Archive for December, 2011

Russian intelligence facilities attacked in Syria

23 December 2011

At least 40 people have been killed and over 100 injured as a result of bombings in Damascus. Lebanese TV channel Al-Manar reports that the explosions have been carried out by “martyr bombers”.

It is also reported that facilities of Russian intelligence have been targeted. According to the latest information, booby-trapped cars have been undermined near the two centers of the security forces of Alawite regime. Most of killed and wounded are Syrian soldiers and intelligence agents. The Assad regime declared that “the attack had been organized by Al-Qaeda”.

The Guardian referring to Syrian TV says that the bombings in Syria were directed against Russian intelligence. Russia has repeatedly supported the current Syrian government that caused discontent among the local opposition. The world’s media outlets reported about several anti-Russian protests that had taken place in Damascus.

Russian experts also acknowledge that the explosions in Damascus were directed against Moscow and not against the Syrian government. That was stated by political analyst Alexei Malashenko from Moscow Carnegie Center.

Two explosions occurred a day after international observers had come to Syria. According to the plan of the League of Arab States, they should get a third-party view on the situation in the country.

According to UN statistics, the total number of victims of the Alawite regime in Syria has exceeded in recent months 5,000 people.

Department of Monitoring
Kavkaz Center

Source: Kavkaz Center.

Gaza Hamas leader leaves Gaza for first time since 2007


Hamas premier Ismail Haniya leaves Gaza Strip for regional tour that will take him to Egypt, Sudan, Qatar, Turkey, Tunisia, Bahrain.

GAZA CITY – Hamas premier Ismail Haniya left the Gaza Strip for a regional tour on Sunday for the first time since Israel and Egypt imposed a siege in 2007, his office said.

Sources in his office said that Haniya would visit Egypt and Sudan, after which he plans to go to Qatar, Turkey, Tunisia and Bahrain.

The primary purpose of the trip was to obtain “help and aid” to rebuild Gaza City, but Haniya was also likely to address the issue of Palestinian reconciliation in talks, they said.

Earlier reports suggested that Haniya is planning to move Hamas offices located in Damascus to Doha, following the ongoing unrest Syria is witnessing.

The brutal regime crackdown on protesters in Syria has presented an embarrassment for Hamas, which was embraced by President Bashar al-Assad and given a home in Damascus for several years.

However, staying in Syria would tacitly suggest that Hamas supports Assad, who has already become the loneliest and most isolated leader in the Middle East.

Haniya entered Egypt through the Rafah crossing, recently opened after remaining largely shut since June 2006 when Israel imposed a blockade after militants snatched soldier Gilad Shalit, who was freed in October in a prisoner swap.

The blockade was tightened a year later when the Islamist Hamas seized control of the territory, ousting forces loyal to the Western-backed Palestinian Authority.

Egypt had largely complied with the restrictions, although it occasionally opened Rafah — the only Gaza crossing that bypasses Israel — to allow aid in and students and medical cases out.

In May, Egypt officially reopened its Rafah border crossing with Gaza, more than three months after Egypt’s former president Hosni Mubarak resigned, allowing people to cross freely for the first time in four years.

Haniya’s regional tour begins three days after Palestinian factions, including Hamas, met in Cairo to thrash out implementation of a surprise deal they signed in April.

The two factions had previously been at loggerheads ever since Hamas seized Gaza in 2007, leaving the Palestinian territories with rival administrations.

On Thursday, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Syria-based Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal discussed reforming the Palestine Liberation Organization, in a bid to allow the Islamist movement and 13 other Palestinian factions to join.

But cracks have emerged lately between the Damascus and Gaza branches of Hamas regarding future strategy.

Last month, Meshaal voiced support for “popular peaceful resistance,” which presumes that Hamas would ultimately renounce armed struggle against Israel.

He also said he was open to the creation of a Palestinian state in the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, including the West Bank and the Gaza strip with east Jerusalem as its capital.

Such a strategy in effect calls for a Palestinian state next to, and not in place of, Israel, and would be a departure from the position held by Hamas since its founding 24 years ago.

Source: Middle East Online.

Palestinian factions agree on unified government

Thursday 22 December 2011
Phoebe Greenwood in Tel Aviv

President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal finalize groundbreaking deal in Cairo after heated negotiations.

Rival Palestinian factions have agreed to form a unified government, which will be sworn in by the end of January. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal met in Cairo to agree the groundbreaking deal late on Wednesday after days of heated negotiation between representatives of Palestinian political groups led by Hamas and Fatah.

