Archive for October, 2011

Lebanon Palestinians scrap border march

June 04, 2011
By Mohammed Zaatari

KFAR KILA, Lebanon: Palestinian officials announced Friday the cancellation of a mass march to the Blue Line following a refusal by the Lebanese Army to allow Sunday’s planned demonstration along the southern border.

The authorities’ decision to turn the area next to the Blue Line into a “closed military zone” prompted organizers to postpone Lebanon’s next large-scale pro-Palestinian protest, party officials said.

“There won’t be anything for Sunday. There won’t be a protest march Sunday,” Yasser Azzam, a Hamas official and organizer of the march, told The Daily Star.

Azzam said the decision had been made by the “preparatory committee of the return [to Palestine] march” after it received word that the army wanted to avoid a repeat of the May 15 Nakba march, which saw Israeli forces kill 11 protesters and wound hundreds more at Maroun al-Ras, next to the Blue Line. “We have been informed by official Lebanese sides that the Lebanese Army has a desire to maintain peace in the south and keenness to avoid a repeat of Nakba Day. That is why the Lebanese Army declared the border area a ‘closed military zone,’” Azzam said.

“Palestinian refugees, who insist on the border as a protest site, have refused to select an alternative venue for the event,” he added.

It had been suggested that protesters might instead descend on Khiam, a small southern town which housed a notorious Israeli prison during the occupation of the south, although this now appears unlikely.

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, whose mandate includes monitoring the cessation of hostilities along the Blue Line but who were not invited by the Lebanese Army to help prevent violence on May 15, said that it was ready to assist in keeping the peace during any future protest march.

“At this time we have no official confirmation about such a demonstration in our area of operations.

Moreover, any questions on security of public demonstrations should be addressed to [the Lebanese Army] as they have primacy on security and law and order matters,” UNIFIL spokesperson Neeraj Singh told The Daily Star.

“We are in constant contact with [Lebanese Army] on this matter. They keep us informed and we welcome the steps taken by army to ensure peace and security in the area.”

Israel had stepped up its border patrols in anticipation of Sunday’s march and began harsh talk warning protesters against approaching the Blue Line a second time. Lebanon’s Army also beefed up security in the south ahead of the weekend.

“We always urge the parties to be very cautious in any activities along the Blue Line because of its sensitivity and we ask that they exercise utmost restraint in responding to any developments along the Blue Line and that they should use UNIFIL’s good offices to address any potentially escalatory situation,” Singh said.

The peacekeeping force has launched an investigation into last month’s deadly incident, the worst of its kind since the end of fighting in August 2006.

Both Hamas and Fatah representatives in Lebanon have vowed to continue protesting their right for return, including rallies Sunday inside refugee camps.

Abu Ramez Mustapha, PFLP-GC official in Lebanon, claimed that the march had been postponed for just one week and that the step to delay was taken for “merely Lebanese necessities.”

A senior Fatah official, Munir al-Maqdah, called for March 14 to lend its support to future protest marches.

“Let this group help us because we reject settling [Palestinians in Lebanon]. We don’t agree to live in the diaspora; the suffering of 63 years is enough.”

Maqdah added that demonstrators sought no confrontation with the Lebanese Army. – With additional reporting by Patrick Galey

Source: The Daily Star.

Lebanon bans vegetable imports from Europe

June 04, 2011

BEIRUT: Lebanon ceased vegetable imports from all European countries Friday, following a recent outbreak of the deadly E. coli virus, which has led to the death of at least 19 people so far.

“I’m announcing the halt of vegetable imports from Europe temporarily until the picture is clearer, and I have signed the decree this morning,” said caretaker Agriculture Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan Friday.

The new strain of E. coli virus, mainly found in cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce has been linked with kidney failures.

Hamburg, Germany is said to be the place where the virus first broke out.

The European Union Friday slammed the Minister’s decision.

“Any total embargo on European vegetables is disproportionate,” Frederic Vincent, the spokesman for health at the European Commission, told AFP.

