Archive for December 8th, 2011

Israel’s Supreme Court orders demolition of largest West Bank settlement

JERUSALEM (BNO NEWS) — Israel’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the state to dismantle the largest illegal settlement in the West Bank by April 2012, Haaretz newspaper reported.

Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch harshly criticized the Israeli government for failing to dismantle the outpost despite earlier promises it would do so. Israel had previously admitted that the outpost of Migron, which is home to some 50 families, was built on Palestinian land.

Beinisch said the Supreme Court has tried to show restraint despite the blatant illegality of the outpost. “There is no doubt, that according to Israeli law, no settlements can be built on private lands of Palestinians,” Beinisch added.

The Supreme Court justices recognized in the court ruling the difficulties surrounding the dismantling of the settlement, but said this could have been avoided if the state had prevented the construction of Migron in the first place.

The decision follows a petition filed by the Israeli Peace Now movement, which promotes Israeli-Palestinian peace. This is the first time the Supreme Court issues an order to dismantle an outpost in the West Bank.

In other news, 12 Israeli settlers suspected of violence against Palestinians were served with administrative restraining orders, limiting their activities in the West Bank. They were accused of igniting a number of mosques, vehicles and buildings that belong to Palestinians, according to a statement from Israel’s military.

The construction of Israeli settlements in the disputed West bank area has been often condemned by the international community. Palestine demanded a stop to settlement construction in the East Jerusalem and West Bank area as a key element for continuing peace talks, aimed at reaching a two-state solution based in the 1967 Green Line.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have been stalled since late September following Israel’s refusal to extend a 10-month freeze on settlement activity.

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

Source: WireUpdate.

Lebanon to file UN complaint against Israel

BEIRUT (BNO NEWS) — Lebanon will file a complaint on Wednesday against Israel at the United Nations after the troops of both countries exchanged fire along their common border earlier this week, Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Lebanon will file a complaint tomorrow [Wednesday] against Israel through the Lebanese commission to the United Nations (UN), at the backdrop of resolution 1701 violation and the infiltration of Israeli soldiers into Lebanese territories in Wazany yesterday,” the statement said as reported by Lebanon’s National News Agency.

The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) opened fire on Monday after a seven-man unit belonging to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) crossed the Blue Line that separates the two countries, near the Wazzani River area in southeastern Lebanon. Israeli troops, however, said the skirmish occurred during a military drill in Israeli territory. No casualties were reported.

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) confirmed the exchange of fire and said it had launched an investigation into the incident.

UN envoy to Lebanon Michel Williams on Tuesday warned that incidents such as Monday’s exchange of fire could quickly turn into a war after meeting with Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who affirmed Lebanon’s commitment to defend its sovereignty by “all legitimate means”.

“This was a very disturbing incident … you can go from an incident like this to war within a few hours. That is the reality,” UN Special Coordinator Michel Williams told reporters, according to the Daily Star.

“The good thing is that nobody was injured. The bad news is that we cannot afford any incidents like this,” he added.

Monday’s skirmish is the first in the region since 10 demonstrators were killed in Lebanon and another 112 wounded after they attempted to enter Israel in May during a Nakba Day march. Gunfights, however, are rare since the UN Security Council Resolution 1701 ended the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement.

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

Source: WireUpdate.

Hama – the city that’s defying Assad

Monday 1 August 2011
Nour Ali

The Syrian city of Hama, the scene of a bloody crackdown by President Assad’s army, has a long history of standing up to the brutal Ba’athist regime.

It’s early July in Hama. Among the rows of windswept trees and sandy housing, makeshift checkpoints of burned-out cars and dustbins protect its neighborhoods. The atmosphere is tense as residents wonder what fate awaits the city at the heart of Syria’s five-month-old standoff between protesters and the regime.

