Archive for October, 2011

Lebanon govt. wins confidence vote

Thu Jul 7, 2011

Lebanese lawmakers have given their vote of confidence to the newly-appointed government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

Thursday — the third and final day of a related parliamentary discussion — saw 68 out of 128 MPs endorsing the policy statement adopted by Mikati’s government.

Mikati’s government, in which the Lebanese resistance movement of Hezbollah and its Muslim and Christian allies have the majority of the seats, was formed in June.

The parliament’s confidence vote enables the government to carry out its mandate.

Ahead of the voting process, the prime minister addressed the lawmakers, vowing to preserve stability and security in Lebanon and asserting that his government is committed to national unity.

A sticking point in the preceding talks was the government’s determined stance on a United States-backed UN court, which recently ruled on the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafiq Hariri.

The pro-Western Future Television owned by the Future Movement of the victim’s son Sa’ad Hariri has said the court’s indictment has named four Hezbollah members.

The Hezbollah movement and its allies view the tribunal as a joint US-Israeli plot.

Mikati has also insisted that “indictments, regardless of their source, are not conclusive and that any accusations need solid evidence that cannot be doubted.”

The March 14 parliamentary coalition also led by Hariri has, however, argued that the government’s policy statement lacks a commitment to the court.

The alliance had vowed to vote against the government and walked out of the session en masse just before the start of Thursday’s voting process.

Lebanon’s Maronite Church had urged the parliamentarians to vote for the government.

It had said that the indictment came at a time when the cabinet was working to finalize a draft of its policy statement, and that it sought to sow discord among the Lebanese political ranks.

Source: PressTV.

Hezbollah: STL covers up real criminal

Tue Jul 5, 2011

Hezbollah has accused a US-backed tribunal probing the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri of refusing to pursue the real criminal.

Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on Tuesday that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) is covering up Israel as the real killer of Rafiq Hariri, a Press TV correspondent reported.

“The greatest injustice against former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri was to say that Israel would never assassinate Hariri,” Nasrallah said.

The Hezbollah leader made the remarks in a speech on the occasion of “The wounded resistance day.”

Nasrallah questioned the credibility of Daniel Bellemare, the prosecutor general of the STL, accusing some investigators, legal experts and key advisers to Bellemare of having connections with the CIA and the Israeli intelligence agency.

He criticized Bellemare for ignoring strong Hezbollah documents proving Israel’s involvement in Hariri’s assassination, saying Bellemare did not consider any of the presented evidence as he was not able to refute any of them.

Nasrallah also accused the Western-backed March 14 coalition of promoting injustice in the country by not considering Israel as a suspect in the Hariri assassination.

Naim Qassem, deputy leader of Hezbollah, said US-Israel joint efforts to weaken the resistance through the tribunal will fail.

“The resistance (Hezbollah), which has left a mark on history and the present, will not be hindered by the Israeli-American project, the so-called tribunal, which is now behind us, and there is no going back,” Qassem said.

The STL last week handed down indictments against four members of Hezbollah, accusing them of playing a role in the 2005 assassination of Rafiq Hariri.

Nasrallah has rejected the allegations, describing them as injustice.

Source: PressTV.

Syrian Opposition Remains Divided on Engagement

By Samer Araabi

WASHINGTON, Jul 5, 2011 (IPS) – Despite countless attempts by the Bashar al-Assad regime to subdue the sporadic protests that have appeared across Syria since February, the demonstrations have consistently grown in both size and intensity.

Last week, a march in the town of Hama may have attracted over 100,000 protestors, quite likely the largest anti-Assad demonstration in Syria thus far.

While the opposition grows, however, its leadership remains bitterly divided, geographically disparate, and unable to agree on tactics to oust the Assad regime or a collective political vision for a post- Assad future.

As another round of crackdowns broke out this week, opposition figures in Syria and abroad have continued to battle one another on the central question of how to engage with the regime.

At a meeting last week in Washington hosted by the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the New American Foundation, policy analysts and international advocates met with Syrian American figures involved in the opposition movement to discuss the role of the international community in resolving the Syrian crisis.

