Archive for December 19th, 2011

Jordan’s corruption hunt fails to satisfy ‘skeptical’ Islamists


By Randa Habib – AMMAN

Jordan’s King Abdullah II is spearheading an anti-corruption drive against figures once seen as “untouchable,” but is failing to satisfy the powerful Islamist opposition’s demands for sweeping reform.

The arrest on Tuesday of former Amman mayor Omar Maani on fraud charges, and a court’s refusal to grant bail to a man once close to the monarch and Queen Rania are seen as evidence that the anti-graft campaign is serious.

The detention of Maani, who was mayor from 2006 until earlier this year, came after the king met with senior officials, MPs and members of the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission to demand swift action.

“Citizens can no longer tolerate corruption. They want the corrupt who steal public funds punished. No one is above the law,” the king told the meeting.

Pro-reform demonstrations, which the country has been witnessing since January, have not spared the king himself.

The palace recently issued a statement saying 4,827 dunums (each equivalent to 1,000 square meters) of state land were “registered to the king’s name between 2000 and 2003,” adding that “none of them has been sold.”

Parliament then formed a committee to inquire into “records of public land registered to the names of influential people.”

“The king’s involvement demonstrates political will and Jordanians will be stunned by the way corruption will be tackled,” Senate President Taher Masri said.

“The popular protests have been calling for months for corruption to be rooted out, and at one point, people felt the state was not serious about that. But things will change dramatically.”

Prosecutors have summoned several former senior officials, including three prime ministers and a royal court chief, to testify in a corruption case, according to the government-owned Arabic daily Al-Rai.

Also, a travel ban has been imposed on dozens of prominent businessmen, said Anti-Corruption Commission chief Samih Bino.

The businessmen are reportedly suspected of involvement in the embezzlement of hundreds of millions of dollars of public funds.

But the measures taken have so far failed to satisfy the opposition Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political arm of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood.

“Preliminary steps are being taken to tackle corruption, but they are not enough at all,” Zaki Bani Rsheid, head of the IAF’s political bureau, said.

“Fighting corruption requires genuine and serious political will, which is not available now,” he added, warning against “attempts to thwart people’s demands for real reform.”

Bani Rsheid said: “Corruption files that have led to Jordan’s political and economic crises have not been investigated yet.

“Corruption in Jordan is deeply rooted and enjoys the protection of parts of the regime,” he added.

Jordan’s external debt amounts to $18 billion, more than 65% of gross domestic product. It was $7 billion in 1999, when King Abdullah took the throne.

“These are bubbles here and there. There is no real strategy,” said Mohammad Masri, a researcher at the University of Jordan’s Center for Strategic Studies.

“A clear anti-corruption law should have preceded this campaign to help to restore people’s trust in court decisions and refute claims that these measures are part of a witch-hunt.”

Source: Middle East Online.

Israel completes second stage of prisoner swap with Hamas

Dec 18, 2011

Tel Aviv – The second stage of an Israel-Hamas prisoner swap was completed Sunday, as Israel released 550 Palestinian prisoners into the Palestinian territories and Jordan.

The prisoners began crossing over from Israel at 2000 GMT.

Hundreds of supporters and relatives, singing, dancing and waving Palestinian flags, were waiting at Palestinian Authority headquarters in Ramallah, where the vast majority of the prisoners were to be dropped off. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was not scheduled to make any address, because he had left for Jordan.

A bus carrying 41 prisoners made its way from the Kerem Shalom crossing point into Gaza City.

Two other prisoners from Jordan were to cross the border with Israel’s eastern neighbor via the Allenby Bridge over the River Jordan. Another two were being released in East Jerusalem.

A spokesman for the Hamas armed wing told a news conference in Gaza City that Sunday’s release completed the prisoner exchange, whereby Israel freed a total of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in return for a soldier held captive in Gaza for more than five years.

Hours before the release got underway, hundreds of Palestinians clashed with Israeli soldiers at a central West Bank checkpoint. They were among the crowd gathered at Beitunia, south-west of Ramallah, anxiously awaiting their relatives who were being freed.

Tempers ran high, and, when youths began pushing the nearby security fence and throwing rocks, soldiers fired tear gas and stun grenades, witnesses said. An Israeli military spokeswoman said some of the protesters lobbed firebombs.

Several people were injured after inhaling tear gas.

Israel Prison Service (IPS) spokeswoman Sivan Weizman said that 55 of those to be freed Sunday were minors, ages 14-17, having apparently been held for up to 18 months for throwing stones and firebombs.

The prisoners included six women, the IPS said.

None of the prisoners released Sunday was serving a life term. Most are members of the armed wing of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement.

Many were sentenced for attacks that caused no major casualties. Palestinian Prisoner Affairs Minister Issa Karakeh expressed disappointment that Israel picked prisoners for the second stage who had only a few months left to serve.

‘Hamas should have paid attention to the second group like the first, and should not have left it up to Israel to decide who to release,’ he said.

A count carried out by dpa from the list published by Israel found that around half the prisoners freed Sunday were scheduled to have been released by the first half of 2012.

In the first stage, carried out on October 18, Israel released 477 Palestinian militants, many serving multiple life sentences, in return for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held hostage for more than five years by the Islamist movement, which rules Gaza.

Under the Egyptian-mediated deal, Hamas hand-picked many of the names freed in the first stage, while Israel decided who to release in the second round. Ahead of the exchange, all 550 prisoners had been moved Thursday to two central facilities, one near Tel Aviv and another at a military base outside Ramallah.

Because of the late hour of the release, no immediate mass celebrations were planned in the West Bank and Gaza.

Hamas had welcomed the first wave with a huge reception in a Gaza City park; the second wave includes no members of the Islamist movement, residents said.

Families had driven to Ramallah from other cities across the West Bank, waiting anxiously for the arrival of their relatives.

Israel’s High Court of Justice late Saturday rejected petitions against the release, filed by relatives of Israelis killed in attacks by Palestinian militants, Israel Radio reported.

The court ruled that the issue had political and security ramifications and therefore was a government decision in which it would not intervene.

A military spokeswoman, asked by dpa, said 330 Palestinians had been arrested on security-related charges since October 18, but roughly as many had gone free.

Some 4,250 Palestinians in Israeli prisons for security-related offenses, the IPS said. That is down from almost 5,300 before the Shalit deal.

Source: Monsters and Critics.

Prisoners cross into Palestinian territory

Dec 18, 2011

Ramallah – Buses carrying Palestinian prisoners crossed into freedom through a West Bank checkpoint Sunday night, as Israel implemented the second phase of an exchange with the Islamist movement Hamas.

Source: Monsters and Critics.