The answer came on Sunday. It is difficult to report from Syria as the government does not allow journalists to work freely in the country. But according to residents and activists, the regime decided it had had enough. Without provocation, tanks that had been stationed on the city’s outskirts for weeks previously approached Hama from four directions followed by infantry and security forces. Those manning the city’s checkpoints tried to defend themselves with stones and bars but they were no match for the tanks and gunfire. In the most horrific day since Syria’s uprising began, the death toll steadily climbed as doctors called for blood donations, and a stream of gruesome video footage emerged. By sunset that day, up to 100 were dead and scores more injured. But residents say the army has still not succeeded in retaking the city, despite the government’s ongoing assault.

Amid the carnage, as in the months before, locals evoked comparisons to 1982 – the year Bashar al-Assad’s father Hafez (the then Syrian president) unleashed his army on the city, leaving at least 10,000 dead. That massacre’s shadow looms large.

“If the security forces arrest me and ask why I am protesting, I will tell them: in 1982 you killed my brother and you killed my father,” explained Mohamed, 54, when I spoke to him in July at his home in one of Hama’s central districts. “What more reason do I need than that?”

Mohamed was a newly married man in his 20s when his brother, 19, and father, 51, were rounded up by security forces. They had fled 4km from the city after tanks arrived to repress an armed Islamist uprising that had fought to topple president Hafez al-Assad. Both were shot dead. The bodies, like many hundreds of others, were never recovered; Mohamed has refused to register them as dead.

“We had seen men in white – the color of the defense forces – shelling using cannons and tanks, which would crash through houses. We saw cars with soldiers and holes dug for graves. There were 50 of us in this house and the army came and rounded up the men.”

Mohamed fled to the northern city of Aleppo, walking the first 15km. “I saw corpses everywhere: one there, three here, another five there. It was horrific.”

There is little official history written about those three weeks in February in which the city, then Syria’s third-biggest, was besieged by the Defense Brigades, the forerunners of today’s much-feared 4th armored division.

Islamists based in Hama, Aleppo and the north-west had risen up against Ba’ath party rule, which came to Syria in 1963 and was taken over by Hafez al-Assad in a coup in 1970. Since the end of the 70s, the Muslim Brotherhood had waged a campaign against the Ba’athists, slaughtering party members and even attempting to assassinate Hafez, to which the authorities replied with brutal killings and massacres. Thousands are believed to have gone missing during this period.

Even 30 years ago, Hama’s role as protest capital was not new. It had been at the forefront of campaigns against landowning families and, later, the Ba’ath party. But matters came to a head in February 1982 after guerrilla forces declared Hama liberated and the government responded with unprecedented brutality, which some claim is the greatest act of violence in contemporary Middle Eastern history. It was then, as it is now, a war of survival for the Assad regime. Aircraft bombed the roads out of the city to prevent people escaping. Tanks and artillery positioned on the outskirts shelled the city, causing homes to collapse on their residents. Soldiers roamed the streets lining up men and boys as young as 15 to be shot. According to personal testimonies, women were raped and some starved to death from the lack of food.

The attack went far beyond simply obliterating the Muslim Brotherhood: Christian churches as well as mosques were razed and at least 10,000 civilians are estimated to have died. Today, reminders are everywhere in the city’s architecture. Seventeen ancient norias, or waterwheels, that creak in the breeze and turn slowly in the Orontes, the river that weaves its way through the city, are almost all that is left of Hama’s ancient history – the city that appears in the Bible as “Hamath”. Of the old city, only a few streets remain. Whole areas were bulldozed, while bullet holes pockmark the buildings that are still standing. The Cham Palace, a partly government-controlled chain of hotels, sits on a spot where Hama’s residents say a mass grave lies, a potent symbol of the regime’s power.

After quashing the city, the government made little attempt to reconcile itself. It built new schools, gardens and places of worship, but then it left. Hama, which used to draw tourists, has little infrastructure and few of the nice restaurants that are a feature of Homs, a few miles south, or the main hubs of Aleppo or Damascus.

In this city of 800,000 people – now the country’s fourth biggest – everyone has a story from 1982. Each family is scarred by the memory of a lost relative or friend. Thirty years is not a long time: the memories resonate strongly, and no more so than today as Syria struggles with an uprising that has been brutally suppressed and has so far caused more than 1,600 civilian deaths.

