Archive for February 19th, 2012

Jordan Set to Open First Refugee Camp for Syrians

Written by Abdullah Omar
Thursday, February 16, 2012

[Amman] Jordan is putting the final touches on a refugee camp being set up near the border with Syria to house its share of the thousands of Syrians fleeing their homes out of fear of being caught up in the ongoing violence between President Bashar Al-Asad’s troops and opposition forces.

In the northern city of Sarhan, near Mafraq, a large plot of land has been paved; and wiring for electricity and piping for water installed in anticipation of arriving refugees.

The camp, under round-the-clock police guard, is the first in the kingdom and in the Arab region since the uprising against the Al-Asad regime began eleven months ago. Neighbors Iraq and Lebanon remain undecided over the developing situation in Syria and are so far refusing to establish refugee camps inside their borders.

But Jordan has already allowed thousands of refugees to enter and has provided them with needed care. Until now, the burden of supporting the unexpected guests from Syria has fallen on local communities in the border areas that have provided food, shelter and medical care to the refugees. Children of the Syrian refugees have even been allowed to attend public schools for free. The new camps, set up with support from UNHCR — the United Nations refugee agency — will lift the burden from the locals.

According to Ahmed Emian, secretary general of the Hashemite Charity Foundation, the camp will be open and ready to receive its residents shortly. “We have set up the camp in terms of paving the ground, putting electricity and providing it with sanitation and water,” he told The Media Line. “We will be opening the camp next week, or at latest by the end of the month,” he added.

For nearly eleven months into the anti-Asad uprising, and despite the rising number of Syrians seeking the safety of its borders, pro-Western Jordan resisted the temptation of setting up camps. Observers and western diplomats say Jordan, possibly the most experienced in the region in terms of hosting refugees, waited for a political decision from higher authorities and its allies before erecting tents on the borders.

At the start of the uprising last year, Jordan imposed a media blackout on the presence of refugees in order to avoid angering Syria and its strong neighbors. But now, a number of philanthropic groups have been given the nod to provide for the needs of refugees in certain areas, including the border, Amman and as far south as the city of Ma’an.

Estimates of the actual number of asylum seekers vary. The government says nearly 5000 have entered the kingdom since the uprising began in Syria in March 2011, while estimates offered by the philanthropic groups put the number of asylum seekers in the tens of thousands. Yet, the UN-agency UNHCR pegs the number of registered refugees at about 3,000 – less than the government estimate but twice the number it reported only one month ago, according to Jamal Arafat, chief representative of UNHCR in Amman.

He told The Media Line that no camps have been set up yet, suggesting that such a move is more of a political choice than a logistical one. “We are ready to open refugee camps, but we do not see any need for that yet,” he said.

Abu Ahmed is a Syrian activist fleeing from the city of Harak, a hotbed of anti-Asad protests in Deraa. He arrived in Mafraq three weeks ago after a long chase by Syrian security forces. Abu Ahmed currently lives in a mosque in Mafraq, awaiting accommodations for his family. “I fled without my family or anybody. I crossed illegally into Jordan and now I live in this mosque,” he told The Media line in a telephone interview. Abu Ahmed said many Syrians want to flee but they are unable to do so because of the heavy security procedures and fear of arrest on the borders. Jordan has not broken-off relations with Damascus and has said it will not ask the Syrian ambassador leave even though Syrian ambassadors posted in the oil rich Gulf States have been expelled.

Privately, officials say the kingdom will be hurt in case it severs diplomatic ties with its much larger neighbor, and prefers to keep diplomatic channels open. In the meantime, residents of Deraa warn that the Syrian army has intensified its patrols along the long border in order to prevent a mass influx of refugees and to stop activists wanted by the regime in Syria from fleeing to Jordan.

But arriving refugees escaping the continued shelling in areas in the Huran region say it will be extremely difficult for Al-Asad’s forces to stop local residents from leaving.

Source: The Media Line.