The talks, mediated by Egypt, are part of ongoing efforts to mend the factional divisions that split Gaza from the West Bank in 2007 and led to the collapse of the Palestinian legislative council. There has not been a functioning Palestinian parliament since.

Initial reports suggested that the announcement signaled Hamas’s return to the Palestine Liberation Organization, which is internationally recognized as representing the Palestinian people. But Fatah officials told the Guardian that the militant group is yet to sign the PLO charter, which would require it to lay down arms.

Ghassan Khatib, a spokesperson for Mahmoud Abbas, welcomed the progress, saying that in order to the achieve independence through the United Nations, the Palestinian Authority must prioritize reunification.

“We are hopeful the reconciliation will be successful,” Khatib said. “We cannot say we are ready for independence and statehood before we have a reunified Palestinian system.”

On Tuesday, the delegates agreed to set up both an electoral commission and a deadline for the establishment of a caretaker cabinet of technocrats. Both sides agreed that all political prisoners currently held in the West Bank and Gaza would be released by the end of January.

The issue of prisoners has been a critical sticking point. Officials in the Gaza Strip point out that since Abbas promised to release Hamas prisoners held by the Palestinian Authority at his last meeting with Meshaal in November, 89 members of the militant faction have been arrested in the West Bank.

Cynics within both factions maintain that the victories won at the Cairo summit are hollow. While Hamas has agreed to accept the foundation of an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, the militant group steadfastly refuses to abandon its armed resistance to the Israeli occupation or recognize the state of Israel.

“We want really to end this [division] but I am not optimistic,” a spokesperson for Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh said earlier this week, indicating that the leadership of acting prime minister Salam Fayyad remained an obstacle. “Abu Mazen [Abbas] has said no government without Salam Fayyad. This is not negotiation.”

Fayyad is regarded with suspicion by Hamas.

Hamas officials also predict that heavy diplomatic and financial pressure applied by Israel and the US will ultimately prevent Mahmoud Abbas from forming a unity government.

The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has issued an ultimatum to the Palestinian leader, warning that he must choose between reconciliation with Hamas and peace with Israel, a stance confirmed by his spokesperson on Thursday.

“Hamas is openly against peace. Terrorism is not just a tactic it is their very being. The unfortunate reality is that if Abbas moves towards Hamas, he moves away from peace,” Mark Regev said.

Washington has indicated it will cut millions of dollars in funding to the Palestinian security infrastructure if the current leadership unifies with Hamas.

If the new Palestinian government is established in late January, its birth will coincide with the deadline presented to Palestinian and Israeli leaders by the Middle East quartet to present roadmaps to peace. The international mediating body has requested serious proposals on border and security issues from both governments by 26 January.

Source: The Guardian.

Kuwait donates 1 million to support Gaza preschool children

WASHINGTON, Dec 24 (KUNA) — The American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA) organization late Friday said it was “absolutely thrilled and grateful” to receive a USD one million dollar donation from the Kuwaiti government to provide nutritional support to children in Gaza. The non-profit relief and development agency said that the substantial donation would provide vitamin-fortified milk and high-energy biscuits to over 17,000 pre-schoolers in Gaza, where the World Health Organization statistics show nearly four out of ten children under five suffer from anemia and malnutrition.

“This is something that’s near to our hearts and I think to everyone in the State of Kuwait that we look upon innocent children and hope that they have the basics of life. This is one of the things we’re trying to provide. This offers them a safety net so that the ravages of anemia and stunting are not something they have to live with day after day,” Bill Corcoran, President of ANERA told KUNA in an interview.

During a visit to ANERA’s Washington headquarters, Kuwait’s Ambassador to the US Sheikh Salem Al-Sabah told KUNA that this is the second donation from Kuwait to fund ANERA’s work with children in Gaza.

He added that Kuwait exerts many efforts to support the Palestinian people throughout the years, which reflect the deep Kuwaiti-Palestinian “distinctive and historic” relations.

He affirmed that the Palestinian issue is among the priorities of the Kuwaiti leadership, stressing the support of the Kuwaiti people to the Palestinians on all levels.

The Ambassador stressed that this donation comes to provide the simplest living requirements for the Gaza children in light of the “difficult political, economic and living conditions” there.

The Kuwaiti Government had also donated in March 2010 USD one million to fund ANERA’s Milk for Preschoolers program with children in Gaza. “This generous gift strengthens ANERA’s capacity to care for Palestinian children at their most vulnerable age,” said former U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait and ANERA board chairman Edward Gnehm, telling KUNA, “This really touches children and it touches the hearts of people. They do feel neglected, they do feel ignored by the world and this is a very special way to reach out to them. We are very much a part of their lives and we are happy to be partners with Kuwait.”