A particularly passionate debate raged around the role of the United States in assisting the Syrian opposition movement. Some, such as international human rights lawyer Yaser Tabbara, argued that Washington was purposely pulling its punches, and could be doing much more to help.

Over the course of the morning, Tabbara called for tighter sanctions, stronger condemnations of government heavy-handedness, more international political leverage, and a direct appeal from President Barack Obama for a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the Syrian government.

Others, including author and historian Mark Perry, gave words of support for the Syrian people, but asked the audience, “What should we do? Nothing. This is a revolution in the hands of the Syrian people.”

Perry was confident in the “inevitability” of the revolution, but maintained that “a revolution is very difficult to stop, to influence, or to make succeed. They have their own internal dynamic.”

Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, a professor at the College of William & Mary and the former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, agreed that the U.S. had very limited leverage, and a very low willingness to use it.

He reminded attendees that all policy decisions “have to be considered in a bigger tapestry than just Syria”, adding that “the U.S. strategic interests in the region are significant in other countries where there’s turmoil going on. We have to handle this with finesse, in the scope of U.S. national interests, against a fiscal backdrop that’s absolutely frightening. To ask [the Assad regime] for some kind of deadline without backing it up with the threat of force, or to ask for any more adamant position of the United States, is not useful.”

Many others took a middle road, recognizing that U.S. leverage was minimal at best, but certain small steps could be taken to assist the Syrian resistance without overextending Washington’s reach.

Nuh Yilmaz, director of the Foundation for Political, Economic, and Social Research, tried to demonstrate Turkey’s inclination to take a middle path by refusing to “have a civil war on its border” while trying to maintain relationships with both the Assad regime and the protest movement.

Yilmaz argued that it was in Turkey’s strategic interest – and consequently, regional strategic interest – to ensure that Assad produces real reforms and that the opposition moderates their demands.

He emphasized the “need to be strategic” and make better use of the international community’s limited leverage, but others were less willing to recognize any legitimacy for the Assad regime.

“The regime is inflexible, and therefore irredeemable,” said Louay Safi, a member of the Syrian American Council. He urged the international community to “choke the security apparatus in Syria, make sure they’re not getting any outside funding…and take legal action.”

The disagreement on the fundamental question of foreign intervention comes as U.S. diplomats have struggled to chart a strategic course in Syria, often deciding on a middle ground that neither side finds particularly satisfying.

Last week, the State Department was rumored to have put forward a “roadmap” for Syrian reforms that would allow Assad to remain in power while overseeing a number of democratic reforms in the country. The roadmap calls for the Syrian government to appoint a “transitional assembly” to oversee the instatement of open elections, the legalization of political parties, and the loosening of media restrictions.

Though Washington has denied pushing for the roadmap, a number of Syrian opposition members have claimed that official sources, including U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, have been encouraging the opposition to seek common ground with Assad.

Many figures, however, have openly condemned the roadmap, reiterating the idea that such reforms are “too little, too late”, and calling for nothing less than the downfall of the regime and its Ba’ath party supporters.

These overtures for compromise, emanating from Turkey, and to a lesser extent, the U.S., may be beginning to have an effect on Assad. A large opposition meeting held in Damascus, with the permission of state authorities, was held last week at the Semiramis hotel, the first of its kind in decades.

More recently, government figures have openly invited representatives of the opposition for talks, another first.

The reaction to these developments has underscored the tension between those willing to work with the regime and those who have rejected it categorically.

Though many elements of the opposition blasted the Damascus meeting as a “government sanctioned-ruse”, others hailed the gathering as deeply significant.

The divisions within the opposition have shown few signs of easing. Though many signs point to a significant weakening of the Assad regime, no movement as yet appears ready to replace it.

Source: Inter-Press Service (IPS).

Syrians, troops in standoff in Hama

HAMA, Syria, July 6 (UPI) — Syrian troops have killed at least 22 people in a crackdown in the central city of Hama, a human rights organization said Wednesday.

The crackdown began Tuesday, but one witness indicated there was a standoff between citizens and Syrian government forces, a news blog offered by The Guardian in Britain reported Wednesday.

