Archive for February 29th, 2012

‘Imam Moussa Sadr definitely alive’

Wed Aug 31, 2011

A senior member of the Lebanese Amal Movement has expressed confidence that Shia cleric Imam Moussa al-Sadr, who went missing in Libya more than three decades ago, is still alive.

“We have been in contact with Libyan opposition and revolutionaries during recent years, and they emphasized that Imam Moussa Sadr is alive… but believed he has been frequently transferred to different prisons in Libya,” said Khalil Hamdan in the Iranian city of Qom on Wednesday.

He stressed the significance of following up Sadr’s case “with patience and precision,” and stated, “Based on the latest information, we believe that he is definitely alive,” Mehr news agency reported.

The top Amal official expressed hope that the cleric would be released in the near future thanks to further efforts by Iranian and Lebanese officials and his family.

Sadr, the founder of the Amal Movement, went missing during an official visit to the Libyan capital Tripoli in August 1978.

It is widely believed that the popular and highly revered Lebanese Shia cleric of Iranian descent was kidnapped on the orders of senior Libyan officials.

Accompanied by two of his companions, Mohammed Yaqoub and Abbas Badreddin, the top Shia cleric was scheduled to meet with Libyan officials.

In 2008, the Beirut government issued an arrest warrant for Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi over Sadr’s disappearance.

Source: PressTV.

Hariri Bombing Indictment Based on Flawed Premise

Analysis by Gareth Porter*

WASHINGTON, Aug 29, 2011 (IPS) – The indictment of four men linked to Hezbollah in the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri made public by the Special Tribunal on Lebanon Aug. 17 is questionable not because it is based on “circumstantial evidence”, but because that evidence is based on a flawed premise.

The evidence depends on a convoluted theory involving what the indictment calls “co-location” of personal mobile phones associated with five distinct networks said to be somehow connected with the plot to murder Hariri.

The indictment, originally filed Jun. 10, says that, if there are “many instances” in which a phone is “active at the same location, on the same date, and within the same time frame as other phones”, but the phones do not contact each other, then it is “reasonable to conclude from these instances that one person is using multiple phones together”.

Based on that assumption the indictment asserts that “a person can ultimately be identified by co-location to be the user of a network phone.”

On that reasoning, one of the four accused, Salim Jamil Ayyash, is said to have participated in a “red” network of phones that was activated on Jan. 5, 2005, only contacted each other, and ceased operations two minutes before the blast that killed Hariri. The “red” network is presumed to have been used by those who carried out surveillance as well as prepared the logistics for the bombing.

But Ayyash is also linked by “co-location” to a “green” network that had been initiated in October 2004 and ceased to operate one hour before the attack, and a “blue” network that was active between September 2004 and September 2005. The only basis for linking either of those two sets of mobile phones to the assassination appears to be the claim of frequent “co-location” of Ayyash’s personal cell phone with one of the phones in those networks and one red phone.

But the idea that “co-location” of phones is evidence of a single owner is a logical fallacy. It ignores the statistical reality that a multitude of mobile phones would have been frequently co-located with any given phone carrying out surveillance on Hariri in Beirut over an hour or more on the same day during the weeks before the assassination.

In the area of Beirut from the parliament to the St. George Hotel, known as Beirut Central District, where the “red” network is said to have been active in carrying out its surveillance of Hariri, there are 11 base stations for mobile phones, each of which had a range varying from 300 meters to 1,250 meters, according to Riad Bahsoun, a prominent expert on Lebanon’s telecom system. Bahsoun estimates that, within the range of each of those cell towers, between 20,000 and 50,000 cell phones were operating during a typical working day.

Given that number of mobile phones operating within a relatively small area, a large number of phones would obviously have registered in the cell tower area and in the same general time frame – especially if defined as an hour or more, as appears to be the case – as at least one of the red network phones on many occasions.

The indictment does not state how many times one of Ayyash’s personal phones was allegedly “co-located” with a “red” network phone.

To prove that Ayyash was in charge of the team using the red phones, the indictment provides an extraordinarily detailed account of Ayyash’s alleged use of red, green and blue phones on seven days during the period between Jan. 11 and Feb. 14, the day of the assassination.

But according to that information, during the final nine days on which the red network was active in surveillance of Hariri, including the day of the bombing itself, Ayyash was in phone contact with the red and blue networks on only three days – a pattern that appears inconsistent with the role of coordinating the entire plot attributed to him.