Syria was seen as a possible exception to the revolutionary currents that started to sweep the region at the start of the year. Protests that popped up in February and March, including vigils for Egypt and Libya, were quickly quashed by the security forces. But in mid-March, Syria’s uprising got the spark it needed when a group of schoolchildren in the southern city of Deraa were snatched by security forces for writing graffiti against the regime. Their parents were insulted by Atef Najib, the city’s security chief and, when released, the children bore the marks of torture. On 18 March, protests burst out and live fire killed several, causing outrage across the country. Demands have escalated from local complaints and calls for reform to chants for the end of Assad’s regime.

The latest assault on Hama has reopened old wounds as well as creating new ones. When Bashar al-Assad succeeded his father in 2000, many hoped his rule might signal a change for the country. But shortly after 9/11, he suggested the US could learn from Syria’s history of dealing with terrorists – implying its suppression of Hama. Reforms were slow. The brutal crackdown since March has killed any vestiges of hope.

On 3 June, more than 70 people were killed in the city after three trucks with large guns opened fire on protesters returning from Friday prayers. The front row of men, bearing their chests and shouting “peacefully, peacefully!” to show they were unarmed, were felled; more followed. This bloodshed has only stiffened the city’s resolve, which has been further strengthened by the latest attack, as confirmed by residents speaking by phone on Sunday evening.

But Hama’s citizens draw obvious parallels between the events of 1982 and now, fueled by the authorities which have themselves evoked the 1980s, insisting, now as then, that the country faces the threat of an armed Islamic insurgency. What was a taboo subject has been transformed into common parlance across the country.

While Hama’s residents remain religiously conservative Muslims, the Muslim Brotherhood or the ideas of political Islam have very little sway.

“Just as then, they [the security forces] treat human beings as dispensable,” Mohamed told me. “In the 1980s, I saw bodies tossed aside on rubbish heaps; on 3 June I saw the same. They called it the war of pyjamas because they’d take people from their beds at night, that’s what they’re doing now,” he said, referring to late-night raids made by the security forces on the fringes of the city.

Suleiman, who was one year old in 1982, says he grew up knowing his two uncles were killed, although the details are foggy. “I remember my father telling me about it as I grew up; it was a fact like any other,” he says. “It influenced how I see this regime, how I see my country – and I am scared of what they will do.”

That shared memory has not only fueled Hama’s outpouring – the country’s largest protest gathering was held at the city’s al-Assy Square on 1 July – but also helped them to pull together. When it looked as if the security forces might attack, residents set up the barricades and men sent women and children out of the city to relatives, organizing systems of protection among themselves.

“Many of those young men manning the checkpoints are orphans of 1982,” says a female government worker in her 30s, putting coals on an argileh (hookah) as the day fades and lights flicker on across the city. She talks loudly, dark eyes blazing, no longer afraid in a country where political opinions have been whispered, if enunciated at all.

Just nine in 1982, she can pull up images in her head easily. “I saw my neighbors dragged out of their house, put against a wall and shot dead. We hid, scrabbling for food, and were lucky in being able to be smuggled out to the villages,” she says. “You don’t forget a scene like that. We all know we have to try to prevent something similar happening again.”

“The regime divided people and made them suspicious of each other, but this uprising has started to bring us back together again,” says a businessman in his 40s, sipping coffee in his house, a bullet hole on the whitewashed wall behind him. His mother, who lost another of her sons in 1982, keeps calling to check he is OK.

Though Hama’s residents say history is repeating itself – the double-act of Bashar and his brother Maher, commander of the 4th armored division, matches Hafez and his brother Rifaat, who led the 1982 assault – today’s uprising is nothing like the ones before it. While clerics have taken a prominent role – the de facto negotiator for the city is the imam of Serjawi mosque and people have gathered in mosques – the strength lies in the fact that this is not a religious uprising. Protests in Hama are a reflection of protests across the country – broadbased, unarmed and, they add, morally justified.

