelligence of using excessive force to quell the demonstrations.

“Intelligence approves Cabinets and dismisses them at will if Cabinet ministers did not implement the policies of limiting the freedom of expression, intimidating citizens and frightening the regime’s opponents,” claimed Mansour, who leads Jordan’s biggest opposition party.

Jordan’s Western-trained intelligence network is widely seen as one of the region’s most highly regarded spy agencies. It closely co-operates with the United States in its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and played a role in efforts to battle al-Qaida.

Within Jordan, the intelligence service maintain close control over state affairs. It must approve civil servants before taking up public office, acquiring emigration visas or even driver’s licenses.

Mansour did not provide evidence to backup his allegation on intelligence approving and dismissing Cabinet — which is in the hands of King Abdullah II, who has the final say in all matters.

But Mansour insisted that government policies “are meant to maintain the status quo, which is the tight grip of security over everyone.”

Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit, a former army general, is accused of dragging his feet on promised political reforms, which include amending legislation to give the public a wider say in politics.

Jordanian opposition and protesters say they want Abdullah to remain their king, but want to limit some of his powers. They want the king to stop appointing prime ministers and allow the post to be picked by the elected parliament.

Elsewhere, about 800 Jordanians took to the streets in various demonstrations to demand al-Bakhit step down.

Source: 680 News.
Link: http://www.680news.com/news/world/article/251348–jordan-opposition-leader-claims-security-apparatus-controls-government.

Israel, Turkey lock horns over flotilla

Sat Jul 9, 2011

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has once again rejected Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s conditions for the normalization of diplomatic relations.

“Israel did not commit any crime,” he said in an interview with Israel’s Channel 1 television on Friday night, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported.

He made the remarks after Erdogan said earlier on Friday that Israel must apologize for the killing of nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists last year.

On May 31, 2010, Israeli commandos attacked the first Freedom Flotilla in international waters in the Mediterranean Sea, killing nine Turkish citizens on board the Turkish-flagged M.V. Mavi Marmara and injuring about 50 other people who were part of the team on the six-ship convoy.

Israeli troops also forced the ships to dock at an Israeli port and detained all those on board.

During a speech to the Turkish parliament, Erdogan also said Tel Aviv should lift its four-year blockade of Gaza and pay compensation to the victims of the flotilla attack.

However, the Israeli defense minister said he expected the UN inquiry to vindicate Israel’s actions.

“The Palmer commission will say that Israel acted according to international law. The blockade is legal, stopping the ships is legal, the use of force in these circumstances is justified,” Barak said.

On Thursday, an Israeli official said that a UN report on Israel’s flotilla attack would be published on July 27.

Source: PressTV.
Link: http://www.presstv.ir/detail/188219.html.

Jordanians call for ouster of PM Bakhit

By ABDUL JALIL MUSTAFA | ARAB NEWS
Jul 8, 2011

AMMAN: Jordanians demonstrated on Friday for the fifth week in a row in several cities calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit’s government, the dissolution of the lower house of parliament and taking serious moves to punish corrupt officials, witnesses said.

Hundreds of protesters took to the streets after Friday prayers in the city of Tafileh, 180 km south of Amman, to press their demand for Bakhit’s ouster.

They issued a statement rejecting last week’s reshuffle of Bakhit’s cabinet as a fresh evidence of the government’s “weak will” to carry out the needed political reforms and a move designed to “kill the public mobility.”

“The decision-makers have to stop their procrastination, piracy and the cover-up they provide for corrupts,” the statement said.

In the reshuffle, Bakhit appointed nine new ministers, including replacements for the ministers of the Interior, Justice and Health who resigned in connection with the fleeing of the convicted tycoon Khalid Shahin.

Shahin, who was serving a three-year jail term when he fled to London on Feb. 25, is now in Frankfurt under the pretext of seeking medical treatment that he says he could not find locally.

Jordanian authorities said they were in contact with the German government seeking to ensure Shahin’s extradition to Jordan.

Scores of activists demonstrated for the first time in the city of Mafraq, 50 km east of Amman, urging King Abdallah to sack the cabinet and dissolve the House of Representatives. They also called for Bakhit’s trial over his role in the so-called 2007 casino deal, when his government then allowed a London-based investor to build a casino on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea.

Samir Rifai, who succeeded Bakhit as premier, sought to annul the agreement in 2008, contending that it harmed Jordan’s interests and involved taboos because Islamic teachings prohibit gambling.

The lower house voted recently to clear Bakhit of wrongdoings, but implicated former Tourism Minister Osama Dabbas.

Source: Arab News.
Link: http://arabnews.com/middleeast/article468761.ece.

Haniyeh praises Gaza flytilla campaign

Sat Jul 9, 2011

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh has praised the activists who started the Gaza ‘flytilla’ campaign to support Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.

“More than 66 flights originated from different European cities to go to Al-Lod (Ben Gurion) airport to support the steadfastness of the Palestinian people, and to say no to the Zionist occupation,” he told a crowd gathered at a mosque in Gaza City on Friday, AP reported.

Israeli police detained 69 activists upon their arrival at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport on Friday. A total of 25 other activists were also denied entry into Israel.

Four of the 69 activists have been deported to their home countries and the rest have been sent to detention facilities, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported.

The activists were part of the pro-Palestinian Welcome to Palestine campaign, which has been organizing the flytilla to Israel.

The effort is meant to be a complement to the Gaza Freedom Flotilla II, a convoy of ships organized by activists to deliver humanitarian supplies to the 1.5 million residents of the Gaza Strip.

The 10-ship humanitarian flotilla was scheduled to leave Greek ports for the coastal enclave in early July, with the goal of breaking Israel’s blockade of the impoverished territory.

However, the flotilla was prohibited from leaving the ports after the Greek government made a sudden decision to impose a blanket ban on the departure of any vessels destined for Gaza.

Source: PressTV.
Link: http://www.presstv.ir/detail/188215.html.