The most senior Hezbollah figure indicted, Mustafa Amine Badreddine, is accused of involvement only because he is said to have had 59 phone contacts with Ayyash during the Jan. 5-Feb. 14 period. But those phone contacts are attributed to the two Hezbollah figures solely on the basis of co-location of their personal mobile phones with two phones in the “green” network on an unspecified number of occasions – not from direct evidence that they talked on those occasions.

Evidence from the U.N. commission investigating the Hariri assassination suggests that investigators did not stumble upon the alleged connections between the four Hezbollah figures and the different phone networks but used the link analysis software to find indirect links between phones identified as belonging to Hezbollah and the “red phones”.

In his third report, dated Sep. 26, 2006, then Commissioner Serge Brammertz said his team was using communications traffic analysis for “proactive and speculative” studies.

Brammertz referred in his next report in December 2006 to the pursuit of an “alternative hypothesis” that the motive for killing Hariri was a “combination of political and sectarian factors”. That language indicates that the “proactive and speculative” use of link analysis was to test the hypothesis that Shi’a Hezbollah was behind the bombing.

This is not the first time that communications link analysis has been used to link telephones associated with a specific group or entity to other phones presumed to be part of a major bombing plot.

In the investigation of the Buenos Aires terror bombing of a Jewish community center in 1994, the Argentine intelligence service SIDE used analysis of phone records to link the Iranian cultural attaché, Mohsen Rabbani, to the bombing, according to the former head of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Office on Hezbollah, James Bernazzani.

Bernazzani, who was sent by the White House in early 1997 to assist SIDE in the bombing investigation, told this reporter in a November 2006 interview that SIDE had argued that a series of telephone calls made between Jul. 1 and Jul. 18, 1994 to a mobile phone in the Brazilian border city of Foz de Iguazu must have been made by the “operational group” for the bombing.

SIDE had further argued that a call allegedly made on a mobile phone belonging to Rabbani to the same number showed that he was linked the bombing plot.

Bernazzani called that use of link analysis by SIDE “speculative” – the same word that Brammertz used to describe the U.N. investigation’s employment of the same tool. Such speculative use of link analysis “can be very dangerous”, Bernazzani said. “Using that kind of analysis, you could link my telephone to [Osama] bin Laden’s.”

Source: Inter-Press Service (IPS).

Syria force surrounds town after defections: residents

George Haddad
Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Global Arab Network – An armored Syrian force surrounded a town near the city of Homs and fired heavy machineguns after the defection of tens of soldiers in the area, activists and residents said.

One woman, 45 year-old Amal Qoraman, was killed and five other people were injured, they said, adding that tens of people were arrested in house to house raids in the town of 40,0000.

Since the demise of Muammar Gaddafi’s rule in Libya, activists and residents have reported increasing defections among Syrian troops, as well as more intense street protests in a five-month-old uprising against President Bashar al Assad.

Syrian authorities have repeatedly denied army defections have been taking place. They have expelled independent media since the uprising began in March.

Activists say there have been desertions in eastern Deir al-Zor province, northwestern Idlib province, the Homs countryside and the outskirts of Damascus, where security forces fought gunbattles with defectors Sunday.

At least 40 light tanks and armored vehicles, and 20 buses of troops and military intelligence members deployed at dawn at the entrance of Rastan, 20 km (12 miles) north of Homs and began firing heavy machineguns at the town, two residents said.

“The tanks deployed at both banks of the highway, which remained open, and fired long bursts from their machineguns at Rastan,” one of the residents, who gave his name as Raed, told Reuters by phone.

He said defections began in the town when it was stormed by tanks three months ago to crush large street protests against Assad in an assault that killed dozens of civilians.

Security forces killed Monday a former officer who had played a key role in coordinating army defections, activists said.

Mostapha Selim Hezbollah, a former air force officer in his 40s’, was shot dead when his car was ambushed near the town of Kfar Nubul in Idlib province, which borders Turkey, they said.

“It was a targeted assassination. A companion who was with him in the car was badly wounded but we managed to get him to a hospital. The attack happened just before ‘iftar’ (breaking of fast). We don’t know yet if it was security police or troops who fired at them,” one of the activists told Reuters by phone.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is based in Britain, said five other people were killed earlier in military assaults on several towns in Idlib.