“We are religious. But they are trying to portray us as extremists when we are not,” is a common refrain from both men and women in the city. Instead, Hama’s residents say they hope for freedom, for a government that treats them with dignity, and the end of 41 years of “Beit Assad” (the house of Assad). And if Syria’s uprising succeeds, they may also be able to put the ghosts of 1982 behind them.

Source: The Guardian.

Thousands of Jordanian Forces Enter Bahrain to Help Manama Suppress Protests


TEHRAN (FNA)- Over 2,000 Jordanian security forces have entered Bahrain to assist the Al-Khalifa forces in suppressing peaceful protests in the tiny Persian Gulf island, witness reports said on Sunday.

“At present more than 2,000 forces dispatched by the Jordanian government have entered Bahrain’s territories and are now active in the form of police and security forces,” a witness told FNA on the condition of animosity.

The witness also pointed to the presence of the Pakistani forces in Bahrain, and called it a threat to the independence of the tiny Persian Gulf country.

Anti-government protesters have been holding peaceful demonstrations across Bahrain since mid-February, calling for an end to the Al Khalifa dynasty’s over-40-year rule.

Violence against the defenseless people escalated after a Saudi-led conglomerate of police, security and military forces from the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (PGCC) member states – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar – were dispatched to the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom on March 13 to help Manama crack down on peaceful protestors.

So far, tens of people have been killed, hundreds have gone missing and more than 1,000 others have been injured.

Yet, protests and rallies continued throughout the country in defiance of the martial law put in place by Manama since February.

Bahrainis have repeatedly condemned Riyadh’s major role in the suppression of their revolution, and underlined that they would continue protests until the Al Khalifa regime collapses.

Source: FARS News.

Syrian Troops Hammer Hama for Second Day

By Jasper Fakkert
August 1, 2011

Syrian military forces pounded the protest city of Hama with artillery on Monday, making it the second day of an intensified campaign on the city. On Sunday, troops and tanks entered the city, destroying barricades set up by residents as a buffer between themselves and the coming onslaught.

Syrian rights groups estimate 100 people were killed in Hama and three other cities, Deir Ezzor, Daraa, and Idib, on Sunday. On Monday, five civilians were killed in Hama and dozens more were injured by the random shelling of tanks, according to the Local Coordination Committees, an organization of Syrian human rights organizations.

The city of Hama, which has become a key protest town against the rule of Syrian president Bashir al-Assad, already bore a bloody crackdown by Assad’s father in 1982 in which an estimated 10,000 people were killed.

In the current uprising, Hama had come under siege one month ago after an estimated 500,000 people took to the streets calling for political reform and Assad to step down.

With the intense crackdown on Hama, Assad has further distanced himself from his promises of national dialogue as part of the solution to the unrest in the country. Instead, international outcry over Assad’s handling of the demonstrations has intensified over the past days.

“I am appalled by the Syrian government’s use of violence and brutality against its own people. The reports out of Hama are horrifying and demonstrate the true character of the Syrian regime,” said U.S. President Barack Obama in a statement on Sunday.

“His use of torture, corruption, and terror puts him on the wrong side of history and his people,” Obama said.

Having reached its fifth month, the popular uprising in Syria, inspired by similar protests across the Arab world, has claimed an estimated 1,500 lives according to rights groups.

In response to a call from Germany for the United Nations Security Council to call an emergency session to respond to the unfolding events in Hama, the 15-member body met on Monday in New York.

A modified version of a draft resolution condemning the Syrian authorities for its crackdown was circulated at the meeting. An earlier draft of the resolution, introduced by Britain, France, Germany, and Portugal, was blocked by China and Russia in May this year. As permanent members of the Security Council—along with the United States, France, and the U.K.—they hold veto power over any resolution.

“It’s clear that President Bashar al-Assad is unwilling to halt his security forces, so the U.N. must take decisive action to stem this violent campaign of repression,” said Philip Luther, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa for Amnesty International, in a press release on Monday.

The European Union announced on Monday that in response to the clampdown on the city of Hama five Syrian officials “involved in or associated with the violent repression” would have sanctions imposed on them, including a travel ban and the freezing of assets.

Source: The Epoch Times.