Protest fever reaches Damascus: Syrians call for ‘new phase’ in resistance


DAMASCUS – Embattled Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s forces unleashed their heaviest pounding yet of the central protest city of Homs, monitors said, as thousands rallied for his ouster.

The protesters emerged from mosques after the main weekly Muslim prayers on Friday, including in Damascus, following a call by Internet-based activists for a rally for a “new phase of popular resistance.”

“Get out! Get out!” they chanted at gatherings across the unrest-swept country, according to YouTube videos.

“We want revenge against Bashar and Maher,” some shouted, in reference to the president’s brother, who heads the feared Fourth Armored Division.

Activists said the scattered protests were among the most widespread in Damascus of the 11-month uprising against the Assad regime inspired by the Arab “awakening”.

The protesters turned out after the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly backed an Arab League initiative calling on Assad to step aside, and ahead of a visit by a Chinese envoy pushing for peace.

Assad, in remarks to visiting Mauritanian Prime Minister Moulaye Ould Mohamed Laghdaf, said reforms have to be synchronized with a “return to peace”.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 26 people were killed on Friday, one of them at a demonstration that was fired upon in the capital.

At least 10,000 people demonstrated in the southern town of Dael, in Daraa province, where the protest movement was born in March 2011, said the Britain-based monitor.

In Homs, rockets crashed into strongholds of resistance at the rate of four a minute, according to an activist, who warned the city faces a humanitarian crisis.

Thirteen of the dead were in the Homs district of Baba Amr.

“It’s the most violent in 14 days. It’s unbelievable — extreme violence the like of which we have never seen before,” said Hadi Abdullah of the General Commission of the Syrian Revolution.

“There are thousands of people isolated in Homs … There are neighborhoods that we know nothing about. I myself do not know if my parents are okay,” he said by telephone.

A tank fired into a residential part of Homs, before bursts of machinegun fire clattered across the neighborhood, a YouTube video showed.

Swedish mobile live video streaming site Bambuser said Friday its services had been blocked in Syria shortly after a user had broadcast a bombing in Homs.

“Dictators don’t like Bambuser,” company chairman Hans Eriksson said, adding it appeared Assad’s regime saw the site as a “major threat.”

Human rights groups estimated the two-week assault on Homs has killed almost 400 people, and a medic reached on Skype said 1,800 have been wounded.

“There are injuries that cannot be treated because of a lack of medical equipment,” Dr Ali al-Hazzuri said.

The violence came as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hailed an “overwhelming international consensus” against Damascus after the UN General Assembly voted on Thursday to demand an immediate halt to the crackdown.

The strongly worded resolution, adopted by a 137-12 vote, calls on Damascus “to stop all violence or reprisals immediately, in accordance with the League of Arab States initiative.”

It was referring to a peace plan put forward by the pan-Arab bloc calling on Assad to hand power over to his deputy and for the formation of a unity government ahead of elections.

Russia, China and Iran opposed the non-binding resolution. The vote came just days after Beijing and Moscow vetoed a similar resolution at the UN Security Council.

The vote “demonstrated an overwhelming international consensus that the bloody assaults must end,” Clinton said at a press conference with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

“In the face of this global condemnation, the regime in Damascus, however, appears to be escalating its assaults on civilians, and those who are suffering cannot get access to the humanitarian assistance they need and deserve,” she said.

“So we will keep working to pressure and isolate the regime, to support the opposition and to provide relief to the people of Syria.”

France and Britain pledged to help the opposition in its struggle against Assad’s regime but said conditions were not right for a foreign intervention, as in Libya.

Meeting for a summit in Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron expressed support for a conference to form an international coalition in Tunis next week dubbed the Friends of Syria.

“We cannot accept that a dictator massacre his own people, but the revolution will not be brought from outside, it will rise from inside Syria, as it has done elsewhere,” Sarkozy told a joint news conference.