Source: Global Arab Network.

Palestinians in Jordan refugee camp long to return

John Ridley
The Electronic Intifada
30 August 2011

The market is busy, shop and stall owners are shouting to advertise their wares to the crowds on the street; food and essential goods only. Behind the main street more traders sell secondhand goods, mostly clothes and shoes, piled on rickety tables or heaped onto tarpaulins lying on the ground. Shoppers rummage through the piles in the hope of finding clothing at an affordable price.

The sense of community is apparent, everyone has a purpose, many stop to welcome me, or just shake hands and say “hello.”

But just beyond the bustling market lays the reality of Baqaa. Mahmood, my guide, explains — “Four generations of refugees have grown up with little hope of escaping poverty, let alone reaching their true potential; despite their hardships the community remains strong.”

The UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA), runs services in Baqaa camp, although UNRWA does not itself run the refugee camps. It works alongside all the charities in the camp. The UN, being politically-funded, is restricted to running the school, health center, some food distribution and other projects.

Unlike the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), who are responsible for all non Palestinian refugees world-wide, UNWRA was established with no mandate to assist Palestinians in resettlement, either in Palestine or another country.

Apart from the run-down appearance, the school looks like any other “city center” school. Children play happily on the tarmac surface during their short breaks between lessons. At the entrance fly the flags of Jordan, Palestine and the United Nations.

The school has sixty students in each class and runs four shifts per day; not surprisingly half of the children do not finish basic education. Yet, some do succeed at school — last year the top ten Jordanian graduates came from the camps; there is an escape through education — if you are exceptional and have financial support.

A life in the space of one bed

Today the camp, just 1.5 square kilometers in size, houses 250,000 residents; each family, usually eight to ten persons spanning three generations, is allocated just 96 square meters.

Putting this into perspective, each person is allocated a space slightly larger than a double bed, their space to live in — sleep, keep belongings, wash, cook, perform personal hygiene, study, play — their whole live in the space taken by one bed.

The homes are rudimentary concrete structures with corrugated panels or plastic sheets for roofs, more substantial roofing is not allowed; this would imply the home was a permanent building.

The unemployment, overcrowding, lack of proper ventilation, inadequate garbage collection, poor water and sewage systems make the camp a breeding ground for disease. Mahmood struggles to express his emotion, “Every family faces devastation, then hope, followed by devastation — eventually everyone becomes anaesthetized to hope. The mortality statistics, whether through illness or suicide, are just numbers, they lose all meaning.”

Mahmood takes me to a narrow gateway, the entrance to a small patch of ground between two houses. “Behind every door you find tragic circumstances, orphans, mental and physical illness, widows, birth defects, nothing prepares you,” he says.

In 1948, Fatima was a young girl in her late teens living in al-Dawayima, a small Palestinian village near Hebron. “We were farmers and had land, we grew figs, olives and wheat,” she says. As a reminder of those better days she keeps one solitary olive tree growing in the small yard of her home.

She and Abdul Rahman, her brother, had expected peace and comfort in the years ahead but in the space of just a few hours their lives and the lives of everyone they knew changed forever. She remembers every detail of 29 October 1948.

Al-Dawayima was the site of one of the larger, little-known massacres of the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing that led to Israel’s establishment. “Our parents among the dead, we fled for our lives, leaving our home with nothing more than the clothes on our back.” Sixty-three years on, Fatima still has nothing.

Along with many survivors, they walked to the Hebron Hills where they hid, before walking onto a makeshift camp in Jericho. There would be no peace for Fatima or her brother; during the war of June 1967, along with 300,000 Palestinians, they fled Jericho and the West Bank for exile in Jordan.

Since 1968 she has lived in Baqaa with her brother Abdul Rahman and his disabled son; both disabled by arthritis, neither can walk more than a few tens of yards.

“We walked day and night until reaching Baqaa; this was to be our new home,” she says. Under canvas, many died in the harsh Jordanian winters; steel prefabricated huts eventually replaced the tents. “The huts were dry, an improvement on the canvas tents, but as protection against the cold we dug underground shelters.”

Living underground for twenty years

In September 1972, Israel began aerial bombing of Baqaa in response to Palestinian attempts to recapture their homeland. The underground shelters became protection from the bombing raids; the whole camp was destroyed.