“The people are controlling the whole city,” the man identified as Omar wrote.

Omar said government troops made occasional raids on the city but residents were largely keeping troops in check, the British newspaper’s blog said.

“It is become more and more difficult to attack and enter the city,” he wrote.

In addition to the 22 deaths, the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria said more than 80 people were wounded in the confrontations.

“A large number of Hama residents have fled either to the nearby town of al-Salamiya or toward Damascus,” Ammar Qurabi, the organization’s chairman, said in a statement.

The U.S. State Department Tuesday urged the Syrian regime to withdraw its forces from Hama, a city of 800,000 people that saw a huge anti-government demonstration Friday.

For months, Syrian President Bashar Assad has faced a mounting challenge to his 11-year rule.

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Greek court releases American Gaza boat captain

July 05, 2011 — PIRAEUS, Greece (AP) — A Greek court on Tuesday released the American captain of a boat aiming to breach Israel’s blockade of the Gaza strip, four days after arresting him for trying to set sail from Greece without permission.

John Klusmire, the captain of the Audacity of Hope, had attempted to leave a port near Piraeus Friday in defiance of a Greek ban on the flotilla of boats leaving port. He had been in custody since he was arrested, and appeared in court Tuesday handcuffed and under police escort. He still faces trial at a later date.

Greece has banned all boats participating in the Gaza flotilla from leaving port, citing security concerns after a similar flotilla last year was raided by Israeli forces, leaving nine activists on a Turkish boat dead. The Greek foreign ministry has offered to deliver the humanitarian aid the activists want to take to Gaza itself.

Israel says it imposed the blockade in 2007 to stop weapons reaching Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza. Israel eased its land blockade after an international uproar over last year’s raid on the Turkish boat.

Klusmire appeared in court in Piraeus for a two-hour deposition on a felony charge of endangering sea traffic and the lives of passengers, and misdemeanor counts of sailing without a permit and violating port authority orders.

“He has been released and is free to go home,” said one of his lawyers, Manolis Stephanakis, after the hearing. “No trial date has been set and we expect the charges to be dropped. We presented a very strong case and we don’t need to call any more witnesses to testify.”

Flotilla activists who had gathered at the court to show support burst into cheers of celebration. They initially believed Klusmire had been acquitted, but his lawyer later said he had been released while still facing charges.

The captain himself appeared relieved after his deposition, and was cheered on by 30 fellow activists chanting “We love John.” “This is a much better outcome than I anticipated,” he said. Earlier in the day, Greek officials and flotilla activists said three activists connected to another boat carrying mainly Canadians had been arrested over an attempt by that vessel, the Tahrir, to also set sail in defiance of the Greek ban.

David Heap, a spokesman for the Tahrir, identified those detained as Canadians Sandra Ruch and Soha Kneen, and Australian Michael Coleman. The boat tried to leave the southern Greek island of Crete on Monday, but was forced to turn back by Coast Guard vessels.

The Greek Merchant Marine Ministry said one of the Canadians, who was responsible for the boat, was arrested on charges of illegally sailing without permission. The other Canadian national and the Australian were arrested for using kayaks to block a coast guard vessel from setting sail to stop the flotilla boat.

Protesters also took action in the Greek capital, with a small group of activists from a Spanish-run boat entering the Spanish embassy in Athens and starting a sit-in, hanging a Palestinian flag from a balcony and demanding that Spain pressure Greece to let their boat sail.

Manuel Tapial, a spokesman for the Spanish vessel Gernika, said the protesters were peaceful. A statement from the organization in charge of the vessel, Rumbo a Gaza, said protesters were not interfering with the work of embassy staff.

One boat from the flotilla appeared to have evaded attempts to stop all vessels connected to the effort to breach the Israeli blockade. French pro-Palestinian activists said from Paris the Dignite-Al Karama was in international waters and on its way.

Jean-Claude Lefort, a spokesman for the group, told The Associated Press Tuesday that the boat left a port near Athens early Monday with eight activists and two crew members on board. If true, it would be the first flotilla boat to leave Greece.