ANERA said the USD one million donation is a “valued endorsement of ANERA’s ability to deliver with the highest standards of accountability and responsibility.” For more than 40 years ANERA has been a leading provider of development, health, education and employment programs to Palestinian communities and impoverished families through-out the Middle East.

In 2011, the relief and development agency delivered more than USD 65 million of programs to the people of the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon and Jordan. This was up from the USD 51 million raised in 2010.

Source: Kuwait News Agency (KUNA).

Jordan police fire tear gas on protesters

Fri Dec 23, 2011

Jordanian anti- and pro-government protesters have clashed in the northern city of Mafraq, forcing police to use tear gas to end the violence.

Witnesses say dozens from both sides, including police, were injured after thousands of members of the Bani Hassan tribe clashed with around 300 anti-government demonstrators demanding reforms in Mafraq on Friday.

Several shops were also destroyed during the clashes, AFP reported.

The demonstrators have reportedly sought refuge in a mosque and according to witnesses the situation is still tense in the city.

Bani Hassan, one of Jordan’s largest tribes, which supports the government, on Thursday warned against holding anti-government demonstration in Mafraq.

Similar anti-government rallies were held in the capital, Amman, and several other cities following the Friday Prayers.

Jordanians have been holding street protests demanding political reform, including the election of the prime minister by popular vote, and an end to corruption since January. There have been no calls for the king to be removed.

Since the beginning of protest rallies, Jordanian ruler, King Abdullah II, has sacked two prime ministers in a bid to avoid more protests. Awn al-Khasawneh, a judge at International Court of Justice, is Jordan’s third premier this year.

The king has also amended 42 articles in the 60-year-old constitution, giving parliament a stronger role in decision-making.

Source: PressTV.

Tunisian convoy en route to Gaza

Thursday 22/12/2011

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — A Tunisian medical aid convoy began its journey to Gaza on Thursday from Tunis, Palestinian officials said.

The convoy carrying four tons of medical aid left Tunis-Carthage International Airport earlier in the day, medical officials told Ma’an.

The coordinator of the medical services in the Gaza Strip said the convoy was organized by a Tunisian scout group and will arrive in Cairo and depart for Gaza shortly thereafter.

Some 11 scout leaders are part of the delegation, which is to visit Gaza’s hospitals and civil society groups before checking up on local scouts.

Source: Ma’an News Agency.

Jewish terrorism threat grows in West Bank

RAMALLAH, West Bank, Dec. 21 (UPI) — The Israeli military, already bracing for what could be the most devastating war in the Middle East, is also girding for a looming confrontation with Jewish extremists, mainly hard-liners from the Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Extremists from ultra-Orthodox settler groups, who say God gave the region to the children of Abraham for all time, have been increasingly active in recent months.

This has taken place as the United States sought to pressure the Israeli government to relinquish the West Bank, or a large portion of it, as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians.

The smoldering crisis escalated sharply Dec. 12 when a mob of angry settlers stormed a regional military base near the Arab city of Qalqilya, stoned the brigade commander and his deputy and burned army trucks.

The right-wing hard-liners attacked the base because, they said, the military was preparing to shut down a settlement the Israeli Supreme Court had ordered closed in August.

Earlier, another group broke into a closed military zone on the border with Jordan and attempted to establish a settlement outpost before they were arrested.

These incidents, with troops under attack from fellow Jews, triggered an outcry in the Israeli media, with some commentators even speculating on “civil war.”

The liberal Haaretz daily warned that “the only ‘red line’ that has yet to be crossed is a scenario in which an Israeli citizen fires on soldiers. There are those in Israel’s security forces who fear that day is not so distant.”

The violence follows a growing number of so-called price-tag attacks by settlers on Palestinian mosques and churches, some of which were torched. These attacks are intended to dissuade the government from moving against illegal hilltop outposts, a tactic used by the more militant settlers to extend the settlement process.

Ironically, it was one devised in 1997 by Ariel Sharon, then foreign minister in Netanyahu’s first term as premier, who exhorted settlers to “seize the hilltops” to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state.

The recent attacks are part of a larger hard-line campaign to prevent the government forcibly evacuating settlements, which the settlers see as a move toward an eventual sellout to the Palestinians.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon and others branded the attacks as terrorism, an epithet rarely used against Jews and the politically powerful movement representing the 300,000 settlers in the West Bank.

“There’s no question that this is terror behavior,” declared Barak, Israel’s most decorated war hero.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a right-wing hawk widely blamed for undermining the peace process, described the attack on the army as “intolerable.”