Unable to afford to replace their hut, they lived below their nine-meter by nine-meter plot of ground for twenty years. “Finally, with the help of charity we managed to build a small concrete shelter.” The elderly brother, sister and disabled son now live in this one room, with rags on the floor to sleep on. They can afford no mattresses or furniture.

“We keep hens in the yard, feeding them stale bread; eggs are our main diet. Two to three times a week, more fortunate Baqaa residents provide us with a meal. Many hundreds of people in the camp live in the same poverty as us.”

Despite the hardship, Fatima is a joy and inspiration. She is now in her mid-seventies, but as I left her home, smiling, she told me that when she returns to Palestine she will be ready to get married.

With every family we meet, the stories keep coming. The narrow alleyways between the houses are cold, dark and damp, very little sunlight reaches the streets or into the homes. Toilets, bathrooms and excess rain water empty into the same sewage pipes, too small to meet demand in heavy rain, raw sewage overflows into the roads. No matter how hard the residents try, keeping their homes and the camp clean and healthy is almost impossible.

The houses are in dreadful condition inside and out, the personal stories even worse: illness, death, finance, or other tragedies.

“We’ve kept our keys”

In 1948, Abdullah’s grandparents, married just five years, were raising their young family in the coastal city of Jaffa. “My grandfather came from a trading family, buying and selling citrus fruit from the orchards for export,” Abdullah says. “We were not rich, but we wanted for nothing. As the escalating violence reached Jaffa, my grandparents decided the family should leave the city.”

The family packed for a short trip, they would return home in a week or two when things settled down. They covered their furniture, locked the door and left, heading for Ramallah on foot, carrying just the provisions they could manage — and the key to the door of the house.

Every family I visited showed me their house keys. The key has come to symbolize the right of return for Palestinian refugees worldwide.

“Countless people walked together towards an unknown destination, we walked until dusk, resting in orchards overnight. My mother was six months old and very ill, doctors had said that she would not survive.” The family was in great difficulty, carrying four young children and provisions. “On the first night, my grandparents begged the owner of an orchard to care for their dying child until she passed away.” Another refugee intervened, leaving his few possessions, he carried her for two days until they reached the safety of Ramallah.

Finally, the refugees arrived at the emergency shelters, home from 1948 until 1967. “My grandmother, with help from the Quakers, supported the family by selling crochet and knitting to people in Ramallah.” In 1967 the Israelis again declared war on the Palestinians, forcing a second wave of expulsions. “Again we were refugees, left with nothing.”

Exhausted, after days of walking, they arrived in Baqaa on the Jordanian East Bank; home was to be a canvas tent, allocated to the family by the United Nations.

“By 1972, most tents had been replaced by steel shelters, but we were not left in peace to rebuild our lives, Israelis continued fighting Palestinians. In September of that year Israel again attacked us, this time dropping bombs from aircraft onto Baqaa, killing thousands and destroying the camp.”

Heart-breaking tragedy

Abdullah’s mother survived; she is now 63 and lives with him, his wife, their four daughters and three sons.

Just two weeks before I met Abdullah and his mother Ayishah, Abdullah’s five-year-old daughter had died of cholera. Fighting tears, Abdullah told me, “Cholera is very common in all the refugee camps, caused by sewage in the streets when we have heavy rain.”

As a Palestinian refugee arriving in Jordan after 1967, Abdullah has no nationality and can only find simple work outside the camp, for which police approval is needed. “Palestinians, even those with Jordanian nationality, have differently-colored identity cards; we face discrimination everywhere in our lives. Once a refugee, always a refugee.”

Abdullah now works for an imam in a mosque. “I earn very little money, but it is better than nothing and reduces my dependence upon charity.”

The edge of Baqaa to the roundabout of the main Damascus-Amman highway is fewer than 20 meters. Few people know what lies behind the tatty shops, workshops and second hand tire stands fronting the road. Not many from Amman turn into the camp, unless they want to buy vegetables from the market stalls at a fraction of the price they would pay in supermarkets.

Our car turns onto the highway, in less than five minutes we are in Amman, driving past the highly respected Queen Rania Hospital for Children and the upmarket City Mall. Baqaa is just far enough outside Amman to be forgotten. The world may look away but the forgotten people of Palestine will still be there.

Note: This article was amended to correct language which suggested UNRWA runs Baqaa refugee camp. UNRWA does not run refugee camps, but provides services to refugees living in the camps.

Source: Electronic Intifada.