However, the claim could not be confirmed. Greek authorities said they were looking into the report. Greek activist Dimitris Plionis said during a news conference in Athens that the boat had been in a “safe” area “in this part of the Mediterranean.” He said it was not sailing to Gaza at the moment, but was waiting for other boats from the flotilla to join it.

Christopher Torchia and Elena Becatoros in Athens, and Greg Keller in Paris contributed.

Syrian Town of Resistance Under Siege by Army

By Jasper Fakkert
Jul 4, 2011

Almost 30 years ago, the Syrian military crushed an armed insurrection by the Muslim Brotherhood in the central Syrian city of Hama, resulting in the death of at least 10,000 people. That was under the rule of Hafez al-Assad. Now his son, President Bashar al-Assad, is sending troops to the city once again.

On Monday, al-Assad deployed troops and tanks to the city in response to the week-long anti-government demonstrations in the city.

Last Friday—a day off in the Arab World and traditionally the day large demonstrations take place—saw one of the largest demonstrations of the uprising thus far in Syria. An estimated half a million people took to the streets against al-Assad’s regime. After the demonstrations al-Assad fired the governor of the city.

Troops entered the outer skirts of the city on Monday and made arbitrary arrests of civilians, according to witness statements relayed to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria (LCCS), a network of 15 local committees across Syria. The witnesses also reported hearing gun shots, and said at least some people were killed, but it is unclear how many exactly.

At present, most of the troops remain outside of the city. Large numbers of tanks have been deployed at the city’s main entrances. One informant told the LCCS that at the northern entrance of the city around 50 tanks had been deployed.

“They have surrounded the city. But they cannot enter the city, because the residents have set up barriers to prevent the vehicles and security forces from coming in,” said Hozan Ibrahim, a spokesperson for the LCCS.

Hama has traditionally been one of strongholds of sentiment against the regime. Some fear a repeat of the 1982 Hama massacre.

“The newer generation doesn’t know what happened, they only heard it. They haven’t witnessed the horror their fathers have seen,” said Ibrahim.

While the city is under siege from the army, and prospects are they will advance on the city, demonstrations are continuing just as they have every evening for the past three weeks.

“The whole city is declared against the regime. They have overcome the fears over the past decade,” says Ibrahim.

After more than four decades of authoritarian rule by the Assad family, thousands of Syrians took to the streets in March, emboldened by the successful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, demanding political reform. The demonstrations soon gave rise to a bona fide popular uprising that has seen hundreds of thousands of people across the country join street demonstrations.

Al-Assad’s regime has responded with a harsh military crackdown, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 1,500 civilians.

Human rights organizations have reported arbitrary arrests and torture throughout the country, in many cases resulting in death. Among the dead are also a large group of minors. It is estimated is at least 80 children have been killed by security forces in the past months.

While Assad has promised political reform and a national dialog, no significant progress has been made. His harsh crackdown has earned him widespread international condemnation with the United States and the European Union imposing sanctions on his regime.

However, there has been no formal condemnation of the violence from the United Nations. China and Russia boycotted a U.N. Security Council meeting on the emergency in Syria and have indicated they will veto any resolution condemning the violence.

Source: The Epoch Times.

Turkey calls regional envoys to discuss Arab protests, Syria

14 June 2011 Tuesday

Turkish diplomats in the Middle East will gather in capital Ankara to discuss the latest developments in the region, labelled as the “Arab Spring”, as well as the situation in Syria.

During Monday’s assessment meeting between Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, the head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency (MIT), as well as Turkish ambassadors in Damascus and Beirut, it has been decided that Turkish ambassadors commissioned in the Middle East shall be summoned to Ankara to discuss the latest developments in the region, particularly the incidents in Syria.

Accordingly, Turkey’s senior diplomats will gather in the Turkish capital on Wednesday to assess the recent developments, officials told AA on Tuesday.

In the past week, thousands of Syrians have fled to Turkey to escape the violence between government forces and anti-Assad protesters in their country. Turkey has set up tent-camps to accommodate Syrian citizens.

Source: World Bulletin.