He directed security forces to be more aggressive against the militants and decreed they would be tried by military courts.

But he stopped short of calling the culprits “terrorists,” thus avoiding a politically dangerous clash with the settler bloc by equating the militants’ actions with stone-throwing Palestinian “terrorists.”

Indeed, the commotion, and the customary condemnations, underlines just how powerless the authorities are when it comes to Jewish terrorism and how success administrations have failed to rein them in.

Even the right-leaning Jerusalem Post was incensed by the attack on the army.

“What needs to be understood is that these settlers and far-right activists largely do not fear the police or the courts,” the Post’s military affairs correspondent Yaakov Katz, wrote.

“Past experience has shown that punishments tend to be minor and that’s in the rare instance where the case actually makes it court.”

Palestinians living in the West Bank, who have been under military occupation since 1967, are routinely tried by military courts where defendants’ rights are minimal.

Haaretz, which has long spoken out against Jewish terrorism and settler militancy, cited military documents indicating that in 2010 99.74 percent of Palestinians who appeared before military courts were convicted.

That’s 25 acquittals out of 9,542 cases.

Despite the government’s pledge to crack down of right-wing extremists it has in recent weeks approved settlement expansions in the West Bank and, more controversially, in Arab East Jerusalem where the Israelis have been systematically forcing out the Palestinian population for years.

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Clashes smear University of Jordan Student Union Elections


By Alaa Elayyan

AMMONNEWS – Clashes erupted throughout the day on Thursday at the University of Jordan (UJ) as students cast their ballots in the Student Union elections.

Security forces intensified their presence around the campus as several brawls erupted in various faculties, including the humanities, medicine, sciences, and engineering departments.

Two students were injured in the clashes and were transferred to the University of Jordan hospital for treatment.

University security guards worked to contain the various fights that erupted, as Public Security Directorate (PSD) personnel remained outside the campus near the main gates.

Meanwhile, Dean of the Humanities Department Dr. Abdullah Anbar announced on Thursday morning postponing the English Department elections until next week after clashes erupted there when students supporting one candidate prevented other students from casting their ballots.

Angry students stormed into the university’s President’s building after the department’s elections were postponed, leading UJ’s vice-president to meet with them to contain the incident.

UJ President Adel Tweisi told Ammon News on Thursday that head of the elections’ committee in the humanities department worked to contain the incident after young men covering their faces with scarfs and masks prevented female students from voting.

Students also vandalized university property in the Business Department and blocked the entrances to the engineering department.

Source: Ammon News.

Report: Hamas agrees to join PLO

Thursday 22/12/2011

CAIRO (Ma’an) — Hamas has agreed to join the Palestine Liberation Organization in a move intended to bolster Palestinian reconciliation, The Associated Press reported Thursday.

There was no immediate confirmation, but officials in Cairo said Hamas and Islamic Jihad expressed flexibility and indicated they would accept the PLO’s legitimacy.

The report came after President Mahmoud Abbas met Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Cairo to put “final touches” on an agreement to reconcile the leaders’ rival factions.

Officials from Islamic Jihad and the Palestinian National Initiative said late Thursday that they had accepted positions on an “interim leadership” of the PLO.

Ayed Yaghi, a PNI leader, said the small faction joined the PLO and that it was a natural position to take.

Head of the PNI Mustafa Barghouthi called it “a historic day in the lives of the Palestinian people with the development of a united national leadership as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the PNI joined the PLO’s leadership framework.”

An Islamic Jihad leader, however, said that joining the “interim leadership framework” of the PLO did not necessarily mean it had formally accepted membership in the Palestinian body.

Khaled Al-Batsh told Ma’an that joining the organization requires a clear framework for how the PLO will be restructured.

He added that if there was an agreement concerning these issues, Islamic Jihad would become a member in the organization. However, if there was not, the group said it was still willing to contribute.

“We’re now in the phase of national dialogue,” he said. “We’re in the interim leadership framework, which will handle restructuring the PLO, and we hope to succeed.”

Source: Ma’an News Agency.

Syrian Sanctions Pose New Threat to Jordan’s Economy

Abdullah Omar
Tuesday, December 20, 2011

DEIR-ALLA, Jordan – In the lush orchards of Abu Emad in this Jordan Valley town, lemons and oranges glisten in the sun as the day of picking draws near. The valley’s year-round mild climate, fertile soils and relatively ample water supply have made it a winter garden of cucumbers, tomatoes and other produce destined for Europe, where they are unavailable from local growers during the winter.