Hajj Hasan said the ban posed “no risk of shortages on the local market,” as Lebanon could count on its own production and that of neighboring Jordan and Syria. He added that Lebanon actually imports very little vegetable produce from Europe.

An adviser to the minister, Salah Hajj Hassan, told The Daily Star that European vegetable imports made up only one or two percent of the local vegetable market.

European vegetables are usually found in high-end supermarkets and restaurants, Salah Hajj Hasan said.

Lebanon is considered to be a net-exporter of fruits and vegetables, only importing the produce during times of unseasonably dry weather.

“Each shipment that arrives to Lebanon after this decision will not be allowed to enter because we still do not know the severity of the disease or how much it has spread,” said Hussein Hajj Hasan. The minister said that despite Europe’s high level of inspection, the source of the virus remains unclear.

Salah explained that after some painstaking deliberations yesterday about the issue, ministry members decided that the best way to clamp down the still unknown sources of the virus would be to impose a total embargo.

Zuheir Berro of the consumer watchdog group, Consumers Lebanon, lauded the ministry decision, endorsing the ministry’s choice to take “pre-emptive action” against a possible outbreak.

Europe repeatedly stops Lebanese produce from entering its ports, he points out, so Lebanon should be allowed to do the same.

Regarding a vegetable shipment which arrived yesterday, Hussein Hajj Hasan said that the ministry has taken samples to be tested for any bacteria.

In an interview with the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, he called on citizens to make sure that vegetables are thoroughly cleaned with fresh water.

Source: The Daily Star.

Jordan Islamists, leftists unite against corruption

By Randa Habib (AFP) – Jun 1, 2011

AMMAN — Opposition Islamists and leftists in Jordan have joined forces in an improbable partnership against corruption, as the government faces a crisis after two ministers resigned over a graft case.

Despite their different ideologies, the Muslim Brotherhood and leftist parties last week formed a National Reform Front (NRF) led by former prime minister Ahmad Obeidat.

“The NRF’s priority is to create a national reform strategy to put the country on the right democratic track and to fight corruption, including in political life,” said Obeidat, who is well respected by Jordanians.

“Tyranny and corruption are Jordan’s main problems. Fighting corruption starts with reforming the regime itself.”

Mohammad Masri, a researcher at University of Jordan’s Center for Strategic Studies, said “all Jordanians agree on the need to fight corruption, which affects their lives that are already burdened with an economic crisis.”

“It was the same situation in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria, where corruption was a key element in creating uprisings,” Masri told AFP.

The justice and health ministers resigned last Thursday after top businessman Khalid Shahin, jailed for corruption, was allowed to leave prison for medical treatment in the United States.

Shahin and three others, including a former minister, were sentenced last year to three years in jail over graft payments as part of a $2.1-billion project to upgrade the Jordan Petroleum Refinery Company, which runs the kingdom’s sole refinery.

In February, the government allowed Shahin to travel to the United States — but there was an outcry in Jordan when, in April, he was spotted in a London restaurant.

“The issue of Khalid Shahin has become a symbol of how the government deals with corruption: there is no accountability and the corrupt are protected,” Masri said.

On Wednesday, journalist Alaa Fazzaa was arrested for allegedly “undermining the monarchy and the constitution”. He had published a report online that accused senior officials of helping Shahin leave the country.

King Abdullah II ordered Fazzaa’s release from jail, according to the palace, but it was still unclear if the case against him had been dropped.

“Jordan suffers from squandering public funds and corruption, which are two sides of the same coin,” said economist and former minister Samir Tawil.

“The country’s foreign debt is now $17 billion (11.8 billion euros), while it was nine billion dollars in 2003, despite revenue of four billion dollars from privatization, and increased taxes.”

Tawil added: “People are wondering what happened to the $12 billion. Those suspected of corruption must declare how they acquired their wealth.”

For Masri, Jordanians “want to see the corrupt behind bars”.

“There are many rumors about corruption. Everything should be investigated by a commission of senior and well-respected judges,” he said.

The king urged the government last 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.

Copyright © 2011 AFP. All rights reserved.