“What is happening in Syria is appalling, for the government to be butchering and murdering its own people,” Cameron said.

The two said France and Britain were working together to help the opposition, with Sarkozy urging anti-Assad forces to unite and be better organized.

Meanwhile EU foreign policy chief Ashton denounced the arrest of blogger Razan Ghazzawi, rights campaigner Mazen Darwish and several other Syrian activists, calling for their immediate release.

Source: Middle East Online.

Syrian forces fire on funeral, killing at least two people

Feb 18, 2012

Beirut – At least two people were killed when Syrian government forces fired on a crowd during a funeral procession in the capital Damascus on Saturday, opposition activists said.

‘The funeral was being held in the Mezzeh area (in Damascus) for three people who had been killed the day before in a crackdown on anti-regime protests,’ the Syrian activist Munzer Abdullah told dpa.

Source: Monsters and Critics.

Palestinians rally to support hunger striker in Israeli jail

Sat Feb 18, 2012

Thousands of Palestinians have held demonstrations in Gaza and the West Bank to express solidarity with a Palestinian prisoner who has been on hunger strike for more than two months.

Members of all Palestinian movements attended the demonstration which began at the Al-Omari Mosque in Gaza City after Friday Prayers and ended at the headquarters of the Red Cross.

Demonstrators chanted slogans such as “We are all Khader Adnan” to express their support for the hunger striker.

“The Palestinian people, with all its components and its factions, will never abandon the hero prisoners, especially those who lead this hunger strike struggle,” said Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who participated in the demonstration in Gaza.

“In his hunger strike, Khader Adnan is not fighting for a personal cause, but for the defense of thousands of prisoners,” said Nafez Azzam, a Gaza leader of the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Palestinians also demonstrated in the northern West Bank city of Jenin, while Palestinian officials said many other prisoners in Israeli jails had started hunger strikes in support of Adnan.

Thirty-three-year-old Khader Adnan is being held without charge or trial in what Israel calls “administrative detention.”

The prisoner started the open-ended hunger strike a day after his arrest 64 days ago to protest against his detention as a violation of his basic rights and to highlight abuse and humiliating treatment during his arrest and interrogation.

According to a medical report issued on Thursday, he is “in immediate danger of death.”

Last week, an Israeli military court rejected an appeal against the detention, stating that Adnan had to remain in jail until May 8, 2012.

He was reportedly beaten by Israeli forces and sustained injuries when they raided his home outside the city of Jenin in the north of the occupied West Bank.

According to Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics and prisoner advocacy groups, there are currently over 6,000 Palestinian prisoners, including legislators, in Israeli jails, many of whom have been rounded up without charge or trial. Independent sources put the number of the inmates at 11,000.

Source: PressTV.

Jordanian protesters call for reforms, ouster of prime minister

Sat Feb 18, 2012

Jordanian people have staged protest rallies across the country, calling for political and economic reforms, constitutional amendment and resignation of Prime Minister Awn Al-Khasawneh.

Protesters took to streets in several cities including Karak, Tafileh, Salt, Ma’an and Irbid after Friday prayers.

Citizens of Tafileh demanded the implementation of reforms promised by the government.

In Karak, hundreds of demonstrators urged the government to end the mounting “security pressures” on Jordanian people and protesters.

Chanting anti-government slogans, protesters in Tafileh announced their support for a nationwide strike by Jordanian teachers who demand better pay and full annual bonuses.

Most of the country’s 1.4 million public schoolchildren are staying at home as a majority of the nearly 120,000 teachers have kept away from the kingdom’s 3,370 public schools since early February.

Jordanians have been holding street protests since January 2011, demanding political reforms, including the election of the prime minister by popular vote and an end to corruption.

Since the beginning of protest rallies, Jordanian ruler King Abdullah II has sacked two prime ministers in a bid to avoid more protests. Khasawneh, a judge at International Court of Justice, became 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 but the changes have failed to convince people.

Source: PressTV.