But this season may be different as Arab League sanctions against Syria go into effect. That is because Jordan Valley farmers like Abu Emad send their best produce through Syria to Europe, where prices are better than anything they could expect at home. The farmers, already coping with debts and water shortages, have few alternatives to Syria.

“If I’m not allowed to export products through Syria, it will be a catastrophe for me and all the communities in the region,” said the scrawny 56 year old farmer. Unemployment in Jordan is already high and poverty is on the rise. This farm employs dozens of workers from impoverished Deir Alla and neighboring towns. “If a war starts, many people will be hurt, not only in Syria, but also in Jordan.”

Unlike Syria’s two other Arab League neighbors, Iraq and Lebanon, Jordan supported the sanctions and King Abdullah has hinted that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad should step down after more than 5,000 people have died in a crackdown against the government. But the economy of Jordan, an important ally of the U.S., can ill-afford another blow.

Repeated attacks on the pipeline from Egypt have stanched the flow of natural gas that was once Jordan’s primary source of energy. While Abdullah faces no threat to his rule, the country has been shaken by protests calling for reform and an end to corruption. Jordan is already saddled by a record $2 billion budget deficit this fiscal year and high unemployment.

Syria and its Mediterranean ports serve as a lifeline for the kingdom, an almost entirely landlocked country. Close to 30% of Jordan’s exports of fruits and vegetables, about $126 million in 2010, went through Syria to Europe as well as the closer markets of Lebanon and Turkey. The ministry has said that about 3,000 Jordanian trucks will have to stop working because of the sanctions.

Syria finally agreed on Monday to let Arab League observers into the country to monitor a deal it agreed to last month to pull troops from rebellious cities, free political prisoners and start talks with the opposition. Nevertheless, the head of the League said there is no immediate plan to lift sanctions that were imposed when Damascus at first refused outside monitors.

Meantime, Jordanian traders are complaining they are being targeted by the Syrian regime, with trucks facing delays at the border and attacks by loyalists as the vehicles head north to Turkey.

The sanctions include a travel ban against scores of senior Syrian officials, a freeze on government assets in Arab countries, a ban on transactions with Syria’s central bank as well as an end to all commercial exchanges with the Syrian government. The sanctions include a ban on dealing with the central bank of Syria as well as major companies that export to the region.

If they can’t find new markets for their fruits and vegetables, the Jordan Valley’s farmers risk seeing everything fall off their branches and rot. The oil-rich Gulf states represent an option, but fierce competition from other countries such as India and strict rules on imports will make it hard to find customers countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Saudi or Qatar, he says.

Experts say other trade partners will have to be considered, including next-door Israel. But with the government already suffering I public opinion over the economy and political reform, expanding trade with the Jewish state would be a risky move. The two countries have a peace treaty but Jordanian popular opinion is hostile to Israel.

Sanctions will not only hit Jordanian farmers, but factories that use Syria as a route to import basic manufacturing products such as textiles and spare parts.

It will also hurt Jordanian families, which get the majority of their fruits and vegetables from Syria as well as wheat, cotton and other basic needs at an affordable price. Jordan imported some $187 million of Syria produce last year, according to Jordan’s Agriculture Ministry. Additionally, as pressure on Damascus intensifies and more refugees start to make their way to the kingdom, officials in Amman are concerned that will compound the economy’s woes by adding more mouths to feed.

All told, two-way trade between Syria and Jordan amounts to $400 million, a significant figure for a country of seven million people and an economy worth about $27 billion. Traders say imports from Lebanon would also become all too expensive if they are to be shipped through the Mediterranean and into the Red Sea Gulf of Aqaba

Jordan officials have sounded the alarm about the damage sanctions will impose if the kingdom’s special problems are taken into consideration. Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh has urged the other Arab countries to consider exempting the kingdom from the trade ban on Syria.

Jordan is believed to have received tens of millions of dollars from the Saudi and Qatari governments to help it accommodate an expected surge in the number of refugees. Experts say the kingdom could be given more cash from wealthier Arab League members to offset losses from cutting ties with Syria.

But Khalid Abdel Rahman, a farmer from the Jordan Valley town of Karama, expressed doubt about the aid money being spent effectively or going to deserving pockets.

“There is no transparency in these issues. If we receive aid, the government would give small amounts to certain people and leave others face the hardship by themselves,” he said.

Meanwhile, Amman has started seeking alternative routes for its exports. Talks have already held with Iraqi authorities to send trucks laden with exotic fruits and vegetables through northern Iraq and into Turkey, before reaching the European market. But the route is almost double the Syrian route and it through politically unstable areas, which will raise costs.

Source: The Media Line.